A raw deal: vegan Grezzo serves it cold

by Beacon Staff • September 30, 2009

by the temptations of chocolate-

covered pastries and other comfort foods, Grezzo employs a different philosophy.,Grezzo is the last restaurant you would expect to see nestled between the saucy, cream-laden Italian eateries that line the streets of the North End. Surrounded

by the temptations of chocolate-

covered pastries and other comfort foods, Grezzo employs a different philosophy.

The restaurant is entirely vegan, and uses only raw and living food.

How does that weirdness work? Raw and living food is any cuisine that is kept under 112 degrees Fahrenheit, including anything from fresh, organic fruits to sprouted grains. All the food at Grezzo is unprocessed and untouched by meat, dairy and a host of other ingredients usually found in restaurant fare.

At first glance, Grezzo doesn't seem to have much to work with. However, the creativity and flavor used by the chefs makes dining there a truly unique experience for vegans and die-hard carnivores

alike.

When the food is put down in front of you, confusion abounds. Tomato slices are used in place of pasta in the native tomato ravioli ($19). Sinfully delicious cheesecake is crafted from fresh fruit and lavender ($11). The look of each dish immediately throws you off, but if you jump right in, you'll be amazed: Grezzo has made its dishes taste like old favorites.

For example, as an appetizer, you can order the gnocchi carbonara ($10), which consists of hand-rolled dumplings made of cashews, English peas, "rawmesan"

sauce with pea shoots and eggplant faux-bacon (it's crispy and does, in fact, taste a little like bacon).

When the dish is presented, it looks sparse and foreign, but at first taste, all apprehension disappears. It's incredibly

light with just enough crunch and a fresh, healthy taste. It's hard to believe the gnocchi is made from cashews and the sauce has absolutely no cheese in it.

But what makes Grezzo interesting for foodies can also make it hard for the uninitiated. The most frustrating part of eating there is getting past the strange way the food is put together. It takes a certain amount of bravery, especially for those meat- and potato-lovers among us, to dive in without qualms.

For example, the star anise encrusted papaya steak ($20) is essentially a slab of papaya with creamy dill vermicelli, partnered with marinated cucumber and olive salad. Papaya as steak? Olive salad? Most people would consider that a weird mix. And the papaya doesn't exactly taste like filet mignon, either. However, the flavor is not only unique, but surprisingly delicious and rich. The shock of how Grezzo assembles such interesting ingredients is the most rewarding part of eating there. You feel like a food crusader; it will push the boundaries of your comfort zone, especially

if you're a meat eater.

The restaurant itself gives off a warm, comfortable feeling the minute you walk in, with low lighting, flickering candles and burnt sienna walls. The atmosphere immediately puts you in a calm state, with paintings of fresh vegetables dotting

the main room. The waitstaff is eager to help answer any questions newbie customers might have with an understanding smile. Nonetheless, it's definitely not a place you just stumble into in your sweatpants. Grezzo feels upscale. It's the kind of restaurant that makes you want to put the napkin in your lap and keep your elbows off the table.

Grezzo is clearly a speciality restaurant,

but according to waitress Erin Rowe, the clientele is varied.

"A good amount, probably 15 percent,

of our customers are on a raw-only diet," she said, "but many of our customers

are vegans, vegetarians and even people who eat meat who are just looking

for something completely new."

Part of Grezzo's appeal, Rowe said, is the upscale atmosphere paired with the highly specialized menu.

"Good, filling raw food is often difficult

to make at home, and there aren't many fancy restaurants that cater to the raw food lifestyle," Rowe said. "So when vegans want to go out for a nice birthday

dinner with their friends, Grezzo is a place where everything on the menu is something they can eat."

While catering to folk of all diets, Grezzo is a gem of a restaurant for vegans and those living the raw lifestyle. Customer Jehan Strauss from New Orleans, La., a vegan who eats raw foods, described her motives for leading the life she does.

"The health benefits and the animal rights issues are my main reasons," she said. "I've eaten at raw restaurants like this before, but Grezzo is definitely much fancier than any I've been to."

Anthony Mannino, a senior film student

at Emerson, started working at Grezzo last April as a line cook.

"I started as a meat-eater knowing nothing about raw food," he said. "But I became a vegetarian within a month and now I'm working toward becoming vegan."

Mannino said that Grezzo has not only changed how he thought about his diet, but also how he looked at the world.

"My energy has increased 150 percent. My entire outlook on life has changed," he said. "I've realized that if you're eating living things you're more alive than if you're eating a dead, processed animal."

Those dining at Grezzo must enter with an open mind. You won't get your usual burger and fries. What you will get is fresh, natural food presented in a creative way. You leave feeling good about what you've just put into your body, and you may find yourself reconsidering

those chicken nuggets next time you're in the dining hall.