Montreal: Day 4

Pardon this belated post—eight days have passed since I returned from the splendid Canadian city of Montreal, yet I’m just finishing up my series of recap posts. Perhaps the serene, unhurried vibe of spring break has followed me back to school (I’d better snap out of it soon!).

In any case, I spent a last half-day in Montreal with my wonderful friend Lisa, full of a student-run free vegan lunch service and last tastes of both Crudessence‘s and Aux Vivres’ culinary glory.

After my final Magic Bullet smoothie and run on the dorm basement treadmill, I metro-ed up to meet Lisa on the McGill campus for a comforting vegan lunch courtesy of Midnight Kitchen. Launched as a counter to the corporatization of McGill’s food services, Midnight Kitchen “was born out of the desire to make a positive alternative accessible to as many people as possible in the form of affordable, healthy food.” Translated: Free vegan food for everyone! The valiant organization has grown substantially in popularity and currently has a $2.25 student levy each semester for sufficient funds and the ability to hire paid positions. My favorite aspect of Midnight Kitchen involves their food sources—they take donations of still very much edible, though slightly damaged, surplus produce that might otherwise hit the dumpster from market vendors, grocers, and restaurant owners in an attempt to implement more efficient methods of food distribution. Midnight Kitchen serves nutritional vegan lunches every weekday inside the Students Society of McGill University (SSMU) building at 12:30 pm, complete with a whole grain, a hot dish involving a protein, a green salad, a side dish, and a dessert. Everyone brings their own Tupperware containers into which the servers to lovingly slop delicious, wholesome fare, enjoyed convivially with other progressively-minded students.

Line of eager, hungry students.

Serving up some love.

The particular day Lisa and I chose to partake in this vegan fight-the-power fest, the menu consisted of an herby, infinitely comforting soup with potatoes and carrots; a scoop of perfectly cooked quinoa; a crunchy romaine salad with shredded carrots, crisp green beans, and refreshing celery; and a banana-oat crumble cake (in which I did not partake since I assumed it was filled with gluten, though Lisa happily enjoyed my piece…and three more).

Though I verily enjoyed the meal, after sneaking three helpings of the not-so-generously sized portions, my tummy grumbled for further nourishment, so Lisa led me to the McGill cafeteria a short walk away from the SSMU building. There, in one of the refrigerator cases, my jaw dropped to discover a piece of Crudessence’s Blueberry Un-Cheesecake packaged in a plastic triangular container and ready for devouring. Along with a lemongrass kombucha (also distributed by Crudessence), the velvety smooth, decadent raw cheesecake aptly quelched my hunger…and my soul. I hold raw desserts very near and dear to my heart.

After lunch, Lisa and I headed back to her dorm to pack up my suitcase and head off to the airport. I would certainly miss the liberal, stylish, European, and vegan-friendly vibe of Montreal, though I promised Lisa to return as soon as possible. We bid a heartfelt adieu before I dove into the frustrating world of airplane travel, though I had one last souvenir of the Quebecquois vegan scene to sustain me on the journey back to America—the Vivante Salad from Aux Vivres’ takeout counter which I picked up after the previous day’s dinner in preparation for my flight. The veritable mountain of sprouts, pleasantly chewy wakame seaweed, sour and crunchy pink sauerkraut, refreshing daikon and cucumber slices, crisp lettuce, and smoky grilled tofu tossed in a tangy, creamy dressing offered a scrumptious farewell meal on my Montreal-ean adventure.

Restaurant Information:

  • Midnight Kitchen—Room 302, Shatner Building, 3610 McTavish, Montreal, Quebec.
  • Crudessence—2157 Rue Mackay, Montreal, Quebec. (514) 664-5188.
  • Aux Vivres—4631 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Montreal, Quebec. (514) 842-3479.

Until next time, Ali.

Montreal: Day 3

I awoke on my penultimate day in Montreal with a green smoothie made in three batches with the world’s tiniest blender—Lisa’s “Magic Bullet.” Despite the low-quality appliance, I managed to puree up a satisfying morning beverage before hitting the dorm gym for a workout. Lisa had class until 1:00, so I mulled about her apartment for a few hours, mixing up a salad for lunch, before catching the Metro to meet her at David’s Tea, eager to sample another of their myriad of teas after my delicious Fantasy Island experience the previous day.

 

The tea-ordering procedure at David’s Tea is as follows: 1.) Page through the catalogue filled with dozens of tantalizing tea flavors and choose several of particular interest. 2.) Chat with a “barista” who will gladly grab any tea you mention from a rainbow-colored wall of tea canisters, as well as a few others they think you’d enjoy based on your own selections. 3.) Waft in the sumptuous aroma of each tea and decide the flavor on which you’d most like to sip. 4.) Order your tea hot, iced, as a latte with soy milk, or sweetened with either honey or agave nectar. 5.) Enjoy your tea with zeal and happily reflect upon your experience at David’s Tea.

