Thursday, July 26, 2007

Chicago Saga, Part 2 Cousin's Incredible Vitality

I'm on the outside looking in

Thursday started auspiciously in Chicago. We woke to a lovely cool morning in our friend's cozy Uptown apartment. My daughters wanted to find some dates and so we headed out on a little walk on Devon Street, reknown for its cultural hodgepodge of ethnic markets and restaurants, many of them from the region of the world known for growing dates.

Actually, my sense of direction was a bit off, and we walked for some time on a street that was NOT Devon. I didn't even have the sense to look at a street sign and know that I was lost. However, after we had walked over half a mile without finding anything but a few Mexican tiendas with no dates, we decided to turn back. The girls were getting restless and irritable. They peed in the bushes outside a Chicago Public School. I snickered a bit about the symbolism.

Then magically, after cutting over one block and walking only 2 blocks back, we ended up on Devon, right in front of the Devon Market where they not only had dates, but they had mangos, 4 for $1, a young coconut for $2, sweet corn 8 for $1, figs both fresh and dried, and lots of other fun stuff to look at. The dashing young owner stood in the front, gently nodding to the grandmotherly lady who was attempting to explain something in Polish (or some other tongue) . He understood without having to understand the words--another magical moment. It was like taking a wrong turn at Albuquerque and ending up in heaven.

We got a rather handsome load for under $25. Plus, our little shortcut landed us only 2 blocks from our friend's apartment. Good thing, since we had so much to carry.

We loaded up our car and drove some distance to go to a Persian grocery store I knew about in Boys Town. It was unchanged, but they had little to tempt a raw vegan. I bought some Iraqui date syrup and some halvah as gifts for a friend. Then, we headed to one of only two raw restaurants in Chicago, Cousins Incredible Vitality, for lunch.

When we lived in Chicago years ago, we had visited Cousin's Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Restaurant and enjoyed it immensely. Of course, that was a time in our life when we enjoyed the Epicurean lifestyle of eating and drinking ourselves into a stupor (and bankruptcy). LOL!

Anyway, we were immensely drawn to Chef Mehmet's story about transforming his life after converting to a raw lifestyle. And of course, we are always drawn to a food adventure.

One look at the menu online and I was sure that this wasn't exactly paradise for the 80-10-10er. The opening page lists the "Cousins IV Pyramid" as consisting of 50% greens, 25% nuts and seeds, and 25% fruit. I'm sure they're referring to volume, not calories, which would make this your typical 50-75% fat diet that gets so many raw fooders in trouble. Oddly, there is no mention of oils, yet they figured prominently in virtually every dish we sampled.

Though I was skeptical, my husband and children were eager. They salivated over the idea of a raw pizza and chocolate smoothies. I was sure I could get some fruit and greens on the salad bar (and admittedly, I was secretly a bit excited to try something a little exotic like a recipe or a little rich like some nut pate or guacamole).

We were the only customers for most of our lunch time. Maybe Thursday is a slow day? Or maybe raw foods is a totally foreign concept in the Midwest? We got to sit in a lovely window seat on beautiful cushions on the floor.

The wait staff was attentive and just enthralled that our entire family would eat raw food. Our waitress proclaimed that we were only the second raw family she'd ever met and that most people told her that their children would never try this kind of food. I felt the need to gently explain that we were really "80-10-10ers" and didn't eat this way all the time. She had never heard of 80-10-10. She seemed confused. "So you don't eat many greens?" No dear, we don't eat so much fat!

We were disappointed to learn that there was no child price for the all-you-can-eat buffet. We also had to patiently wait for them to finish readying it, although we came in half an hour after it's scheduled start time. Also, the smoothie menu was significantly shorter than the one online, and unfortunately, virtually every smoothie offered contained cacao.

We were offered flax crackers while we waited, which my husband and children gobbled greedily, voicing their hearty approval. They tasted like salty cardboard to me.

Despite the shaky start, we were thrilled by the beauty of the dishes as they were brought out to the buffet carts. There were stuffed marinated mushrooms, stuffed peppers, guacamole with tomatoes, a festive corn salad, two "pasta" dishes, one with marinara, one with pesto, several green salads (all with dressings and dried fruits and other vegetables), a "curried rice" dish made from cauliflower, a "falafel" made from nut balls wrapped in collard greens, a dish that had wild rice in it (is that REALLY raw?), a sweet carrot salad, a papaya custard, and a dish of whole pears and apples. No plain greens and no sweet fruit, I noticed. Hmmmm.

