July Raw Night at The Green Owl: The Best Ever

I’ve partaken in my fair share of Raw Nights at the Green Owl Cafe—just take a gander at my three previous reviews of their monthly uncooked cuisine. During my first sampling, I experienced disappointingly small portion sizes that did not merit the prix fixe cost, as well as subpar service. On the second occasion, the service had not significantly improved, though both the food quality and amount did indeed. My third visit offered satisfying service, though the food proved less than stellar. However, my sixth raw night excursion (I’ve not blogged about two of them), proved astounding. Impeccable. Utterly superb. I honestly harbor but one ridiculously miniscule qualm with the entire five-course meal and congratulate the Green Owl on finally perfecting their table service. Cara Mosely, the pastry chef at the Owl and mastermind behind their increasingly popular Raw Nights (as a former raw foodist of eight years), truly outdid herself with July’s Thai-inspired meal, imbibing it with powerful flavor, creative dishes, and farmers-market-fresh veggies. Confident that this most recent Raw Night signals the onset of many impressive and well-thought-out uncooked meals to come, I lament (well, not really. I can’t wait for my college experience to begin.) my departure to Vassar College in late August and will have to deem next month’s Raw Night my last until I return home for winter break in January.

Though a bit embarassing (or flattering?) to admit, the Green Owl waitstaff has begun to consider me a regular, at least of their Raw Nights. Upon sitting down underneath a kelly-green umbrella outside to enjoy the pleasant summer evening, our lovely waitress exclaimed, “Well, it’s nice to have you back—I haven’t seen you in a while!” What can I say? I love me some raw vegan food.

Our meal began with a small glass of watermelon mint juice, of which I failed to snap a photo, unfortunately. Suffice to say that the bright magenta-colored juice flecked with finely minced mint leaves served as a refreshing swig of summer’s essence—a foreshadowing of the astronomical deliciousness about to ensue.

A cup of unctuous coconut lemongrass broth, rife and chunky with plump shiitake mushrooms, juicy cherry tomatoes, and crunchy scallions—a chilled take on the classic Thai soup known as Tom Kha—soon graced our table. Briefly forgetting the raw nature of our meal, I expected a steaming hot sip of soup with my first spoonful, but performed a gastronomic double-take as the cool liquid hit my tongue, coating it in a masterful balance of spice and tang. Though the broth did not carry the familiar bright white hue of traditional Tom Kha (I would venture to guess that they implemented coconut water instead of the non-raw coconut milk usually present in cooked versions of the soup), it certainly satisfied the creamy texture expected at any Thai restaurant.

Never tiring of salads, I happily welcomed a Som Tum as our next course. Shredded green papaya coated in a slightly spicy citrus vinaigrette, studded with crispy green beans and scallions, topped with more succulent cherry tomatoes, and served over a bed of sweet, tender lettuce served as an enlivening palate cleanser after our more full-bodied soup.

Undoubtedly the highlight of the meal, the Summer Rolls literally brought me close to tears of sheer joy. A wafer-thin dehydrated coconut wrapper artfully flecked with black sesame seeds surrounded a rainbow-colored filling of shredded vegetables (which I assume had marinated in a sesame ginger dressing) including purple cabbage, carrots, and various herbs—the juxtaposition of the soft, chewy wrapper with the crunchy veggies provided ample textural interest. However, once dipped in a thick sauce composed simply of peanuts and spices, the summer roll catapulted itself from the earthly Raw Night King to the divine Raw Night Magistrate of the Universe. So, um, yeah, like, the roll was really good.

A popular dish in the raw food realm, Pad Thai constituted our entree of the night. Shredded daikon, summer squash, and carrot coated in a creamy cashew dressing that imparted a smidge of spicy chile flavor sat atop a bed of green cabbage, cauliflower florets, mung bean sprouts, and cashews. The tender, saucy noodles felt pleasantly light on the tongue and the tummy—a vast improvement over the usual heavy rice noodles that sit in a lump in your stomach. An uncomplicated yet genius sprinkling of toothsome cashews elevated the entire dish. However, my single culinary qualm of the night enters here: the raw cauliflower florets and shredded green cabbage offered nothing to the otherwise inspired Pad Thai and seemed like rather amateurish, completely unnecessary garnishes. Omit the offending crucifers, and I would have deemed our entree as infallible as the rest of our meal.

