The thought of a restaurant that serves only uncooked fruits, vegetables, nuts and seaweed makes me shudder, but I walked out of Roxanne's, a "living foods" restaurant in Marin County, California (where else?), not just satisfied but thrilled. I'm not the only one who's been impressed; four-star Chicago chef Charlie Trotter was so blown away by Roxanne Klein's food that he's asked her to collaborate on a cookbook, scheduled to be published this summer.
Klein, who trained at the respected California restaurants Stars, Square One and the Lark Creek Inn, cooks meals that are complex and voluptuous. I use the word "cooks" metaphorically, because nothing is heated above 118 degrees--to preserve natural enzymes, I am told. This means no grains or even tofu, which is heated in processing, are part of the cuisine. Many ingredients come from a 15-acre organic garden started by Roxanne's husband, Michael, the restaurant's co-owner, who formerly ran his own tech companies.
Klein layers flavors and textures until she gets the effects she wants. Her wild mushroom "pizza," for example, is made with almond flour, zucchini, flax seed and cashew "cheese." Yes, it sounds awful. But it's delicious, with the perfume of fresh herbs and dark mushrooms, the complexity of aged cheese and--although the pie is served barely warm--the savoriness of cooked food.
To get this depth of flavor, Klein invented a new set of cooking techniques based on an unconventional batterie de cuisine: low-temperature convection ovens, hydraulic juicers, flash freezers, Japanese slicers, a low-tech Sumeet spice grinder from India. She presents her food on white Bernardaud china, each thin plate a canvas for splashes of radiant color. The restaurant itself took two years to build, in part because contractors had to track down recycled and certified sustainably harvested materials. Electricity comes from solar panels on the roof. Roxanne's produces almost no garbage; mainly recyclables and compost. All profits are donated to environmental and other causes.
But patrons don't realize they're sitting in a "green" environment. All the trappings of a modern, high-end restaurant are in place: a wine list from master sommelier Larry Stone of Rubicon; elegant food; sleek surroundings. Diners understand they've been to a different kind of restaurant only the morning after a big night at Roxanne's, when they wake up feeling surprisingly refreshed (320 Magnolia Ave.; 415-924-5004).