In the depth of winter, we crave warm, homey stews. So why not take the opposite approach when the thermometer is stuck on 94°F for months on end? Rather than cooking foods for hours until they’re ultra-tender, let’s eat them raw. Un- or under-touched by heat, foods taste vibrant and have lively textures.

Raw can be a simple sashimi platter. Raw can be an involved chef-prepared masterpiece. And raw can step up as a lifestyle choice. Indeed, some restaurants around town heat no product above the temperature at which food enzymes convert to “cooked” status.

When you need a satisfying yet light appetizer, meal or dessert, look to these restaurants for a cool, un-cooked bite to eat.

Raw Crush: Crudo

Raw-food dishes at the progressive-American restaurant Luma on Park are so sophisticated—and prepared with so much thought and effort—that they equal cooked dishes in their complexity.

Fish appetizers called crudo are often on the menus of Luma and its sister restaurant, the creative-Italian Prato. Raw or lightly marinated fish is always the base. “That gives a sense of freshness to it,” says chef-partner Brandon McGlamery. “It’s like when you go to a sushi restaurant and put that first piece of sashimi in your mouth. It enlivens your palate for great things to come.”

Yet that fish is merely the start at these Winter Park eateries. “You want to show off the different profiles of the fish,” he says. “You enliven the protein with the crispness, crunch and cooling of a vegetable or fruit and back that with spice at a moderate heat level.”

Seasonality always come into play, so the fruits, vegetables and herbs selected are at their peak.

Recently at Prato, for example, the daily crudo was made with yellowfin tuna, passion fruit vinaigrette, avocado and Thai basil.,

Bull & Bear beef tartare

Bull & Bear beef tartare

Raw, Rawer, Rawest

It takes an understanding of Bull & Bear’s beef tartare to fully appreciate the restaurant’s tuna tartare. Both are eons beyond the standard.

Beef tartare, a “classic steakhouse dish,” according to Executive Chef Massimo Falsini, is chopped and flavored red meat. Bull & Bear is a classic steakhouse, in the classic Waldorf Astoria Orlando hotel, yet its appetizer defies the word classic.

Here, the “very center of the filet” of grass-fed, hormone-free beef from South Florida is cut against the grain into “very, very” small cubes (called hacher) with a “very sharp” knife. Exactly 10 minutes before the appetizer is brought to the table, that filet is mixed with an emulsion of quite a few hand-selected ingredients: a bit of mustard; a 5-year-old French vinegar called Banjul; tarragon and chervil; fleur de sel, which is “the first crystals that form when you dry the salt from the sea”; extra-virgin olive oil from California-grown Albequina olives and ground pepper. The mix is formed into a square, topped with watercress and served with ciabatta bread. Juniper berry is dusted on the plate.

If all that effort goes into the beef, imagine the artistry behind The Tuna, a signature starter. This dish consists of three tuna preparations. The order is thus: “raw just eliminated, demi-cooked and almost-cooked,” says Falsini. Tuna No. 1 is a tartare. It consists of belly meat cut hacher-style like the beef. The flesh is marinated with the juice of Florida lemons, a light chili pepper called piment d’espelette, fleur de del, chives and olive oil.

Beside the tartare is tuna confit. To make that, the chefs take the back of the tuna, cut it sushi-style into small loins, and simmer it for four hours at 47°C with olive oil and the skin of Clermont oranges. “Proteins coagulate at 48°C,” Falsini explains, so the tuna back is 1 degree below cooked. “We keep the tuna raw, but pasteurize it.”

For the “almost-cooked” finale to the trio, tuna cheek is smoked in-house over applewood with orange leaves. “You don’t actually cook it; you just eliminate the raw,” Falsini says.

There’s more. The chips served with the fish are actually chopped up tuna scraps dehydrated until they’re like paper. The tuna is garnished with orange salt made from dried orange skins and fleur de sel. And the tuna tartare is presented on a block of Atlantic Ocean water that has been micro-filtered and is topped with a sorbet of the same water that, as it melts, adds salt. “You can feel the ocean in your mouth,” Falsini says. “The dish is a multisensual experience that connects our beautiful land of Florida, through the citrus, with the sea.”

A Successful Kombu-nation

With “sushi” in its name, it’s no shocker that Dragonfly Robata Grill & Sushi serves raw fish.

