Photography: Erica Michelsen, Mark Cuddihee, Pure Food and Wine.
Text: Maria Eilersen
Nestled below a quaint townhouse in Downtown Manhattan lies the first upscale raw vegan restaurant in the city: Pure Food and Wine. Serving up the most delicate and innovative fare, the establishment proves indulgence can be healthy, delicious and sustainable. Kept below 118 degrees to preserve nutrients and enzymes, the local and organic food is prepared in a kitchen without ovens and stove tops where the simple cuisine is whisked, chopped, blended and dehydrated by diligent chefs. The raw eatery is the flagship of owner and founder, Sarma Melngailis’, raw empire, One Lucky Duck, vending raw vegan items in-store and online. As raw and likable as her food, Melngailis speaks with a warmth and insight to Volta about the importance of sustainability and welcoming fur-wearing women into her restaurant. Read the enlightening conversation below.
Pure Food & Wine was New York’s first upscale raw vegan eatery. What obstacles did you encounter, particularly in terms of the habits and lifestyle choices of the average New Yorker?
SARMA MELNGAILIS: There was definitely more resistance in the beginning, as well as confusion. So many people were like, “what is raw food? So you have carpaccio and sushi? Just a bunch of salads?” People didn’t get it, whereas nowadays most people have heard about it at least.
MARIA EILERSEN: Many raw food establishments don’t serve alcohol. Tell me about your wine list and sake menu — how do they embrace the vegan and sustainable lifestyle? What is your own relationship with alcohol like?
SM: We have a large wine list that’s put together by Joey Repice, who’s been with the restaurant since our first year open (nine years ago!). Our wines are organic (whether certified or not) or biodynamic, or just sustainable. Joey puts a lot of time into getting to know our vendors, and when possible, the wine makers themselves. And we try to have wines that are not mainstream, not the big brands. I’ve had sommeliers from very high end restaurants tell me they love coming to Pure Food and Wine and trying new wines.
We use a lot of sake. I’m a huge fan of our sake cocktails, using always changing seasonal fruits, herbs, and other ingredients. My all time favorite is made with fresh juice of concord grapes, which are coming into season soon. It’s called Purple Haze.
We were going through so much of one particular brand of organic sake, produced in Oregon, for our cocktails. Joey asked the vendor if there was a better, more eco-friendly way to supply us so we weren’t throwing away a huge pile of bottles every night. They did have a solution for us, and turns out we were NYC’s first restaurant to have sake on tap!
I try to be moderate with alcohol and I definitely can’t drink hard alcohol, bad things happen! But I love good wine, and while it’s not raw, I really love beer. Our sake cocktails are delicious but you have to be careful, they’re a lot stronger than they taste!
ME: What’s your favorite thing on the menu?
SM: Right now, it’s probably the Picholine Olive Cheese Stuffed Squash Blossoms, with Fennel, Cherry Tomatoes, Melon, Saffron Broth, and Almonds. Squash blossoms will be out of season soon so they won’t be around much longer. And for dessert, always one of the sundaes, they’re sort of a classic and we can’t take them off the menu or we’ll get yelled at. (really!)
One Lucky Duck
54 IRVING PLACE
10003 NEW YORK
It's still faster than you could draw it