Recently, The New York Times described the raw food movement as the newest trend in resort cuisine—lucky for Portlanders, we don't have to head to San Benito to get raw. Blossoming Lotus, a tiny vegan cafe located in the lobby of Yoga in the Pearl, offers uncooked food options to cleanse the spirit and the colon.
The operation is presided over by Head Chef Stuart Reiter, a veteran of now-defunct vegan restaurants both famous and infamous: Northeast Portland's much-missed Counter Culture, and the controversy-riddled Calendula. According to Reiter, both of those upscale restaurants bombed because "most of the people who'll spend money on fine dining want continental-style dining," as opposed to faux meatloaf with nutritional yeast gravy. Despite those setbacks, Reiter remains "passionate about raw food," and has tried new tactics with Blossoming Lotus, maintaining an entirely vegan/raw menu, but this time striking a reasonable balance between affordability and quality.
My first foray into Reiter's raw cuisine was the live parsnip pasta: noodles made from grated parsnip and tossed with tomatoes in a walnut-olive tapenade. The slightly spicy, aggressively flavorful sauce distracted me from the fact that I was eating raw parsnip, although I did feel compelled to chew every bite 40 times to ensure proper digestion.
The next time around, I started with the vegan escarole salad. The wilted greens are served warm, with baked tofu, onions, and walnuts, then dressed in balsamic vinegar. I couldn't slurp this salad down fast enough, the savory tofu serving as an addictive counterpoint to the soggy, salty greens.
Following that excellent starter, the raw soft taco was striking in that it bore no resemblance to any taco I've ever met. It was more like a conceptual taco, consisting of chunks of cucumber, tomato, and avocado, then mixed with the pepitas pâte (a blend of pumpkin seeds, cilantro, and tomato) and wrapped in lettuce. Topping off the extremely green concoction was "sour crème," a house-made sour cream substitute. Though the dish didn't satisfy any of my usual taco requirements, being neither greasy, filling, nor three for a dollar, the freshness of the ingredients made for an entrée that was light, crunchy, and refreshing; a perfect post-yoga snack. I just wish they'd called it a "lettuce wrap" or something, so as to prevent thoughts of real tacos from interrupting the eating experience.
I was still hungry after my "taco," so for dessert I tried an almond cookie and a brownie from the small selection of vegan pastries in the dessert tray. The cookie was so dry it was almost inedible. I brought it home for my cat to play with, and he spent an hour batting it across my kitchen floor like the flavorless hockey puck it was. The brownie, however, defied all preconceived notions about vegan-baked goods (sorry guys, but they usually suck). Its moist, chocolaty decadence provided a delicious and much-needed dose of fat and sugar.
Sitting in Blossoming Lotus' sunny cafe, surrounded by pretty people with naturally glowing skin, is like stepping into an alternate reality, one in which I exercise three times a day, think deeply about every bite of food before I eat it, and have regularly scheduled bowel movements. Like the man said: I wouldn't want to live there, but it sure is a nice place to visit.