Showing posts with label plant based. Show all posts
Showing posts with label plant based. Show all posts

Avelo (Toronto)

Avelo’s 8-course meal ($120) leaves you comfortably full, without sickness, given dishes aren’t overly heavy. Perhaps that’s what I found lacking, the one or two course that simply envelops you in glutinous comfort food. The closest contender was probably the fourth course - a buckwheat gnocchi with fermented porcini sauce – still, the buckwheat gave the gnocchi a nutty fibrous kick and the sauce was more umami than rich. Hardly the sinful plate I was looking for. At least it was flavourful and the chanterelles beautifully sauteed.

The sourdough everything bagel on the bottom of the first course was superb: crusty on the outside and fluffy on the inside. In lieu of cream cheese and lox, Avelo uses kojified carrot and macadamia cheese, which replicates the slight smoky creaminess on the bagel. It’s just an interesting way of starting a tasting menu, maybe Avelo’s version of a bread course?

Having dined at Avelo’s predecessor, Awai, I was praying for the mushroom soup, a heavenly concoction that had even those who detest mushrooms nodding in approval. Sadly, it didn’t make an appearance and the soup featured roasted kabocha squash instead. It’s difficult to make squash soup exciting, something that can so easily be made at home. Avelo tried to enhance its presentation with apple and salsify pieces to decorate the bowl, but they did little to augment the experience as they’re rather similar in texture. The pumpkin dust was a good start, adding a bit of grittiness to the smooth soup, but it really did need something else crispy or chewy (perhaps a puffed tapioca) to balance out all the mushiness.

Interestingly, after a rutabaga is roasted, it gives off a potato-like flavour, except it’s a severely dry spud. The kitchen tried adding mashed cauliflower to create moisture in the dish, but the small dollop was hardly enough. What it really needed was a sauce, something that would add liquid and flavour as the dish was so boring - when you’re serving vegetables flavour is your friend.

Slices of truffle garnished the rutabaga, but its dry texture meant the truffle was wasted. If anything, this prized ingredient would have been better featured with the gnocchi instead.

Their one bite amuse bouche was impressive: a potato galette that’s described as Avelo’s version of cauliflower tots. I’d say it’s more like fried mac ‘n’ cheese except without the pasta. The galette is piping hot and delicious. Still, some of my friends found the horseradish garnish overpowering, adding a sharp tang when the onion base was already good on its own.

Give me another galette in lieu of the celeriac kofta any day. The kofta is just a drier less exciting version of the potato galette. Sure, it was plated prettily with a well roasted parsnip log adorned with flowers but didn’t taste nearly as good.

What does Avelo’s kitchen have against moisture? I can imagine someone at a stove grumbling about never wanting to make a French sauce again. All their dishes are dry and screaming for sauce… like the cranberry bean tempeh with roasted radicchio. The fruity glaze on the tempeh was fine, giving the beany slab an almost Asian sweet and savoury flavour. But then the huge slice of bitter radicchio was such an inappropriate side. If anything, they could have continued with the Asian influences by having the tempeh sit on a bed of soba or slaw, switching out the pickled okra for snow peas for crunch.

After scanning the menu, the dish I most anticipated was the rye berry risotto. Overall, the execution was satisfactory, but the grain could have been cooked longer to allow the exterior to soften; as it stands, its more wild rice than risotto. I did enjoy the mole base (yay, a sauce!) that when mixed with the plain grains gave it a boost of flavours. The crispy crackers were also a nice garnish that contrast textures, and useful for scooping up the rye berry and mole to create a fancy tortilla and salsa.

Avelo presented two different desserts amongst the table and recommended people share with their neighbour. It’s a smart idea to encourage diners to try something different. Initially, I thought the pineapple upside-down cake would be a winner but found the coconut mousse base (not a cake) made the dessert taste more like pineapple pannacotta and lacked the buttery richness I was craving.

