Vegan Food Fairy Tales – Winter Kale Salad & Mushroom Barley Risotto with Sage at Prime at the Windsor Arms Hotel, Part II

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Food fairy tales are hard to come by.  You know, instances when you have the perfect food served in the perfect place in a gorgeous setting with a wonderful atmosphere with fabulous service and music to boot.  It’s hard to have everything rolled into one!  But food fairy tales do come true and when they happen, you cherish them and hold them dear to your heart.  Even though my list isn’t very long (I love many places and things I’ve eaten, yes, but we know only the knock-my-fuzzy-socks-off spectacular get to be on a list like this), there’s always room for more.  The latest addition to the storybook?  Vegan lunch at the Windsor Arms Hotel!

Luring me in with their delightful afternoon tea service just wasn’t enough, they had to bait and hook me with an ENTIRE VEGAN BRUNCH, LUNCH AND DINNER MENU too!  When I first found out about the magical weekend vegan brunch menu a number of months ago through the online food community grapevine, I thought it was too good to be true.  Especially at a fine dining establishment like Prime restaurant which brings about visions of steak and wine and other dishes that are as far from vegan as you could imagine.  But it wasn’t a myth and if that wasn’t enough, there was an accompanying vegan lunch and dinner menu on the Windsor Arms Hotel website in all its shiny glory, just waiting for me to pounce on it.  And so I did.

Admittedly, I was hoping to do chocolate afternoon tea at the King Edward during the Toronto Chocolate Festival but got on it a little too late and couldn’t get a seating.  So I thought to myself, “well, I still want to be in an afternoon tea type setting…oh my goodness, I can do vegan lunch at the Windsor Arms!!”  Hurray for lightbulb moments and thinking on my feet!

Dining at the Windsor Arms in Yorkville is one of my favourite luxuries.  It makes me feel like a princess every single time.  It’s so beautiful and majestic and regal and I feel like I’m being transported to a far away land where everything is sugar and spice and everything nice.  Sitting in a plush, cushion booth in Prime was so relaxing I felt like I was in a spa.  Soft music floated through the dining room, soft sunlight filtered through the curtained windows, and I was about to have a fab fall comfort vegan meal with a pot of hot mint tea and my sweetheart sitting across from me.  It was perfect.

Prime’s vegan lunch and dinner menu features a bounty of seasonal ingredients and what’s great about it is that it’s so easy to mix and match your dishes because the menu is divided into 4 sections – appetizers, entrees, sides, and desserts – and each category has its own flat price.  Appetizers are $12, entrees are $18, sides are $7, and desserts are $14.  You could easily choose two appetizers as a meal, an appetizer and a side, an entree and a side, just an entree, and all of the above with dessert – if you can eat all of it!

Dishes include cornmeal crusted tempeh steaks with spiced sweet potato coconut mash; zucchini and carrot spaghetti with almond parmesan cheese, vegetables, and ground “walnut” meat; marinated winter kale salad with sundried tomatoes, avocado, walnuts, hemp seeds and more; nori rolls stuffed with a creamy ginger dill sunflower seed pate; teriyaki tempeh and vegetable stir-fry with steamed quinoa; raspberry cashew cheesecake; almond butter chocolate truffles, and SO much more.  I’m telling you, their vegan menu is a divine specimen sent from heaven.  There’s just nothing else like it in the city and I love that.

Meals come with a basket of fresh, soft-as-pillows bread with butter (and the bread is garlic crusted!) and while I don’t know too much about the selection of beverages, I went with my Windsor Arms tried-and-true loose leaf tea in a pot, this time going for refreshing mint!  I wanted to try more than one dish so I went with the two appetizer route: marinated winter kale salad tossed with hemp seeds, walnuts, raisins, sundried tomatoes and avocado in a creamy lemon dill tahini sauce with shaved apple, and the wild mushroom and pearl barley risotto with crispy sage and truffle oil.  The menu just radiated with warmth and comfort and I chose these two because 1) I love kale, 2) I love risotto, and 3) I wanted something light and then something hearty.  Done and done.

First, the winter kale salad.  It is so light and refreshing.  The kale was shredded into long, crinkled leaves and the dressing was absolutely delicious.  It wasn’t heavy but it was noticeable enough to give the kale that bright punch of creaminess and flavour that complemented the creaminess of the avocado.  The avocado was diced into the most adorable tiny cubes, the big chunks of walnuts worked perfectly with the salad to give it crunch (and I LOVE crunch in my salads), and the sundried tomatoes gave the dish additional body to make it fuller and more meal-like.  While I would’ve gone lighter on the sundried tomato front (they’re great but the cured flavour can get overwhelming!), it was lovely dish with so many textures and dimensions of flavour.  And the apple?  I pawned that off to my sweetheart.

Now, the wild mushroom and pearl barley risotto.  OH.MY.GOD.  I have to say, I love my kale to pieces but oh my word did this dish ever knock it out of the park!  First off, the smell of the dish made my mouth water even before I dug my fork in (yes, I eat rice-like dishes with a fork.  Because I like to and because I can).  It smells SO AMAZINGLY GOOD.  Like a mix of warm cream with bit of parm and cheese and nuttiness.  If you love creamy, this is your dish.  Everything just melts in your mouth and it was so delicious having a risotto that utilized something other than the traditional arborio rice just because it’s always nice to have something different.  I’ve never had a barley risotto before and it was such a different texture but a good one because it made the dish feel even more hearty and comforting.

The mushrooms were creamy and so soft, the truffle oil provided that extra hit of richness, and crispy sage?  THIS made the dish!  Herbs as just a garnish?  Please.  I ate the crispy sage right off the top, eating a few leaves on their own and mixing the rest into my risotto.  It was so delicious and unlike anything I’ve ever had.  The crispiness cut through the richness of the dish and it had a forest type of flavour to it with a tiny hint of mint.  It’s hard to explain but trust me when I say that it’s fabulous, especially in this dish.  I didn’t have any room for dessert after, but I had no doubt in my mind that I would be back for many rounds to come.  Food fairy tales do exist and the wonderful thing is that there are no limits on how many times you can go back to the storybook and retell the stories, experiencing in a different way each time.

*****

The Windsor Arms Hotel is located at 18 Saint Thomas Street, just south of Bloor St. W, between Bay St. and Avenue Rd.   In addition to their afternoon tea service, Windsor Arms Hotel is also known for their fine dining and most recently, their newly added vegan menus at Prime restaurant!

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