03 December 2010

When a creative chef meets raw cuisine: Toronto's Live Organic Food Bar

Raw cuisine requires an abundance of creativity as it defies the Western idea of acceptable sustenance. On a personal level, treating myself to a raw restaurant is always enlightening as it teaches me a few things about new ingredients, techniques, flavors and presentation.

Perusing menus online helped convince my family to follow me on my pilgrimage and quest for darn good eats. We chose wisely.

My cyber research took me to Live Organic Food Bar. Nestled on a busy street consisting of mainly small boutique-style restaurants and shops, Live had the advantage of being easily accessible by a subway stating directly across. Especially for those whose Northern blood has thinned out in favor of Southern heat, humidity and hospitality, the trek was quite easy and non-eventful. However, the experience could only be describe in one word: ridiculous (in the exquisite sense of the word).

I held back my y'alls in favor of my Canadian "ehs" and "outs." I wanted to blend in the with locals.

The establishment is vibrant and visually wakes you up with complimentary green and orange hues with a comfortable and fresh ambiance. And the food is equally visually effervescent: Colorful while combining varying textures and flavors to entertain you for days, keeping you nutritionally superhuman.

Chef Jennifer Italiano rocked my gourmand world. Believing that the only processing of food should happen by the body, Live's cuisine follows the mantra that taste is worth a thousand words. My non-vegan family savored every bite.

Where do we start?

Green Kick Organic Juice: Pear, kale, ginger, dandelion, lemon with added Hemp Protein, an optimal, perfect super food. Gentle and light, these were a fete in my mouth.

Green Electricity: Kale, apple, grapefruit, coriander, ginger, lemon. Add Spirulina for antioxidant detoxification & energizing protein. Truly an energizing elixir.
Temptation. I wanted to start with the enticing martinis - the "London" seemed awesome with organic bulldog gin and bitters, fresh apple, blueberries, sparkling water & agave garnished with a sprig of rosemary - but given that my behavior tends to be somewhat unruly when I drink, being in the presence of the maternal unit held me back in favor of the light organic juices.

Initially, we shared the Green Kick Organic Juice. But given the unspoken passive aggressive fight for a larger share pushed me to order another one in the spirit of peaceful existence. Ok, I wanted to try something else.

Both are subtly gentle and although similar in color had very distinct personalities. It was the pear juice that subdued the strong greens and ginger into submission in the Green Kick while stronger citrusy notes coupled beautifully with the coriander and ginger.

When in doubt, order more than necessary right? I have always followed this philosophy thinking we would have some leftovers, and started with three appetizers.

Detox Salad: Kale, arame, dulse, sprouted quinoa, kelp, mixed seeds, avocado, lemon, wheat-free tamari, sprouts
The Detox Salad introduced me to new flavors including arame and kelp noodles. Both I had read about but had yet to experienced. Bold flavors otherwise unable to play together in one dish melded beautifully, the avocados adding a gorgeous creamy element.

Raw Bruschetta: Raw Bar in Toronto: Almond baguettes, balsamic marinated tomatoes, spinach, basil pesto, cashew dill medallions

A personal favorite, the Raw Bruschetta was perhaps one of the most creative and successful translations of a cooked dish to raw cuisine. The almond baguettes mimicked a toasted carby base while the cashew dill medallions simulated rich cheese. I could literally take a bath in the basil pesto while the marinated tomatoes added a nice acidic quality to the melange.

Raw Pecan Sushi Rolls: Pecan and sunflower hummus, carrots, sweet potato in nori with miso maple glaze
Perhaps the most visually stunning dish, Live's creativity truly emerged in the Raw Pecan Sushi Rolls with the use of the sweet potatoes as traditional Western sushi crunchies. The hummus was sweet while the miso maple glaze surprisingly mimicked a flavorful hoisin. This was gone in seconds.

Raw Beet Ravioli: Sliced beets, herbed cashew spread, baby spinach, balsamic reduction, basil pesto was one of the best translations of cooked to raw cuisine
Raw Falafel: Pumpkin, sunflower balls, sprouted quinoa and parsley tabouli, olives, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, tahini dressing

Raw Pizza: Buckwheat crust, tomato marinara, marinated spinach, kalamata and green olives, marinated mushrooms, herbed cashew crumble, sprouts
Up close and personal, getting a look at the nut cheese filling, the texture of the beets was quasi al dente allowing for the silky "cheese" to shine through
Raw Spring Rolls: Collard greens, kelp noodles, carrots, cucumbers, celery, black sesame seeds, sprouts with almond chilli sauce

This dressing was ridiculous. Cold pressed olive oil, tahini, apple cider vinegar, dill, garlic, wheat free tamari, celtic sea salt
Rejuvenation Bowl: Burdock root, red cabbage, steamed veggies, tempeh or tofu, topped with choice of creamy tahini or almond chilli sauce

Choosing a main dish was not difficult given that a raw sampler allowed a taste of all of their raw main entrees. The beet ravioli was cleverly assembled using al dente thin slices of beet sandwiched around silky and creamy nut cheese. The accompanying basil pesto added richness and depth.

Equally as creative was the raw falafel mixing pumpkin with sunflower seeds on a bed of sprouted quinoa tabouli. As an avid falafel consumer, I have been disappointed many times by raw falafel tasting too green and bitter. This was quite gentle. It was also mellowed with the exotic tahini dressing, which incidentally, I could totally take a bath in.

We did complement our meal with one of their cooked offerings. The rejuvenation bowl was quite filling, allowing me to sample the robust burdock root for the first time.

Chef Italiano, I am a fan.

It is impossible to finish a meal like this without contemplating the possibility of dessert. A strategic walk to the dessert case with a little help from the friendly staff, I narrowed down to all of them, but only took two home with me.

I had previously learned how to use avocado, dates and chocolate to fashion a raw chocolate mouse, so was eager to see how using coconut one could change it into a rich dense torte.

Chocolate Avocado Torte: rich and delicious, indulgent and orgasmic. I should have bought another slice

With our tummy's full, we took dessert home. Acting in a benevolent fashion, I pronounced dessert was to share with my father, which I did, but not too much.

The crust was perfection and the torte was pure indulgent decadence. A slice of tiramisu also found its way home (still not sure how) which in my humble opinion, was the highlight of the evening.
Better than ANY cooked non-vegan dessert. This rocked.
In this case, a picture is worth a thousand words. Ridiculous.

Need I say more?

Originally posted at VeganGoodEats

Joel Luks | @joel_luks
Joel, a classically trained flutist and resident of Houston, takes a personal interest in developing vegan recipes that satisfy the vegetable lover and the carnivore alike, challenging the stereotype that vegans and rabbits share similar sustenance. Follow Joel at Vegan Good Eats and Facebook.

Photo credit: cc:flickr.com/photos/wrestlingentropy, Joel Luks