Raleigh Raw for healthy eaters
By Greg Cox
Review originally published 8/18/2016
Are you a vegan? Into the raw foods lifestyle? Then you know how severely limited your options are at area restaurants, and will welcome this newcomer to the local dining scene.
7 W. Hargett St., Raleigh
When Raleigh Raw opened in March, the restaurant earned the dual distinctions of becoming the first in the Triangle dedicated to serving exclusively raw foods, and the first to give more than a token nod to poke, the Hawaiian raw fish salad that is unquestionably one of the hottest national food trends of the year. The menu at this hip little counter service cafe and juice bar devotes an entire section to poke.
Technically, I suppose Raleigh Raw’s mix-and-match creations should be called deconstructed poke. You start by selecting a base, either sticky rice or greens. Then choose one of the pre-selected combinations of toppings from the “Set Up” category, and a dressing (dairy-free spicy cashew mayo or soy-free tamari).
Opt for a Set Up called The Hustle, and you’ll score a savory kaleidoscope centered around dragonfruit that has been artfully cut into cubes with the crimson outer layer on one side and the interior of the fruit – an equally eye-catching white freckled with black seeds – on the other five. Surrounding the exotic tropical fruit, whose tangy-sweet flesh and texture are reminiscent of kiwi, are nubbins of sesame asparagus, fresh jalapeño, translucent-thin rings of red onion, and a shimmery skein of seaweed salad.
You could stop at this point, in which case you’d have a stunning rice bowl or salad for just under ten bucks. You’ll need to add an optional protein for a small surcharge (well worth the $3 for tuna, salmon, yellowtail or spicy blue crab; $2 for vegan golden beet) to transform your creation into poke.
Well, almost. Unlike traditional poke, which is briefly marinated, here the raw fish arrives naked of any garnish except for a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Sherif Fouad, who owns Raleigh Raw with partner Leslie Woods, explains that they had initially marinated the fish, but its texture and flavor suffered when left to marinate for too long. The tweak is just one example of the philosophy at Raleigh Raw, where a reverence for the purity of ingredients includes an insistence on using fluoride-free water.
Apart from a couple of breakfast options (rolled oatmeal and house-made granola), poke is the only made-to-order entree offered at Raleigh Raw. But it’s hardly the only attraction. Grab-and-go meals such as Coconut Ceviche (made with raw young Thai coconut meat) and the Khaleesi Bowl (whose dozen listed ingredients include dragonfruit, banana, avocado and granola) are popular with the downtown Raleigh lunch crowd.
Not surprisingly, given that Raleigh Raw started out selling cold-pressed juices at various locations in 2013, liquid nourishment makes up the bulk of the offering at the restaurant. Nutrient-dense smoothies such as Blueberry Bee Pollen and Watermelon Blossom (a recent seasonal offering) are a healthy meal alternative. You’ll also find Crack Coffee (locally roasted, with coconut oil and grass-fed butter), yerba mate tea, iced matcha latte (with house-made almond milk) and draft kombucha among the singularly diverse list of libations. There’s even a modest selection of bottled wine and a rotating selection of beers on tap.
And if you over-indulged last night, Raleigh Raw has got you covered with a Recovery Bundle. The Sunglasses & Advil (Rock Steady juice blend for “liver and blood circulation support;” Salt N Pepa “detox shot & alkalizer;” single draft kombucha; coconut water; and alkaline water) is just what the doctor ordered.