Even for foodies, raw veganism is a world unto itself
I’m a pretty smart guy, and I know something about food, but reading the menu at Bliss Raw CafÃ© is akin to parsing the meaning on a rune without a working knowledge of Norwegian. The word "superfood" shows up a lot, as do "nama shoyu," "cashew cheeze" (note the non-dairy spelling), "probiotics" and "goji berries." And the menu lacks a mission statement, or even a glossary, to put me at ease. On each of my visits, it seemed half the diners spent time glancing at their fellow foodies’ plate, trying to figure out what looked appetizing and how it translated from word to dish.
That’s not always a good system. One of the elixirs, the paradise lemonade ($5), was the color of carrot juice, and had the pulpy consistency not of citrus, but of melting sherbet coagulating in the sun. It had a kick, to be sure (although it did not marry well with food — try it as an aperitif), but refreshing, as the "gutter" lemonade I drink is? Not really.
Bliss isn’t just an organic restaurant, or a vegan one. It is a raw organic vegan bistro, which should send up signal flares like Fourth of July fireworks that you’ve entered a culinary twilight zone.
Not that there’s anything wrong with those things — far from it. For those committed to the raw lifestyle, there’s much to be said. Several friends went raw for a month; one lost eight pounds and another shed all the salt from his salt-and-pepper hair.
But the confluence of hippie-like dining is a lot to adjust to mentally, especially for someone like me, who would be perfectly at home having foie gras fed to me intravenously for the remainder of my days.
My carnivorous nature aside, there’s much to enjoy on the Bliss billet — perhaps surprisingly so. Take rawko-taco plate ($15): Two non-meat "tacos" wrapped in an uncooked "tortilla." How could this fly?
Soaringly. The tortillas are definitely unusual: terra cotta colored flaps of flax, corn, red pepper and spices with the tensile strength of rubbed leather (a comparison that will no doubt send devotees into a spiral). But the filling — a paste of sun-dried tomatoes and crushed sunflower seeds, loaded up with more spice and oil — was delicious and full of heat.
Even the presentation was astonishing: The cherry tomato and lettuce garnish were as vibrantly red and green as the Portuguese flag, and fresh as a new coat of paint. (Raw vegan relies heavily on the freshness of its ingredients, and on that score, I was never disappointed.) The side of salsa was just as wonderful, and even the so-called chocolate salad (really cabbage blended with cacao powder, giving it a dirty-green tint) was yummy.
It’s a staple of vegan food to co-opt omnivore terminology as a means of hinting at what a dish tastes like. So, the rawsagna supreme ($14) sounds nothing at all like the lasagna from which it is taken, except in the sense it is comprised of layers: No pasta, no meat, no cooking or cheese. Instead, it’s strips of zucchini (which do kinda resemble noodles) and gorgeously ornate sliced Italian tomatoes and sauce and a cashew paste "cheese." Damned if it doesn’t evoke lasagna. And boy does it taste good.
But how in the world does the kitchen get away with calling their Caesar salad a Caesar salad without raw egg, parmesan or anchovies — and with tomatoes? The corn chowder ($8) was a clear hit at the table: a cold puree with crisp kernels and an elegant hint of what seemed like ginger.
Less tasty was the sea salad sandwich ($10), which our server said had a flavor similar to tuna fish. "Kinda," my dining companion conceded, "although I’d still prefer real tuna salad on a croissant." The flax bread was dry and flavorless, the salad nutty.
Nuts give structure to raw food, making up the crust in items like the Key lime pie (made, though, with lemons, not Key limes — a mousse-y concoction with citrusy flavor and blueberry cobbler (more a granola mash than a true cobbler).
The main dining area in this shack shoehorned off Greenville Avenue is al fresco (which still doesn’t explain the slow-but-friendly service), but that may grow weary in August. For now, there are many reed-thin women and men in Crocs camping out for a little naked delight. Try not to feel intimidated. It’s fun to go raw on occasion — even if you do keep your clothes on.
Bliss Raw CafÃ© and Elixir Bar, 6855 Greenville Ave. 214-987-0204.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 10, 2009.