Vex in the City

I decided to start a Vegan restaurant rating as I try different foods during my journey. I thought I could have some fun with it and give deserving businesses some publicity. As a polyglot (a multi-linguist, I speak Jamaican patois, English, French, Spanish, and Italian with varying degrees of fluency), I also know that some things are better said in other languages and sometimes challenging to translate. So I have decided to create a bilingual rating system of the restaurants I have eaten at in both Jamaican English with their approximate translation in Standard English.

(Written in Jamaican English with approximate Standard English translation)

>< >< >< >< >< a dis' ya' top of de' line someting(Outstanding)

>< >< >< >< everyting irie(Good and very good)

>< >< >< alright still(Just okay)

>< >< C'mon man! Unu c'yan do better 'den 'dat(Needs improvement)

>< a what de ras'?(Deplorable)

Taste of the food
Look of the food
Environmentally-Responsibility (use of environmentally-friendly practices including reusable utensils and dishware, composting, biodegradable utensils and cookware)
Health Savvy (organic food, do they know a lot about the food or the plant-based foods, intentionality, informative, resourceful)
Hospitality/Warmth (friendliness, service with a smile, my bias is for chatty restaurateurs and chefs, do they like to chat, do they listen to their clients, outgoingness, caring about the customer)
Décor/Vibe (includes a good musical selection, choice of paint, patio, etc.)
Added Perks (if they gave me any free stuff or that something extra for reviewing their restaurant for free, yes I am an opportunist)
Ethical and Community-Minded (are they connected with any larger community? e.g., community info board, Toronto Vegetarian Association, events, etc.)

$40 and up

Vex in the City: Part #1 KINDFOOD
Taste of the food >< >< >< ><(Very good) Look of the food >< >< >< >< >< (The cupcakes rock!) Environmentally-Responsibility >< >< >< >< (I did not get to ask the owner about this one but they use reusable utensils and dishware. Plus their food is organic and non-genetically modified (non-GMO). Health Savvy (organic food, do they know a lot about the food or the plant-based foods, intentionality, informative, resourceful)
>< >< >< >< >< Hospitality/Warmth >< >< >< >< >< (The guy at the cash was soooo patient with these two women who were in front of me in line and had lots of questions and thoughts. He took his time to speak with them as did Kelly Childs, the owner, when I spoke with her after closing time. I did not book an interview with Kelly but she took the time to chat.) Décor/Vibe >< >< >< >< >< I do not remember too much of the music but the decor is cheery and colourful and my photos do not Kindfood justice. Added Perks >< >< >< >< >< Yes, I got a referral to another restaurant that I'll be reviewing (HOT BEANS). Plus, I got a free Dulce de Leche cupcake. Ethical and Community-Minded >< >< >< >< >< Kindfood has a community info board plus they participated in Veggielicious organized by Toronto Vegetarian Association. They also teaching vegan cooking classes and give lessons on youtube. Price (for a full meal including side and drink)

As the weather is getting warmer and summer approaches, the urban dweller wishes to find a spot to dine. Typically this is a patio or some fine establishment where one can enjoy a good meal. If you are vegan, meat- and dairy-free meals aren't that easy to find so sometimes you find yourself wandering like some aimless vampire trying to secure a victim.

You do have a few options however. You can either find dishes at strictly vegan or vegetarian restaurant and occasionally at a regular restaurant like Magic Oven Pizza. Some cities like New York or San Francisco seem to have like a gazillion (is that a word?) vegan places to eat. Others like Toronto have a few eateries like One Love (see my post called Soup), Live, Fresh, Annapurna, and other one-word names. And some cities like St. John's, Newfoundland have only one vegetarian restaurant (The Sprout).

It can get frustrating when the search for a vegan meal is a long one and your stomach is growling. When you finally give in to a nice restaurant with a patio, you are more annoyed that it does not have any vegan option so you have to end up eating pita bread with hummus and bean dip as a meal. (And the overpriced pita bread has cheese baked on and tzatziki as well. That's what happened to me yesterday. Venting.) So in response, I'm starting a series called Vex in the City. "Vex" is an old English word which means to annoy, torment, irritate, or distress. In Jamaican patois, when we say someone is "vex'" it means that they are pissed off. And when you are vegan and cannot find a suitable vegan meal, it can be frustrating. ("A hungry man is an angry man," from Bob Marley's song 'Dem Belly Full But We Hungry'.) So I am starting this series of posts to highlight some of the best vegan locales to dine.

I've already mentioned the names of a few places like those mentioned above and some of which I discussed at length in previous posts like One Love and The Sprout. I will a write a bit more of a structured, semi-regular series called "Vex in the City". (Awesome if I do say so myself. I was going to call it Vegs in the City but the pronunciation would be all screwed.) Right now, beyond sleeping, my energy level permits me to perform two main activities: writing and food (eating it, preparing it, discussing it, photographing it, writing about it), I thought, "Hey, why not add promoting vegan restaurants to the list.") And even though my appetite is returning in dribs and drabs, why not make it all about food right now?

So my first installment of Vex in the City is a cute little place called Kindfood. And it's so fitting that this is the first Vex in the City post is Kindfood since the very first book to inspire me to become vegan is called "The Kind Diet". I learned about Kindfood originally through one of those facebook ads linking me to their facebook page. I was automatically intrigued by their concept-- awesome looking vegan cupcakes that tempted me, regular posts, and updates, and smoothy-making lessons on youtube. From reading the Kindfood blog, holistic nutritional information, and website visits, I became an instant fan even though I hadn't tried out their food yet.

So while I was in Burlington for the Thyroid Cancer Canada Patients' Forum, I remembered Kindfood might be in the city and just might be downtown close to the Patients' Forum. (Unfortunately, I only had salad at the forum since the sandwiches were not vegan, so I was starving.) So I called 411 from a payphone in Sears at a shopping mall asking for the phone number for Kindfood. I called and I was instantly greeted with this friendly male voice at the other end. "You can't miss us. It's bright green and pink building."

So with those directions, passing the busy lakeshore, and historic buildings, I found Kindfood.

I entered the restaurant and I thought, "Oh my gosh, I'm in California." Well, I've never actually been to California but I would imagine this place to be it or someplace in the southwestern-U.S. I admired the fluorescent green exterior and the hot pink sign, the neon Aztec art and the orange walls, the wooden floors, tables, and chairs with colourful cushions on them. This place is so cute! There were all the famous cupcakes on display, a refrigerated grocery area, and lots of interested customers who came by out of curiosity.

I ordered the KIND burger and Moroccan quinoa salad. I love the descriptions of food in menus so I've posted them with the meals below. I took one bite of the open face burger (which I put together) and said mmmm... real food. The tempeh was warm and just the right texture to enter the comfort food category and I loved the chewy gooey Daiya. This was a burger that I didn't need to put ketchup on since I so much wanted to taste "real food". The quinoa salad had a fresh and lightly sweetened Moroccan flavour.

The waitress was friendly and very familiar-looking (she was in the smoothie lesson).

Kelly Childs & Erinn Weatherbie from Kindfood making a Superfood Smoothie

I noticed that a lot of people came in but because it was five minutes to closing time and the kitchen closed, they had to be turned away. But I noticed that almost all of them didn't seem disappointed because they were still able to buy the cupcakes. Oh yeah! Vegan cupcakes are gaining in their fame and Kindfood is definitely known for them.

I so much wanted to sample one of these delectable treats so I ordered a Dulce de Leche cupcake to-go.

One thing I noticed about this staff is how "invested" in the food they all seemed. They served you with sincerity and a smile and I could tell that they really believe in their work. They were not just selling food here but good, quality healthy food and if you read their "modus operandi" on their menu it states:
high-quality, wholesome, 100% plant-based and animal-free.
nutritionally dense, brought in fresh from local farmers, foragers and
artisans. It’s Natural and Organic, lovingly made with no additives,
preservatives, herbicides, fungicides, pesticides or GMO‘s.

So I got the feeling I was also taking medicine. Not Buckley's-type of cough syrup but a more holistic, nutritious, delicious and kind medicine. ('Let thy food be thy medicine'-- Hippocrates.)

I got a few moments to speak with Kelly, the owner of Kindfoods. Kelly is a petite tanned, California-blond woman who used to be a bodybuilder. (She still is in great shape.) I told her about how cancer played a part in becoming a vegan. This will sound cliche, but it's so refreshing to talk to someone who "gets it" and Kelly really does. We discussed the advantages to becoming vegan and how it can help to regress diseases. We talked about THE CHINA STUDY. We talked about njera (Ethiopian flatbread) and she recommended some great vegan places to eat in Toronto. (She suggested the HOT BEAN in Kensington Market but unfortunately I forgot my camera the day I went there but I'll definitely be back.) I loved our chat and will definitely come back to KINDFOOD perhaps for a cooking class, some famous cupcakes, or a chat about veganism and holistic nutrition. Once you know all of this stuff, you can't go back.

I have posted photos of my visit below.

There it is KINDFOOD in Burlington, ON.

Neon Aztec sign.

Window of goodies.

The famous vegan cupcakes. That day, there were Red Velvet, Chocolate Mint, Dulce de Leche, chocolate chip cookie sandwiches filled with creme, and even doughnuts.

My KIND Burger (grilled tempeh with Daiya cheese, tomato, romaine, with home-made vegan mayo all on a multi-seed sourdough bread) and Moroccan Quinoa Salad (w/ garbanzo beans, black beans, olive oil, garlic, onions, raisins, carrots, mint, cilantro and ginger) Yum!

The view from my table.

Kelly Childs and I in front of KINDFOOD.

Mine all mine! I tried to keep my Dulce de Leche cupcake so safe and still in its plastic casing. I drove carefully on the highway for about one hour from Burlington to Toronto as to not mash up the frosting. Almost made it and then five minutes from home, the container shifted when I applied my brakes. No doubt, I still got the taste. Yummy! The frosting is like the texture of a sweet caramel marshmallow.

Vex in the City: Part #2 Pedestrian Sundays and the Toronto Veggie Pride Parade
A vegan girl can get vex' when there is no food that is edible. So luckily I live in a city where it is not too hard to find vegan food that is... only if you live downtown. If you live in downtown Toronto, or close to it, you pretty much can find anything. (And I do mean anything.) So this Vex in the City installment is not for a restaurant but for two Toronto events that are very vegan friendly.

