Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Ecopolitan – Minneapolis, MN

D.Rough and I had another date night scheduled. We had both heard about this place called Ecopolitan and wanted to check it out. However, there are some serious red flags whenever we’ve spoken about this place. Alright, one red flag. It’s a RAW restaurant.

Previously, this is the only RAW I have ever condoned, and it’s pronounced more like RAAAAGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!.
Oh wait, there’s this kind of RAW, also. I forgot.
This restaurant is neither. It’s RAW as in raw vegetables. As in: a vegan restaurant where the food actually isn’t cooked. 100% Organic Vegan Raw (the website says so!). It’s just raw food and some juices. I will be the first to admit I poked some fun at this place and cracked wise when people would bring it up. However, whenever people would talk about it, they’d say really good things about it. I’m a veteran carnivore, so it took some time for them to wear me down, but I finally decided that I’d not only actually go here and try it, but I’d go one step further – I actually might enjoy something they had there. D.Rough is a much healthier eater than I am, so it didn’t take as much wearing down on her part.

We (mostly me) had no idea what the proper attire for this place was. Seriously, this actually became a concern on my part. Is it a dressy place? Is it full of dirty hippies and tie die? Do they require a minimum of three brown pieces of clothing? Hell, I didn’t even know if I could wear leather shoes in a place like this. It’s weird, I’ve never had this dilemma before, ever. I threw on some jeans and DC shoes and a collared shirt (but untucked, so I didn’t seem like too much of a douche). I hoped it was ok.

First things first, when we arrived, there isn’t any parking anywhere. Why? Think about it for a second. People either walk or ride their bikes here. It’s a green minimal-carbon-footprint kind of place. Never thought about that, either. It’s in an old multi-story house with all kinds of activity here. They do some alternative medicine kinds of things here, and the owner has an upstairs room where he lets people crash out, and a nice big porch where people can eat their food. We followed the signs to the restaurant part and went in. It’s really cozy inside. It actually kind of felt like a grandma’s house a little bit. Blue paint on the walls and lots of thick dark woodwork around. Built-in cabinets and shelves everywhere held all kinds of cookbooks and herbal supplements for sale. There’s a closed-up cabinet which houses a TON of supplements which people waiting for their food were rifling through and talking all kinds of Metagenics this and herbal chakra that. I don’t understand any of it, but hey, if it helps you, then go for it.
A super nice bearded server brought us some menus. I had looked at the menu quickly online before I left work, so I knew it was quite large. All kinds of salads, soups, entrees, desserts, drinks, and juices. It took us a while to figure out what we wanted, since frankly, everything sounded weird and delicious. I’m not scared of vegetarian food at all, though the vegan stuff I’ve had wasn’t the best. I was cautious, but still very willing to give it a go and try something fun.

After much deliberation, I decided on the Future Shock smoothie and D.Rough got the Coconut Supreme smoothie. There are a ton of different juice combinations and a lot that sounded unusual, but are probably good. Crazy ingredients that I’ve never had smooshed into juice like walnuts, cinnamon, ginger, carob, dates, and celery. Future Shock has banana and carrot juice for a base, then lemon, ginger, and almond extract in it. The Coconut Supreme has a coconut base with pecans, dates, ginger, and cinnamon.

Deciding on food was much more difficult. We were trying not to be too conservative and yet also trying to order something we were almost sure we’d eat. I pointed out the severe lack of meat on the menu – which D.Rough didn’t find amusing at all. It is very difficult for me to visualize food without meat in it when I look at a menu, and even more difficult for me to visualize how these things would look since they were uncooked. My mind was reeling. We opted to split a Trio Sampler for an appetizer and then split an order of Spicy Thai Noodles.

Another unusual thing about the menu is that if you get things to go, you will be charged if you don’t bring your own containers to take it away. The biodegradable packages aren’t expensive, but it’s another way they’re helping the environment. If you get juices and smoothies to go, you get them in a reusable mason jar that you can get refilled the next time you’re in. It’s the little things like this that help the environment, people. Things that aren’t pushy or in your face and yelling. Pretty slick operation they run here.

The waiter brought us warm tap water, which D.Rough assures me is an “ancient Chinese secret”.
Word on the street (in Asia) is if you drink room temperature tap water, it aids in digestion. I thought maybe it was to save energy on making ice cubes or something, and who knows – maybe it’s both. But I let D.Rough be right this one time:) Yes, it tastes flat and boring and isn’t nearly as refreshing as cold or ice water, but it does the job. I just know people that would flip out if they didn’t have cold water to drink, so I thought I’d mention it. I’m not passing judgment. Promise.

We got our smoothies pretty quickly and ended up loving both of them. The Future Shock was really much sweeter than you’d think and the faint hint of almond extract was perfect. Very delicious. The Coconut Supreme was odd, but good. D.Rough said it tasted like Christmas in a glass. By that, she means it tasted like Gingerbread Cookies in a glass. Seriously. It is really quite good.

We began to look around the place to view the clientele. First off, we were waaaay over dressed. Totally my fault. It’s not a dirty divey place, but you can wear shorts and a ripped up t-shirt if you really wanted to here and not be judged. There was a wide variety of dress – I guess I would have been at the top of the upscale part, and there were people in sun dresses and guys in shorts. I also realized I sensed a distinct lack of patchouli smell. I don’t hate it or anything, but I just always assume it’s going to be there. Maybe I’m just too jaded from years of disc golf. Also, there were no dreadlocks, which I think I expected to see. Maybe that was an afterthought.

