Cafe 118 – Orlando, FL

Allow me to lift the curtain a bit to expose the inner workings of the Eat a Duck empire. Please, for your safety, hold on to a hand rail or take a seat at your earliest convenience. After deliberating with our statisticians Billy Bean, and C3PO, it has come to my attention that….suprise! Eat a Duck spends much time discussing the pleasures incurred by eating pork products of varying preparations, fattened goose/duck livers, and deep-fried potatoes of many shapes and creeds.

The truth is, more often than not, (I am speaking for James as well) in our day-to-day lives eating at home and such, we eat more vegetables than meat. I love fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and I often try to incorporate them into my meals.

When I found out, about a year ago, that Orlando had a 100% vegetarian/vegan, and raw restaurant I was intrigued. I was curious about how a chef could get away with serving a menu that is completely uncooked and make it palatable for the masses.

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You see the  number “118” in Cafe 118 isn’t derived from an old cliché way of coming up with a name for a restaurant. That of generically using the street address to make it easy on would be patrons. Or from some abstract reference to the amount of times it took to perfect the hummus recipe. The number 118 stands for the commonly accepted temperature at which enzymes and the nutritional contents of raw plants begin to break down and become useless to body. Call me Bill Nye, or maybe just Mr. Google.

Like I said before, my family went a year ago and had an amazing meal. It changed the way I thought about the possibilities of food preparation and “cooking”. We decided to give Cafe 118 our business once again, just to make sure it was still as good as we remembered.

The menu consists of a list of different beverages including raw juices, smoothies, and shakes. I’m assuming these are consumed mostly by people wanting a quick meal replacement, because some of the concoctions are quite hearty. I opted to share a freshly made pineapple, celery and mint juice. I knew it was fresh because I could hear the industrial strength juicer roaring in the back. I don’t know about you, but I love that sound. The juice was refreshing and light, not too sweet and yet it didn’t overpower you with “celeryness”.

Café 118 spread

We decided to share three items between the two of us. The equation of 3=2+Dessert will help you make some tough decisions should you find yourself with a partner at Cafe 118. That’s the perfect ratio of menu items to create a full stomach when dining in pairs. Feel free to multiply for larger parties, as if this were a cookie recipe.

The first appetizer we ordered came almost instantly. I guess if you’re not cooking anything, there isn’t much choice in the matter. We got four huge vegetable spring rolls. The wrapper was a crunchy piece of collard green enveloping julienned carrots and red cabbage. The vegetables inside were tossed in a creamy lemon macadamia nut dressing. The fun begins when you dip the thing in a dish of sweet and sour sauce that comes on the side. The different textures of extremely crunchy combined with the creamy dressing and dipping sauce mingled together quite nicely. The spring rolls were delicious and very filling, but the dipping sauce was otherworldly to say the least. No joke, that sauce is better than most traditional house made sweet dipping sauces you would find anywhere else. Interestingly they don’t really describe the contents of is the sauce, it must be a secret. I’ll say I would love to dip a nice chunk of crispy pork belly from Ming’s Bistro in that sauce. Oh whoops I’m already slipping back to carnivore mode.

The next plate was baby sweet peppers stuffed with a cashew and almond puree, topped with what tasted like a red pepper aioli. Although we knew it wasn’t, since there would have been eggs in there somewhere. On top of that lay a sprinkling of chopped arugula to add some color to the plate. Then, for good measure, a few drops of truffle infused olive oil. This might have been the most shocking discovery in a while for me. I never thought to add truffle to my raw vegetables. It made it all the more complex and earthy if that’s even possible. Textures really take center stage when eating this way. It gave me the idea to add truffle oil to my hummus next time I make it to see how well it meshes. I don’t see why it shouldn’t after experiencing the triumph that was the pepper dish. Only two things down and I’m already getting full? Weird.

Finally, the main course of spaghetti with sun-dried tomato sauce arrived in all its glory. If you didn’t see the little flecks of greens that peeked through the sauce, coming from the ribbons of zucchini, it would have been hard to tell that the pasta wasn’t pasta at all! I believe that to get  zucchini to meet the shape and texture of pasta, they have to soak it so it begins to wilt a bit. Whatever it was they did, it tasted and felt al dente. I normally choose to pass on anything “sun-dried, but I’m glad I didn’t try swaying my wife to order something else. The sauce that coated the “pasta” was chock full of a sweet tomato, garlic and basil goodness that even Lydia Bastianich would have trouble wrapping her head around. To make it even more appealing to the uninitiated, you get a couple mini meatballs made from spinach and mushroom with a dusting of pine nut cheese to take the place of Parmigiano Reggiano.

They also do raw desserts and ice “creams” that are amazing. I ordered their take on s’mores, which was quite good. Thin graham wafers sandwiching an oozy marshmallow type sweetness and then drizzled with chocolate sauce. I only took one bite of that because I was already stuffed and satisfied.

The meal was a complete success in my mind. I really appreciate how they are trying to make this kind of food easily accessible to anyone. I would be so bold as to bring my Mom and Dad here and not even worry if they’d have a great dinner. Now here is a question for all of you out there, but mainly to those in smaller communities. Do you think something like Cafe 118, a restaurant  free of meat, animal products and ovens for that matter, could be a success in your town?

Café 118° Living Cuisine Café & Juice Bar on Urbanspoon

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