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Live Organic Food Bar

Posted on February 15, 2012 by in The Annex

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3 stars

-  “So, are you going to eat a steak first?”

“You might want to sneak some meat in with you.”

“Enjoy your…vegetables.”

These were not uncommon responses from folks when I said I’d be heading to Live Food Bar. I too was skeptical but went along for the ride anyways when a friend suggested we go. While perusing the online menu, I was genuinely stumped as to what I would get. I already eat at least one – but generally several – vegetarian meals a week, so I’m not opposed to eating a meal with no meat. But Live is a vegan, organic restaurant that features recipes without gluten, without sugar and certainly without any animal products which is outside my culinary experience. If you happen to feel the same way, I suggest you go with an open mind as Live has an excellent reputation and it is well earned.

I settled in to the table at the front, which has a great view of the world walking by, of the bright, cheerful restaurant. While I waited for my dining companions, I had a look through the drink list and eventually settled on a bottle Mill Street Organic. (Should I come back in the summer, I will definitely sample the cocktails on the lovely patio!) When the ladies arrived, we ordered a bottle of organic cabernet sauvignon and started going over the menu for the millionth time. It is an extensive list with dishes that should appeal to just about all diners. Appetizers, salads, bowls, mains, pasta, dessert: Live certainly does not lack for choice. The three of us agreed that we wanted to try the chick pea fries, so we ordered those while attempting to make a decision.

Finally, we made our choices: raw sushi with pumpkin & sunflower seed nori rolls and a detox salad; “Bacon Cheese” burger; and tempeh cakes with a warm corn, avocado and white wine salsa. Orders placed, we tucked into our wine and the chick pea fries which arrived shortly thereafter. Crispy on the outside, piping hot and soft on the inside, this non-traditional take on a staple hit the spot, especially with the homemade BBQ sauce on the side.

Our mains arrived in a timely manner, and we hungrily tucked in to them. The sushi roll had a great combination of flavour and texture. I was a little jealous of not ordering that one for myself, but my giant plate of food was more than enough. The tempeh (an Indonesian soybean product) cakes were piled high on top of the wonderful salsa that was accompanied by a spicy chipotle aioli. If you’re hungry, get this dish. It was undoubtedly for the best that I did not order an appetizer, as well as the cakes and sides were so surprisingly good that I was nearly scraping my plate.

As for the “cheese bacon” burger, it passed the taste test. The patty consisted of chick peas and had macadamia cheddar “cheese” and eggplant “bacon.” I can see your eyebrows raising. The eggplant had a smoky flavour and was quite good, though certainly not bacon. The cheese in question was a bit of a head-scratcher, though not unpleasant. The gluten-free bun was nicely toasted and the BBQ sauce was a great touch.

Since we had already gone through much of the menu, we thought we should give dessert a whirl. All the desserts are kept on display in near the back of the restaurant, and there is quite an array from which to choose. We opted for two: the tiramisu and the Black Forrest cake. Now, my Italian friends would be horrified to find a tiramisu without real cream, but it really was quite good with a strong, but not overpowering, taste of espresso. Similarly, the Black Forrest cake was rich, creamy and cut nicely with the cherries on top. No complaints – I certainly didn’t feel like I was missing out.

Live has a great vibe to it and customers were constantly arriving either to have a seated meal or to pick up their take-out orders. The music is at just the right volume and the staff is friendly and accommodating. We were there for several hours and never felt rushed, nor got the idea that we were no longer welcome. Food arrives promptly and with a smile, water bottles are refilled, and the service is relaxed. So take your vegetarian friends, take your carnivorous friends: they will likely all be satisfied. The portions are well-sized and, most importantly, the food is delicious.

- Carolyn

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earth Bloor West

Posted on June 1, 2011 by in Bloor West Village

Earth Storefront Sign

3 stars

- It might be a bit unfair to review earth so early into their existence, but I don’t feel too badly about it. Reason being, this isn’t their first restaurant opening. earth has two other locations, so its owners should be able to avoid the rookie mistakes that come with opening a new restaurant. But rather than focus on the facts that it smelled like a construction site, the floors and walls needed some minor finishing work, the staff were wandering about looking slightly confused and a little scared, and the place generally seemed like it probably wasn’t ready to open just yet, I’m going to put all that aside and focus on the rest of earth.

earth’s focus is on local stuff; that means they try to only serve products that are made close-to-home. Trouble is, I’m not exactly sure how far that close-to-home boundary extends to. I was told that it includes Ontario as a whole, but it could also go much further East or West; their Albacore tuna, for example, comes from BC and their mussels come from PEI. Other items don’t explicitly explain where they come from, like the Cornish hen. That’s the difficulty with going local though; right-off-the-bat you need to firmly establish your local boundaries. BC and PEI, after all, aren’t right around the corner. Why not Maine lobster? Maine is a lot closer and seems a lot more local to me than anywhere in BC.

