Rasa Kitchen and Juice
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” These simple directives issued by food writer Michael Pollan in 2007 still influence much of the conventional current wisdom on maintaining an exemplary diet. But when a person is cruising down Cerrillos Road after a long day of errands and in search of a quick and nourishing plant-based meal, the available options seem slim at best — and the siren song of a drive-through carne asada burrito can be hard to resist.
Happily, Rasa Kitchen and Juice is well equipped to satisfy both Pollan’s rules and even the pickiest of health-food-phobes. Situated just off Cerrillos Road, on Early Street and next to YogaSource, Rasa makes fresh juices and smoothies, and has a largely vegan and raw-food menu. Lest you are put off by the term “raw food” — as I was, considering we’re in the coldest depths of winter — be assured that Rasa’s offerings are hearty, creative, and delicious concoctions that consistently boosted my palate and spirits during two visits.
Rasa’s interior has a warmly contemporary, industrial aesthetic, its walls populated by bulk bins of powders and grains along with small paintings of far-flung natural locales. The service is uniformly friendly, the pace relaxed but competent, and the playlist of new- and old-school reggae adds to the good vibrations the place pumps out.
After the fourth snowstorm had blown through town in as many days, I craved a warming, nutritious bowl of something tasty. I found satisfaction in the form of Rasa’s kitchari porridge, an attractively presented dish of mung-bean dal, dressed kale, coconut yogurt, a handful of microgreens, and some raisins. The first bite was a touch bland (for reasons possibly related to a salt-monitoring clientele), but a couple shakes of tamari enlivened it, and the meal was so substantive that I took half of it home. The Green Lemonade, a cold-pressed mix of greens, ginger, and lemon, was a virtuous, vaguely spicy accompaniment.
We sampled the kimchi dumplings, featuring the house-made kimchi, cilantro coconut wrappers, sesame ginger foam, and microgreens. The plate was gorgeous, each delicate dumpling resembling a tiny green wrapped gift held together by a toothpick. The flavors were inventive and complex, though at $13 for six small dumplings, I’m not sure this plate provided the biggest bang for our bucks.
I often find myself in search of a menu item like the memorable “big salad” that Seinfeld once centered a plotline around. Rasa granted me a respite from this quest — its falafel salad is a tangy, ambrosial revelation of market greens, falafel (which seemed, wonderfully, to contain pistachios), tabouli, olives, preserved lemon, tzatziki, and tahini dressing. The Anasazi salad combines crispy romaine, beans, basmati rice, cashew sour cream, pico de gallo, avocado, and jalapeños. Taking into account the value of the ingredients, $13 seems a reasonable price to pay for a sizeable and filling salad.
The veggie burger, served atop a dense multigrain bun, was a patty made with red lentils, pecans, and mushrooms. The burger was remarkably good, though its open-face presentation made for messy eating. My companion washed that down with a Floral Spike, a zesty fusion of apple, lemon, ginger, and cayenne.
The Alkaline Elixir required two enjoyable sittings to consume, complex and nutrient-rich as it was (Rasa serves all juices and smoothies in lidded jars, charging a $1 deposit fee and making it easy to save the rest for later). The Rasa Matcha smoothie, 18 ounces of avocado, coconut water, matcha tea, lime, spirulina, dates, vanilla, and coconut butter, was thinner in consistency than a normal smoothie and powdery with matcha but sweetly full-flavored. Considering the prices of the juices and smoothies, though, I might save those drinks for more occasional energy boosts — or share them with someone.
Speaking of sweetness, the dessert we split — a pumpkin cashew-cheesecake with a raw almond-cacao crust — convinced me that this kitchen has the ability to witch nearly any decadent flavor into a more healthful offering. On each visit, I kept asking the waitress, “What’s in this?” With every knowledgeable response, I was struck by the ingenious deployment of unlikely yet wholesome ingredients.
Later I rewatched that Seinfeld episode about the big salad, remembering that in the end, the story’s really not about the big salad per se, or what’s in it — it’s about what the big salad represents to Elaine and George. I’ve got a loose idea of how Rasa fits into this philosophy, but one thing’s for sure: Knowing this place is around, it just got a whole lot easier to treat yourself to a big salad.
Rasa is well equipped to satisfy even the pickiest of health-food-phobes.