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Elizabeth's Gone Raw, Chef Elizabeth Petty and DC's First Raw Vegan Restaurant at McPherson Square


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The raw food community I tap into periodically has been bounding with excitement about Elizabeth's Gone Raw.

Open since this summer, I've learned that Elizabeth's Gone Raw is an "occasional" restaurant offering seatings about once a month. October 29 is the next seating, November 20 after that. The Washington Post covered the story back in July. Bloggers have posted various reviews.

From a culinary diversity perspective, I find the tastes and textures of "gourmet raw vegan" astonishingly fascinating. Dehydration, sprouting, and other methods not only boost nutrition, but provide otherwise unachievable sensations. That's a long-winded way of saying it's interesting, yo, and often powerfully tasty.

I'm probably going to hit a seating on the calendar in the near future. Will report back on the ins and outs of veggies and sprouts. In the meantime, if anyone else gives it a whirl, would welcome hearing your verdict.

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The raw food community I tap into periodically has been bounding with excitement about Elizabeth's Gone Raw.

Open since this summer, I've learned that Elizabeth's Gone Raw is an "occasional" restaurant offering seatings about once a month. October 29 is the next seating, November 20 after that. The Washington Post covered the story back in July. Bloggers have posted various reviews.

From a culinary diversity perspective, I find the tastes and textures of "gourmet raw vegan" astonishingly fascinating. Dehydration, sprouting, and other methods not only boost nutrition, but provide otherwise unachievable sensations. That's a long-winded way of saying it's interesting, yo, and often powerfully tasty.

I'm probably going to hit a seating on the calendar in the near future. Will report back on the ins and outs of veggies and sprouts. In the meantime, if anyone else gives it a whirl, would welcome hearing your verdict.

I was there for dinner a few Fridays ago. It was a four-course tasting menu, with wine pairings. The service was very gracious and friendly, which is always a great way to start a meal. When we sat, they started us with kale chips, a uniquely tasty, crispy chip that we very much enjoyed. The other courses were pretty good. There wasn't anything in any of the courses that I found exotic because it was raw--a vietnamese spring roll works fine, for instance, without any cooking at all. Likewise, we had thai noodles, which don't require any heat to soften and which were served with a nicely spicy peanut sauce. The other course, as I remember it, was a flax and hempseed flatbread with green hummus, the flatbread made semi-crispy from dehydration.

The meal was pleasant and we enjoyed it. We walked away with the feeling that they did a great job using a limited palette of ingredients and tools to make a very nice meal, which is perhaps the point. And maybe raw food is more nutritious as well. But in retrospect, I do wish that they would have stretched a bit more and tried to introduce something into the meal that was both raw and far afield from standard, cooked preparations.

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Just out of curiosity, what's vegan about Parmesan? And cream?

Probably created from a nut or seed milk, and never taken above 110 degrees or so. Don't know the details at this particular restaurant, but that's the general rule for "milk" in the raw & vegan recipe box.

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If it's real parmesan, its been cooked to 140 degrees in the production process. If it's vegan "parmesan", its not quite as tasty as sawdust with salt. :(

I make a pretty good creamy nut sauce out of walnuts a la A16. But why call it parmesan cream? Wasn't her whole idea NOT to name things that sound like 'real' cooked food?

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Beyond forums like donrockwell.com, there are "lots of people" who "just don't like" all manner of foods for reasons having nothing to do with allergies or health. Certainly, foods like sweetbreads, vegemite, brussel sprouts and scrapple fall victim to this tendency. But it goes way beyond that. We all have things that don't appeal to us. But many also avoid foods they haven't tried.

Out there, where many aren't that interested in food or aren't that knowledgeable about food or aren't well traveled, open minded, possessing of sophisticated palates and all the other snooty and generally unhelpful labels, there are even people who claim to not even like vegetables. All vegetables. Hard to imagine.

For people like that (who, after all and at least to some degree, are people like all of us too), life often presents moments that are game-changing, eye-opening or evocative of light bulbs flashing over one's head.

Elizabeth's Gone Raw (EGR) is such a lightbulb. I'm as omnivorous, meat-loving, great BBQ-seeking, cheese-favoring, and pasta-appreciating an eater as anyone. But, since I pretty much like anything If Done Well and because I have a +1 following a fairly strict gluten-free and no-processed-food diet, it was a natural decision to try Elizabeth's Gone Raw (EGR).

This week we did. And, the most important thing I can say about EGR is this:

HEADLINE

This is very good--and interesting--food. Secondarily (this is a food board, after all), it's also healthy.

