There is such a thing as art on a plate. With a few ingredients, a white ceramic dish becomes a canvas; transformed into an explosion of colors, shapes and textures. Reminiscent of the Fauvism movement, only a century later and this time motivated by flavor composition rather than artistic rebellion. These vivid strokes are raw, real, fresh, and they create a dining experience at Elizabeth’s Gone Raw that is truly unforgettable.
I first heard about Elizabeth’s Gone Raw in passing conversations, and it remained quite mysterious, under the radar. Much like the raw movement itself, you have to look for it to really understand it. But I was intrigued- new dining experiences, especially those that challenge my heavy cheese and pork norm, are worth exploring. While my curiosity was balanced with apprehension, it was lost the minute I walked into Elizabeth’s space. I knew I was in for something very special… almost as special as the woman behind it all.
Elizabeth Petty is one of those people that really add to the make-up of DC. Not because of fame or political clout, but because of her kind manner and generosity. She welcomes you into her restaurant and makes you feel like you are in her home. Her warmth and spirit are instantly apparent, and contagious. I was fortunate enough to work closely with Elizabeth through The Catering Company of Washington, the company she purchased 23 years ago. In those 23 years, she has taken the catering company, and the very concept of curated dining experiences, to the next level.
Ten years ago Elizabeth purchased a beautiful row house on L Street, which currently houses both the restaurant and the catering company. An unfortunate circumstance however, was what brought about the raw and vegan focused restaurant. Three years ago, Elizabeth was diagnosed with breast cancer; a sickness that changed her but has not defined her. As a result of her diagnosis, Elizabeth began to master the subject through various readings. Crazy Sexy Cancer by Kris Carr inspired her the most and led her to eat raw-vegan. The China Study, another comprehensive reading that examines the relationship between illness and the consumption of animal products, also explains the powerful influence a food regimen can have on health. As Elizabeth has explained to me, there is a direct relationship between what and how foods are prepared and the way in which they can manifest into illness in our bodies. How sustenance can actually become bad substance. Raw foods are always kept below 115 degrees, past this temperature they no longer contain the nutritious enzymes which define them as “living foods” – meaning those foods that have oxygen. Cancer, it has been found, cannot grow in an oxygenated environment. I do not intend to dumb down a comprehensive study or to fully understand centuries of research and summarize them in a short post, but for all intents and purposes. Raw= health. Raw= healing.
Elizabeth became a self-healer. Practicing a raw and vegan diet, she saw immediate results in energy levels, mental state, and health records. When you meet her, you can tell she is a temple of strength and holistic living, and she wanted to extend this to others. Her purpose became her passion, and what better way to share your passion than through food? Thus Elizabeth’s Gone Raw was born.
The talent behind every dish is Chef Jonathan Seningen. He is by no means a raw-only culinary genius. I’ve had a meal of his which consisted of some of the most delicious tuna tartar and mole beef you could imagine. And a dulce de leche flan which beats any I have ever had in my many South American travels, hands down. The guy is versatile, to say the least, and his ability to flawlessly execute a perfect filet mignon or a raw sampling of rooted vegetables is truly remarkable. Chef Seningen was once executive chef of Hook, the seafood restaurant in Georgetown (now Bandolero) and most recently was at SAX. He has had stints at some of NY’s best restaurants, including Daniel and Artisanal. For some time, Elizabeth had been looking for a chef who could understand and achieve the progressive menu she was looking for. A few meetings and a raw culinary school later, Chef Seningen accomplished exactly what Elizabeth had been hoping for, realizing the full potential of what a raw and vegan restaurant could be. The right mix of curiosity, talent, purpose and passion gave way to a delicious and creative food temple.
The restaurant is only open on Friday nights and is a set prix-fixe menu, the only restaurant in DC doing a raw-vegan tasting of its kind. I found the set menu incredibly helpful, as being a newbie in the raw-vegan game, I would have had no idea how to go about ordering. The night we went, the menu read “date and bacon” as a first course. What’s that? Had I managed yet again to live my motto “swine all the time?” This bacon was made of coconut however, and was delicately smoked and flavored to taste quite close to the real deal. We were off to a great start. A bright yellow dish followed, with thick slices of Tahitian squash, macadamia butter, sunflower sprouts and seasoned with enough spices to make it all blend into a sweet curry taste. Roasted endive and carrots greeted us next, and a palate cleanser of lilly crenshaw melon with rose water, sel gris and olive oil was a perfect transition to the salad of heirloom tomatoes with parsnip crème, sprouted clover, patty sun squash and marjoram. Raw is real in the desserts too. My cousin, who is a real-life Ironman and a great cook as well, had told me about a raw cheesecake he made and boasted that it was one of the most delicious treats he had ever had. Well, I didn’t have a bite of his cheesecake unfortunately, but Chef Jonathan did make a chocolate cake and amaretto ice cream that made me believe raw sweets can be just as satisfying as the butter and egg filled alternatives. Made with dates, coconut and cocoa, the chocolate tart was rich, moist and shockingly good for you.
I usually stick to a bottle of wine rather than pairings, mainly for pricing purposes, but this was one wine program I couldn’t pass up thanks to Phil Heyser. Phil works closely with Chef Jonathan to design a beverage tasting that matches the raw food, with an emphasis on organic and biodynamic wines. Every beverage is carefully selected to match the dish, taking it to the next level by only introducing wine and other delicious drinks that are sustainably created. The night we visited, we had everything from an Australian white, to a Pouilly Fuisse, to one of the best beers I have had in a while. And its not just wine and beer. The featured cocktail that night was a Cucumber Collins, a mix of organic gin infused with cucumber and fennel, lemon juice, and sparkling water, a refreshing blend that felt more spa than bar. Oh, and in case you weren’t impressed by Phil already, he also boast sake expert under his belt.
It is so refreshing to see vegetable as the star of the show- not as a side note but as the full story- at a restaurant. Preparing these wholesome ingredients without intent to mask their components, sticking true to the vegetable DNA, is an art form. The drinks, setting and personalities at Elizabeth’s only elevate this dinner to a full theatrical event. So if you are looking for a guilt-free dining experience where you walk out feeling more wholesome than heavy, you know where to find it.
Elizabeth’s Gone Raw is located at 1341 L Street, NW, Washington DC. Call for reservations (202-347-8349)