The appetizer came out and looked unusual to me, but not necessarily bad. It was a stack of flaxseed crackers and a plate with hummus, pesto, and olive tapenade in little round ball scoops. I expected the flaxseed crackers – I was told they are NOT called Flaxers – to be flavorless, but these were actually quite good. Just a tiny bit gummy, rather than crunchy like tortilla or pita chips, but well designed for scooping these spreads. The hummus was by far the best thing on the plate. Really light and creamy and with some ingredients I don’t usually see in hummus. Awesome. The pesto was also quite good and had a little bit of zip at the end. Not exactly heat or anything, just some delicious bite. I will warn you I’m not an olive person, so I won’t judge the olive tapenade, but D.Rough assured me it was really awesome. When we started to run out of crackers, I suggested the cooks might go out into the yard and rake up some more of these, and then got the eye for poking fun. I get the eye a lot. And it rarely slows me down. First plate down, and this restaurant had already moved up exponentially on my judgment meter.

Out of nowhere, D.Rough asked me if I’d like a wheatgrass shot. Not a chance, I assured her.

The Spicy Thai Noodles came out next. (In the photo, the dish looks small, but that’s only because they split our portion into two plates – the portions here are plenty generous, I promise.) First off, there actually aren’t noodles at a raw place, since those are cooked. They make noodle-like thin strips of vegetables like zucchini and radish things. The best part is, you totally don’t miss the noodles. This dish was fantastic. It was better than MANY actual Thai dishes I’ve had with noodles and MSG and meat. Ecopolitan has none of that, and yet, it was much much better. The yellow curry sauce was really flavorful and had a little bit of kick. I’m assuming the spice level is toned down for Minnesota, but it still had some tingle to it. There was lots of basil and cilantro in here for flavor and it turns out I didn’t actually miss the meat at all. There were almonds in the mix that added some fun texture to it and the pieces of pineapple added really awesome flavor bursts when you’d get one. This is an excellent dish and I ended up finishing D.Rough’s portion. I would recommend this to anyone first-timer to Ecopolitan.

While we were eating, we kept noticing other people’s food coming out of the kitchen. I’ve already raved about our food, but the more dishes we saw come out, the more we realized how conservative we had ordered. The other dishes on the menu which seemed more adventurous while reading, were obviously the way to go. The people around us were talking about how fantastic their food was and, based on how it looked coming out from the kitchen, it had to be true.

After dinner, guests are encouraged to look in the small shop and dessert case to see if there’s anything else you’d like to eat. D.Rough and I were both full, so we opted out, but there are some pretty unusual things back there, if you’re not familiar with vegan desserts. But at least take a look.

The server was really helpful to D.Rough and I, and also to all of the other customers in the place. There was a young girl and a friend who came in with her own roll of paper towels and a plastic garbage bag to go around her seat cushion. She cleaned off the table and then asked the server what he used to clean the table when he helped out. A simple vinegar solution which seemed to put her mind at ease. She’s got way dangerous food allergies, so this is probably one of the only places in town she can eat and know exactly what she’s getting in her food. Another niche market you don’t ever think about, but I’m glad there are places like this for her to enjoy.

On our way out of the place, D.Rough grabbed a couple of brochures for the alternative medicine place housed in the same Ecopolitan mansion in various rooms. I know they have some sort of infra-red sauna or something, and maybe some chiropractic, and health and wellness type things there, along with the book and video store full of healthy eating and living options. The best part about the brochures was it allowed D.Rough to read to me on the way home. There’s nothing like driving down the interstate while Sister Christian is playing on the radio and your lady is reading to you about colon hydrotherapy procedures and benefits - yes, they do them at Ecopolitan (not in the restaurant, don't worry). It was a fantastic wrap up to a wonderful date night.

Over all, I’m thrilled this place was as good as it was. It was both eye-opening and belly filling. I would come here anytime someone offers and I may actually suggest it from time to time. There was nothing about this meal or entire experience that wasn’t enjoyable and fun. Like I said, I will still poke fun at vegans and offer to pull grass and sticks out of my yard if they want to come over for dinner. But that’s all in good fun. I respect their decision to eat the way they do. But my vegan friends haven’t ever made me spicy Thai noodles that blew me away like these did.

Top 5 things about Ecopolitan
1. Spicy Thai Noodles
2. Future Shock
3. Sampler Trio (mainly the hummus)
4. Coconut Supreme
5. Really helpful staff

Bottom 5 things (ALL of these things are bad about me, not about Ecopolitan)
1. I really wish I hadn’t dressed up quite so much
2. I really wish I had been more adventurous with my ordering
3. I really wish I had tried this place sooner
4. I really wish we had come with a group of open minded friends who would share their dishes with us so I could try many different things
5. I really wish I had not looked like a jerk fiancé by typing notes into my phone while D.Rough was talking to me – I hate THAT guy



Beert said...

Come try my vegan food. You'll love it, or you'll be in it next time. (Humans are vegan you know - they deserve to be eaten anyway).

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