Hibiscus Organics

 238 Augusta Ave.
416-364-6183

Hibiscus Organics is an organic, dairy, wheat, egg-free vegan cafe located in funky (and up and coming) Kensington Market on Augusta Avenue. Hibiscus Organics used to be more of a gift shop with stationary, some take out specialty gourmet food items but when Wendy and I went there in November, it looked as though they set up some tables.

It is a small cafe, very small (like 3 tables, 12 seats) and people do stay and get comfy, but it’s more of a place for light meals, coffee, and dessert, not proper 6 course meals. Hibiscus serves a variety of sweet and savoury gluten free crepes (made from buckwheat) and a variety of vegan ice cream in many flavours. Salads are healthy, vegan, organic, and most are raw.

This small cafe has an elegant decor. With antique wood bookcases with herbal teas and oils. The place is barely 500 square feet so when another review claimed 12 seats, I thought barely, but you could “fit” 12 seats in this cafe.

They serve vegetarian and vegan crepes with 15 filling ingredients to choose from (including seasonal fruit) plus soup and several cold salads such as quinoa tabouli, pasta, potato and others.

For dessert there is an excellent selection of vegan cookies, brownies, and homemade soy ice cream along with coffee and tea. Food served is mainly for take out but there are 3-4 small tables and when Wendy and I went for lunch, we sat a bench facing the cash register. Fancy oils and gourmet products, bulk rice and grains are tastefully arranged on the walls.

Wendy and I both ordered a mixed salad with beans, quinoa, veggies, with dried cranberries, with the amazing aroma of sesame oil and lemon (or lime). We also enjoyed a cold salad of marinated tofu with green beans saturated in balsamic vinegar. Since I was having a colonoscopy the next week, i could not eat anything RED or have dairy or have any NUTS. Wendy’s dish had the sunflower seeds, beets, and I took out the dried cranberries in my dish since I was told not to eat anything red.

Hibiscus also serves organic smoothies and sodas. Some deserts include soy ice cream like ginger masala (trendy), chocolate-raspberry pseudo cupcakes, cookies, and square. Opened Mon-Sat noon-7pm, Sun 2pm-7pm. Not wheelchair accessible as you need to schlep up a set of 5 stairs. Very cosy, calm, and not pretentious. We definitely left feeling healthy, fresh, light, yet happily satisfied.

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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.

Urban Herbivore

64 Oxford St.
416.927.1231

 

The much younger sister restaurant to Fressen, Urban Herbivore is similar in concept to Fressen but take away the high prices, formal sit down decor, Queen Street pretentiousness, and shi shi poo poo ambiance and you get Urban Herbivore. Located in Kensington Market, Urban Herbivore is a casual “open concept” woodsy kitchen-like cafe with only 3-4 tables.

With a beautiful display of salads and sandwiches, bursting with colour, freshness, and texture, you can tell the veggies are market fresh. Urban Herbivore also sells prepared home made soups. Since there are only about 3-4 tables (only one large table sits about 5) this place is mostly for takeout and quick eating/snacks. There is a large bench outside for great summer brunching or snacking (warning, outdoor bench is just a long bench, no tables or chairs present).

For our meals, I ordered an organic tempeh sandwich with organic multigrain flat bread (was yellow like corn) with a ton of veggies (lettuce, cucumber, alfalfa sprouts, and many other fresh veggies) , a chili corn chowder, and freshly squeezed ginger lemonade. My two friends both ordered the “freshly made before your eyes” avocado sandwich with an assortment of veggies, fresh avocado, tomato, lettuce, cucumber, and all of the fixings.

It seems most of the food here is raw (uncooked) so you will mostly find sandwiches and salads, unlike Hey Good Cooking where everything may be vegetarian or vegan, but it’s all cooked (or should I say overcooked or microwaved). Lunch items cost under $10 but with drinks and salad, the bill came close to $50.00 for three people. Definitely worth the money, no question about it. Very small menu but many sandwich varietys, all healthy and fresh. When you have a meal at Urban Herbivore, you feel healthy, light, and fresh, not bloated or crampy. Accepts all cards

