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Raw Aura

31 Dec

Raw Aura: no sidewalk tables until next summer

There’s just one raw-food restaurant in Mississauga and this is it, a quaint 22-seater on busy Lakeshore Road East. In the summer, they add a couple of sidewalk tables which attracts attention, but word has been spreading since Aura opened 18 months ago and a growing number of people who want to eat gluten-free Vegan food that has never been heated above 110oF (43oC) are making the pilgrimage. For some, it’s a matter of health; for others, a philosophical choice. For owners Dimitris and Harula Fraggoulis (his family owns Colossus Greek tavern a couple of blocks east), both reasons apply. A couple of years ago, Dimitris discovered that Vegan raw food eased the symptoms of his colitis. When the lease on this property came up, he took the plunge. It’s a cute space with bright abstract canvases on the walls, tables made from sawn rounds of a tree trunk, and a fine bluesy choice of music playing. Its greatest asset, however, is chef Doug McNish, who works in full view in an open kitchen behind the bar.

McNish is in his late 20s and has been a Vegan since he was 21. The change in diet was good for him: he lost 100 pounds. Still, I imagine it hasn’t always been easy sticking to his guns in his chosen profession, especially when he was slapping hundreds of steaks onto the flames as the grill cook at the Air Canada Centre under Brad Long or working for Arpy Magyar’s endlessly busy catering company, Couture Cuisine. But McNish seems to revel in challenge, setting himself the strictest of culinary parameters. It goes without saying that raw food is healthy, all vitamins, minerals and enzymes retained as nature intended. And doing without refined and processed foods is probably a good thing, too. But it can be argued that some of the beneficial compounds in plants can only be accessed by our bodies after those plants have been cooked in some way or another. And I don’t buy the argument that raw food is more easily digested than cooked food. Quite the reverse, in fact. Raw Aura’s food is rich, dense and very filling. It’s also packed with flavour and McNish manages to offer an attractive variety of textures, thanks to techniques such as dehydration, cold-pressing, shredding, spiralization, squeezing, blending and chopping.

"Ravioli": it ain't, but it is delicious

Crispy kale leaves are a case in point – shredded kale splattered with a tangy nut butter and then dehydrated until they really are crispy. I could eat them by the handful. Some of them turn up as jaunty little plumes on an appetizer of very thinly sliced raw red beet topped with a creamy purée of red pepper and a thicker “ricotta” of tangy puréed cashew. Big flavours, contrasting textures… The menu describes the dish as “ravioli” which is strange and misleading since the ingredients are layered not stuffed. And why call the nut purée “ricotta.” This food doesn’t need to borrow words from orthodox gastronomy to explain itself.

Some dishes remind us that we already eat plenty of raw food. Avo Tartare is a kind of turbo-charged guacamole of diced avocado, tomato, juicy shiitake mushrooms, green onion and hemp seeds in a herbed lemon sauce. A platter of dips includes a green pungently garlicky spinach-and-sunflower-seed paste and a hummus of sprouted chickpeas. McNish’s “breads” are more original, made of seeds and grains, some sprouting and alive, pressed together to form dense conglomerates. One is hard and crunchy, another softer and bendy, all of them full of layered, subtle flavours. 

Chef Doug McNish and owner Dimitri Fraggoulis

Really excellent smoothies are one option where drinks are concerned. Dimitri Fraggoulis also brings in a small range of organic wines, some from Ontario, the most interesting ones from Greece, including a fresh, tangy Domaine Douloufakis Vilana from Crete called Enotria.

It was great with a main course of sweet and sour noodles, the noodles made from kelp and raw zucchini, tossed with onion, cilantro and romaine in a super dressing of almond butter infused with maca. What’s a maca? It’s a starchy Peruvian root that tastes a tad malty and gives a massive energy boost. But by now my digestive system was waving frantically that enough was enough. This raw food is more robust than the things we usually eat.

McNish is particularly good with desserts. He makes a sensational dark chocolate cake textured with banana, avocado and cocoa and a very dense, dark chocolate brownie with coconut frosting. My favourite is a fruity blueberry “cheesecake” involving more nut butter. Instead of sugar, sweetness comes from agave, xylatol or dates.

McNish is cheerfully easy-going about the Vegan way. It’s great if you want to change your life and eat like this all the time, he says, but you can also use it as an occasional culinary break. Raw Aura is worth a detour. I’ll be going back.

94 Lakeshore Road East (near Hurontario Street), Mississauga. 905 891 2872. www.raw-aura.com

 


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  1. Jan Richards

    January 1, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    My husband and I celebrated New Year’s Eve at Raw-Aura as well. It was the best meal we’ve ever had in our entire lives! Doug is amazing…

     
  2. Al

    January 1, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    I’ve eaten here once and it was very good, will definitely go back. I don’t understand the comments in this revue though about Doug Mcnish having trouble “sticking to his guns” while cooking steaks. Do you think that being vegan or vegetarian is something we have to force ourselves to do while being constantly tempted by meat ? Quite the opposite. Most of us are disgusted by meat and I would imagine having to cook it was not a pleasant experience for Doug and probably led to him leaving that job.

     
  3. James Chatto

    January 1, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    I dare say you are absolutely right! Next time I go to Aura I will ask Chef McNish. Thanks for your comment.

