Category Archives: Restaurant Reviews

A Crepey Brunch in Hintonburg

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IMG_0977 exteriorSo I heard though the grapevine that there’s a place in Hintonburg that’ll make you a vegan crepe.

It’s called “A Thing For Chocolate”, and Neil and I just went there for brunch.

The atmosphere is cheerful and unpretentious, decorated with framed quotes affirming that chocolate is good for you and you’re probably not getting enough.

IMG_0971 menuThere were only a couple of vegan options on the menu and they were pretty plain. When we placed our order, however, we discovered that they also make a savoury vegan crepe. Called “The Vegan,” it’s filled with Daiya, basil leaves, mushrooms and tomatoes.

"The Vegan"
“The Vegan”

I was kind of surprised when the crepes arrived, because they were brown. Omar the owner informed us that they’re made of buckwheat. I’m not sure what that’s all about – if it’s a conflation of gluten-free with vegan or if he just thinks vegans like healthy looking brown things. But who cares – they were good, and Omar was such a dear and so eager to bring in more vegan options, I didn’t want to get in his face about the brown crepes.

The "London Fog" - Earl Grey tea with almond milk.
The “London Fog” – Earl Grey tea with almond milk.

Speaking of, we told Omar to get Earth Balance, President’s Choice meatless chicken breasts and Tofutti Cream cheese to make his menu more vegan-friendly. I encourage you to contact him if you have any other suggestions. Honestly, I kind of drew a blank when he asked me. Partially out of excitement and partially because it started giving me flashbacks to our ill-fated Restaurant Outreach Program (let us never speak of it again).

Sweets from the Earth goodies at the counter!
Sweets from the Earth goodies at the counter!

So there you go – vegan crepes in Ottawa. In yer face, Toronto.

Addendum: After posting this blog I discovered that everyone except me knows that traditional savoury crepes are always made with buckwheat *looks down in shame for being an uncultured mouth-breather*.

 

 

 

West End Well can compete with Herb & Spice, but no vegan destination

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IMG_0963 exterior, cropped saturatedA new cooperative grocery/cafe/performance space just opened right down the street from me in Hintonburg.

It called the “West End Well,” and I was very excited to head over there this morning to see if Hintonburg had gotten itself yet another vegan destination.

I’ve got to admit I was a bit disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really nice space. It’s big, beautiful, and has a really nice produce section. It also offers IMG_0964 fruits & veggiessome vegan staples like Tofurky and Field Roast sausages and Daiya.

It’s also got Zengarry nut cheese, Strawberry Blonde Queen Elizabeth cake (bought that!), and the requisite wall full of fair trade organic chocolate. There was a new one there called “chocosol” which declares that it is not chocolate but an invitation to social justice. So of course I bought one because who can refuse an invitation to social justice when it is offered for a mere $5.59? I hope the company puts my contribution towards a better bean grinder because the chocolate was kind of gritty. Though sometimes I wonder if these barsartisanal companies make their food like that on purpose. You know, they make some perfect, creamy chocolate then say, “Hmmmmm, it doesn’t taste artisanal enough – throw some dirt in!”

When I walked in the door, I was fully prepared to commit to spending the bulk of my grocery budget there if they could provide two things: Silk Soy milk and non-bricklike vegan bread.

They didn’t have the Silk but the person at the counter dutifully wrote down the suggestion. Their regular in-house bread isn’t vegan but the gluten-free stuff is. The staffer was very emphatic that the gluten-free bread is not as gross as she’d expected, and is also the best gluten-free bread she’s ever had. I explained with equal enthusiasm that I might buy a loaf of gluten-free bread for the sheer joy of punting it down the road if I didn’t think I’d break my foot on it.

menuAs for the cafe menu – well, there it is, have a look. Given the relative vegan-friendliness of the grocery section (right on par with Herb & Spice, Rainbow and all that), I was surprised that the cafe so fully embraced the bacon-loving hipster ethic, but there you go.

