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A disappointing first dinner at Raw Aura

July 15, 2011

Rewind again to Friday, June 10, 2011…

After crossing the border into Canada, and only making one stop on our drive (at a winery for free samples!), we went straight to Raw Aura in Mississauga, Ontario for dinner. My Facebook and Twitter friend Doug McNish used to be the head chef there, so I’ve heard a lot about the place and was quite excited to eat there. Unfortunately, as you’ll see, it wasn’t everything I’d hope it’d be.

Matt and I ordered the Cinnamon Toast Crunch smoothie to start: almond butter, dates, banana, cinnamon, and maca. On one hand, it was truly uncanny just how much this tasted like Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal—the flavor was spot on. On the other hand, however, the smoothie was room temperature. I don’t know about you, but I like my smoothies cold. Even if they didn’t have the ingredients chilled, I’m really not sure why they didn’t blend in some ice or something. The off-putting temperature brought this otherwise-yummy smoothie down a few pegs.

For our appetizer, we got the Avo Tartare: chunky avocados tossed with shiitake mushrooms, green onions, hempseeds, and tomatoes in a lemon-herb sauce, served with pumpkin seed flatbread. This was the best dish we had all night. The tartare was delicious, although I avoided the smoky-tasting mushroom bits (I’m just not a fan of smoky stuff). The breadsticks were good too, very crunchy…almost too crunchy, though. I would’ve preferred them a little thinner and easier to bite through.

For his main dish, Matt ordered the Burstin’ Burrito, which looked quite promising…

…however, I’m sad to say, Matt didn’t like it one bit. The pumpkin seed taco “meat” was low on flavor and also very bitter. The wrap itself was unremarkable. And he almost couldn’t stomach the cashew sour cream—something about it made him downright queasy. The kitchen even remade it for him without the cream (which was very cool of them to do), but he still couldn’t eat much of it.

My meal also looked and sounded promising: Sweet & Sour Noodles, a mix of kelp and zucchini noodles tossed in an almond butter-maca sauce with red pepper, cilantro, romaine lettuce, red onions, and spiced almond bits.

Doesn’t that sound good? It did to me, which is why I was so dismayed by the outright lack of flavor in the sauce. It was just straight creaminess—I couldn’t taste almond butter OR maca in it, and it was extremely underseasoned. On top of that, the noodles and scant veggies were nearly swimming in the sauce, too much so for my taste.

We hoped some selections from the dessert case would redeem the meal…

…but our first pick, the Coconut Cream Pie, did not.

The flavor was so faint, I couldn’t make out any coconut at all. It was also far more icy than it was creamy—in the end, more like a barely-sweetened ice pop than a slice of ice cream pie.

Our other dessert, the Chocolate Mint Ganache, finally offered us some flavor. The minty center was almost as “fudgy” as the chocolate ganache on top, in a good way. Even though it was not very cold (I would’ve liked it more chilled), it was properly sweetened, and we enjoyed it overall.

On the upside, the service was great, and the restaurant itself was very cute and cozy. I’m not trying to trash-talk Raw Aura at all here—I’m just giving my honest opinions of what we found to be a disappointing meal. I’m really not that hard to please when it comes to restaurant meals, so it truly surprised me that I disliked this one. Many of the “problems” are easily fixable, too: more salt, more sweetener, more ice, more flavor. I give them full benefit of the doubt, though—in all likelihood, they were just having an “off day.”

QUESTION: Have you ever eaten at a much-hyped restaurant, only to be underwhelmed by the meal?

41 Comments leave one →
  1. July 15, 2011 4:53 pm

    Oh, that’s the worst! All your dishes looked really promising (except for the Coconut Cream Pie; it’s a little too reminiscent of styrofoam for me), so it’s unfortunate that overall it was such a disappointment. The optimist in me is hoping it was just an off day (albeit a very off day–seriously, who serves a non-chilled smoothie?). At least the meal was topped off with an enjoyable dessert. 🙂

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 15, 2011 5:12 pm

      Oh my gawd, you’re so right, the coconut cream pie DOES look styrofoam-esque! Haha. Really, though, it IS a shame, especially since most of the errors were so easily correctable. Hopefully you’re right about it just being an off-day. I give them full benefit of the doubt! 🙂

  2. Chris permalink
    July 15, 2011 5:10 pm

    All the dishes looked pretty at least. 🙂

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 15, 2011 5:10 pm

      That is true! They get points for artful presentation, at least.