     
  4. Michele

    January 1, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    My husband and I eat at Raw Aura regularly. The owners go out of their way to treat us like family. Doug never ceases to amaze us with the subtleties of flavour and beauty of presentation of organic living food. We always feel satisfied and usually need to take part of our meal “to go”, as the food is so nutrition dense. You will not find another chef with this keen a sense of raw food preparation in the GTA….we know, we eat this way all the time!
    And you are right Al, the smell of the BBQ makes me nausious.

     
  5. Paul

    January 1, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    Not only is Doug a great chef, he is an all round great guy. Jimmy and Harula struck a gold mine when Doug accepted the position as Chef at Raw Aura. Doug is not afraid to try new meals but always is open to feedback. The only feedback from this guy is WELL DONE to all at Raw Aura.

     
  6. Lisa Cornish

    January 1, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    I feel challenged and excited by people that pave the way to a healthier lifestyle. Thank you to the hard working, life-loving, staff at Raw Aura.

     
  7. Lucas Solowey

    January 1, 2011 at 10:03 pm

    This is a great review of not only an amazing restaurant, but an outstanding and talented chef and an important movement. I have had the pleasure of enjoying both Raw Aura and Chef McNish’s cuisine. I love that the food is both nutritious and delicious but also supports strong ethics.

    I have been vegan for over 11 years now and it has been one of the best decisions that I have ever made!

    I look forward to eating at Raw Aura once again.

     
  8. Pers

    January 1, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    Can’t wait to try this place! Although I’m not a raw foodist, I love the innovation and nutrition of raw foods. I’m glad to see more and more raw vegan restaurants popping up as I’ve noticed a definite interest in this cuisine, especially from the vegan and health-conscious communities but even from meat lovers who just want something fresh and different now and then.

     
  9. Lisa Borden

    January 1, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    Raw Aura was great from the day it opened, however, when Doug joined the team, it became worth the drive…often. It’s not just the food, it’s being connected to everything on your plate. I have dragged many friends for a Doug’s raw vegan creations…and each was not just satisfied, but absolutely in awe of the flavours, presentation and how they felt afterwards. Raw Aura is doing us all the favour by serving food…real food. How many times can you deconstruct a dish and be happy with every single ingredient? (knowing where it came from and what’s it’s doing for you).
    And as a bonus, smiling, genuine team ready and willing to explain any and every detail to you…that’s what they serve that’s rare!
    I just hope that as Raw Aura (and vegan dining in general) becomes popular (due to amazing posts by discerning critics like you, James), that I can still get “my” table and an order of Avo Tartare and Ravioli when I want it! :)

     
  10. Chef Seth

    January 2, 2011 at 1:16 am

    All I know of Raw Aura and Chef Doug comes from our Facebook friendship. But I know who he is and what he can do.
    You see I have started the same way in the culinary world as he has. Began on the omnivore side of town and after 20 years I became vegan for health concerns and took my classically trained self back to the proverbial drawing board to recreate myself and my recipes. To much fanfare and success. Especially behind a 3 foot bar of an open kitchen like Doug, I found my niche. To bring health vegan and raw sustenance to the people. Be they black, white or carnivore!
    This cuisine is merely another cuisine to many but for some it’s a way of life. The only way to eat. To survive or to live well. It’s relative. It’s natural and it’s not just in demand these days it’s downright relevant!
    I appreciate your review reading it from my kitchen in South Florida.
    Nice to see Chef Doug and yourself spreading the raw word!
    Bravo!
    -Chef Seth Evan
    Executive Chef
    Darbster Vegan Bistro

     
  11. Maria

    January 2, 2011 at 1:48 am

    You’re right, Doug’s food IS amazing and raw cuisine really should become more mainstream as it’s so healthy and absolutely yum! I wish Doug would open a place closer to midtown or downtown Toronto, as I’d be able to go more often, but his rawzagna is to die for! He’s the first person to have fed me a sundried tomato I actually liked! Keep up the great work, Doug!!!

     
  12. Quinny

    January 2, 2011 at 9:08 am

    Raw living is definitely easier to digest, providing that if we do correct food combining and be aware of how much fat we intake.

    I healed my Rheumatoid Arthritis on a low fat raw vegan diet. In the past year, I have neither taken any supplements nor drugs, but my RA pain was disappearing like magic. I can’t imagine how at one point I was almost a vegetable.

    My conscious level increased too, be a lot more aware about everything surrounding me. My spirituality are heightened and emotions are a lot more stable. After all, I believe we are all connected.

    My husband and I are regulars at Raw Aura, we eat there almost every month. We like everything there, the ambience, the people and of course the food!

     
  13. Jo McArthur

    January 2, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    Thanks for the great review. People need to hear from reputable food critics that eating vegan food is a pleasure and not a hardship. Vegan food is the way of the future, for the environment and for the animals. I look forward to more reviews of vegetarian and vegan restaurants.

     
  14. Rochelle

    January 3, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    can’t wait to visit :)

     
  15. Maree

    January 4, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    What a nice review of a great restaurant! Just wanted to clarify on the ‘some foods need to be cooked to release their nutrients’. Since most people can only think of 1 food – tomatoes- out of the millions of other plant based foods to use as an example for this for the lycopene – it does not have to be cooked. You can also release the nutrients by breaking down the fibre which can be done through low temperature heat like in a dehydrator or by using a blender which works great for the tomatoes. This has already been studied and is now simply a matter of doing one’s own research (yes even available if you look hard enough on the USDA website when breaking down common foods in different forms into different nutrient analyses) to come to find out information. Thank you again for taking an interest!