A couple of weeks ago I finally had the pleasure of dining at Pure Food and Wine (PF&W) in NYC when we visited our friends Keith and David and attended the Westminster Dog show, where our girl Camber was being shown.
PF&W, for those that don't know, is THE raw, vegan restaurant. All menu items are completely free of animal products and are not heated to temperatures greater than 118 degrees to preserve the nutrient content. Most are organic and locally sourced whenever possible. The atmosphere is sexy and inviting and the fare, nothing less than magical.
It should be said that being relatively comfortable in the kitchen myself, I am not easily impressed with restaurant fare as most things I feel I can make better and obviously cheaper at home. Though there is a lot to be enjoyed when dining out as I do love having meals prepared for me on occasion and that goes a long way contributing to my enjoyment factor.
Last summer, my friends Kelly, Jennifer, and I dined at Grezzo, the raw vegan restaurant in Boston opened by raw food guru Alissa Cohen. The food was ok. Granted, I ordered the most unique items on the tasting menu in the name of research and development for my own creations. I was underwhelmed with the creativity and most of all the lackluster flavor and textures. I had to actually ask for sea salt as the meals were not seasoned at all. One dish was called "ravioli, yet was simply sliced tomatoes covered with a bunch of microgreens - hardly a display of culinary expertise. However, Kelly and Jen seemed to enjoy their meals so maybe I was being overly critical as I was prepared to be dazzled. It's fair to say that while I was thrilled to finally try the restaurant owned by one of my favorite raw cookbook authors, Sarma Melngailis, I was not expecting the magic about to cross my palate.
Our reservations were for 7 pm on a Sunday evening. The mood entering the restaurant was cool and sophisticated with the black and red tones and dimmed lighting. The owner was tucked into the corner at her table having an intimate dinner meeting. Our server was informative and friendly and when asked for suggestions, its safe to say he did not steer us wrong. We began with the most delicious fruited sangria I've ever had and the evening was off to a very good start.
For the first course, Keith and I shared the cheese plate. Three types of nut-based cheeses were served along side rosemary crisps (a dehydrated raw cracker). Now, I make raw cheeses from nuts. And so far, I have enjoyed them but they are decidedly more a spreadable cheese than a cutting cheese and the flavor is good, but its from the herbs I have added. These SLICEABLE nut cheeses tasted like, well, cheddar. So from the first bite I already had a clue that there were some seriously talented raw chefs hard at work in this place and I was increasingly excited for the remainder of the meal. I have no idea how one creates a sliceable nut cheese so for now, I am on research quest to discover whatever this technique is. The cheeses were also served along side an orange blossom honey which complimented the plate very well. Evan ordered some form of cabbage roll containing a spicy fermented asian cabbage called Kimchee. I apologize for my spotty memory of every dish on the table as it was a few weeks ago and I really should have taken detailed notes. I do remember that Evan devoured his first course with gusto telling me between bites that I have to figure out how to make it.
For the main course I ordered a tomato tostada at the waiter's recommendation. Honestly the details of this dish remain fogged by the euphoric enjoyment that ensued after the first bite. The crunchy tostada layers, I assume made of dehydrated corn, were layered with delicious mexican ingredients including the most delectable southwestern flavored sauce. I dare anyone to try that and be able to distinguish a difference between it and a sour cream based sauce. Try as I would to discern the components for future home re-creation, I couldn't. The flavors were too beautifully married, balanced to perfection and rather than dissect the ingredients I gave up and savored the experience.
For dessert I ordered an apple galette with cinnamon ice cream and cinnamon syrup. Fully expecting it to be excellent, I was not disappointed. The apples were tender, even though raw, as they seemed to be sliced very thin, possibly with a mandolin, to create the right mouthfeel of cooked apples. Not sure if they were slightly dehydrated as well, but I am thinking no. They were artistically pressed into a rectangle shape and served covered in a cinnamon syrup ( my guess, cinnamon and agave nectar) and cinnamon ice cream. Raw ice-creams are generally made of young coconut meat and sometimes cashews. I make these at home frequently and mine are never the correct texture for ice cream as the water content generally makes them freeze too hard so they lack some essentially creaminess. Also the flavor usually carries a distinct background of coconut unless covered up by a very strong flavor such as chocolate or mint. This however, was just ice cream. Indistinguishable from the very best of dairy based ice creams with the notable exception of them being easy to digest and, most of all, HEALTHY.
After the ice-cream I was bowing down to the raw food gods and goddesses that work their magic in that kitchen because I was finally able to experience a restaurant meal that I did not feel I could duplicate at home. I did quiz the waiter on the ice-cream components and technique however I was unable to figure out how to get my ice cream to be even a fraction as good as theirs so I am going to pass it off as they must have a really good commercial ice cream maker. (After 2 weeks I am making some progress in this realm and am planning to try the cinnamon flavor today actually.)
I left the restaurant on a high...because that's what raw food does. It delivers the highest nutrient content, live enzymes and life energy to the body in the most easily digestible and delicious form. As Keith most aptly stated, it feels like you had a decadent dining experience but without the aftermath of feeling bloated and lethargic. You feel ALIVE just like the food. After all, you are what you eat. Evan's comment was that we would need to eat there every time we visited the city. I heartily agreed. It's not often that I am left in culinary awe and I will welcome that experience every chance I get.
The following day I did take a walk over to Pure Juice and Take Away, the little juice cafe by the same owner. I ordered a pint of cookies and cream ice cream and a raw mallomar. You know, those childhood favorite of graham cracker and marshmallow's covered in chocolate? Well PF has taken these to a whole new level, a sophisticated, healthy level. I enjoyed one with a cup of tea that afternoon. Dessert that evening was my raw ice-cream....which I finished for breakfast on Tuesday morning. Yes, raw ice cream for breakfast, what could be better?
Cookies 'n Cream