20 Cumberland Street
$70 for dinner for two with wine, tax and tip
I never met an animal fat I didn’t love. My eating life is a pretty constant struggle between the foods I love (meat, butter, cream) and the foods I know are better for me. I have learned to live without a weekly infusion of hollandaise sauce, without daily baguettes slathered with great butter. I have learned that a day without prosciutto can indeed be happy. On the flipside, plain steamed vegetables are still a punishment, and I hate buckwheat.
So it was with some trepidation that I entered the new Yorkville outpost of Rawlicious, the raw-food and vegan resto that was born in the Junction and did so well that the owners decided to take the raw show on the road and see how the Prada people liked it. The Yorkville place is a small room with deep ochre walls. It’s cheerful; one needn’t don a hair shirt to enter.
The vast majority of their food is raw and organic. They believe that heating food above 118 degrees Fahrenheit harms its enzymes, vitamins and minerals, so they don’t cook. If it has a face, they don’t serve it: No meat or animal products, including dairy. Also no wheat, no gluten and no refined sugar. And no stove in the kitchen! They dehydrate, they warm, they juice, they chop, they blend – all in the small open kitchen at the back of the dining room.
Did I spoil your appetite yet? Usually my friends, acquaintances and colleagues are falling all over themselves to go on reviewing dinners with me, but I had trouble finding people to accompany me to Rawlicious. It’s interesting how scared we all are (and I include myself here) of that kind of food.
And shocking to me how much I enjoyed the food there. It sounds strange, but pretty much everything I ate was delicious. I didn’t even mind that it wasn’t hot. The hippie-dippy service (i.e. inattentive) was the only annoying aspect of my dinners.
Who would have thought that cold raw vegan pad Thai could taste good? It ought to be weird and unappetizing but is strangely delicious. The taste of cashew sesame sauce is nutty and (obviously) fresh, the textures are interesting. There are two kinds of noodle substitutes: Zucchini shreds are crunchy, kelp “noodles” are slithery. They combine nicely, with lots of green onions for interest and some cashews.
Pizza topped with pine-nut “parmesan” is also strangely pleasant. It’s warm from the dehydrator. The sprouted buckwheat crust is thin and crisp, and the buckwheat flavour which I usually hate (in cooked buckwheat) is absent. The topping is dehydrated tomato, a sharp flavour. Clearly when you don’t cook tomatoes, you don’t mellow out their acid flavour – or develop the sugars in the tomatoes. In fact, dehydrating may even concentrate the sharpness. But nonetheless I liked it. The pine-nut “parmesan” on top consists of pine nuts, nutritional yeast and salt – not exactly Parmigiano Reggiano, but its own crumbly savoury confection.
The raw vegan re-make of pasta Bolognese is weirder. Not bad tasting, just so different. The “noodles” are the same spiral-cut zucchini as in the pad Thai, and the crumbled “neat balls,” made from nuts, are no substitute for the real thing. This is pasta with a salady feel and sauce with crunch and flavour – just not normal flavour. The Caesar wrap is more credible in the sense that romaine lettuce and garlic are themselves, and despite the absence of egg and anchovy, the wrap’s innards have satisfying piquancy. Even the fake croutons (made of dehydrated nut loaf, what else?) are pleasantly onion-inflected and kinda crunchy. Wrapping salad in a collard leaf is very veggie. I shouldn’t be surprised.
The appetizers seem less revolutionary: (Cooked) raw veg rice-flour rolls have no taste, but the sesame cashew sauce is tangy and rich. Salad containing everything but the kitchen sink has a perfectly judged gingery sweet/tart dressing. The nacho platter is mostly itself – guacamole, salsa and hot peppers. “Sour cream” made from miso, almond milk, coconut and cashew tastes like creamed miso, and nacho chips made from sprouted buckwheat, flaxseed and carrots bear almost no resemblance to tortilla chips. On the other hand, unlike corn, they’re good for you.
Can you make desserts without butter or cream or eggs or sugar? I couldn’t. But I’m shocked to enjoy the brownie which is cocoa powder, pureed dates and walnuts, with a thick icing of coconut butter sweetened with agave syrup. And even more shocked at the creaminess of chocolate “cheesecake” made from cashews and almond milk. The chocolate almond-milk shake thickened with avocado is less successful. The mouth feel is sharp and it’s not sweet enough. Stick to the organic wine and beer.