By STEPHANIE LYNESS
Published: November 16, 2012
Rachel Carr speaks modestly about her considerable talents, which turn things like walnuts and avocado into other things like chorizo and ice cream. She smiles broadly when I suggest that her skill, making great-tasting vegan and raw food, might be more difficult than “real” cooking — after all, making everything from scratch takes on a whole new meaning when you make your own sour cream. “You just put stuff in the blender,” she says. Right.
Lisa Wiltse for The New York Times
A raw chorizo tostada with a flax and tomato shell, walnut-pepita “chorizo,” guacamole and cashew “crema.”
Ms. Carr is the chef and owner of Six Main, a new, mostly vegan and raw food restaurant that opened in June in the elegantly renovated 1902 Chester Savings Bank building. Before then, Ms. Carr was the executive chef at the award-winning Cru Restaurant in Los Angeles for six years, after which she ran the kitchen at SunCafé, a raw food restaurant in Studio City there. The blender in question is the high-speed Vitamix, darling of raw-food chefs because it’s powerful enough to pulverize nuts and grains into creamy substances like the silky herbed cashew cheese in Ms. Carr’s exceptional raw jicama ravioli.
But it would be a mistake to reduce Ms. Carr’s artistry to sleight of hand or mimicry. The forms are familiar — entrees on the often-changing menu also include a raw-food tostada and linguine, and vegan potpie, mole enchilada and beet burger. But her cuisine is unique, distinctive and exciting, eliciting rounds of “utterly delicious” and “pretty fabulous” from my dining companions throughout the meal.
Sometimes Ms. Carr’s renditions almost seem to have an edge on the originals. Whisper-thin, jicama ravioli wrappers contrasted appealingly with the creamy filling, and their fresh, delicate sweetness was delightful with the lively, tart and tangy sun-dried tomato-hazelnut Romesco sauce.
Zucchini linguine, a staple on raw menus across the country, was dressed with a pumpkinseed pesto that fairly exploded with the bright taste of basil. A sprinkling of pepita Parmesan, a combination of pumpkinseeds, walnuts, nutritional yeast and sea salt (“We joke around and call it ‘rawmesan,’ ” Ms. Carr says) tasted uncannily like its namesake.
The success of Ms. Carr’s cuisine is due in part to the excellent quality of the organic ingredients harvested from Upper Pond Farm in Old Lyme. The farm is owned by Bill de Jonge, who also owns the Chester building and is the principal investor in the restaurant.
In flavor and freshness, the greens were far better than the usual mesclun mix. (“We like to serve a lot of greens,” Ms. Carr says, because they contribute texture and lighten the meal.) Cherry tomatoes and thin-sliced raw beets on the garden salad were incredibly sweet. Accompanying the smoky beet burger were earthy, roasted rosemary potatoes with a marvelous buttery texture. Caramelized winter squash, served with chili-glazed tofu, filled the mouth with warm, subtle sweetness. Sweet-tart green juice, combining apple, kale, celery and lemon, demonstrated that one can enjoy this trendy health beverage on the merits of taste alone.
While Ms. Carr’s raw food is light and vibrant, her vegan dishes are remarkable for their rich flavor. The sauce on the cabbage-wrapped mole enchilada could compete in this regard with any meat sauce; the balance of sweet and spicy in the dish was exquisite. Apples and pickled vegetables made for delicious kimchi pancakes.
“I like things to be gluten-free unless there’s a reason they shouldn’t be,” says Ms. Carr, who relies on Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Flour for the excellent pizza (with Gruyère cheese, one of the few animal products on the menu), the crumbly, melt-in-the-mouth apple tart pastry, and sauces. But since gluten-free doughs tend to fall apart, the warm table bread is made with whole wheat flour instead.
I’m not wild about everything here. Ms. Carr uses coconut oil for cooking and in raw desserts; it overpowered the vegetables in the butternut squash and mushroom potpie and competed with the lime in the silky smooth key lime pie. The winter squash gnocchi were chewy and, with the exception of a surprisingly appealing, very minty, mint chip kale ice cream, the ice creams could have had more flavor.
But Ms. Carr’s skill is incontrovertible. She has managed to create a plant-based cuisine that is homey and elegant, satisfying, clean and beautiful without being fussy. And for sheer wizardry, one can only marvel at her flaxseed tostada topped with walnut-pepita “chorizo,” cumin-sunflower seed “frijols” and cashew “crema.”
Six Main Restaurant
6 Main Street
THE SPACE High-ceilinged 50-seat dining room in a restored bank building. Pale, cool gray-blue walls lend a relaxed and feminine air. Comfort abounds: chairs are soft and upholstered and tables are polished wood. There is one communal table. Outdoor seating for eight in season.
THE CROWD A mixed, often stylish, crowd of all ages.
THE BAR No sit-down bar. Small international wine list with many bottles between $30 and $40. Selection of beers and house cocktails. Also offered: nonalcoholic beverages like delicious green juice and aromatic basil lemonade.
THE BILL Prices are very reasonable. Salads and appetizers, $4 to $13; entrees: $14 to $20; three-course prix fixe menu with one wine pairing offered Monday through Wednesday, $25. Sunday brunch, $8 to $16. All credit cards accepted.
WHAT WE LIKED Warm lentil salad, house salad, New England chopped salad, savory apple kimchi pancake, pear and caramelized onion pizza, tempura sweet potato roll, white bean and kale soup; beet burger, mole enchilada, chili-glazed tofu and autumn vegetables, raw ravioli Romesco, raw pesto zucchini linguine, raw walnut-pepita chorizo tostada; pumpkin cheesecake, chocolate ganache tart, key lime pie, apple tart.
IF YOU GO Dinner: Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday brunch, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Reservations recommended. Limited parking in lot in back of restaurant, or on street. Call or check Web site for raw food and vegan cooking classes taught by Chef Rachel Carr.
RATINGS Don’t Miss, Worth It, O.K., Don’t Bother.
A version of this review appeared in print on November 18, 2012, on page CT12 of the New York edition with the headline: Artistry at Work In a Vegan Menu.
Link to New York Times Article