  3. July 15, 2011 5:40 pm

    Oh wow, everything really looked spectacular, sorry to hear it was lackluster. I’ve had that kind of underwhelming experience before at Spice Market in Atlanta. It’s all asian cuisine and owned by a famous chef, sounded perfect for me but out of 7 courses only the dessert was worth eating.

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 15, 2011 7:05 pm

      Funny how, sometimes, there ISN’T a strong connection between how good a food/dish looks and how good it tastes. Usually the two correlate.

      Spice Market DOES sound right up your alley; it’s too bad it was a dud!

  4. July 15, 2011 5:52 pm

    Aww, well, hopefully they see your review and take it as constructive criticism–little fixes can make a big difference! 🙂

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 15, 2011 7:04 pm

      True! If they do read this, I hope they realize my comments are in the spirit of constructive criticism.

  5. July 15, 2011 6:41 pm

    I’m sorry that you were underwhelmed and I think it’s great that you share your honest feedback.

    I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how tough it is for raw food restaurants to cater both to the ‘healthy’ crowd and to the restaurateur/high food reward/palate-mouthfeel-pleasing-maximally salted and sweetened crowd. I think that that dilemma is precisely the reason why I haven’t become a chef. So, for example, many people say that it’s much better to have a smoothie or other drink at room temperature than cold, digestion wise. But it’s an ingrained aesthetic to have them cold, so it’s a tough battle for a restaurant to take on.

    Another thing I dislike, though, which I’ve noticed often at raw food restaurants, is overuse of one or two ingredient items in every dish. You mentioned almond butter and maca a few times; I went to a restaurant in LA once where every sauce was made of almond butter and there were a couple other things that did multiple duty. Obviously, it’s sensible to use recipe components in multiple ways in a restaurant setting, but I think that trying to be too versatile can translate to corner-cutting and underseasoning like you experienced.

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 15, 2011 7:03 pm

      Sage observations, Ela. I hadn’t thought about the ultra-healthy vs. mass-appeal approaches to restaurant food. I’m sure my preference levels for saltiness and sweetness are higher than those of folks who eat “cleaner” than I do (even though I realize I eat “cleaner” than 95+% of people!). It seems to me that restaurants ought to err at least slightly on the side of mass appeal, unless they have an extremely loyal and frequently-visiting client base of ultra-healthy types. I don’t know many (if any) people who prefer a smoothie room-temp, for example, regardless of the digestive benefits!

      I did happen to pick two items that had both almond butter and maca – I’d noticed that too. Both ingredients worked well in the smoothie, but neither worked well in the sauce, although admittedly that’s because I couldn’t TASTE either one there!

      • July 15, 2011 7:21 pm

        ” It seems to me that restaurants ought to err at least slightly on the side of mass appeal, unless they have an extremely loyal and frequently-visiting client base of ultra-healthy types.” –I agree with this, if they want to stay in business, and I also think it’s a shame–I love the idea that simple food could be appealing without lots of extra help, but then the ‘help’ is part of the creativity that we engage in!

        OK, you know I’m a total freak, but I actually have no objection to room temp smoothies. OTOH, if it’s made in a Vitamix, probably a good idea to have some cold in there so that overheating doesn’t happen. If I’m making a quick smoothie with the handheld blender, it’ll likely be room temp; if in the Vita, I’ll use some frozen fruit…

        • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
          July 15, 2011 8:10 pm

          I’ve had some room-temp smoothies at home here and there (usually when I don’t want to change the texture of a smoothie, I’ll forego adding more ice) and I really don’t mind them. But I think that smoothie in particular, with the name “Cinnamon Toast Crunch,” made me think I was in for a bowl-of-cereal-with-ice-cold-milk experience. 🙂

  6. July 15, 2011 7:06 pm

    I’m so sorry to hear it wasn’t a stellar visit to Raw Aura. I haven’t been there since Doug left but my previous experiences were all fantastic.

    I agree about your smoothie statement – they must be cold or intentionally hot!


