Deborah Crooks is a California-based writer, singer-songwriter and performer. She has…
The more I practice, the more I find the need to get out in nature on a regular basis. Unfortunately, urban living doesn’t always conspire to support the minimum daily requirement of earth, sun and sky. Fortunately, the next best thing is ingesting food in its most natural state: raw. San Francisco offers enough raw food restaurants to keep tarmac-sensitive yogis vibrant when they’ve had too much pavement underfoot. Alive! restaurant not only satisfies this requirement, it offers some extra culinary benefits as well. It’s situated a few blocks away from Greenpath Yoga, and manages to offer a serene dining environment on one of San Francisco’s busiest streets.
A narrow dining room off Lombard Street in the Marina District is lined with dark wood tables and decorated sparingly with a bubbling water fountain and an Asian-inspired wall hanging. Indian sitar music is barely audible despite the hushed tones of other diners enjoying colorful plates full of micro greens and nut pÃ¢tÃ©s. On the day of my visit, the sun had just come out after days of rain, and our waiter was eager to direct us to the backyard patio. A few trees, ferns and camellia bushes lined the patio, and blossoms floated down from the few trees as a heat lamp fought off any lingering chills.
While some people flinch at the idea of going out of their way to consume foods that haven’t been heated above 116 degrees (above which temperatures destroys the enzymes that naturally occur in food), Alive!’s menu proves that living food can be virtuous, satisfying and creative. Busy with more than thirty appetizers, salads and entrÃ©es – not counting desserts – the menu leans toward Asian- and Italian-inspired dishes. The beverage list features a nice array of smoothies, fresh juices and teas. Yogis who miss India will be happy to find coconut water served in a coconut on the menu.
There are countless health benefits to consuming organic, uncooked, unprocessed foods, and Alive! goes so far as to describe their soups as “medicinal.” We didn’t try the cooked “New Moon Miso” ($7.95) with astragalus, miso, yam, seaweed, fresh vegetables and shitakes, opting to keep it raw with “The Empress,” ($8.95) which brought a generous stew of seaweed including wakame, sea palm, dulse and shitakes. The flavors were bright and tasted like the Pacific (which some of us like).
A regular-sized house salad ($7) – salads come small, regular or large – didn’t quite live up to its description of coming with a “rainbow” of mixed vegetables. The avocado was two dollars extra and the main vegetable aside from the greens was thinly sliced yellow pepper. But we couldn’t argue with its fresh taste and skillful balance of the requested Cashew Ranch dressing, in lieu of Agave Mustard or Vinaigrette.
Nut-based sauces and creams tended to be the key ingredient in many of the dishes, elevating them from simply great veggies to dishes for which you dine out. The Marinara Pizza ($12) was an artful composition of vegetables more akin to veggie nachos. Pie-shaped pieces of the almond and flaxseed crust made a nice rendition of traditional crust, and the sun-dried tomatoes, olives, spinach, greens and the somewhat ubiquitous shitakes were tied together nicely by a macadamia cream. Garlic Miso Noodles ($10) featured noodles made from raw zucchini, nori, pine nuts and garlic miso sauce.
Both were light enough that we didn’t feel too guilty about ordering desserts. A slice of the Chocolate Cheesecake ($8) featured more nut-based cream and raw cacao. Thick, nutty, rich and chocolate. Yum. Blueberry Bliss ($8), the lightest dessert on the menu, according to our waiter, could have used a little more sweetener though we were wowed by the inch-thick layer of blueberries over a lemon “cheesecake” and macadamia crust.
Raw-foodists report they need less sleep and have more energy, and I couldn’t help notice that the entire staff of Alive! looks especially healthy. Given the quality of the meals we enjoyed there, and the level of serenity experienced afterward, Alive! proves that eating raw inspires as much as nourishes.