First Person | At Quintessence

Peter's Pot SoupC.C. Glenn A bowl of Peter’s Pot soup at Quintessence, 263 East 10th St.

Some people eat to live, and then others eat to achieve an altered state of spirituality. Devotees of a raw vegan diet claim that all those veggies and nuts can help you become spiritually “lighter.” Can bliss be found in a bowl of soup?

My quest took me to Quintessence, a cozy raw vegan restaurant on 10th Street where I slurped a bowl of Peter’s Pot soup, an orange-colored concoction blended from cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes. For those unfamiliar with the concept, a raw vegan diet involves foods (such as a blended vegetable soup) that are uncooked and never heated above 118 degrees.

Mid-soup, I tried to imagine myself slowly moving towards the so-called spiritual “light” that other customers claimed they had found. The chilled vegetable melange was tasty, but I didn’t exactly transcend gravity.

Sitting at an adjoining table recently were tourists from Toronto, Doug McNish and Patricia Digiovanni, who dined at Quintessence multiple times during their week-long vacation. Mr. McNish also happens to be the head chef at a raw vegan restaurant in Toronto. By switching six years ago to a vegan diet, Mr. McNish (who weighed a hefty 270 pounds) said he lost 100 pounds.

Vegan TatsC.C. Glenn Doug McNish says that he lost 100 pounds by switching to a vegan diet.

Like Mr. McNish, many people decide to transform their diet into a raw vegan one for health and ethical reasons. But it’s not simply a diet change, staunch adherents to raw veganism say, it’s an altered lifestyle. By eating completely natural, organic and raw food, “you’ll notice the difference,” Mr. McNish said. “The food is very light. It brings you a level of airy-ness.”

Raw Chef Dan, a guy so chill he prefers no last name (“like Prince”), is the mastermind behind the menu at Quintessence, which boasts creative twists on non-raw classics like “The All American Burger,” spinach and cheese raviolis and spicy tostadas. The increase in raw vegans is not just a trend, he said “It’s an awakening.”

The restaurant, which Raw Chef Dan opened in 1999 with co-owner Mun Chan, draws regulars and newbies alike, including many tourists. For Ganga Hoogendoorn, visiting Quintessence for the second time from Amsterdam, raw vegan cuisine is actually a conduit for “light.” Her maki (mock tuna) roll captures natural light, bringing Ms. Hoogendoorn closer to the “light,” a broad and nondescript term that encompasses spiritual well-being. “I’m very interested in living by the light,” she said. “And the transition is by raw vegan. This is life food.”

Ms. Hoogendoorn towed friend Arthur Bonarius on this trip to New York. After converting to a raw vegan lifestyle five months ago, Mr. Bonarius says he has much more energy and feels healthier. “All the fat is gone,” he said. For this Dutch couple, New York offers more options for eating out as a raw vegan. “People here are more open,” he said.

In 2006, 1.4 percent of American adults reported themselves to be vegan. More than 50 vegan restaurants operate in New York, but fewer than 20 carry raw vegan food. Quintessence and Pure Food and Wine, near Gramercy Park, are some of the few that serve only raw vegan fare.

Maki RollsC.C. Glenn Maki Rolls at Quintessence.

Aside from Quintessence and its next door neighbor, Live Live & Organic, the East Village harbors Lula’s Sweet Apothecary, a tiny vegan ice cream shop on Sixth Street, Whole Earth Bakery and Kitchen on St. Marks Place and High Vibe, a raw food store on Third Street.

Raw Chef Dan loves the friendly and symbiotic rapport Quintessence has with its neighborhood. It’s unlikely that a raw vegan restaurant would thrive in another neighborhood, he said.

“The consciousness is here and the energy is here,” Raw Chef Dan said. “The raw food movement is mostly here. When you’re on this block it just feels good.”

Quintessence, 263 East 10th Street, 646-654-1823.

Know of any other raw vegan or vegan restaurants, cafes or stores in the East Village? What are your favorite menu items?