While the tonka bean amazake wasn’t my first choice, the hints of cocao nibs gave the gelatin-based dessert an earthy depth. Still, it could be creamier. If Avelo was going to feature two desserts, they should consider making each stand out – two pannacotta-like desserts with different flavours are hardly exciting - I would have much preferred if they switched it up and did a sweet and savoury option. The later being a nut cheese and cracker plate that is also more shareable.  

At least their mignardise was impressive. In lieu of the traditional truffle, Avelo presented their version of a “Ferro Roche”, a silky hazelnut ganache piped into a crispy caramel cone dipped in chocolate. Now this is inventive and fantastic, something the other desserts should aspire to grow into.

Overall, the meal wasn’t bad, it’s just not overly exciting and tastes like a vegan meal – healthy and void of rich elements, which is what you need to counteract course after course of vegetable and grains.

Still, I could probably overlook the blasé food and rate the experience a 6 out of 10 if it weren’t for the service. Maybe we just got someone who was too new that was left on her own. The gentlemen who eventually stepped in to explain the dishes was so passionate and animated that I loved hearing his descriptions of each course… somehow, he made a piece of charred radicchio sound exciting (it’s not). But our main sever just didn’t perform basic things I’d expect from a restaurant:

1) Using proper glassware for wine. When we ordered Prosecco, it wasn’t served with a flute or champagne glass, instead those small 3oz glasses you’d find at a winery tasting. It was a little strange as these hardly bring out the bubbles of the wine, but we used it without complaint.

It was when we switched to a bold red and our server brought another round of these mediocre glasses that my friend stepped in to politely ask if she could bring us the red wine glasses, we clearly saw displayed at the bar instead. Our server’s response, “Oh, I guess you’d prefer something that can let the wine breathe more?” Ding, ding, ding! Yes, and something to allow us to take in the aroma of the wine.

2) Performing basic math to split a bill. I completely understand if a restaurant can’t accommodate bill splitting for large tables, but our group was less than six. Since everyone didn’t partake in the wine equally, we asked if she could split the first bottle amongst the table and the second to the few who drank it.

After making it sound like a HUGE favour, something that could be accommodated this one time as they weren’t busy, the bill was merely split equally in five. C’mon, if it’s dividing by five, I could have done that calculation in three seconds with a phone. After explaining again what we were hoping for (uneven bills given the wine situation), on the second attempt, she simply took both bottles and split it amongst the few.

With this much modern technology and the tasting menu prices being constant, is splitting two bottles of wine differently that difficult? In retrospect, I wish she just said she couldn’t do the math as I could have easily calculated them myself.

To sum the experience up in an equation: boring dry food (6) less lack of basic serving skills (1) = experience at Avelo (5). 

Overall mark - 5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 51 St Nicholas Street


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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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Tabule Middle Eastern Cuisine - Queen (Toronto)


While Toronto restaurants have made great strides with accommodating food allergies, choices are still limited for those who have celiac level allergies to gluten. It’s an added liability or investment that some restaurants don’t want to take on to make to ensure their kitchens and food handling is celiac safe.

Accordingly, it’s admirable that Tabule Middle Eastern Cuisine has not only dedicated their chain to being celiac friendly but also offers a wide range of menu options. In fact, they seem to cater to a host of dietary restrictions including those who are vegan.

Traditionally, the tabule in the sampler platter ($22) wouldn’t be gluten-free due to it’s use of bulgur wheat. As a result, the kitchen substitutes quinoa into the finely chopped parsley, tomato, and onion salad instead, which gives it a finer and more delicate consistency. I love mixing the citrusy tabule with smoky rich babaganoush and sandwiching a spoon of it into the thin and chewy laffa ($3.95 a piece), it’s a great way to start the meal.

In fact, you can make a whole meal from their starters with the host of other mezze options gracing the menu. From the inexpensive assorted pickles ($4.50) made up on turnips, olives, hot peppers, and dill pickles to something warm and comforting like the aaranbeet ($8.95), which is unbattered fried cauliflower that’s tossed with tahini creating a warm nutty bite.