Despite its, shall we say, “misalignments” with my own ethics, I give the West End Well three and a half lentils out of five. It’s pretty, it’s got a lot of vegan stuff, and it’s closer than Herb and Spice.

New Additions to the Veg Business Directory

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If you have ever spent time on the NCVA Facebook group, you’ll know that NCVA members are incredibly knowledgeable about veg-friendly businesses around Ottawa. And they’re always willing to point people to the best restaurants, bakeries, and specialty stores in their neighbourhoods. Our veg business directory is an attempt to capture that knowledge and make it easily available to Ottawans and visitors alike.

Newly added to the directory this month:

Grow Your Roots is a 100% vegan vendor at the Carp Farmers’ Market. Get there early because their homemade burgers, sausages, and baked treats have been known to sell out fast. GYR’s deep-fried avocados are already famous.

Kothurotti is located just east of the Rideau Centre. Their menu has a whole vegan page with 20 items including appetizers, soups and mains. I admit I have a weakness for the Sri Lankan dish they are named after! Take-out or delivery (minimal seating).

Fiazza has been generating some buzz on the NCVA Facebook group. They will top your pizza with Daiya vegan cheese, and they offer vegan treats from Strawberry Blonde Bakery for dessert.

Rideau Bakery is a kosher bakery, so it’s easy to find dairy-free breads there. Inquire about the egg-free selections. If you’ve ever had spinach dip in a bread bowl at an NCVA event, the pumpernickel bread probably came from Rideau Bakery.

Snack box
Snack box

Vegan Cuts is an online marketplace with food, beauty, and lifestyle products, plus subscription boxes of snack and beauty products. Did you know it’s headquartered in Ottawa? Check out this fun article on vegan power couples to meet the founders (you have to scroll about 1/3 of the way down the page).

Vegan Feast at Ceylonta Restaurant

Since discovering Ceylonta South Indian restaurant a few months ago, it’s become a regular haunt for Neil and me. 

Thank the wonderful food. But even more so, thank the lovely hostess Tamara. She always helps us select vegan-friendly items from the extensive menu.

On the day we took these photos, we had three of our staple dishes: Roti with Coconut Sambal, Kothu Roti, and Vegetarian (vegan) Thali.

Neil ate the devilled potatoes

We skipped the Dosa that day. Largely because it’s the size and shape of a baseball bat and it wouldn’t fit on our two-person table.

We also skipped the Devilled Potatoes. Because they cause your head to catch on fire and we’d left our motorcycles at home. If I have to tell you that’s a Ghost Rider reference, you need to get out more. Or one of us does.

Anyway, here are some pics of the feast.

Roti with Coconut Sambal

I highly recommend everyone check the place out. The Roti alone is worth the trip. In fact, if you got nothing but several orders of Roti and Coconut Sambal, I would applaud your wisdom and commitment to getting fat.

And I encourage everyone to ask for Tamara’s help picking your vegan dishes. She’s been there every time we’ve gone and is loveliness and helpfulness personified. And I honestly don’t know if the dishes were already vegan or if she had the chef veganize them for us – so better to be safe than sorry!

Vegetarian Thali. Not sure if it's naturally vegan or veganized for us.

 

Kothu Roti. Key word being "roti". What mad genius thought of mixing roti in with the dish?

Pilgrimage to Mello’s

So on Friday Nov. 2, upon hearing good news of great joy from NCVA board member David, a group of seven of us descended on Mello’s Restaurant on Dalhousie Street in Ottawa’s ByWard Market to see if what David was reporting was true, or too good to be true.  We needed to find out: is Mello’s restaurant truly for vegans, as he had promised?

Jerk pork

In case you haven’t seen his original blog post, David reported the following through his blog about Mello’s:

We’re talking delicious fries with (vegan) gravy, jerk pork (read: seitan) and steamed bun with cilantro, the best (vegan) pad thai you will ever treat your tastebuds to, and whatever else they can cook up. The head chef appears to be no stranger to vegan grub, as he works skillfully with tofu, seitan, tempeh and other vegan protein favourites.

