BOOM SHIVA (1180 Queen West, at Northcote, 416-538-1300) Complete dinners for $40 per person (brunches $20), including all taxes, tip and a glass of organic plonk. Average main $13/$9. Open for drinks and snacks Tuesday to Friday 2 pm till 2 am, dinner 6:30 pm to midnight. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 11 am to 4 pm, dinner 6:30 pm to midnight, bar till 2 am. Closed Monday, holidays. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN
Though it's impossible to imagine something similar ever happening at Le Commensal or Govinda's, Boom Shiva - that new vegetarian hot spot conveniently located between the Gladstone and the Drake - has already received several noise complaints since it opened mere weeks ago.
"The police go away when they see we're not doing anything wrong," says Shiva's co-owner, Greg Moyer.
He looks more like he should be teaching a yoga class than launching a hip new resto, but Moyer's veggie-friendly CV includes the creation of the original Juice For Life on Bloor with his ex, Ruth Tal Brown, Imagine on Spadina and Dandelion on Yorkville, the latter the only restaurant ever written up in NOW that closed the day its review appeared in print. Who says critics have no power?
Unlike his short-lived Imagine and Dandelion, Boom Shiva not only has a lot of arms, but it's got legs, too. Of course, the location doesn't hurt midway between the two coolest watering holes in town and directly across the street from the Bohemian Embassy, the hipster condo development that's unreliably rumoured to have been gobbled up already by the Drake's Jeff Stober, sight unseen.
The late-night crowd knocking back organic vodka martinis ($7) at the narrow room's imposing S-shaped bar are more likely to be preoccupied with the sultry Brazilian chanteuse emoting onstage in the front window of the former greasiest of spoons than with a card that includes "daily composed vegan stew ($9)." But those who dig deeper are in for a delicious surprise.
They could do no better than to begin with insanely addictive Medjool dates stuffed with stinky Taleggio cheese, served warm and plated upright, garnished with baby pea shoots ($8).
Garden-variety raw rice-paper wraps come packed with sweet arame seaweed and slender threads of carrot, daikon and snow peas ($6.50), a thick tamarind jam offering tart contrast.
Another theoretically shareable starter, dense wedges of cornmeal polenta thick with chipotle and black turtle beans, arrive coupled with a nippy tomatillo relish. But you'll definitely want to keep a pair of garlicky puréed white-bean timbales bundled in lengthy ribbons of raw zucchini all to yourself, especially once you've doused them with the house's astonishingly fresh tomato sauce (both $7).
Once past tapas-style appetizers, Shiva's vegan-heavy menu the work of chef Corey Mintz and "hospitality specialist" Therese DeGrace loses the plot. Listed next to a "nouvelle" Caesar ($9) that manages to incorporate spelt pesto croutons and marinated sea vegetables into its unorthodox mix, the Santa Fe salad ($10) recalls the earnest crunchy granola grub of Fresh by Juice for Life, Tal Brown's wildly successful successor to J4L.
Tossed with sliced avocado, black beans and toasted corn, it comes dressed with strips of baked tortilla and a spicy citrus vinaigrette.
Don't bother with the option of spelt flatbread when ordering Shiva's VLT alterna deli-style vegan bacon, nearly ripe tomato and dairy-free mayo ($10) unless you like it when your sandwich falls apart in your hands. Gluten, it seems, has a purpose after all.
Pleasant enough, a vegan spin on Saag Paneer ($11.50), with tofu over brown rice, pales next to the real thing, while thick udon noodles topped with a ponzu-based stir-fry of grilled tofu, shiitake 'shrooms and pineapple chunks ($13) wouldn't be out of place at some first- year student dorm potluck.
We're about to trade in our Crocs for a pair of sensible Birkenstocks when the kitchen hits it out of the park with a non-dairy dessert DeGrace calls Frozen Cameo ($4.50), a glorious gelato of banana ice tiered with intense pomegranate and drizzled with a sugary syrup depth-charged with the surprise of pink peppercorn. More, please.
A few days later, we return for weekend brunch. After a detoxing mug of organic green tea ($2.50), it gets under way with a decidedly dairy version of French toast made with eggy challah piled with caramelized apple and gingery toasted pecans ($9).
Billed as a frittata, an unfolded omelette of roasted red pepper dolloped with creamy chèvre ($8.50) comes paired with soft paprika-pink spuds. And though the menu contends it's Creole-inspired, a whole wheat burrito stuffed with bland scrambled tofu ($9 with "simple" salad) tastes anything but.
A hit straight out of the box with the cocktail crowd, Boom Shiva whose seats at the bar outnumber those at tables two to one has yet to determine whether it's a lounge or a restaurant. But with a little tweaking, it could easily become one of those rare restos that attract a clientele for both.
When that happens, remember the neighbours and keep your enthusiasm down to a dull roar.