The Original Banh Mi Factory [closed Dec 2007]

1325 Finch Avenue
416-631-0070

[closed Dec 2007]

The Original Banh Mi Factory (Banh Mi meaning Bread) is a bakery, dessert, soup, smoothie, and submarine eatery with free Internet, 3 large TV screens with Muchmore music playing and has a casual and clean ambiance.

It may claim to be Canada’s largest sandwich shop, but The Original Bahn Mi (Vietnamese for sandwich) Factory has much more than sandwiches. Along with a selection of tasty Vietnamese subs, the 7,600-square-foot restaurant has a menu featuring more than 125 items.

I went with my colleague Carmen for lunch there and i was shocked at the selection. They have Pho (Vietnamese beef and rice noodle soups), as well as a large Bubble Tea selection, home made baguette, sushi, a vast array of desserts, Thai dishes like cold salad rolls (veggie and shrimp). Prices are beyond superb for what you get. I ordered a 6″ sub with thinly sliced tofu, thinly sliced carrot, cilantro, rice noodles, and pickled vegetables. The homemade baguette bread was hot and fresh, crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside.

The place is a little kitcshy as it has two large TV screen with Much More Music playing movies like Grease and TV like Fame (all content on Much More Music is music themed). Also offers Internet access and has a large kiosk for freshly baked goods. The Original Banh Mi Factory resembles a bakery, sub shop, smoothie / frozen drink cafe with a smooth kiosk and professional blenders ready to make Bubble Tea smoothies.

A cool incentive of this place is if you spend more then $10 they will give you a free baguette to take home. In all reviews I’ve consulted, I am told that the Rose Cafe is the best when it comes to Vietnamese Subs, but this place is damn good to begin with. Baguettes (white or whole wheat) are made on the premises (which is a plus) and prices are quite reasonable.

Unfortunately the Pho dishes, which look large, satisfying, and healthy, are all beef based, since traditional Pho is comprised of raw beef that cooks with the veggies in the heated beef broth (GROSS). The place does remind me of McDonalds since it’s large, clean, and has a simple, fast food “look and feel”. They plan on having a drive thru window soon. They sell their famous Deli Majoos – cream filled pastries that taste like doughnuts. Since baked goods are made on the premises, expect all baked goods to be fresh and warm. You can see staff make all of the food since the kitchen is behind the cash but is open concept with clear view windows. Does resemble a bakery more than a restaurant. Nice front display with colourful looking dishes. Open concept dining room has high ceilings and is not crowded but feels very comfortable and seems too nice for fast food.

At present, they only accept cash but there is an ATM in the restaurant. Definitely recommended if you are in the Finch and Dufferin or Finch and Keele area during the day.

Boom Breakfast and Co.

 808 College Street
(416) 534-3447
new location at 1036 St. Clair West
(416) 657-3447

Boom is a trendy and comfortable breakfast joint along the College West strip at Ossington, just at the cusp of Little Italy and in the St. Clair/Oakwood neighbourhood. The Little Italy location looks like a classy but trendy diner with a old fashioned looking bar and nice 4 seater booths for privacy. In addition to brunch, they also serve “lunch and dinner” items like pasta, salad, burgers, and many veggie options.

As Boom is know for brunch, and having been opened for 2 years, we decided to go in a group (me, Justine, Pam, and Bryan). Pam ordered the Eggs Florentine and thought it was excellent. It came with very tasty homefries and a bit of fruit. Price and portion size were adequate. She thought service was excellent and the decor was modern & cozy. I liked the booths! Also, very clean looking.

Justine had the chocolate chip pancakes and thought they were somewhat tasty. She felt that they could have been a bit lighter and more fluffy (3’s Company is much better). She liked the egg decor on all the walls and the big egg near the entrance….She thought it was very playful. Justine found the prices to be very reasonable (under $6 for her pancakes. She thought the portion size for her pancakes were very good. She enjoyed the nice ambience…Booths made the place very casual and loungy, but they also had the bar area that had blue tiles as a backsplash and classy wooden tabletops…There was a mix of casual and upscale trendy. She thought it was nice to keep all types of people happy (the casual, laid back kind of person and the more yuppy type).

