Last month, I ventured to The Green Owl, Madison’s only exclusively veg*n restaurant, for their monthly Raw Night. While I found an astonishing quality of food, both the rushed service, high price tag, and extremely small portion sizes left much room for improvement. I suggested serving the meal in separate courses, instead of as one platter-sized plate with small bites of each menu item, which felt more like an appetizer sampler than an entire prix fixe dinner and certainly did not satiate me or my dining companinon, Connor. Surprisingly, the lovely and gracious owner Jennie Capellaro personally left me a comment on my last Raw Night review, explaining that preparing a varied, delicious meal of raw food requires a boatload of extra labor, special ingredients, and time—just consider all the soaking, sprouting, and dehydrating!—which certainly justifies the $25 per diner cost. She also apologized for the confused service and agreed that perhaps a multi-course meal would improve Raw Night. Indeed, Jennie served separate courses at her March Raw Night to my great contentment and hunger satisfaction, though the service remained a bit too eager.
Connor and I both began our predominantly green meal (hello springtime!) with a glass of freshly squeezed cucumber-honeydew melon juice. With an aroma evocative of a spa, the juice tasted wonderfully refreshing after my yoga class—cool and hydrating from the cucumber and succulent with a hint of sweetness from the melon.
Our first course of creamy herbed zucchini soup arrived promptly and in a much larger vessel than the thimble-sized ramekins presented to us at our last Raw Night experience. Smooth yet studded with surprising crunches of bell pepper, the soup tasted like the vegetable essence of pizza, probably due to the use of herbs like basil and oregano.
Our salad course arrived shortly after we had scraped every last silky drop from our soup bowls. Described as an apple-fennel walnut napoleon, the salad featured crisp pink apple slices and subtlely sweet shaved fennel layered together and sprinkled with walnuts, drizzled in a strawberry-agave vinaigrette, and topped with sunflower sprouts. Not necessarily the most exciting menu item, but tasty, nonetheless.
After our salad, I began to notice the hurried nature of our service. Before either Connor or I had cleared our plates, the waitress appeared with our next course, forcing us to awkwardly shift our place settings around mid-bite and rush to finish the last of our salads. I quickly forgave the slight bump in service, however, in excitement of our final appetizer course—crispy zucchini-carrot fritters with cranberry-ginger sauce. Redolent in the lovely nutty savoriness so familiar to raw foods, the crunchy patties balanced perfectly with the tart-sweet cranberry sauce (though Connor thought it overpowered the dish). I only have two minor qualms with this course: first, the fritters proved difficult to cut through, though I mostly overlooked this issue since they almost melted upon touching the tongue; second, a pile of pitiful, limp iceberg lettuce lay as a completely unnecessary garnish next to the fritters. All I must ask is “Why?”
Again, our next course arrived before we had finished our previous, and I began to question why the Green Owl would want to turn over our table so quickly? We had late reservations for 8:00 and by the time our main dishes arrived, the dining room was by no means crowded. Shoving this notion to the back of my mind, I focused on the gorgeous entree presented to me: a Raw Shepherd’s Pie with a side of marinated green beans. A raw interpretation of colcannon (a traditional Irish dish of mashed potatoes and cabbage), made with creamy cauliflower instead of potatoes, topped an unbelievably flavorful mixture of walnuts, marinated mushrooms, carrots, and other veggies. I would have happily eaten (or swam in) an entire bowl of the walnut-mushroom layer, reveling in its richness and smooth mouthfeel, and greatly appreciated that the Owl served the pie warm out of the dehydrator (not above 114°F, though, mind you!) to give a crusty finish to the colcannon layer as well as impart a comforting feel to the dish. While I enjoyed the crisp-tender texture of the dehydrated green beans, both Connor and I had trouble detecting any trace of their supposed marinade described on the menu and agreed that we would have appreciated a more well-seasoned side dish.
As I had come to expect, the waitress arrived with desserts in hand as the last forkful of shepherd’s pie entered my mouth. While I would have welcomed a pause in the meal to linger over my stunning entree and digest slightly, the gorgeous slice of brown-green-white striped raw Grasshopper Pie distracted my displeasure in feeling hurried. Undoubtedly, dessert claims the prize as my favorite aspect of any raw meal, and this cheesecake of chocolate crust, fresh mint cashew cream, coconut cream, and chocolate ganache studded with cacao nibs proved no different. I must confess that normally I don’t enjoy mint’s pungent flavor, but the herb did not overpower the cake at all, instead subtlely complementing the more prominent coconut and chocolate flavors. I also verily appreciated that the cake did not taste too overly sweet—a happy gift to my sugar-sensitive tastebuds. Each cream layer held a velvety, decadent texture and distinct flavor, combining in a symphony of utter deliciousness.
Meal Checklist: Protein—various nuts. Whole Grain—none. Vegetables—zucchini, bell pepper, tomato, herbs, cucumber, fennel, carrot, ginger, green beans, mushrooms, cauliflower. Leafy Green—sunflower sprouts, iceberg lettuce, cabbage in colcannon.
All in all, I would consider my March excursion to the Green Owl’s Raw Night a vast improvement over that of February. The food quality remained superb (with a few nit-picky errors), while serving each course separately produced a much more special atmosphere to the entire meal, actually merited the relatively high bill, and left Connor and me with very satisfied tummies, indeed. I only hope that the Owl works on timing their courses better and relaxes the speed of the meal to allow diners sufficient time to adequately savor both the food and their company.
Until next time, Ali.