|Sunday, December 17, 1995 · Page 43||©1997 San Francisco Chronicle|
MICHAEL BAUER, CHRONICLE FOOD EDITOR
In a city known for innovative cooking, Raw Living Foods beats them all. This new Sunset District restaurant doesn't need such mundane equipment as a stove. A blender works just fine, because nothing in this kitchen is cooked.
The basic philosophy: Before there was fire, there was raw.
The menu includes the expected organic salads, but there are also categories for kreems (fruit smoothies and soft fruit creams and puddings), pizza, soup and several main courses. For the most part, the menu looks like one you'd find at thousands of restaurants, but here diners need a whole new lexicon to understand what's going on. No dairy products are used and nothing (except tea) is heated to more than 118 degrees.
Pizza crust is made by blending olive oil and buckwheat in a food processor, shaping the mixture into a quarter-inch layer and letting it bake six hours in the sun. The seven types include the Sicilian ($11), which has the crumbly crust smeared with a thin layer of avocado and dotted with pungent, raw-cured eggplant dices, fresh and sun-dried tomatoes, bits of onions, lots of garlic and four kinds of mushrooms. The blend is surprisingly bold, but the flavors are well-integrated, creating a pleasant tangy sweetness. Others, such as the Baghdad ($11), feature seasonal fruit, including dates, raisins, persimmons and pomegranates.
The mushroom soup ($4) is made with almond milk, meaty slices of shittakes and a fine mince of bell peppers, onions, cilantro and chiles that leave a residual heat in their wake.
The restaurant, on Ninth Avenue between Irving Street and Lincoln Boulevard, is so close to Golden Gate Park that chef/owner Juliano -- he doesn't use a last name -- wanders over there at least twice a week to forage for some of the ingredients in his Golden Gate Park salad ($7).
It's a mix of dandelion, wild sorrel, the fleshy herb perslane, nasturtium, mustard shoots, julienne of raw sweet potatoes, slices of Peruvian potatoes, dices of red bell peppers, and both red and green zebra-striped tomatoes. The mix is perfumed with olive oil and herbs, then splashed with an Italian-style dressing.
DECADE IN THE FOOD BUSINESS
Whenever the doors of his 35-seat cafe are open, you will see Juliano, a six-foot blond who wears his long curly hair in a bun on top of his head. He's only 24, but has been in the food business for nearly a decade. At 15 he began to help out his parents at the Italian restaurants they owned in Chicago and Las Vegas, where Juliano was reared. They were appalled when their son turned to raw foods, but a few years ago he persuaded them to convert to vegan vegetarianism.
Although Juliano doesn't bake, braise, roast or saute, he's as excited about and committed to his work as any other innovative chef. Since there's really nowhere to go for training in raw-only foods, he's created a cuisine by experimenting and tasting. For variety, the chef uses many ingredients rarely used at other restaurants, including sprouted rice and seaweed, which has the shape of fettuccine and the rubbery texture of jellyfish. He also makes both raw-cured cabbage and eggplant and creates mock salmon by using the dregs from juicing carrots, which he blends with ground almonds and seawater.
His ``bread'' is made in much the same way. He blends all the juicing leftovers with sesame seeds and seasonings, spreading it on a pan and dehydrating it. The mixture comes out with a texture reminiscent of moist German rye.
His work area stretches along one wall and contains all the blenders and food processors. The dining room is separated from the kitchen by a series of tables used for chopping and a refrigerated display case that contains sprouts and other produce. The restaurant has a New Age feel, with an elevated area by the front window featuring low tables and cushions so people can eat and sprawl. The main part of the restaurant has glass tabletops on white plaster bases and white plastic lawn chairs. Each place setting is marked with a white napkin and every table is set with a bouquet of fresh flowers. New Age mystical art highlights the wall behind the open kitchen, and alternate panels of white gauzy fabrics and sculptural stainless steel ladders set with black lights cover the opposite wall.
A peaceful, friendly spirit pervades the place, the ambience punctuated by recorded chants and melodies, and the ever-present whir of blenders. The three or four staff members alternate between cooking and serving. At times, when a customer may want something, the server might be chopping chiles to garnish a dish or gathering ingredients for a salad. It's hard to get annoyed because you can see the work that goes into creating a single dish.
The most highly recommended combination is the Manitok wild rice ($15), listed under entrees on the menu. The rice, still harvested by the Chippewa Indians in Minnesota, is soaked for 30 days, but is rinsed each night at sunset.
It has a starchy, chewy texture and is mixed with guacamole, tomatoes, onions and whatever seasonings happen to please the chef. It's then arranged in an X on a handmade pottery leaf and decorated with piles of radish sprouts and dices of yellow and red bell peppers on each side. The wallop
of heat from cayenne, raw white onions and jalapeno peppers is tamed a bit by lemon juice that is squeezed on at the table. A glass of fresh pressed carrot juice ($2) is particularly refreshing with this dish.
HANDMADE POTTERY BOWLS
The only other entree is La Fleur Violette ($11), served in a thick, handmade pottery bowl shaped like lily pads. The bottom is layered with a ground mixture of five kinds of sprouts, nuts and sunflower seeds. Then there are slices of avocado, mushrooms (including hedgehog), sea palm from Mendocino, raw-cured cabbage and slices of squash, all washed in a gingery garlic dressing.
The food is never going to compete with Chez Panisse, but any true gourmand should go at least once and be amazed at the variety of flavors and combinations Juliano can coax from the food. (Juliano also teaches ``uncooking'' classes on Saturday afternoons).
After visiting the restaurant with me, one friend claimed her cold got better, especially after the tangy shot of wheat grass in the Blue, Green, Green, Green ($6), a frothy mixture with spirulina, algae, strawberries or other fruits. Another friend wasn't as enamored and made tracks to McDonald's for a Big Mac and fries.
However, the restaurant is more than a curiosity for the 55 members of the Whole Living Food support group, which meets there regularly. Juliano believes the body is designed to be fueled by raw foods (especially anything that has seeds). He claims that consumption of these foods does not change the chemical makeup of the blood. The body treats cooked foods -- or what he calls dead foods -- as a foreign invasion. White blood cells are activated to fight and acids are produced to break it down. What that means, according to proponents of the theory, is that the cells are diverted from doing what they should: promoting health and fighting disease.
That said, Juliano is low-key about his lifestyle, and he's hoping the restaurant will develop a wide following. ``People can go out for Chinese one night, Thai the next and then on another night go out for raw,'' he says.
RAW LIVING FOODS
ADDRESS: 1224 Ninth Avenue (between Irving and Lincoln), San Francisco. No bar. Reservations and credit cards accepted.
PHONE: (415) 665-6519HOURS: Open for lunch 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekdays. Dinner 5:30-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5:30-11 p.m. Friday, 4-11 p.m. Saturday, 4-10 p.m. Sunday.OVERALL: TWO STARS Food: TWO STARS Service: TWO STARS Atmosphere: TWO STARS . PRICES: $$ PLUSES: Pleasing raw combinations; excellent salads; pleasant surroundings MINUSES: Because nothing is cooked, food won't appeal to all; service can be slow --------------------------------------------------- RATINGS KEY FOUR STARS: Extraordinary THREE STARS: Excellent TWO STARS: Very good ONE STAR: Good (box): Fair . $ Inexpensive: entrees under $7 $$ Moderate: $7-$14 $$$ Expensive: $15-$20 $$$$ Very Expensive: $20+
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