RAW DEAL: NEWTON’S PRANA

I first became aware of the health benefits of eating raw food when I read Meat is for Pussies by John Joseph (read my book review here). The legendary hardcore front man and lifelong vegan and fitness enthusiast put it simply: “Organic, raw foods are a great way to lose weight, stay healthy and kick your libido into the fucking stratosphere. These uncooked unprocessed vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds contain live enzymes, are super-healthy and are easy to digest….I never feel bloated after a raw meal.”

The internet is inundated with websites dedicated to raw food and each one of them, from rawfoodhowto.com to geniraw.com all convey similar messages—cooking over a certain temperature depletes essential vitamins and nutrients in our food. Notably, enzymes die off and our bodies are forced to compensate for the loss of energy that we are suppose to obtain from the plants we eat. There are also miracle stories of how switching to a raw food diet changed or even saved lives and cured cancers. In Meat is for Pussies Joseph talks about Angela Stokes, the author of Raw Emotions. Stokes had menacing weight problems that restricted her every day activities, but she switched to a raw diet and lost 160 pounds in two years. “To me, the thing with raw food is that it just makes sense. It’s simple and natural, eating food straight from the Earth. There’s no rocket science, no mystery…Once you understand the simple principle that no other animal in the wild eats cooked or processed foods. That’s it,” Stokes said.

While Boston is making serious headway in the vegan restaurant department, it is a city sorely lacking any establishment that specializes in raw vegan food. Fortunately, just outside the Boston border is Prana, a clean and classy joint in Newton that dedicates nearly half its menu to raw cuisine.

It was St. Patrick’s Day and although I like to toss a few back when I get the chance, and I do have some Irish blood coursing through my veins, I’ve never been one to get tanked/wasted/obliterated on Boston’s favorite and most raucous holiday. Instead, I went to the gym, biked to Armageddon records and then high tailed it to Allston, where I caught the 57 bus en route to Newton.

Prana undoubtedly satisfies the holistic side of the upscale Newton crowd. It has clean hardwood floors, paintings of Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha!) on the walls, and large windows that face the street that afford a decent view of the sunset, minus the pesky Bertuccis in the way.

All the food is vegan and each entrée and appetizer is labeled on the menu to indicate whether it is raw, not raw, or gluten free. According to the owner Bruce, who went from table to table during dinner asking the clientele how everything was, the original owners of Prana who run a yoga studio of the same name, next to the restaurant, had a menu that was 99 percent raw. “We wanted to maintain the integrity of the menu,” he said, but at the same time Bruce wanted to give it some mainstream appeal so vegans could bring friends in that didn’t subscribe to a raw food diet.

One of the non-raw items on the menu is the Naan Pizza. Naan is an Indian bread that Bruce procures from Brighton and the cheese on the pizza is made from tapioca root.

I ordered the Pesto Primavera, a raw meal, which was made of zucchini pasta, seasonal vegetables, almond and cashew cream sauce and spinach. It tasted like an ultra-green pasta salad with crunchy chlorophyll in each bit. I was impressed.

The chef also sent over sunflower kale chips. According to Bruce they are his answer to sour cream and onion chips. The kale is dehydrated instead of cooked, so it doesn’t lose any of the nutrients. They had the same dry flaky composition as the Lays junk food, but their leafy shape betrayed the stark difference between them and their high-fructose-infused bagged contemporaries.

Prana specializes in solid and liquid form raw foods. While beer, wine and coffee is available on the menu, the specialty beverages at Prana are the smoothies and juices, and each one is a unique concoction of ingredients that seems to promise physical well being.

I asked the server which smoothie he would recommend, and he said either the SuperCharger, which contains young coconut meat, coconut water, cacao, dates and cashew, or the Strawberry Banana, which has strawberries, bananas, lucuma and coconut water; I went for the Strawberry Banana. The smoothie had a strong primary strawberry taste, but the coconut water left an interesting after flavor—it was an unlikely synthesis between two very different fruit juices.

Before I left Bruce had me try a sample of the mango sorbet. Prana received a batch of ultra ripe mangos from Mexico and they had to do something with them right away before they went bad. The sorbet was basically frozen mangos with coconut water, and like everything else I tried at Prana it was delicious and naturally flavorful.

Although I hope Prana thrives as a business, I would not mind seeing some healthy competition in the raw vegan department in Boston. It would be nice to have a variety of healthy, natural, cruelty-free, uncooked foods to pick from when going out to eat.

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