Sunday, March 16, 2008

the lives of the rich and pretentious.

so we finally, after how many years of living in this city between the two of us? made it to Pure Food and Wine. granted, the prices are a bit prohibitive, but it was our 22-month-a-versary and we were making up for not going out for valentine's day last month. so we figured, what better time to go to the fancy schmancy raw vegan place? we had ulterior motives as well; i had been harboring the tiniest notion that we could maybe have our wedding there. they do, after all, say that they host events, and the pictures are beautiful. plus, having the wedding in a place that you know will serve you all vegan food clears up some major logistical problems fairly neatly. so i wanted to check out the joint, see what the vibe was like, see if i could really hang with an all-raw meal for my big event. i've had some pretty amazing raw stuff; my mind is open to it, even if i don't fully agree with the ideology.

so we showed up exactly on time for our 6pm reservation - i hate crowded restaurants and that was our way of trying to avoid the crush. it was unsuccessful. the restaurant was already half full and filled to capacity within 20 minutes of our arrival. but even if it had been empty we would have been uncomfortable - after having our coats checked by a very pleasant hostess, we were led to a tiny table against the wall that was bizarrely close to the table next to it, even for manhattan standards. people, we're talking like three inches. literally. which was completely unnecessary, as the next table past that one was at two and a half feet away and turned diagonally. i found this somewhat incomprehensible, and was relieved that the couple seated at the next table were quiet talkers.

putting the seating arrangement aside, we took in our surroundings. though it was still fully light out, it was oddly dark inside. this fact seemed born of two mothers: 1) the very dim "mood" lighting cast from inset fixtures in an intensely low ceiling, and 2) the dark wood paneling, floors, and tables combined with dark red upholstered chairs that all seemed to just suck up any light that hit them. i understand the look that they're going for, and it is elegant and well executed; it's just not one that i prefer. i want to eat in a room where i can see my food and surroundings, not where i feel as though i'm lost in a series of caves. the music wasn't too loud, which i do appreciate. i didn't recognize much of it, though i did pick up portishead and thievery corporation, if that gives you an idea. i ordered a glass of wine, a pinot noir which was bold and lovely, but i was surprised to note that though it is an all-vegan restaurant food wise, almost none of their wine is vegan.

we ordered appetizers, and decided to splurge and get two of them. it was a good thing, too, because each one consisted of about two and a half bites of food. while absolutely delicious, his cashew cheese napoleon was the size of three ritz crackers in a stack. i got a ravioli dish, and got exactly three ravioli, each about 1.4 inches square. they were also exquisite, but we'd finished our food before we even really knew that it had come. it reminded me of those commercials from the 80's making fun of california diet trends; like this was a caricature of the food and not the food itself. i know that this kind of portioning is all the rage at these restaurants, but at $18 a pop i expect a little more. some of the other "first course" options, as the menu is divided, did seem a tad more substantial, such as the mushroom sushi that was served at the next table. i had to think, though, that i can get an amazing shitakii roll at at least three places for about $4.50. we enjoyed the tiny tasteful bit that we had had, and held out hope for an actual entree- sized entree for our "second course".

it did not come. the entrees, his chili lime tortilla wraps and my zucchini and roma tomato lasagna, were about the portion size i would have expected the appetizers to be. (and naturally, each one cost what normally both of our dinners would cost together.) while full of flavor and served very promptly, we were both left wanting.

so we ordered dessert. he ordered the tiramisu, and i got the thin mint sundae. i was fully expecting two melon-ball sized "scoops" of ice cream, a half inch square of chocolate, and one mint leaf placed artfully on the side of a beautiful mostly empty bowl. imagine my surprise when my dish arrived, and it was three real scoops of ice cream with more chocolate chunks than i could finish, complete with a huge dollop of vanilla cream on top! likewise, jonathan's tiramisu was composed of two largish triangles, just the size that we'd get if we ordered it at one of the many cafes in our neighborhood in astoria. (of course, there it wouldn't be vegan, but you understand the comparison.) it was a pleasing turn of events, to be sure. with the minor exception that after such a light meal, so much sugar almost burned. it seemed so contradictory, to serve such ridiculously small portions of the real food and then stuff people full of empty calories in the "third course". especially so considering that the restaurant and its proprietor build an image entirely upon the concept of "healthy living."

and let's talk about the proprietor for just a moment. upon entering, we saw three (count them, three) images of her, just on the hostess stand. a little full of ourselves, are we? isn't it enough that she's plastered all over the website for the restaurant, that she has her own separate website, and that she put herself on the cover of the book for the restaurant? look, sarma, we get it, ok? you're cute. but it's not as if you're the head chef, busting your ass 12 hours a day to put that food out there. i don't think you actually even work in the restaurant. you just own a restaurant. that doesn't take talent, it takes money, and in case no one's ever mentioned it to you those are two different things. and about the duck? yes, ducks can be cute. that one isn't.

so, did the food taste good? yes. was it worth the cost? absolutely not. pure food and wine is not a restaurant for vegans who want to eat a real meal and be satisfied. it is a restaurant for rich people who have jumped on a bandwagon of "vegan", of "raw", of "green", of "food for life" and want to be seen. the fact that most of their wines are not vegan is a testament to the fact that veganity is a coincidence in their food, not based on an ethical standpoint but more likely due to practical reasoning. raw food is much easier to make safe if you, say, exclude dairy. much like counter, this restaurant has everything to do with elitist trends and nothing to do with the ethics of being vegetarian or vegan.

overall i am not impressed. i'm glad that we had the experience, but i sincerely doubt that we'll be going back. i'll take curly's or VP2 or angelica kitchen or madras cafe or any of the dozens of vegetarian and vegan restaurants in our fine city over that nonsense, any meal any day. hell, even Blossom or Gobo have infinitely more to offer - while a little more pricey than some of the awesome low rent options that are around, at least you get what you pay for and always leave full and satisfied. and the owners of these restaurants? apart from the guy that owns curly's, who often works in the kitchen there and serves me my dinner after seating me and bringing me coffee with a cheerful smile, i have no idea what they look like. no idea whatsoever.

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