Wait, what? At an old-school diner?  We had to see it to believe it.

Once we all arrived, the lovely server presented us with the menu. It detailed things like pork belly, and a cheese platter.  “We’d like the vegan menu,” we politely asserted.  That’s when she pointed out the little phrase in italics at the bottom of the menu:  Most menu items can be made with vegan or vegetarian substitutions.  

Woah, minds blown. How to decide?!  We grilled her a bit more, making sure she understood that we meant business. She got it, she really did.  Note: The cheese platter cannot be veganized.

Reuben Dumplings

Well, I can’t speak for anyone else and their decision-making process, but Neil, Erin and I decided to join forces to share as many dishes as possible so we didn’t have to leave anything out.  We ordered three appetizers, and three entrees to share. This is common for them; Erin has written before about their odd sharing habits, and I was about to join them.  The server seemed taken aback. “That’s a lot of food. Are you sure?”  We had never been more sure of anything in our lives.

The apps came first.  A big plate of long shoestring french fries coated with delicious salty gravy (mushroom, I believe), “Reuben Dumplings” were actually dumplings stuffed with faux beef and Daiya cheese, and “Jerk Pork” that was bean curd skin soaked in spicy jerk pork sauce on some sort of homemade steamed bun.  All were very good, but it is the dumplings and fries/gravy that I still fantasize about. They can also be made as poutine, using Daiya.

Then the mains.  These were overall very good, but a bit more hit or miss than the starter fare.  We ordered:

The Pad Thai ($16), which was really quite unlike pad thai, but nonetheless completely delicious. My husband felt it was a bit bland, but I think it may be because he was eating JUST the pad thai and not six different dishes.

The Buffalo Chicken Wings ($16) – breaded and fried tofu sticks dipped in hot sauce- a total win.

Buffalo Wings

The Beef Shortrib ($25)- this was substituted with tempeh. Now, I love tempeh. But this was not the best tempeh I’ve had, and to be totally honest, given the $25 plate price tag, it was a miss.  My advice to the chef would be marinate marinate marinate, and also consider discounting the dish to reflect its much humbler substitution.  The tempeh cheezburger at Cafe My House is pretty much the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life, and the platter sells for $15.  This shortrib dish came with some sides, but they were a bit minimal and definitely did not justify the $25 price tag. I just checked my photos, and I didn’t even take a photo.

None of us expected anything when it came to dessert, so we were pleasantly surprised to learn that the chef had prepared a vegan dessert just for us! It was what the waitress called a “deconstructed” pie, with fresh berries, crust, and homemade coconut almond ice cream. It was excellent.

Overall it was a unique and delicious experience, that introduced me to some flavours and textures that I had not experienced before.   A lot of care and consideration has clearly been given to making the vegan substitutions. Apparently the chef’s girlfriend is vegan, so you can thank her for this!  I would recommend checking it out, and giving it a whirl. Apparently few people have taken advantage of the vegan substitutions  which I am sure can be explained in no small part by the lack of promotion of these options to the veg community. So let’s show them some support! I was a bit disappointed not to meet the chef; I knew he was there because our server mentioned it, but he wasn’t identified so I wasn’t able to reach out myself.

I’ll close with a few things David mentioned in his blog post, so that you can heed the advice and have an experience just as enjoyable as ours:

  1.  The seating is limited, so it is recommended that you make a reservation;
  2. The chef suggests letting him know in advance that you’re coming, especially if it’s going to be a large group of vegans, because lately, given the lack of popularity–which by the way the vegan army plans on doing something about–he wouldn’t be able guarantee that he’ll be able to make *everything* vegan on the fly. It would be in your best interest to call in advance anyway, because both himself and the staff are extremely friendly and it’s almost heartwarming to talk to them and hear how they will cater to your dietary requirements;
  3. These vegan options are only applicable to the dinner menu. An entirely different crew runs the show at lunch hour.

