Raw foodism stresses that for the most benefit from food, it should not be heated above a certain temperature (usually about 110 degrees) because that kills off nutrients and beneficial enzymes that aid in digestion. Whether that’s all true or not, I’m skeptical, but I’ve never had any real interest in raw foodism because it doesn’t provide any ethical benefits over veganism. That said, though, I’ve always been curious about raw food from a culinary perspective. Five years ago “raw food” meant crunchy broccoli to me. But now, I see restaurants and cookbooks sprouting up (har!) and I’ve gotten curious about what an experienced raw chef can do armed with only a dehydrator and food processor.
When we were in New York last week, we decided to go to one of New York’s several raw restaurants to get the full raw experience. Our attempt to visit one of Quintessence’s branches was foiled when we saw it had closed. The next night we were in the Union Square area and decided to stop by Pure Food and Wine, a raw food restaurant started by two formerly omnivorous chefs who were inspired after a visit to the aforementioned Quintessence. When we walked in, we felt a bit out of place… it feels like a very trendy restaurant (definitely not our normal scene). But, we figured, screw it… there were people there more dressed-down than us, so we were seated without any stares from fellow patrons.
Because Pure Food and Wine isn’t exactly a “cheap” restaurant, Huyen and I decided to split an appetizer, get separate entrees, split a dessert, and forego wine. It was a tough choice because the menu had some really outstanding sounding dishes. We settled on:
- Appetizer: Creamy Cauliflower Samosas with Banana Tamarind Sauce, mango chutney, Asian water spinach, and sake
- Entrees: Biryani and Coconut Curried Vegetables with cardamom and coriander spiced “rice” and hunza raisins and Zucchini and Golden Tomato Lasagna with Basil-Pistachio Pesto, sun-dried tomato sauce, and pignoli ricotta
- Dessert: Dark Chocolate Ganache Tart with black mint ice cream
The cauliflower samosas were made with an almost rice-paper-like wrapper that was just the right consistency (not too hard, not too most). The filling was absolutely delicious, with complex flavors rivaling the tastiest samosas I’ve ever eaten. Huyen’s eyes almost popped out of her head. She went from “notably skeptical” to “amazed” in one course. We couldn’t wait to try the rest.
Both entrees matched the samosas in terms of quality. The biryani was flavorful and a tad spicy without being hot. The balance of spices was just perfect and the textures were much more varied than the phrase “raw food” would have you expect. I savored every bite of the lasagna dish. The thinly sliced zucchini was a nice replacement for the standard pasta slices. The tomatoes were wonderfully fresh and flavorful, even in spring, and the pignoli (pine nut) ricotta was creamy, only slightly nutty, and a perfect compliment to the sun-dried tomato sauce. Needless to say that the pesto (a food that’s traditionally served raw) was flawless, given a nice twist by the use of pistachios.
At this point, we decided that if we lived in New York, we might go broke from going to Pure Food and Wine too frequently, since we’d surely bring every out-of-town friend there during their visit. But to be fully convinced, we had to try their dessert. After all, how could one make a chocolate ganache tart and a raw ice cream that were anywhere near as good as their gourmet baked counterparts?
Our minds were blown once again. The tart, made using Rapunzel cocoa, was rich and delicious. The small dollop of mint ice cream made from coconut beans and cashews had only a slight nutty flavor and was better than most processed vegan ice creams I’ve tried, let alone raw ice creams. A perfect finish to a perfect meal.
Seriously, this meal was wonderful from beginning to end. While our hostess scared us with her supermodel appearance and attire, our waitress couldn’t have been friendlier or more responsive to our questions. Huyen and I both left absolutely satiated and believers that raw food can be every bit the culinary experience any other gourmet cuisine can be.
Now, Pure Food and Wine ain’t exactly cheap. But, we cited this restaurant as the reason that we got an inexpensive hotel room: money’s better spent on food than on where you spend your unconscious hours. For the one appetizer, two entrees, and dessert, the total came to $94 after tip. We agreed as we headed out the door, it was worth every cent.
One criticism must be leveled, though: Pure Food and Wine isn’t 100% raw. Huyen complained that their bathroom sink’s cold water faucet didn’t work, so she had to deal with scorching hot water to wash her hands… water that was clearly above raw food’s upper-limit of 110 degrees. (Ba-dum-dum… I’ll be here all week, folks! Try the Brazil Nut Crusted Mushrooms!)