DOWNTOWN — For weeks, prior to my trip to Santa Monica, I had been hearing about Planet Raw and how much everyone enjoys it. Well, having been raw for a while, I expected “just another raw restaurant.” Therefore, I arrived prepared to order a nice salad, maybe a vegetable pâté, a possible smoothie on the side, and maybe even an appetizer or two.

Then came the surprise.

Upon entering Planet Raw, located on an innocuous corner of Sixth Street and Broadway, it looked like any other café. There were a couple of outside tables, a front counter for the hostess/cashier, a few scattered tables, a sit-down bar, and a few coolers and shelves with products, which the public may buy. That was where “any other café” and Planet Raw parted ways.

I was seated at a corner table overlooking the street. Chloe, my server, recited the daily specials. Chipotle plate, samosas with Tahini sauce, ranch bacon chicken wrap with side salad, jerk chicken warp or peach and pumpkin smoothies were all on the carte du jour. I asked her what a first-time visitor should order. She thought for a minute and then decided that I should order one of two dishes. She highly recommended the lasagna with zucchini pasta, ricotta cheese made from nuts and a sauce made with heirloom tomatoes. She said this was a signature dish of Chef Juliano. The second dish she recommended was the cheesy kelp pasta and also recommended a side of assorted appetizers. I was sold. When I asked for water to drink with my meal, she inquired as to whether I preferred room temperature or chilled. With the exception of fine dining in restaurants where you can expect a $200 check for a single diner, this was the first time I had ever been asked this question in over 40 years. That was very impressive!

While I was waiting for my meal, I spoke with patron Terry Brown. Terry said her favorite meal is the basil soup, and the cheesy kelp pasta. She said she eats there very often.

When I asked if she considered herself raw, she said that she “goes by how she feels” and lately she has been 100 percent raw. She is a firm believer in measuring her pH at least twice a day. She said that when she eats at Planet Raw, her pH is “always perfect.”

While waiting for my meal, I watched the servers. This is one of my methods of judging the efficiency of the operation, and the service that the customers are receiving. I was very pleased that all of the employees were busily attending to the needs of their patrons. I noticed one employee, probably serving as a kitchen helper, pick up a single dirty napkin that was lying on the edge of an occupied table. This attention to detail is most admirable.

My pasta and appetizers arrived together, and now was my chance to taste for myself what these people were saying about Juliano’s Planet Raw. The pasta was in the middle of a bed of greens, red peppers, cabbage, tomatoes, “meatballs” and small decorative/edible flowers. The entire dish was covered with a white sauce. My first bite was euphoric. The kelp pasta was a perfect al dente for a cheesy dish. Most amazing was that I could not tell the cheesy sauce apart from cheeses I used to consume in my pre-raw days. Most interesting were the “meatballs.” My server explained that they were a combination of dehydrated mushrooms, almonds, pine nuts and spices. If, for a moment, I forgot that I was dining in a “raw” restaurant, I would have testified that I was eating “real” beef meatballs. The flavor was one to savor, and I found myself wishing there were more than four on the plate.

I have to acknowledge that all of the vegetables served with my meal were extremely fresh. Frequently, after vegetables have been transported to market, then stored in a restaurant cooler, they lose some, if not most of their freshness. Planet Raw’s vegetables were so fresh that one would be lead to believe that they had been picked “out back” just for your meal. The greens were crisp, the tomatoes sparkled with redness, and the small edible flowers were probably the same shade of pink that could be found while they grew in the wild.

Although the menu may be considered a little pricey for a lunchtime meal, I had to consider two factors. First, the quality and service were equal to most four and five star restaurants. Second, this is a restaurant in Santa Monica. Located just seven blocks from the Santa Monica Pier, Planet Raw caters to a slightly upscale crowd. Still, a meal can be planned with a budget in mind. The appetizers range in price from $3.50 to $9.95, a smoothie is approximately $9 with an extra $1 each for super boosts such as maca, and other superfoods. Entrées were a reasonable $7.95 to $15.95 with large salads from $10 to $15. A smaller side salad is only $3.50 with extra olives, sundried tomato, truffle oil, black seaweed, spirulina, avocado, bee pollen, maca, kimchee, pumpkin or greens for $2.50.

Overall, I would rate Juliano’s Planet Raw as an exceptional raw food restaurant, and would recommend it to anyone who is raw, vegan, vegetarian or just likes to eat good food. I would give it two thumbs up, but I have my thumbs wrapped around my fork and spoon as I eat a recipe I prepared from the uncook book.

Dr. Michael Saripkin is the Raw Gourmand. You can find more of his reviews at www.rawcritic.info.