Friday, July 30, 2010

Euphoria Loves RAWvolution, Santa Monica (Restaurant review)

One of the highest claims I can make for a food, or a restaurant, is that I could eat it / eat there every day. Euphoria Loves RAWvolution is one of those places; not only would I love to eat there every day, but I would love to eat there three times a day, every day.

This restaurant, which looks unremarkable from the outside - except for its rather remarkable name - stands literally two blocks away from my former apartment in Santa Monica. I left that apartment in 2002, and the restaurant didn't open until 2006, I believe. When I discovered it in 2008, I couldn't believe the cosmic irony that had divided me from this potentially life-changing eatery; surely if there is a restaurant equivalent of a soulmate, this one is mine.

The name doesn't say it all, but the slogans on the outside of the building do. Facing Main Street is the name of the restaurant, Euphoria Loves RAWvolution, and underneath that, the slogan "Conscious Food for Conscious People." Around the corner, on the north side of the building, it says "Raw, Organic, Vegan Cuisine," and underneath that, "Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner Everyday." Never mind the fact that it should be "Every Day" (two words) instead of the adjective "Everyday" (one word). These people are not academics, they are new-agey alternative food folks.

By now you're probably thinking, geeze, how pretentious! Only in California! I admit, I was dubious at first too. But I went in and tried the food, and I was hooked. I wanted to try everything on the menu. I wanted to be a regular at the juice and smoothie bar, despite the fact that it takes 10 minutes for them to make a single drink. (Hey, have you ever tried opening a coconut to make a smoothie? It's not easy!

The wait staff when I was a regular (2008) were very friendly folks. I recall discussing one of the ingredients in the energy drink mixture (I don't recall what it was); the waitress told me lots of anecdotes about people who had it every day and how much better they felt. She said, and I clearly remember this quote, "If you drink it every day you'll feel ridiculously happy." Wow. What a claim to make. But she was so sincere, and her sincerity so charming, that it made me like her and the restaurant a whole lot -- and to dismiss my own skepticism about the "new-agey-ness" of it all.

As I write this blog entry, it has been almost two years since I last dined at this my favorite establishment (Sept. 2008). At the time I took notes on the food, and had a copy of the menu in hand, all with the intention of blogging about it back then. I never did, and now the notes and the menu are vague memories. The menu is not even online. So I can't comment on too many specific items here, I'm sorry to say, but I'll do my best to give you an idea of what you can expect -- and the raw food movement, in brief (or what I know of it).

You can check out the Wikipedia entry on "Raw foodism (or rawism)" and you will get this definition: "a lifestyle promoting the consumption of uncooked, unprocessed, and often organic foods as a large percentage of the diet." You will learn that there are several different approaches, including raw veganism, raw vegetarianism, raw omnivorous diets, and (rarely, I believe) those who promote a 100% raw animal foods diet. (I could possibly do this if I got to eat sashimi three times a day, but would I be denied wasabi and soy sauce?)

The raw food movement has been around for a very long time; the first time I became aware of it was sometime in the mid-1990s, when my best friend and I met a man in the produce department of the grocery store who was advocating a raw food diet. He had some kind of a house in Santa Monica where people gathered weekly for some kind of raw food meal, which he invited us to, but we never went. I did eventually buy a cookbook on raw food, which I have used very little. By the way, the chef-owner of Euphoria Loves RAWvolution, Matt Amsden, also has a cookbook out, with some of his amazing recipes; it's called RAWvolution: Gourmet Living Cuisine.

As I understand it, the main benefit of eating raw foods is that they still have all the enzyms that go into making the food good for you and easier to digest. Cooking kills these enzymes, and so cooked food is much less beneficial.

The food at Euphoria Loves RAWvolution is largely based on the flesh of young Thai coconuts, as well as other nuts. Their almond milk is unbelievably delicious (NOT like the stuff you buy in boxes at the health food store). Most patrons at Euphoria Loves RAWvolution order a young coconut to drink with their meal. The restaurant staff open the coconut, and serve it to you with a straw and a spoon. You drink the juice (or coconut water), then eat the soft, creamy coconut meat by scraping it out of the empty coconut.

