April 17, 2003
Getting Ourselves Back to the Garden
by Denise Taylor
Dining at Organic Garden Cafe in Beverly, an all-organic, all-vegan, raw-foods restaurant, was a Life cereal moment. Yes, this was some stuff supposedly good for you, but hey Mikey, we liked it. The raw or living foods credo limits cooking to the use of low-heat dehydrators because they cook without reaching the high temperatures that break down natural enzymes. Raw-food devotees believe intact enzymes make food healthier.
But for owner-chef Robert Reid, raw doesn’t mean you’re stuck with carrot sticks. Reid may be a health enthusiast, but he thinks and cooks like a gourmet. His beautifully presented organic salads, sandwiches, and entrees aim to please as much as they nourish. The pretty, petite dining room awash in rich, soothing colors and the selection of organic beer, wine, sake, and hot teas, too, are part of his plan to make raw dining a pleasure for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. To this end, he also prepares masterful faux dishes.
Take the falafel ($9.95). This Middle Eastern delight topped with an excellent sesame-cucumber-dill sauce and served on a gorgeous tangle of salad greens delivers all the joy that good falafel should. But it’s not fried, it contains no chickpeas, and, heck, technically it’s not even cooked. The savory imposters are neat little balls of ground almond and sunflower seeds seasoned with lemon, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh herbs, and cumin all crisped in a dehydrator until they taste fried.
We started with mushroom satay ($6.50), skewers of juicy portobello mushroom strips deliciously flavored with a garlic-tamari-olive oil marinade and a basting of galangal-spiked BBQ sauce. Like every cooked dish we were served, they were about room temperature.
Guacamole with tasty housemade vegetable sun chips ($4.50) was a hit that exemplified Reid’s focus on fresh flavors. “A perfectly ripe avocado is one of the most delicious foods in the world,” Reid says. “So we keep our recipe simple and let the avocado speak for itself. We just use scallion, red onion, lemon juice, tomato, and a hint of sea salt. That’s it. If we don’t have perfect avocados, we won’t make it.”
Tomato towers ($6.50), looking more like doublewides than skyscrapers, were the only visually unappetizing dish. Thick tomato slices came glopped with what looked like fresh concrete sprinkled with chopped kalamata olives and fresh basil. Nonetheless, the garlicky, lemony cheese of ground pine nuts had a nice kick. White miso soup ($2.95) served hot was a muddy, bland disappointment. Better was the cold Thai coconut soup ($2.95).
The dinner salads were vibrant extravaganzas of baby greens, sprouts of all kinds, and veggies of every color. At just $6.50-$7.95 for such an organic abundance, they are also a bargain. Pate and rice salad ($7.95) was a standout. Atop a riot of greens was a scoop of fragrant pecan and rosemary pate sweetened with apple and a hint of date next to a little hill of wild rice (cooked by soaking).
Our entrees were stunning with rich, raw colors – colors usually lost during cooking. Ravioli ($12.95) came with a striking fan of thin garnet-red slices of beet folded into half-moons stuffed with a tasty herbed nut-olive pesto. Set off by spaghetti noodles cut from green zucchini in a cashew alfredo sauce and a salad dotted with purple cabbage, the plate was so bright it could have been plugged in.
The sampler plate ($12.50), a sort of a vegan answer to the cobb salad, was my favorite. Falafel, pate, a mini portobello and nut sunburger, and wild rice came aloft a sea of salad greens. Vietnamese Dream ($9.50) arrived with spring rolls of julienned veggies and fresh basil atop salad. I found both dipping sauces oddly cloying with date and apricot as sweeteners, but my dinner partners loved the chili and garlic hints in the almond butter sauce.
Lasagna ($12.50) came layered with delicate zucchini pasta, pine nut cheese, and marinara alongside a sunburger meatball and salad. Again, I found using raisin to sweeten the tomato sauce distracting, but my friend was perfectly pleased, though he found the portion small.
The vegan at the table, thrilled that he could order without a long discussion with the wait staff, chose the garden taco ($9.50), a fold-over wrap sandwich stuffed with sprouts, sunburger, cheese, and salsa. It reduced his conversation to sighs of “mmmm.”
Of the desserts we liked the strawberry pie ($4.95) best. The pecan-raisin crust, strawberry filling, and frozen cashew-orange cream topping made for a sweet and pleasant treat. The macaroons ($2.40) and cookie ($2.40) tasted like fruit bars and were outshone by their scrumptious garnish of cream-like cashew-date drizzle over strawberry slices. Or just order the wonderful chai tea with frothed cashew milk ($3.50) or one of the myriad fresh fruit smoothies and juices.
Organic Garden Cafe
294 Cabot Street, Beverly
Credit Cards: All major cards
Handicap access: Fully accessible
Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.