I opted to try the Toasted Walnut—a green tea augmented with hazelnut, almond, and walnut bits as well as dried pineapple and coconut flakes. Hoping for a more intense flavor, I didn’t fancy this tea as much as my beloved Fantasy Island, but appreciated its pleasant subtlety, nonetheless.

The rest of the day passed without much ado: after purchasing a pair of vegan patent leather heels to accessorize my prom dress, Lisa and I settled in at her cafe of preference, Cafe Art Java (apparently widely renowned for its cappuccino foam art), to painstakingly edit a paper and fool around on the Kindle, respectively.

Immediately following my delectable welcome-to-Montreal lunch at Aux Vivres on the afternoon of my arrival, Lisa and I vowed to patronize the classy vegan diner on a second occasion during my Canadian vacation. Accompanied by Lisa’s boyfriend and soon-to-be roommate (both non-vegans), we meandered down Rue Saint-Laurent through a gorgeous sunset to fulfill our dining promise at Aux Vivres. Recalling my delightful experience with the Dragon Bowl at our previous Aux Vivres excursion, I ordered the Macro Bowl—succulent steamed spinach and baby bok choy, tangy pink sauerkraut, unctuous and hearty wakame seaweed, crunchy crisp sprouts, refreshing cucumber slices, sweet shredded carrots, and impeccably grilled tofu smothered in miso-tahini sauce and served over a mound of brown rice. Boy howdy, does this kitchen have their bowl-crafting skills down to a science! Of course, being the juice fiend that I am, I simply had to sample the intriguing blend of tomato, carrot, beet, cucumber, and various spices deemed the Végé-Délice. Directly translated as “vegetable delight,” the juice’s name certainly fits its complex blend of sweet, savory, and spicy—I imagine the flavors would recall a (non-alcoholic) Bloody Mary. To finish off the meal with something sweet, I picked up a raw Boule d’Energie (“energy ball”) at the takeout/dessert counter. While I probably can’t identify every ingredient, I did note the inclusion of dates, dried apricots, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, and coconut—a lovely single-bite dessert.

 

Meal Checklist: Protein—tofu, tahini in dressing, pumpkin and hemp seeds in energy ball. Whole Grain—brown rice. Vegetablesalfalfa sprouts, carrots, cucumber, tomato, beet. Leafy Greens—spinach, baby bok choy, wakame seaweed, cabbage in sauerkraut.

Once again immensely satisfied with Aux Vivres, I greatly lamented that I would not return until my next visit to Montreal. Returning to Lisa’s dorm that night proved slightly bittersweet, for I knew that the next day in good ol’ moose-country (har-har) would also be my last.

Restaurant Information:

  • David’s Tea—Le Centre Eaton, 705 Rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest, Montreal, Quebec. (514) 284-6060.
  • Aux Vivres—4631 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Montreal, Quebec. (514) 842-3479.

Until next time, Ali.

Montreal: Day 2

My second day in the alternative-indie mecca of Montreal began leisurely with a bowl of green juice (purchased the previous day at Cafe Juicy Lotus) augmented with a handful of millet puffs (discovered, much to my surprise, at a grocery store across the street from the aforementioned cafe) and a banana. Loaded with the veggie goodness of romaine lettuce, celery, cucumbers, kale, swiss chard, collard greens, pears, and bananas, the juice powered me through an energizing morning workout before heading off to the Atwater Market with Lisa.

Boasting fresh produce, artisanal products like oils and vinegars, and familiar “health food store” fare including an array of gluten-free goodies, the indoor market served as an incredibly European-feeling hub of folks from all walks of life—adorable children munched on croissants while their parents sipped black coffee and wrinkled oldsters with moustaches good-heartedly bartered with burly butchers. A gorgeous amalgamation of classic French culture, yet still somehow a mere two hours away from America. Lisa and I purchased a selection of organic produce in preparation for a hearty lunchtime salad, pausing along the way to gawk at a stand overflowing with pickles (because what self-respecting vegan doesn’t crave salthy preserved vegetable deliciousness?).