Bryan had the Tuscan eggs: poached eggs, grilled tomato on rye bread, fruit on the side. He enjoyed it, tasted fresh, light, and eggs were properly cooked. The price was standard. Ambience was fun and modern, upbeat and friendly. He liked the booths. The decor was simple and tasteful but not exceptional. He loved the College West location.

My order was a slight disappointment, unless you are anorexic of course. I ordered had the very berry crepe, which was light, thin, and full of fruit (stawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries). It came with a chocolate drizzle and it was excellent. I was disappointed because I asked the waitress if she could recommend something filling (Chocolate Chip Pancakes versus the Very Berry Crepe) and she recommended the crepes. Well, she was wrong. The crepe was tiny and I was not satisfied at all. Justine was generous to share her Chocolate Chip pancakes which were thick and delicious.

Open daily from 6:00am. Accepts all cards. Accessible on the College street streetcar (on College) and along the St. Clair streetcar (St. Clair location) and the Oakwood/Ossington bus.

Rice Bar

 319 Augusta Avenue
(416) 922-7423

From the makers of Azul and Canteena comes a cool and hip new rice bar in Kensington market called Rice Bar. Brock Sheppard’s Rice Bar brings together urban chic minimalism, a touch of pretentiousness, and a funky atmosphere into a small and simple eatery with earth tones and an overall cosy ambiance. With an open concept kitchen, dark hues, and high celings, Rice Bar feels like a neighbourhood bistro and your home kitchen wrapped into one.

The menu definitely brings together a combination of flavours, spices, and twists on traditional rice dishes. At first glance, it does look like they stole the last page of the menu from Fresh by Juice for Life’s rice and noodle dish list. The difference is, Fresh’s rice and noodle dish menu has items from the late 1990’s and very little has been updated. Rice Bar’s rice dishes are creative as they fuse different ethnic flavours together in funky combinations.

Prices are slightly on the higher side considering it’s a rice dish, but our dinner was for Wendy’s birthday so I overlooked the prices and hoped the portions would make up for it.

Wendy and I ordered from the “design your rice bowl” since nothing stood out from the menu for us. Wendy got to choose a protein, type of rice, vegetable, sauce, and garnish. She ordered the chicken with the olive, vanilla & basil sauce on brown rice with pumpkin seeds. The service & price were great but the bathrooms were forgettable.

I ordered the rice noodle dish with grilled tofu, baby bok choi, and spinach in a tamarind and chipotle sauce. Unlike Wendy’s dish which was more “dry”, my dish was very saucy, almost soupy, which was perfect for me. In disappointment, I did find the portion lacking (i expected more) but i was overall very happy with my meal. When servers measure things with plate size, it’s all bullshit. Plate size DOES not infer that your meal is large.

For dessert we ordered two rice puddings; the green tea wasabi white chocolate rice pudding and the ribbous vanilla rice pudding. The pudding were very very strange. First of all, forget the concept of pudding in the traditional sense. This pudding was not comfort food. Forget about the creamy rich, mousse-like texture and think of pudding as a casserole. Our two pudding came in two log-like rectangles of cooked and flavoured rice. The green tea wasabi rice was green in colour and had strong accents of wasabi. It was laced in a white chocolate drizzle. I thought this was some kind of joke ( a creative one, though). Wendy and I looked at each other and thought how thoroughly pretentious it was to present rice pudding as a clump of cooked and flavoured with a little drizzle of white chocolate sauce. The ribbous vanilla rice pudding was even more pathetic since it was also served as a rectangular lump with a nice vanilla bean aroma and laced with brown string-like nodules (ribbous?). We shared both desserts but thought how ridiculous they were. I guess we are so ethno-centric that we are not aware of rice pudding from other countries or Rice Bar was trying too hard to be cool. We think the latter.

For our beverages, I ordered the extra hot “macha” green tea latte with soy milk. I was thoroughly disappointed with my “infant” size cup of tea. I know that classy restaurants do not serve items the size of The Keg Mansion, but customers do not deserve to be ripped off by “baby” sized portions of drinks. I thought it was illegal for her to serve me a drink that pathetic in size. If you’re thirsty, or you want a soothing drink, don’t bother. You’ll be ripped off because it’s organic or natural and it gives them a reason to be deceitful.

