The one aspect of our culinary appetite that does not change is change itself. Periodically, the concept of eating raw foods becomes popular. At the beginning of this century, the "Living Food" movement picked up steam, um, momentum, with such eminent national chefs as Charlie Trotter, who, with co-author Roxanne Klein, wrote 2003's classic, now out-of-print "uncookbook" Raw, containing 200 recipes. Some people think raw is easy: Eat an apple, sashimi or carpaccio. But Trotter elevated the taste experience by offering such dishes as "Okra cured in sea salt with Thai squash and pear sauce" and "Jicama packages filled with preserved eggplants, broccoli rabe flowers and tiny kohlrabi" in his Chicago restaurant.
The reason to go raw lies in the belief that when foods, especially fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains, are exposed to temperatures from 105 degrees to 118 degrees, their enzymes become deactivated. The thinking behind the movement is that it's better to consume foods with the enzymes intact since human enzyme stores are finite. Thus, advocates of the raw diet believe that consuming raw foods is an effective measure to preserve human enzymes and thus our health.
This healthy eating approach is what prompted owners Randy Powell and his wife Juliana Luna to open Luna's Living Kitchen, a raw, organic, vegan restaurant, last July. If you patronized Real Foods, you will recognize both Powell and Luna. Real Foods closed last spring so that Powell and Luna could reopen in the same space with different investment partners and focus on providing a variety of raw dishes.
Luna's interior is still very much the small space with the exposed kitchen, a few tables and a patio. Orders are taken at the counter; containers are recyclable. Luna's is a blend of both raw and cooked foods, although the majority of dishes are raw. Buns are baked locally and some bakery items (bars, scones) are offered for sale.
One of the menu items retained from Real Foods is the vegan burger of sprouted quinoa and Kamut (a registered brand of the ancient khorasan wheat). The health aspects notwithstanding, the flavor here could be punched up with a heady hit of mint or ginger. The strong suit at Luna is the gorgeous salads, which taste even better than they look. The micro greens are from Tega Hills Farms in Fort Mill, and each salad is lightly dressed and dotted with nuts and slices of fruit.
Familiar dishes like lasagna get finessed into a creative raw twist. Thin slices of zucchini are slathered with sun-dried tomatoes and then embraced with green cashew cheese. Even if you are not a raw foods aficionado, you will want this dish. The Swiss bircher muesli from Real Foods is still on the menu: raw oatmeal enveloped with sliced fruits and nuts — the quintessential feel-good breakfast.
Smoothies are offered, too. One with avocado tastes sensational, but looks rather like Gerber strained peas when seen through the transparent smoothie container (made from corn, I'm told). Opaque has its place.
When I asked whether the evening hours would be extended in light of the fact the eatery is named Luna (Juliana's last name), Powell replied, "No, but ironic, isn't it?" You've got to love a restaurateur with a sense of humor.
Luna's Living Kitchen
2102 South Blvd. 704-333-0008. Hours: Monday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. www.lunaslivingkitchen.com.