Halfway between Florida International University and downtown Miami, in an indescript shopping center, sits La Vie en Raw Cafe. As the name suggests, the restaurant serves raw vegan cuisine. The setting is intimate and artsy, with a few small tables (the restaurant capacity couldn't be more than 20), the walls decked with work from local artists. The tiny kitchen is open and you can see your food being made.
I arrived at 9:30 on a Friday night with a friend, expecting the packed seats described on the phone to take up the whole room. The restaurant was busy for its size but a waitress did not arrive for another ten minutes after we sat down. We ordered lemonade (fresh squeezed lemon juice, agave nectar, and filtered water; $3) and iced mint tea ($2) and were told only after receiving our drinks (another ten minutes), that the restaurant was completely out of ice. Warm lemonade is an unpleasant choice and I wish we had been informed earlier.
The stuffed mushrooms ("marinated mushrooms stuffed with our creamy cashew nut cheese garnished with pesto"; $7) were ordered for an appetizer and were a flavorful introduction to raw cuisine. The mushrooms were meaty and toothsome while the cashew nut cheese reminded one of ricotta, texturewise. The pesto was garlicky and well balanced to the rest of the bite sized mushrooms and cashew nut cheese.
I also ordered the raw soup of the day ($4, cup), which was a puree of avocado, celery, olive oil, and other assorted flavorings. A first impression of the soup was that it was creamy and light, with the taste of celery adding a bit of a verdant lift to the whole thing. However, the dish was rather flat and boring as I continued to eat it. I only really tasted the avocado, celery, and olive oil and it became heavy and almost sweet tasting as I continued eating it. A bit of heat from chile oil or garlic could have served the dish greatly.
My entree was a different story, providing surprising depth and discovery. The raw Pisa Pizza ("served on our homemade flax and sunflower seed and onion bread, layered with nut cheese, marinara, mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach"; $8) provided variety in texture and flavor. Despite the small size of the pizza, the flax bread was dense but crunchy with bits of flaxseed and sunflower seeds. The onion added a bit of sweetness as well. The nut cheese made another spectacular appearance, subbing in for the sometimes rubby (and totally non-vegan) mozzerella found on some pizza parlor monstrosities. The marinara was a bit forgettable but the addition of freshly cut tomatoes, mushrooms, and spinach added sweetness, earthiness, and vibrancy to the dish.
La Vie en Raw has potential but spotty service and a very flat soup take away from what should be a more enlightening and exciting experience to those familiar and foreign to raw cuisine alike.