Restaurant Review: Pure Food and Wine

12 Comments

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!)

I Like Ginger Better Than Mary Ann

2 Comments

Today is a very ginger day, as I had Liz Lovely‘s Ginger Snapdragon cookies (the ginger is intense and the cookies are soft and chewy… great stuff) and Golden Moon’s delicious White Ginger tea (very sublime and mellow, one of those drinks even people who don’t link ginger would like). So, in honor of the unofficial “ginger day” at my desk, a few ginger links:

Looking back

6 Comments

It’s been just over a year since I started volunteering at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary in Poolesville, Maryland. When I first found out that there was a farm sanctuary so close to where I lived, I was amazed (and annoyed with myself!) that I hadn’t come across it sooner. After one visit, it was clear this was a place I wanted to be associated with.

Terry and Dave are two of the coolest people you could hope to meet. They do an amazing job taking care of such a wide variety of animals on their 400-acre farm in Montgomery County. There are pigs, cows, horses, mules, chickens, goats, sheep, geese, ducks, turkeys, guinea hens, peacocks and peahens, and rabbits roaming various areas of the farm, absolutely content in their relaxed life after being rescued from their dire situations.

The most rewarding thing has been seeing the personality of each of the animals. Clover the sheep, for instance, came to the farm just a couple of weeks before I started there. I remember carrying the little guy around before he was allowed to roam freely. Now he’s grown up, but is still one of the few sheep that will come running up to you when he sees you. His buddy Adam, who’s about the same age, is similarly friendly with humans, which is quite amazing considering that he was rescued from a group of men who belong to the Santeria cult/religion (depending on who you ask) in DC who were carrying him, a butcher knife, and a bottle of barbecue sauce into the woods for a sacrifice (and, it seems, dinner).

Then there’s Big Newton, the formerly-alpha male goat who battled a parasite in his brain and other health issues, causing him to slow down considerably. Yet, I still have to be careful when I bend over to pick something up at the goat barn, because he’s always there to try and knock me over.

Or Opal, a new arrival at the farm just last month. She and two other turkeys had escaped from a slaughterhouse in Harrisonburg, VA (sidebar: Have you ever driven through Harrisonburg on route 81 and smelled the stench in the air? It is awful.). Two vegetarian women spent 45 minutes trying to catch the turkeys, who had gotten all the way to the median of the highway, scared and confused. Workers from the slaughterhouse came out and demanded the turkeys back, but when the women pleaded with them, the workers said they could keep one turkey and that they’d tell their boss it was hit by a truck. So, they picked the most dejected looking turkey of the three and took her back to their apartment. Immediately, Opal hopped up on the bed and became their friend. The women called Poplar Spring and Opal is now living there, quite happily. She follows visitors around the farm and loves to be pet. She’s one of the sweetest animals you’ll ever meet. Terry reported that when Opal arrived at the farm, they brought her inside the house to sleep for the night. As soon as she got inside, she hopped up onto the couch to watch TV.

I could go on and on about Alexandria the pig, Hal and Gloria the mules, Spike and Corey the roosters, and Juniper the goat (who I will go on about at a later time, as she’s the goat my wife and I sponsor). The point is, I’ve found that spending time working at the farm has only served to firm my belief in animal rights/welfare/protectionism. It also played a very large part in my decision to become vegan in October of last year. I knew the pain that farmed animals endured, but being able to see them live without fear at Poplar Spring helped me confirm what I’ve come to hold most true: if we can do something to eliminate the suffering of animals, we should do it.

The Problem With Celebrity

12 Comments

A while ago I briefly asked whether celebrity vegetarians really matter. My stance on the issue has lightened a bit, and I think that celebrities that truly stand for animal rights and follow veg*nism as a lifestyle day in and day out can be helpful in spreading the word. However, after chatting at lunch with Isa, Eric, and Huyen the other day, I think the problem is not in celebrity vegetarians, but the lists of celebrity vegetarians floating around the web.

The problem is that once someone even indicates that they’ve thought about vegetarianism, they wind up on the list and once they’re on the list, they’re there forever. Take Julia Stiles, who shows up on a bunch of the lists. She was a vegan for a short time, but then went so far as to totally discredit it on Conan and in interviews. Saying things like “I stopped being a vegan and then became a vegetarian. But the first meat I ate was not a hamburger” is just confusing… if she “became a vegetarian” what’s this about “the first meat [she] ate”? Shortly afterwards, she says, “So now I do eat some red meat but not all the time.” Well good for you, Julia. Congratulations on not being a lion.

But this isn’t about Julia Stiles. It’s about out-of-date lists and how the vegetarian community and animal rights organizations use them to try and claim legitimacy. Unfortunately, it works against us because of the inaccuracy of many of these lists. I understand that any list of this type can’t be kept completely up-to-date (until PETA develops a Vegetarian Registry or something like that), but perhaps less emphasis should be placed on what famous people are eating. The first time someone sees Michael Stipe eating a steak (and I swear I saw someone write that recently), the entire movement loses ground because then it seems like more of a trend diet or a phase rather than a compassionate lifestyle.

We don’t need famous-veg lists. Sure, when a real celebrity comes along and speaks out for animal rights, it helps things, but the AR/veg community can exist without them, so let’s not focus on publicizing our out-of-date lists of famous-people-who-may-have-once-been-vegetarian.

(Boy, I’ve been cranky lately, haven’t I?)