The first is for Pedestrian Sundays in Kensington Market. Remember when you were a kid and there were those television shows that show people coming to life and dancing in the streets and you never saw cars. There were shopkeepers and fruitsellers and Bohemians and eccentrics and they all had smiles on their faces. No I'm not talking about the "All Night Long" music video by Lionel Ritchie or Sesame Streets... this happens for real, on the last Sunday of every month from May to October. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera that day so I can only tell you about the tantalizing treats. I ate some beautiful tasty, vegan, ital baked goods by the two ladies who do Omega Creations. I had a black bean brownie and some other heavenly goodies. If you visit Omega Creations on facebook, you will actually see the table from which I bought the treats. I also visited Hot Beans for some yummy TVP soft-shelled tacos. This was a picture perfect meal but I won't say much here since I review Hot Beans in a later installment of Vex in the City.

The second event I tried to attend was the Toronto Veggie Pride Parade. This was the second annual parade organized by the Toronto Vegetarian Association. Unfortunately, it rained all morning so I got a late start to attend. I met my friends and we decided to go to the end of the parade where we thought we might catch some festivities. However, the parade started late and got sped up as the participants rushed through trying to avoid a second shower. Fortunately, we got to the end meeting point which was at Trinity Church where there was a ton of vegan food and it was free. (I love free.) There were two speakers at this event: Nimisha Raja of Evolving Appetites and David Sztybeld, Ph.D. There were also performances and a raffle. TVA had to reorganize the after-parade events due to the rain. (Some folks had bailed out so they made due.)

Here are some highlights from the Toronto Veggie Pride Parade 2011.

Queen Vegan and I saying cheese. (Daiya, soy, etc.)

Sugar Shakers performing the Charleston.

Taste of Life Organic Vegan Foods – Vegan Jamaican Patties? Hmmm... let me have a taste.

Very mild taste, kind of like lentils and peas. Not spicy, not very Jamaican.

Urban Herbivore's amazing tasty sandwiches. I couldn't tell what the exact ingredients were but these sandwiches were outstanding.

Yummy vegan chocolate cake by sweets from the earth.

I've got my slice of chocolate cake!!!

Mmm... mmm... mmm.

Some delicious paella (Spanish-style rice), 4-Mushrooms, Stix & Stones (parsnips, beets, and carrots), and Teriyaki Tofu at the Big Carrot Vegetarian Cafe in Toronto

Couscous Salad from the Garden Cafe at Edwards Gardens in Toronto

Vex in the City: Part #3 HOT BEANS
Taste of the food >< >< >< >< The TVP tacos that my fiance and I had from Hot Beans on Pedestrian Sunday were amazing. The tastes and flavours of the tomatoe-y and fairly authentic. I could tell they used a corn tortilla. Look of the food >< >< >< >< >< The presentation of these tacos was totally photo-worthy. Unfortunately the first time I had TVP tacos I forgot my camera. The second time, I actually began eating them before I remembered to take the photo so one of the tacos looks totally devoured. Good signs of a great taco. Environmentally-Responsibility >< >< >< >< >< Excellent job here. Hot Beans not only has a recycling bin for cans and bottles, it also has a composting bin. That's right! A compost bin in the restaurant so your left over crumbs will also be devoured by vermiculture. Plus, it's containers are made with paper and plant fibres while the forks are made with potato cellulose. What a model! Health Savvy >< >< I don't really know this one. I didn't see evidence of that. Hospitality/Warmth >< >< >< They were okay about me doing a blog. One person asked me what kind of blog and when I told him about the cancer, he seemed interested. They were not exactly chatty with me but they were friendly. Décor/Vibe >< >< >< >< Simple and clean. The stools and benches give me the vibe that this is the kind of place you would come to eat and hang out for a bit and go. I loved the African American soul and blues music that was playing. Added Perks >< >< >< I got a cup of water. (There is a pitcher of cold water with paper cups on a ledge. This was nice especially on the hot day it was.) They let me take pictures as well. Ethical and Community-Minded >< >< I didn't see a community board but they did have a few flyers for Compassion week as well as some independently-published, photocopied books about how to become a vegan. Price
$0-$9 Will get you a main dish (e.g., 2 soft-shelled tacos) with a side

I love getting to Kensington Market any chance I get even if it is the middle of the week during the day. So when Kelly at Kindfood mentioned Hot Beans, a vegan restaurant was located on Baldwin, I had to make sure I was there. (They also have another website here.) Unfortunately, I forgot my camera (or the battery was dead). I can't remember, anyway after listening to Baque de Bamba perform their Maracatu Brazilian music, left and made our way to Hot Beans. My fiance did not order anything but I ordered the TVP soft-shell tacos. When the staff was finished preparing them, I was handed this compostable container full of the most perfect-looking tacos. So mouth-wateringly pleasant to the eyes. (If you look at the Hot Beans link, you will see photos to show what I mean.) It wasn't long until my fiance asked me for a taste and then we were both cramming yummy tacos into our mouths. We love the chips and salsa too. Then about a week later, I headed back to Hot Beans quite as a "spur of the moment" thing after buying some Jamaican produce at a Kensington shop. I decided to order the same dish. Mmm... mmm... mmm. The TVP morcels were pleasantly chewy and juicy. The taco is a bit of a messy eat as Hot Beans really fills the taco with lots of TVP, tomatoe-y sauce, and drizzled cashew sour cream. Yum! I once again ordered a side of corn chips with salsa. The corn chips were crispy but the salsa had a very limey taste. Maybe they added a little more lime that day. The pitcher of cool water was a nice added touch. Leaving this place inspired me to start a Restaurant Rating. I will visit this restaurant again. The food is that good. I can't wait to try their tacos with "pulled pork" (seitan) and green jackfruit (I've only had ripe jackfruit before and never when it's unripe). Plus, the staff make the foods right in front of you with fresh ingredients. They also serve up burritos and doughnuts. The fact Hot Beans is focused on just a few items, gives them plenty of opportunities to serve these foods up right.

The yummy soft TVP tacos with a side of corn chips and salsa. I gave the "Look of the Food" rating as 5 blue butterflies because it looked good until I devoured it. (I forgot to take the photos before I started eating it. The food looked so good, I just dug in.) I tried to get as close to the taco as I could with as little disruption to its picture-perfect form. But if you wish to see what the before photo looked like click here.

Review #4: One Love
>< >< >< >< >< Taste of the food These dishes always come out on top. The BBQ Tofu is outstanding. The spicy sauce that marinades the tofu pieces is slightly sweet and just perfect. Reminiscent of a Caribbean marinade. On the second visit, I had a very typical Jamaican dish of boiled green bananas, yam, and sweet potato with pumpkin and spicy callaloo. Very much like mom used to make. My third visit which is profiled here I had the whole wheat dhal puri roti with spicy Jamaican pumpkin filling. It's very mild but I turned up the heat with the complimentary spicy red sauce. Of course the corn soup is always amazing.
>< >< >< >< Look of the food Great presentation. I wish I had more photographs of the food.
>< >< >< Environmentally-Responsibility One Love uses reusable plates, utensils, and cups.
>< >< >< >< >< Health Savvy Ikeila, one of the owners, is very knowledgable about health and food. When I caught up with her on a slower afternoon, she was able to speak. I told Ikeila about my diagnosis and she highly recommended Chinese herbs and finding out from Jah what I am to learn from my cancer. I took her advice.
>< >< >< >< >< Hospitality/Warmth Very good. I think this is One Love's strong suit. They are pleasant, hospitable, and welcome you with a smile. When you are finished, they come to your table to clear your plates. They make you feel at home.
>< >< >< >< Décor/Vibe The music ranges from Lauryn Hill to roots reggae to soul. The first time they went they were even willing to take a special request from my friend. The decor inside is pretty simple but they have a beautiful wall mural outside.
>< >< >< >< Added Perks The health advice on my second visit was very useful. Also, I was allowed to take pictures.
>< >< >< >< Ethical and Community-Minded One Love has local newspapers, business cards, and flyers for upcoming events accessible to clients. During the summer months, they have a One Love corn and corn soup stand permanently set-up at the Harbourfront during its festivals.

$10-$19 This covered the price of my large whole wheat dhal puri roti and Kiss Me juice.
Same when I bought my BBQ TOfu, juice, and cupcake. (Yes, they have cupcakes.)

None of my summers are complete without spending time enjoying the wonderful festivals at the Harbourfront Centre. For the last eleven years, I have attended several free concerts and events. It has been such a blessing to see some of the best live roots reggae acts perform as well like Ernest Ranglin, The Melodians, Queen Ifrika, Frankie Paul, and Lee Scratch Perry, all for free. I have also had a chance to see and sample the arts and foods from cultures around the world. One permanent fixture of this beautiful gathering of people is the infamous One Love Corn Soup and Corn-on-the-Cob. Enrobed in a perfect blend of spices and butter, this corn is nothing like you have ever had before. The soup is hot, spicy, and thick with chunks of carrot and corn-on-the-cob. So after many summers with long line-ups of famished patrons who were willing to wait up to an hour under the blazing sun to sample some these well-loved items, One Love Vegetarian Cafe has opened up a much-anticipated location on Bathurst street, north of Bloor. Formerly Joyce's, a Jamaican owned store which sold island produce and products for almost forty years, One Love now dominates the corner across from Bathurst subway station. I remember my mom telling me that when she first arrived to Canada in the seventies, this neighbourhood was where new Jamaican (and other island immigrants) could get a flavour of home. Today, you still see evidence of this with beauty salons, barber shops, and the occasional elder walking around. One Love is well-loved by its patrons. Everyone who comes in there seems to know exactly what they want. The environment is casual and I get that it is very much a takeout restaurant. However, I can never bare to leave once I purchase the food, so I am one of the patrons who sits and eats the food. The first dish I had was BBQ tofu with rice which was outstanding in flavour. Since I usually like to try something new, I sampled the Jamaican typical dish on my second visit and on my third, the spicy pumpkin roti. By far, my favourite is the BBQ Tofu and a friend of mine has eaten it pretty much any time she visits One Love (which is often). The word of One Love is getting around so it is no surprise that on my second visit, I saw Hollywood-celebrity Woody Harrelson there. I did go star crazy a bit. (You can read about that encounter at my post Living La Vega(n) Loca). It is also so nice to eat vegan food with an ethnic twist (familiar flavours of my Jamaican background). Although they do not make the corn at the restaurant, you can order their famous corn soup. The nice thing is you can try to make this dish at home since One Love has shared their recipe with the Food Network. I have made this recipe a few times and it has always gone over well. My kindergarten students and their parents, my friends, my fiance... they all love it. (See my corn soup here.) Come to One Love and try island cooking at its best!

