Graceful Vegetarian Restaurant (Toronto)

Vegetables are getting their recognition amongst Toronto's new restaurants lately. Even if a restaurant isn't purely vegetarian, menus are starting to offer more meatless options. Coming from a Chinese background, it's surprising there’s been little advancement in our cuisine. Greens still seem to be a dish used to balance the meal and are generally simply stir fried.

Buddhist cuisine is probably the closest thing for a fully vegetarian Chinese option. Graceful Vegetarian Restaurant is a long standing restaurant that closed at Market Village and moved across the street on Steeles. Being one of my favourite Buddhist restaurants, I was excited to try the new location that's tucked in the corner of the bustling mall and not nearly as easy to find as their former home.

Graceful's assorted gluten platter ($10 for small) doesn't look impressive but is the best I've tasted in the city. Some elements are supposed to represent mock versions of barbeque platters, such as barbeque pork or fried intestines. Generally, each has a chewy soft texture and some sort of intense flavour: sweet, savoury, curry, or a combination of a couple of tastes. Thankfully, they are not too saucy so despite being piled beside each other on the dish, they all retain their own flavour. I particularly liked where certain elements of the dish are served warm.

The pan fried bean curd sheet rolls ($8.50) appeared deep fried rather than prepared in a pan, which helps to keep the bean curd sheet softer but doesn't give it that lovely golden sheen. Graceful doesn’t overdo it with the number of layers so the roll tastes delicate, especially with the saucy filling mixed with vermicelli, which helps soak up the sauce. If they added some more bamboo shoot or black fungus for crunch, these would be even better.

Surprisingly, the deep fried taro fish with sweet and sour sauce ($16.99) was available – many places require advanced notice for the dish. Graceful takes silky thick taro filling, shapes it into a fish, and encapsulates it in a thin fried crispy layer. To balance out the heavier dish, they add ginger slivers to the sweet and sour sauce and thin it out so that you can have more of it with the taro. Reserve this dish for at least six people as it can be quite filling.

While a lot of options at Graceful are fried or stir-fried, they show restraint with its oiliness. The fried rice in the Fu-kin chopped mock meat and seafood dish ($18.99) was fairly dry and the sauce provided just enough flavour without becoming too salty. I just missed the pieces of Chinese broccoli (gai lan) normally incorporated in the dish, which not only adds a nice shot of colour but also a bit of texture.

Out of all the dishes were ordered, the Law Han crispy egg noodles ($17.99) was the sole one that wasn’t a “mock” item. Combining crunchy black fungus, baby corn, chestnuts, mushrooms, bean sprouts, and other vegetables in a savoury brown sauce, it’s all topped on thin egg noodles. It’s a dish you want to tuck into right away if you like the noodles crispy (go for the edges) or you can wait a bit for the centre section if you enjoy them tender and soaked with sauce.

Compared to their Market Village location, it’s not a place you want to sit in for a long time. The ventilation could use an upgrade as the dining room reeks of cooking oil and it seems smaller so larger tables need a reservation to avoid being turned away (and we did see that happen).

Yet, everything tastes just like I remember. Normally, this would be a commendable feat. However, after sampling all the new amazing vegetarian options across Toronto, being the same isn’t good enough anymore. The menu seems dated and monotone; it would be nice to see them offer more items where the vegetable is the star instead of being the imitation version of a traditionally meat filled dish. In the world of innovate or be replaced, maybe even Chinese Buddhist restaurants need to step up their game. 

Overall mark - 7 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 4675 Steeles Avenue East (inside the Splendid China Mall)

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

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