And yes, Erin, Neil and I ate everything that was put in front of us! 🙂

 

Mellos Restaurant
290 Dalhousie St., Ottawa ON
613-241-1909

SimplyRaw Express opening + ZenKitchen pub night delights!

After years of anticipation and hard work on the part of its proprietors, Natasha Kyssa and Mark Faul, SimplyRaw Express opened its doors today (Saturday, May 12), becoming the latest addition to Ottawa’s thriving vegan restaurant scene.

SimplyRaw Express is a fresh juice bar and takeaway, located at 989 Wellington St. West in Hintonburg. It offers organic juices and smoothies, raw vegan dishes, quinoa bowls, delicious desserts as well as culinary workshops, detoxification and nutritional programs. Its food is completely vegan, as well as soy and gluten-free. The best part? NCVA members get a 10 per cent discount off of all food and drink purchases at SimplyRaw Express.

The NCVA got a sneak peek at the new café on Friday evening, along with other local notables and media personalities, and it is fabulous.  Word on the street is that there was a steady line up all day today, its first official opening day. Natasha and Mark sure know how to generate buzz!

“Our association could not be more pleased that longtime supporters Natasha and Mark have finally made SimplyRaw Express a reality,” says NCVA president Josh Flower.  “I know I’m looking forward  to enjoying the healthy variety of fast food that SimplyRaw Express offers, and I am excited to see how the Ottawa community will embrace the concept. This is a great day for vegans and non-vegans alike.”

*****

A few weeks ago we posted about the ZenKitchen pub night that the NCVA was coordinating. Well that happened on Thursday evening, and it was a huge success.  Twenty-one people attended the event, and it was a great mix of old and new.  But what was really phenomenal was the food.

Chef Caroline surprised us with a three-course pub-style plated dinner.  The first course was apple slaw with a breaded butternut squash risotto ball, followed by the entrée, which was a platter of goodies including panko-crusted onion rings, BBQ seitan fingers, salad rolls, kale chips, tofu dengaku with miso apple butter glaze, and a box of french fries for each participant!  As if that wasn’t enough, dessert came in the form of a decadent brownie topped with ice cream, coconut whipped cream, and chocolate sauce.

All of that for $25.  We kid you not.  $25.

“I have to say, Chef Ishii and the ZenKitchen team really outdid themselves,” says President Flower.  “The ZenKitchen pub night was beyond our expectations. It was also a real pleasure to meet and chat with some of the unfamiliar people who came out. Overall, the evening was a tremendous experience!”

Twenty-four hours of vegan decadence in Montreal

I was feeling a bit of cabin fever and a desire for waffles, so I suggested a last-minute overnighter to Montreal to my husband. He never says no to that.

As my friends know, I am a bit of a creature of habit.  In terms of the big picture stuff, I am quite comfortable making quick and far-reaching decisions, but for the day-to-day things, I don’t stray far outside of my norm. The staff at most of my local haunts know what I am going to order, I go to bed at roughly the same time every night, I like the laundry done a certain way.  That sort of thing.

So I was thrown for a loop when I learned that Chu Chai, where I stop for dinner every time I go to Montreal is temporarily closed. I was alarmed. Where would I eat? That’s where I always go!  Deciding what company to hire to replace my home’s roof? No problem.  Finding a replacement restaurant for dinner?  Panic-inciting.

I took to happycow.net to see what was new in Montreal, and I came across Su Shian Yuang, a relatively new Taiwanese veg restaurant.  It was just down the street from Chu Chai, which offered some comfort. We would give it a try.

But first, a stop at Viva Vegan, the all-vegan store a few blocks over on St-Laurent Blvd.  I wanted to buy some pastries for the morning. Sadly, I learned that their woman who was supplying their almondine and chocolate croissants is no longer doing so, but on the plus side, they had cinnamon rolls.  Sold!  I also grabbed an assortment of vegan candy bars, two gluten-free cupcakes (which were actually phenomenal) and several types of buillion, since I have been on a soup making craze.

