Mindfulness is not the only practice that encourages us to dwell in the present moment – our appetites do as well. Many others and I have done just that at the cozy raw/vegan Present Moment Café, located on the reemerging side of King Street in St. Augustine.
Chef Yvette Schindler and her staff have created a menu of savory, subtle dishes appealing to a majority of palates unaccustomed to the arcane ambrosia of a raw/vegan food menu. Or, as her menu states: “Fresh organic vegan food made with love and gratitude.”
Now in its 10th year, the nine-table restaurant has been rated among the top five St. Augustine eateries by the venerable Trip Advisor and is nearly always full to capacity in the evenings.
Assyrian by descent, Schindler worked as a macrobiotic chef in Santa Fe before starting her restaurant. She converted to a raw diet following a divorce and having read Nature’s First Law, the seminal book on the virtues of that lifestyle. She confesses that switching to a primarily raw diet led to dramatic changes in her health – for the good.
“When you get the unadulterated, unprocessed raw foods whose enzymes don’t get killed by the cooking, you are getting mother’s milk, the direct connection to the earth,” Schindler says.
Present Moment Café features starters, salads and main dishes all created for unique flavor and texture. Schindler studied under Chad Sarno, one the country’s legendary raw chefs whose approach to creating tasty dishes lies in the “layering of flavors.”
Schindler learned her lessons well because the subtlety of tastes in her dishes is immediately evident. I prefer to call it a “feathering of flavors,” so nuanced that not any one of them claims dominance of the palate. It begins with the frothy Green Dream Machine, an alchemy of apple, kale, celery, and lemon juices mixed with ginger. The featured soup on the evening I went was a mushroom-ginger-miso, which in addition to the eponymously named ingredients, included red cabbage sesame oil, amino acids and onion with a hint of agave. For my main course, I had the popular Un-Tuna Melt, a paté of sunflower seeds, almonds, celery, red onion, lemon juice and kelp, with non-dairy cheddar cheese, avocado and tomato on toasted millet served with green salad and corn chips. With raw foods, the adjective “fresh” affixed before certain dishes ceases to create an oxymoron as with cooked items. The natural flavors are there; it’s up to the chef to bring them out and Schindler does just that with the Un-Tuna-Melt and all her presentations. And while corn chips that accompany most traditional sandwiches are mostly crunchy, salty, processed carbs, Schindler’s are delicious. Made of corn, red pepper and almonds blended and spread on dehydrator sheets for forty-eight hours, they taste as though they are baked. She believes there is no such thing as “shelf life” with her food.
“Nothing is alive on a shelf,” she says. “People feel the energy generated by the enzymes they’ve eaten when they leave here.”
Schindler does not measure her success by money, but rather by how healthy people feel maintaining a raw/vegan diet, which was her mission. By that metric, she says her success has been abundant: “People are coming in, eating better and becoming healthier – losing weight and getting off meds.”
The Present Moment Café is located at 224 West King Street, St. Augustine and is open Monday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. Menu: $8 – $12.
Article written by Mike Bernos