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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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.

Fresh by Juice for Life (2007)-Brunch

 326 Bloor Street West /corner Spadina 
Phone: 416-531-2635 

894 Queen Street West/ corner Crawford 
Phone: 416-913-2720 

147 Spadina Avenue, corner Richmond 
Phone: 416-599-4442

Fresh by Juice for Life, in operation since 1996, recently offered a new brunch menu with a small variety of vegan offerings. If you like tofu scramble all wrapped up in a warm tortilla, or fluffy spelt flour vegan pancakes, then this brunch is for you.

Offered on the weekend from 9am-3pm, Fresh offers creative and healthy vegetarian and vegan dishes without compromising on taste, texture, flavour, and colour. For our Sunday brunch, Zam and myself both ordered the veggie tofu scramble with many sauteed veggies, wrapped up in a warm tortilla. In addition, we also shared the almond and walnut vegan banana flax seed pancakes with organic raw maple syrup. We both thought that the portion sizes were reasonable and were healthy and satisfying. Flavours are delicately blended so that they can be recognised on the pallette.

Bathrooms at the new Fresh (at Spadina and Bloor) are larger, cleaner, and esthetically pleasing. Careful not to clog (easy to do with too much toilet roll down the pot). Ambiance is pretty casual, good people watch, always seems busy can be loud at times. He loved the choice of drinks and meal suppliments. The new fresh is more spacious, can accomodate more people, looks slick and trendy, and definitely attracts more than the U. of T clientele. Times have changed and it looks like Fresh is following in Fressen footsteps. Brunch prices are under $15 if you have a beverage. Accepts all cards.

Kensington Kitchen [Mark]

124 Harbord St.
(416) 961-3404 

Closed Dec 2007

Located right at Harbord and Spadina, Kensington Kitchen is a cosy and warm restaurant that resembles a comfortable country kitchen. Small with less than ten tables, KK serves up Lebanese fare in a setting that I would categorize as casual fine dining. At first the name seems misleading since it’s not in Kensington market and not on Kensington Avenue (in the market).

I assumed it would be a bohemian cafe with artsy-fartsy hipsters who think they’re too cool to serve you (think Aunties and Uncles or Tequlla Bookworm) . I was surprised when I entered the restaurant since it looked so “adult” in the midsts of the U of T southern annex ghetto.

Kensington Kitchen has much character, with walls draped in Oriental rugs and cotton swatches, hand-beaded purses, old knick knacks, and traditional Middle Eastern art and photos of Lebanon. Food is full of intense flavour, big portions, $10-$15 price range. Offers many vegetarian meals.

Appetizers include such Lebanese favourites like stuffed vine leaves, fried eggplant and cauliflower, baba ghanouj, hummus, olives, pureed garlic potatoes, as well as warm whole wheat pita.

For our meals, Jerome and I both ordered the spicy sauteed eggplant with chunks of stewed tomatoes and tons of onions and chunks of garlic, very Jewish in style and texture and quite oily, but delicious and generous portions.

Beth had the scallops – she thought they were delicious and she liked that they came with a good serving of eggplant and sauteed spinach. No skimpy veggie servings! She though the prices were mid-range, not cheap, but worth it for what you get. She concluded that she would go back.

Daniel had the Lamb shank dish (with figs, raisins, eggplant); same as Aaron and Wendy. Very tasty, but could have had a little more punch to it?I expected the figs & raisins to flavour the dish a little more than it did. Seems as if it may have been cooked a little too long. It was, despite this, very good and I would order it again. The appetizer plate was spectacular, though and everything was ultra-flavourful.

Aaron has the Turkish-style braised lamb stuffed with raisins, eggplant, apricots, and figs. He thought it tasted a bit bland to be honest. The service was friendly though. Zam had the seafood Paella. He thought it was okay. He thought it was a little low on the flavour. He found the appetizer to be a prize winner amongst everyone. (a huge Mediterranean vegetarian plate) . It came with fried cauliflower, hummus, whole wheat pita, falafel, and other vegetarian dips was excellent! The platter was to die for. On a separate occasion he had their risotto, lamb burger, and braised lamb which he found very nice. He commented that he enjoyed their dishes and claimed at the time the lamb was halal but he was not sure about now.

Zam would definitely go there again. We all found the price range is okay .. not really expensive .. reasonable, but not cheap either. Wendy ordered the lamb with raisin and figs and she liked her dish, but she found the meat to be slightly dry. The flavours & brown rice & mint yogurt were really nice.

Average mains are $12-$14. The menu is very vegetarian-friendly like morroccan veggie stew with couscous (pure comfort) as well as some pasta dishes (angel hair pasta hold the seafood), and many other Lebanese vegetarian delights. Of the many places I’ve dined in Toronto, KK thankfully does not rip you off. Portions are big and worth the price.

Very student friendly yet can be the perfect place for a serious romantic date. This was a definitely a great place to celebrate my 32nd surprise birthday dinner . Rumour is that they have trouble handling large groups since it’s not a large space (we were 9 people and we were treated very well) . Hours are Mon-Thurs 11:30am-11pm and Fri – Sun 11:30am-11:30pm.

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.

Mahar Restaurant and Sweets (post reno)

 1410 Gerrard Street
416-466-6241

Last winter I went on a blind date to Mahar and I thought the place was worse than McDonalds. What kind of person (but an idiot) would take someone to a fast food Indian place that specialized in desserts and offered dinner as a sidenote and most dishes were luke warm, and under $5. I am no snob but a dinner date should be in a somewhat nice place in a “non takeout” setting and where your date does not ditch you to serve other customers (they were a friend of the family and decided to serve other customers instead of hanging out with me).

CREEP.

Mahar used to be ugly and disgusting but this past 5-6 months, after a drastic renovation, it has undergone a rebirth, like many places in the Gerrard street neighbourhood. Mahar is now a real “sit down” North and South Indian restaurant with sweets but dinner is their main venture and sweets are now secondary. Decor is absolutely lovely. Totally tasteful and updated, the dirt and kitsch has disappeared, even the bathrooms are lovely!

Offers both North and South Indian favourites like veggie pakoras and samosa with yummy tamarind or coriander sauces, aloo gobi with thick chunks of cauliflower, “reddish” chana masala (as opposed to yellow-ish), malaki kofta (orgasmic), butter chicken, tandoori chicken, kabobs, chicken currys, chicken tikkas, mateer paneer, palak paneer, naan, and South Indian favourites like dosas, idly, sambaar (lentil soup), uthapam (fancy rice naan with onions), and delicious desserts like barfi, faluda and ras malai (milk balls in a sweet rosewater sugar milky syrup)

On my most recent visit to the newly renovated place, i went with three friends and we started the yummy buffet with some sambaar (thick lentil soup) with salad, then came the curried okra and potato (Aloo Bhindi), aloo gobi, palak paneer, mattar paneer, piping hot naan bread (hard to come by), chana masala with chunks of cardamom. For dessert, we had faluda (warm milk with rice noodles, tapioca and ice cream on top), ras malai , and barfi (condensed milk with lentil flour and tons of sugar), and freshly made warm rice pudding with raisins and cardamom.

Mahar is opened 7 days per week from 11:30am-10pm. Offers catering for all occasions, with a newly renovated banquet hall. Lunch buffet is $8.99 and dinner buffet is $10.99. Accepts all cards.

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.