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  And I was feeling the pangs of withdrawn, especially during this chilly fall weather.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.

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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!

Bringing Great Brunch to the Masses – Baby Arugula & Mango Salsa, Stuffed Croissants, and More at The Commissary

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I didn’t waste any time, did I?  Last week I wrote the 2nd edition of Confessions of a Brunch Obsessed Foodie listing several weekend brunch picks from Leslieville, the land of good food, and *BAM!*, here I am reporting back with a mouthwatering account of The Commissary, one of the three spots I featured in that post.  What can I say?  I had eating to do errands to run in the east end and The Commissary, with its corner location and big windows facing the street, becknoned me like a little floating magical fairy holding a cupcake.  I have to say, I have never pounced on a new discovery so fast.  Normally when I find out about a place I’ve never been to, I take a quick photo of it from the outside, “tuck it away” in my mind (or on my computer; these days they might as well be one and the same) and then figure out a good time to make a real visit which often takes me weeks or even months.  This time?  Within 2 weeks.  The menu looked too good to pass up, I wanted to give you all a first-hand look at one of the newer eateries in this part of town, and it just fit into my schedule and my flow of errands.  Done and done.

The Commissary, located at Queen Street East and Logan Ave., has only been in business for about half a year but judging from the great crowds, you’d never know it.  The place was packed the first time I walked by its front window and door and if you can believe it, I was 2nd in line even before they officially opened their doors for weekend brunch at 10am.  It takes a long time for a food business to get its feet wet, especially in a city as food crazy and critical as ours.  Trust Torontonians to get into a debate online about cupcakes and it cultural significance!  But it truly seems to be thriving in Leslieville because it’s attracting different types of people.  You have young-ins, you have girlfriends, you have families with babies, you have the whole kit and caboodle – and everyone is having a great time in a bright, fresh, airy atmosphere. 

Now, everyone who writes about The Commissary will discuss the significance of its name – heck, even The Commissary themselves provide definitions of what a commissary is on their website.  It’s worth noting though because it really plays into the atmosphere and the feel of the bistro.  A commissary can refer to either “a store that sells food and supplies to the personnel or workers in a military post, mining camp, lumber camp, or the like” or “a dining room or cafeteria, especially one in a motion-picture studio”.  

In order for the name to make sense, we’re not supposed to take these definitions literally but rather use them to make sense of the surroundings around us and the feelings we have while we’re here.  Case in point: the reference to the working class in the first definition speaks to the unpretetnious way food is made here.  Read: it’s not fuss and frills.  It’s just damn good food and tap water in glass bottles (you have to read what the bottle says, it’ll make you laugh).  Even the menu items that scream fancier pants (like my arugula salad with mango salsa and goat cheese crumbles, $5 side) are so simple and fresh and down-to-earth.  And the giant side of breakfast potatoes for $3?  Soft, starchy, cute, insanely scrumptious, and something straight out of a local greasy spoon diner only not greasy. 

Finally, while we foodies aren’t surrounded by red carpets, lights, cameras, and action, you definitely feel like a star dining at a hip and happening hot spot.  And it also helps that everyone who passes by will undoubtedly be curious and glance through the windows to take a peek at the hustle and bustle and, you know, your food.  Because I sure did!  As well, if you take a look at their website, it exudes that old-time Hollywood glamour (I’m looking at you, Fred and Ginger), with black and white photos of old town Toronto and what I’m assuming is old town Leslieville.

The Commissary’s weekend brunch menu is full to bursting with egg breakfasts, breakfast sandwiches, salads, meat mains, vegetarian delights, and plenty of cheesy goodness!  The menu is a jack-of-all-trades.  Prices range from $7-$12, with breakfast sides coming in at $3-$5.50.  Their refreshing salads are available as mains or sides (curried shrimp and melon, caprese, watercress with jicama and Granny Smith apple just to name a few), there are 5 different types of eggs benny including peameal, grilled tomatoes, and applewood smoked bacon and smoked gouda *cue my mouth watering here*, stuffed croissants such as apple compote and brie (OH.MY.GOD) and PB & J, hearty meat dishes (roast beef steak and eggs, lobster and mango salsa, and roast beef and sauteed shrimp surf n’ turf), vegetarian dishes (ratatouille and beans and salsa rancheros), and cheese present in about 3/4 of the dishes.  I LOVE IT.  I ordered a ridiculous amount of food because I couldn’t walk away knowing I didn’t try a little bit of everything my heart desired and it paid off because it was delicious and I didn’t even feel bogged down afterward.

