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.

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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

Happy Buddha [closed august 2007]

2366 Yonge Street
416 544 0330

 

Happy Buddha is one of the only vegetarian restaurants in mid town. Located only about one block north of the Yonge and Eglinton intersection, this place is conveniently located in a nice central spot across from the 24 hour Shoppers Drugmart and near the Paramount movie theatre. Opened only 6 months ago (approx March 2006), Happy Buddha serves exclusively Chinese and Vietanemese vegetarian fare.

Small and cosy with about 10-15 tables, the place is tasteful, not cheesy and has classy details that focus on the minimalism, not kitsch. Specializing in mock meats such as beef, chicken, shark, pork, shrimp, Happy Buddha’s menu offers many mock meat options for those vegetarians missing the taste of meat.

On my last visit to Happy Buddha, I ordered # 303 (cashew, mock shrimp, tofu (extra $1), and veggie stir fry). Pam (the friend I reunited with after not seeing her since my University and CEGEP days) ordered #607 – Ham and stir fried veggies over a bed of steamed rice.

The menu is divided into various sections like the appetizer section (#100-110) with some dishes including fresh salad rolls (2 pieces for $3), Soy Drumsticks (5 for $5.95), and Buddha Salad ($6.95), soups (#200-206) like Shark fin with crab meat, Hot and Sour soup with 3 different sizes ($2.95, $9.95, $13.95) Wonton, and Sea Weed and Bean Curd (all $2.95, $9.95, and $13.95) , specialty dishes (#300-319) like Kung Po Chicken ($9.95), Stir Fried Veggie dishes with either bean curd or other veggie combos ($9.95-$12.95), Hot Pot (Beef, Chicken, or Fish Hot Pots between $10.95-$12.95)and sizzling plates (#400-409) , seafood sizzling plate ($12.95), and choose either beef/pork, spicy eggplant, or mixed mushroom sizzling plate all $10.95, fried rice dishes (#500-511) shrimp, crab, or chicken fried rice $9.95-$11.95, steamed rice dishes (#600-609) in a varieties such as beef, chicken, chicken curry, pork, ham, pineapple chicken all $7.95-$8.95, noodle soups(#800-805) between $7.95-$9.95 like ham and noodle, wonton and mushroom noodle, spicy rice noodle, and fried noodle dishes(#700-707) like singapore rice noodle ($9.95) and different types of mushroom dishes all on crispy noodles ($10.95-$11.95) . Milk shakes, soft drinks, and bubble tea are also available

Open Sunday to Thurs from 11am-11pm, Fri, Sat, and holidays from 11am-11pm. Delivery hours are 11:30am-3pm and 5pm-9pm. 10% discount for delivery pickup orders. Free delivery with orders more than $25.

Garlic Pepper

578 Yonge Street
416 323 9819

 

Garlic Pepper is a famous downtown eatery centrally located at Yonge and Wellesley in downtown Toronto.

Vegetarian section of the menu is one page and contains many vegetarian options but they are not truly vegetarian since I asked and soups contain chicken stock and most dishes contain oyster sauce (ignorant idiots do not know what vegetarian means). Garlic Pepper has to die for Chinese brocoli with diced garlic, piping hot and fresh. The lo mein and chow mein dishes come fresh and delicious with a colourful assortment of veggies and large portions. I also indulged in the tofu with veggies in black bean sauce and the food was flavourful, alittle greasy, fresh crunchy stir fried veggies, and spicy in flavour. Amongst the four of us, Zam and I ordered the Chinese broccoli with minced garlic and the braised tofu with veggies as well as vegetable fried rice (hold the egg). Vivek ordered the beef cantonese chowmein (a huge portion of noodles, vegetables, chicken, beef, and shrimp) and Antony ordered the General Taos chicken.
Food came out fresh, colourful, piping hot, not too salty or greasy, and very good portions. I cannot complain about the food at all. This place definitely know how to serve good food, good prices, and non-anorexic portions. So many restaurants cover their food with rice or bean sprouts (hence i will never go to the Japanese restaurant).