Other menu items to note is the Korean pizza – a scallion crepe with pesto, avocado and shrimp. Other rice dishes include dragon bowl of rice noodles in coriander pesto broth with baby bok choy and spicy Korean kimchi and chicken (or shrimp or tofu). The best part of Rice Bar is the design-your-own bowls; you choose the rice (jasmine, brown basmati, infused, infused or rice noodle). You choose your protein: chicken, beef, shrimp or tofu. Then select a sauce, ranging from green coconut milk curry, lemongrass or a soy, sesame and ginger mix. Lastly, throw in your veg choice ? baby spinach, black beans, bok choy ? you even choose your garnish and any extras.

To conclude, I do plan to go back and try other dishes besides the rice bowls. I always believe it’s important to try a place at least three times before making conclusions. Hours of operation are Tue. to Sun.: 11:00am – 10:00pm. Accepts all cards.

Euro Crepe Cafe

582 Danforth Ave
(416) 462-2500

Euro Crepe Cafe is a relatively new place on the Danforth that serves both sweet and savoury crepes and other brunch fare. Given the fact that many places on the Danforth do not survive a year, Wendy and I thought we should stop and critique the crepe selection. Wendy loves savoury, while I love sweet so I think we could give our perspectives on this place from both the sweet and savoury point of view.

Upon entering Euro Crepe, we noticed that it was packed with people, amongst an airy “open concept” narrow dining area. With an open kitchen with a huge array of teas and coffees and a fresh fruit and veggie bar where crepes are made before your eyes, Euro Crepe already stood out. We were getting hungry as the host brought us to our table. The aroma of fresh coffee, tea, fresh fruit, grilled veggies and the sizzling of crepes being made before our eyes got us excited.

We sat at the back of the restaurant. Overall decor looks European, like a French cafe.

I ordered a strawberry and banana crepe with caramel sauce. Although the portion was small, it was delicious, fresh, and strawberries were sweet and juicy.

Wendy had the grilled veggie crepe with hummus & swiss cheese. It was extremely well portioned (big) & very tasty. The servers are not professional, ours forgot our requests for buckwheat crepes, so if you are ok with casual, sometimes forgetful service, then give it a go.

Euro Crepe serves both sweet and savoury crepes and European sandwhiches, salads and waffles. Some popular crepes include a breakfast crepe with bacon and eggs, and includes toppings like veggies, a variety of sauces. Another popular crepe is the grilled chicken breast crepe and Wendy’s choice (grilled vegetable crepe).

Euro Crepe also serves dessert crepes with ice cream, fresh fruits, caramel , marshmallows, cookie crumbs. They also serve a variety of espresso drinks (espresso, capuccino, latte, mocha, fresh juice, and a large variety of loose tea (I ordered vanilla black tea).

Service is kind of slow. Slightly kitschy (but nice) French art of cafes and other European cultural symbols on the wall. I must admit it is endearing to have cute and innocent servers who have been hired just because they are eye candy. They have a certain naievity that is cute and innocent, but at the same time, sometimes not very competent. It is odd when servers are not knowledgable about the fare they serve. There is no web site or take home menu at present but hopefully something will turn up on the World Wide Web soon. Accepts all cards.

Lee Restaurant [Melanie]

 603 King St. W.
Phone: (416) 504-7867

I decided to go to Lee this Saturday essentially because I really couldn’t afford to go to Susur but was really intrigued to try out Susur Lee’s eclectic style fusion cuisine. Susur Lee is a celebrated chef based in Toronto and owns Susur, and Lee, located side-by-side at 601 and 603 King St. West. Susur opened its doors in 2000, and has been on various international Top 50 lists, including Restaurant’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards.

Going into Lee I was overwhelmed by the amazing decor – very stylish, very chic. Even though we didn’t have any reservations we were quickly seated at the bar. This ended up being a great spot for an entire evening out. It is a very busy restaurant and by 8pm there as an actual line outside. The staff are exceedingly friendly and warm. The background music fits with the decor- it was mainly house, dance and electronic. The evening is more casual, the menu full of small, fascinating dishes.

The wine list was fairly extensive. They are also part of the BYOW program so for a $30 corkage, you can just about bring whatever you like. I ordered 2 glasses of the Chilean house wine. It was an excellent choice.

Their “signature dish” is a Singapore salad. It serves two and it is just amazing. I was told it had like over 10 ingredients’ in it including wild flowers. The servings are fairly small “appetizer-sized”. So it is normally recommended that everyone order about 2 to 3 dishes each. The waitress usually recommends what to order and which dishes are larger than others.