Finally, a deep bowl filled with a generous scoop of banana-coconut ice cream studded with vanilla beans, surrounded by a thick mango-lemongrass-ginger mousse, and topped with crispy banana chips concluded our tour of Thailand, following the close-to-perfect model exemplified by our previous four courses. This Siam Sundae had invaded my dreams during the week leading up to the July Raw Night, and the tangible manifestation of my foodie psyche set before me met and exceeded my every expectation. The creamy, smooth ice cream redolent with banana flavor and an undertone of coconut; the mysteriously spicy, intensely complex mango mousse with a consistency similar to lemon curd; the simple yet elegant garnish of crunchy banana chips—all three components culminated in a symphony of tropical Asian flavor to satisfactorily round out our meal.

The six Raw Nights I’ve experienced, from February’s disappointing dinner to July’s magical meal, have steadily increased in both food and service quality, reaching their current climax in this unparalleled gallery of fresh, colorful, lively, and playful uncooked goodies. I await August’s Raw Night with bated breath—Cara has promised a late summer meal featuring the bounty of heirloom tomatoes.

Until next time, Ali.

Igo Vego Food Cart Review

Nationally respected and locally adored, Madison’s food cart scene has exploded over the past couple of years. The downtown area boasts 42 lunch vendors (as compared to the 57 in Chicago), offering quick, inexpensive, and reliably tasty eats inspired by just about every world cuisine imaginable—indeed, 77 Square contributor Lindsay Christians paints an ethnic culinary picture:

On a sunny spring day on the University of Wisconsin-Madison Library Mall, an  adventurous eater can sample bayou jambalaya, Peruvian cilantro rice, Thai  spring rolls, Indonesian nasi goreng and crunchy balls of falafel, all without  traveling more than a city block.

While enthustiastic cart patrons revel in this veritable smorgasboard of meals on wheels, Madison street vending manager and expert Warren Hansen, who has twice presented at the San Francisco Street Food Festival, asserts that “We are truly at capacity. We couldn’t jam another one downtown if we wanted to.” Hansen’s weariness certainly poses no problem to vegans, as oodles of the current food carts feature absolutely delicious animal-friendly, plant-based options, such as Banzo’s falafel and hummus platters, Dandelion’s all-vegetarian selection of hearty sandwiches and wraps, and Good Food’s customizable menu of wraps and salads to which you can add tantalizing basil baked tofu.

Always thrilled to welcome another source for vegan-friendly fare to Madison’s gastronomic scene, I first discovered Igo Vego, a 2012 newcomer to the world of food carts, at the Mad City Vegan Fest, where I did not sample the cart’s array of wholesome, handmade vegan burgers, though I vowed to revisit the brightly colored refurbished pop-up camper for lunch in the very near future.

In 2004, Tammy Markee-Mayas, the founder of Igo Vego, began educating herself and her family about the corrupt intentions of the American food industry and sought to transition her diet to a more health- and earth-friendly one via a vegetarian, locally sourced lifestyle. Tammy recounts her truly remarkable journey into the food cart realm and beyond on her website, summing it up with her honorable and ambitious set of goals:

Our idea is simple. We make delicious, healthful, convenient, sustainable, and absolutely chemical-free vegan burgers with love and integrity; we source as much organic and local ingredients and work directly with local producers as we are able; and we strive to minimize garbage and remain focused on composting.

And there is so much more that we want to do! Like creating opportunities for aspiring farmers to acquire land and learn how to grow following the permaculture model, to empower the people we work with, and to establish sustainable, strong, local economies – economies made by the people, for the people, and directly benefitting the people in that community.

Separating her future plans into four phases, Tammy envisions first selling her burgers wholesale to local restaurants and retailers, as well as directly to the public at the farmers market and online. From there, she hopes to open a flagship “cafe market,” eventually transitioning to a co-op business model and establishing storefronts across the state, the Midwest, and finally the nation. Go Tammy!

