60 Yorkville, at Bay, 416-964-0411, fourseasons.com/toronto/dining/cafe_boulud.
To the exceptionally swank new Four Seasons Hotel and superstar New York City chef Daniel Boulud's eponymous Café on the lobby's mezzanine.
Service is unparalleled, as you'd expect at these price points, but the breezy 150-seat room isn't as formal as you'd expect from a Michelin-starred chef. Tables are linen-free, chairs are built for comfort, the only eyesore a series of banal portraits of pop stars - Michael jackson, Madonna, Bob Marley - created by Banksy co-conspirator Mr. Brainwash that probably cost a bundle. Clearly, someone's having a laugh.
We're here to sample the section of the carte that's been dubbed "Le Potager: vegetable garden," assuming that means vegetarian. We assume wrong.
Sadly not topless, the salade Tropezienne ($14) of shaved fennel and frisée over puréed artichoke is definitely meat-free. We guess Boulud didn't get the memo that Toronto is un peut bored with beet salad, so here it is, an artful scattering of regulation heirloom tubers tossed with creamy Monforte feta, a handful of mâche, a grapefruit wedge or two and slices of pink Pingue speck ($15). That last one's definitely pancetta-like ham from the Niagara region. Now we're worried. Does the herbed linguini with tomato concasse, niçoise olives and baby artichokes ($25) we've already ordered also contain meat?
"I think there's clams" says a passing server.
There aren't. And round these parts we call that pasta primavera. The brunch-ish dish listed as "crispy duck egg, fricassee of wild mushrooms, salsify and celery root ($16 lunch/$21 dinner)" starts off promisingly enough until we get to the alarmingly rich sauce that cushions the meaty cremini and crew. We know a veal demiglace when we see it.
Lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 2:30 pm. Dinner Sunday to Wednesday 5:30 to 10 pm, Thursday to Saturday 5:30 to 10:30 pm. Breakfast Monday to Friday 7:30 to 10:30 am. Weekend brunch 11:30 am to 3 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free.
Lai Wah Heen
108 Chestnut, at Dundas, 416-977-9899, metropolitan.com/lwh.
Located on the second floor of the rather anonymous Metropolitan Hotel, LWH's dim sum is widely regarded as the best this side of Hong Kong. And who are we to argue? Unfortunately, consulting chef Sam Ma's recently introduced vegartarian à la carte menu rarely hits that same bar.
While those around us in the busy dining room chow down on the likes of siu mai topped with foie gras and wagyu beef dumplings (both $5 each), we opt for two of the only three veggie items on the dim sum list. Diminutive egg rolls stuffed with crunchy water chestnut ($4.50 for three) benefit from a particularly spicy side of house-made plum sauce, while tasty rice noodle rolls with black vinegar ($8 for three) arrive brimming with a forest of exotic mushrooms.
Deep-fried bean curd pockets also show up loaded with ‘shrooms, though what the menu describes as "crisply fried shredded shiitake glazed with honey" are anything but, instead the kind of mixed veggie stir-fry you'd find at Buddha's (see listing, pg 42) for 6 bucks. However, bland blocks of steamed tofu finished with stinkhorn mushrooms and puréed pumpkin (all $18) are just plain weird. For this kind of money, that's just not good enough.
Dim sum Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 3 pm, Saturday and Sunday 11 am to 3 pm, à la carte dinner Sunday to Thursday 5:30 to 10:30 pm, Friday and Saturday 5:30 to 11 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free.
655 Bay, at Elm, 416-596-9364, commensal.ca.
Whenever people from Montreal point out the superiority of their hometown restos over ours, kindly remind them of this Quebec-based chain of self-serve vegetarian cafeterias where everything is sold by weight ($24/kg).
That's a lot of lettuce for lettuce - a sub-par Caesar in organic vegan mayo, "Chinese" spinach with chopped cashews - and a Greek salad ordinaire, rennet-free feta or not. Lasagna is little more than noodles in tomato sauce and cheese, the refried bean casserole seems more like mush, and the rubbery veggie burger patties would be better deployed as coasters.
Desserts ($27.70/kg) are slightly better - an okay carrot cake, a slice of raisin 'n' walnut pie with a filling that recalls butter tarts and a crust of cardboard, a faux vegan cheesecake topped with blueberries in syrup - but, like much of the lineup, are mostly shipped in frozen from headquarters.
"75 per cent of our clientele is not vegetarian!" trumpets their website. "Surprised?"
Not at all. Real vegetarians know better.
Sunday to Tuesday 11:30 am to 9 pm, Wednesday to Saturday 11:30 am to 9:30 pm. Breakfast from 7:30 am Monday to Friday, 8:30 am Saturday. Licensed. Access: barrier-free.