“Is that Swiss chard?”
The question is asked as we step below the sidewalk into Manhattan’s premiere raw vegan restaurant, Pure Food and Wine. One would expect to see some sort of clue that we’re about to have an incredibly healthy dining experience.
It is, in fact Swiss chard, growing beautifully amid the delicate flowers and elegant wrought iron fence that creates an alluring place to wait for a table, organic cocktail in hand.
It is, however, the only clue that we will be dining on a 100 percent animal free, unprocessed and uncooked meal (no food reaches temperatures above 118 degrees F), as the entire restaurant is lacking the stereotypes one might have regarding the words “raw” and “vegan.”
I won’t describe what initially jumps to mind for most people, but the words upscale and sexy probably aren’t often among them.
The walls are deep red, the tables are dark wood and the whole vibe is warm and sensual, lit with flickering candles in recycled glass tumblers. It’s simultaneously chic and cozy.
The hip atmosphere is sprinkled with a bit of quirkiness from some elegantly framed photographs of the most adorable duck I’ve ever seen, and I wonder, is he smiling at us?
It’s a nod to proprietor and co-founder Sarma Melngailis’s offshoot company, One Lucky Duck with the just-around-the-corner juice bar and online store.
She came across the photo in a Gourmet magazine years ago, and couldn’t stop going back to the image of this duck, who seemed to be smiling to her as well.
She tracked down the photographer and now the duck (who most likely did not have a happy ending in real life) grins at patrons where there’s nary a trace of meat being consumed.
Along with organic and local ingredients, the napkins and cushions in the dining room are luxurious, crimson hemp. It’s just another way of being eco-friendly and sustainable without waving an eco-warrior banner here. It’s subtle and matter-of-fact, nothing scary or off-putting, which means there is nothing to detract from the incredibleness that is our meal.
While first reading the menu, I am tempted to jump straight to dessert and have them bring one of everything. How about Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse with sake drunken cherries, vanilla bean creme anglaise and pecan caramel sauce?
Thin Mint Sundae with fresh mint, chocolate and mint chip ice creams, chocolate mint cookie and whipped vanilla cream?
There is also a selection of sorbets including a sweetly decadent sounding mirabelle plum as well as ice cream, made from young Thai coconuts, raw nuts and agave nectar- completely dairy and sugar free. It’s almost agonizing to try and decide.
Slowly drooling over the menu (it’s practically poetic), I’m not sure I can forego trying the appetizers and entrees, so I decide to fit it all in.
The starters are absolutely tantalizing and my dining companions and I go back and forth trying to decide.
We finally settle on the elegantly earthy sounding Golden Chanterelle Mushroom and Yuzu Ceviche with heirloom tomatoes and avocado pineapple sauce (with ingredients hand-picked from the Union Square Greenmarket just a few blocks away), and the much raved about Asparagus Sushi Rolls.
We order delicious sake and fresh fruit cocktails but the conversation that is flowing comes to an abrupt halt when our courses begin arriving. Everyone is in various states of disbelief (this isn’t cooked???) and rapture (for any nonbelievers, I’m here to say what Sally experienced in the diner is entirely possible when your taste buds encounter synergy like this).
For the entrees, we simply can’t resist the raw version of a perennial favorite (and, incidentally, the most raved about item), the Zucchini and Roma Tomato Lasagna with basil-pistachio pesto, sun-dried tomato sauce and a pignoli ricotta.
With every perfect bite, I become quite sure that I will be purchasing Melngailis’s book, Raw Food, Real World, which includes 100 of the restaurant’s recipes.
The cookbook (or in this case uncookbook), written by Melngailis and her partner Matthew Kenney, contains tips, suggestions and information about the raw food lifestyle along with appealing glossy photographs of entrees and other dishes. The lasagna will be a much-consumed dinner from now on!
We order the White Corn Tamales with the most decadently satisfying Cacao Mole sauce, marinated mushrooms, salsa verde and avocado. Any fan of authentic Mexican cooking will be enamored with this dish. We can’t believe we’re eating something so rich tasting that isn’t fried or filled with dairy.
The seasonal items such as Zucchini Blossoms with Garlic Chive Cheese and the Open Spanikopita Tart are tempting, along with an intriguing sounding Indian dish of Saag Paneer with Pistachio Coconut Curry Sauce, (how do they do that?) but we’re so pleasantly stuffed they’ll have to wait for another night. And believe me, there most definitely will be other nights.
We’re savoring all of this in the most magical outdoor garden behind the restaurant. There’s as much seating as inside but with a cozy feeling as strings of white lights mix with the stars overhead.
We stay as long as possible until the staff begins to look as though they’ve reached the end of their long night and the other tables are emptying.
We don’t want to leave this sanctuary, but stepping back onto the brick-lined streets isn’t too much of a shock.
Irving Place is one of those rare Manhattan streets of quiet beauty in the middle of the busy and chaotic city and makes for a gentle transition from the oasis we’ve just left, back into the bustle of New York life.
If You Go
Pure Food and Wine
One Lucky Duck
Philip McCluskey is an entrepreneur, lecturer, traveler, and author, and is passionate about raw foods. When he switched to eating 100 percent raw vegan, he lost over 200 lbs. and has never been off a day since. He shares his story through inspirational blogs, videos, pictures, and advice through his website www.lovingraw.com.