Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Good Karma Vegan Cafe, San Jose

The Silicon Valley underwhelms with its beer scene, which is odd considering its affluence and large population. But recently I found out about an oasis of good beer served by knowledgeable people that's located right in the middle of downtown San Jose: the Good Karma Vegan Cafe. Talk about your hidden gems -- they didn't put "beer" or "bar" in the name at all. But squeeze your way past the deli counter into the tiny bar area, and you'll find 16 well-chosen beers on tap. "Well-chosen" is probably not an adequate description of the beer list -- knockout is more like it.  On a recent visit some of the taps were:
  • Russian River Pliny the Elder
  • Logsdon Seizoen
  • Haandbryggeriet Bestefar (smoked imperial porter)
  • Allagash Interlude
  • Dogfish Head Old School Barleywine
  • Stone Vertical Epic 12
  • North Coast 15th Anniversary Old Rasputin
  • Sierra Nevada Ovila Quad
I won't bother listing the other half of the taplist, but there were no duds on it.  There is also a small selection of similarly high-end bottled beers.

Good Karma attracts a small crowd of local beer lovers -- you know the type, everyone has an opinion on what beer you should order.  The atmosphere is very casual, and even though it's a restaurant/deli first and a beer bar second, the waitstaff take an interest in the beer.  Beer prices are on the high side: pints of Pliny were $7, and most of the strong beers listed above were $6 for 8- or 10-ounce pours.  Not cheap, but reasonable given the quality level.  On the plus side, the small pours were served in glassware marked in centiliters so you knew what you were getting.  What's more, with ABVs ranging from 7% to 15%, small is beautiful.

The food is really good also -- no meat or cheese of course, but a nice selection of curries, salads, stir-fries and the like, served with rice or in tortillas.  In contrast to the beer prices, I thought the food prices were very cheap -- you could eat a hearty meal for $7, or choose smaller snack options in the $2-$5 range.  So you can go in there, eat some healthy cheap food, and spend your surplus on fancy beer.  It's a win-win.  And if you're wondering -- as I did -- why a vegan restaurant has an antler chandelier, rest assured that it too is vegan:  the antlers are made of poured resin.

Here in Portland I'm always complaining when interesting beer places aren't open during the day -- thank God Bailey's now opens at 2 PM -- but Good Karma poses the opposite problem for a business traveler:  it's open for lunch but closes at 9 PM every night except Sunday when it closes at 7 PM.  The good news is it's easy to get to on public transit from other towns in the area -- the VTA light rail stops right out in front, and only a couple blocks away there is a stop for the workhorse #22 bus that follows El Camino Real all the way to Palo Alto.

Highly recommended next time you're in the Silicon Valley.

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