Kiss Me! juice (combination of mango, strawberry, and lemonade)

Home-Brewed Ginger Beer

Whole Wheat Dhal Puri with Seasoned Jamaican Pumpkin filling

Ikeila Wright (One Love owner), Woody Harrelson (Hollywood actor/environmental activist), and I skinnin' teet' (smiling) at One Love in March.

Vex in the City: Part 5 Simon's Wok

Taste of the food
>< >< >< This rating was a little iffy. The springrolls get 3 butterflies. The main dish I had, the pineapple chicken, deserved >< ><. The rice with the main dish was >< >< ><. Look of the food
>< >< >< >< The presentation of the food here was okay too. When I saw the food in these photos , I had really high expectations, the food looked outstanding. But in real life, the food looked alright. So I have found a happy medium by giving 4 butterflies.
>< >< >< Reusable cutlery which is nice but the take-out container was styrofoam. Health Savvy This was a tough one since I did not get into a conversation with the owners so I have chosen not to vote. I did not see any posters or advertisements about the nutritional value or health of veganism.
>< >< >< >< The wait staff seemed very attentive with us. There was one mature waitress who went up and down the stairs constantly bringing new dishes for each person. I wished she had some help because that couldn't have been easy. They must have been inside my head because soon the first waitress was replaced by another younger one. They were very friendly and accomodating and it helped that we had a Chinese/English translator to act as a go-between. Décor/Vibe
>< >< The decor is pretty sparse. It is clean and tidy but it's not elaborate. Tables are covered with white plastic. Added Perks Again, I cannot answer this one. I was part of a group so I did not get to ask.
Ethical and Community-Minded Don't know although they are located in Toronto's East Chinatown. (There are 6 Chinatowns in the Greater Toronto Area.) I did not notice a special affiliation.

$0-$10 1 spring roll, 1 serving of plain rice, pineapple "chicken", green tea

I attended my first Toronto Vegetarian Association (TVA) Meet-up at Simon's Wok. This was my first opportunity to meet with a
group of vegetarians and vegans in a social setting. I sat down with a group of around ten smiling folks at a round table typical of many Chinese restaurants. I have to admit, I felt a little young since I appeared to be the most green (both young as a vegan and in my years) out of the group. Many folks were retirees but that didn't seem to matter. We all had something in common. The love of vegan food and the adventurous spirit required in trying out a new restaurant. So here I sat at Simon's Wok, a little late I must admit. Folks were very friendly. I am sure I was a bit of an anomaly. The only Black person there and with my cherubin face, I was asked if I came from school. Not quite. I am not a university student nor am I teaching in a school at the present time. Nonetheless, folks were as curious about me as I was about them-- a retired couple with grandkids, a yoga instructor, a technical writer... The conversations continued around the table while being interrupted sporadically by the petite middle-aged Chinese woman who ascended and descended the stairs brought up plate after steaming plate of food. One gentleman member who spoke Chinese fluently, translated her announcement of the dish. "Who ordered the eel?" No one claimed this dish or apparently it was thought by the person who ordered it that it would be something else. So many people got to sample this mysterious eel dish. Simon's Wok is definitely shy about drawing comparisons with meat-- meat that is constructed with gluten (wheat protein) and soy (tofu). One could sample eel, shrimp, chicken, scallops, and duck all plant-based. That's right! I was still not convinced so I ordered pineapple chicken which I thought would be safe enough. I've had the real pineapple chicken (that is the meat version) so I thought it would be safe to try the vegan version. Well, it was okay. I wouldn't say it exactly tasted like chicken, but the texture and the chewiness was very similar to chicken. The look also resembled chicken. Nevertheless, the presentation was colourful and they were speedy with the service. And besides, I was there more to meet other vegans than to eat the food. So all in all, Simon's Wok is cheap, quick, and natural. (Ew! That sounds like a little TMI). But it's all good!

Simon's Wok my first TVA Social Meet-Up

Cheap meals are on Simon's.

Green tea and $ 1.50 spring roll.

All this for less than $ 10.

Pineapple chicken

Chinese food meal complete with fortune cookie

Vex in the City: Part 6 Aux Vivres in Montreal

>< >< >< >< Taste of the food My first tempeh bacon was slightly sweet and slightly salty and scrumptious. The tofu scramble was none like I had before and slightly curried. I loved the crispy sweet potato chips.
>< >< >< >< Look of the food The presentation of the food was so delicately displayed.
>< >< >< >< Environmentally-Responsibility Reusable utensils, plates, and bowls a plus
>< >< >< Health Savvy Organic food. A variety of teas available on menu that were freshly brewed "out of bag" (with their leaves). Each tea had a description for their health benefits. For example, yerba mate helps to promote positive mood and energy.
>< >< >< >< Hospitality/Warmth I did not get into any long discussions with any staff their or owners but our waitress was very friendly and helpful and responsive.
>< >< >< Décor/Vibe Okay. The decor was fairly simple with wood floors and big bright windows. The paintings on the wall were colourful. The music, I don't remember exactly what it was.
Added Perks I choose not to add a rating here since I was not looking out for it while I was there. Plus, the owners were unaware that I was rating their restaurant.
Ethical and Community-Minded I also did not rate this one since I was not looking for these details while I was there.

$20-$29 I think this is very reasonable for what I ordered. I ordered orange juice and an appetizer of my very first Gazpacho (Spanish cold soup). I had Le Complet which came with a beverage (I chose chai tea). If you include my tip, it all came to about $ 24.

While in Montreal, Quebec, I visited Aux Vivres with a group of friends. You can visit their bilingual website here. The restaurant was highly recommended by Lena as a vegan haven. I love the French word for vegan-- végétalien. It sounds almost like the French word for vegetarian- végétarien. What difference one letter makes. Okay, I'll focus on the food here. Whenever I come to a restaurant like Aux Vivres, one with a wide variety of dishes and that is in a different town, I feel like selecting a dish to try is a delicate, calculated process since I am not sure when will be the next time that I return to this location. (I felt it in St. John's, Newfoundland with The Sprout and Burlington, Ontario with Kindfood. You can read my posts on those experiences.) So since it was already 4pm in the afternoon and I still had not had breakfast (no hunger pangs since my appetite still has not fully returned since my radiation), I decided on what appeared to be the most well-rounded meal, Le Complet. Because I love any excuse to use my French (and plus it sounds tastier in this language), let me describe Le Complet for you:
Tofu brouillé, bacon de tempeh, pain de maïs, fruits frais, salade, et patates douces
Priced at $ 10.95, this meal also came with a drink. I chose chai tea. Doesn't that sound delicious? Well, it tasted great and opened up my appetite more. Before I delved into Le Complet, I had a small orange juice (freshly squeezed) and a gazpacho (the soup of the day). I've never had gazpacho before but I know it's an amazingly cold Spanish-style soup. This one was "tomatoe-y", mildly herbed, and refreshingly cold for the hot summer Montreal day. (Montreal is a beautifully old city of extreme temperatures-- frigid arctic-like winters and then there are the broiling days in which you think you are about to wilt, but who cares? You're in Montreal.) My overall food experience at Aux Vivres was great. My friends liked their meals too (especially the huge slice of carrot cake which had coconut milk frosting, I love coconut milk frosting).

Le menu bilingue. (The bilingual menu)

Soupe du jour: Le gazpacho (une soupe éspagnole)

Une tasse du thé chai (a cup of chai tea)

Le Complet (which means literally The Full or The Complete, a breakfast of scrambled tofu, seitan bacon, sweet potatoes, fruit, salad, and a slice of cornbread toast)

Denise a commandé une tranche du gâteau aux carottes mais il semble qu'elle ait besoin de l'aide pour le manger. Donc, j'ai mangé un petit morceau. C'étais le moins que je pouvais faire.
(Denise ordered a slice of carrot cake but it seemed like she needed help to finish eating it. So I had a little bite. It's the least I could do.)

Vex in the City: Party 8 Rawlicious
Taste of the food
>< >< >< >< Really yummy. Look of the food
>< >< >< >< >< Love the fresh look. No wilted veggies here. Environmentally-Responsibility
>< >< >< >< >< >< There were reusable utensils, cups, plates, etc. They even get a few extra points for not having air-conditioning (AC). To compensate and cool down our eating space, we ate in the dark with the lights out. How's that for conserving energy two-fold? Health Savvy
>< >< >< >< Rawlicious aims to be totally organic and raw. Most of their dishes are 100% organic and 100% raw. Since they are gluten free and contain no meat, no dairy, and no refined sugar, they are easy to digest and accessible to most people. Since many dishes contain nuts, some people may not be able to eat here due to allergies. Hospitality/Warmth
>< >< >< >< The waitresses were very friendly and busy. They also divided their roles as hosts and "cooking" staff, except there is no cooking and only preparation. They totally kept their cool and were friendly even though there was just two of them and the restaurant was busy. Décor/Vibe
>< >< >< >< >< I did not hear any music playing in the background by I totally give them five butterflies for style and decor. I wish I could live there. Added Perks
>< I am sorry Rawlicious. I love the restaurant, food, and vibe but I did not get freebies for writing this article. Ethical and Community-Minded
>< >< >< Rawlicious is connected to TVA as a listed restaurant. I don't really know the answer to this one. Price
$20-$29 For this price point, I got the taco wrap and the cheesecake which for today was lemon cheesecake with raspberry and a maccaroon ($ 26 includes tip).