The dishes also arrive in random order. The intention is clearly to create an atmosphere where a group is really sharing a meal together and discussing the food. It works very well and makes for an interesting and unique dining experience. I ordered way more than I really needed too. Some of the things I ordered included the Coconut with lime, chilli and shrimp soup which was more sour tasting; Four satay (chicken, shrimp, pork and beef) with mint chutney, peanut and tamarind sauce; boneless chicken wings. My favourite was definitely the Singapore salad. Each dish is typically between $10-17. Reservations are a must if you want something around the dinner hour. It was emptying out by 9:30pm (on Saturday) so you might be able to just walk-in if you go after the dinner hours.

The bathroom is small with only two stalls and not the cleanest. They were certainly not the nicest. However I was there for the food and I was truly impressed. Would I go back? Most definitely, in fact I consider it one of my favourite restaurants in Toronto. This is a chic, trendy, elegant restaurant where you can spend a hip Friday/Saturday evening with friends.

-Melanie Browne

Le Commensal

655 Bay Street (entrance on Elm St.)
416-596-9364

With 7 restaurants in Canada (3 in Montreal, 1 in the South Shore, 1 in Quebec city, and 1 in Laval) and 1 restaurant in Toronto, Le Commensal has been a leader in providing healthy vegetarian cuisine that is diverse in flavours, colours, textures, and palattes.

For over 30 years Le Commensal has been providing a large selection of options for vegetarians. The name, Le Commensal, comes from the word “commensal” meaning an organism that lives off another organism without harming each other. That is the true essence of vegetarian cuisine

Food is priced according to weight, so if you are hungry and the items you choose are hefty, expect to pay between $20-$25. From my last visit, i chose beet salad, sweet and sour seitan, chili, ratatouille, cous cous salad, hummus and tabouleh, strips of tofu braised in ginger. Although it’s a glorified cafeteria, food is piping hot, fresh, and full of flavour and colour. Overall decor and setting is tranquil, and relaxing. Food is labeled v (vegan), l (dairy), and o (eggs).

Le Commensal offers some take home meals including an assortment of sweet and savoury pies and quiches, fresh soups (broccoli, butternut squash, carrot, Indian lentil, minestrone, pea soup, tomato and barley, and hearty vegetable. In the past, I’ve bought tons of vegepate ( a veggie alternative to liver pate), and packaged marinated sweet and sour tofu and sweet and sour seitan.

Frozen meals include a meaty Bourguignon Stew (cubes of seitan, button mushrooms and pearl onions, simmered in a red wine sauce, with heavenly mashed potatoes) , Cacciatore Veggie Simmer (soy-protein simmered in a tomato and herb sauce, served over pasta), Chinese Stir-Fry (slices of seitan baked in a tomato and tamari sweet and sour sauce, served with garlic-saut饤 pasta.), Creole Jambalaya (rice seasoned with jalape񯠰eppers, garnished with beans, vegetables and chunks of soy protein), Greek-style Casserole (saut饤 tofu with garden vegetables seasoned with garlic, lemon, oregano, topped with basmati rice), the classic lasagne (drop dead delicious) with layers of fresh pasta with tomato sauce, creamy b飨amel sauce, and an assortment of cheeses, the three bean chili (a hearty dish of beans, chunky vegetables and Le Commensal Mexican style ground soy) , Le Commensal Thai Delight (strips of seitan in a tangy sweet-and-sour sauce, with a hint of chili pepper) , Vegetable Couscous (simmered vegetables and chick peas smothered in tomato sauce with couscous), the famous Veggie Shepherd?s Pie (seasoned ground soy with sweet corn and mashed potatoes).

You may notice that many items are sweet. This is because the chili, seitan, and the ratatouille has an added touch of maple syrup that accentuates the flavour of the dish. For Ontarians who dine at Le Commensal, it may give them a touch of Quebec maple syrup.

Be careful, you can choose low fat dining by opting for salads and light fare, there are some oily and rich, decadent dishes like the drop dead yummy lasagna, tofu burgendaise, and the seitan in the various sauces (sweet and sour, etc). Even though some chocolate cakes are vegan, don’t assume it’s fat free or sugar free. Be careful. Choose smaller plates (meals can cost $12-$16) while larger plates can cost more ($14-$23). Food is refreshed constantly and overall decor is clean, not cluttered, tasteful, and pretty relaxing. Considering it is a glorified cafeteria, they try to avoid making it resemble a food court by having it divided in sections and putting calm music, free water, and choosing colours and designs that make the place overal tranquil and not busy (like McDonalds, Subway, or other fast food chains).