After lunch, Lisa and I trekked through the rain in search of my prom dress along Rue Saint-Laurent, hunting down a sophisticated, all black variation on the classic flapper-style frock. Mission prom dress: accomplished! On the way back to Lisa’s dorm, we stopped by David’s Tea, where I enjoyed the Fantasy Island flavor—a rich black tea with tropical hints of coconut and fruity raspberry accents. I’ll elaborate further on the tea shop in my Montreal: Day 3 post, but for now, I’d like to focus on the highlight of day two (and perhaps my entire trip)

dinner at Crudessence. Offering oodles more than a creative menu of gourmet raw cuisine (certainly a feat in and of itself!), the restaurant runs an “Academy of Living Foods” with workshops on dehydrating, sprouting, juicing, and other raw food basics; supplies top-quality house-brewed kombucha to just about every health-oriented business in Montreal; produces a line of packaged raw goodies such as cheesecakes, energy balls, granolas, and even chia pudding mixes (photo below); and reserves a spot in the McGill cafeteria deli case for pre-made versions of its popular menu items like the Om Burger and buckwheat pizza.

 

Excitement=only barely contained.

One glance at the menu informed me that Lisa and I would have to contemplate its mouthwatering selection for a good long while. Thankfully, our lovely waitress seemed quite understanding and patiently allowed us to painfully narrow down our choices. In the end, I opted for Crudessence’s famous Om Burger with a side of “Daily Salad”, as per the suggestions of both Lisa and our helpful waitress. I also wanted to sample a juice concoction, and ordered a small glass of Hippocrate Juice.

From the moment the waitress bestowed this plate of gorgeous raw food upon me, Crudessence had transported me to gastronomical heaven. The salad sported a crisp, fresh mix of lettuce, red cabbage, carrots, sauerkraut (my favorite!), a generous handful of house-grown sprouts (my other favorite!), and a playful beet spiral tossed in an herby green vinaigrette, accompanied by a small mound of quinoa pilaf (not raw, but delicious) with currants, cauliflower, and parsley. And then the burger. Oh, this burger. Sinking my teeth through its wonderfully contrasting layers of soft flax “chapati” bread, crunchy sprouts, juicy tomato, crisp lettuce, a hint of red onion, homemade mustard, ketchup, delectable caper aioli sauce, and the burger patty itself (a complex and deeply flavored mix of mushroom, sundried tomato, flax, and other veggies), sent me from heaven to complete culinary nirvana. Lisa can attest to this, as she witnessed me becoming closer to tears of pure joy with every bite. I must specially mention the caper aioli sauce—a salty, creamy spread of absolute impeccable flavor that I would more than happily slather on anything from crudite vegetables to a shoe. Between divine mouthfuls of my precious burger, I sipped on the Hippocrate Juice—a refreshing, pleasant blend of cucumber, celery, green pea sprouts, cilantro, and lemon—which originally intrigued me with its implementation of the sprouts, as I had never seen them used in a juice before.

Meal Checklist: Protein—various nuts, flax. Whole Grain—quinoa. Vegetables—red cabbage, carrots, sprouts, beet, cauliflower, parsley, cucumber, celery, green pea sprouts, cilantro, tomato, red onion…I could continue. Leafy Green—lettuce, cabbage in sauerkraut.

Of course, one can’t possibly expect me to dine at one of the premiere raw restaurants in North America without salivating over dessert. Lisa promised me a forkful of her favorite Blueberry Un-Cheesecake while I ordered the Banana Split from the seasonal menu, as well as a small square of Green Tea Chocolate Fondant. A plate of perfectly ripe bananas studded with utterly rich brownie bites and scoops of unidentifiably, though yummily, flavored ice cream, drizzled in “Maca-ramel” (a caramel of maca powder), and sprinkled with goji berries certainly met the high standard of raw food quality I came to develop throughout my meal at Crudessence. I snagged a bit of Lisa’s cheesecake, whose unbelievably creamy texture tasted positively sinful. My final bite of smooth, bittersweet chocolate fondant coated in matcha green tea powder left me in utter contentment.

Banana Split

Green Tea Chocolate Fondant

Blueberry Un-Cheesecake

Lisa and I returned to her dorm, bellies full of scrumptiousness, incredibly satisfied, and ready for a good night’s sleep filled with dreams of another stupendous day in Montreal.

Restaurant Information:

  • Atwater Market—138 Atwater, Corner of Notre-Dame and Atwater, Montreal, Quebec.
  • David’s Tea—Le Centre Eaton, 705 Rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest, Montreal, Quebec. (514) 284-6060.
  • Crudessence—2157 Rue Mackay, Montreal, Quebec. (514) 664-5188.

Until next time, Ali.

Montreal: Day 1

Thank goodness I’ve finally forced my fingers to start typing this post—I’ve been ever so eager to share my experience in Montreal, but wanted to postpone doing so until arriving back home, which those damn Delta employees delayed by half a day. Nevertheless, insolent airline staff cannot mar my fond memories of interpreting snippets of old Frenchmen’s conversations, strolling along hip boulevards painted with eclectic street art, and sampling some of Montreal’s finest vegan cuisine.

