It is with this philosophy in mind that I set out after my unsatisfying first attempt at Bean Vegan Cuisine to try a different vegan restaurant. This time, after a little Google-fu, I decided on Luna's Living Kitchen, a mostly-raw vegan restaurant in the historic South End in Charlotte.
Going into Luna's was like a breath of fresh air. The restaurant, seemingly repurposed out of a converted mill, incorporated the industrial interior into its design, using metal, brick, and exposed ductwork woven together to create a clean and modern aesthetic. It was a very "cool" place, with its indie R&B music, juice bar, and awesome industrial staircase.
Our waitress was a calm, sweet-faced young woman who worked with quiet efficiency. A bit awkward at first, she seemed to warm up as we progressed through our meal, offering quirky asides and helpful suggestions. Everything seemed very zen-like at Luna's. It was probably a combination of the reassuring competence of the staff, the natural decor, and the low hum of conversation that seemed to lull you into a sense of security.
Our drinks took longer than I expected to come out, but when they finally did, I understood why. They were both obviously freshly made, and tasted unbelievable. The kale lemonade had a deep, earthy undertone, tasting vaguely of cucumber. The lemon flavor was tart and satisfying, the entire drink refreshing and cool. I took a sip of the ginger ale and felt the flavor explode in my mouth. I normally dislike ginger ale, but this was entirely different. The fresh ginger zinged on my tongue, heavy and full. This wasn't a drink to gulp, but rather to sip carefully, savoring the flavor. It was, without a doubt, the best ginger ale I had ever tasted in my life.
“Oh my god, the sauce is so good,” he mumbled around a mouthful of food.
Curious, I took my next piece, lightly dipped it in the sauce, and stuffed the whole piece in my mouth.
The spicy-saltiness of the Thai chili sauce tasted amazingly complex when paired with the (seemingly) bland sushi. It was as though the two were yin and yang, working together in perfect harmony. It made the sweet potato seem to burst with flavor. I was in heaven.
We worked with a determined focus to destroy the remaining sushi, splashing our sushi into the sauce with great aplomb. It was actually super depressing when we were finished. I tried to pick up a few stray bits that had fallen with my chopsticks but managed at least to refrain from licking the plate.
It was a bit after this exchange that our main courses came out. The plates, to put it simply, looked gorgeous. They were elegantly plated and fairly screamed with color. This was a pretty big change from the monochromatic brownish hues I was used to seeing from burritos and Pad Thai. These looked fresh and inviting, if completely different from anything I was anticipating.
The Living Burrito was crunchy, raw, packed with flavor, and absolutely delicious. The only thing I can say is that it had a bit of a grainy mouthfeel to it, which, while not unpleasant, was a little weird. The salad was dressed with a hemp vinaigrette and tasted amazing. To compare it to the "Ranch-ish" I received at Bean Vegan Cuisine would be unfair. Luna's dressing was clearly superior in every way.
The raw Pad Thai tasted pretty awesome as well, as far as I could tell from the one bite I was allowed before it was snatched back by the Boy. The noodles were actually really long carrot noodles. I have no idea how they made them, but it was really cool. I had the same noodles on my salad.
It was really hard to decide; everything seemed so good! Finally, we decided on the Dulche de Amor, a pie (at least, I think it was a pie. It was definitely pie-ish in shape and texture. It was a mousse pie?) with a chocolate pecan crust, chocolate ganache layer, chocolate and vanilla mousse, and topped with a raspberry couli.
We also both got coffees; I got the mocha while the Boy decided on an iced coffee, both "usuals" for us. It seemed to take forever for it to come out, but I think that was more to do with our excited anticipation than the actual length of time it took.
Finally, when it arrived, we both dove in immediately, took simultaneous bites, and melted.
The coffee, of course, tasted amazing. I could actually taste the richness of the coffee, instead of tasting burnt and overpowered by sugar and syrup like a certain national chain coffee establishment (that I happen to frequent several times a week, in all fairness). The chocolate tasted deep and wholesome, and the cute little leaf decorated on top was an nice touch. I was in after-dinner heaven.
Clearly, not all vegan restaurants are created equal. On the one hand, there was Bean: a disappointing, fried food-filled failure with a slightly judgmental atmosphere. On the other, there was Luna's: a raw vegan restaurant that embraced the vegan lifestyle with open arms, no judgments, and 110% delivery.
Perhaps I'm being too negative on Bean. Maybe, as a non-vegan, I'm not the audience they're aiming at. It does seem to be more of a place for vegans to go if they want greasy junk food, rather than a place for non-vegans to get their fix. However, if you want a idea of what vegan cuisine is supposed to taste like, I recommend wholeheartedly to go to a place like Luna's.
I think I might even go back again soon.