I don't care whether or not one is a raw advocate or vegan, you should go here. It's a great example of an obvious phenomenon: a talented chef can produce great food whatever the constraints of region, cuisine or dietary regimen. Those constraints are what give texture and character to meals. And, EGR has texture and character in spades. Chef/Owner Elizabeth Petty, Executive Chef Thomas Berry and Pastry Chef Calvin Lee are doing very interesting, and decidedly tasty, things.

VENUE

The renovated townhouse downtown on L St NW was bigger than I imagined. For some reason, I expected it to be fairly small, maybe 10 tables. But it's much bigger than that. Still, it has a very cozy but elegant feel even when full as it was tonight. I'm guessing it's full most Friday nights, since that's now the only night they serve though plans are underway to convert to a five-night/week place in 2012.

On entry, plush carpets and a warm fireplace with grand stairwell to the left put you into a calming and welcoming mood. And, of course, that's part of Elizabeth Petty's intent; welcoming guests to something hospitable, different but delicious and, maybe thought provoking.

All the tables are upstairs and, while I didn't count, there must have been at least 25 if not 30 or more, along with a small bar. We learned later that the kitchen is below street level and I forget what I was told was upstairs above the dining room; probably offices.

Very comfortable, elegant and quiet. Perfect for a special occasion.

SERVICE

The staff all seemed genuinely enthusiastic and passionate about the concept even though most of them aren't vegetarians, let alone vegans or raw diet adherents. And that's part of the underlying philosophy as we learned.

We really liked that the staff work as a team. While we had a great waitress who was happy to entertain questions, efficient and friendly, we also noted that the sommelier cleared dishes while also describing and serving wines. Likewise the bartender. And others for whom any primary role wasn't clear.

We had a great conversation with Elizabeth which fully explained the culture. She used the word "pious" to explain that some folks, followers of whatever diet, can be over-the-top evangelists more likely to turn off than engage. While she has deep passion for raw eating originally inspired by illness, she also welcomes the fact that 70% of diners at EGR aren't vegetarian, vegan or raw. As Elizabeth put it--and I'm paraphrasing a bit here--'if someone eats food like this even one or two days of the week, that's probably better than not doing it at all.' Indeed. She recognizes exactly what got me excited by the second course: people should try this not because it's good for them. Try it first because it's really good, something truly different and expertly prepared. Then, and only if interested, maybe consider whatever other benefits.

FOOD

Of course, not everything was wonderful and, in the interest of balance, I'll point out a few relatively minor things we didn't enjoy as much along with the deserved raves. For any that don't know, EGR's raw focus means no meats, fowl or fish. No refined sugar. No gluten. No dairy. No processed foods of any kind. Oh, and nothing is cooked at temperatures above 110 or 120 degrees. So no braising, baking, frying, sauteeing, boiling, grilling....none of any of that.

EGR does a fixed menu each Friday night (they're tentatively planning to go to five nights/week next year) so we each had the same tasting menu at $75/person. I also got the wine-pairing ($45 for three pours) so will report those, as well as a "cocktail" enjoyed more by me than by my SO who ordered it.

Pre-Course Snack/Amuse/Bread substitute

"Crispy Kale Chips"

EGR has already gotten a bunch of online buzz and praise for their "kale chips." They're served in roughly the same way that bread is at other restaurants. On the table at start. Refilled as requested. Given how tough it is for restaurants to create great-tasting dishes with kale, these are all the more amazing. They were addictive and tasted crispy and cheesy. But, of course, no cheese in these. A bit of heat. And no simple task to make as the specific recipe published in the Post made clear. I could totally snack on these with any world cup match or baseball game in place of tortilla chips or pretzels. Delicious and the first sign that EGR is a place looking to blow any of the negative stereotypes about raw food out of the water.

Start

"Apple Butternut Squash Soup: Apple, Butternut Squash, Salt, Pepper, Scallion, Curry Powder, Orange Juice, Coconut water"

This was excellent. I originally thought the scallions were cucumbers; they were so mild and julienned in that style. The scallions were also used--I think?-- to give a deep green herbaceous look and flavor to an olive oil (again, guessing) swirl atop the soup. Two very thin, crisped (not fried) apple chips were sweetened with an agave glaze. The soup itself was very delicate, smooth, and rich with just the slightest kick from the curry powder. A great start.

Wine Pairing: 2009 Viognier, Montesquieu, Varela, Stage Coach, Napa ($52 by the bottle)

Appetizer

"Salad of Grapefruit & Avocado with Pickled Ginger & Ginger Vinaigrette: Grapefruit, Avocado, EVOO; Dressing: Apple Cider Vinegar, Salt, EVOO, White Pepper, Lemon Juice, Coconut Water, Celery, Scallion, Garlic"

Again, really excellent. This was delicious. We both liked it even more than the soup. Though not listed on the menu with all the ingredients (a minor annoyance as they devote a separate page to specifying dish components but leave things out), the greens on this dish were arugula and 1 or 2 large bibb lettuce leaves. The pickled and deep red (from beet juice) ginger was an interesting and very tasty component.