I love most of the food at Euphoria Loves RAWvolution, but the desserts are just WAY too rich for me; I can handle one or two bites, but to eat an entire parfait made from coconut meat and goji berries, you must get something like 2,000 calories. The desserts are sweetened with agave syrup, which claims to be the only "raw" plant-derived sweetener. According to Wikipedia, raw agave syrup "is produced at temperatures below 118 degrees Farhenheit (48 degrees Centigrade) to protect the natural enzymes." If you peruse the Euphoria Loves RAWvolution menu, you will discover many items that are "dried" instead of cooked -- raw breads and crackers that have been heated with this very low heat, not much higher than the human body temperature. The idea that these can still be considered "raw" seems to be like the work of lawyers trying to use loopholes to get around certain limitations. Agave syrup, by the way, is quite concentrated -- it's much sweeter than honey, for example.

Some of the dishes they serve are so amazing, you can't believe that they are created from raw foods. Others are less successful; some foods (like most cruciferous veggies) just aren't meant to be eaten raw, in my opinion. I had dinner there one night with my best friend and her boyfriend, we shared this enormous "sampler" plate, and all had a bit of intestinal discomfort afterwards. But most of the food there does agree with me. One thing I recall is the "hummus," which is made from pureed zucchini (peeled, so that it still has a hummus-y color). Their foods have lots of raw garlic.

What got me thinking about this restaurant so much this summer is that I'm spending the summer in Woodstock, New York, and the local health food store is stocking these young Thai coconuts on a regular basis. In honor of the coconuts, I will leave you with one recipe from Euphoria Loves RAWvolution:

Coconut Mint Smoothie

You will need 2 young Thai coconuts, a large handful (or two) of fresh mint, and raw agave syrup.

Open the two coconuts. Pour the juice of one coconut into the blender. (You can save the juice of the second coconut to drink on another occasion.) Use a spoon to scrape the coconut meat from the two coconuts into the blender. Sweeten with a little agave syrup, to taste, and blend at high speed until the mint is thoroughly blended into the coconut juice.

Sweet and Sour Okra (Kutchhi Bhindi)

If you live in Missouri, you have the great opportunity to buy tons and tons of locally grown okra during mid- to late summer. I didn't come to appreciate this great Southern vegetable until I moved to Mid-MO, but now I'm absolutely crazy about it, thanks in large part to this recipe. I got this recipe from Sandy Camargo several years back, and I believe she originally got it from one of Madhur Jaffrey's many cookbooks. (On Jaffrey currently has 33 individual titles available!)

Be sure to pick the smallest okras you can find, as the larger ones tend to get woody and less pleasant to eat. I usually just serve this with brown rice for a simple family meal, but it can also be combined with other Indian dishes for a larger and fancier meal. You can also add chicken or tofu to the recipe for protein.

Serves 4-6

Spice Mix -- Blend into a paste in blender:

7 cloves garlic, peeled
1 whole, dried hot chili
2 t. ground cumin
1 t. ground coriander
1/2 t. ground turmeric
3 T. water

Lemon Juice Mixture - Combine in a bowl:

1 t. salt
1 t. sugar
4 t. lemon juice
4 T. water

Other Ingredients:
4 T. vegetable oil
1 t. whole cumin seeds
14 oz. okra, trimmed and cut into 3/4" slices [n.b. If the okra are small you don't need to slice them]

Heat oil in 9” skillet over medium flame. Add whole cumin. When they sizzle, turn heat down a bit and add spice mix. Stir and fry about one minute. Add okra and lemon juice mixture. Stir to mix and bring to a gentle simmer. Cover tightly and cook on low heat for about 10 minutes or until okra are tender. If your okra takes longer to cook, you might need to add a little more water.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Moosewood House Dressing -- Creamy Spinach Basil

My Aunt Ruth sent me this recipe to share with readers of my blog; it was provided to her by Laura Branca of Moosewood, Inc. I haven't tried the recipe myself yet, but look forward to doing so.

Yields 2 1/4 cups
Time: 5-10 minutes

1 cup canola or other vegetable oil
3 tablespoons cider vinegar or fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons mild honey
1/4 cup rinsed spinach leaves, packed
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, loosely packed
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
pinch of ground black pepper
1 cup milk or buttermilk

In a blender, combine the oil, vinegar or lemon juice, honey, spinach, basil, mustard, salt, and pepper and puree until smooth. With the blender still running, gradually add the milk or buttermilk in a thin stream — the dressing will become thick and creamy. As soon as the dressing thickens, stop the blender or the oil may separate, causing the dressing to become thin.

Moosewood House Dressing will keep for about a week in the refrigerator. If it separates, shake well before serving.