Full Moon Vegetarian Restaurant

638 Dundas Street West
(416) 203-1210

Tammy and I went to a new vegan restaurant (just opened in July 2005)
called Full Moon at Dundas near Bathurst, right next to Cafe 668 and
Buddhas Vegetarian Restaurant. Serving all vegan fare Asian style, this
place is large, bright, open, and very casual. Decor is not trendy,
yuppified, and not cheesy either. Very casual and almost “diner-like” with
big bright windows, large tables and paper menu to take home. Tammy
and I started with green tea and some soft drinks. For an appetizer, i
had the small size sweet corn and mushroom soup (trying to stay away
from soy for a while) and it was delicious and only $3.99. Size was
perfect and the soup was thick, sweet, and had a nice mix of 2 types of
mushroom, white and shitaki. For my main, i ordered the braised mushrooms
and bok choi which was simply delicious. The dish was not too greasy
and had a nice light sauce and the braised mushrooms were absolutely
excellent. Tammy ordered vegetable spring rolls and her main consisted of
mock beef with sauteed vegetables and Udon noodles.

For dessert, we shared a taro balls
covered in a rice glaze and topped with a sugary syrup. Looked like
Greek deep-fried “dough” balls filled with syrup. Indian food also has
these deep-fried “dough” balls that are syrupy sweet.

Full Moon
serves Asian vegan fare. Many large tables, not jam packed like Cafe 668
(next door) or “cracktown decor like Buddhas Vegetarian Restaurant.
Simply a nice humble, non-trendy, non pretentious, no bullshit, non cheesy
establishment. Bill came to $25.00 for two people including main,
drink, dessert, and appetizer. Menu features over 80 items written in both
English and Chinese. Most dishes include mock meat, mock fish, or bean
curd (tofu). Open Sun-Thurs 11 to 9:30pm, Fri and Sat 11-10:30pm. Accepts all cards. Liquor license (large bar with an assortment of beer but no wine).

Cafe 668

 

Having the distinction of NOW Magazine’s Best Vegetarian Restaurant is quite a feat. It is also quite an accomplishment considering Cafe 668’s low key atmosphere and dingy location near where Dundas West curves at Bathurst Street. Obviously, there is something special here.

My first visit did not result in the "wow" I had expected from the glorious ravings bestowed by NOW’s Steven Davey; however after my second try, I now see what the hype is about (now). Even the tea that was served before our first dish was delicious. I sub-conciously polished off several cups before realizing how much I was enjoying it. The menu itself is quite extensive, something I always find a tad overwhelming in Vietnamese restaurants. So without much perusal of the menu I quickly decided on a Hot and Sour Soup and from the "Chef’s Suggestions" list on the wall I chose the Hot and Sour Spicy Pad Thai. The heat was definitely present as about halfway through the soup the sniffles started. This continued while I started into the pad thai, slightly disguising the taste of that dish. After the spicy sensations dissapated I was really able to enjoy the subtle and aromatic spicing of the pad thai. Interspersed in the noodles were wonderfully cooked pieces of tofu, eggplant, mushrooms and other vegetables. This was hands down the best pad thai I’ve had in the city.

To my knowledge, there is only one server in the tiny establishment. My bet is he is also the owner and he definitely carries an air of dignity and respect about him. The prices are also very reasonable at Cafe 668 solidifyng it as a regular stop within my immediate locale.

Red room

444 Spadina Ave.
(416) 929-9964

Part of the same three restaurants of Green Room, and Java, Red Room was once a tea shop and restaurant that served alcohol, but now it’s a bar that serves food and tea. Inside this gorgeous restaurant at Spadina and College, you will find many tables and booths with gorgeous dim lighting and cherry wood interior, luxurious in design, detailed moldings, and antique woodwork. The whole decor or the Red room distracts the visitor from the low quality food it serves up.

There is a reason the food is so cheap. Although the restaurant appears very high class, it’s actually a bar that serves pub type food. The only different part is that this pub type food is Asian in its influence (the cooks and owners are Asian) and most of the selections are light and healthy Asian dishes from Pad Thai to Singapore Noodles to Vegetable Stir Fry to traditional Hamburger and French Fries to Fish and Chips.

Portions are decent but quality is very low. I’ve gone to Red Room over one hundred times since late 2000 and the tofu is always overfried or stale, the food is bland and lacks any exciting flavours, and you cannot make food requests because the cooks do not understand any English. The atmosphere is funky, with many of
U. of T. students, an array of herbal teas, an impressive bar with a large selection of beers, liquors, wine, and other alcoholic beverages. The key is to only purchase food and avoid alcohol. The waiter may frown at you but four people can eat for $20.00 and that is difficult to achieve in Toronto. Expect a lot of noise and a lot of smoke- afterall it’s a bar. Anyone under 19 is not allowed