I suppose my beef here is that if you want to focus on locally produced stuff, then why not do it right down to the last detail? Why have a couple of wines from Italy and the US when you could easily make a wine menu completely from Niagara Peninsula wines or even from West Coast British Columbia (since we haven’t yet established where that local line is drawn). I suppose the entire local concept is pretty hot right now, considering the whole farm-to-table trend, but those places are a bit more sincere by growing and sourcing everything onsite. To me, that’s what true local eating is all about: setting firm boundaries.

The main thing that caught me right away–even more so than the local-ness of stuff–was the truly reasonable prices. At my initial walk-in to the beautiful dining room, I expected to pay a bit more, but that wasn’t the case at all. Starters are around 11 bucks, entrees are around 22; at prices like that, it’s even kind of refreshing, considering how elegant both the dining room and bar spaces are. And the food is good too. The local carnivore flatbread, for example, had a perfectly cooked flatbread base with some delicious, good-quality meats. The baked Spring vegetable tart seemed a little strange served on raw spinach, but the contrast worked nicely together.

The dining room space is beautiful. 20 foot ceilings, elegant lighting, solid wooden tables. In terms of sheer ambience and sophistication, there’s nothing in Bloor West Village that can even come close to competing with earth.

Despite the wandering servers, we were lucky enough to have the only one that seemed focused. Even though the meddling manager kept needlessly hovering over us mere seconds each time before our server got there, we had fantastic service that pretty much made the entire experience better. If we had another server, I probably would have thought a lot less.

Truth be told, earth’s focus on local products seems to be more of a gimmick at this point rather than a passion. However despite that, it was a pretty good overall experience, opening jitters and stage fright aside. I think that once they work all the kinks out, there’ll be nothing in Bloor West Village–an area that is really hurting for some good restaurants to begin with–that can even come close to competing with earth.

- Andre

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Nuthouse

Posted on April 30, 2011 by in Bloordale

4 stars

- If the word ‘bulk’ conjers up images of dusty old ethnic shop food bins or soulless Bulk Barns, then you need to check out Nuthouse for a second opinion. Sitting in a little space out in the Bloor and Lansdowne, Nuthouse has established itself with Blansdowne locals as the best place around to pick up all sorts of interesting products.

First thing you’ll notice about Nuthouse is that it smells good…it smells really good…it smells like an incredibly nice mix of high-quality nuts, cereals, grains, teas, dried fruit, lentils, dried fruit, spices, cake, and coffee. It’s a smell that right away makes you feel comfortable and assures you that what you’re getting is filled with quality. Don’t expect to see the typical bulk fare with hundreds of bins full of overly processed and mass-produced stuff; you’re in the wrong place for that sorta thing. Nuthouse is full of nothing but always high quality and sometimes organic products.

Ok. That might not be the very first thing you notice. Chances are, if you’re walking down Bloor looking for this place, or even if you’re not looking for it, the first thing you’ll notice won’t even be inside the store; it’ll be the big, plastic walnut hanging above the front doorway. That big walnut has become somewhat of a landmark item on this stretch of Bloor, even though they’ve only been in business for a few months.

Nuthouse isn’t just about nuts. They carry all sorts of things, from organic candy and fair-trade coffee to raw cereals and handmade soap. And its healthy too. A lot of the stuff they carry is the sugar-free, vegan, raw, organic type of stuff, which makes it a super option for more health conscious people. And if you have dietary restrictions, Nuthouse has got you covered too with tons of gluten and wheat free products, like their spiced carrot cake. If that’s your bag and you live in the area, you no longer need to travel far to get these kinda things.

Personally, when I think of organic or locally-sourced or handmade or any other related adjective used to describe stuff in a store like this, I unfortunately also think expensive. At Nuthouse though, that really isn’t the case. The prices are actually fairly down-to-earth and mostly afforable. In fact, a lot of the products they sell are actually cheaper than the bulk stuff you find at No Frills, with an obvious element of quality you may not find at bigger places.

Wanting to try out interesting varieties of stuff you already love, like lentils or rice or yes, even nuts? Nuthouse has got you covered. They carry a ton of different kinds, some of which you probably didn’t even know existed. And that brings up one of the best things about buying in bulk in a place like this: you can buy in smaller amounts purely just because you want to try something. Buying in bulk doesn’t have to be about being able to get more for less, it’s about being able to also get, well, just less. The fact that Nuthouse just happens to make it also affordable is just the icing on the organic carrot cake.

- Andre

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Cool Hand of a Girl

Posted on November 18, 2010 by in The Junction

2 stars

- Cool Hand of a Girl offers simple and healthy food made with organic products, which has become what you’d expect from a place in the Junction as of late. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate how great I feel after a wholesome meal made with locally-sourced, pesticide-free food, but to me, one of the most important things that a restaurant can and should do is make their guests feel welcome. That’s where Cool Hand loses points.

Maybe it’s all part of the appeal for the artsy crowd you can expect to see, but Cool Hand can make you feel as if you’re an annoyance to them just for being there. So although I did enjoy my Chicken Tarragon sandwich, I just can’t see myself getting back there anytime soon, and somehow, I don’t think they’ll care.

– Andre

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