Açaí takes Marin one bowl at a time

Julia Nurse

As the 85 degree weather rolls in, have you ever wondered why Marin doesn’t have a decent smoothie place to escape the heat? Finally, co-owners Todd Donaldson and Jeremy Knudsen have one-upped the smoothie scene and brought an açaí cafe to Marin.

Located in downtown Fairfax, Mana Bowls combines a Hawaiian and a West Marin vibe. Açaí (pronounced ah-sah-EE) comes from the fruit of Açaí palm trees and is native to the Amazon in Brazil. An açaí cafe is a twist on traditional smoothie bars, and Mana Bowls marks the first one to come to Marin County.

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At Mana Bowls, the acai starts out frozen and packaged as a pureé before being blended with fruit or a fruit sorbet. Then the smoothie-like blend is topped with various fruit, nuts, and other accoutrements to be enjoyed in a bowl with a spoon.

The bowls themselves have a decent ratio of toppings to açaí. Check out the current seasonal bowl, which contains a creamy, smooth Açaí sorbet mixed with a small amount of strawberry sorbet, topped with gluten-free granola to add a crunch, coconut shavings to add a little sweetness, and tangy kiwi, making for a delicious snack.

Although açaí has been touted as a so-called superfood, there is little research to prove it. However, Donaldson and Knudsen said they believe in its nutritive powers and wanted to bring something they loved and felt good about to Marin.

Upon entering the store, roots reggae music sets the laid back tone, and the employees are eager to help answer questions about their menu. Sunsets line the walls in the cafe and contribute to the laid back aesthetic. You can sit at the bar, on the couch in the corner, or at the outdoor tables to enjoy your açaí bowl.

The menu reads, “100% organic, 99% of the time!” Donaldson explains that everything is certified organic except for two items, and he adds that there is no added sugar except for the small amount in the coconut shavings.

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The açaí bowls taste surprisingly refreshing and are almost filling enough to constitute as a meal. It’s like a smoothie and a yogurt parfait mixed and morphed into an updated blend that transcends your run-of-the mill summertime snack.

Another crowd pleaser, and one of their most popular bowls, is the Surf Bowl. This bowl is a little more on the sweet side with banana and strawberry sorbet mixed with the açaí, and adorned with bananas, granola, and a swirl of honey.

They offer salads and smoothies as well, such as Coco Fresh, Almond Mango, and Dragon smoothie, containing a variety of ingredients with their own health benefits, such as coconut water, pumpkin sorbet, pitaya (dragon fruit), and bee pollen.

Donaldson said they originally starting eating açaí bowls as a nutritious post-surf and mountain biking recovery routine. They experienced the açaí cafes in Southern California and Hawaii and eventually opened Mana Bowls in Marin in late January.

Although the prices may seem steep at $8 for a medium bowl and $10 for a large bowl, for most bowls, it is worth it if one values the quality of ingredients used.

Mana Bowls is open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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