If you’re just joining us, please feel free to check out Part 1 first. You wouldn’t want to miss all of Friday’s juicy details now would you?
Saturday found us hitting up Sadie’s Diner, where vegetarians and vegans alike can eat humongous breakfasts all day. I had a heaping plate of scrambled tofu, home fries, whole wheat toast and veggie sausages. I have to admit that the scrambled tofu wasn’t my favourite, but that’s my bad – I learned the best way to make scrambled tofu years ago (in my humble opinion – I haven’t had a chance to post the recipe but I will, and when I do I’ll link it up) and have trouble with alternatives, especially when they’re filled with lukewarm tomatoes. Still, none of that mattered when my peanut butter chocolate smoothie arrived. It was the best smoothie I’ve ever had, with Ottawa’s Café My House‘s Key Lime Pie smoothie coming in a close second. It was creamy without being heavy (a remarkable feat when you consider my entire breakfast and the type of smoothie involved), with neither flavour dominating. This blew my mind since both chocolate and peanut butter are such strong flavours. It was the perfect marriage, period.
We tootled around and tried to digest our breakfast by visiting the top of the CN Tower. That may not have been the best idea in the world considering we were 147 stories up in the air on what felt like little more than a chopstick stuck in the dirt (with all sorts of steel girders and safety glass, sure). Thankfully, despite some very nervous stomachs, none of us yakked, and we can now say that we’ve been in what used to be the tallest building in the world from 1975-2007 (now surpassed by several structures including Burj Khalifa in Dubai).
We decided to calm our nerves by meandering around Kensington Market, which may have the highest density of vegan restaurants in Toronto. There are also all sorts of fun vintage clothing stores and organic food stores. It was great! Of course, all that meandering made us hungry, so we headed over to my sister’s favourite pho place (Pho House), since I’ve always had a really hard time finding truly vegan Pho. A 5-minute discussion with a typical server in a pho establishment usually involves me having to explain that I can’t have chicken, beef or fish broth, or fish sauce, or eggs, or pork. The end result is that I smile, thank them and turn to leave, while the person with whom I’ve been conversing with continues to look puzzled and then shrugs. My sister and her partner had already established that this place has vegetable broth, which is made fresh every day, so I was pretty excited to try it out. We began with some really simple yet subtly delicious fresh rice paper rolls, and some outstanding chive cakes. Normally these cakes contain bits of chive rolled into the rice dough, which is then pan-seared, but THESE cakes were actually stuffed with chives and spinach and then seared with what was likely quite a bit of oil. The end result was a soft, flavourful interior encased in a crispy, crunchy shell. They were exquisite. My pho was also wonderful, as it was filled to the brim with rice noodles, a rich broth, fresh veggies and puffy cubes of fried tofu. Supplemented with a mountainous plate of bean sprouts, thai basil, other fresh mystery herbs, sriracha and soy sauce, my pho obliterated (temporarily) any signs of my lingering cold. It was heaven.
Fast forward several hours (past the shopping, meandering and loafing) and cut to our late supper at Fressen, one of the better-known vegan restaurants in Toronto. After a delectable steamed asparagus bundle served over herb-infused quinoa and a hemp-miso sauce (and a delightful grapefruit fizz – my new favourite cocktail), I learned a valuable lesson. You guessed it, lesson four: if you start having second doubts about your order, there’s a reason. Let me explain. Like most of you, I’ve gotten used to only having 1-2 menu options when visiting most non-veggie restaurants. When faced with an entirely vegan menu where the sky’s the limit (or more practically my wallet and/or stomach capacity), my head explodes. I panic, and then examine the menu in incredible detail. My eyes dart from page to page. When the server comes to take my order, I resume panicking. In this particular case, this caused me to order the grilled seitan black bean sausage with seasonal veggies. I immediately regretted it, my subconscious telling me that the creamy corn rigatone would have been the way to go. But it was too late. The orders were in, and I was determined to make the best of it. “It’s important to branch out and try new things”, I kept telling myself, “don’t just order something that you know you’ll love. Life is about growth, and you’ll never better yourself if you stick to the safe stuff”, I repeated over and over in my head. When the meals came, my sister’s boyfriend was kind enough to give me a taste of the rigatone he had so intelligently ordered. Biting into the al dente noodle covered in a garlicky “cream” sauce that was not-too-heavy and not-too-light, I knew that I had made a mistake. My seitan turned to ashes in my mouth, despite the fact that it really wasn’t THAT bad – it could have just used a little more time on the grill (or rather, any time at all, since its soggy texture convinced me that it had never seen the top side of a grill). Lesson learned. When there’s an option you’re sure you’ll love and you won’t likely get another chance (for the next little while anyway), it’s not worth risking it. Go with your gut! Literally. Luckily I didn’t let my disappointment colour the rest of the evening, and we had a rip-roarious time at The Comedy Bar thanks to Andrew Ivimey, Dom Paré, Rob Mailloux and the headliner, Chris Hardwick. I definitely recommend you to check them all out if you ever have the chance (easier with Chris since he has his own podcast).
Think that’s it? You’re wrong! Check out Part 3 for our last day, if your stomach can bear it…