    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 15, 2011 7:10 pm

      You were one of the people I’d heard rave about Raw Aura, Lisa. I wonder if they’ve gone a little lax since Doug’s departure, or if it was indeed just an off-day. I’m betting on/hoping for the latter.

  7. Kathy permalink
    July 15, 2011 8:33 pm

    A someone who follows a mainly raw food diet, I thought the photos of the different dishes of food looked fantastic and, bland or not, I’d certainly make a point of eating there if I was in the area. As far as bland food goes, you can easily add seasoned salt, or different spices, or lemon juice, to jazz it up. (I add apple cider vinegar to almost everything.) I’d much rather be served a dish with NO salt, in a restaurant, instead of one that’s loaded with it. I have friends who have been vegans for decades and, on their dinner table, they always have about half a dozen different types of spices, instead of just salt and pepper. (I’ll also mention that I enjoy reading your posts about vegetarian food.)

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 15, 2011 8:34 pm

      That’s a very good point, Kathy! Underseasoning is always better than overseasoning, because the former can be quickly and easily remedied while the latter cannot. If Raw Aura had had salt shakers on the tables, that may have helped me adjust the seasoning of my dish more to my liking.

      PS – I love the idea of having an array of spices on the dinner table!

      • Kathy permalink
        July 15, 2011 8:43 pm

        I use a lot of different spices, also, such as cayenne pepper and turmeric. Nutritional yeast adds great flavour, as well, and, for health reasons, I’ve started adding kelp powder to my salads, because it helps protect a person from the effects of radiation – which is something that people have to be concerned about because of the nuclear disaster in Japan.

        • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
          July 15, 2011 8:45 pm

          Curry powder, cumin, and nutritional yeast are my favorites. 🙂
          I bought some kelp powder for the first time just a couple months ago. In moderation, it’s also good for those with low thyroid function!

  8. July 15, 2011 8:54 pm

    What a bummer! I hate it when you’re looking forward to a good meal, only to be disappointed. 😦 I especially hate luke-warm milkshakes! (I think that tends to happen in some raw restaurants, because hard-core enthusiasts don’t like to disrupt their digestion with ice-cold temperatures… but I like them COLD!!)

    I was recently disappointed with a quite PRICEY breakfast on my last day in NYC. We went to a hotel that was world-famous for their food, and it was shockingly mediocre– which really hurt when we got the insane bill. I can’t believe how popular they are after that!

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 21, 2011 11:39 am

      Ela made that point about digestion as well – I can see that, but at a restaurant? Not what I was wanting/expecting.

      Oh yeah, I didn’t mention how pricey this meal was too, but it was a pretty penny =/ Ah well, you win some, you lose some.

  9. July 16, 2011 1:17 am

    Oh, how sad! I starting feeling icky as soon as you said “room temperature smoothie” – I really hate that! Also, I’m often a bit nervous of pumpkin seeds for the very reason Matt experienced, as they seem to become rancid and bitter more quickly than many other seeds/nuts. Bad restaurant meals make me so cranky, as I always feel like it’s a total waste of tummy space and money, and I start obsessing about all the things I could’ve eaten at home that would’ve been better 😛

    Thank heavens we’re got you in this world, who shall always make raw foods deeericious!

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 21, 2011 11:39 am

      I’m not big on pumpkin seeds either. I don’t think they even make an appearance in my cookbook, come to think of it.

      I don’t know if I get more disgruntled over the waste of tummy space, or the waste of $$$!

  10. July 16, 2011 2:24 am

    I think you’re being to kind! They gave you a pretty crappy meal – which you paid for, so why excuse them? It’s alright to be unsatisfied!

    When I visited Seattle in June I went to The Flying Apron bakery, which I had heard a lot of good stuff about. But when I got in there, nothing (and there was A LOT!) really looked tempting. I bought a very plain (although tasting OK) piece of cake which turned out to be quite pricey. Not going back there.

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 21, 2011 11:41 am

      You have a point, Fanny 🙂 I’m trying to give them the benefit of the doubt, etc, but you’re right, I DID pay close to $70 for this meal, sheesh.

      I’ve heard of the Flying Apron – that’s too bad they didn’t impress, either. =/

  11. July 16, 2011 10:17 am

    Wow that’s to bad everything sounded SO good!! I hope you try to recreate some of the recipes?

