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The popularity of the paleo diet is booming. Everyone from celebrities including Jessica Biel to those with New Year’s resolutions are cutting out gluten, grains, processed foods, most types of dairy, and refined sugar in favor of a caveman-style diet. Though that might sound like the opposite of delicious, there’s something to be said for a diet that encourages you to eat grass-fed filet mignon and rack of lamb.
It also doesn’t hurt the popularity of the diet that Australian celebrity chef, Pete Evans, is an advocate. While he built his restaurant empire on gluten-heavy pizza, the My Kitchen Rules star has a not-so-secret love affair with seeds, nuts, green olives, extra virgin oils, wild greens, and seared salmon.
Now, restaurants are jumping on the paleo bandwagon and throwing a healthy sprinkling of gourmet into the pot. Pure Taste, a pop-up restaurant in the UK, just finished a successful Kickstarter campaign to open a brick-and-mortar paleo-gourmet restaurant. Its menu will feature upscale takes on rustic fare: scotch eggs with herb mayonnaise; bacon-wrapped chicken with apricots, pistachios and cauliflower couscous; ginger-cured local mackerel with rhubarb-vanilla compote; and hazelnut chocolate cake with cashew cream and no flour.
In Boulder, Colorado, Iva Paleckova also went the crowdsourcing route to help launch her soon-to-open paleo restaurant, Blooming Beets. On its menu: wild salmon cakes, lemon-rosemary rib eyes, and sweet lemon curd tarts.
Back across the ocean in Copenhagen, Palæo restaurant serves organic beef in dairy-free pepper cream sauce with pickled mushrooms, parsley pesto, baby spinach, and homemade nut bread. And the world’s first 100% paleolithic restaurant, Sauvage, in Berlin, has proven so successful in its three years that it recently opened a second location in Prenzlauer Berg. There, its pan-seared scallops, lamb tajine and more-savory-than-sweet chocolate mousse regularly unite both strict paleo eaters and traditional fine dining lovers.
Why are paleolithic restaurants so successful? Who do mainstream restaurant-goers who might otherwise eschew vegan and “healthy” restaurants seem happy to reserve a table at Sauvage? Holly Taylor of Pure Taste thinks it’s because the fundamentals of the paleo diet overlap those of many traditional fine dining restaurants: a commitment to grass-fed and wild meats, local and foraged ingredients, an awful lot of offal, slow-cooked sauces and stocks made from animal bones. There are no commercial soup bases, cheap oils, or prepared products. The main difference from traditional fine dining restaurants “is on the dessert front where everything is made with gluten-containing flours and refined sugar,” she says.
Carefully seared scallops and chocolate mousse without flour may not be exactly what our ancestors were eating, but they hold more appeal than dining out on nuts, fruit and the odd fish—the result being a longer restaurant lifespan. If nothing else, classing up the paleo diet allows its followers (or celiacs or gluten-intolerant people who would otherwise have a hard time eating out) to enjoy a high quality restaurant meal with friends.
Is a life without Joel Robuchon’s famous mashed potatoes worth living? Can zucchini noodles ever best Mario Batali’s pappardelle? To David McMillan, chef at Joe Beef in Montreal and James Beard Award nominee, if the restaurant can stand on its own, with or without calling itself “paleo,” then he’s all for it. “If I was just going to a restaurant that I’d heard was really good and I walked in, read the menu and it was paleo, I would go, ‘Oh, cool, that’s interesting.’ It’s just when labels start floating around for these things….I remember Atkins restaurants from years ago. Where are they now?”