In addition, we ordered a raw pizza appetizer, a chocolate banana smoothie, and a smoothie with durian and cacao. I ordered this one against my better judgement because I so badly wanted to try SOMETHING with durian. That and perhaps I was trying to compensate for the sinking feeling I was getting as my husband and kids got more and more excited about this food that I know is just not optimal.

The first bites, for me, were painful. The food literally burned my tongue it was so saturated with spices and salt. The guacamole was intensely garlicky. The cabbage salad was downright HOT with pepper flakes, the curry in the "curried rice" dish tasted like dirt mixed with a caustic chemical. The durian smoothie was possibly the worst thing I've every tasted. Even the papaya custard had some mix of spices so that the taste of the fruit was completely covered over. I felt immediately depressed. My husband, noting my discomfort, said, "Now why couldn't we enjoy a meal like this just once in awhile?" He and my children began eating large quantities rapidly. My son was particularly excited as he consumed mushroom after mushroom.

A sad, lonely feeling came over me as I watched them. What IS wrong with entertaining oneself with food? With consuming toxins in order to get an artificial high feeling? With eating things that make one feel physical discomfort or even pain? I felt miserable, but pretended I didn't and started filling my stomach with a large quantity of food. As a result, I felt ill for many hours afterward, and it cast a pall over all of the fun we had later in the day. I felt highly guilty as I charged $78 to my credit card. And ALL OF IT was my choice. What I ate, how I felt... It was a good experience for me, because now I never have to feel attracted to the idea of a fancy restaurant meal. I enjoy my simple meals of fruit and greens and I enjoy feeling light and happy and healthy.

Lest you think me cruel, I will say that if you are accustomed to eating "recipes", raw or cooked, this would be some of the most delicious food you've ever tasted. It was beautifully presented, very fresh. The ingredients were of high quality. The pizza actually tasted pretty much like pizza. If you are a cooked foodie who wants to try a "healthier" meal or a raw fooder who eats recipes, dehydrated foods, salt, spices, etc., you might LOVE this restaurant. But, if you're an 80-10-10er, skip it and head to the Devon Fruit Market.

Next up, Part 3 of our adventure, where we go to the zoo and find possibly the only producing tropical fruit trees in Chicago. Stay tuned!


Connie said...

Lol! Loved your post, it was worth waiting for. I know exactly what you mean, my family accuses me of being Debbie Downer when we go out to eat. I get more and more miserable as the meal goes on! Then, when the bill comes, ack! I try to let them enjoy themselves, but I have a hard time disguising my disappointment. I want to go out and enjoy food and atmosphere too, sometimes I wish I could go back to my ignorance was bliss mindset.

I think a lot of it is because we are actually making the food choices for our families. They are not as aware of what the food is doing. My kids go bonkers after certain foods. While I associate it with what they ate, they do not. We are doing the work, they are reaping the benefits.

Our last visit to a raw food restaurant we were entertaining raw food friends from Atlanta. Something in the food upset my stomach and I was searching for bathrooms the rest of the day! We had a picnic in the park with food I brought from home that evening and I was much happier.

What can I say, I am a cheap date! I bring my own food! hahaha!

I just ordered Doug Graham's book, that may be what I am looking for. Didn't mean to hijack your blog! LoL!

Have a wonderful day!

Margi (Mar-ghi) said...

I can relate to this raw restaurant experience so much!! There's a raw restaurant about 45 min drive from my house and I've only been about 4-5 times. I have to go when I've been eating at least overts because if I went on eating just fruit, I'd probably vomit. There's NOTHING on the menu that isn't complicated or full of salt/fat. I only go there when I'm entertaining company because I think raw folks still sometimes like the feeling of going out to a restaurant. I look at it like I'm eating raw junk food and remember that sometimes people eat like this all the time. So don't stress over it because you definitely don't eat like that all the time. Did your kids try the smoothie? Hopefully your kids don't get hooked on cacao :P If you want to try durian in a really yummy way, blend durian with bananas and water. It's sooo YUM.

Jennifer C. said...

I've only been to one raw foods restaurant and it has the same type of food you described...fat laden replicas of cooked dishes. Unfortunately 811rv doesn't have the same appeal to most people as "pizza". I'll only go out to eat if there's a salad bar, so I can stick with low fat fruit & greens. Every time I eat overt fats I regret it, so why even put myself through the discomfort?

Glad your family liked it though. At least they weren't eating cooked.