General Tao Tofu

Then it was on to Su Shian Yuang.  It wasn’t much to look at from the outside, or the inside, although there were cute wall decals and the lights were dimmed just enough. The service was gracious, and the server seemed to genuinely be thrilled to receive thanks and appreciation.

Bibimbop

We ordered two appetizers– crispy Imperial rolls and avocado sushi. Appetizers were inexpensive, in the $4-5 range.  The Imperial rolls were good, although not quite at the level that they were at Sacred Garden (RIP).  But the sushi was excellent.  Considering I make avocado sushi at home regularly, I was not expecting to be amazed and impressed, but I was.  Yves complained for the rest of dinner that he wanted more, and I have to admit, so did I.

Mixed veg stir-fry

Next came the main courses. I couldn’t decide between two, so I ordered both (I should note that I had one of the four Imperial rolls and one of the six sushi pieces).  I selected the General Tao Tofu, and a mixed veg stir-fry, not because it sounded particularly interesting, but because I wanted to make sure I ate enough vegetables for the day. Yves chose the bibimbop.

The mixed vegetables were fine; they were cooked exactly the right amount, and the sauce was non-descript. Pieces of what I believe was wheat gluten were interspersed. Nothing spectacular, but a good vegetable conduit, and the type of dish you could safely recommend to a frightened omni with no sense of taste adventure.

The General Tao Tofu was, on the other hand, excellent. The tofu was fried to a perfect consistency, and the sauce was tangy, and had just the right amount of spicyness.  It came tossed with peppers and bok choy, helping it pretend to be healthy I suppose.   As for Yves’ bibimbop, he liked it perfectly fine, but has been spoiled by two years of Cafe My House’s signature bibimbop.  He said this one was good, but less interesting than Cafe My House’s rendition, and that he would have preferred more sushi.

Waffles with cashew cream, maple syrup and fruit.

The next morning we headed to Aux Vivres for brunch, another Montreal ritual for us.  But I was conflicted. I had been craving waffles for about a week, thanks to Julia Cropley and Dee Campbell-Giura’s brunch musings on the NCVA Facebook page.  On the other hand, I adore their polenta dish, which happens to come with more vegetables.  My solution: I had Yves order one extra waffle for me (for $4), and ordered the polenta for myself.

La polenta

And of course, both were utterly delicious.  The waffles were  delightfully chewy, and sopped up their sides wonderfully.  The polenta was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, and made an excellent utensil for the black beans, guac, and pico de gallo. I enjoyed every bite.  Both brunch items come with your choice of coffee or chai tea. I chose coffee, noting the cute little frothed soy milk side that they bring with it.

Raw lasagne

Before we hit the road, we decided to stop at Crudessence for some take out.  It had been a while since we had been there, but I had spent much of my car ride to Montreal talking to Natasha Kyssa of Simply Raw so I could practically feel her frowning at me for the fried tofu and cinnamon buns.  I know that she knows that I know better. This would be my way of making it up to her.

At Crudessence, I ordered what I had eaten the past two times I went there, their raw lasagne.  Super thin layers of zucchini, enrobed in tangy sun-dried tomato sauce and accented with nut-based raw cheezes.  It was, as I had recalled, delicious.  It came with a side “caesar” salad, including carrots and sprouts. I ate it all, out of respect for Natasha.

Om burger

Yves chose the Om Burger, which is mushroom based. He often chooses mushroom-y things when we eat out, because I loathe them and never use them at home.  Its bun was a mash of dehydrated seeds and vegetables, which he was not keen on, but other than that, he was pretty pleased.

Before heading out, we stopped at Paradis Vegetarien, where you can find almost any type of faux meat imagineable.  Erin and Neil had some requirements, and I was happy to oblige. I chatted with Jimmy, the owner, about Veg Fest. He will be coming, by the way.

Montreal is a great place for vegans to visit for even just for a day or two, because it packs a lot of punch.  The area bordered by Sherbrooke, Saint Joseph, St-Laurent and St-Denis is practically a vegan paradise, with lots of little independent shops to boot. Go there.