When a body meets the Body

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - Lau­rel Glad­den For The New Mex­i­can

Santa Claus is fa­mous for his naughty-and-nice list, which helps him sep­a­rate the good kids from the bad ones. Some­times I wish he had a sys­tem like that for restau­rants. If you were feel­ing es­pe­cially vir­tu­ous (or the op­po­site) it would help you choose where to eat.

Body Café, part of the holis­tic shop­ping-spa-din­ing nexus at the corner of Cor­dova Road and Don Diego Av­enue, would eas­ily se­cure a place on the nice list. You feel good just walk­ing in, whether you’re there to shop for clothes, get a mas­sage, per­fect your down­ward-fac­ing dog, or grab a bite to eat.

The kitchen fa­vors lo­cal and or­ganic in­gre­di­ents. The lengthy menu en­com­passes sand­wiches, sal­ads, bur­ri­tos, unique en­trées, smooth­ies, and bev­er­ages, in­clud­ing or­ganic and bio­dy­namic beer and wine. Many se­lec­tions cater to veg­e­tar­i­ans, ve­gans, or raw­ists, al­though the pres­ence of chicken and fish will put die-hard car­ni­vores at ease. On the naughty end of the spec­trum are truf­fles cre­ated by Chris­tianna Uehlein — some ve­gan and made from raw choco­late, all gor­geous, most pleas­ing to the palate.

Body em­ploy­ees are cor­dial, invit­ing, and some­times sur­pris­ingly en­thu­si­as­tic. If your mood’s ca­sual, or­der at the counter and choose a ta­ble in the sunny café area. In the Soul Room, the groovily el­e­gant main din­ing room, you will en­joy full ta­ble ser­vice and some­times en­ter­tain­ment by lo­cal mu­si­cians. One evening, this meant sooth­ing acous­tic gui­tar mu­sic — a vast im­prove­ment over the loud, piped-in New Age mix that had made me feel as though I was din­ing in my acupunc­tur­ist’s of­fice. Freshly forced pa­per­whites adorned ev­ery ta­ble, and while they were vis­ually quite lovely, the flow­ers’ dis­tinc­tive pastysweet aroma per­vaded the din­ing room. In my book, that’s a dis­tract­ing no-no.

Some dishes at Body help dis­pel the myth that healthy food can’t also be cre­ative and de­li­cious. The name Roots and Greens, which sounds like din­ner for­aged by a squir­rel, doesn’t do jus­tice to the gor­geous, ten­der wedges of roasted auburn yam, steamed emer­ald greens, and grilled nutty tem­peh served with a bold, lip-smack­ing gin­ger dress­ing.

No one will con­fuse the rich, slightly sweet “nut tuna” for the real thing, but for veg­e­tar­i­ans, raw­ists, or any­one concerned about sus­tain­abil­ity, it can serve as a rea­son­able al­ter­na­tive. Bet­ter yet, quit com­par­ing it to some­thing else and en­joy it in its own right.

The raw veg­gie “sushi” is an imag­i­na­tive “things aren’t al­ways what they seem” dish that culi­nary in­no­va­tor Fer­ran Adrià would be proud of. The kitchen ren­ders ji­cama un­can­nily sim­i­lar in fla­vor and tex­ture to sushi rice — it left me de­light­fully dis­ori­ented. This trick could win new raw-food fans.

Sal­ads are of­ten a high point. In ad­di­tion to gor­geous greens, the Par­adise Salad fea­tures an ar­ray of raw nuts and seeds, the house salad a nice va­ri­ety of crisp veg­gies, al­though, why would a kitchen de­voted to lo­cal in­gre­di­ents in­clude mealy pink tomato in win­ter­time? I’d rather have no crou­tons at all than the fla­vor­less, si­mul­ta­ne­ously chewy and hard raw sun­flower im­i­ta­tors.

Gen­er­ous fish tacos were filled with ten­der, sus­tain­ably har­vested, U.S.-caught opah (aka moon­fish, the daily spe­cial; salmon is a menu reg­u­lar), perky shreds of fresh let­tuce, and mildly spicy pico de gallo. Each taco’s juicy con­tents sat­u­rated the tor­tilla, though, and tum­bled onto my plate. The kitchen should con­sider a more tra­di­tional sec­ond tor­tilla layer or a dif­fer­ent pre­sen­ta­tion al­to­gether — no point in or­der­ing tacos when you end up eat­ing them with a knife and fork.

Other dishes are less re­mark­able. The tor­tilla soup was chock-full of veg­eta­bles but wa­tery and lack­ing zing. The soba noo­dles were hot with gar­lic but oth­er­wise un­der­sea­soned, al­though the veg­gies tossed with them were per­fectly ten­der-crisp. The strangely runny basil hum­mus was a sat­is­fy­ing snack ac­com­pa­nied by crisp, de­hy­drated sweet­potato chips and onion rings. In the for­mer, I have found a new fa­vorite treat. The lat­ter, on the other hand — de­hy­drated leath­ery rings with a saw­dust­like coat­ing — are the sort of naughty-food sub­sti­tute that gives be­ing good a bad rep­u­ta­tion.

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