Tabule’s falafel salad ($14.95) continues to impress, the crispy chickpea and fava bean nuggets are deliciously fluffy, moist, and flavourful putting other falafels to shame. I do find the vinaigrette overly acidic (mixing a bit of tahini into it helps) and the dressing could use a hit more salt. If you’re not into super lemony salads, I’d stick with ordering the falafels solo.

The warak enab ($12.95) is also overly citrusy, which is a shame as the stuffed grape leaves are a great consistency – the leaves delicate and soft and the rice not too mushy. If only Tabule tones down the lemon seasoning and augments the tomato, garlic, and other spices instead.

For something filling, go for the eggplant meal ($16.95) where slices of aubergine are fried until soft and topped with tahini and pomegranate creating a salty, sweet, and nutty main. The sauces and juices go equally well when soaked into the mujaddara, a fragrant rice studded with lentils and onions. If things become too oily or heavy, have a bite of grilled vegetables that round out the dish.

Gathering around the table to eat and share is such an important ritual to build connection. Cheers to Tabule for making this possible for so many more people. 

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 810 Queen Street East


Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
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!


Is That It? I Want More!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this:



Azhar Kitchen & Bar (Toronto)

Azhar Kitchen & Bar is one of the many restaurants that forms the Gusto 54 chain, and it is no less inviting and delicious. After attending an event in Ossington, we were peckish and in search for a satisfying dinner before calling it a night. After being turned away from other Ossington establishments, it was Azhar that took us in and welcomed us onto comfortable seats at the bar.

Famished, we opted for shared starters, and I was excited to find zucchini flowers ($15) on the menu. The delicate flora is stuffed with a smooth cheese filling, which the menu describes as feta based but I tasted a faint blue cheese element as well, and deep fried giving the flower petals a light crunchiness, the centre a heat that blends with the creamy cheese, and the stem that zucchini texture and taste. Now these are the kind of flowers I like getting.

The babaganoush ($12) could easily satisfy four people, a huge mound of the roasted eggplant with a tart hit of date and molasses syrup and added crunchiness from a sprinkle of seeds. I appreciate Azhar’s use of vibrant high-quality olive oil that can blend with the eggplant or shine on its own. Either goes so wonderfully with the hot-from-the-oven pita that so soft and chewy. We thought one pita would do but after the first glorious bite, we immediately wanted another. The second arrived in no time and was equally piping hot… like singe your fingertips type of hot.

Being a weekday vegetarian, I appreciate the host of meatless options on Azhar’s menu. Although, I found they are generally a series of dishes (a side, a plant-based protein, etc.) that need to be ordered together, rather than having one dish that works as a complete meal. Accordingly, unless others at the table also want to go meatless it would be too much for one person.

In the end, I thought the Mujadara rice ($21) would be the best bet for a main, albeit a tad heavy for one (there were leftovers to bring home). The fragrant stewed lentils and caramelized combined nicely with the basmati rice studded with raisins and spices to create a flavour-packed dish. Generally, I’m not a fan of fruit with rice, but when combined with the creamy labneh, the raisin’s sweetness helped tone down the yoghurt’s acid. I wish there was the option to add another vegetarian protein to really round out the dish, a handful of roasted mushrooms might be great with the rice.

Service was top notch even sitting at the bar. The bartender was by to make sure we were satisfied and taken care of whenever he had a chance, and despite also having to man the bar was engaging and welcoming. In fact, if I had to describe Azhar with one word it would be ‘welcoming’, from interactions with staff members to the dishes that draw you in for another bite - Azhar would be one big welcome mat.  

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 96 Ossington Avenue


Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
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!


Is That It? I Want More!

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Planta Yorkville (Toronto)


Planta’s meatless burger was once the talk of the town, admired for its “likeness” to the beef version, thanks to the tinge of pink in its patty. Chef David Lee was ahead of his time, creating a string of plant-based restaurants at a time when Meatless Mondays was a stretch for most people.