Wine Pairing: 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, Mariflor, Michel Roland, Argentina ($48 bottle)

Refresh

"Rosy Pear - Clove Sorbet: Pear, Clove, Beet Juice, Agave."

This was a very refreshing, just lightly sweetened and floral palate cleanser. We were both surprised at how redolent of rose and generally floral this was without any flowers being used.

Main

"Wild Mushroom Napoleon, Spinach with Pecan Crackers & Scallion Cream"

This dish featured very high quality and absolutely delicious royal trumpet, shitake, beach and oyster mushrooms. The "cracker," made with pecan, flax, nutritional yeast and black pepper, was both really interesting and tasty. Raw diet aside, it would pair perfectly with an excellent cheddar cheese. "Cream" at EGR is made with scallion, garlic, cashews, sea salt and evoo for the texture. Finally, this had a nicely dressed parsley salad on the side and some pine nuts. Thoroughly enjoyed and, by the time we'd finished every bite, it became clear dessert would be a challenge.

Wine Pairing: 2009 Pinot Noir, Louis Jadot, Bourgogne, Burgundy ($56 bottle)

Sweet

"Chocolate Cake with Mint Creme"

Because the "cake" is made with nuts (almonds, brazil nuts, pecans), maple syrup and dates, it was too dense for us to eat after the meal. But, it and a fudge swirl were very good and we took them home. Didn't as much enjoy the small scoop of "mint creme," made with coconut milk, coconut butter, cashews, agave and, I presume (wasn't listed) mint. Maybe if it had been chilled versus serving at room temperature? To be honest, this was really the only time during the meal where I thought the traditional, non raw (i.e., ice cream) accompaniment would have been better from a pure taste perspective.

BEVERAGES

EGR's wine list includes 16 whites, 27 reds and small selections of sparkling and dessert wines. I'll leave to others to comment on the quality and value of the list and just offer that it'd be great to see a few more options by the glass. As example, just 3 reds are served by the glass including the Pinot/Burgundy used in the pairing.

My SO ordered a non-alcoholic "cocktail" made with fresh-squeezed pomegranite, sparkling water, cumin and something else I can't recall. She didn't like it so much. I liked it more--refreshing and mild.

VALUE/BOTTOM LINE

EGR is a fine-dining restaurant. The $75 fixed price tasting menu is consistent with others around town, lower than some and, IMHO, fair given the creativity, quality and appeal of this food. We bought a large bag of the kale chips ($12) to bring home. And, we'll be back. I think Elizabeth & Co are doing a great job of "changing impressions of raw food" in the best of ways: with what's on the plate versus any evangelizing.

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I'm heading to Elizabeth's Gone Raw tonight to celebrate my son's birthday. I was feeling apprehensive but this post has turned that into eager anticipation. Thanks darkstar965!

Of course-I'm glad! Let us know how you and your son like it--we need to get a couple more perspectives about EGR on here. We thought about it a bit in the weeks following our visit. I definitely stand by what I wrote upthread while also re-emphasizing that I think it's a very interesting and tasty special occasion kind of place. The food would probably be a bit too rich (especially with all the use of nuts) for any kind of regular rotation. But, again, very interesting and good. Enjoy it!

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I enjoyed dinner at Elizabeth's Gone Raw, despite some challenges. First of all, I was really surprised by the elegance of the venue. It almost seems at odds with the food. I expected something funky and it's actually very staid. This isn't a bad thing, just not what I pictured.

I had spoken to someone there in advance about my aversion to nuts, so I was surprised when I was asked at the outset about any food restrictions. This had been covered in detail before our arrival. I'm not allergic, I just don't really like nuts. But most of the dishes featured ground nuts, so decided to leave the food as it was intended, with the exception of having whole walnuts removed from the salad..

The kale chips they gave us to start were difficult to stop eating. Truly addictive. They gave my son a bag to take home in honor of his birthday.

Our first course was a kale salad, which had a lovely almond vinaigrette dressing, as well as a sauce on the bottom of the plate featuring sake and lemon juice. This was excellent.

I absolutely loved the appetizer, which was a coconut cauliflower wrap with cucumber salad and green curry sauce. So complex and flavorful. My favorite dish by far.

The main course was a trio of spinach and fennel tartlets with truffle mousse. The truffle mousse was amazingly rich and delicious. My problem was that the tartlets were made from almond and flax seed, and ended up being too nutty for me. I had one in its entirety, and then simply ate the truffle cream from the other two. My husband eagerly finished the tartlets I left behind.

