It's easy to miss La Vie en Raw Cafe while driving the busy strip of Calle Ocho near Coral Gables where the vegan restaurant has been operating for the past two and a half years. I for one drove by the narrow restaurant three times before spotting both the sign in the window and the alley next to it which leads to an ample and free parking lot for customers.
Once I figured it all out, I made my way to the front door, pausing to admire the artistic poster in the window, featuring a woman juggling a mushroom, a carrot, a piece of broccoli, and other raw veggies.
Inside, owner Sabina Torrieri greeted me with a mild Italian accent and notable caution. But once assured her I was not trying to wrangle any money out of her for advertising, she smiled a bit. Still, she said she wouldn't be able to talk much because of the "busy" lunch hour. I looked around, noting the eatery's single other customer, and said I understood.
I think she meant she had a lot of detox packages to prepare for customers subscribing to her three-day juice cleanse program. In any case, it's okay. Not everyone has to kiss my ass just because I'm a health food writer. But our odd interaction did lend a bit of a weird vibe to my visit. I managed to find out that she's been a vegetarian for 23 years, that she's a nutrition coach and raw vegan chef who teaches monthly cooking classes out of the cafe, and not much else. The next cooking lesson, a three-hour vegan-Asian kitchen class, is coming up tomorrow at noon ($60 per person; call 305-444-3826).
Luckily, the other diner at the cafe was more talkative. While I waited for Torrieri to plate the kale quiche I had ordered, I admired the colorful art on the walls (all for sale) and learned that Hollywood resident Marti Reich was on day 13 of a detox diet.
"And feeling great," she assured me. She was looking to reduce acid levels in her body and cleanse as part of a greater overall life makeover. She had even gotten her husband (who later joined her for lunch) and her 17-year-old son involved in the plan, which seemed to include consuming a lot of vegetable juice, raw vegetables, brown rice, and avocado.
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My lunch arrived, and I was impressed. The kale quiche ($10) was rich, beautifully textured, and curried to an attractive color and flavor. The richness was achieved thanks to the fact that the primary ingredient in the savory pie, other than kale, was ground cashews. It was also topped with a dollop of creamy cashew nut cheese, and anchored by a tasty spelt crust. The brown rice was capped with a swirl of creamy and garlicky raw tomato sauce, and the salad was fresh and bright. (I asked for straight balsamic vinegar as dressing -- it didn't need anything more.) The ten-dollar price tag was a steal for the organic and lovingly prepared dish.
The food was so good I was struck by a rare desire to try a dessert. On Torrieri's recommendation, I chose the raw chocolate mousse ($7). Truth be told, I was eying the dense dark treat through its cruel, clear plastic container the whole ride home.
And when I finally tore into it, it was as delicious as I had imagined -- fudgey, nutty, and oozing sweet agave nectar. Health food or not, I realized I was going to have to run a good many miles to burn this lunch off, but hell. I'm usually so very, very good.