It's big, it's green, and it's crunchy! Watch out people. The raw revolution won't be televised but it has touched down at a local raw food restaurant in your city. Why raw food? Not cooking your veggies, means more of the proteins, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes remain intact. So more nutritious goodness!!!! I really looked forward to the Toronto Vegetarian Association social dinner group experience at Rawlicious. Boasted as Toronto's "only raw food restaurant to never cook a thing!", Rawlicious is a rare raw restaurant revolution replete with roughage. (How's that for alliteration!) Boasting two other locations (Barrie and the swanky Yorkville neighbourhood of Toronto), I went to the location in the Junction, a burgeoning older community "by the traintracks" which streets are lined with specialty shops and restaurants and is quickly gaining a name for artsiness. Rawlicious aims to provide a "clear conscious eating" experience to its clients. (Our goal is to serve healthy delicious food in a comfortable atmosphere ... with a dash of inspiration. There is no wheat (gluten free), no meat, no dairy nor refined sugar in anything we serve.) As soon as I entered this restaurant, I loved it. Built on the main level of a house with different coloured walls, mismatched furniture, funky artwork, and a rustic feel, Rawlicious was as much a feast for the eyes as for the palette. The only downside was that they have no AC (air-conditioning) and on the second evening of Toronto's extreme heatwave, I sat in the backroom with twenty-ish TVA members with the lights out, fanning ourselves with our menu, sipping water from blue glass pitchers that seemed to chip. It was often so quiet back there, between long pauses as we waited for our meals, that I felt monkish. I enjoyed my company though. To my left and right were four older and retired teachers who chuckled when we discovered that we all ended up sitting at one end of the table in chairs while the "other occupations" were sitting at low tables on cushions against the walls. Since raw foods tend to be a little on the pricey end, I conserved my order to a taco wrap (a delectable mix of fillings in a crisp romaine lettuce wrapper) and lemon raspberry cheesecake (my very first vegan one made of cashews). I must admit that I ordered the taco wrap mainly to taste the seasoned nutloaf and nut cheese which were inside. (I'm nuts about nuts). What a surprise when I tasted the sprightly salsa which gave the wrap it's zip. Tiny (I should have ordered it with salad) but tasty taco! Thankfully I ordered cheesecake too. I loved every bit of it although I'm not too fond of lemon cheesecakes. The other TVA members also seemed to love their meals of tropical pizza, sandwiches, salads, smoothies, juices, and desserts of brownies and maple nut ice cream (a childhood favourite flavour of mine). Restaurants like these make going vegan so easy.

Famous words from Hippocrates.

Yummy taco wrap! Mmmm....

My very first vegan cheesecake made with cashews, nut crust, and lemony raspeberry-y goodness.

The prized macaroons.

Vex in the City: Part #9 Peacefood Cafe in Manhattan
Taste of the food
>< >< >< >< >< This is fully deserved. Peacefood does not skimp on flavour. Look of the food
>< >< >< >< Presentation ranks well in their books. They do not go overboard with floweriness in food presentation however but make the food appear its very best (and in the most appetizing ways). Environmentally-Responsibility
>< >< >< >< There were reusable utensils, cups, plates, etc. I didn't really see any other evidence of environmental-responsibility. Health Savvy
>< >< >< >< Peacefood gave me a really healthy vibe. There were juices, smoothies and raw foods available. They endeavour to be a healthy restaurant and it's all over their publication materials. However, I did not see information that was specific to what made them healthy. Hospitality/Warmth
>< >< >< >< The staff were friendly enough. Décor/Vibe
>< >< >< >< I did not hear any music playing in the background. The decor was a fresh mix of nature, library, and gallery. I really appreciated the white walls, big windows, and plants. Added Perks
>< >< I did not receive any freebies for reviewing this restaurant. However, I think the fact that they serve such a wide variety of diverse foods (raw, vegan, juice, smoothie) and have revolving specials are major bonuses. Ethical and Community-Minded
>< >< >< Planetfood had some materials about veganism but not that many. They did display a number of vegan cookbooks in a glass case. I loved that. $ $ $ A little on the pricier end of vegan restaurants. For my half of the appetizer (soy nuggets $7), roasted potato pizza with Daiya cheese, and macaroon and tip, I spent about $ 26 US dollars. (In Canadian Dollars, this would now be about $ 24.96. Sorry but the weakened US dollar works a little in our favour now.) Not too cheap on the price, but definitely made up for in the flavour. Yum! Coming from a beautiful day at typically New York tourist afternoon the museum (the Guggenheim to be exact) and a stroll through Central Park , my fiancé and I were on a mission. A mission to a meal. A real one. I had kind of eaten "unbalancedly" that morning (most of a vegan peanut butter chocolate brownie, almonds, a fruit cup) but since we woke up late, I didn't feel all that hungry. Yet, I knew it was time for a real meal. So I knew where we were headed to this restaurant which I had looked up on the internet the night before and my sister had received a glowing recommendation about called Peacefood Café. Mind you, we almost got sidetracked when I spotted a vegetarian Indian restaurant. (There are several Indian vegetarian and vegan restaurants in New York and my fiancé and I love us some Indian food.) But when I asked a staff member if they served vegan food and he did not know what that was (he directed me to another staff person who did), I opted out. So then we continued quickly to Peacefood (and very quickly mind you as the clouds continued to darken the sky and rain began to drop.) I am so glad that I did. Peacefood reminded me of a larger (much larger) version of Kindfood in Burlington (see Vex in the City: Part 1 Kindfood). Hey, the names sound similar! Located on the Upper West side of Manhattan, guests to Peacefood are immediately greeted by a display case of baked goods-- cakes, cookies, bars. This café, more of a restaurant than a café, was kitchy and funky and bright and had lots of space. The staff was a multi-ethnic group of young people who fit my vision of musical theatre casts for Broadway musicals like Rent and Fame. The clientele were mixed too-- a young liberal family, a same sex couple, Rasta women, hipsters, yuppies,... I was quite observant of the customers, the staff, the menu, and the rain which was then a torrential downpour. My fiancé and I ordered baked soy nuggets to start which were to die for. You would swear that these were chicken nuggets (but they're not). Never had I such crispy and tasty "fake chicken" which was not rubbery or weird-tasting. For my main dish, I had roasted potatoes pizza loaded with Daiya cheese for $ 3.50 extra. I wondered why adding cheese was so expensive but when my pizza arrived, I quickly understood why. (Mounds of Daiya cheese). I enjoyed my pizza which was so fresh and flavourful and cheesy with bits of moist potatoes and fresh green arugula. I ate every bite of pizza. My fiancé ordered the green Thai curry and found it tasty but extremely filling. (I had to help him finish. I just had to.) Raw food options and juices were also available but I am happy that I selected the food that I did. (Oh, how there were so many options to choose from.) I ended with a half-chocolate dipped macaroon and loved it. The manager was not in but we got a chance to express our thanks to the raw food chef and waitress. I wish there was this kind of restaurant in Toronto.

Peacefood Café, almost missed it.

We are finally here.

A glass display case to show off the wonderful vegan baked goods.

The sitdown counter gives you a first-hand view of the juices, smoothies, and raw foods being prepared. Stools where you can sit and eat.

Green plants are welcomed here.

A display case of mostly vegan cookbooks. Among them are raw books as well as a few vegetarian. The titles I remember are Donna Klein's Vegan Italiano (I review her book Tropical Vegan Kitchen) and one by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau who I met at Compassion Week.

I am a sucker for food descriptions. So I am just going to tell you in great detail what these foods are, straight from the Peacefood menu. Baked soy nuggets served with fresh herbed vegan mayo.

Roasted potatoes with sautéed mushrooms, arugula, oil cured black olives, pesto, and truffle oil on a pizza with Daiya cheese

Green thai curry which is tofu and assorted vegetables with curry and coconut milk served with brown rice and jicama salad Originally my fiancé and I thought the salad contained radishes, then I thought apples but then we learned that it is jicama. (Pronounced "hicama" so the "j" is pronounced in the Spanish way).

Not complete without my chocolate-dipped macaroon.

Vex in the City: Part #10 Uptown Juice Bar in Harlem
Taste of the food
>< >< >< >< >< Amazing, tasty, authentic. Great. Look of the food
>< >< >< >< Since I had buffet food the presentation on my plate was generally up to me. I think I did pretty well. As for the food set-up at the buffet, I thought it all looked very appetizing. Environmentally-Responsibility
>< I didn't really see other evidence of environmental-responsibility. I ate in the restaurant from a plastic plate with a plastic fork. The plastic cup was not reuseable. The refrigerator was one of those "open refrigerators". Doesn't that burn more energy? Or at least, release the refrigeration? During my trip, I did notice that Toronto is ahead when it comes to environmental responsibility than New York City. For example, in Toronto, the trash bins on the street have sections for recycling, plastic bags must be purchased, and compost collection is each week. These types of things do not exist in New York City. Health Savvy
>< >< >< >< >< The food that was on display was very healthy foods minus the junk. The refrigerator contained healthy products as well as raw foods. There was no soda pop or sugary drinks but instead such items as coconut water and juices. Also, I noticed that in the juicer/smoothie section of the restaurant, there were posters on the wall describing Hospitality/Warmth
>< >< >< >< The staff were friendly enough. The staff member snapped a photo of my fiancé in front of the Bob Marley painting, no problem. Although, the kitchen staff were watching me photograph with a little suspicion, when I explained what I was doing, they were totally cool. Also, the woman at the cash, welcomed me photographing her blue butterfly necklace.
>< >< >< I think there was music but I didn't hear it too much. I loved it coming into the restaurant which was very warm with its brown brick walls, natural lighting, and beautiful paintings. The metallic chairs at the tables were a modern classy touch. As I approached the back toward the buffet, I felt that this ambience was lost a bit with the fluorescent lighting, stark white floor, and metallic-ness. Added Perks
>< >< I did not receive any freebies for reviewing this restaurant. However, I think the fact that they serve such a wide variety of diverse foods (raw, vegan, juice, smoothie) and have revolving specials are major bonuses. Ethical and Community-Minded
>< >< >< Uptown Juice Bar did seem to have Harlem in mind by offering affordable and tasty dishes that reflect the palates of the community. By providing Caribbean-themed foods with African-American soulfood options as well, they cater to the local tastes. I did not get to speak with the owners so I do not know what else is done to support community initiatives.

