I have to be honest. I had some trepidation about a $75 per person dinner made entirely of raw food. Despite the fact that I’ve read some great things about Elizabeth’s Gone Raw, I can’t help but wonder… how good can it be? Is there such a thing as food that is too healthy? And will I leave feeling hungry?
Elizabeth’s Gone Raw is a rarity regarding more than the food. It’s only open one night a week. The rest of the week is devoted to catering, and a quick perusal of the catering menu shows none of the limitations of the restaurant (meaning the food is cooked).
From the website:
Our raw tasting menu has been created to evoke the essence of living foods, prepared with imagination and thoughtfulness, selecting seasonal organic products. Each dish boasts a variety of flavors, colors and textures combining raw ingredients in ways that are both healthy and innovative. Everything we serve is free of dairy, gluten and meats. All of our “cheeses” are made by blending fresh herbs with sprouted nuts and seeds.
It’s my son’s 26th birthday, and since he is both a vegetarian and a lover of fine food, this seems like the perfect place to dine. My husband is also in favor of Elizabeth’s Gone Raw, since he often has limited options in restaurants (no meat, only eats fish in restaurants/no shellfish).
I make the reservation online, noting my aversion to nuts. When someone from the restaurant calls to review the menu in detail, this seems like it’s going to be a challenge. Nuts figure prominently into the ingredients. The tables are turned, and it’s my turn to navigate through a menu.
I’m surprised when shortly after our arrival the server brings us menus and asks if we have any food restrictions. He seems to know nothing about the discussion I’ve had earlier. I find this a trifle irritating. I decide that the only elimination will be the whole walnuts on the salad, since the nuts in many of the other dishes are ground. Anything more would begin to compromise the food.
We order a bottle of wine (Jefferson Vineyards, 2009 Petit Verdot), which we enjoy with the house-made kale chips made with cashews, red pepper, jalapeno, and nutritional yeast. The yeast combines with the jalapeno to produce a cheesy texture and flavor. The crispness is achieved by putting the chips in a dehydrator for 18-24 hours. These crispy chips are the first revelation of the night. There are many more to follow. (In honor of my son’s birthday, he is gifted with a bag of kale chips to take home. Lucky for him).
The first course is limoncello baby kale salad with apples, walnuts and spiced almond vinaigrette. Don’t let the photo below fool you. My salad is walnut free. I have embraced kale salads wholeheartedly lately, and this is a good one. I particularly like the almond dressing, with a touch of cayenne to make things interesting.
The next course is my favorite by far: coconut cauliflower wrap with cucumber salad and green curry sauce. I have some trepidation about the wrap when I see it’s made from coconut meat. The texture of coconut is one which I really abhor. But it is coconut and cauliflower, which I absolutely love. Hopefully my love for cauliflower will cancel out my hate for coconut. The wrap also includes flax seed, cumin, curry, and ground macadamia nuts (causing me more concern. The resulting wrap is astonishing. Executive Chef Thomas Berry is a magician, waving a wand over some crazy sounding ingredients and whipping together something so beautiful and flavorful….and raw! The cucumber salad adds a delightful contrast to the spiciness of the sauce. My husband, son, and I can only shake our heads in amazement.
The main course is a trio of spinach and fennel tartlets with truffle mousse and balsamic sauce. The base is held together with almond, nutritional yeast, flax seed, and scallion. The cream is made from cashew, white truffle oil, lemon, and …nutritional yeast (yes, its everywhere). At first, I like the crunchy texture and the cream itself is heavenly. It is silky and rich, with a prominent truffle flavor. I can only eat one of the tartlets in its entirety, however. The flax and almonds are ground but it still has a nutty quality that doesn’t appeal to me. This doesn’t detract from my admiration of this dish, with its diversity of flavors and textures. I can’t leave the truffle cream behind, however. I spoon out the cream and topping and leave the rest for my husband to finish.
There are two dessert choices: pineapple carpaccio, and orange blossom and ginger scented panna cotta with cherry sauce. I don’t need to deliberate, as ginger and cherry are among my favorite flavors. I am sorry to say that my dessert is a disappointment. This time it’s not the fault of the cashew and coconut meat. The problem is that the frozen dessert has a texture resembling freezer burnt ice cream, and little flavor. The ginger sauce is nice but it is not enough to rescue the dish. My husband is in complete agreement. In fact, the texture bothers him even more than it does me. I express my opinion to one of the staff, and am immediately offered the pineapple carpaccio instead. I’ve tried a bit from my son’s plate and it really is refreshingly different. But I have had plenty to eat, so I decline. In Tom Sietsema’s Washington Post review of Elizabeth’s Gone Raw, he refers to the chocolate mocha mousse cake as a “showstopper.” I have to believe that the panna cotta is an aberration.
Elizabeth’s Gone Raw defies my expectations on many levels. The restaurant is more sophisticated and elegant that I imagined it would be. The room seems like it would be better suited to heavy French food rather than eclectic raw food. But this is actually a refreshing turn of events. I’ve worried unnecessarily about not having enough to eat. Instead, the food is plentiful and filling. I’ve wondered how the flavors could possibly be compelling when there are so many restrictions in the preparation. This is the biggest surprise. I don’t have to say this is great…. for raw food. There are some remarkable things happening in this kitchen, and dishes (i.e. the coconut cauliflower wrap) that stack up admirably against some of my favorite bites in DC.
Owner Elizabeth Petty is a breast cancer survivor, who committed to eating raw food as part of an integrative approach to her cancer treatment and recovery. She has taken her commitment and passion and created a lovely and innovative restaurant.
I say all this despite the fact that I only eat a portion of my entree and have fairly negative feelings towards my dessert. Does this make me a little nutty? Could I be overdosing on too much nutritional yeast? Maybe a great meal doesn’t always have to be about perfection. Elizabeth’s Gone Raw isn’t necessarily for everyone, but it’s a great example of how exciting, unconventional, and revelatory food can be.
Elizabeth’s Gone Raw, 1341 L Street NW, Washington, DC
Washington Post review
City Paper review