2148 S. Highland Dr., Salt Lake City ; 801-486-0332
Formerly Omar's Living Cuisine, this is one of the few places to find raw food, vegans and omnivores can find something to recharge.
Cuisine: Raw, Vegetarian
Hours: M-Th, noon-8 p.m.; F-S, noon-9 p.m.
Reservations: Not accepted/necessary
Recommended Dishes: Sprouted almond hummus, falafel bowl, ginger goji juice.
July 16, 2008
At Omar's people dine in the raw
By Vanessa Chang
Sugar House -- A meat-eater, a lacto-ovo-pesco vegetarian and a picky eater walk into a raw food restaurant. They sit down and each order something different on the relatively small menu from the server who has his head endearingly in the clouds. They get their meal and the meat-eater says to the vegetarian, "hey you know, I'm actually really enjoying this bean burrito, even if it is wrapped in a cabbage leaf."
Yes, that's right. Nothing in the pantry or refrigerator in the Sugar House kitchen of Omar's Living Cuisine is, or ever will be cooked. I know, I know. You think I've lost it. Gone bonkers reviewing a place that doesn't even "cook" the ingredients. But considering the blistering heat of recent forecasts and more importantly, the sad state of American nutrition and obesity, it's a worthy alternative to explore, health nut or not.
Omar's Living Cuisine is one of the few places in the valley to try raw food. In fact, it's the only all-raw cuisine restaurant in the state. What does it entail? The freshest organic produce, nuts, seeds and spices; no refined sugars, no dairy or animal products. Nothing is cooked over 118 degrees on the premise that such heat kills the good things in food.
Outside of Zion, this is nothing new. Renowned chef Charlie Trotter, a raw foodist, along with raw cuisine pioneer and Bay Area pixie, Roxanne Klein, collaborated on an elaborate cookbook back in the 1990s. In Sugar House, folks just out of a yoga session, aging hippies, nicely dressed middle-aged couples and lunching moms are welcomed by the sometimes kooky staff at Omar's.
Some sit often in the colorful space. Others, like me, come occasionally as they do with their yoga classes - they come when they need it. And sometimes it's not for everybody. The food isn't world-class per se, but the menu is straightforward.
So comes the skeptic's question: Why should I go to a restaurant to eat food that hasn't touched a stove when I could get a head of lettuce myself? Well, pick up a raw food cookbook and tell me if you're the sort who has the patience to soak raw nuts for days for an invigorating and untraditional hummus ($7) or invest in a really cool but really expensive VitaMix blender that'll puree set concrete but instead combines mangoes and agave nectar to a silky smoothness in a house mango smoothie ($3.50; $7).
I'm not. I'm lazy. And I find the concept of someone else preparing cold, refreshing cream of broccoli soup ($7) on a hot day for me, more appealing. Especially when said soup is creamy and has the flavor of really good, raw broccoli.
Raw cuisine sounds deceptively simple, but requires a well-worked batterie de cuisine of food processor, juicer, VitaMix blender, dehydrator and a really good chef's knife. Many things often take four days to prepare, which along with the price of organic produce may account for the prices. It's a bit spendy for what most expect from a vegetable-based menu. But as occasional treat and dare I say it, luxury for myself, I didn't find it too wallet-breaking, especially with the huge portion sizes. Those wanting to dine here more frequently make think otherwise.
Flavors try to go global like umami-inflected seaweed salad ($12) and a delicious spicy seaweed roll ($12). The pasta is a medley of curly-cut squash in a tangy tomato sauce. The only attempt at meat imitation is a rich Brazil nut pâté in the burger that also has a convincing nut mayo and ketchup ($15). But even with the attempt at diversity, Omar's sometimes falls in the trap of the modern Chinese-American restaurant where everything starts to taste the same. Mainly, my vegetarian and omnivore friends all detected a predominance of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern seasonings. Makes sense considering Omar's Lebanese background and that his mother, Jinan, cooks with him and at Mazza.
But those flavors are the highlight as in the falafel bowl ($13). A bowl of seasonal greens, shredded to confetti and dressed with "live" tahini dressing is topped with the dehydrator's handy work: crunchy and flavorful falafel flakes.
Still, if you don't think you can stomach an all-veggie meal, then carnivores and skeptical omnivores should start off with Living Cuisine's drinks, such as the invigorating gogi-ginger juice ($3.50/$7), the above-mentioned mango smoothie or my favorite, the luscious cold hemp seed chai ($3.50/$7) that trumps anything I've had from a coffeehouse lately. Then you can start to wean yourself on solids.
Cabbage leaves and all.
Tribune's rating system
1 star Good
2 stars Very good
3 stars Excellent
4 stars Extraordinary
$ Entree under $10
$$$$ Above $25
1 bell Quiet (under 65 decibles)
2 bells Can talk easily (65-70)
3 bells Talking somewhat difficult (70-75)
4 bells Raised voices (75-80)
A bomb Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
The Tribune covers the cost of all meals at reviewed restaurants. Star ratings are based on a minimum of two visits. Ratings are updated continually based on at least one revisit. There is no connection between reviews and advertising.