Lydia Kind Heart is back in business serving customers raw and cooked dishes in the bright and cozy Lydia's Lovin' Foods at 31 Bolinas Avenue.
Lydia's kitchen closed its doors a few years back due to the demands of parenthood and the grueling hours of a restaurateur, caterer and wholesaler. She kept the space; leasing out the storefront and retaining the back kitchen and warehouse for Lydia's Organics and Lydia's Lovin' Foods. Those businesses flourished, giving Kind Heart the support necessary to re-open Lydia's Kitchen.
In speaking with Kind Heart, her love of healing through food is inspiring. She recalled how a fast at the age of 16 changed her relationship with food and her perceptions of it. Her explorations lead her to open California's first raw foods restaurant 15 years ago in the space that is now occupied by The Scoop.
Her vision for the re-opened restaurant is to provide patrons with a community-gathering place that is family friendly and serves healthy and organic foods at an affordable price. They are serving a menu with both raw and cooked items to foster an environment of inclusivity -- something I certainly appreciate as, in my experience, raw foodists tend to be pretty dogmatic about the whole thing.
The café is furnished with recycled and earth based materials such as cob. There's a large French farm table to encourage communal dining and a soft corner nook with toys and pillows for children. There was clearly a lot of heart put into the creation of the space.
But, when it comes to the food, I'm not sure what to say. I'm always at a loss when critiquing "alternative" food.
I'm uncomfortable saying that something is good "considering its vegan or raw." I feel strongly that a restaurant should be judged by the simple criteria of whether or not I'd like to eat there again. By these criteria, Lydia's Kitchen falls short.
I managed after some difficulty to order something they had (I'll get to that in a minute). I ordered the gazpacho, which consisted of little other than some crudely crushed tomatoes and cucumbers. There were chunks so large they were difficult to eat. It had very little seasoning and though it boasted "Heirloom tomatoes" on the menu description, they were quite bland and mealy. Not what I hope for from a tomato at this time of year.
My next dish was a small version of their Middle Eastern Plate. Dolmas made with raw "rice" (a seasoned mixture of cauliflower, cabbage and cashews), a scoop of coconut almond hummus, and a sesame dill sauce. The dolmas were fabulous. Juicy and flavorful with the grape leaves and "rice" providing a satisfying contrast in texture. I found the hummus to be very dense and not hummus-like in the least. Raw hummus often consists of nuts and raw tahini, which mimics the traditional version well. The dominant flavor in this one was coconut. The dill sauce was fine, but seemed misplaced with the other components of the dish.
Dessert was a bit better; though, despite the lovely creamy texture, the pervasive flavor of the raspberry "cheez" cake was coconut.
Besides the hit or miss dishes, the service was by far the most disappointing part of my visit. The dour, non-busy woman behind the counter watched customer after customer (myself included) carefully peruse the menu without feeling the need to inform a single patron that they didn't have a large number of items on the menu, including the entire first section of sweet and savory crepes. They didn't have the hot soup. They didn't have most of the desserts on the menu. Fine, but a heads up would have been nice.
When I asked if they could add an apple to the green juice she told me they "couldn't really," because they would have to "go to the back and get one and wash it." She actually said "…and wash it." OK. I handed her my ATM card, at which point she informed me that their credit card machine wasn't working. There was no sign. No apology. No smile. Nothing.
I was quite jealous of all the patrons who arrived after me and were greeted by her lovely and helpful co-worker.
I wish Lydia's lots of luck and do hope their service and food improve with time. Though the quality of the ingredients was admirable, the execution was sorely lacking. I've had wonderful examples of delicious raw food at Larkspur's former Roxanne's and at New York's Pure Food and Wine. I'd love to have a place in town that raised the bar for raw food as high as those establishments.