$ $ Very reasonable. For that heavy plate of food, I paid about $ 10. In my plate, I had one curried drumstick, teriyaki soy stir fry, chow mein, curried chick peas, rice and peas, sweet potatoes, collard greens, and plantains. Definitely a filling and satisfying meal. Although my fiancé had spent just less than $ 5 on his meal, he felt it was filling with rice and peas, curried chick peas, sweet potatoes, and plantain, he felt it was filling. He also got a juice which also meant everything for him totalled less than $ 10.

"I can't believe it's not chicken!" might be a caption for the curry drumsticks at Uptown Juice Bar as it was for my experience with the soy nuggets at Peacefood Café. What is it about New Yorkers and their "unchicken"? It tastes so good and scores very high points with me. So flavourful, textured, and moist, it really fools the palate and reminds the "newly-turned vegan, chicken lovers of yesteryear" of that taste. (I'm a confessed recovered chick-a-holic.) New York City is well-known great vegan fare (check out SuperVegan for a guide of NYC's vegan restaurants) , yet in other ways, it ranks so low for vegan options at fastfood and street meat. I was shocked with what I discovered! When I asked multiple street vendors for veggie hotdogs or veggie burgers, they gave me strange looks and said 'no'. They all advertised falafels but when I asked, they were completely out of them. (Clearly, the veggie options are in demand!) When I walked into a healthy sandwich and wraps place, I asked if they had hummus. The attendant did not know what that was. (Really? Really!) So, I relied on bean burritos, which could easily be adapted to vegan, to get me through a few meals (hold the sour cream and cheese). Imagine my excitement when I came upon the Uptown Juice Bar located in Harlem.

Years ago, I visited Uptown Juice Bar for a juice but now, in a new location, my fiancé and I were refreshed to find this concept-- affordable and fast vegan food! Vegan restaurants are generally pricier than average restaurants, especially since most fast food places do not cater to a vegan customer-base. Uptown Juice Bar is a pleasant combination of affordability and plant-based goodness. Besides being what it is known for, a righteous juice and smoothie bar, it is also has a vegan bakery and boasts a hot Caribbean food buffet. That's right, folks! Hot Caribbean vegan buffet!!!! Music to my ears. When I get to buffets, like this one, I usually get excited. I pile up my plate with modest servings of EVERYTHING. Given the variety and selection of meals, my plate was quite weighed down. Yet I got an amazingly filling meal for $ 10. My fiancé, who is a lot more selective, managed to get a more modest-sized meal for under $ 5. (Uptown Juice Bar prices its meals by weight. I swear it was because I had the soy drumstick.) Yum! The clientele at Uptown Juice Bar is reflective of the many peoples who reside in Harlem-- African-American, Caribbean, a spiritual Black woman wearing eclectic garb, a Jamaican Rastaman, natural-haired sisters (including myself), and the occasional white guy (my fiancé). Uptown Juice Bar is part restaurant juice bar when you enter, then when you approach the buffet you kind of feeling its a cafeteria/industrial kitchen with refrigerated goods. Uptown Juice Bar is an excellent stop along the way through Harlem. Next time, I visit I need to hit up this tasty and convenient location.

Going through my photos I realize that I was a little skimpy on the photos this time. (So unusual for me.) But I hope to convey how great the meals are at Uptown Juice Bar.

Uptown Juice Bar in Harlem. Celebrating its Grand Opening after its move further west on 125th.

Juices and smoothies to go.

Loads of baked goods.

Hot food buffet.

Good food. The middle one on the right is soy fish. A lesson in the past has told me to stay clear of the soy fish. (I'm allergic to real fish and my body seems to not be able to tell the difference between the real and the fake stuff. Hmmm....)

Refrigerated items are available.

My plate is F-U-L-L! I have teriyaki soy, chow mein, curried drumstick, curried chana, collard greens, sweet potatoes... oh yes. There is a bit of soulfood at this restaurant too.

The really amazing curried soy chicken drumstick. A-m-a-z-i-n-g!

Uptown Juice Bar had a few beautiful paintings on its brick wall. We loved the Bob Marley painting. My belly is so full. (Pat! Pat!) A bit of a mugshot for my fiancé.

Vex in the City: Part 11 Hogtown Vegan
Taste of the food >< >< >< >< Nachos were definitely 5 butterflies and I liked my un-chicken and waffles were about a 3. So I find a happy medium with 4 butterflies. I struggled on whether or not to include my fiance's rating of the sweet potato sandwich since he was not so big on it but this is my blog.

Look of the food >< >< >< >< >< I think Hogtown Vegan does food presentation really well. The food looks very appetizing in the photos.
Environmentally-Responsibility >< >< >< (I did not get to ask the owner about this one but they use reusable utensils and dishware. Plus their food is all vegan as we know so maybe I'll give 3 butterflies for this one. Hospitality/Warmth >< >< >< The waiter was very friendly and courteous. He checked on us a few times. The other staff were polite too. Décor/Vibe >< >< >< The decor is nice, clean, and pretty simple. The walls are painted turquoise and there are a few vintage-style chandeliers. I love the dark hardwood floors and par which give it a classy feel. There are vintage paintings framed. It's den meets bar meets dinner lounge. Added Perks >< >< There were no special perks for reviewing Hogtown Vegan although I have a feeling this restaurant could take off in a big way. Ethical and Community-Minded >< >< Hogtown Vegan did not give me the feeling that they did a lot of community outreach or even participate at events like the Toronto Vegetarian Festival. The Hogtown Vegan/Hot Beans- franchise seem most focussed on the food. They don't do heavy outreach or anything like that. They have become known by word-of-mouth. I think by existing as a plant-based business they are helping to change the collective ethical conscious but I would love them to do some sort of outreach.

Price (for a full meal including side and drink)
$$ 11-20 For my half of the nachos and my un-chicken and waffles, this was a steal. If you include my fiance's meal, we only spent around $30 including the tip. This is a very good deal considering that it's all plant-based.

Can someone say "Hipster Haven"? It rhymes with Hogtown Vegan and even matches the clientele. Don't matter, though. I'm kind of a hipster too. (Now that I know what one is. The irony is that a hipster will rarely admit that he/she is a hipster.) I'm probably more accurately a blipster for that matter (READ: Black hipster). What's a hipster or a blipster you may ask? Check out this helpful video.

Evolution of a Hipster

Okay, maybe this video was a little inaccurate or maybe I'm really not a hipster since I don't have any tattoos, moustache, and I am not smelly. But I do like hipster-things like their fashion, vegan food choices, and admiring a good tattoo once in a while. I also wear glasses but am not secretly rich.

Mind you the definition of a Blipster is very different from that of a hipster. A Blipster would be someone like Kanye West,

Lupe Fiasco,

the Neptunes,

as well as my homegirl Janelle Monae.

Just check out this blog about Blipsters. Alright, now that we got the hipster/blipster thing straightened out, let's get back to the food. I can tell you about my trip to Hogtown Vegan aka Hipster Haven. The vegan movement has been co-opted by hipsters and all of the Toronto hipsters love (LOVE) Hogtown Vegan, sister restaurant to Hot Beans. (Read my Vex in the City: Part 3 Hot Beans.) Hogtown Vegan is so named because "Hogtown" is an old nickname for Toronto referring to its porcine packaging past. Just to show you how hipster this joint is, there is no hog, pig, or pork served at this place. Now that's ironic! (Hipsters love irony.) Pegged as Toronto's first vegan comfort food place, one can enjoy old-fashioned favourites of macaroni and cheese, nachos, Ruben sandwich, sliders, and cheesecake VEGANIZED! The food here was okay. The nachos were to die for and were very cheesy, saucy, and filling. I ordered the un-chicken and waffles which allowed me to remember the treasured dishes of yester-time when I was an omnivore. I liked the crispiness of the un-chicken and its dense texture. The waffles were a little warm and chewy but I enjoyed the dish "on the whole". My fiance had the sweet potato sandwich but wasn't all that pleased with it. Being the good foodies we are, we ate everything leaving no room for any birthday ice cream or cake. (The meal was very filling.) Oh yes, I forgot to mention that it was my birthday and my fiance surprised me with a visit for dinner here despite the bad reviews online. I am soooo glad that he decided to go ahead with planning this, my dinner venue. I think that the reviews were wayyyyy too harsh and did not do Hogtown Vegan any justice. Being a brand new resto, there are going to be glitches. I was so glad that we didn't have to experience them and had a fairly decent dinner and a nice time. Mind you, I didn't get any birthday freebies even when it turned out that my fiance knew the owner/chef from a previous musical collaboration. (Not that I was expecting anything, though. I'm just saying!) The owner didn't care at all for the blog review of his vegan restaurant. In fact, he was the first vegan restaurant proprietor to say he doesn't read reviews. I don't blame him though. The reviews have been a bit harsh, as I mentioned but you don't need to listen to the haters to come in and try Hogtown Vegan. See for yourself!

Hogtown Vegan looks really sophisticated at night.

The bar stools are cute but no one was using them. Maybe since Hogtown Vegan has not got its liquor license yet.

Very simple yet nice decor. Love the wildlife painting.

You know I had to get a photo of this painting. D'uh!

Mmm... these nachos were finger lickin' good! Oops can I say that? Okay, I will give credit to KFC for the origins of that line.

My fiance had a sweet potato sandwich with fries.

I had the "Un-chicken and waffles". Mmmm.... vegan junk food is a treat once in a while. Just not everyday. :-( But I did enjoy these un-chicken and waffles and I have been craving them a bit. It's so good to know that going vegan doesn't mean I have to miss out on the treats I liked before (like chicken). This un-chicken is made from some sort of processed soy product but my tastebuds didn't know that. Very tasty. I also had the Caesar salad, my very first vegan one.