Oh, how times have changed. Vegetarian burgers are now a dime-a-dozen with fast food chains joining the party. Even the patties have been upgraded – having a hint of pink is now the norm. Which is why my first experience with the Planta burger, prominently featured on their Winterlicious menu ($33), was such a bust.

After hearing about how great it was - so much so that burger-only restaurants were spun off - one bite into the mushy patty left much to be desired. There were some good qualities: it was hearty with the thick queso and truffle mushroom sauce; and generally, it tasted nice. But it lacked texture… everything was so soft that my 90-year old grandmothers would have no trouble biting through these babies.


The soft bun and delicate lettuce didn’t make it any better – maybe if either an element of crunch it would help the main. At least the fries were amazing: hot from the fryer, crispy as ever, and tossed with just enough salt. We hungrily devoured these.

Overall, it just wasn’t an impressive meal. While the warm rapini salad tastes better than it looked, when the plate of butter lettuce topped with chopped wilted rapini arrived, I was momentarily taken aback that a restaurant would be okay with serving a dish that looks like one I’d make at home. Looks aside, it was an okay salad, the warm rapini enhanced with olive and sun-dried tomatoes so the greens were actually flavourful. I just wished there was more of it to go around.


The only dish I’d get again is the young Thai coconut dessert. The passionfruit sorbet was a great balance of tart and sweetness and the coconut &chia seed pudding added a lovely creaminess. Although it appears fairly simple, the tropical flavours were such a blessing during the dead of winter.


If you’re going to visit any restaurant in the Planta chain, the Asian menu of the Queen location is much better, in my opinion. Maybe it’s time for David Lee to reinvent the menu again. Burgers are so overdone… and being done so much better than Planta.

Overall mark - 6 out of 10
Is Winterlicious worth it (based on my meal selection)?
Winterlicious - $33
Regular menu - $50 - salad ($18.25), burger ($19.75) and young Thai coconut ($11.95)
Savings - $17 or 34% 
How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 1221 Bay Street

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
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!


Is That It? I Want More!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this:



Fat Choi @ Soos (Toronto)


On Monday and Tuesdays, Soos temporarily hands over their kitchen to Fat Choi and the menu morphs into a vegetarian’s paradise. While Soos’ menu is based on Malaysian street food, Fat Choi expands across the world, drawing inspiration from Malaysia, India, China, Indonesia, and Japan (to name a few) – anything that’s tasty and vegetarian.

I would have never ordered the cold tofu ($9) without prompting from a friend… why would I want something cold, especially if it’s tofu? But, as I bit into the silky soy bean block, swimming in a salty Szechuan hot chili oil and topped with onion frizzles, green onions, garlic, and peanuts, I wonder what inventive thinker came up with such a delicious take on tofu. This isn't your regular boring soy bean dish.


Make sure you’ve finished your conversation before biting into the satay wrap ($11)… once you start you just have to keep eating it as it’s impossible to put down and if you wait too long, the filling will start sliding out. The seitan adds a meaty texture against the delicate Bibb lettuce and the crunchy pickled vegetables; it’s then drenched in a diluted peanut sauce that starts out slightly sweet but ends with a spicy bite.


Even before finishing the okonomiyaki ($13) we were already contemplating if another order was needed. The light thin chewy batter with the crispy edges is slathered with flavourful shallots and spicy kewpie. On its own it would have been too heavy, but Fat Choi balanced the dish off with raw crisp red cabbage and Brussels sprouts to create a slaw topping on the savoury pancake. A dish that seems so simple but is surprisingly delicious.


In general, all the flatbread-like dishes were tasty. The stuffed roti ($15) consisted of two pan fried flaky roti sandwiching a spiced chickpea, onion, and potato mixture. A curry garlic sauce comes with the hearty roti, which is thinned and the spice level restrained.


Make sure you get the nasi goreng ($16), this Indonesian fried rice was oh so flavourful. To make it vegan, a tofu crumble is added that still gives the fried rice an eggy texture, while bits of okra and bell peppers provide a crunchy texture throughout the rice. I love the black pepper bite to the rice… and the smell, oh the smell.