Needless to say, Tammy’s passion toward wholesome eating and sourcing local, sustainably grown products only heightened my sense of urgency to sample the Igo Vego menu. At my first opportunity, I biked to Capitol Square with Connor, my restaurant-perusing companion who frequently occurs in the blog’s restaurant review posts, on a gorgeously sunny day, ravenous after working at the Troy Kids’ Garden for four-and-a-half hours and extremely excited to gobble up a hearty, veggie-loaded vegan burger.

Connor proudly displaying our bikes in front of the Igo Vego food cart.

As a gluten-free eater, I wholeheartedly appreciate Igo Vego’s option to order any of their four unique veggie burgers served on a bed of brown rice instead of a vegan bun (locally sourced from Nature’s Bakery Co-op, by the way!). All of their burgers sounded absolutely delectable—the Veg-Out features black and brown rice, kale, carrots, celery, and a secret sauce; the Sweet-n-Spicy boasts walnuts, sweet potatoes, and jalapenos; the Two-Alarm Chili promises a spicy kick with brown and black rice, kidney, pinto, and black beans, bell peppers, and chili powder; and the Mystic Mushroom marries three types of mushrooms with kale and sundried tomatoes. I opted for the Mystic Mushroom burger served on a generous mound of brown rice and topped with succulent diced heirloom tomato, slathered with mashed avocado, and drizzled in a savory almond cream. *The clouds part and the angels sing as the aforementioned pile of deliciousness descends from the heavens.* Not one to pass up a massaged kale salad, I also ordered a side of the Garden Veggie Hearty Harvest Salad, one of two salad specials for the day (I strongly suspect that they rotate these salads according to seasonal availability).

Igo Vego’s patties sport a soft, light texture, rather than a dense, chewy one—certainly not a negative quality, but simply different from most of the veggie burgers I’ve experienced previously. The intensely savory, complex flavors of the patties, however, will surely delight any food cart patron, regardless of how they prefer the texture of their veggie burgers. Rife with impressively fresh juicy tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, sweet yellow bell peppers, and tender kale, the salad also left me quite delighted. Though I decided to forgo dessert on this particular occasion, Igo Vego also offers two raw nut-and-date balls—the Loco Cocoa bites with walnuts, dates, maple syrup, and cocoa; and the Nutty ‘Nilla bites with hazelnuts, maple syrup, dates, and vanilla bean powder—two more reasons to return to the newly established and thriving food cart!

Igo Vego’s healthy offerings certainly transcend the stereotype of food cart cuisine as heavy, oily, and devoid of vegetables. I eagerly await my return to the cart to sample the rest of their three veggie burgers and look forward to Igo Vego’s expansion into a brick-and-mortar restaurant—I’m confident they have a successful future in store.

Until next time, Ali.

Creating Demand for Vegan Options in Restaurants and a Spring Dinner at Graze

In a recent recap of my prom night dining experience at L’Etoile, I barely skimmed the surface of the inherent flaws and impossibility of “humane meat and dairy,” as well as introduced Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s insightful concept of “excusitarianism.” I also asserted my belief in patronizing non-vegetarian/vegan restaurants to increase demand for plant-based menu items and to show business owners that the market for more compassionate, mindful meal options harbors a huge potential for profit that continues to grow as the public recieves more information about the all-around benefits of a vegan lifestyle.

I have absolutely no intention of seeming difficult or unreasonable when requesting vegan options at restaurants that do not cater specifically to my diet, but rather wish to help businesses broaden their menus to appeal to an even wider range of diners, thus increasing their monetary success while advocating for a plant-based diet in the process. Indeed, on the countless number of occassions that I’ve telephoned a non-vegan eatery seeking vegan accommodations, I’ve received nothing but quite positive responses assuring me that providing a plant-based meal would bring no burden whatsoever to the restaurant.

And frankly, it shouldn’t. Restaurants do business in the hospitality industry, where success is based on how well they cater to customers. Keeping an eye on public dietary trends certainly serves a restaurant’s best interests, as diners with specific food allergies or lifestyle choices are obviously more likely to patronize the businesses that offer them options. For example, many restaurants have added gluten-free fare to their menus in the midst of a growing American aversion to wheat and an increasing prevalence of celiac disease. Others have shifted their offerings from heavy gastronomic “splurges” to lighter, vegetable-based fare in an attempt to appeal to a more health-conscious society.

However, I think that because veganism delves so deeply into people’s fears, insecurities, and rationalizations of their own lifestyle choices, many are unwilling to accept the exclusion of animal products as a legitimate dietary consideration, deeming vegans as “threatening” or “demanding” in requesting restaurant meals to suit their lifestyles. In reality, vegans deserve to have their dietary preferences honored just as much as those allergic to gluten, peanuts, dairy, eggs, or soy, even if our food choices stem from a “radical” (i.e. compassionate) ethos rather than an unwanted health restriction.

In a continuous quest to provide vegan outreach to restaurants, I returned to one of my favorite non-vegan restaurants that caters beautifully to my particular lifestyle choice, as well as keeps a number of other dietary restrictions in mindGraze. I’ve patronized the casual yet classy pub before, though have since shifted my perspective on its demi-celebrity chef, Tory Miller (find out why here), and have always left immensely satisfied with the animal-friendly fare they’ve provided me, even amidst their other not-so-mindful menu items (though I’ve noticed that the amount of vegan/vegetarian-friendly options have been increasing slowly but surely!). My most recent visit proved no different, and I happily shared a meal highlighting the cornucopia of gorgeous spring vegetables that currently abounds in Madison, with the lovely Sarah (a fellow friend to the animals), who had never before sampled Graze’s offerings.

 

Opting to enjoy the unquestionably impeccable weather that evening, Sarah and I dined on the Graze patio underneath a kelly-green umbrella. As always at Graze, I began my meal with the House Pickles—a platter of six unorthodox pickled vegetable combinations about which I dream, waking up with drool on my pillow (TMI? I don’t care). My excitement for said pickles ran a bit awry on this particular occassion, as I utterly failed to photograph the dish before devouring the vast majority of it. Perhaps you can still decipher the dregs, starting from the top and descending: citrus-pickled beets with orange segments; incredibly umami daikon radish slices; classic bread and butter cucumbers; housemade super spicy kimchi; crunchy escabeche of cauliflower, carrots, and jalapeno; andasparagusspears, probably my favorite pickle of the six.

To satisfy my insatiable hunger for leafy greens, I also ordered the Mixed Green Salad (hold the cheese, please) as a starter. Lightly dressed in a tangy champagne vinaigrette, the colorful pile of tender greens, thinly sliced radishes, uber-sweet spring carrots, and refreshing baby cucumbers provided a simple yet scrumptious pre-entree dish.

Finally, for our main dishes, I opted for the Roasted Spring Vegetables (without the garlic aioli)—an individual-sized cast-iron skillet full of new potatoes, baby turnips, asparagus, and sugar snap peas sprinkled generously with basil and served with a squeeze of lemon—while Sarah chose the Pub (Veggie) Burger—a housemade vegan patty served with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, mustard, and ketchup on a (again) housemade English muffin with a side of fries. Both of us verily enjoyed our meals, savoring delectable bites between our fascinating and insightful conversation (we like being pretentious together).

 

Comment Provoking Questions: Do you try to provide “vegan outreach” to restaurants? In your experience, how do most restaurants respond to requests of vegan options? How ridiculously excited do you get over pickles?

Until next time, Ali.

Prom at L’Etoile and My Take on “Ethical Meat”

Yes, my senior prom took place nearly a month ago. No, I haven’t posted about the glorious meal I experienced that night at L’Etoile. Yes, I sincerely lament this fact and apologize to you, dear readers, both for my belated review and for my week-and-a-half-long hiatus from the blogosphere—the last week of high school finals certainly caught up with me. However, as of 10:00 this morning, I no longer have to refer to myself as an high school student and can finally liberate myself from the monotonous schedule I’ve endured for thirteen long years of mandatory schooling. Off to change the world at Vassar!