I was in the mood for some veggies and cheese so I went all out and had their vegetarian pepper and cheese stuffed grilled croissant ($9) with roasted red peppers, caramelized onions, and warm, creamy goat cheese, which was served with fruit and a side green salad.  You don’t see stuffed croissant breakfast sandwiches much on brunch menus!  And then I added a side baby arugula and mango salsa salad with goat cheese crumbles, grilled red onion, and sunflower seeds.  And then for good measure I ordered a side of breakfast potatoes for my boyfriend and I to share.  I barely had enough room for my camera!  It was fabulous vegetarian brunch feast.  The grilled croissant was buttery and crispy and savoury with my roasted and sauteed veggies, the goat cheese was abundant, and I would have that baby arugula and mango salsa salad over and over again in a heartbeat, only as a main the next time! 

I love how crisp all the flavours were for everything and how bright, casual, and relaxing the whole place was.  The space may not be the biggest, but it’s a sweet place with great food and a happy atmosphere; you can’t ask for more.

*****

The Commissary is located at 889 Queen Street East at the southeast corner of Queen and Logan Ave. in Leslieville.

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.

The Goodness of Food at The Depanneur – April Supper Clubs, Drop-In Dinners, and Grilled Cheese Month!

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Never a dull food moment!

Easter weekend has come and gone for another year and while mine was rather uneventful and forgettable, I hope everyone who celebrated had a wonderful time with their family and friends eating treats, dyeing eggs, baking, hunting for eggs, and cooing at cute bunny things!  Given how lackluster my weekend was though, I’m looking forward to the rest of the month and that means getting my grilled cheese on!  Now that everyone’s bellies are happy and full of chocolate eggs and bunnies, marshmallows, and Easter dinner, it’s time to bring on the grilled cheese for the month of April in honour of National Grilled Cheese Month.  I’ve been having ridiculous havarti and cheddar cheese cravings lately and I desparately need to satiate them with some ooy gooey crunchy sandwiches this month. 

Aside from Cheesewerks on Wellington and Bathurst, Grilled Cheese in Kensington Market, The Construction Site at Yonge and Eglinton, Leslieville Cheese Market on Queen East and West, and Cool Hand Luc on King West, The Depanneur (at College and Dufferin) is yet another wonderful spot you can go to to satisfy those grilled cheese cravings!  While my last and latest visit didn’t involve any grilled cheeses, I’m here to remind everyone that The Depanneur normally serves two kinds of grilled cheese sandwiches every day for lunch (except Mondays because they’re closed), using plenty of ingredients from local farms and businesses and fresh baked bread from local bakeries such as Nice Buns and St. John’s.

A sneak peek of tomorrow's post!

The grilled cheese menu selection ($4 for a half, $7 for a whole, tax inclusive) could be a mozzarella with peameal bacon on raisin walnut bread, a cheddar sandwich with arugula pesto on sourdough, or a cheddar and sauteed mushroom mix.  I’ve been enjoying their breakfast sandwiches thus far, so regardless of whether I get around to having a grilled cheese from The Depanneur this month, I’m just excited to try one at some point in time!

This month also brings a whole slew of upcoming Drop-In Dinners ($10) and Supper Club events!  If you’ve been keeping up with the The Depanneur’s Food Events in the Food Calendar, you’ll have noticed that Len and his team have been churning out some amazing, creative events: evenings of vegetarian and vegan Mexican and Jamaican, a black and white coloured themed supper club dinner, Nonya and Malaysian cuisine, Cuban flavour, and meat-centric ribs, sliders, and pork meals.  I love, love, LOVE how creative and all-encompassing these supper clubs and drop-in dinners are.  You have meals that cater to meat-lovers, you have ones that are vegetarian and vegan up and down, you have an emphasis on soups, on grains, on dessert, everything could possibly want and think of.  Trust that when I live in the thick of Toronto in the future, I will be at these events!

April Supper Clubs and Drop-In Dinners – I’ll be adding these to the Food Calendar with full descriptions as they come!

  • Sunday, April 21st – A Mexican Culinary Affair With Chef Natalie Ryan (Supper Club)
  • Monday, April 22nd – Vegetarian Eritrean (African) Dinner With Live Music & Coffee Ceremony (Supper Club)
  • Friday, April 27th – Homemade Popovers and Soup (Drop-In Dinner)
  • Sunday, April 29th – Island Fever!  Spicy I-tal Vegan Dinner With Kalmplex

*****

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.  You can view The Depannuer’s Facebook page here.

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.