If you were wondering why I adopted a new blog name recently, places like this are the reason. My number one interest is the food grown, produced, served and eaten in the Barrie area but I am also aware that there are some very cool things going on in other places within easy driving distance of our own beautiful area. The Curious Nibbler is still your Barrie Foodie, but she is very nosy and wants to try out a few fun out of area places that you might very well want to explore some day too.
I don't normally get to Toronto too often but I have a feeling that is about to change. My youngest child, and only daughter, Margaret, made the big leap to the city this weekend. She registered for school, got a job in the Eaton Centre and rented a room in the funkiest of neighbourhoods, Baldwin Village, in the heart of everything. Chinatown, Kensington Market, trendy little cafes, jazz bars and oddball shops - it's all there. We packed everything she owns into the minivan and off we went.
My girl is no stranger to the Big Smoke. She is a regular visitor down there, with festivals, concerts and endless shopping opportunities being very attractive to her, not to mention a certain handsome young man who calls Toronto home. So she already has a collection of little eateries that she wants to show me. After the boxes were stowed in her new room and the all important wi-fi was set up, her Dad and I took her out to eat at one of these must-try places - Vegetarian Haven.
Not a flake of snow, unreal warm temps courtesy of El Nino, we walked 5 minutes down Baldwin Ave. past rows of tightly packed century homes, the CN Tower looking down on us as we went. The neighbourhood was alive with people coming and going from noodle bars, seafood restaurants, high end bistros or just chatting on the sidewalk. As with most of the places to eat there, Vegetarian Haven looked tiny from the outside, with a very small front patio area out front, but was long, narrow and roomy enough inside.
"Hey guys, come on in." a very hip server greeted us. She had the specials of the night already plated to show us, which I think is an excellent idea. A borscht soup to start followed by an entree of 3 crispy fried tofu rings stuffed with a mash of carrot and other root veg, served with noodles and broccoli and grated carrot - very artful and bright.
As a dabbling vegetarian, I look at most menus and find 2 or 3 things I would like to eat. Full out vegetarian menus are actually more difficult for me because I want to eat everything! My husband, Ron, on the other hand, is pretty much a carnivorous caveman (he will agree!) and tends to be a little hesitant about going all veggie. His only other experience with a vegetarian restaurant was a raw vegan place and was not terribly thrilled with that meal. Tofu we know, but seitan an tempeh were new terms even for me. Ron chose the special. He felt like he had a least some knowledge about one menu item.
My girly has been exposed to some of the hotter Asian cuisines and has developed a taste for the spicy. Me - not so much. Our server told us that the spicier items on the menu were likely "white people hot" which is the absolute truth and no disrespect at all - our meat-and-potato raised taste buds (mine anyway) aren't always equipped for the fire of other cuisines. The chef could easily tone down the heat by 20% or 50% if we wanted. Yes please - 20% works for me. So I chose the spicy coconut seafood souper bowl.
Margaret ordered the bird's nest which is best described in the words that appear on the menu - al dente setain nuggests with diverse vegetables and bulbs of lily flower sauteed in a slightly sweet and spicy Szechuan sauce, snuggled on a nest of sweet potato noodles and served with purple rice. Wow. What arrived at our table was a veritable piece of art work. Should she eat it or hang it on the wall? Tall spires of crispy noodles reached up from the plate like coral and collapsed immediately into soft noodles once mixed with the sauce. An odd crackling sound like Rice Krispies in milk came from her dish. This colourful art piece/mad science experiment was delicious too.
And how did the caveman do? From looking mildly frightened at the first suggestion of a vegetarian meal, he ended up being quite surprised at how much he enjoyed his dinner. Nothing remained on his plate when he was finished. Margaret's bird's nest vanished too. My souper bowl seemed to be magically refilling itself or something as I could not seem to get to the bottom! I took the remainder home and had it over some noodles for my lunch the next day - a win win!
I hear that Baldwin Ave. closes to vehicles on summer Sundays and that the area comes further alive with street vendors and music. I would love to come back then and enjoy Vegetarian Haven's front patio on a warm evening.