Menu is divided into various sections (fried rice dishes, noodle dishes, hot pot section, sizzling wok section, dim sum, shrimp dishes, fish dishes, chicken dishes, pork dishes, veggies and tofu dishes (warning: not necessarily vegetarian), beef dishes, and last but not least desserts).

Most items are between $8.99-$12.99. An unusual section is devoted to pork ribs and chicken wings, which i did not know was Chinese. However, when i look back at my childhood, i guess i remember eating something called “spare ribs”…little did i know what it was.

Only accepts cash and credit card (no interac). Open 7 days per week from 10:30am-10pm and open later (until 11pm) on Fri and Saturdays. Offers catering service (call for details at 416 323 9874). Free delivery for orders over $20 (after 5pm). There is a discount for take out (10% if you pay in cash, 5% if you pay with cards). Take out discount does not apply to business lunch menu, dim-sum, lunch, and specials. Delivers from Waterfront to St. Clair (north-south) and Don Valley Parkway to Bathurst (east-west).

Vegetarian menu a joke since no items are truly vegetarian unless you specify. Hot and sour veggie soup is made with chicken broth so be warned.

Bathrooms are upstairs and are the most scary sight I’ve ever seen in my 32 years here on earth. Forget any crackhouse you’ve ever seen (or visited) in Toronto. If you need to go to the bathroom hold it in or visit McDonalds or Tim Hortons. Bathrooms look like an ideal movie scene for the next horror flick where someone gets chopped up or slashed. Don’t enter the bathrooms. They are dirty, gross, and if Toronto Health inspects, I am sure they will be fined or shut down.

Bo De Duyen (closed Dec 2007)

254 Spadina Avenue (2nd floor)
416 703-1247

Closed Dec 2007

Conveniently located on the second floor on Spadina just south of Dundas, Bo De Duyen has been serving patrons over 160 veggie items (mostly vegan) for the past 16 years. Offering mostly mock meats, chicken, fish, and seafood, Bo De Duyen offers dishes that can cater to Buddhists (mildly spiced and vegetarian) and some dishes are highly spicy (denoted on the menu). The restaurant contains two large dining rooms and can accomodate large groups (some of the circular tables are so large, they can sit more than ten people). Bo De Duyen is very affordable. Most main dishes are under $8. Offers dinner special for 2, 4, 8, and 10 people.

Family run since 1990, the wait staff are the children of the owners. They are friendly, knowledgeable, and make excellent recommendations for the popular and not so popular appetizers, main dishes, smoothies/shakes, and desserts.

Offers 162 vegan items, divided into mock meats, mock chicken, mock fish, tofu dishes, noodle and rice dishes, hot and cold drinks, and desserts. The mock meat and chicken dishes taste shockingly like the real thing. Dishes are prepared "in house" with their special secret mushroom sauce, but all soy-based products are imported from Hong Kong. Luckily there are few nut dishes (for those who are allergic to nuts) and food is based on a Buddhist way of life

For our meals, Zam and I ordered the thick and creamy coffee (excellent!) with condensed milk at the bottom (sweet, thick, and delicious). Jaya and Sanjay both ordered a Mango Shake (fresh mango puree, silken soy, and sugar). I had previously ordered a Mango Shake and it was "to die for" delicious.

For our mains, we opted to share a medley of dishes. I ordered the sauteed veggies with tofu and cashew, and my other dinner companions ordered the chinese broccoli with tofu, thick curried soup of veggie chicken and tofu with vermacelli noodles, beef stir fry with veggies, and the veggie duck in teriyaki sauce, and last but not least pineapple-fried rice.

For 4 people including drinks, appetizer, and meals, the bill came to $56 and change. Quite an excellent deal. Only accepts cash. Open 6 days a week (closed Wed) from 11am-10pm. Decor is a bit outdated but it’s basically clean (for Chinatown at least) and atmosphere is not stuffy, pretentious, or clausterphobic. I’d defintiely recommend this to place to anyone who is not afraid to try mock meats.