Vex in the City: Part 12 Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival

I attended the 27th Annual Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival last weekend on the Friday evening and much of Saturday. (See my promo for the event by clicking here.) I felt like I was in my element. As I mentioned in a previous blogpost, I have a wealth of vegan resources "right in my backyard". So I don't need to go too far. The Food Festival took place from Friday, September 9th to Sunday, September 11th, 2011 at the Harbourfront Centre one of my favourite hangout spots in the city. The Harbourfront is really an exciting place to be in the summertime due to its free, vibrant, and diverse summer festivals. I have seen such amazing acts as Queen Ifrika, Femi Kuti, Tony Rebel, The Scientist Lee "Scratch" Perry, Roy Ayers Band, Ernest Ranglin, the Abyssinians, Los Lobos, and Frankie Paul at the Harbourfront... for free. (Plus, my fiance has performed there a few times.) I even won a singing contest at the Harbourfront in 2004 called Miss Hot and Spicy. The contest was based on the announcer giving you a word and you had to think of a song with that word.

Not short of excitement or buzz, the festival had an amazing turnout especially considering that there are so many things were going on in Toronto that weekend including the Canada's Bridal Show, The National Bridal Show, Ethiopian New Year (attended it last year and loved it), Toronto Independent Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) which I also had the pleasure of working for in years past. There I got to meet a lot of Canadian actors as well as actor Mario Van Peebles and Taye Diggs, film critic and Thy'Ca survivor Roger Ebert, late father of African cinema Ousmane Sembene,and blockbuster actor and activist Danny Glover. (If you read about this blog, you know I'm all about the name dropping and networking.) It's an amazing event to be a part of both as an audience and a co-ordinator but it's H-U-G-E and a little overwhelming. Huge line-ups! Lots of buzz! So I really appreciated the low-key vibe of the Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival.

The Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival is known for the following:
- lots of food samples
- vegetarian and vegan food vendors
- expert panels
- cooking demonstrations
- speakers and book talks
- lots of baked goods
- book sales
- music
and more.

My Vegetarian food festival highlights: carrot cake (my favourite type of cake), sticky buns, hemp butter, soy cream cheese, and Pastel de Choclo, FREE food samples, nice Hare Krishna chanting, I enjoyed this weekend immensely and enjoyed being around a lot of like-minded folks who love plant-based foods. I loved the diversity of food vendors-- Jamaican/Ital (One Love), Mexican (El Cilantro), Indian (Govindas and Udupi's), Chinese (King's Cafe), and lots and lots of vegan baked goods. I was not able to attend the meditation on Sunday but I loved the chanting on Saturday. Although, I watched and participated for a little bit, when the chanting was finished, I felt very tranquil. The amount of vendors was dizzying in number as I tried to go back to my favourite vendors but could not remember. I also got to meet Terry Hope Romero, see her speak about vegan blogging (same talk she did at the Vida Vegan Blog Conference I tried to win a ticket for through my Burrito Bonanza contest) and do a cooking demonstration, and got an autograph. I also loved the speakers and panels. They were informed, well-researched, and published. Also there were a lot of friendly and enthusiastic volunteers to help.

The festival downfalls: lack of cultural diversity in speakers, cooking demonstrations and musical acts (Toronto is the most multicultural city in the world but you wouldn't know it by this, the Hare Krishna group did chanting in an Indian tradition but this was not a performance); the music kind of sucked and needed some more "liveliness" (I say, at least one reggae band in next years' festival. Chances will be pretty good that the members are vegetarian especially if they are observant Rastafarians); accurate and up-to-date program books were not available until the second day because they were still at the printer; I was sick with a cold :-( and had to leave earlier than planned.

It was wonderful and I would have stayed the entire weekend, mind you, but I felt a cold coming on and it symptoms became a bit too much to handle. (By Saturday afternoon, both of my sinuses were blocked and persistently running. I was sneezing a lot and starting to feel woozy. My bed was calling me. I stayed home and slept for the rest of the weekend.)

So here is my re-cap of the weekend... in photos. Please note that although this post may seem like an advertisement for several businesses, I have not received any royalties. Not one penny.

Now enjoy!!!

Friday, September 9, 2011
Cute slide from Terry Hope Romero's vegan blog talk. She's really funny and gave me some great advice when I asked her how to reach out to you guys, my readers.

The Secrets of Nutrition Revealed! panel

Did not get to try out these vegan churros because the line was too long.

By the end of the evening Govindas, in true Hare Krishna-style, started giving away their food for FREE. I got there by this time but it was so funny to see two guys yelling, "Free Indian food!" across the field at the Harbourfront Centre. These are three extremely potent words in Toronto. If you yell them out, you might get a stampede which is exactly what happened. Luckily, I got this amazing meal on a bamboo plate in time.

Toronto city skyline... you can see part of the CN Tower in the back.

Saturday, September 10, 2011
King's Cafe serve up some great Chinese-vegan food. They also have a grocery store and tea shop.

I got a soy drumstick, spring roll, veggie dumplings, and TVP satay skewer.

So this is the soy drumstick... gonna' make me some curried un-chicken one of these days.

Hare Krishna chanting

Yummy vegan jujubes and gumdrops. Science at its best.

This entrepreneur was so happy to show off her wares and was very friendly unlike one other vendor who will remain nameless.

This vegan sticky bun was a highlight of my TVFF experience.

I love pretty desserts.

This is Shannon... and she seems to be everywhere. The night before she was giving me a hand massage and telling me about Arbonne, a vegan cosmetic company for which she sells (kind of like Avon). Here she is promoting a vegan bake sale which will raise funds to get these ads on to the TTC (Toronto's public transit system). Last year they were successful and raised enough money.

There is an actual sanctuary for primates in Ontario called Story Book Farm. I asked them where the primates come from and they said the exotic pet trade and research facilities in laboratories and universities.

Terry Hope Romero's cooking demonstration where she is making a famous Chilean dish called Pastel de Choclo. I had this dish years ago when I used to date this Chilean fellow. The relationship didn't work out since it was long distance (he didn't live in Chile, but Montreal instead. I know it's a lot closer than South America but still an 8 hour drive and I didn't have a car). So although I ditched the boyfriend, I didn't ditch my appreciation of great Latin food. (Can someone say empanadas?) Thankfully, Terry Hope has made a cookbook to satisfy that... Viva Vegan!: 200 Authentic and Fabulous Recipes for Latin Food Lovers. I bought a copy and got it autographed.

Pastel de choclo... mmmm.

Terry Hope, you so crazy!

The Rooster's Inn is a rooster sanctuary. I wonder how all these roosters establish a pecking order. Did you know that there are like hundreds of species of chickens? But the chickens we tend to see in North America are bred from very few select species and outnumber the others. I read it in a book about chickens.

Free Larabar samples

I love a good carrot cake and this one is vegan.

Yellow or green kiwi... they taste quite different.

Another happy entrepreneur who runs an online store. Her husband is the artist who comes up with these catchy images.

Love this one. It's so cute. I wonder if they have my size in a baby t?

I bought these three buttons. The one on the left is for me and the one on the right is for my fiance. The one in the middle says "eat like you give a @#%!" I'll take that one too.

This is hummus... HUMMUS. (A Middle-Eastern spread/dip made from chickpeas, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and tahini. It's great with pita bread and/or vegetables. There are other variations to this recipe as well but that is the basic formula.) I wonder if the guy in the Manhattan healthy sandwich shop who didn't know what hummus was or the owners who did not stock the shop with this food staple are reading this blog right now?

The people at Gardein preparing some barbeque.

This was amazing BBQ glazed un-chicken. The guy at this table is a total fan of Crazy Sexy Diet.

Camino makes cheap, great-tasting, fair trade juice.

You can make so many things from Hemp like rope, clothes, oil (they had free samples of oil, I drank this green oil and it can also power engines too), milk (as pictured here for free sampling), and...

butter (so good). Very nutty.

A vegetarian foodbank is amazing especially because fruits and vegetables tend to be more expensive. It is hard for poor people to access affordable fruits and veggies and at foodbanks, there are no fresh fruits and vegetables. Everything is canned. (I should know. I volunteered at a foodbank and worked at a soup kitchen.) The soup kitchen was a little better. They got fruit that nearly went bad that was donated by supermarkets. One of my jobs was to sort through the fruit and separate the moldy fruit from the ones that were still good. I also like that this foodbank is located not downtown but in the diverse, poorer "outer city" of Toronto: one is at Jane-and-Finch (I used to live there) and the other is in Scarborough (I used to work there). Poorer people do not need to go so far to access high quality, affordable food.

Kindfood is expanding its reach to Toronto and beyond

A new coconut flavoured cupcake

Can't find organic produce? What out Front Door Organics, there's a new organic delivery service in town. Mama Earth.

Forks Over Knives... first came the movie and now the book. Check out this movie if you can. It is based on research of Dr. Carl Esselstyn and Dr. Colin Campbell (The China Study).

Vex in the City: Part 13
I really believe in giving props and thanks were they are due. In this edition of Vex in the City, it's all for the different restaurants, fast food joints, and sushi bars who remember us vegans out there. These businesses have non-meat, non-dairy options without me even having to ask for modifications. Such restaurants are progressive and revolutionary since it does not exclude nor segregate herbivores from omnivores and carnivores. Ladies and gentlemen, whether you eat or not, they've got lots to eat. Why not?

Please check back to this post as I will add other Honourable Mentions to this list.

I present to you my honourable mentions...

Spring Rolls restaurant presents Pan-Asian cuisine at its finest and affordable. One full page of the Spring Rolls menu lists dishes that are completely vegan. The food is always delicious and fresh.
Veggie Spring Rolls

Veggie Pad Thai

This restaurant did not try hard enough with this dish. First, it was too salty and second, some of the rice grains were hard. After the management change at this place, the cuisine has gone downhill. In the early days, you would even get a really handsome dude to make the guacamole from scratch beside your table. This restaurant let it go too far. In my meatier days, I used to adore this menu but there is nothing to bring me back any more. :-(

Sushi Time Japanese Restaurant in the Annex
I love Japanese food, yet I am allergic to fish and vegan. Not a challenge for these folks. I think this is the name of this restaurant. Nonetheless, I usually don't have a problem at Japanese restaurants. They can accomodate my specific needs and usually have meat- and fish-free options.
Miso Soup and Salad

Veggie Gyoza Dumplings

So excited to find out that this place has a Veggie Bento Box

Pizzaiolo serves up a slice of pizza right. They always have at least one vegan flavour on hand. This one is called the Diana (Vegan). It is simply sauce, red peppers, zucchini, and spices. Pizzaiolo calls itself gourmet pizza. I don't know about that since it costs $ 5 for this double slice. However, they do serve up great quality and flavour.