The no mapo no tofu ($17) is an interesting dish incorporating the sweet, beany, spicy sauce you’d expect from the traditional mapo tofu. However, the name of no mapo and no tofu calls out the fact that the dish contains no pork and no tofu. Instead, it’s replaced with creamy eggplant with flecks of pickled vegetables, the sauce cooked so long together that it becomes thick and caramelized; all sticky and sweet with the rice. Served in clay pot, this would be even better if the rice was lightly toasted so the bottom so that it develops a golden crispy crust – I can just imagine how epic it’d be if the mapo sauce is enhanced with crispy rice.


We finished off with the daily nood, that evening a curried laksa ($18 for a large bowl or $11 for individual portions). The smaller bowl is a great option as you really need to dig in and have spoonfuls of the coconut and curry broth to really augment the experience, although the soup should be a hotter temperature. Pieces of smoked tofu gives an interesting heartiness to the noodles in place of meat. In the past, I’ve had laksa with rice or egg noodles; at Fat Choi, they use a combination of the thicker miki noodle and a thin vermicelli, the mix reminiscent of a bowl of Fukien noodles at Kim Po.


People ask if I miss having meat during weekdays. Truthfully, we have such amazing plant-based options in Toronto that no, I can happily forgo animal protein Monday to Thursdays, with some exceptions. Fat Choi is an example of one of these restaurants. When the vegetarian dishes are this good, who needs meat? 

Overall mark - 8 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 94 Ossington Avenue

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
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!


Is That It? I Want More!

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CLOSED: Paintbox Bistro (Toronto)


With what seems like the recent revitalization of Regent Park, it’s hard to imagine that PaintBox Bistro is already six years old. In celebration of the milestone, they threw a party where customers can try any of their mains for only $6 (regular menu prices provided below for reference purposes) with $6 wine to boot. 

As soon as I stepped into Paintbox’s airy space, I felt healthier. The restaurant is a mixture of large tables and couches so you can go and read a book or gather a group for a scrum. Set as a quick service restaurant, guests order at the café area and then are provided with a sign so you can sit and wait for the food. 

Small eats like pastries are available and then there are a few options that are in between a snack and full on meal. The clumps of meaty brown butter white beans makes the Ontario harvest flatbread ($11) surprisingly hearty and along with the crunchy pumpkin seeds, melted brie, carrot puree, and fresh arugula creates a well toasted flatbread that’s filled with flavours and textures. This works great as a shared starter or a main if you’re in the mood for a smaller bite.


The mac, cheese & greens ($14) is also rich and creamy, the four cheese sauce balanced by broccoli florets. The kale that’s mixed into the pasta gives it an interesting taste – one friend felt it almost tasted like bacon. While I didn’t find it overly smoky, the kale was a nice addition to the pasta adding 
an extra flavour and textural element.


What a great idea to wrap the enchilada filling in collard greens instead of a tortilla! Paintbox’s enchilada ($14) is stuffed with spicy rice and a protein mixture that gives the filling a ground meat texture. In the end, the creation tastes like a delicious cross between a cabbage roll and enchilada. The roasted pepper coulis and scallion lime aioli were great additions that provided the traditional enchilada flavour but with an extra flair.


The only disappointing dish was the tofu green curry ($15). Firstly, the tofu was baked/fried so long that it became dry and hard (even being steeped in curry couldn’t rehydrate it). Moreover, the curry was too sour, which is strange as I expected it to be fragrant and coconutty since the menu describes it as “Thai-inspired”.


If a meal of plant based dishes doesn’t have you leaving the restaurant feeling good, at least know that by eating at Paintbox Bistro you’re supporting their ethos of providing job opportunities to those living in the neighbourhood and being mindful of their environmental footprint (there was no disposable cutlery used despite the fast casual environment). And with that, I left Paintbox feeling as snug as an enchilada wrapped in collard greens.

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 555 Dundas Street East 


Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
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!


Is That It? I Want More!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this:

Paintbox Catering & Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato