The night I went out to dinner for my first restaurant review, temperatures after dark had dropped below freezing. So why would I decide to visit a raw vegan restaurant on such a frigid night? Because Pure Food and Wine, despite not heating any dish above approximately 118°F, transcends the chill of winter through the power of excellent cuisine.
Always one to take the opportunity for a nice dinner, I went to this upscale Irving Place restaurant with my mother. Pure Food and Wine eschews the lime green and white, modern interiors so common among vegan restaurants, offering a warm interior with dark wood and cherry red seats.
We started out splitting the Philly Roll of Avocado, Kim Chee and Creamy Cashew Cheese. When you read “creamy” on the menu at Pure Food and Wine, know they truly mean it. The combination of cashew cheese and avocado meant that within its thick seaweed armor, this Philly Roll was delectably velvety, balanced with bright, fresh bursts of tatsoi (an Asian salad green), hijiki (a brown sea vegetable), and kim chee (fermeted pickled vegetables).
I’m not sure if this is a credit to the service at Pure Food and Wine or a symptom of a raw restaurant where nothing has to be heated, but our second course plates arrived at our table very quickly after our empty sushi plate was whisked away. I had ordered the Cauliflower Couscous with Persimmon Mint Dolmas, while my mother went with the Zucchini and Local Greenhouse Tomato Lasagna. My dish was surprising, with fresh zings of mint, sweet dried fruits, and lost of crunch from the nuts. I savored the four dolmas on top, eating them one by one throughout the meal. Of course, I got to sample some of the lasagna too! This seems to be one of their highlight dishes, and I can see why. A masterfully-done lasagna taste and feel, with none of the heaviness of the pasta or meat, left us thoroughly satisfied.
Until the dessert menu came out. We splurged and went with the Carrot Cake with cream cheese ice cream, white chocolate bark, and pineapple gelée. Cream cheese ice cream, at a vegan restaurant? I devoured our dessert without a second thought, but as I sat back to digest the incredibly fresh yet somehow sinful cake, I couldn’t help but wonder: how does Pure Food and Wine do it?
I emailed Sarma Melngailis, the owner of Pure Food and Wine and the founder and CEO of One Lucky Duck, a food company that sells online and at One Lucky Duck Juice & Takeaway shops in Gramercy and Chelsea Market. Read our interview below to get an inside look!
How does the raw, vegan cuisine affect the operation of the kitchen? Is Pure Food and Wine equipped with ovens, or are there any specific tools that might not be in another restaurant’s kitchen?
Since we’re raw, we don’t have ovens or stoves in the restaurant! Instead we use dehydrators, which are kept at temperatures below 118 degrees. They’re what we use to make anything crunchy, like tart crusts, etc. and to soften and concentrate the flavor in marinated vegetables. We also rely heavily on Vita-Mix blenders, and we have some tools to slice vegetables into noodles. We also have a special kind of ice cream makers. And of course, juicers.
When I was looking at the menu, I kept saying to myself This can’t be vegan. How could this ice cream possibly have no animal ingredients?! Do diners frequently ask how certain dishes could possibly be “veganized”?
Yes they do, and they ask about our ice cream most often! People can’t believe there’s no dairy, and yet it tastes like regular premium ice cream (or better, many say!). For the base use the soft ‘meat’ from young coconuts, as well as soaked organic cashew nuts. We use our ice cream in desserts and also sell many flavors by the pint from our adjacent juice bar.
One standout factor in my experience last night at Pure Food and Wine was the warm, upscale interior. I find that many restaurants stick to a “café” atmosphere when it comes to plant-based dining, with white walls and bright green accent colors. Was it a conscious choice to differentiate Pure Food and Wine through a more luxe experience?
Yes, it definitely was! I wanted our space to feel cozy and warm, and so the use of red and natural dark wood I think achieves that. It’s a romantic feeling space! I also didn’t want it to look like a vegan or health food restaurant, and while we serve lunch now, when we first opened we were a dinner-only destination and we definitely get a lot of people on dates.
On your website for One Lucky Duck, you write about how you opened Pure Food and Wine after one year of a raw vegan lifestyle, and the fast rise of your brand One Lucky Duck. After such meteoric success, what’s next?
I’m always working on a lot of different things. I’d like to get another book out, however putting together a book is so time consuming so it’s not happening any time soon. We’re also still adjusting to our new production space in Brooklyn and expanding what we do, so we’ll be continuing to introduce new products to sell in our juice bars and from the online store. I do have some other things up my sleeve, but nothing to announce just yet. Right now I’m really looking forward to Spring weather and getting our backyard garden open for the season at Pure Food and Wine.