First Bites

First Draw at the New La Vie en Raw

What possessed my date to recommend we dine at La Vie en Raw is totally beyond me. After all, he would eat cheeseburgers and fries three times a day if he could, so why did he want to gnaw on veggies at a raw food restaurant? The thought of a raw vegan meal was about as appealing as a trip to the bikini waxer. But I digress...

So the question is, can the new La Vie en Raw turn two carnivores onto a different way of eating?

A few months ago, I met a gal named Mary Beckerman who goes by Chef Mary B. She's a former model and corporate type who told me about her epiphany one day to leave the expense account behind and focus on farming. Seeing her skinny bod and perfect glowing skin made me want to go puree a salad right. Then I looked at one of her promo shots and saw her sipping on a milkshake as green as Mr. Grinch. I'm just not brave enough, I thought.

But when we looked over LVeR's menu online, we saw no such liquid creation. Sure there were smoothies, but each one was blended with fresh fruit or Thai coconut milk, surely rendering them only a light, chocolaty brown color or some shade of pastel. Even the fresh-squeezed juices didn't seem too threatening. The most adventurous of the bunch was the String Quartet with carrot, beet, apple, and ginger. The soups and salads didn't seem too offensive, either. However the entrees, which alternate nightly, did seem curious: "pasta" made from zucchini and "raw-violi" made from beets, for example. Even the cute names didn't sidetrack our full-on fear of being disgusted, but we forged ahead, anyhow, hopeful that we'd find an exciting culinary adventure.

The place was once a massage parlor, says owner, Sabina Torrieri, but no remnants remain. She painted the walls a pretty emerald green, hung loads of different-sized framed mirrors throughout, called in local artists to display their wares on other walls, and even added a funky light fixture made of kooky materials. Though Torrieri is Italian, she went with an obviously French theme to connect her new resto to La Vie en Rose, the movie about singer Edith Piaf for those of you who have never heard of it.

The marker board menu of nightly specials included meat loaf rendered in mushrooms along with a "pasta" dish. Well... there's one thing definitely to be said about the entrees at LVeR: they sure are pretty. No one would be stupid enough to mistake shredded zucchini for spiralized pasta nor crushed veggies for a hunk of meatloaf, of course, but they made a convincing substitute for the eyes. Even the cold cream of spinach soup which, I suspect, was "creamed" with tahini, and the homemade carrot-ginger-soy sauce dressing on our salad set us off with the right state of mind: We can do this!

Two bites into the "linguine," though, gave me more zucchini taste than I could stand. Even the glorious vegan nut pesto and sun-dried tomatoes couldn't convince me that I could eat more. Just not my thing. So I traded plates with my date who had already given the "meatloaf" a thumbs up. I agree the stuff was nowhere near traditional meatloaf, but it did a fine job of satisfying my hunger for something substantial. And the marinara atop the slice gave it a nice tang, while a side of seasoned brown rice satiated my need for carbs.

The strawberry mocha pie sitting alone in the dessert case called out to us, but we opted for a coconut milk/carob powder/unsweetened pecan smoothie instead. It blessedly cut the zucchini taste from my tongue and gave him the sugar fix he felt he deserved for eating so much green stuff.

Are we converts? Hardly. As a matter of fact, my date will undoubtedly never return again. But I praise Torrieri for giving Miami an interesting new place that caters to those vegans and vegetarians who yearn for something beyond Whole Foods takeout and their twentieth salad of the week. I can't wait to take my best girlfriend there so we can try a few more plates. After all, if we are what we eat, I'd certainly rather be a smoothie than a greasy slice of pizza.

La Vie en Raw
3808 SW Eighth Street, Coral Gables

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Riki Altman