Rasa Kitchen and Juice

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - Molly Boyle

“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.

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