 

 

Izakaya

69 Front Street East
416-703 8658

Aaron planned a dinner with a large group of friends and he decided to dine at Izakaya in Saint Lawrence Market at Church and Front across from Hot House Cafe. Walking into Izakaya was like walking into a funky loft. With high ceilings, exposed brick walls spread across three dining areas separated by Japanese blinds, this open concept place is spacious and comfortable. With huge square tables there is a lot of breathing place and it is the perfect place to dine with large groups. The dining area at the front of the restaurant has smaller tables for couples of smaller groups.

The menu does not have many vegetarian options but the waiter said that they were flexible. I insisted on no fish stock and the waiter was very knowledgable in terms of what “veggie” dishes contain secret chicken, beef, or fish stock. I was thankful he was honest and blunt with my options. I started with the organic salad ($6.95) in a zesty ginger dressing. Yummy and light and definitely wonderful. For my main I ordered the noodle soup ($11.95) in a mushroom-based broth with udon noodles with 4 types of mushrooms. My meal was hearty, slightly sweet, and very filling.

To start, Aaron ordered an appetizer of Shrimp Dumplings which were ok.. He enjoyed the hot mustard sauce served with it. He also had a fried egglant dish which was very sweet and tasty. Overall he felt the food was not oustanding but good value for the money. He shared those dishes with his friend Gavin.

For his main, Aaron had the Chicken Katsu Curry which was boneless chicken crused in panko with a mild japanese curry sauce. He felt was like a chicken shnitzel and he felt the curry sauce was too mild. He also had the Tokyo Beef Ramen which was soy sauce flavoured soup and noodles topped with char grilled top sirloin and garnished with shiso leaf, bean sprouts, scallion, mema and toasted black and white sesame seeds. He enjoyed this dish. He felt the broth was very flavourful and the meat was tasty if not completely tender.

Aaron’s friend Jonathan ordered the lightly battered chicken and vegetables, shrimp dumplings, and an organic salad. He arrived a bit late and was really hungry and ordered it quickly.

Aaron’s friends Brad and Steven shared two mains and two sides. The mains were Cha Han (fried rice with chicken, shrimp, etc) and Izakaya Beef. The sides they ordered were Pork Gyoza and Sesame Spinach Salad. They were really impressed by everything. The fried rice was a big portion, with quite a few good juicy pieces of shrimp. The beef was tender, and not overdone. Brad knows that Steven really liked the spinach (especially the sesame dressing). Both thought that the best part of the night was the price! For a dinner out with a bottle of sake, it was a very cheap night!

Brad and Steven could see how some people wouldn’t like sitting at a large table with someone they didn’t know. In this case it was fine since they knew everyone around the table, and it made for a unique evening. However, they felt that if it had there only five people, it may have been awkward carrying on a conversation with another group sharing the table.

Decor comprised large expansive walls in a loft style space with big square tables that can fit 10 people. The restaurant contained two main dining areas, exposed brick walls, minimalist decor, sectioned off dividers, super high ceilings, spacious, open concept.

 

Aaron’s friend Alen had the Yasai Katsu Curry – one of their vegetarian dishes (the curry sauce had a chicken and fish based broth, though.). The food was good, but he was more impressed with the atmosphere and the d�cor, than he was with his meal. The service was really slow and we had to chase the waiter down to pay our bill. The bathrooms were nice and the prices were reasonable, but he thought that he would probably order something different next time. He felt his meal was very starchy.

All in all, I like Izakaya for its open concept dining areas. It felt very airy with high ceilings, exposed brick wall, and extra large tables. The main concern is that this place is great for dining in big groups since the tables are so large. If you choose to dine alone or with a date, I wonder where the smaller tables are. I wondered if you had to share a table with a complete group of strangers. My extra large bowl of soup and noodles was kind of expensive but it was damn good. Wait staff are knowledgable, attentive, friendly, and accomodating. The only problem was that it took forever to get our bill. Accepts all cards. Liquor license.

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).