To celebrate both the end of an era and the rite of passage of prom, my best friend Connor surprised me with reservations at the classiest, most presigious, and locavorian restaurant in Madison—L’Etoile. While I’ve twice previously referred to Chef Tory Miller as my “culinary idol and locavore hero,” my opinon of the unquestionably talented chef (and recent winner of the 2012 James Beard Award for Best Chef Midwest) has since shifted a bit. I don’t want to criticize Tory’s astounding skill of transforming locally grown, organic produce into impeccable works of culinary art, and couldn’t reasonably do so without sounding utterly pretentious (not to mention rather insane). However, after becoming an avid supporter of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau and listening to at least three episodes of her podcast, Vegetarian Food for Thought, daily, I’ve realized that Chef Tory Miller, along with so many other promoters of “ethical meat” who conveniently ignore the violent slaughter of animals and choose to romanticize images of “grass-fed beef” grazing in open pastures, falls under the category of an excuse-itarian. Colleen coined this term in her podcast entitled “The Rise of the Excuse-itarians (or The Emperor’s New Clothes)”, in which she proves the falsity and impossibility of “humane meat” (an obvious oxymoron), debunks the myth that humans supposedly perform a moral favor to animals by eating them (based on the blatantly flawed claim that animals would go extinct if humans did not consume them), and asserts that the rationalization and ritualization of eating meat stems from human arrogance and love of feeling dominant—a far cry from “saving” animals by essentially torturing them for our carnal pleasure. I highly recommend both the podcast episode I’ve linked above, as well as an article by B.R. Myers in the September 2007 issue of The Atlantic, in which Myers artfully exposes hyped-up “foodie hero” Michael Pollan’s hypocrisy, selfishness, and need to defend his meat-eating. Colleen prefaces this article beautifully with her own disdain of Pollan here.

Luckily, Chef Tory Miller seems to have developed at least an inkling of the benefits of a vegan lifestyle (or perhaps he has simply noticed an upturn in requests for vegan dishes, which would hopefully spur this inkling!), since he has begun labeling all menu items at his more casual restaurant, Graze, that are naturally vegan or can be modified to suit vegans. At L’Etoile, my waitress informed me that Chef Tory has started incorporating one first course and one entree on the majority of his constantly rotating menus that is either completely vegan or can easily be made vegan with a slight modification.

Despite their emphasis on the romanticized ideal of “ethical meat,” I’ve decided not to boycott L’Etoile or Graze, for I believe in the importance of increasing the demand of vegan options on restaurant menus—after all, spreading the message is key! Hopefully one day Tory Miller will realize the astronomical damage to the environment and the economy, which he strives to protect with his locavorian values, caused by our consumption of meat—yes, even “grass-fed,” “ethical,” “humane,” and “romance novel” meat.

With this notion of promoting the vegan lifestyle in mind, I allowed myself to enjoy an entirely vegan pre-prom dinner featuring spring’s bounty of gorgeous farmers market produce. However, since this post has already proven fairly lengthy, I’ll dial back my tendency to wax poetic about my particularly memorable meals and allow you to experience L’Etoile’s masterful cuisine simply through photos and short descriptions. You can rest assured that every bite of every dish sent my soul into utter gastronomical bliss.

Another surprise from Connor: a personalized menu!

Complimentary sparkling cider as a toast to celebrate Tory Miller’s James Beard Award.

Amuse Bouche: crisp apple slices drizzled in white truffle oil, sprinkled with black pepper, and garnished with microgreens.

Hors d’Oeuvre: crunchy roasted asparagus with succulent cherry tomatoes drizzled in balsamic reduction (gluten-laden bruschetta given to Connor).

First Course: an amply sized (which I verily appreciated as many restaurant salads are woefully small) salad of gorgeous mixed greens, more candy-like cherry tomatoes, and full-flavored toasted hazelnuts in a lip-smacking dijon vinaigrette.

Entree: eggless “eggroll” of shiitake mushrooms, cabbage, radishes, and spiced peanuts over a bed of housemade udon noodles, “Szechuan style” shiitake mushroom puree, and a stir fry of wild ramps and gai choy (an Asian leafy green), garnished with pickled daikon radishes and an edible flower. OH WOW.

