I would be lying if I said I had any real basis on which to assess the food at Sarah's Raw & Vegan Cafe.
I know food, but I am an omnivore. I have worked in the restaurant industry, but I don't recall preparing anything raw besides a salad, and I've never concerned myself with strictly vegan ingredients.
The process of cooking raw is more complicated and more work-intensive than one might guess. A good blender or food processor is essential, along with a food dehydrator. It takes imagination to make non-dairy cheese and mayonnaise, to make a “BLT” without pork or a fettuccine Alfredo with neither pasta nor cream sauce.
A vegan abstains from using any animal product in his or her diet. That includes not only meat, of course, but also dairy (milk, cheese, butter) and eggs.
Raw foodists take this a step further, rejecting any food heated to a temperature above 118 degrees — so they are not going to be baking any sort of bread. Gluten-free advocates rejoice.
The benefits, I am told, are plentiful. “When you cook food, the enzymes and a lot of vitamins and minerals are destroyed,” explained Sarah Boorstein, owner of the Raw & Vegan Cafe in Bend. “In raw food, the enzymes remain alive, and they break themselves down.
“Also, when you eat raw foods, you get a very nutrient-dense meal. A handful of chia seeds, for example, have more protein than a steak. They are much easier to digest, and your body doesn't have to work through all the flesh and fat to use the protein.”
Boorstein and her husband, Dr. David Boorstein of Cafe of Life Chiropractic, opened the restaurant in late February behind the Colorado Avenue chiropractic office. Diners find it in an alleyway adjacent to The Horned Hand music venue, between Lava Road and Staats Street.
Sarah Boorstein said she adopted the vegan lifestyle about 10 years ago, and converted to eating strictly raw foods after a family visit to a health resort in Arizona.
About 2½ years ago, she said, a hobby of making smoothies for friends and family turned into a small business. For a year, she rented the kitchen in the former Maragas Winery tasting room on Colorado Avenue and Bond Street. But as the business grew, the Boorsteins designed and built a kitchen addition on the back side of the chiropractic office.
“We didn't need stoves and ovens and a lot of things that go into normal kitchens,” she said. “We have three sinks, three dehydrators and a lot of counter space.”
She was certified as a raw-food chef after training in the method espoused by author and nutritionist Alissa Cohen.
A basic list of raw vegan foods includes fruits and vegetables, seeds and nuts, sprouted grains and legumes, along with herbs and fresh juices, plant oils and seaweeds.
A majority of Sarah's foods employ nuts or nut meals (almonds, cashews and walnuts, but no peanuts) in some form. Seeds from such plants as flax, hemp, psyllium and Stevia sunflower (a natural sweetener) are also used extensively in various pastes.
Fruits include the commonplace — apples, avocados, bananas, dates, lemons, limes, oranges, raspberries and tomatoes — as well as cacao, acai and goji berries. Sarah's also uses a wide range of vegetables, herbs and spices, along with natural dietary supplements.
The cafe specializes in blended “superfood smoothies” served in mason jars. The everyday menu lists 20 varieties that are full meals in themselves.
“The body needs less food than we think it does,” Boorstein said. “What it really needs is water and nutrients.”
I found myself choosing between such options as Super Green, Orange Ginger and Chocolate Decadence. I settled upon a simple Chai smoothie: a blend (with water) of cashews, dates, avocado, banana, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, clove, nutmeg and vanilla, plus Warrior protein (a vegan supplement) and Himalayan sea salt.
The flavor was fine, the drink's mix of spices indeed giving it the flavor of a South Asian tea. Because of the nuts, however, I found it a little gritty. On a future visit, I will request something a little more soothing to the palate.
Each day, Boorstein offers a single raw vegan entree for lunch. I have had opportunity to sample three of these:
Fettucine Alfredo. Pasta — actually julienned “noodles” of zucchini and yellow squash — was served with a sauce made from cashews, powdered ginger, lemon, garlic powder, olive oil and various herbs, spices and supplements. It came with a side salad of tomato, cucumber and green onion.
Raw burrito. This was more like a five-layer taco salad than a burrito, which I always consider is rolled into a flour tortilla. This dish, layered on a leaf of romaine lettuce, featured a “taco nut crumble” of soaked almonds and walnuts with spices; “Baja cheese” of Brazil nuts and lemon juice with garlic, cilantro and jalapeno; red pepper-and-corn salsa; rosemary guacamole, and a liquefied spinach drizzle.
Raw pizza. The crust was created from flax and almond meal, sunflower seeds, carrots and other ingredients, blended with water, pressed on a sheet and dehydrated overnight. A topping of tomatoes, spinach, squash and yellow bell peppers was topped with almond-milk cheese and a sauce made from sun-dried tomatoes.
In each case, I found these dishes pleasant tasting but rather bland. There was a sameness of taste from one entree to the next, and I was surprised by a lack of distinct flavors. What's more, an hour after eating, I was hungry again.
My dining companion — who has often shared raw and vegan meals with close friends in California — was more aware of subtleties of flavor in the dishes. But she lamented a similarity in presentation from one plate to the next, and felt that a greater variety of textures and ingredients might have improved my experience.
We finished one of our meals with a frozen date cup. Almond butter and a raspberry swirl were wrapped into a soft crust of flax and sunflower meal blended with dates, raisins, goji berries, clove and cinnamon. I am sure it is an acquired taste.
I am going to score Sarah's food a “B” only because I have limited basis for comparison. I don't love the food, but neither do I find it objectionable in any way. If I ate here more frequently, I think my enjoyment would increase as my girth reduced.
The cafe is a wonderful addition to the Bend community, which has far too few vegetarian options.
Little Pizza Paradise has completed its move from Butler Market Road to the Cascade Village Shopping Center, next to Sleep Country USA. The restaurant, which serves artisan, hand-thrown pizzas, has a selection of 15 beers on tap. Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday, noon to 7 p.m. Sunday (delivery after 5 p.m.). 63455 N. U.S. Highway 97, Suite 117, Bend; 541-312-2577, www.littlepizzaparadise .com.
Thai on the Fly's Siam Smile food cart has moved into downtown Bend. The popular mobile kitchen has set up shop in a pocket park at the corner of Bond Street and Oregon Avenue, behind the new premises of SportsVisionBend. The cart opens at 11 a.m. Tuesday to Saturday. 541-788-0353, www.bendnights .com/tasteofthailand/.