On Friday night, I had the pleasure of a unique DC dining experience: dinner at Elizabeth’s Gone Raw.
It is an unbelievable fact that, in the many months I’ve now lived in DC, I have not yet had a chance to try DC’s only raw, vegan restaurant. I blame this on a few things: school, budget, timing, negligence. Fortunately for me, Elizabeth Petty, the elegant and gracious founder of Elizabeth’s Gone Raw, invited me to the restaurant for a raw dinner on Friday night. With the enthusiasm of a raw foodie who hasn’t eaten so much as a bite of raw restaurant food in months, I said yes.
I’ll be honest: when you’ve lived in NYC for a while—thus had Pure Food and Wine, Bonobos, Quintessence, and a host of other raw restaurants at your fingertips—you become a little immune to the wonder of raw restaurant dining. You forget that the chefs have been dehydrating things for days. You forget that they’re relying on such simple and delicate ingredients that they—more than any other chefs, perhaps—must labor to get flavors just right. You forget that these restaurants are almost always organic, and primarily local, which means that they’re paying premium so that you, the diner, can eat with a sense of assurance about the origins of your food. And you forget how much sheer creativity raw food demands.
Eating at Elizabeth’s on Friday reminded me of all that. I’d go so far as to say that it reminded me of why I love raw food in the first place.
When I arrived at Elizabeth’s, I was immediately greeted by the restaurateur herself, who was busy seating guests. Elizabeth’s interest in raw food goes beyond mere culinary inclination: several years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and her raw foods journey has been a part of her healing process.
For Elizabeth (as for many of us), raw foods are about so much more than pretty skin or bright eyes: they’re also a means of learning to appreciate good health, vibrant energy, and a reinvented relationship with food. I love that Elizabeth has invested this dining space with personal passion. Beyond that, Elizabeth has studied at Hippocrates and comes from a restaurant background, so EGR is a natural marriage of her history and talents.
As I waited to be seated, I munched on some of the best kale chips I’ve ever had:
I may or may not have gotten an order of seconds when I was seated at my table.
The ambiance at EGR—which is situated in a lovely, restored townhouse—is very elegant. I haven’t had a meal that declares “fine dining” so clearly in a long time.
Elizabeth’s is only open on Friday nights, and they serve patrons only with a five course tasting menu that is designed around local produce each week. As a diner, an experience at EGR means putting yourself in the hands of the chef. This is not something that’s easy for me: picky eater that I am, I like to have control over what my dinner will be, and this is never more true than when I eat raw, because I happen to know my own raw palate so very well. With that said, I couldn’t have picked out a lovelier—or more Gena-ppropriate—menu for dinner on Friday. It was fresh, elegant, and the portion sizes were spot on.
We started with a cream of celeriac soup, warmed in the Vitamix, and served up with an orange relish and black sesame seeds.
The soup might have been a tiny bit thicker, but then, I appreciated that I was not dipping into a giant bowl of cashew cream, which is how a lot of raw soup feels. Moreover, the flavors were fantastic: I loved how the sweet and bitter bite of orange peel brought life to the creamy, calm celeriac. And the contrast in texture was also great: it’s key in raw, blended soups!
Next was our salad course: sunflower seeds, avocado, and a raw cracker.
Because I’m me, this was probably my favorite course of the night. Avocado? A gingery dressing? Sunflower sprouts?! Be still my heart. Sunflower sprouts are the queens of sproutland—so dense, filling, and rich in protein—and I cannot find them anywhere in DC. Anywhere! Elizabeth grows her own, and uses them at the restaurant, which gave my enjoyment of this dish a personal touch.
We were served a small refresher sorbet:
And then it was time for our entrée. Remember what I made for dinner a few nights ago?
This would be the all raw version:
Beet Carpaccio with garlicky cashew cheese and fresh dill. Along with a green sauce that blew my mind, whatever it was. (I should know what it was. EGR prints every single ingredient on the back of the menu—a transparency that I absolutely love.)
So many raw entrees err on the side of excess: too much fat, too much spice, too much stuff. I realize that these dishes may be trying to compensate for a lack of animal protein, and that this is a good thing for mainstream diners, but I’ll always feel that the best raw food is also the most minimalist. This dish was bursting with flavor, but it was also light, bright, and simple, so that I enjoyed every note of fresh dill and ever sweet bite of beet. Delicious.
Thankfully, I saved room for dessert:
Raw, vegan pumpkin pie. Having glanced at the ingredients, I will tell you that it contains no pumpkin (thank goodness, because raw pumpkin, in my experience, is a little too raw) and I will also tell you that I plan on trying to imitate it. Soon. It was spectacular: spicy, and very sweet.
I thanked Elizabeth for a great meal:
…and for bringing a slice of the raw community to me. Here in DC, I don’t have the support of Dhru, Philip, and the WLIR meet up folks; I don’t have a thriving juice scene, or a restaurant and takeaway around the corner from work that exceeds my wildest dreams (Sarma, I heart you). The vegan scene in DC is small, and the raw scene far smaller. Eating at EGR reminded me that we raw foods lovers have strength in numbers, wherever we may be, and that we’re always thrilled to connect over kale.
Over dinner, I was asked “what is it you love so much about raw food?” I’ve been writing about the semi-raw life for so long that I actually paused to consider that answer.
“They’re light and bright,” I said. “They’re simple. You have to season everything perfectly, because you can’t hide under heat and and processing and fat. They’re healthy. And they’re so, so, creative—to make raw food great, you have to bring so much ingenuity to what you do.”
Thanks to Elizabeth and Ares and the EGR staff for reminding me why I happen to be a raw foods lover. Thanks, too, for your hospitality and kindness. In general, I love to have some choice in the matter of what I eat, so prefix tasting menus really aren’t my ideal. But if they always taste this good, I’ll stand corrected. Anytime.