Chaco Canyon Cafe
4759 Brooklyn Ave NE, 522-6966
Mon-Fri 8 am-8 pm, Sat 8 am-4 pm, Sun 10 am- 4 pm; call about monthly dinners.

This is a review of a raw, vegan dinner, so right up front I should say that I am a pro-fire chauvinist. In my mind, cooking was the thing that sparked humanity to walk, no doubt clumsily, from apehood into civilization (and its discontents, but civilization just the same). Don't get me wrong, I'm all for eating raw food--especially fish!--but I just don't bite when it comes to eliminating all cooked foods from a diet.

Why give up on fire in the first place? According to raw foodies, heating food above 118 degrees Fahrenheit destroys essential enzymes that would otherwise make food more digestible; many assert that cooked food is actually toxic to the body, and that by going totally raw one can revert to a simpler and healthier relationship with food, and a more vibrant health. I am particularly embittered on this last claim because I have a good friend who has chosen to "treat" her breast cancer with a raw (not vegan) diet, and things aren't going so great.

The Chaco Canyon Cafe, a little U-District hippie haven, puts out a few raw, vegan dishes every day (alongside very good juice and espresso), and once a month, they host a fancier multi-course, raw, organic, vegan dinner ($16.95 a head), to which I recently dragged Andrew. Despite my prejudice, I am a curious eater, and I wanted to see what the CCC could do with its juicers, blenders, and dehydrators. We walked into the normally super-casual space and found it dressed up a bit, with candlelight and nubby woven napkins that hailed no doubt from a collective in Central America.

Together, Andrew and I are poorly equipped to be eating an entirely raw meal. Owing to a chronic GI problem, he is the only person I know who has been told to cut back on fiber. Too much salad and he'll spend the night groaning about his stomach. On the other hand, I am fine with roughage, but a little bit allergic to certain uncooked vegetables--nothing life-threatening, mind you, but if I eat, say, more than one or two raw peas, I will end up in a sneezing frenzy. (I am sure some raw food enthusiasts would attribute both symptoms to our cooked diet.) Suffice it to say, we ate our meal rather more cautiously than normal.

After a bland teaser salad, out came some clever little crackers made from dehydrated corn and flax seeds. They were full of sweet corn flavor, so much so that they muscled past their passive accompanying dips: an heirloom tomato salsa and an over-sieved, over-limed guacamole. (Why can't a raw food restaurant use a little sea salt, anyway?)

Andrew got some "samosas," two balls of Indian-spiced ground zucchini, carrots, pumpkin seeds, peas, and walnuts, served up with a spoonful of mango paste. Of all raw food, it is this pulped stuff that is the hardest to get used to and the furthest from the food it is supposed to be simulating.

I was wholly pleased with my summery little nest of slivered zucchini "pasta" that came coated with basil pesto and punctuated with nubbins of garlic greens--at least, that is, until my throat started itching (some hidden jicama, I think). Then I had to trade Andrew for a rather joyless "stir fry," a layered dish of spermy-looking quinoa sprouts topped with soy-dipped sunflower seeds, carrot, zucchini, green-papaya slices, and tiny broccoli florets. Its five-spice sauce was in short demand, and in the end, my stir-fry was really just a particularly austere salad.

At dessert, Andrew and I could only poke at cashew-milk and lime sherbet and a gummy cherry carob tart. It seemed strange that dessert would be especially flavor-scarce, given that this has been one of the best fruit summers I can remember. Why not just give us a bowl of berries, or a peach and a knife? For that matter, where were all the herbs, oils, and citrus juices (not to mention salt) that might have perked up the rest of the meal? If raw food makes you feel good, then by all means, eat it. But why not bask in its best flavors? Maybe it's something that a fire-lover like me will never understand.

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