Comment Provoking Questions: Have you heard of Colleen’s work or listened to her podcasts before? What is your take on “ethical meat”? How do you feel about patronizing restaurants that offer meat on their menus?

Until next time, Ali.

My Name in Lights!

Well, perhaps not on a flashing marquee or anything to that extent. Still, I certainly feel oodles of excitement from seeing the words “Alessandra Seiter blogs at Farmers Market Vegan and eats most of her breakfasts, lunches and desserts raw” in a recent article on 77 Square, the entertainment blog of Madison.com. Last week, Lindsay Christians, the arts and food reporter at 77 Square, contacted me for a quick interview about eating raw in Madison after discovering my previous reviews of the Green Owl’s esteemed Raw Nights (check out the reviews here, here, and here).

Image credit: Michelle Stocker

Take a gander the full article, entitled “Can’t stand the heat in the kitchen? Go raw,” for an overview of Madison’s small yet growing raw food community, a brief review of the Green Owl’s latest Raw Night, and a quote from your’s truly! Squeal!

Until next time, Ali.

Spinach & Wild Rice Salad a la Willy Street Co-op

I’d like to first apologize for the lack of a What I Ate Wednesday post today—between Prom weekend and double AP exams, my hectic schedule simply got the best of me! Instead, I’ll provide you with a quick, simple, and scrumptious salad. How’s that for a compromise?

The Willy Street Co-op, my hippie grocery store of a home-away-from-home, features a tantalizing and overwhelmingly vegan-friendly deli/salad bar/bakery. Behind the deli‘s glass window, there lives little balls of fresh falafels, marinated tofu cakes, giant pickles, and master-crafted sushi from a local Japanese company. Boasting an array of gluten-free, vegan, and even raw sweets, the bakery highlights such delicious treats as “Nothin’ Muffins,” free of animal products and artificial sweeteners, as well as Earth Cafe raw cheesecakes in every flavor. The salad bar (my favorite part) offers healthy whole grain and bean salads, mayonnaise-free coleslaws, spicy roasted sweet potato wedges, and every salad fixing you could imagine, including alfalfa sprouts and mixed bean sprouts, which always find their way into my daily lunchtime salads.

One of the Co-op’s grain salads in particular draws my attention at every visit, and I often partake in a container of their Spinach & Wild Rice Salad, rife with chewy, nutty wild rice, crunchy slivered almonds, refreshing pops of scallion, and silky baby spinach in a tangy Italian vinaigrette. However, after glancing at the surprisingly simple ingredient label, I realized that I could easily concoct a version of this recipe at home for a lower price. With this homemade take on the Co-op’s creation, I can dine at the Willy Street salad bar whenever I want…almost.

Spinach & Wild Rice Salad (Soy Free)

Serves 4-6.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup wild rice
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp fresh marjoram, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp fresh tarragon, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1-2 cups baby spinach
  • 1/4 cup almonds, toasted and chopped or slivered
  • 3 tbsp scallions, thinly sliced

In a medium saucepan, combine the wild rice and 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until the rice is tender yet still toothsome. Fluff with a fork and let cool slightly.

Meanwhile, whisk together all the vinaigrette ingredients (oil through mustard) in the bottom of a large serving bowl. Place the cooked rice, spinach, almonds, and scallions in the bowl and toss well to combine. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Recipe submitted to Wellness Weekend, Healthy Vegan Fridays, and Gluten Free Fridays.

Local Ingredients: Baby spinach from Harmony Valley Farm, garlic from Brantmeier Family Farm, scallions from JenEhr Family Farm.

Comment Provoking Questions: Do you have a neighborhood co-op near you? If so, do you shop there? Do they have a great salad bar/deli?

Until next time, Ali.

Mexican-Style Raw Night at the Green Owl

While I last visited the Green Owl for a third sampling of their Raw Night an entire month ago, somehow I never took the time to summarize it with a blog post! How dare I. Needless to say, I now feel obliged to offer a at least a brief bit of commentary on my April excursion to Madison’s only restaurant offering gourmet raw cuisine.

