Going raw for a night


If you're a big-hunk-of-steak kind of person like me, few things could seem more torturous than dinner at a raw-food restaurant.

But as it turned out, it wasn't that bad.

Dan Hoyt and Tolentin Chan, owners of the two Quintessence restaurants in New York, have created dishes that are varied, tasty and intriguing. Sure, being a raw restaurant, it offers no wine or beer, but the coconut drinks almost make up for it.

On a recent Friday night, a friend and I trekked to the East Village restaurant to sample some raw offerings.

The meal began with a cup of Peter's pot, a red, slightly oily soup of blended tomato, yellow pepper and cucumber with basil and spices. The menu claims it "boosts the body's healing power," which I can't attest to, but it did taste like a zesty gazpacho. The black olive and cream dim sum were a little harder to stomach. The dumplings -- seaweed pouches stuffed with diced avocado and black-olive paste -- looked so much like dim sum that it was a shock to bite into the mushy filling and realize you weren't in Chinatown anymore.

The burrito dinner -- lettuce leaves filled with veggies and pastes seasoned to taste like Cheddar cheese and refried beans -- went over better. (But that may have been because we knew Alanis Morissette to our left had ordered the same.) The Italian pasta marinara, however, was outstanding. The pasta, made of thinly sliced squash, was slightly crunchy and absolutely delicious with the marinara sauce. And its "meatballs" (made with nuts) were just as yummy.

We were so happy with the entrees, we decided we to brave the desserts. The pecan pie, made with raw pecans and fresh dates, was a lot less sweet than its nonraw counterpart. And the three-layer mudslide -- featuring carob mousse -- came nowhere near to satisfying my "deepest chocolate cravings," as the menu promised. Both desserts tasted more like gourmet breakfast cereal bars than decadence defined.

The key to enjoying a raw dinner lies in staying focused on one thing: not even subconsciously expecting the raw version to taste like the real deal. And -- it probably wouldn't hurt to have a Grammy-winning superstar slurping it up right next to you.

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