Roxanne's: Cuisine in the Raw

Vegan food, hardly cooked -- and all the rage

The first thing to do at Roxanne's, the most unusual gourmet restaurant to open its doors in the Bay Area in years, is Unwind. "Unwind" is one of six herbal potions Roxanne's offers as an aperitif to "enhance your desired mood." It's a tasty elixir made with various fruit juices, passionflower, lemon balm, and an herb called calmazon that helps diners open up their minds and stomachs to the innovative concoctions that await them.

Launched just over a year ago and located north of San Francisco in Larkspur, Calif., Roxanne's celebrates so-called living foods cuisine. Translation: Nothing is heated above 118F, either before or after it shows up at Roxanne's. That eliminates meats, grains, and dairy products, which are heated during pasteurization. Chef Roxanne Klein aims to preserve the nutritional value in foods, which conventional cooking can break down. Everything at Roxanne's is vegan -- and organic, down to the soap in the rest rooms.

The raw-foods movement would seem to leave little to eat beyond lettuce. But Roxanne's ever-changing menu features an array of choices prepared with low-heat convection ovens, blenders, food processors, and juicers. A personal favorite is the spicy pad thai, which uses julienned coconut meat to simulate rice noodles. Klein's chilled lasagna is made with zucchini skins -- softened with a little heat -- serving as pasta and layered with mushrooms, spinach, corn, and a "cheese" made out of creamed cashews. The mixture of tastes and textures is nothing like the real thing, but it's surprisingly delicious.

Most impressive are the sugarless desserts. An ice cream sandwich, made with nut milk and honey, is rich and flavorful. A six-course tasting menu runs $69 per person, or you can order à la carte. Roxanne's is worth a try, but call ahead, because the dinner-only eatery is booked weeks in advance. Don't forget Unwind. After I tried it, I had the best sleep in years.

Roxanne's Restaurant, 320 Magnolia Ave., Larkspur, Calif. 94939.; 415 924-5004;

By Linda Himelstein

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