Whether it’s a food trend, a generational thing, or the number of studies we are bombarded with on the health risks of red meat, there is no denying that vegetarianism is spreading across Canada. According to the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s “Canadian Food Trends to 2020,” citizens have become more cautious as to what they are eating, continually increasing their consumption of meatless meals. Restaurant owners and media outlets, like the Food Network, are paying attention to this shift in healthy living, incorporating vegetarian options on their menu and teaching viewers how they can prepare a healthy, meatless meal in under 20 minutes. Even Mario Batali, a well-know American-Italian chef who is no stranger to a great piece of prosciutto, has integrated Meatless Monday options to 14 of his restaurants. While we’re not expecting everyone to take on a vegetarian lifestyle, there are delicious ways to incorporate some meatless meals in your omnivorous diet; here are few of our favourite choices around Montreal!
Chow down at ChuChai
ChuChai is back in business after a long reconstruction period that started way back in February, and Montreal vegetarians are grateful for its return.
This restaurant sells itself as Thai vegetarian food with an upscale feel and a wine list to match. Though the menu can seem pricey to the uninitiated (meals run from 12$ to 20$), the unique presentation and intimate atmosphere make for a dining experience that accentuates the calm, modern vibe that goes hand in hand with chef Lily Sirikittikul’s creations.
The main attraction here is the series of “fake meat” dishes you can order; fish, duck, beef, chicken and shrimp are all reproduced in both taste and texture through the magic of soy, seitan and various vegetables coming together.
The simulacrum is so uncanny that a vegetarian friend of mine recounted how he once shocked an acquaintance of his by inviting him out to ChuChai and chowing down on the fake meat in front of his incredulous dinner guest. A personal favorite is the duck in red curry with pineapple, tomato and basil, which comes drizzled and stepped with a liberal amount of sweet, tangy sauce that demand you order an extra rice bowl just to finish it off.
The main courses aren’t the only draw to this modern St-Denis eatery; the appetizers are a brilliant amalgamation of oriental tastes, vibrant colors and simple, delicate presentation. Warranting particular note is the award winning Miam Kram, a unique combination of tastes like ginger, lemon and peanuts is served on a leaf you fold around the piled ingredients and pop into your mouth. It makes for a fresh, crisp morsel you won’t find the likes of anywhere else on the island.
ChuChai is located on 4088 Saint Denis St.
Aux Vivres deceives the palate
Aux Vivres was my go-to place during my lean, vegan years and despite my relapse into the world of carnivorism, it remains a mainstay
of my restaurant rotation. Why, you ask? Because it’s not a good vegan restaurant; it’s a good restaurant that just so happens to be vegan.
The menu features a wide selection under different sections; veggie bowls, burgers, salads, soul food, sandwiches and smoothies, ranging between $10 and $20. Whatever piques your fancy, you can find something to your liking.
There’s also a detailed tea list with a dozen different brews to choose from, as well as a dessert menu that features a fantastic “uncheescake” that will make you wonder how they can make this stuff without cream.
If you’re curious about their vegan cuisine, I recommend the BLT on chapati bread. The ‘B’ in this case is a coconut confection made to resemble, but not reproduce, the texture of bacon. What makes this sandwich truly remarkable, however, is the faux mayonnaise they use to lend it a nice, moist counterpoint to the hard crunch of fresh lettuce and coconut bacon. It’s enough to warrant suggesting they enter the commercial market with an “I can’t believe it’s not mayo!” product of some sort.
If Asian cuisine is more your thing, give the Macro bowl a try. A generous serving of steamed spinach, sauerkraut, bok choy, wakame, sprouts, miso-tahini sauce and grilled tofu or tempeh makes for an impressive amount of food that will leave you satisfied, but won’t leave you feeling bloated.
Aux Vivres is located on 4631 Saint Laurent Boulevard.
Lola Rosa gets creative with veggies
Lola Rosa café is one of those places for vegetarians and carnivores alike. it’s not just that their food is amazing for veggie monsters, it’s
that this food is just plain amazing and should be added as a point of pilgrimage for all Montrealers.
Their menu is a long list of imaginative dishes like tomato pie, hempburger, and the Rosa salad with chickpeas, oranges, feta cheese and hot peppers. With that said, their most popular choices are quesadillas, three cheese and spinach lasagna, and the quiche of the day which is always a fail-safe for the indecisive.
The quiche, served with a side of rice and salads, is wholesome with a crust that would give your French-Canadian grandmother envie. They have an excellent take on quesadillas as well, which taste more like they’re folded with a crepe rather than your run-of-the-mill corn tortilla.
If put to a vote though, the best has to be the lasagna, a generous portion of baked cheese melting in and over creamy layers of spinach and pasta. All is mid-priced, averaging around $12 a dish.
For dessert, the absolute standout is the seasonal pumpkin pie. The filling is velvety, halfway between a pie and a cheesecake, but it is the pressed sesame seed crust that makes it a superstar among pumpkin pastries. Dusted with cinnamon and served à la mode, the pie absorbs the senses so thoroughly, even the rowdiest table crowd will fall silent for the first few bites.
As for a quick appreciation of the décor, the wood paneling, chalkboards, cushions, and worn wood furniture packed close together give it an easy-going, yet carefully styled bohemian vibe. Don’t forget to leave a note behind in one of the hidden drawers!
Lola Rosa is located on 545 Milton St.
Bonnys is a humble, earthly, hidden gem
When I stepped inside Bonnys, I noticed a wall that consisted of long branches of wood and speakers inside a small log near the ceiling.
With only 12 tables, the restaurant has a very intimate atmosphere. The wood, plants, and shades of green and yellow give the room an earthy feel. They have reusable tablecloths rather than paper napkins which are only used once, perfectly suitable for such a restaurant.
I ordered a platter of the boca burger, which consists of a homemade chickpea flour and black bean burger. It’s served with an avalanche of fresh salsa, cheddar cheese, organic sour cream and sliced avocado. The platter comes with a large chef’s salad and nachos. The burger is covered with salsa, making it almost impossible to eat without utensils.
I had never tried a vegetarian burger before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was very good and extremely filling. With taxes, it was roughly $16, so not cheap, but worth it if you’re willing to splurge a little.
Owner Bonnie Tees wasn’t at the restaurant so I chatted with one of her employees, Jazmine Johansson. She has been working at Bonnys for three years now, and is a fellow Concordia student. When I asked her about the clientele, she informed me that they are mostly regulars. Some customers even go daily to buy their lunch. Johansson mentioned that the crowd is older, with few students and she said she doesn’t understand why.
In my opinion, the lack of young clients might be due to the fact that Bonnys is located in an uncommon area for students. Overall, we could both agree that the restaurant is a hidden gem for veggie lovers!
Bonnys is located on 1748 Notre-Dame West St.