The surprise involves subtle extras. The Restaurant Row hot spot’s head sushi chef has traditional Japanese training. As a result, he wraps fresh striped bass or Long Island flounder fillets in wet kombu seaweed. “It imparts a subtle sea flavor,” says spokesperson Allen Auyong. “When we cut it sashimi style, it looks like any other Japanese restaurant’s fish, but it has a different flavor profile.”

Seaweed, Auyong explains, imparts umami, that “extra-sensory profile,” a “depth and dimension.”

The fish is used, for example, in Long Island Flounder Usuzukuri. After the fish has spent time in the kombu, it’s sliced very thin and topped with ponzu sauce and grated daikon radish with red chili pepper. The Dragonfly culinary team makes the ponzu, a combination of house-made soy sauce and Japanese lime juice with rice wine vinegar.

Dragonfly’s sashimi platters are often composed dishes “to give them more depth.” The amberjack, for example, is thinly sliced sashimi topped with a relish of diced jalapeño, red onion and green olive. “That little bit of spice accentuates the fish’s sweetness,” Auyong explains.

Fishing for Ideas

Raw fish is the crux of Kabooki Sushi’s menu. The modern Asian-cuisine restaurant is big on mixing flavors and even cuisines. It also blends raw ingredients with cooked ones in clever ways.

Its sake ceviche, for instance, is a raw dish with cooked elements. The heart of the dish is cubes of ultra-fresh salmon tossed with yuzu pon, which is a blend of citrus fruits, yuzu fruit, vinegar and soy sauce. “Candy quinoa” accompanies the salmon. That’s a grain that has been boiled with a simple syrup and mirin, then dried out and flash-fried until it’s crispy. It’s then seasoned with salt and pepper and placed in a dehydrator to become crisper still. Also on the plate are sliced avocado, orange oil and dinosaur kale battered and deep-fried tempura style.

Should you prefer an all-raw dish, go for the hamachi carpaccio. Here raw hamachi, which is Japanese yellowtail, is sliced; topped with olive oil and house-made ponzu sauce; sprinkled with yuzu tobiko, a citrus fruit flavored with flying fish caviar; spicy habanero salt; minced Thai chili and Japanese Daikon sprout.

Smooth Operator

The Hirschhorn family started eating mostly raw foods just to be healthy. End of story, they now own a raw-foods restaurant that draws like-minded folks for raw pad Thai, raw black-and-white cookies and a whole bunch of smoothies.

Their business, The Juice Bar of Winter Garden, is a small spot on a downtown Winter Garden side street. Its 220 square feet allows for no seating, but the takeout business is bustling. “We change our menu selections every day,” says co-owner Deborah, whose partners are her husband, Jim, and their children, Katie and Ryan. “The selections are based on what’s in season and how much time we have.”

Smoothies, many made with freshly made almond milk, are a big draw. Yet raw-foodists, vegans and others are quick to stock up on items like the pad Thai, for which zucchini that has been through a spiralizer replaces the traditional noodles. For the sauce, gluten-free tamari is mixed with raw peanut butter or almond butter. The not-so-tuna wrap has almonds, sunflower seeds and kelp powder for protein along with seasonings and vegetables.

Friends Barbara Davis & DJ Woodford are the “chocolatiers.” Their goodies might be black-and-white cookies. This chewy take on the deli classic is made with almond flour, maple syrup and dehydrated coconut that’s put into a dehydrator, then dipped in “chocolate” made with cacao, cacao butter and coconut palm sugar. “We temper all cacao at less than 115°F so it remains raw,” Deborah says. “We believe in the importance of the raw-foods enzyme.”


Wheat Berry Café & Raw Juice Bar taco

All Raw, All the Time

In Altamonte Springs, the Wheat Berry Café & Raw Juice Bar is mostly a spot for grab-and-go juices, yet it does a nice little business in raw meals.

Customers most often stop in for cold-pressed juices and smoothies, known here as “elixirs.” They’re sometimes blended with superfoods, according to owner Rik Napoleon.

Yet Wheat Berry offers four entrées, three salads and a few sides every day, and they’re snapped up for lunch. Some guests eat them on-premises at one of the spot’s few seats.

Tacos are the most popular option. Instead of meat, the soft raw tortilla is filled with a walnut pâté; a faux cheese made from cashews, sunflower seeds, jalapeños and red peppers; guacamole and pico de gallo. The tortilla itself is made from a dehydrated mix of sprouted buckwheat and vegetables.

“We never get above 115°F in our kitchen, so we achieve the greatest amount of value of our food,” Napoleon says. “The body understands how to break down raw food.” All Wheat Berry items are organic.