The Fall Harvest Series – Potato & Mushroom Pie with Parsley, Kitchen Fun, & a Return to Mela Vegetarian Cafe

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Welcome to Mela. Welcome home.

Frowning in concentration, I leaned over my steaming hot plate of food, pointed my camera at it, promptly lowered it, turned my plate 45 degrees, pointed my camera at it again, looked at my screen, and smiled.  Ahhh.  That was the shot I wanted.  Click.  Time for a top down shot.  Click.  Gotta get one head on at eye level from the side.  Cli-

“May I ask what your occupation is?”

And just as I was about to click, I abruptly froze, camera in mid-air.  I looked over to my right and was greeted with two very amused facial expressions and two pairs of male eyes staring back at me curiously and expectantly.  I chuckled shyly.  “You must be wondering about the photos and the camera.”  And so began my spiel about how no, this wasn’t my day job exactly, but something I did on the side every day, something that was very much a part of my life in every way that counted, and yes, I write a blog and do a lot of food scrapbooking and photography, and oh, would you like my business card so you guys can check it out?!

Beet risotto with broccoli and Mela’s famous tomato sauce.

With the sounds of sizzling skillets on the stove top, the smell of fresh tomato sauce bubbling away, and two scrumptious and delicious plates of warm, steaming, comforting Italian vegetarian food in front of me, I felt right at home.  It never gets old seeing the curious gazes of nearby patrons watching me snap away, it never gets old pointing my camera at my food, and it never gets old sitting in my foodie home away from home, the Italian vegetarian magic that is Mela Cafe.

A giant wave of joy washed over me as I sat inside my favourite vegetarian spot, Mela, for the first time in 8 months.  8 months!  My last Mela Cafe post was 7 months ago, my last visit 8.  Since that unforgettable first meeting back in October 2010, I’ve never gone that long without a meal from here.  And I was feeling the pangs of withdrawn, especially during this chilly fall weather.  Mela does spring and summer fabulously, but I have to say, nobody kicks it in the pants during fall doing fall comfort food like Mela.  And were Roberto and Rachel ever dishing out and cooking up a comfort food storm!  Eggplant parm, beet risotto with broccoli, fresh ricotta lasagna with tomato and basil, cauliflower and soy pie, a spaghetti frittata with lentils and vegetables, red lentil soup, apple, beet and carrot salad, and of course their famous crispy, savoury breaded eggplant and basil panini sandwiches.

Fresh homemade eggplant parm, ready to get sizzling hot!

Roberto in the kitchen (with Rachel in the background!), whipping up a batch of pizza dough from scratch!

This was such a special visit.  For starters, it felt so wonderful being back after so many months, eating such yummy food.  Second, it was fun talking to fellow foodies about food and blogging.  And third, I was beyond giddy when Roberto waved me over into the kitchen to watch him make pizza dough from scratch.  I got to stand in the kitchen!  Well, colour me absolutely ecstatic!  It’s just one of the many reasons why I continue to love Mela so much.  I don’t feel like I’m a “customer” here.  There’s no wall, no barrier, no pretentiousness.  I feel like I’m part of a family.  We talk about our lives.  I make new friends.  I stay awhile and soak in every experience to its fullest.  I never feel like I’m a nuisance with the photo snapping.  And best of all, I make unforgettable memories each and single time.

This time around, I sunk my hungry teeth into a giant slice of potato and mushroom pie ($8.41) doused in their famous tomato sauce, as well as a dish of beet risotto with broccoli ($8.41).  I was in heaven.  Absolute vegetarian heaven.  I have to apologize for the lack of beet risotto photos though.  The tomato sauce and beet risotto were so close in colour family that I couldn’t get a good enough distinguishing photos.  But take it from me, it’s wonderfully delicious and I took most of it home for my family to try, especially my mum who loves beets.  Their potato mushroom pie was inches tall and piping hot with chunks of potato, sauteed mushrooms, and parsley melting into every forkful and bite.  Comfort food at its best.  The parsley was the perfect touch, giving little bursts of freshness and greenery to the dish.

When I was younger, I never used to like parsley.  I would always pick it out of my Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches.  Now?  I love it and get so excited when I see it garnishing or sprinkled onto my dish.  The parsley played a starring role in this one, cutting through the inherent “meaty” texture of chunky potatoes.  The potatoes were chunky yet soft; meaty enough to hold its own as a hearty meal with that great potato starchiness but soft enough to sink your teeth right through them.  The whole potato and mushroom pie was lovely because it sopped up the tomato sauce so well – I didn’t have a lick of it left by the end of the meal!

And oh gosh, the top of the pie was fantastic!  It was crispy and golden brown and tasted like a cross between a hash brown and rosti.  The dish is a fab variation of the traditional mashed potatoes, potato salad, and plain roasted potatoes and with the generous amount of tomato sauce, all the flavours were lightened up and intensified.  I mmmed my way through the entire meal, loving every minute and bite of it.  I waved goodbye to Rachel and Roberto and as I was opening the door to leave (as much as I didn’t want to!), Roberto smiled and called out, “don’t be a stranger!”

I won’t, ever.  I promise.

*****

Mela Café is located at 7 Yorkville Ave., north of Cumberland St. and just west of Yonge St.  All dishes are either vegetarian or vegan and prices range from $4-$8.50.  They are primarily a lunch cafe during the week, open until around 4:30pm-5pm from Monday to Friday, and with later closing hours on Saturday.  They are closed on Sunday.

September Has Never Looked So “Veggielicious”! The Return of the Vegetarian Price Fixe Event of the Year!

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This just in, folks: In just two and a half weeks, vegans, vegetarians, raw foodists, and foodies alike with be descending on some of the city’s most popular, beloved vegetarian and vegan eateries for one of the yummiest price fixe food events ever!  From September 24 to October 7, Veggielicious will be making its highly anticipated return to the city and GTA for its 2nd year in a row!  I’m so happy and excited I could pirouette around my living room! 

After wondering for months if Veggielicious was ever going to take place again, I finally got my answer today from my monthly Fresh e-newsletter and my heart squealed with glee.  I have been waiting for this!  Taking part in Veggielicious is one of the best ways to find out about vegetarian and vegan places that you aren’t familiar with and it’s the best reason to try out something new!  And there will be plenty of new things to try this time around because a handful of last year’s favourites are returning with new specials and event menus while others will strut their stuff on the Veggielicious stage for the very first time.

The fabulous lineup of eateries, cafes, and bakeries taking part this year include The Beet, Fresh, Live Organic Food Bar, Fressen, Cruda Cafe, E.L. Ruddy, Hotel Gelato, Feel Good Guru, Hogtown Vegan, and Tori’s Bakeshop among a host of others.  I can’t wait until they post all the special promotions and menus on the Veggielicious website, especially for Hogtown Vegan, Tori’s Bakeshop, E.L. Ruddy, Hotel Gelato, and of course, Fresh!  I’m excited about all of them, but these spots particularly strike my fancy because I’ve been wanting to go to several of them for months now and the timing for Veggielicious couldn’t have been better!  And just think, this will be on top of the Vegetarian Food Festival happening this weekend!

Last year’s Veggielicious delights! Triple threat promo from Bunner’s Bake Shop (gypsy cookie, creamie, and cupcake) and veggie tofu scramble breakfast at Sadie’s Diner!

I had such a great time last year and I have a feeling this year will be even more terrific.  If it wasn’t for Veggielicious last year, I never would have found out about Burlington’s vegan powerhouse, Kind Food, and I never would have made those memorable first visits to Bunner’s Bake Shop and Sadie’s Diner when I did and I made some great memories and friends because of it.  Veggielicious took me out of my comfort zone (literally and physically as it gave me the nudge I needed to venture out to The Junction for the first time!), it gave me my first delicious experience with scrambled tofu and vegan breakfast, and it made me feel even more excited about finding vegetarian and vegan places I had never known about or been to before.  It’s an ingenious way of bringing people together through their love for vegetarian and vegan food and creating publicity for all the participants involved.   Once the website is updated, I’ll keep everyone posted on what my picks are!*****

Vist the Veggielicious website HERE to keep up to date on all the promotions, price fixe menus, and participating restaurants, cafes, and bakeries!

Summer Food Throwdown – Southern BBQ, Colombian Dinner & *NEW* Tasting Plates at The Depanneur!

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More food, more yumminess at The Depanneur!

Upcoming Food Events & News at The Depanneur

In addition to The Dep’s fab drop-in dinners, supper clubs, workshops, and classes, the cafe menu has expanded!  Not only can you stop in for their famous frittata breakfast sandwiches and grilled cheese, but now you can also feast on tasting plates full of seasonal, local food!  Each week The Dep will be offering up a handful of dishes that you can pick and choose from for $3 each.  Have one, have two, or have all 5 and create your very own tasting plate masterpiece!  There are plenty of vegetarian and vegan options to go around, and just think, you can combine any one of these tasting dishes with one of their soups and sandwiches to make your meal extra special!  This week: roasted potato salad with a creamy lemon herb dressing; spicy carrot salad with feta; grilled plums with honeyed ricotta; organic mixed greens with apple cider vinaigrette; and homemade oatcakes, grilled sourdough or walnut-raisin toast.

*Upcoming Drop-In Dinners and Supper Clubs*

Friday Night Drop-In Dinner: Colombian Ajiaco with Cookie Martinez, July 27.  6pm-8pm.  1033 College Street.  $12 including tax.  Join South American cuisine and cookie baking guru, Cookie Martinez (you may have tasted her wares at the Liberty Village Soft Choice office markets!), for a summer feast of chicken stew straight from her home of Colombia.  Known as ajicaco, this is a hearty bowl of chicken, corn, capers, creme fraiche, cilantro and creamy yellow potato (papa criolla) distinctive to Colombia’s capitol of Bogota.  This meal becomes even more amazing with a side of rice, avocado, and crispy, melt-in-your-mouth fresh corn arepa.  Grab a seat and enjoy a summer evening at The Dep!

Rusholme Park Supper Club at The Depanneur: Texas vs. Tennessee BBQ Throwdown, August 11.    7:30pm-10:30pm.  1033 College Street.  $40 supper club membership for the night.  Get down and dirty with southern fare as Texas squares off with Tennessee in a BBQ battle like no other at this southern tour supper club!  Savour food the Texan way with slow-cooked, dry rubbed beef brisket and succotash while sinking your teeth in Tennessee style ribs dripping in a smoky, sticky whiskey sauce and sweet molasses baked beans.  End the night on a sweet note with southern pecan pie!  http://www.facebook.com/events/467269889959034/

Rusholme Park Supper Club at The Depanneur: Summer Lovin’ with Emily Zimmerman, August 12.  7:30pm-10:30pm.  1033 College Street.  $4o supper club membership for the night.  Bask in the lazy days of summer with seasonal, local, vegan feast by Chef Emily Zimmerman!  Emily has been cooking up and hosting supper clubs at The Dep for months now and she’s back again for an August evening dinner bash showcasing the beauty of Ontario food.  Enjoy stuffed summer vegetables with arugula pesto, buckwheat crepes with homemade fruit chutney, tomato, and spiced chickpeas bitter greens with strawberry balsamic, and a fabulous cherry-berry cupcake trifle with lemon coconut cream!  http://www.facebook.com/events/439514426070944/  

AND, be sure to check out the mini farmer’s market on Tuesdays from 4:30pm-7:30pm out on the side patio, the truckload of frozen summer treats on hand (Augie’s Ice Pops and Organic Meadow ice cream!), and Pork Ninja drop-in dinners EVERY THURSDAY for the summer!

*****

The Depannuer is located at 1033 College Street between Dovercourt Rd. and Dufferin Street.  They are open from Tuesday to Sunday (closed on Mondays) with a number of cooking classes, food workshops, drop-in dinners, and supper clubs throughout the month, which you can keep up with on the Food Calendar or on their Twitter @TheDepanneur.  Their cafe operating hours are as follows: Tuesday-Friday 8am-6pm (6pm onward for Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday drop-in dinners), and Saturday-Sunday 9am-6pm for weekend brunch and lunch (6pm onward for supper clubs).  You can view The Depannuer’s Facebook page here.

A Vegan Meal to Remember – Spinach and Arugula Salad Bowls With Crunchies and Veggies at Urban Herbivore

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Have you ever had a meal so wonderful and delicious you daydreamed about it into the next day?  Because I sure have and now that I’m writing about it I’m getting lost in my food daydream all over again!  I had one of the most amazing vegan meals this past week.  The meal was full of lush green vegetables, pops of colour, and crunchie munchies, and the meal was devoured in Kensington Market’s beloved vegan haunt, Urban Herbivore.  Urban Herbivore has been on my “to-go” list for ages and I’m ecstatic that I finally crossed it off!  I’ve known about their vegan sandwiches for a long time and I always knew I would get around to trying them out eventually, but I never anticipated falling head over heels in love with their salad bowls.  That’s right, I’m a girl in love with a bowl of leafy greens, legumes, and crunchy munchies and I’m already looking forward to my next date at Urban Herbivore.  What can I say?  I get around.

Urban Herbivore is the sister restaurant to vegan dinner and tapas bar, Fressen, on Queen St. West.  Open for business at 9am, Urban Herbivore is the morning, lunch, and afternoon counterpart to Fressen, serving vegan sandwiches, salad bowls, grain bowls, Moroccan stews, coconut curries, fresh smoothies, veggie juices, and vegan baked goods and sweets!  When I finally hunkered down and made the decision to go to Urban Herbivore, I went in with the intention of inhaling one of their vegan sandwiches and featuring it the Vegetarian Sandwich Series.  I looked up at the menu board, mentally tossed around the option of having either the BBQ tofu or the avocado sandwich, and then looked over at the 2nd menu board with the sandwich, salad bowl, grain bowl, and curry bowl descriptions.  And that’s when everything changed.

At Urban Herbivore, you can be the creative master behind your vegan meal!  You can mix and combine vegetables, proteins, beans, legumes, and grains to your heart’s content and in the end, you have your very own custom designed salad or grain bowl specially put together by you!  Urban Herbivore isn’t set up the same way as Kale Eatery though.  It’s not a self-serve buffet.  Much like Freshii, you choose your ingredients and someone mixes it all together for you.  However, instead of making your choices on menu papers like you would at Freshii, you simply tell whoever is serving you what you want and they put it together in front of you as make your choices. 

I was captivated by the possibility of putting together my own special salad bowl combinaiton, so I dropped the vegan sandwich plan like a hot potato.  I admit, part of me felt a little guilty for ditching my initial sandwich date for greener pastures, but I made the sandwich date a future rain cheque promise that I was fully intent on keeping so the bad feelings didn’t last for long.

Salad bowls, which are priced at $8.50, start with a leaf base.  There are 3 green leafy salads to choose from: mustard greens, baby spinach, and spinach and arugula.  After choosing your leafy green mix, you add your choice of 6 different ingredients from the vast array of yummy choices on hand.  The selection of vegetables and protein is fantastic!  Think green beans, mushrooms, sprouts, roasted peppers, shredded carrots, chick peas, red cabbage, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, beans, tofu cubes, lentils, broccoli, kimchi, pickled vegetables, and so much more.  Then, you finish off your special salad bowl with some texture and crunch in the form of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, or sliced almonds, and finally, your choice of dressing. 

Okay, so let’s break my salad bowl down.  I chose a baby spinach and arugula green leaf mix because they’re my favourite leafy greens and to that I added snow peas, whole mini button mushrooms, roasted red peppers, alfalfa sprouts, lentils, and some delicious cubes of tofu.  I went wild for the sunflower seeds and topped it all off with some lemon tahini dresssing.  This salad was, by far, one of the best vegan meals I’ve ever had in my life.  I know a salad seems very simplistic and dare I say, a little boring to some people, but I’m telling you, this salad bowl was so incredibly delicious I devoured it all and still wanted more.

The salad bowls are big and lush and so full of energy and life.  I don’t think you could ask for a better meal.  The textures and flavours were fantastic.  The sunflower seeds, lentils, alfalfa, and baby spinach leaves amped up the crunch factor ten-fold and the lemon tahini dressing was creamy and refreshing and flavourful.  Ever since I had tahini sauce with falafel several years ago, tahini has been one of my favourites and it totally gave the whole salad that extra bit of richness and creaminess.        

Even though I’m not vegetarian or vegan, I love the versatility of it all.  There are so many ways to integrate fruits, grains, legumes, proteins, and vegetables into delicious and filling meals and I’ve been lucky enough to mix and match and try out new foods and combinations in the company of vegetarian and vegan friends who live by these foods and only these foods.  Going to places like Freshii and Fresh have been so much fun simply because of the creative freedom I’ve had over my food and Urban Herbivore is exactly the type of vegan eatery that feeds my love of food and creativity all in one.

*****

Urban Herbivore is located at 64 Oxford Street in Kensington Market, with a second location in Eaton Centre’s Urban Eatery.

The Fall Harvest Series – Stuffed Bell Peppers in Cauliflower Soup and Curry Cauliflower Risotto at Mela Cafe

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The chilly fall season wouldn’t be complete without a warm, comforting, fall harvest meal from my favourite Italian vegetarian place!  I know that even though it’s technically still fall, we’re sort of in a weird place right now where the leaves have fallen, the trees are naked, and we’re donning sunglasses in the mild weather one day and bundling up to our ears in winter clothes the next.  Winter hasn’t taken over just yet though so I think it’s safe to continue doing Fall Harvest posts, especially when they’re as bright, vibrant, and colourful as this!  Roberto’s amazing, delicious vegetarian and vegan food has never failed to brighten up a meal, but this fall comfort lunch was like rainbow artwork on plates. 

I’ve been eating at Mela for over a year now and I’ve loved watching the seasonal fluctuations and changes in ingredients and dishes.  The everyday stand-bys such as the breaded eggplant panini and homemade ravioli with ricotta are present at all times, but menu items such as the vegan coconut lime cream tarts and summer vegetable salads have summer sunshine written all over them, while warm comfort foods such as rice and potatoes with root vegetable like beet and rapini provide that sense of warmth and coziness during the cold winter months.  I got the chance to see and eat some wonderful fall food this time and it was beautiful, artistic, and of course, delicious.

This time around I stuffed my face into a new menu item as well as a consistent classic: curry cauliflower risotto and veggie stuffed bell peppers!  The orange bell peppers were grilled and stuffed with rice, tomatoes, onions, and broccoli and were super soft with that perfect blistered skin.  One thing that really delighted me was the artwork on my plate.  Roberto had created a soup painting beneath the stuffed bell pepper!  Check it out.  I couldn’t believe it.  Forget latte art, bring on the adorable shapes made out of soup!  Roberto had poured the cauliflower soup into the tomato sauce in such a way that the shape of an apple formed right under my lovely bell pepper.  I literally did a double take when I saw it and I almost didn’t want to disrupt the masterpiece by cutting into the pepper.  But alas, nature called and I was hungry so I captured eleventy billion photos of it before it went away.  Food artistry at its finest.

Here’s the thing though: I DON’T EVEN LIKE CAULIFLOWER.  I’ve grown to love many foods I used to wrinkle my nose at when I was younger, but cauliflower has always remained on my “I do not fancy you” list.  Which begs the question, “why did I decide on these dishes if I don’t even care for cauliflower?”  Simply put, I wanted to give broccoli’s much paler cousin a shot.  This fall, my mum started integrating more cauliflower into our vegetable dishes at home and I found myself enjoying it so much more when she made them.  Call it bias toward my mum’s home cooking, call it a foodie epiphany; I didn’t hate it as much as I used to.  However, I only preferred it the way my mum cooked it because to me, and forgive me for saying this, every other cauliflower experience has tasted awful.  I might as well have been eating cardboard.  Which means my choosing a dish with cauliflower in it at Mela was a big deal.  I was putting my faith in Roberto on this one.  The verdict?  You know food is good when you start scarfing down things you’ve disliked for years.

