Grezzo, which means “raw” in Italian, is an upscale vegan restaurant specializing in “raw and living food.” No heat above 112 degrees is permitted, so the only cooking appliance is a dehydrator. Cold is allowed, so there’s gelato. But since there’s no dairy, the ice cream and cold sauces are made from nut milk. The menu is also pretty much devoid of gluten. The compensation for all of these limitations is the ingenuity of chef Alissa Cohen, who’s been eating this way for more than 20 years, plus an enormous variety of top-of-the-line vegetable ingredients.
RICH BROWNIE SUNDAE: The brownie, based on Brazil nuts, served with housemade gelati.
There’s also a reusable, recyclable, hemp-fiber bushel bag of hype. On alissacohen.com, it’s not just a restaurant — it’s a book, a DVD, lessons, supplements, and before-and-after weight-loss photos. This diet, it’s claimed, relieves 24 medical and psychiatric complaints, from diabetes to cancer.
So how’s the food? In March, when local greenhouses are straining for enough light to grow greens, no less? Well, fabulous — but perhaps more interesting than soul-satisfying. There are certainly some things here that other chefs are going to steal. For example, if you dehydrate thin slices of beets and squash, not only are they edible, slightly sweet, and a teeny bit like pasta in texture, but all the colors are preserved. So the Chioggia beet slices have all the beautiful red and white stripes, and a golden beet is the color of corn. I will be very surprised if this doesn’t show up in all the fancy bistros. (I’m going to try it at home.)
Grezzo looks like any tiny North End trattoria. The walls are cranberry-salmon, and there are oil paintings of vegetables. There is a little bar. Tabletops are copper. There are a lot of candles, apparently not raw but possibly organic. The servers, clad in black, are slim and lively. The chef-owner, in street clothes, is present but not hovering.
At the table, there’s no breadbasket. (No baking equals no bread.) Already one wonders, why are we in the North End? Would we like a drink before dinner? That could be the featured Grezzo mojito ($6) or cucumber martini ($7). The mojito is a pretty good no-alcohol fake of a mint-lime drink. The martini has some kombucha (fermented sweet tea) for fizz and a bit of alcohol, but lacks the resinous, herbal flavors of a classic martini. It tastes like cucumber.
One successful appetizer is “maroon carrot bisque” ($8). These purple carrots purée into a tasty cold soup, and the garnish of razor-thin unusual carrot slices, some crisp pear, and onion is a nice texture contrast. Gnocchi carbonara ($11), on the other hand, is deep in the genre of faux food, since the kitchen can’t poach dumplings, use bacon or eggs, or even liquid-smoke seasoning (which is made by burning wood). So what we have are nut balls in a nut-cream sauce, and it tastes more like halvah than pasta. What excited me on this plate was the garnish of raw green peas and micro-green pea shoots.
An entrée of winter-vegetable lasagna ($22) is in the same zone. There’s no pasta, no cheese, and no cooked-down tomato sauce, so the dish looks and tastes more like salad than lasagna. The tomato sauce is a few dabs of chopped stuff, while the “béchamel” sauce mentioned on the menu is another nut cream, and not much of it. What stood out was the spectacular variety of greens and edible flowers, plus sliced and sometimes dehydrated vegetables. This is certainly great eating — once you get the idea of lasagna out of your head.
Massaman coconut curry ($21) lacks heat, but there’s also no coconut milk. Again, one thinks of stew but crunches along on salad. The nut cream has some curry flavor, but the lasting positive impressions are of shredded snow peas, shredded coconut, a variety of sprouts and micro-greens, and the intriguing vegetable vermicelli, which are long and stringy but aren’t pasta and don’t look like spaghetti squash. What are they?
Wines are available but not featured. A glass of organic zinfandel ($9) was rather good. My guess would be that raw-food promoters are not terribly interested in wine (and beer has to be cooked in the brewing process). But there’s a parallel movement in the wine world called biodynamic winemaking, which fosters wild yeasts and has produced some impressive and unusual flavors in French wines.