Dim Sum Restaurant in Chinatown East
I am terrible for restaurant names but I will add it when I find it. This place had a few vegan options although it took a lot of questions to the host to translate to the dim sum deliverers and then back. It was quite an adventure. Thank goodness Marla is totally experienced at the dim sum experience. It can be quite intense... lots of choosing, eating, chatting, negotiating with the deliverers.

Frank Restaurant at the Art Gallery of Ontario
I went to this restaurant during Summerlicious which is an event in Toronto by which restaurants offer prix fixes menus for their items. Unfortunately the vegan option meant taking the cheese out of the veggie option. When you have to take out the cheese to make a meal vegan, and then not replace it with anything else, that is not a meal. That's a snack! I enjoyed my "snack" which cost the price of a meal. The only dessert they had was sorbet which melted as I left early from the restaurant and ate it from its container. Hardly filling at all and not worth the $20 I paid.
Barley minus the cheese snack

Watermelon salad minus the cheese snack

Vex in the City: Part 14 Live Organic Food Bar
Taste of the food >< >< >< ><(Very good) Look of the food >< >< >< >< >< Amazing presentation on the Raw Combo platter. The use of herbs and greens really make the dishes appealing. Environmentally-Responsibility >< >< >< >< (I did not get to ask the owner about this one but they use reusable utensils and dishware. Plus their food is organic and non-genetically modified (non-GMO). Health Savvy (organic food, do they know a lot about the food or the plant-based foods, intentionality, informative, resourceful)
>< >< >< >< >< Hospitality/Warmth >< >< >< >< The staff was very friendly and helpful. Décor/Vibe >< >< >< >< I do not remember too much of the music but the decor is cheery and colourful and bright but simple. Added Perks I did not put a rating here since they did not know I was conducting a review nor did I receive any freebies.
Ethical and Community-Minded >< >< >< >< >< Live is reaching out through its online cookbooks, cooking (or should I say food preparation classes, since they serve mostly raw foods), and prepared food items that are available in grocery stores. Live is evolving.

Price (for a main course including dessert and wine)
$ 40 and up >< >< >< >< >< $ 43 to be exact including a tip, this was a bit of a splurge It had been years since I visited the well-known Live restaurant tucked in the northern-end of Toronto's Annex neighbourhood where I used to live. This restaurant was highly recommended and first exposed me to the raw food concept in my omnivorous days. Now, as a vegan, I appreciate that it has been a mainstay in Toronto serving up both cooked and raw organic vegan options. Live has also expanded its influence through cookbooks and raw food selections sold at local health and co-operative food outlets. When Chrissy, my fellow Thy'Ca warrior, decided to organize a get together she chose an ultra-healthy option. Just two weeks after her radioactive isolation, she looked amazing and if she keeps it up with the plant-based foods, I can only imagine her glow will beam. Also in attendance were other Thy'Ca survivors: Lindsay (another chum), Rita Banach (President of Thyroid Cancer Canada and 12-year Thy'Ca survivor), and two more newer warriors, Lisa and Jill. We talked about the usual Thy'Ca stuff like our scars which I must say looked amazing on everyone except my own, Meaty and the (Click here to check out Meaty's most recent photos.) Low Iodine Diet (LID). Chrissy had brought bags of LID chips she did not end up eating. Having had my surgery on January 26th, I felt like a bit of a veteran compared to some of the most recent warriors and I felt that I could share some wisdom and experience about what I went through. I was amazed and I am still amazed at how quickly these women were able to connect after their diagnosis. When I was diagnosed, it took me about four months to reach out and meet other survivors face-to-face. I met other survivors after my surgery, after the LID, after the radiation... I feel like I missed out. Yet I know that when I finally did get to meet Thy'Ca and other cancer survivors, I was soooooo ready and got a lot out of it. Now, I'm actually going through some of the emotional and mental impact of just having cancer and where to go from here. This is a topic which is very real and fresh for me at the moment and I am finding it difficult to blog about. We talked a little bit about this at the restaurant and I have found these and other conversations with survivors to be very helpful.

Now, on the topic of food. Lindsay was smart to have selected an appetizer of sweet potato fries (NO these were not raw). She offered us some and when I thought she was making a huge mistake (I was beginning to devour these delicious fries), Lindsay assured me that she wasn't that hungry. (Oh, those fries were soooo good.) For the main course, I ordered the Raw Combo since it had been quite sometime since my visit to Live The Raw Combo gave me an opportunity to sample a lot of different things. It was tasty, refreshing, tangy at times, and cold. I love the tostada (what's it called?) toast. Very crispy and satisfying. I also ordered a glass of organic white wine. To end my meal, I had a lovely sweet chocolate mouse which just made the meal complete. If you have nut allergies, Live is probably not the place for you (nuts are used a lot in raw dishes to add texture, filling, and nutrition) however I do recommend this place. It is very bright, colourful, and there are so many desserts to choose from, you know you just can't have one.

Don't know who that girl is but this is the front of Live. Found the photo on Google.

Hey! The Live tables are different in this photo (also found on Google) then they are now. I remembered Live looking like this. Yes. I supposed it had been a long while since I went there.

Vegan drinks but I'm not sure what they are called

These appetizers are called Sweet Potato Fries but are shaped more like Sweet Potato Rounds.

Someone ordered the Chickpea Burger which is one of the few cooked items on the Live menu.

Along with most of the folks at my table, I ordered the Raw Combo which gives you the best way to try as many new things as possible because if you don't like it, you will most likely have something else you will like. The Raw Combo is a sample platter which includes a taste of the pizza, curry noodles, ravioli, and tostadas. The only issue I had was that I didn't know what I was eating since nothing looked like what I thought it was. Take the ravioli in the bottom right corner which looked more like a soft pasta-shelled taco.


Pizza (?)

As I wrote this review, I learned that these were curried noodles. They were noodles but I did not taste one drop of curry.

Several desserts are on display here of the raw variety.

Raw tiramisu. Very tasty. Chrissy cut up into pieces so we could all sample.

The chocolate mousse was amazing. Very mousse-y indeed. It was raw and achieved with lots of ground nuts.

Vex in the City: Part 15 Loving Hut
Taste of the food >< >< >< Good, it was nice but nothing too spectacular Look of the food >< >< >< >< They made this look like food I wished to eat. A little effort goes a long way. Environmentally-Responsibility >< >< >< >< >< I think Loving Hut ranks high on this one. Besides having reusable cutlery and literature on environmental responsibility, their slogan includes the line "Go Green!" and "Save the Planet".
Health Savvy >< >< >< >< Organic, non-GMO, no MSG food is great. They did have some health literature as well. Showing the benefits to going vegan on their menu or board would have given five butterflies. Hospitality/Warmth >< >< >< >< The staff was very friendly. My waitress seemed very sincere and so happy that I thought she could not wait to share the bounty of vegan cooking. Décor/Vibe >< >< The decor was a bit drab and boring. Added Perks I did not put a rating here since they did not know I was conducting a review nor did I receive any freebies.
Ethical and Community-Minded >< >< >< >< >< Loving Hut is reaching out through its online presence, message, and connection with the Toronto Vegetarian Association. There is a lot of literature in the restaurant and since Loving Hut is an international chain, it has a worldwide community which is evident through Supreme Master Ching Hai's broadcasts with a gazillion different subtitles.

Price (for a main course including appetizer)
$ 10-19 >< >< Very reasonable especially for organic non-GMO vegan food. Loving Hut: Restaurant or cult? You decide. (Mwahaha.) When I learned that my friendly neighbourhood Loving Hut could be both, I hesitated on visiting this establishment. I read about Loving Hut being an alleged cult in the September 2010 issue of VegNews (one of my favourite magazines) in an article called "Mysteriously Supreme". When I tried to find the article to site, I could not but what I did find was a lot of criticism and objection to VegNews printing this piece. This controversy piqued my interest further especially so many Loving Hut-philes defended this business. Loving Hut, founded by Supreme Master Ching Hai a spiritual leader and entrepreneur from Taiwan (born in Vietnam), is the world's largest chain of vegan restaurants now at around 200 locations.

Supreme Master Ching Hai

A few theories surround the origin of Supreme Master Ching Hai and depending on who you listen to (in this case wikipedia)), she is "a poet, painter, musician, self-published writer and entrepreneur who heads the Supreme Master Ching Hai International Association, a business group with worldwide interests in restaurants, fashion and jewellery design". Influenced by Buddhism, she developed the Quan Yin Method encouraging people to look within to find their own greatness. All this aside, Supreme Master Hai is an entrepreneurial genius. With her chain of restaurants, she has spread the vegan message worldwide with the slogan: "Be Veg! Go Green! Save the planet!" Sounds good to me, indoctrination aside.

So what was it like to eat at the Loving Hut , one of three such restaurants in Canada?

Loving Hut reminded me of a lot of Asian restaurants I have been to. The interior decor is very simple and the food is great. There is a "Vegan Wall of Fame" which I appreciated. There are tons of pamphlets and books that promote the Toronto Vegetarian Association, plant-based foods, and veganism. This mini-library was right at the front of the store. There was just one thing, actually two. There were two flat-screen televisions hung at both ends of the small restaurant that displayed Supreme Master Ching Hai delivering a speech to a group of onlookers. I could not hear her speech since the volume was off but there were about twelve subtitles on the screen as she spoke.

The Loving Hut-- where dogma and palette collide

Vegan Wall of Fame featuring such celebs as Alicia Silverstone, Gandhi, Coretta Scott King, and Pierce Brosnan.

Screen #1 in operation

Screen #2 was also in operation

I was craving some serious fried food. These spring rolls were really good.

This Savoury Crisp was breaded deep-fried TVP with two dipping sauces.

They also came with fries. Ugh, my arteries. All this fried-ness is a rarity in my books but SOOOOO good.

Vex in the City: Part 16 Kale
Taste of the food >< >< >< >< Light, fresh, and tasty. Look of the food >< >< >< >< I like the look of the food. It is so simple and vibrant and fresh. The greens never look wilted or unappetizing. Environmentally-Responsibility >< >< >< >< I see an environmentally responsible approach with Kale. You can choose to place the food in a biodegradable take-out container or use dishware and cutlery. They also try to use locally grown produce whenever possible.
Health Savvy >< >< >< >< I am not sure about the answer to this one. I did not see signs around the establishment to describe the health benefits. The website describes Kale as a "vegan organic macrobiotic" eatery. They also are trying to offer customers "the opportunity to make good decisions quickly by serving fast and nutritious lunches and dinners". However, they are not overt or "preachy" about this message. They could use some literature or some small pamphlet about their philosophy.
Hospitality/Warmth >< >< >< >< The staff was friendly. The owner was made aware that I was reviewing her business but I don't feel like they went "out of their way" on my account. It is also a pretty independent experience since it is self-serve buffet-style. Décor/Vibe >< >< >< >< The decor was clean, bright, fresh, and simple. I loved the series of black and white photos featuring green kale. The large window welcomes light and a view of the busy street. Added Perks >< I did not receive any perks or freebies for reviewing this spot. Ethical and Community-Minded >< >< Kale offers a healthy alternative to its customers. Although this is an area of growth for them.

Price (for a main course including dessert and drink)
$ 10-19 >< >< Very reasonable especially for organic vegan food. For around $ 15, I had a meal with coconut water and dessert. It's always nice to find a hidden neighbourhood gem. Tucked in the bustling and burgeoning neighbourhood of Yonge and Eglinton amid condos, office towers, and store-front boutiques and shops is the only vegan/vegetarian restaurant for miles-- Kale. I have passed this place countless times over the last year and a half without venturing in but once. Recently, I found out that the owners' of this restaurant are the same folks who ran Sunny Cafe located inside Noah's Natural Foods on Bloor. When I lived in the Annex, I loved to visit the family-run Sunny Cafe for their prepared vegan food buffets-- the steamed fresh kale and broccoli, the juicy beets, the baked tofu, the banana balls, and amazing rice salad. Mmmm... I love to savour those delicious memories. So when I found out the news that I could enjoy those same treats in a pleasant "sit down" atmosphere, I had to make my next lunch plans at Kale. I met my old college roommate and friend Amy for lunch. She is also a bit of a "foodie" and inspired me years ago when she would make the most amazing meals in our basement apartment. We were university students and my other roommates and I (there were five of us living in that basement apartment) tended to make quick and prepared meals with our short schedules. Not Amy, she would bake and cook comfort foods with standards beyond the typical "college diet". We had a pleasant lunch which was very delicious and affordable. The nice thing about a vegan buffet is that there is lots of variety and the foods are consistently fresh. The price was also quite reasonable for what you get and the place was bustling with a lot of clients coming in. You also get a revolving selection of items so there is plenty of variety and you never quite know what you'll get when you visit but one item is always sure to be there-- lots and lots of fresh kale.

The very famous Kale.

Vegan food buffet-style!

I got all this for about $ 13. There is coconut water in the glass. On the plate, steamed kale, beets, roasted potatoes, Thai rice noodles, potato perogies, baked tofu, curried tofu salad, and other items to taste and nibble.

This is what Amy got for about $7.

The dessert pastry was about $3. Amy let me sample some. It was an apple cinammon dessert and very tasty.

My all-time $ 2 favourite-- banana ball which is made raw from bananas, walnuts, carob, and dates (I think).

Vex in the City: Part 17 Mela
Taste of the food >< >< >< The first time meraviglioso, quattro farfalle (splendid, four butterflies). The second time not the greatest preparation, due farfalle (two butterflies) .
Look of the food >< >< >< The presentation of the food was still appealing (unless you looked under my very scorched panini which was all black). Environmentally-Responsibility >< >< >< There is reuseable cutlery and plates. I also like that clients may dine on the sidewalk in the summer time. I have also seen the owner open the large garage door to adjust the temperature of the restaurant which indicates to me that less energy is being consumed. Health Savvy >< I did not see any print or online material about the benefits of eating food at this restaurant. Hospitality/Warmth >< >< The first time I went in April, the owner/chef was so warm and friendly. In December, he was less social. The staff person was nice enough but she did not inquire about my meal or check on me. Décor/Vibe >< >< >< >< The decor was clean, bright, fresh, and simple and fun. The orange walls, stools, and little knick knack crafts made Mela Vegetarian feel almost more European. The large window welcomes light and a view of the busy street. Mela is small and cozy.
Added Perks >< None Ethical and Community-Minded >< >< There is a bit of information where groups and communities could place some information however Mela has no website and from what I can tell, no outreach.

Price (for a main course)
$ 0-$ 9 >< I have only been to Mela during lunchtime so I know that you can eat a meal for this price but it does not include a drink or dessert.

Sometimes one restaurant visit just does not give you a full picture of the quality of the food or the service. The first time I went to Mela Italian Vegetarian Magic Cafe was una bell'esperienza (nice experience). Mela serves both vegetarian and vegan options. The chef and proprietore (owner) called me signorina, got to practice my "broken Italian" (I studied Italian for four years in elementary school and one course in university), and the food was amazing. I felt like a valued customer as evident in one of my first blog posts here. So you could say I was looking forward to visiting Mela the next opportunity that became available. Dove e la magia? Where was the magic? I must say that my second and most recent visit to Mela was cosi-cosi (so-so). First of all, the owner did not deal with me directly but spoke through his staff member which I thought was rude. Okay, okay, he may have been busy this time but I was asking if I could take photos and review the restaurant. She said, "Yes". Then when I left, I expected a warm "good bye, thanks for your patronage" but that did not happen. Plus, the eggplant vegan panini that I had months ago paled in comparison to the one that I had on my second visit. First, the inside of the sandwich was a bit cold and then the bottom was completely black (charred) plus it was the last one. Thank God, my company was amazing-- the pastor at my church. She had vegetarian pie and really enjoyed it. I think I could have chosen to exchange the meal but it did not occur to me since I was so engrossed in conversation. C'mon Mela. This was your chance to score extra brownie points from me but I'm sorry that you missed the mark this time.

She had this loaf/pie which contained different veggies (I don't remember which ones). She really enjoyed it.

The beautiful eggplant parmigiana (vegan version) panini which looks a little well-done from the top...

but burned to a crisp on the bottom.

Vex in the City: Part 18 Fresh
Taste of the food >< >< >< >< Very good. Fresh always comes out on top when it comes to taste. Look of the food >< >< >< >< The presentation of the food is always well-done. It looks tasty, bright, and healthy. Environmentally-Responsibility >< >< >< >< >< There is reuseable cutlery, plates, cups, and utensils. There is a section on their website called Sustainability which describes their environmentally responsible practices by 1) using biodegradable and compostable take-away containers, 2) cooking oils that are recycled for biodiesel purposes, 3) wastes that are composted or recycled when possible, 4) recycled paper products, and 5) biodegradable environmentally safe cleaners.
Health Savvy >< >< >< I did not see any print or online material about the benefits of eating food at this restaurant. However, I like that the vegetable juices, shakes, and beverages are available. There are also E3 Live shots and Elixirs which are described in the menu with a number of health benefits. Hospitality/Warmth >< >< >< >< >< The staff was very friendly. Since this a large eatery, there is a host and then a team of waiters so you do not sit for long without service. Décor/Vibe >< >< >< >< >< The decor was very modern and funky. Compared to the decor of the old location, I love the use of orange, green, blue, and accents of purple. See the cover of the cookbook below to get a better idea of what the inside looks like. Added Perks >< None. They did not know I was doing a restaurant review. Ethical and Community-Minded >< >< >< >< There is a bit of information where groups and communities could place some information. Plus, they have a website a Price (for a main course)
$0 - $9 to $30 - $39 It really depends what you order and eat.

I used to go to Fresh a-l-o-t. Too many times to count. My boyfriend (currently my fiance) and I would go there and each time and order the same thing. He would have the Buddha Bowl and I would eat Dosas. We loved their sweet potato fries, their cashew cookies, and he would always order one of their overpriced juices. I would always think that they were overpriced since I knew I could make the same thing at home a lot cheaper but so is the experience of eating at a restaurant. There came a time when we went to Fresh so much that we got tired of it. All the food began to taste the same.

Years and years ago, I purchased their cookbook for $15 which was a wise investment. This was my first foray into vegetarian cooking. At the time, I found the recipes long, complicated, cumbersome (I like that word), and overwhelming. (I have come a long way since then.)

It had been a few years since my last Fresh visit. In fact, since I became vegan this year, I went to Fresh three different times. Bragging three locations in Toronto (I've only been to one), Fresh has become an institution of great plant-based cuisine. It is also probably the easiest "crossover" menu for the non-veg crowd. (Many of my non-vegan friends have been to Fresh.) I noticed a few changes. First, the menu was expanded to include a wider variety of items. Second, they have a lot more vegan-friendly items. Third, I missed their food, the taste, and variety. On each of my three visits, I had difficulty selecting an item from their menu. Fresh is definitely a must-visit eatery if you are ever in Toronto.

Visit One
I met up with a friend to catch-up in the summertime.

My friend had this fruit juice which I do not remember what it was but she loved it.

I had the All Green juice which was very refreshing and tangy.

The infamous cashew cookie.

Visit Two
Breakfast of Champions. I had a wonderful brunch with survivors to say goodbye to Agnes who is moving across the country. I will miss you Agnes.
The Blueberry Almond Pancake Platter

The Banana Nut Pancakes

I had The Full Breakfast. It was very delicious. The scrambled tofu was amazing and I loved the veggie sausage.

Visit Three
This was from a visit with my fiance and Cid Palacio of the Art for Cancer Foundation. This was Cid's first visit to Fresh.
The Detoxifier juice

I had the Mushroom Onion Burger with Daiya cheese. It tasted very good but they could have melted the Daiya cheese before serving it to me. I could have sent it back but had it just the same. I enjoyed the slaw on the side as well as the yummy sweet potato fries.

The infamous Buddha Bowl.

The amazing vegan carrot cake,

Not to be outdone by the cashew cookie.

The latest Fresh cookbook which shows the interior of the Annex location that I visited.