Although I enjoyed the stuffed bell pepper (goodness do I ever love the char and blistered pepper skin done right), it was the curry cauliflower risotto that completely won me over and had me “mmm”ing for a good half hour straight!  It was so incredibly delicious and flavourful and so colourful.  It was a joy to look at and an even bigger joy to eat.  I love risotto to pieces because the creaminess of it just makes me want to go into spoon-to-mouth shovel mode and I get so excited whenever I get the chance to eat it.  It’s like rice stew and the versatility of it means endless ingredient possibilities.

I have never had a curry risotto before.  Mushroom risotto, yes.  One of my friends even made a fabulous, homemade walnut, apple, blue cheese risotto for a dinner party a few years ago.  But curry risotto?  That combination hadn’t even entered my foodie universe.  The curry cauliflower risotto was served as a triangular “pie” slice with rich, creamy curry rice and chunks of cauliflower sitting in a plate of cauliflower soup with olive oil drizzle, topped with Mela’s famous piping hot tomato sauce.  The curry was like a bursting firework of savoury flavour and the risotto was perfectly creamy and smooth without being mushy.  You could taste every rice grain with the tomato sauce and curry intertwining into one mouthful of pure heaven. 

Every time I come to Mela I’m eating something wonderfully delicious and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to choose between items and to pick a favourite!  Hands down, the curry cauliflower risotto is in my top 3 favourite things here at Mela.  The ravioli is in this top 3 too, but that’s about the best I can do because I can’t settle on another item to round the list out.  Winter is quickly approaching and I’m looking forward to another visit and I can’t wait to see (and taste) the scrumptious goodies waiting for me.

*****

Mela Café is located at 7 Yorkville Ave., north of Cumberland St. and just west of Yonge St.  All dishes are either vegetarian or vegan and prices range from $4-$8.50.  They are primarily a lunch cafe during the week, open until around 4:30pm-5pm from Monday to Friday, and with later closing hours on Saturday.  They are closed on Sunday.

Scrapbook materials used: Poppy red, orange, pale yellow, neon green, and cappuccino cardstock; apron and oven mitt adhesive embellishments (In the Kitchen by Karen Foster Design); alphabet stickers (K&Company); floral die-cuts (K&Company); 5-petal paper punch (ek success).

An Explosion of Flavour and Texture – Vegan, Vegetarian, and Gluten-Free Delights at Hibiscus in Kensington

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Here’s a random fact about me: I’m allergic to hibiscus flowers.  I know, I might as well walk around in a bubble.  Not only do I have allergies year-round (I sneeze and blow my nose just as often and violently in April as I do in October), but I have a plethora of food  and non-food allergies and sensitivities, including hibiscus flowers.  Like all my allergies, I found about this specifc hypersensitivity the hard way.  While working at my flower shop job 5 or 6 years ago, my arms broke out into little red welts right after watering some plants outside during the summer.  I was watering hibiscus flowers.  So it’s ironic how much I adore a restaurant aptly named Hibiscus!  I am far from allergic to this fabulous haven of veggie food.  

Remember how I said that Kensington Market had an abundance of delightful vegetarian and vegan options?  Hibiscus is yet another wonderful place in Kensington Market that caters to the vegetarian and vegan crowd with its menu of vegetarian, vegan, raw, and gluten-free items.  Even though I firmly believe everyone and anyone should and could eat here, the reason why I say Hibiscus caters to the veggie crowd is because their menu is strictly vegetarian and vegan.  Some places are meat-centric with a few veggie options, some places serve meat dishes but are very veggie-friendly with many choices to choose from, and others, like Hibiscus, are veggie through and through with no meat in sight.  They’re not entirely vegan because they do serve cheese and nutella (which contains milk) with some dishes, but they offer vegan alternatives for the dishes that contain those food items.

Much like King’s Cafe down the street on Augusta, the food and atmosphere at Hibiscus has a subtle but noticable Chinese flair to it and I’ll explain one of the reasons why when I show you all the delicious meal I had here later on in the post.  You know you’ve found a gem when 1) you feel comfortable and at ease with both the atmosphere and the staff, and 2) you want to eat my through the entire menu.  Hisbiscus is a cozy, intimate-style eatery with plenty of foodie goodness on and off the menu.  They sell lots of tea accessories, fair trade coffee, and herbal tea (most notably from the Numi brand) and all of their non-menu food items can be purchased behind the cash. 

