Wednesday, July 10, 2013


If you're going to go for high-end, swanky raw cuisine, Pure Food & Wine is the place to do it.  And if this sounds like an oxymoron, it should.  The limitations that are inherent to this type of diet are just too constrictive to make it very appealing to any typical omnivore.  That said, there are some things that are eaten raw (salads, and err... salads?) that are inherently delicious, and those are executed well here at Pure.  The other dishes are as follows...

It's a strange contrast: the low-lit dining room with red leather (pleather? or hypocrisy??) cushions and heavy dark wood would be suitable in a classic steakhouse.  But their trying to put a little glam in the produce aisle, so to speak, and I'm guessing the elegant surrounding can be argued to justify the price (read: expensive).

Now, there is a lot you can do to make raw things yummy: nuts, coconut, oils, sweet fruits, and (strangely enough) brewer's yeast is pretty crucial for that umami element.  Interestingly, they're also not opposed to using alcohol: they have a full wine list (mostly biodynamic and organic) and sake on tap from a producer in Oregon.  I think a glass of wine would help most of the dishes here, too, perhaps buffering some of the sheer .... rawness of it all.

Full disclosure: I didn't know this place was vegan/raw when I entered.  I should've (I think I even subconsciously did, but when I was ordering I didn't take it into consideration).  Still, a red and green romaine salad was surprisingly good, although slabs of juicy grapefruit were senselessly oversize components.  And at $16, the price was notably oversize as well.  It would've been better with some small, diced sections to add brightness to the avocado mousse striated across the plate, and the crown of crispy (I'm guessing they are salted and dehydrated?) shallots.  Hazelnut and Ale Crostini shattered any misconceptions that all this was going to be rabbit food.  Boozy dried figs
perched atop globs of creamy nut cheese bedecked with more nuts, piled atop "crostini" made from nuts.  Were this a "regular" restaurant, the toppings for sure would be excessive, but there seems to be a requisite super-sizing of the more indulgent components of these recipes in order to make them palatable (and so too to avoid  comparisons with their traditional renditions).  It was very sweet and creamy, and quite frankly a bit leaden for more than just one bite- and the plate was made up four.  Squash blossoms filled with Picholine olive "cheese" were welcomely un-fried as they are all too often prepared, but I couldn't help wishing
 they were at least allowed a little steam.  It was an absolutely beautiful dish, though, and the saffron tomato sauce was herbal and fresh - although the filling was a little overpowering, and I certainly can't figure out what the melon balls had to do with anything.

Entrees were decidedly more disappointing, I found, or maybe I was just losing interest in the novelty.  The Moroccan sauce underneath a mound of cauliflower "couscous" was richly spiced, but the whole pile of granulated cauliflorettes riddled with dried fruits and nuts just tasted like a sum of it's parts- and it was no masterful calculation.  Slices of pickled Persian cucumber were good enough to be sold on their own, but raw pickles are no revelation.  The portobello mushroom with cauliflower and horseradish aioli wouldn't have been a stranger on any menu as a vegetarian option- had a grill been involved.  Instead, once you got past the brined exterior of the mushroom, you reached that earthy
 center of raw portobello that simply tasted like earth.  Not earthY- like dirt.  A kale chimichurri and barbecue sauce AND peach salsa (I'm guessing tomato and tamarind were involved) joined forces to make it even edible, but the rough, watery cauliflower puree was just ground up raw vegetable.  I love a plate of crudites- but this was trying to be something it's not.  Raw green beans on the side, and at this point I just really wanted some steaming hot gravy.  The chili-spiked portobello in the sweet corn and cashew tamales had the benefit of a small dice, so it was permeated in salsa verde throughout.  But its tamale had an off-putting pastiness to it, although the sour cream created from cashew and coconut was surprisingly tasty.  A flavorful hunk of avocado distracted as well, and there was more sauce  and
 mole and salsa in this dish as well to try and liberate it from what seems to be the fate of raw cuisine: some things just taste better cooked.    LOTS of things, in fact, and while the nutritional aspect of raw foods  has its merits, there are a lot of things that are healthier cooked (i.e. carrots, asparagus, mushrooms and tomatoes), as well as valuable nutrients in animals products (DHA and EPA, etc.) that this type of diet is always going to have to battle with.  But even so, I've had a couple raw dishes that were better than these, at LifeThyme on 6th avenue in the West Village... and they were exponentially less expensive (granted, this is a store not a restaurant).

But strictly from the perspective of taste, I was relieved to move on to desserts.  There is a lot of great things that can be done with nuts and fruits and berries and coconuts, so after the salads, dessert had a lot more potential.  Plus, while some of this food can taste pretty good, it wasn't satisfying- not in a filling, sating way.  So desserts are kind of requisite.  Thus, we tried three.  They were all pretty delicious.  Cake seeming the most difficult to recreate without heat, we tried a cardamom spiced layer cake with rhubarb compote (okay, actually I just got it for the rhubarb).  The "cake" had a dense, fudgy texture and a mildly nutty flavor that paired well with the cardamom.  Ice creams are most likely realized with coconut
milk, which is a valiant substitution and makes for creamy, pretty delicious scoops.   So no surprise that a sampler of mixed berry frozen "yogurts" was pretty successful, utilizing prime, peak-season fruits with a charming flourish of edible flowers.  Even a dark chocolate brownie, less easy to imagine,
was rich and fudgy, although were it an actual brownie it might've lost point for any intimation of cakiness- it was kind of like a cross between cake and filling.  Smeared concentrically around the plate was a tart swipe of pureed raspberry, a little Dexter-ish maybe, but intensely fruity, and the maple candied almonds would stand on their own as a yummy snack.

So that's that for a long review.  But each of the dishes at Pure Food & Wine had so many components, the descriptions on the menu alone took a line or two.  And all that is without any flesh, dairy, honey, eggs, or fire.  I applaud their efforts, I do.  In fact, I can hardly even imagine the amount of trial and travail it must take to put any of these single dishes (or even a single sauce!) onto a plate.  I  think vegans who have been restricting themselves for a stretch will find Pure an indulgent reprieve.  But without any meat, Maillard or melting, it left this wholly veg-appreciative omnivore mildly bemused.  And it's not I wouldn't go back for a salad at lunch, or maybe even dessert if I was in the 'hood, but only under three conditions:  any companion I was with was carniphobic, somebody ELSE was footing the bill, and I wasn't giving a whit about following the chef.  Which I can pretty much guarantee will never, ever be the case.

54 Irving Place
tel.  (212) 477-1010

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