Street art on Saint-Laurent.

Upon arrival mid-morning on Saturday, March 31, my longtime pal, current McGill student of art history/Jewish studies, and inspiration for my veganism, Lisa, excitedly greeted me at the airport. Knowing me all too well and correctly assuming that I had researched vegan-friendly Montreal eateries prior to my arrival, Lisa immediately inquired “so what’s the plan for lunch?” I mentioned Aux Vivres, Lisa’s favorite Montreal restaurant, to which she joyfully consented. After unloading my luggage at Lisa’s dorm, catching the underground Metro, and taking a pleasant stroll up Boulevard Saint-Laurent, we arrived at the sunny, upscale diner-esque door of Aux Vivres.

Forever head-over-heels in love with the vegan bowl concept, I had hungrily eyed the “Bols” section of the Aux Vivres menu since first Google-searching the restaurant. However, since we unknowingly paid our visit during their brunch hours, I momentarily panicked at the notion of missing out on my coveted bowls, only to breathe an enormous sigh of relief at the sight of a single bowl offering on the brunch menu: the Dragon Bowl. Shredded beets, carrots, daikon, lettuce, sprouts, red cabbage, and grilled sit atop a mound of warm brown rice, all sprinkled with dulse and toasted sesame seeds, then slathered with Dragon Sauce (made from real dragons! Or more likely a slightly sweet, tangy mixture of tahini, ginger, and other Thai-inspired ingredients). Complete with a boatload of vibrant, crunchy veggies, two triangles of very simply flavored yet perfectly charred and chewy tofu, a comforting pile of brown rice, and a finger-licking sauce to coat the entire mix, the bowl served as a satisfyingly light lunch to sustain me through a lengthy afternoon promenade without feeling at all weighted down. As a self-proclaimed sprout fiend, I must also mention my deep appreciation for the behemoth handful of alfalfa sprouts atop the bowl. Two thumbs very high up for Aux Vivres.

Meal Checklist: Protein—tofu, sesame seeds. Whole Grain—brown rice. Vegetables—beets, carrots, daikon, sprouts, red cabbage. Leafy Green—lettuce, dulse seaweed.

After a quick stop at Aux Vivres’ take-out counter for a bottle of kombucha (brewed locally by Montreal’s gourment raw restaurant Crudessence), Lisa and I continued to meander through the Saint-Laurent neighborhood. I happily sipped my “Passion” flavored kombucha—an invigorating and complex blend of rosehips, hibiscus, and green tea with lovely accents of ginger—as we hopped inside a small shop completely devoted to mushrooms, browsed through racks of vintage clothing, and made our way to an adorable indie cafe called Pikolo for an afternoon pick-me-up.

A first taste of Canadian kombucha!

Mushrooms galore.

Rooibos Pacific Sunset tea at Pikolo.

Lisa and I Metro-ed back to her dorm, where I completed an energizing treadmill workout and built up an appetite for some light, salady type fare to account for the lack of a monster lunch salad to which I’ve become so accustomed. To my and Lisa’s astonishment, we ended up discovering a restaurant online whose website I had not already perused, since all the eateries on my pre-approved list had already closed for the evening. Promising exactly the vegetable-dense, wholesome goodies we both craved that night, Cafe Juicy Lotus offered healthy vegetarian takeout with an ever-changing menu of of local, organic, seasonal produce.

We both opted for a plate full of a sampling of that day’s salads from behind the deli case—a bright red, citrusy mix of beets and red cabbage with a hint of ginger; a quinoa salad with bean sprouts, broccoli, carrots, and mushrooms; and a creamy broccoli salad with spinach and bean sprouts coated in an avocado dressing. I also nabbed a bottle of veggie-laden green juice to enjoy for breakfast the next morning.

 

Meal Checklist: Protein—none, though quinoa does contain a fair amount. Whole Grainquinoa. Vegetables—beets, red cabbage, carrots, avocado, mushrooms, bean sprouts. Leafy Green—broccoli, spinach.

A swing across the street to a grocery store for green smoothie supplies and a short Metro ride to Lisa’s dorm concluded my introductory and immensely enjoyable first day in Montreal. I fervently anticipated a wonderful Sunday, awaiting a visit to the local farmers market, a search for my prom dress, and an outstanding raw dinner at Crudessence.

Restaurant Information:

  • Aux Vivres—4631 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Montreal, Quebec. (514) 842-3479.
  • Pikolo Espresso Bar—3418 B Ave du Parc, Montreal, Quebec. (514) 508-6800.
  • Cafe Juicy Lotus—5568 Monkland Ave, Montreal, Quebec. (514) 507-6268.

Until next time, Ali.