The Raw and the Half-Baked

By Salma Abdelnour Posted February 07, 2008

File under temporary insanity:
I had dinner at the raw-foods restaurant Pure Food and Wine last night, and not for the first time. I was coaxed into going by a healthy-eating-fixated friend three weeks ago—and yesterday I went of my own accord—so that makes two visits in less than a month. In NYC terms, that's dangerously close to becoming a regular.

My fate seems to be such that everything I mock, I eventually embrace—or at least, I end up dabbling in for a while. I absolutely am not, and will never ever ever be, a raw-food-ist (hold me to that, please). But some of Pure's dishes, and not just obvious things like salad, are downright delicious. The dining room and bar area are dark and surprisingly sexy for a restaurant like this, and the embarrassing-to-say-out-loud Master Cleanse Tini (sake, lemon, maple syrup, cayenne pepper) is one of the best cocktails I've had in months. Nothing "cleansing" about it, unless you count the cleansing power of alcohol, but it nails the balance of smooth, spicy and tart.

Last time, I'd tried the tomato-zucchini "lasagna" with basil-pistachio pesto, sun-dried tomato sauce and a "ricotta" made from pine nuts, and was impressed with the vigorous, zingy flavors; the depth of taste and textural contrast really did make up for the absence of heat. Since I couldn't stop thinking about the lasagna over the past few weeks, I had it again last night. Over dessert, a guy at the next table leaned in to ask us if the chocolate sundae with candied almonds was as fabulous as it looked; at the risk of sounding like tools, we had to say "why, yes." Come to think of it, on my last visit, a couple at the next table had leaned over to inform us that we should duplicate their exact dinner order. The neighborliness in Pure's dining room can be a bit creepy—but also charming in its Andy Griffith-ness. Must have something to do with embattled, misunderstood communities (the raw-foodists score high on both counts) banding together.  

Having woken up feeling refreshed and—for a change—not weighed down by last night's dinner, I decided to keep the healthy vibes flowing. I went for lunch today at FreeFoods, the ironically named takeout lunch spot from Pure owner Sarma Melngailis's ex-partner Matthew Kenney. FreeFoods has a lasagna that looks almost exactly like Pure's, but I decided to shell out $10.25 for the free-range turkey panini with avocado, Pecorino Pepato and red-chili-mustard on spelt bread. The sandwich, though tasty, was inexcusably small for the price and skimped shamelessly on the avocado; on the upside, it didn't trigger a food coma. I suspect FreeFoods' business model might be "Pay us lots of money to not feed you." They might be onto something.

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