Dessert was a major disappointment. It was panna cotta made from cashew, coconut meat, agave, almond milk, orange blossom water, and ginger with a cherry sauce. The problem is that the texture was like ice cream that's been in the freezer for too long. This wouldn't have been so bad, but it didn't have any flavor. I ate less than half of it and gave up. We were told this is a new dessert, and I gave Elizabeth some feedback about the lack of flavor. There was a ginger sauce on the bottom that wasn't bad. Perhaps more of it would have helped. My son had pineapple carpaccio which was far better. They offered this to me as a replacement for the panna cotta, but at that point I didn't really need more food.

This left me a little deflated from an otherwise wonderfully inventive meal. However, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Elizabeth's Gone Raw to others, despite the few missteps.

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She said, published somewhere, that if you are allergic to nuts, you really can't eat there. If you are going to go entirely raw and meatless, then nuts of all kinds are going to be your default protein. This is exacting cuisine and, I would imagine, doesn't lend itself very much to allergies or preferences. I hope she does well.

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I didn't realize Jonathan Seningen was Executive Chef here - I'm not quite sure what that means, maybe menu design and prep?

He creates the menu and he "cooks" the food. We had dinner there last night and that was clarified for us when we asked how one makes vegan cheese (FYI: ground macadamia nuts, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, salt--> ferment to a frothy texture). Jonathan makes his own.

Highlights of the meal included the cauliflower brochette, fennel and white peach salad, and the stuffed heirloom tomato with truffles. The tomato was particularly good. It was dehydrated but still moist and stuff with vegan cheese and truffles.

Service was friendly but spotty. They forgot to bring our intermezzo until after we reminded them and the entree had already arrived. Not really a big deal because the food is room temperature.

Dinner was beautifully complemented by a 2002 Alsatian Reisling from Domaine Zind-Humbrecht. We figured that if we brought a really phenomenal bottle of wine that even if dinner was just ok, it wouldn't be a total loss. Luckily dinner was pretty great so it was a win-win. We were incredulous when we arrived and left believers that raw, vegan, gluten free food really can taste great. We'll be back.

edit: their kale chips rock

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We should have taken it as a sign that my 18 month old post is the last post thread... Despite having had a surprisingly enjoyable meal at Elizabeth's about 18 months ago, we had not attempted to return since. But we do periodically check in on their menu to for the week to see if it sounded appealing and the menu for last night sounded good.

6:00 pm: We make an 8:30 pm reservation via Opentable.

8:40 pm: We arrived a little late and the bar was packed and there was a snaking line through the bar to use what is evidently the only restrooms.  We are told upfront by a friendly hostess that people are "lingering" upstairs and it was going to be about a 20 minute wait for our table and asks if we want to wait. We figured we'd grab a drink and some of the rockin kale chips at the bar and wait it out.  We order two drinks and some kale chips via a process that is pretty expeditious considering the lone bartender is slammed and looks like she wants to kill someone.

8:50 pm: The bar continues to fill up. The line for the restroom continues to snake through the bar. Food is coming out of the kitchen at a pretty steady clip. No one is leaving restaurant. Luckily the drinks arrive and are strong and the kale chips are crunchy and spicy. This helps to pass the time.

9:05:  The hostess informs the people next to us,who had arrived before we had, that it was going to be at least another 10 minutes for their table to be ready.

9:10:  The hostess seats the starved couple next to us. We naively take this as a good sign.

9:15:  We think we'll finally get a table when the hostess approaches us and then she says "I just want to let you know that it is going to be awhile for your table to be ready, sorry." We tell her we'll be leaving and ask for the check.

I guess it would have been a nice gesture if they had offered to comp us the drinks ($14 each) considering they just asked if we'd be willing to wait indefinitely for our reserved table to be ready. But they didn't offer and we didn't ask. I think it is safe to say that we will not be making another attempt at Elizabeth's unless a raw, vegan, gluten free friend-we-have-yet-to-make forces us to.

All was not lost however. An Opentable miracle occurred and a 9:30 pm reservation was available at Rasika West End. We arrive nearly on time. We are seated nearly immediately. We have a delicious meal that is cooked and includes both gluten and animal products.

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I guess it would have been a nice gesture if they had offered to comp us the drinks ($14 each) considering they just asked if we'd be willing to wait indefinitely for our reserved table to be ready. But they didn't offer and we didn't ask. I think it is safe to say that we will not be making another attempt at Elizabeth's unless a raw, vegan, gluten free friend-we-have-yet-to-make forces us to.

Update: They called to apologize and offered us a free dinner for 2 anytime. This is a nice gesture and much appreciated. Clearly they were having a tough night.

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