    There used to be a raw place here that served room temperature smoothies – soooo gross. I agree – why not add some ice???????????

    I’m really curious about the cinnamon toast crunch smoothie!

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 21, 2011 11:41 am

      I think that at the very least, I’ll be making that smoothie at home (but COLD)!

  12. July 16, 2011 4:55 pm

    Rawlicious in Toronto also left much to be desired – I wouldn’t say it was bad, but just nothing special. I mean, the whole meal I kept thinking ‘I could make this, but better’ haaa… Such a bummer when that happens!

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 21, 2011 11:42 am

      So funny you mention that, because Rawlicious was on my list of places to eat, but after looking more closely at the menu, I realized that NOTHING there jumped out at me. It’s like they had one of every “expected” dish – pizza, pasta, tacos, burger, etc – but nothing terribly inventive or creative, so we skipped it.

  13. July 18, 2011 8:52 am

    So sorry to hear about your disappointing meal. There aren’t a lot of raw restaurants around here, so usually, I’m just excited to find one at all. However, I do agree that I tend to like what I make at home better.

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 21, 2011 11:43 am

      That’s true – it’s nice to just have the option of eating out at a raw restaurant. They do provide a good service to their community in that way.

  14. July 18, 2011 7:11 pm

    How incredibly disappointing- Everything looks so promising…That is just the worst! It does happen every now and then, but hopefully you just caught them on an off-day? I always try to give the place the benefit of the doubt!

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 21, 2011 11:43 am

      That’s what I’m thinking/hoping too 🙂

  15. July 19, 2011 9:29 pm

    Just visited a great vegetarian restaurant by me and I was not disappointed!!! It was so good and they had homemade kombucha served in a wine glass!!! So nice!!! I will be going back!! Sorry that you had a bad experience….BUT it sounds like usually you have great ones!!! 🙂

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 21, 2011 11:44 am

      Your meal sounds better than mine! But you’re right, I have plenty of other awesome restaurant experiences, so I’m not too worried about this one.

  16. July 22, 2011 12:17 pm

    There’s only one solution my dear! Open your own restaurant!! I’ll do the chocies 🙂 🙂

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 22, 2011 12:27 pm

      You’d be my chocolate chef?! I should open a restaurant for that reason alone! 😛

  17. Matt permalink
    July 22, 2011 11:19 pm

    Your comments really seem conflicting. A raw bread stick being too crunchy? From your other reviews and recipes you have posted, it seems you are too used to processed cooked vegetarian food, and not raw vegan food.

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 23, 2011 12:00 pm

      Hi Matt- Can you tell me which of my comments seem conflicting to you? It might be because on one hand, I really WANTED to like this meal, but on the other hand, I simply couldn’t.

      The breadstick was definitely too crunchy to me – it was so thick that it took an uncomfortable amount of jaw power to bite through.

      Though I’ve never claimed to be 100% raw (far from it!) and I do eat cooked food regularly, there have been periods in my life where I’ve been all-raw for several weeks, up to a couple months, at a time. I’ve also attended two raw culinary schools and eaten at quite a few other raw restaurants, so I do feel I have a healthy palate for judging raw restaurant food.

  18. August 19, 2011 10:27 pm

    Seventy dollars for 6 menu items made with all organic produce sure doesn’t sound like a lot. You would pay that or more at any other restaurant that just uses standard cheap-as-you-can-get produce.

    Your suggestions of more salt, more sugar seem to be a bit conflicting with the raw food concept.

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      August 19, 2011 10:49 pm

      Hi TJ,
      It wasn’t the fact that I spent $70 so much as that I didn’t feel I got my money’s worth, since I didn’t enjoy the taste of everything. Plus, I’m from the Midwest – $70 for one meal is a LOT to me!
      Gourmet raw food – which is what restaurant raw food almost always strives to emulate – actually uses salt quite liberally, and often sweeteners as well. I’ve eaten at numerous raw restaurants across the country, and I’d never thought one underseasoned their food before.
      But again, this whole review is just my personal opinion, based off a single meal – like I said, I give them full benefit of the doubt that perhaps it was just an “off” night! I’ve heard lots of good things about Raw Aura from other people.

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