Accepts all cards and has liquor license.

Ginger (2007)

Ginger/Ginger 2
695 Yonge St.
(416) 966-2424

521 Bloor Street West
(416) 536-3131

252 Carlton Street
(416) 923-7979

546 Church Street
(416) 413 1053

403 Yonge
416-263-9999

The two original Ginger’s I know of are the one at Yonge and Bloor and the one at Yonge and Gerrard (called Ginger 2). quick and cheap with large portions, damn good prices, and a variety of good food, from stir frys, pho (Vietnamese soup with rice noodles, thinly slices beef, and veggies–the broth actually cooks the beef), as well as Vietnamese subs for less than $3, fruit salad, thick and delicious smoothies, vegetarian pho (vegetarian broth with deep fried or steamed tofu, veggies (snow peas, broccoli, cauliflower, onion, carrot, green and red pepper, bean sprouts) in a heaping bowl of healthy goodness. Other fare includes cold salad rolls (veggie, shrimp, or meat varieties), or the spring rolls (deep fried), come with a sweet dipping sauce or a fishy tasting brown sauce with sprinkled peanuts.

Service is very fast and efficient. Customers line up and order and they take a clear plastic block with a number and staff serve the food. Food is served hot and fresh and staff are pleasant (not extremely pleasant-it’s very fast paced at the Yonge/Bloor location).

The Church and Wellesley location (re-branded as Ginger – Taste of Health) has an actual bar where they serve up fancy fruity martinis. Ginger on Church and Wellesley is more upscale in terms of the decor, but the prices are still as low as Ginger on Yonge/Bloor and Ginger 2 on Yonge/Gerrard. The Church location is fairly new, so there is more seating, bathrooms are nicer, and the placer is cleaner. At the time of my Church street visit (March 2006), they did not offer vegetarian pho as they claim that they cannot make their Pho vegetarian.

The other Ginger locations on Bloor (the Annex) and on Calrton (in Cabbagetown) offer a more trendy and chic look (similar to the Church street location). All of the “newer” locations (Church, Carlton, and Bloor) market themselves as healthy and offer vegetarian options.

The Yonge/Bloor street location and the Church/Wellesley location accept all cards, while the newer Annex location only accepted cash at the time. The Annex location also had a slightly different menu. At that location i ordered the vegetarian hot and sour pho which was equally delicious but had less vegetables than the Yonge/Bloor location. The broth was tastier and the whole decor/ambiance more trendy (even the veggie salad rolls w/ peanut sauce came in trendy shapes and in a more trendy plate). I prefer the veggie salad rolls (more variety) which came with slices of mango and carrot and there was more vegetarian options whereas the Ginger at Yonge/Bloor offered veggie, shrimp, beef salad rolls in an oyster sauce topped with peanuts. Ginger in the Annex offered a delicious REAL peanut sauce (veggie with no fish stock). If only they could improve their portion size on the Pho.

Overall the new branding of Ginger Taste of Health focuses on serving the vegetarian community, when it claims vegetarian options available, whereas the Church/Wellesley could not give a rat’s ass about us veggies and The Ginger at Yonge/Bloor could very well be lying since their English communication skills suck–staff hardly talk…who knows if they even understand the word “vegetarian”. Bathrooms are Ginger at Yonge/Bloor look like a murder scene, don’t bother going to the washroom there, hold it in. Both Ginger at Yonge/Bloor and Yonge/Gerrard need makeovers but food and service is excellent, fast, efficient, friendly, and quick. It’s definitely worth moving to a neighbourhood where there is a Ginger. You get a fast, hearty, healthy, and cheap “no bullshit” meal.

Also offers cheap Vietnamese submarines for under $5 and cheap stir fries (veggie, seafood and meat varieties). My friend Wendy (fellow reviewer) often stops by Ginger at Yonge/Bloor for a large Vietnamese Sub for $2.95 (sure beats Subway or Mr. Sub). She is very happy with her selection as the sandwich is large, fresh, and best of all cheap. Can’t complain.