Juice: Pineapple Jalapeno.

Rating: A+!

The citrusy sweetness of the pineapple mingled surprisingly well with the spicy kick of jalapeno, culminating in a veritable chorus of liquid deliciousness to wake up the palate.

Appetizer: Cucumber Pineapple Gazpacho and a salad of fresh greens, orange sections, red pepper slices, corn tortilla croutons, and creamy avocado-citrus dressing, topped with pumpkin seeds.

Rating: Gazpacho=A, Salad=C-.

A chunky blend of classic south-of-the-border ingredients, including cilantro, bell peppers, and tomatoes, the gazpacho offered a wildly different take on the soup I know quite well (just check out my family’s longtime recipe for perfect tomato gazpacho), though in this case, different meant incredibly tasty! However, the salad proved more…mediocre. Rather limp greens and raw bell pepper slices (one of the only vegetables whose taste I don’t enjoy) lacked almost any of the promised yummy-sounding avocado dressing—I only found a small dollop hiding amongst the lettuce—while the blue corn tortilla croutons offered little flavor and a displeasing overly crispy texture. Come on, Green Owl, shouldn’t vegans take a bit more pride in their salads?

Entree: Sweet baby pepper rellenos (top right corner) filled with a nut-based taco “meat” filling with creamy cilantro-lime sauce, tacos in blue corn tortillas filled with spicy sunflower seed “bean” filling, lettuce, tomato, onion and yellow zucchini, served with guacamole, pico de gallo, another dollop of the taco bean filling, and a veggie-packed spicy coleslaw.

Rating: B.

Somehow, the Green Owl managed to impart a roasted succulence into their baby pepper rellenos—I had to continually remind myself of their rawness! Hearty and slightly sweet, the nut meat provided a tasty filling and worked well with the creamy cilantro-lime sauce; who doesn’t love a good avocado-based dressing? The pico de gallo, a palate cleanser of tomatoes and more pineapple, proved refreshing and yummy, while I would venture to call the guacamole some of the best I’ve ever tasted. Much more enjoyable in their complete taco shell forms due to their more pliable texture, the blue corn tortillas redeemed themselves from the so-so salad croutons. On a less positive note, both the coleslaw and taco bean filling held undertones of an unpleasantly bitter flavor—most of my dining companions left their second dollop of the filling untouched. While coleslaws should function as refreshing dishes, this spicy version rested heavy on the palate.

Dessert: Pina Colada Cheesecake with a macadamia-coconut-based filling and top pineapple layer.

Rating: A-.

As with any raw meal, dessert proved one of the highlights. Creamy and unctuous, the middle macadamia layer contrasted beautifully with the toothsome coconutty crust, while the citrusy pineapple layer on top provided a welcome note of acidity. I would have enjoyed a bit more of the pineapple layer, expecting more of a fruitiness to the cake based on its description as a tropical drink.

Service: Steadily improving! In my previous reviews of the Green Owl, I’ve commented heavily on the less-than-desirable quality of service, especially the restaurants tendency to rush meals. Happily, this time, our server imposed no hurried sense upon us, making our dinner much more pleasant. She also became adamant about ensuring that one of my dining companions recieved not a dash of avocado in her meal due to an allergy, which all of us admired. One criticism, however: our server did forget to bring silverware with a couple of our courses.

While I will have to miss the Green Owl’s next Raw Night (which is tonight, actually!), here’s the very spring-like menu for the evening:

Small Plates: Cream of spinach soup with fresh herbs, topped with marinated mushrooms; Vegetable rawvioli of thinly sliced beets with a savory nut cheese filling, drizzled with herb oil; Seasonal salad of spring mixed greens, radishes, sunflower seeds, red onion, and grapefruit-basil vinaigrette.

Entree: Nut gnocchi Carbonara in a creamy sauce with fresh peas and eggplant bacon. Served with a side of marinated asparagus with a creamy raw “hollandaise” sauce.

Dessert: Vanilla bean cheesecake with a chocolatey sauce and fresh berries.

Until next time, Ali.