Wood-fired apple and ricotta galette is a sensation at David Haman’s Woodlot.
293 Palmerston, at College, 647-342-6307, woodlotrestaurant.com.
Having worked at Cookstown Greens - the organic grower that supplies most of Toronto's top restaurants with the likes of purple snow peas and lovage - David Haman has a profound passion for vegetables.
Which explains why his exceptionally popular west-side resto offers two parallel menus, one for flesh-eaters, the other geared toward the Birkenstock set. His all-veggie version of French onion soup is such a convincing recreation, it also appears on the carnivore card, as does cornbread crostini dressed with puréed squash and spicy apple compote (both $11).
Haman stuffs house-made agnolotti ($16 small/$23 large) with minced sweet spring peas and sauces them with a minty pine nut ragu. And though his oven-baked pies - tonight, smoky roasted tofu, parsnips and Swiss chard ($26) - are clearly smaller than when he first opened two years ago, they're still large enough to guarantee leftovers, something almost every table goes home with.
Pavlova ($11) brings dinner to a dazzling close, an impossibly light hollowed-out meringue exploding with tart lemon custard and macerated cherries. Le Commensal et al, take note.
Dinner Tuesday to Sunday 5 to 11 pm. Closed Monday, holidays. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement.
2. Live Organic Food Bar
264 Dupont, at Spadina, 416-515-2002, livefoodbar.com.
Raw vegan chef Jennifer Italiano's vivacious personality energizes her radical veggie carte.
Flavours are as bold as the vibrant green and orange walls of her modish north Annex café. The Detox salad ($12) of local organic kale and gluten-free kelp noodles tossed with avocado in lemon hemp dressing is just the kind of thing Woody Harrelson would start his day with. And he has! Italiano regularly caters his Hogtown film shoots.
Her totally raw pizza ($16) translates as a thin crushted-walnut crust spread with arugula and topped with intense black olives and "cheese" fashioned from pulverized cashews. Right on trend, she also reinterprets poutine ($13), tacos ($14) and pulled pork burritos ($15) with burdock standing in for pig.
Desserts are just as deliriously bright. At brunch, she constructs faux chocolate crepes ($16) from cacao date Fluff, blackberry jam and whipped coconut cream. You'd never know.
Monday to Thursday 11:30 am to 9:30 pm, Friday 11:30 am to 10 pm. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 11 am to 3 pm, dinner Saturday till 10 pm, Sunday till 9 pm. Closed some holidays. Licensed. Access: 11 steps at door, washrooms in basement.
3. Cafe 668
885 Dundas W, at Claremont, 416-703-0668, cafe668.com.
In the general stampede along Dundas West toward the likes of Campagnola, the Hoof and Enoteca Sociale - not to mention the Atlantic, Brockton General and L'Ouvrier - this handsomely appointed vegetarian restaurant often gets lost in the crush. We blame the lack of headbangin' DJs and $16 cocktails.
Instead, Hon Quach and Ngoc Lam offer sophisticated meat- and dairy-free takes on the Cantonese canon with a Thai and Vietnamese twist, sizable plates like their health-conscious spin on Singapore noodles (#55, $9.99) replaces musty curry powder with zesty coconut cream.
No proper visit to 668 begins without a pair of raw rice paper wraps teeming with Thai basil, crunchy peanut and bean sprouts (#1, $4.50) or the 668 salad (#11, $8.99), a riot of julienned veg, cashews and optional gluten. Meaty king mushrooms mixed with strips of veggie-beef gluten in spicy satay (#75, $14.99) could hoodwink a carnivore.
A short list of local organic wines and microbrews help it all go down that much easier.
Monday to Thursday 5 to 9 pm, Friday and Saturday 3:30 to 10 pm, Sunday and holidays 3:30 to 9 pm. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement.
238 Augusta, at Nassau, 416-364-6183.
When self-taught chef Joseph Tam opened his diminutive 12-seat diner six years ago, Kensington Market was known as the place where poor people shop.
Now that the nabe is hipster central, Tam's oft-overlooked café is perpetually packed to the gills. And about time, too, because Tam's short meat-free menu is worthy of a wider audience, if only a dozen at a time.
Crepes come two ways, made with egg- and gluten-free buckwheat flour or the more traditional egg batter, and get topped with everything from dulce de leche to blue cheese and pear (from $5.65). Salad combos - steamed potato in lemony Dijon vinaigrette, quinoa tabouleh with cranberries, haricots verts with button mushrooms (three for $8.83) - would be almost twice the price anywhere else.
And don't leave without a scoop of vegan gelato ($3). When NOW went looking for the best gelaterie in the GTA a couple of summers back, Hibiscus came out at the top of the heap.
Daily 11 am to 6 pm. Closed some holidays. Unlicensed. Access: three steps at door, washroom on same floor.
Onsen Tamago anchors the unusual tasting menu at Yours Truly.
5. Yours Truly
229 Ossington, at Dundas W, 416-533-2243, yours-truly.ca.
Ossington's latest buzz boîte seems unable to decide whether it's a loud late-night lounge with nibbly tapas a la Grand Electric and 416 Snack Bar or a serious kitchen whose "aim is to bring down the wall between the kitchen and diners," as its website manifesto proclaims. Too bad you can't hear a word of it.
Falling somewhere between OMG and WTF, chef Jeff Claudio's unorthodox approach works best in his constantly evolving $35 four-course vegetarian tasting menu. One night it begins with a jewel-like jellied parsnip dumpling in cucumber juice tossed with nasturtium leaves and chased by a spinach raviolo fried in goat butter draped with moulten house-made ricotta.
The main - if you can call a starter-size portion a main - appears to be a trio of turnip gnocchi and a Japanese-style soft-boiled egg in dashi. A tiered Jello-like dessert of yogurt and hibiscus compote concludes this offbeat prix fixe on a sticky note.
Hardcore veg-heads be warned: Yours Truly also serves meat.
Dinner Wednesday to Monday 5:30 pm to 10 pm, snack menu till 2 am. Reservations recommended. Closed Tuesday, some holidays. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement.