The Place: Driving past the shawarma shacks and fast food joints on Bank Street near Billings Bridge, a gaudy red neon ticker tape sign grabbed my eye with unexpected words whizzing past: “vegetarian and vegan-friendly!” The place looked like nothing from the outside (literally, it’s impossible to see inside from the street) and I confess this almost deterred me from turning into the tiny strip-mall parking lot for a peek. What a delightful surprise to discover a real hidden gem. An adorable, family-run restaurant with one of the most unique, creative and inspiring menus I’ve seen in ages — meatless or otherwise.
The Deal: I am a meat eater but was drawn to the prospects of a hearty soup or even a salad bar for lunch (isn’t that we’ve come to expect from most veggie cafés in town?) and was curious about this odd location for such a health-conscious spot. No buffet here — rather a sparsely decorated room with plain tables, wood floors, and a fresh, calm ambiance. A young man and self-described athlete, tends to the tables while his Mom does the cooking (he reveals that it is his sister who is vegan). The elaborate Pan-Asian-fusion menu offers something for everyone — even meat eaters — and includes all-day brunch, lunch, and dinner items. For the most part, dishes are vegan (many are gluten-free) and include the likes of mini macrobiotic burgers; an organic omelette with shrimp, veggies, and lemon zest; and mango zucchini rolls with avocado, dill, cucumber, and pine nut pesto. A list of raw vegan shakes includes the “daily detox” and “key lime pie.”
The Dish: When I learned the family came from Korea, I was curious to sample the classic Korean dish, Bibim-Bop. It was served in a huge bowl with great visual appeal, brimming with colourful sautéed julienne vegetables: slivers of eggplant, carrot, onion, zucchini, radish, fresh young salad greens, mushrooms, and crispy pieces of nori — all redolent with the warm nuttiness of sesame oil and the sweet heat of fresh ginger. I was given a large spoon and instructed to mix everything together well, which distributes all the flavours including a dollop of hot sauce. The dish was perfectly balanced in both texture and flavour. I was especially pleased to see the brown rice did not overwhelm the other ingredients. This was a veggie party and the rice mélange made it feel less stir-fry and more of a comforting casserole. Sometimes vegetarian main courses leave me with a nagging feeling that something’s missing —not this one. I scraped up every last delicious bit and felt totally satisfied. The roasted brown rice organic Matcha green tea steeped with a slice of lemon was an ideal partner.
The Cost: Bibim-bop is $15.95 (Brunch items $7.95-$12.95)
Café My House, 1729 Bank St., 613-733-0707.