Remember when Chef Ito, the silent kitchen master at Fountain Valley’s foundational vegan restaurant Au Lac, invented the term “humanese”? He used it to describe his approach to not only animal-free cuisine, but food that has been kept raw, prepared at temperatures under 118 degrees in order to maintain key nutrients, enzymes and vitamins. Ito’s humanese is a utopian cuisine detached from ethnic descriptions or national origins – it’s human food in the purest sense, alive and served with intention and love.
Without really knowing it, Under the Sun, which opened in downtown Long Beach six months ago, is the city’s first purveyor of humanese. The restaurant has no affiliation with Au Lac nor its O.C. roots, and yet it manages to present raw food in a similarly approachable way by crafting impressively-seasoned dishes that you don’t have to be vegan or even vegetarian to enjoy. The secret to Under the Sun’s growing menu of activated-almond toasts, zucchini pastas, cold brew coffee elixirs and turmeric tonics is the power couple ownership team of Chrissy Cox and Dawna Bass, who have been positive fixtures in the city’s health food scene since they launched Rainbow Juices together in 2011. Once a home-kitchen-juice-blending operation only for family and yoga friends, Rainbow went public soon after and became a successful wholesale business; at one point, you could find mason jars of their cold-pressed juice (made from local fruits and vegetables) at most of the independent coffee shops in Long Beach.
In 2015, Cox and Bass moved Rainbow Juices out of other people’s coffee shops and into their own roll-up storefront on 3rd Street, in the same historic building as Beer Belly, The Blendery and Recreational Coffee. From the simple counter, Rainbow expanded its juice blends, incorporating more seasonal experiments and a line based around a house almond milk. The couple also cultivated solid relationships with area farmers and nut growers, relationships that come in handy when one opens a raw food restaurant next door to their juice bar.
Under the Sun is in the building adjacent to Rainbow Juices (the two are separated by a narrow walkway), but its interior is no less inviting. If Rainbow’s small space and walk-up setup hints at deeper action behind the closed kitchen doors, Under the Sun’s high ceilings and exposed wooden beams draw you right into that action, through a large succulent-lined dining room to a counter and elixir-prep area, where you will place your order after inevitably staring at the dizzying array of raw, vegan cheesecakes and truffles in the case and ogle the dozens of jars of unnamed herbs, roots and spices along the back wall.
The extensive drink lineup can be intimidating at first glance – each description filled with far-off berries and unpronounceable extracts – but ask any employee (usually Cox or Bass is up front) where to begin and they’ll ask the right questions to get you where you need to be.
For food, it’s hard to go wrong. Cox and Bass make all the raw-diet basics in-house, from the sunflower-seed “tuna” (try it in the collard green wrap!) to the cashew-culture “cream cheese” (best in the cucumber roll!) to the activated almond and veggies “bread” (top it with avocado!). Most dishes also get sprinkled with a kicked-up topping or condiment, like “cheesy” dehydrated kale crumble or tangy fermented veggies – a far cry from the boring fruit-and-lettuce raw-food clichés. The menu continues to swell, too, with tested daily specials being added each week. A recent visit found two options for zucchini noodles (basil and tomatoes with activated walnut cacao or a pistachio avocado pesto) had been added, along with a hearty cashew-pate breakfast burrito.
Already, Under the Sun is attracting a diverse crowd of raw-curious diners from nearby office buildings and beyond, most of whom leave realizing that good-feeling food isn’t exclusive to those who ascribe to a particular lifestyle or diet. You don’t have to be raw or vegan or even vegetarian. Just human.
244 E 3rd St., Long Beach; (562) 912-7500; underthesunlb.com
Sarah Bennett is a freelance journalist who has spent nearly a decade covering food, music, craft beer, arts, culture and all sorts of bizarro things that interest her for local, regional and national publications.