Cilantro Live!315 3rd Ave.Chula Vista619-827-74012 Forks
Thanks to too many dinner parties with Nutri-girl and her nutritional cronies, I know a little bit about nutritional cooking. The disposal would swallow batch after batch of experimental quinoa and molasses cookies. Then they would stumble upon something remotely edible, and hold it aloft as if they had performed the miracle of transubstantiation.
"Isn't that amazing?" was their double-speak for, "Now that one didn't invoke the gag reflex."
But raw-food devotees are another world entirely, and I'm not talking about sushi and beef tartare. This is the ultimate in nutritionally finicky diets, for people who think being vegan is too easy, or possibly too delicious. Raws create their entire diet without using temperatures greater than a mild fever.
Raw diets are all the rage in L.A. and New York. But Nutri-Girl and I were headed to the only raw food restaurant in San Diego County, Cilantro Live! I picked her up at home and listened to her travails with her current boyfriend. Switching topics, I mentioned I had done some research into the raw-food philosophy.
"Let's assume your body does need broccoli enzymes," I said.
"Maybe. But does it need all the enzymes?" I whined. "Couldn't it just get by with the enzymes in my salad?"
She rolled her eyes, and the conversation went downhill from there. But a raw would have cried in disgust, "What do you mean, "just get by'? Do you want your body to "just get by'?"
For raws, there is no room for empty calories; no wasted nutrient. Nuts show up in just about every raw dish, but they're ground and mashed into paste to make them more easily digestible. (Apparently, chewing is another joy raws would leave to the cave-dwelling carnivores.) Mashed nuts provide Cilantro Live! with a gritty "house cheese" and several "pates." With such building blocks, they try to recreate pizza, chili rellenos and burgers. (What, no chili dogs or Cheetos?)
But no one at Cilantro Live! has tasted real food in a long time, if ever. So their homages rely primarily on visuals. The vaguely burger-colored Cilantro burger tasted like a flax cracker soaked overnight in a cold garlic-and-mushroom broth. The Pizzzzzaza was a flax cracker crust topped with a smear of sun-dried tomato paste, the non-cheesy house cheese and minced olives and onions. I love olives, nuts, onions and sun-dried tomatoes, and I even like the occasional flax cracker. But rather than come up with a tasty combination of those elements, Cilantro Live! tries to recreate a pizza, and the result is disjointed.
Maybe the better walnut-mushroom loaf started out as an ill-advised attempt to imitate meatloaf, but at least the resulting flavors and textures work well together. The homemade mustard has a surprising horseradish zing, not much like the real thing, but who cares? The loaf is also served warm, a much-needed concession to epicurean pleasure. Like everything else, of course, the loaf comes alongside huge salad, which even Nutri-Girl conceded needed some diced nuts, pesto or something to give the watery dressing some heft.
The Cilantro Live! soup tasted like a warm vegetable juice (not surprising, given that is exactly what it is). You might have guessed that the spicy tomato bisque tastes like runny salsa. Not that salsa's a bad thing, but salsa called "soup" is somehow disconcerting. The one dish that does use salsa, the chili relleno, suggests that the kitchen might not be too familiar with that common and naturally raw food, either. Or maybe jalapeños missed the approved ingredient list for some obscure reason.
In the end, there are a lot of obscure reasons. Two forks is not the most positive review, but un-cooking is all about degree of difficulty, and producing anything remotely edible is an accomplishment. Cilantro Live! produces a few passable dishes, and the occasional pleasant one. That might be all raws can hope for.
For instance, my sundae dessert was satisfying enough, though again, the effort to recreate ice cream baffles me. Meanwhile, Nutri-Girl's eyes lit up as she pushed her faux cheesecake across the table. I took a forkful of what tasted like a block of unsweetened coconut.
"Isn't that amazing?" she gushed.
Got your own ridiculous food criteria? I'm all ears: cityeat@SDcitybeat.com.