How much do you know about the raw food movement?
Until last week, I didn’t know much – and what I learned
might surprise you...
My good friend Eddie G. of Dallas Vegan, an all-around awesome guy, invited me to attend a “first look and taste” at Bliss Raw Café and Elixir Bar on Greenville Avenue last Friday, and it was an experience I won’t soon forget. In preparation for our feast, I grilled Eddie (who is not a raw foodist, but knows a lot about it) on the various ins and outs of this peculiar and fascinating way of life: What does it mean, exactly? What are its purported benefits? And most of all, why is it so hot-hot-hot (or “cool”, as it were) right now in 2009?
In its simplest terms, eating “raw” means consuming foods that have not been cooked. Pretty simple, right? Well, not really. Foods deemed acceptable by raw foodists have not been heated above 115 degrees, but more importantly, great attention is paid to certain “super foods” – additives derived from plants and medicinal herbs that enhance the flavor and increase the health benefits of raw dishes. More on those later. Further, special kitchen contraptions – dehydrators and the like – are employed in advanced raw kitchens to simulate baked goods and other cooked items using raw ingredients. The lengths to which a raw chef will go to simulate a hamburger bun, for instance, without the benefit of leavening agents or a conventional oven, is nothing short of alchemy. More on that later, too. To put it mildly, there is much more at work here than tossing salads and blending smoothies.
But why go to all this trouble in the first place? Well, raw foodists believe that consuming foods in their raw state is the best way for the body to receive the full benefit of everything they have to offer. They believe that optimum health (including increased energy and stamina and the prevention of disease) is achieved only by eating food that has not been subjected to the damaging power of heat. Many Hollywood celebs have adopted this way of life in recent years, and as Eddie pointed out in his article for the City of Ate: As L.A. does, so does Dallas – eventually. But there's much more to Bliss than jumping on the latest designer diet bandwagon.
Eddie and I arrived at the café on a sparkling, sunny afternoon, and the tiny spot was bustling with busy chefs and food-lovers eagerly awaiting this “first taste” experience. We were greeted by Maria Whitworth, official spokesperson of the new restaurant, who showed us to our seats at a small bar on one side of the tiny, street-car shaped space. Chefs Brian Hudson Smith, Brett Thompson and Johnny Raw Appleseed were hard at work in the kitchen (that's Ms. Appleseed and Mr. Hudson clowning for the camera, above). After meeting and greeting the other guests – two lovely local actresses and a friendly girl who, like me, would be experiencing her first raw meal – Maria presented us with menus and the food parade began. What a spread!
Here is a run-down of everything we sampled – the hits, the misses and the show-stopping surprises:
Nori Bites: This dish was all about presentation – it looked like a beautiful plate of sushi from any top Asian restaurant in town. A dipping sauce of Nama Shoyu (unpasteurized soy sauce), ginger, lemon juice and garlic was a refreshing condiment. The flavor was not unlike a California Roll with a little of Mom’s tuna salad in the background. Eddie didn’t care for it, but I enjoyed its subtle play on traditional sushi-roll flavors.
Corn Chowder: I am sad to report that this was the “thudder” of the meal. Both Eddie and I felt the dish was too rich and the raw green onion garnish overwhelmed the subtle flavor of fresh corn.
Rawko-Taco Plate with Chocolate Salad: (pictured at left) This was my very favorite dish of the day. These “rawko-tacos” are a wonderful twist on traditional tacos, featuring all the comforting Mexican spices you’d expect and a few surprising new flavors. The rust-colored taco shell, containing corn, flax meal, onion and spices, had just the right sturdy but chewy texture to stand up to its filling of sundried tomato and sunflower seed paste. Might sound strange, but it was absolutely on-the-money.
Chocolate Salad on the side was a cole slaw-like combo of cabbage, avocado and “Chocolate Bliss”, one of the aforementioned “super food” powders containing cacao, hemp seeds and all manner of dried fruits. According to the package, those who consume “Chocolate Bliss” can expect “continuous peak mood, energy and beauty”. Such benefits don’t come cheap, but the folks at Bliss Café have figured out how to work “super foods” into many menu items while keeping prices reasonable.
Pesto Pizza: Unfortunately, after the stunning success of the taco plate, this pizza faded into the background. It did, however, feature nice Italian spices and the pesto topper was as delicious as any conventional pesto I’d ever tasted.
SunnBurger: (pictured above) Johnny also calls this her “SuperBurger”, as it features another “super food” called "Revitaphi". This powder contains over 40 probiotics, along with various veggies and enzymes, and Johnny believes it inspires her artistically in addition to its physical benefits. I have to admit that I wasn’t thinking too much about all that, however, after I took my first bite. This burger was delicious! The bun was especially clever, approximating a tender Mrs. Baird’s by way of kamut, agave and who-knows-what else. The patty itself was standard fare, but in combination with that bodacious bun and a schmear of cashew “mayo”, it went far beyond the usual boring beef-less burger. Bravo!
Both the Coconut Berry Parfait and the Strawberry Sheezcake were creamy and comforting and not overly sweet. The Sheezcake was my fave, owing to its rich crust that tasted a lot like halvah, one of my favorite childhood treats.
With each course, Brian presented one of his special smoothie-like concoctions, all of which were intriguing and a couple of which were downright sinful. We especially liked the Minty Hemp Drink, which tasted just like your favorite minty milkshake from the corner ice cream shop. (photo, left: Brian the Elixir Mixologist)
Ultimately, the experience was eye-opening – but not at all for the reasons I had anticipated. For starters, Johnny and the gang are so down to earth, so absolutely approachable, I didn’t end up feeling like a heathen in church on Easter Sunday (as I was afraid I would). If anything, they are even more excited for their food to reach those of us outside of their immediate circle. Second, far from pretentious or too-cool-for-school, the restaurant is actually so “Austin” it’s not even funny. It embodies the laid-back, casual cool we associate with our neighbor to the south, and Johnny herself, pierced and be-clogged and sparkling with health, looked like she beamed up from Guadalupe St. just in time for the tasting. And last but not least, I’d totally go back. While I don’t intend on converting to a raw diet any time soon, I’m sipping a “Chocolate Bliss” smoothie as I write this post, and am now tuned-in to another delicious niche cuisine available here in Dallas.
6855 Greenville Avenue
Opens April 28th