I was just in Chicago for a long weekend, and while I was there I was able to catch up with a couple of dear old friends, do a bit of sightseeing, and of course, grab some mouthwatering vegan fare. On my first day there I met up with my friend, James, who I met way back in high school. James is vegan now too, and when we got together he ran through our dining options. We’d both visited Karyn’s Cooked and Karyn’s On Green on other occasions, but neither of us had tried her raw restaurant, Karyn’s Fresh Corner & Raw Bistro. I just love the creativity of raw food. James said he generally preferred cooked food to raw, but since he’d never gone to an actual raw restaurant, he was interested in trying it.
In the past when I’ve talked about raw food, some people have been perplexed by what that means. Outside of a raw salad, carrot sticks, or a handful of nuts, what is there? Basically, raw food for the purposes of raw cuisine, is food that hasn’t been heated above 118 degrees. Making entrees often involves soaking nuts, so that they can be used for creamy sauces or cheeses. Dehydrators are used for a long and low cooking period that can turn seeds into pizza crusts and crackers. Instead of wheat based noodles, you’ll often find kelp noodles or spiralized zucchini noodles or in the case of ravioli, thinly sliced turnips or beets. That’s what I find so exciting about raw food. It takes something ordinary, plays with it, and turns it on its ear to become extraordinary, while keeping its freshness and full-of-life flavor.
When we arrived at Karyn’s Fresh Corner & Raw Cafe, which has recently re-opened in the Lincoln Park area after a fire, we discovered that in addition to having a small gourmet restaurant, they also have a little specialty grocery store with food bar. We slipped into the dining area, which was cozy and cleanly decorated.
We were the only ones there at the time, and a server came to our table right away with menus and water for the table. The water had been infused with cucumber slices, which was refreshing and always makes me feel like I’m sitting at a spa. The featured drink option of the day was coconut water, fresh from a young coconut and served in a wine glass.
For an appetizer, James ordered the cheese plate, which includes a variety of nut-based cheeses in different flavors alongside dehydrated crackers, dried fruit and nuts. We took turns sampling the different cheeses and then pressing them into the various toppings. We each attempted to pick our favorite, but that kept changing with each bite – sometimes it was the one with a prominent flavor of basil, then it would be the garlicky one, then the more spicy one… They gave a generous amount of each of the cheeses, and I had to remind myself that I still had a main course coming.
For the main course, I ordered the Pad Thai. Like I mentioned earlier, I generally see kelp noodles or spiralized zucchini in raw noodle dishes, but for this entrée coconut meat was used. They cut the inner meat from a young coconut into long strips and tossed it in a creamy curry sauce with bean sprouts, peas, scallions, carrots, and marinated mushrooms. The sauce definitely had a spicy kick, and I liked the crunch of the bean sprouts against the softness of the coconut meat noodles.
James ordered the empanadas, which were made with flax and corn masa pastry dough and then stuffed with chorizo and served with raw chocolate mole and salsa verde. I stopped myself from reaching across with a fork to sample one of his empanadas, which he was clearly enjoying. Instead I asked if he’d have raw food again sometime, to which he said, “Well, if raw food is like this then I would.”
Too stuffed to order dessert, afterwards we looked around the small grocery area, where they have cookbooks and supplements for sale in addition to a few refrigerated cases selling Karyn’s cheeses, entrées to go, and other raw items. While I was there, I noticed in one of the refrigerated cases that they had several kinds of sauerkraut for sale.
There’s a sauerkraut from Gold Mine that I fell in love with when I was living in California that’s preserved with garlic. If there’s one thing that I love more than sauerkraut, it’s sauerkraut that has a punch of garlic along with it. The cabbage is shredded small. It’s all organic, and because it’s raw, it still maintains its crunch. I’ve sampled many kinds of sauerkraut over the years, but this one easily tops the list.
It’s available online, but with shipping costs being what they are I’ve resigned myself to looking for it on my travels instead. (Oh, and I’ve put it on my Christmas list a number of times, but with no luck so far. Maybe Santa can’t find it either.) I have looked in at least 5 states in the Midwest for that sauerkraut, visiting a variety of natural grocery stores and eyeing their refrigerated sections. It’s become my vegan White Whale. So when I saw jars of it (along with the non-garlic version) in one of the refrigerated cases, I may have audibly gasped. First I pulled out just one small jar, and then I decided after looking for it for this long, I was grabbing two. It’s on the pricey side, but it was still cheaper than flying to California for it!
If I lived in Chicago, all of Karyn’s restaurants would definitely be in my regular rotation, including her raw café where I’d love to make it my mission to sample the menu from top to bottom (leaving out the menu items with honey, of course). It was a delectable meal, and no, that’s not just the sauerkraut talking!
The countdown is on to Thanksgiving! If you’re still in the menu planning stages, check out these Vegan Thanksgiving Ideas!