Raw Night at The Green Owl
by Ali Seiter
As the only exclusively vegan restaurant in Madison, The Green Owl often beckons me into its kelly green, owl figurine-laden dining room for a hearty bowl of three-bean chili, a side of crispy kale chips, or a slice of decadent coconut cream pie (all of which I sampled at my previous excursion to the Owl). However, every second Thursday of the month, the chefs at the Owl break out their dehydrators, spiralizers, and Vitamixes to uncook a gorgeously crafted prix fixe menu of completely raw food. Unable to visit the Owl for their famed Raw Night since last August, I’d eagerly awaited this culinary outing for a good long while. As expected, the food proved absolutely delightful, though Connor and I left disappointed with the service and unjustifiably large price tag.
Upon arrival, the host informed us rather curtly that the kitchen had no more raw prix fixes available for diners without reservations, but ceded that we could still order à la carte and seated us anyway. Immediately terrified that I couldn’t sample their entire tantalizing raw menu (especially the carrot cake with “cream cheese” frosting), I breathed an enormous sigh of relief once our smiley waitress assured Connor and I that only two more raw prix fixes remained for non-reservation diners. Miscommunication between staff: bad service strike one.
To drink, Connor ordered a small glass of freshly squeezed orange juice for $3.50. Not realizing that “small” essentially meant “in a shot glass,” Connor asserted that “this better be the best damn glass of orange juice I’ve ever tasted.” Overpriced drinks: bad service strike two.
Once our waitress delivered a colorful platter of uncooked goodies, we again lamented the size of the meal. Expecting individual courses of the mixed green salad, creamy broccoli soup, flax crackers with nut cream cheese, and veggie noodle entree, I instead recieved an elliptical platter housing relatively tiny portions of each menu item. Small amount of food: bad service strike three.
The plate’s components, though more modestly sized than I would have enjoyed, proved astoundingly delicious. Clockwise from left to right: creamy broccoli soup topped with eggplant “bacon” bits, caraway flax bread topped with nut cream cheese and a cucumber slice, jicama coleslaw with red peppers, zucchini and carrot noodles tossed in a creamy orange-jalapeno sauce with cilantro, and a mixed green salad with oranges and pepitas in a cumin-avocado dressing. Served in a tiny ramekin, reminiscent of the miniscule paper cups used for ketchup at ballparks, the chilled broccoli soup did not taste too fatty or heavy as many creamy nut-based raw soups do, instead offering brightly flavored spoonfuls studded with salty bits of eggplant. The flax “tea sandwiches” definitely earned the grand prize for tastiest plate component; a thick, wonderfully crunchy cracker evoked spot-on memories of rye bread thanks to the prominent use of caraway seeds, which contrasted beautifully with the nut-based cream cheese sitting atop. While I could attempt to describe the sheer perfection of this cream cheese, flecked with scallions and imparting an indescribably mouthwatering flavor, I feel that I would not do it justice. Suffice to say: best raw cream cheese I’ve ever put in my mouth. Light and refreshing, the jicama salad served as a great palate-cleanser against the heavier avocado- and nut-based meal elements, as did the citrus-coated vegetable noodles, spiralized in an impressively lengthy and quite slurpable fashion. Finally, the mixed green salad, though based upon ever-so-slightly wilted greens, sported a lovely dressing of avocado and cumin, one of my favorite flavor combinations.
Connor cleared his plate before I did, provoking our waitress to whisk the platter away almost immediately after he had swallowed his last bite, and to bring us dessert while I still munched on the last of my tea sandwich. Rushing the meal: bad service strike four. (This ball game has more than three strikes, but oh well.)
Luckily, the decadence of the raw carrot cake inspired our (semi) forgiveness of the night’s abysmal service. Based (I assume) on walnuts, carrots, dates, and coconut, the cake itself harbored a dense, chewy texture that provided a moist yet crumbly mouthfeel, while the subtle sweetness of the carrots shone through the dominating (though not in a bad way) tropical coconut flavor. The frosting, too, tasted redolent of coconut oil and provided a superbly smooth, creamy contrast to the cake. Utter bliss in raw dessert form.
Meal Checklist: Protein—various nuts, flax. Whole Grain—none. Vegetables—cucumber, jicama, red bell pepper, zucchini, carrots, avocado, cilantro. Leafy Green—broccoli, mixed salad greens.
The last strike (yeeeer outta here!) against the Green Owl’s service arrived with the bill: $25 per prix fixe for a total of just over $50. Considering the less-than-generous servings of food, I don’t believe our dinner merited that kind of money. Nevertheless, Connor and I certainly did not want to scrub dishes to pay off our meal and shelled out the cash.
I’ll most likely return to the Green Owl for their future Raw Nights to sample some extrordinarily delicious food in the hopes that their service improves…and their prices lower.