The menu itself isn’t particularly large.  Everything is listed on one page, but let me tell you, it’s quality waaay over quantity at Hibiscus.  If I had to break down their menu and succintly point out their hot spots, their specialities are 1) sweet, dessert-like buckwheat crepes and savoury buckwhweat crepes with vegetables, fruit, chutneys, and cheese, 2) non-dairy, vegan ice cream, 3) soy smoothies, and 4) salad bowls.  Prices range from $5.65-$9 for mains (small and large salad bowls, and sweet and savoury crepes) and $3-$5 for ice cream desserts.  Smoothies come in at $4.50 and other drinks are around $2-$3. 

Their menu is incredibly cohesive and focused, which speaks to the success of the restaurant.  It is BUSY here and there were people continuously coming and going even during the lull hour of 4pm!  One way of getting to know some of the menu items before you’ve tried them?  Discreetly take a peek around to see what everyone else has on their plate.  People were dining in and taking out and eating salad bowls like there was no tomorrow.

That’s right, salad bowls.  I know it’s easy to judge simplistic menu items and shrug them off as unworthy.  After all, don’t we all shudder at the thought of limp lettuce and ho-hum salad ingredients?  Don’t let the humble name of the menu item fool you though.  This salad bowl was an explosion of flavours and textures and I absolutely adored this and would eat this over and over and over again because it was delicious.  This is healthy, vegan food at its finest!  

The salad bowl was jam-packged with fluffy, crunchy quinoa, broccoli, shredded carrots, red kidney beans, chickpeas, tofu cubes, green beans, lentils, beets, cubed butternut squash, this delicious soy paste that mimicked the texture of creamy cheese made with onion and celery, and a yummy, crispy, raw cracker on the side.  The salad bowl was also topped with the subtle Chinese flair that delighted me: cellophane noodles (fun see in Cantonese) that oddly tasted much like the salty flavour of Chinese-style jellyfish!

That flavour completely threw me for a loop and I loved how so many flavours and textures worked together in this salad bowl.  It was savoury, sweet, crunchy, soft, smooth, everything.  The briney, saltiness came from the “fun see”-like noodle topper, there was a delicious mix of olive oil and balsamic with the beans, chickpeas, and tofu cubes, the sweetness of the butternut squash had hints of nutmeg, and the vegetables and quinoa provided so much texture and crunch.  This dish was fantastic and after eating just the small salad bowl (they offer both a small and large), I was so satisfied.  The salad bowl is a meal that keeps on giving because there are so many flavours and so many layers – it takes awhile for your spoon to hit the bottom of the bowl, literally!

I’ve wanted to eat at Hibiscus for so long now and I’m so happy I finally did.  I can’t wait to gorge on some of their vegan ice cream and truthfully, eleventy billion more salad bowls.   

*****

Hibiscus is located at 238 Augusta Ave. in Kensington Market.

Foodie Districts: Kensington Market

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Whenever anyone from out of town asks me what they should do or see when they come to Toronto, I direct them to Kensington Market.  Aside from the Distillery District, Kensington is my favourite part of the city, second to none.  I’ve fallen in love with so many different neighbourhoods over the years and although all of them hold special memories and are wonderfully unique in their own ways, Kensington will always win my heart.  One of the things I love most about Kensington is its accessibility.  Sitting snuggly within Chinatown, it’s literally just steps off the Spadina streetcar line and it’s easy peasy getting to other neighbourhoods such as Queen West, the Annex, Little Italy, and Little Portugal.

I can never get enough.  I can come here day in and day out and never be bored of wandering around because I am always finding something new to explore and take photos of (the photo up top is just one example of the unexpected mobility of artisitic expression that weaves in and out of the market; here today, gone tomorrow) and the culinary options available could last me a lifetime!  While many of the markets and food shops are mainstays, the foodie terrain is constantly evolving and changing with new businesses setting up shop in the neighbourhood.  There are so many choices and I think Kensington is especially amazing for 6 different things:

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