Restaurant Review: Restaurant Review
Beets Living Foods Cafe beats the odds and offers a first-rate raw-food experience
Reviewed by Kate Thornberry, Fri., Jan. 29, 2010
Mon.-Wed. 8am-8pm; Thu.-Fri., 8am-9pm; Sat., 10aqm-9pm; Sat., 10am-8pm
Beets Living Foods Cafe1611 W. Fifth #165, 477-2338
Monday-Wednesday, 8am-8pm; Thursday-Friday, 8am-9pm; Saturday, 10am-9pm; Sunday, closed
It isn't easy to create an organic, vegan, raw food restaurant that fulfills the needs of its base clientele while remaining accessible enough to draw in more omnivorous folks. Beets Living Foods Cafe beats the odds.
To start with, the menu includes such familiar and popular dishes as chalupas, pizza, guacamole, and Asian-style noodle salad – all made, of course, from organic, uncooked, vegan ingredients, but nevertheless colorful, appetizing, and recognizable. Vegan versions of ice cream, chocolate candy, and cheesecake grace the dessert display, and soups, salads, breakfast options, juices, and smoothies round out the menu. Don't get me wrong: This is about as hardcore as health food gets – everything is made entirely out of raw vegetable matter – but the menu isn't intimidating in the slightest.
As I looked around the bustling dining room, I noticed quite a few larger groups lunching happily. Often, one member of a such a circle will have stricter dietary parameters than the rest. At Beets, you can go out to eat without leaving your vegan daughter or gluten-free co-worker behind, while still enjoying a satisfying meal yourself.
The atmosphere of the restaurant is as accessible and cheerful as the menu. Flooded with natural light, the space is uplifting. The decor is modern and tasteful, with a blond wood, slightly upscale feel. "It is part of our mission to provide a relaxing, peaceful environment," explains chef Alicia Ojeda. A classically trained chef, Ojeda decided eight years ago to devote her culinary expertise to raw food. She relocated to Austin from Southern California when she was offered the opportunity to collaborate with Beets' owner/chef Sylvia Heisey. "We decided that every dish must have a really high 'wow' factor," Ojeda continues. "Every component of every dish must be fabulous."
Such attention to detail seldom goes unrewarded. Everything I sampled at Beets had the "wow factor" Ojeda describes, in both appearance and flavor. The Shakin' Berrie smoothie (small, $5.50; large, $6.50), made from bananas, strawberries, almond milk, and vanilla, achieved a perfect balance of sweet and tart, and the Choco-a-la-na-na smoothie, a concoction of cacao, banana, dates, vanilla, and spices, was as rich and chocolaty as melted chocolate ice cream. The nori roll ($7.95), a vegan version of sushi made with avocado and a variety of crisp vegetables, was excellent. Served with a powerful ginger dipping sauce, it also genuinely stimulated the appetite. The chalupas ($11.95) – surprisingly crunchy corn tostadas piled with sunflower paste, guacamole, and salsa – were as filling as any I've ever had, while far healthier and stunningly colorful. The dish that stays with me, however, is the Asian-style noodle salad ($7.25/$11.50). The exotic blend of napa cabbage, daikon radish, broccoli, kelp noodles, sea vegetables, carrot, scallion, and sesame seeds, all tossed in a sweet and spicy miso dressing, was deeply satisfying and a joy to eat. The Pizza Rustica ($11.95), while lacking the crusty texture of a traditional pizza, fully delivers complex marinara flavor along with marinated mushrooms, sweet peppers, and caramelized onions, and the crispy romaine Caesar salad with garlicky croutons that accompanies it complements it beautifully.
From my previous raw food experiences, I knew that the desserts would most likely be good, and I wasn't disappointed. The house-made "I-Scream" ($6.25), which doesn't include soy, refined sugars, or dairy, is superb, and the cheesecakes ($6.50) are light, creamy, and guilt-free. The hands-down winner, however, was the decadent, chewy chocolate coconut cluster ($3.25).
From beginning to end, Beets Living Foods Cafe offers a first-rate raw-food experience.