“Is that Swiss chard?”

The question is asked as we step below the sidewalk into Manhattan’s premiere raw vegan restaurant, Pure Food and Wine. One would expect to see some sort of clue that we’re about to have an incredibly healthy dining experience.

It is, in fact Swiss chard, growing beautifully amid the delicate flowers and elegant wrought iron fence that creates an alluring place to wait for a table, organic cocktail in hand.


The vibe of Pure Food and Wine is warm and sensual, sprinkled with a bit of quirkiness.

It is, however, the only clue
that we will be dining on a 100 percent animal free, unprocessed and
uncooked meal (no food reaches temperatures above 118 degrees F), as
the entire restaurant is lacking the stereotypes one might
have regarding the words “raw” and “vegan.”

won't describe what initially jumps to mind for most people, but the
words upscale and sexy probably aren’t often among them.

walls are deep red, the tables are dark wood and the whole vibe is warm
and sensual, lit with flickering candles in recycled glass tumblers.
It’s simultaneously chic and cozy. 

The hip
atmosphere is sprinkled with a bit of quirkiness from some elegantly
framed photographs of the most adorable duck I’ve ever seen, and I
wonder, is he smiling at us? 


a nod to proprietor and co-founder Sarma Melngailis’s offshoot company,
One Lucky Duck with the just-around-the-corner juice bar and online

She came across the photo in a Gourmet
magazine years ago, and couldn’t stop going back to the image of this
duck, who seemed to be smiling to her as well.

She tracked down the photographer and now the duck (who most likely did
not have a happy ending in real life) grins at patrons where there’s
nary a trace of meat being consumed.

with organic and local ingredients, the napkins and cushions in the
dining room are luxurious, crimson hemp. It’s just another way of being
eco-friendly and sustainable without waving an eco-warrior banner here.
It’s subtle and matter-of-fact, nothing scary or off-putting, which
means there is nothing to detract from the incredibleness that is our

While first reading the
menu, I am tempted to jump straight to dessert and have them bring one
of everything. How about Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse with sake drunken
cherries, vanilla bean creme anglaise and pecan caramel sauce? 

Thin Mint Sundae with fresh mint, chocolate and mint chip ice creams,
chocolate mint cookie and whipped vanilla cream?


Succulent treats such as truffle mushroom squash pasta with macadamia cream make it easy to forget you’re eating “raw.”

There is also a
selection of sorbets including a sweetly decadent sounding mirabelle
plum as well as ice cream, made from young Thai coconuts, raw nuts and
agave nectar- completely dairy and sugar free. It’s almost agonizing to
try and decide.

Slowly drooling over
the menu (it’s practically poetic), I’m not sure I can forego trying
the appetizers and entrees, so I decide to fit it all in. 

The starters are absolutely tantalizing and my dining companions and I go back and forth trying to decide. 

We finally settle on the elegantly earthy sounding Golden Chanterelle
Mushroom and Yuzu Ceviche with heirloom tomatoes and avocado
pineapple sauce (with ingredients hand-picked from the Union Square
Greenmarket just a few blocks away), and the much raved about Asparagus
Sushi Rolls.

We order delicious
sake and fresh fruit cocktails but the conversation that is flowing
comes to an abrupt halt when our courses begin arriving. Everyone is in
various states of disbelief (this isn’t cooked???) and rapture (for any nonbelievers, 

I’m here to say what Sally experienced in the diner is entirely
possible when your taste buds encounter synergy like this).

For the entrees, we
simply can’t resist the raw version of a perennial favorite(and,incidentally, the most raved about item), the Zucchini and Roma Tomato
Lasagna with basil-pistachio pesto, sun-dried tomato sauce and a
pignoli ricotta. 

With every perfect bite, I become quite sure that I will be purchasing Melngailis’s book, Raw Food, Real World, which includes 100 of the restaurant’s recipes.

The cookbook (or in this case uncookbook),
written by Melngailis and her partner Matthew Kenney, contains tips,
suggestions and information about the raw food lifestyle along with
appealing glossy photographs of entrees and other dishes. The lasagna
will be a much-consumed dinner from now on! 

We order the White
Corn Tamales with the most decadently satisfying Cacao Mole sauce,
marinated mushrooms, salsa verde and avocado. Any fan of authentic
Mexican cooking will be enamored with this dish. We can’t believe we're
eating something so rich tasting that isn’t fried or filled with dairy. 

The seasonal items such as Zucchini Blossoms with Garlic Chive Cheese
and the Open Spanikopita Tart are tempting, along with an intriguing
sounding Indian dish of Saag Paneer with Pistachio Coconut Curry Sauce,
(how do they do that?) but
we’re so pleasantly stuffed they'll have to wait for another night. 
And believe me, there most definitely will be other nights. 

Sarma Melngailis, the restaurant’s proprietor and co-founder, also has an offshoot company named One Lucky Duck.

We’re savoring all
of this in the most magical outdoor garden behind the restaurant.
There’s as much seating as inside but with a cozy feeling as strings of
white lights mix with the stars overhead. 

stay as long as possible until the staff begins to look as though
they’ve reached the end of their long night and the other tables are

We don’t want to leave this sanctuary, but stepping back onto the brick-lined streets isn’t too much of a shock.

Irving Place is one of those rare Manhattan streets of quiet beauty in
the middle of the busy and chaotic city and makes for a gentle
transition from the oasis we’ve just left, back into the bustle of New
York life.