Planta, St. Lawrence Market, Pai, Sweet Jesus

Planta
Yorkville 

Planta! All hail Planta! The king of vegan restaurants has taken the throne so be sure to go pay tribute.

And to those of the anti vegan-movement movement, get over it for one meal because I assure you, there is nothing missing in these dishes. On the contrary, chef David Lee (of Nota Bene), in collaboration with the Chase Hospitality Group and their star chefs (who bring us The Chase Fish & Oyster, Grand Colette Cafe, Kasa Moto and Little Fin), has mastered the skillful art of modernizing our plates and our presumptions of how plates should be built and balanced. Lee turns his back on the traditional in pursuit of the innovative.

I’m not vegan or vegetarian but I do have a huge appreciation for the practice – and enjoy it. I’ll hop on the vegan train for days at a time without even realizing it. And let me tell you – eating this way is by no means a dietary ‘restriction’, especially in this city with champs like Planta swinging in the ring.

It’s truly an art, the way chefs (and our home-growing, home-cooking vegans at home) take what we’ve traditionally considered to be a complement to our dishes, or a “side”, and geared them up to be the star of the show – the main event. They have introduced to us an entirely new cuisine and dining experience all the while producing in an ethical and sustainable manner.

I won’t ask you to no longer pledge allegiance to your beef gods but I do encourage you to experiment with a creative cuisine bursting with unique flavours, thriving in its creativity. And the perfect place to start is Planta.

The lush interior is designed by the local East Studio with custom touches accentuating the restaurant and bringing it to life – in the literal sense of the word with the restaurant’s plants growing up and around you. Jungly murals, plants propped up along the walls, a giant tree sprouting from the floor reaching up to the ceiling of the second story – the interior is as eye catching as the plates.

My friend and I went for their all day Sunday brunch and had the ‘crab cakes’, a papaya, cucumber and mango slaw, with lemongrass and kaffir lime leaf dressing, and the tofu scramble with zucchini cream, charred tomatoes, and mushrooms.

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St. Lawrence Market
Old Toronto 

I had been to the market before moving to Toronto and the first time I brought Mike, once we moved here, I’m pretty sure I was yelling in his ear that this glorious place was open “all year round, 6 days a week!” The Market is a Toronto landmark, being the largest indoor market in the city and one of Toronto’s oldest establishments, dating as far back as 1803 when the area was dubbed ‘the Market Block’.

There’s not much like strolling through the fresh food of local vendors on a bright Saturday afternoon. Mike and I frequent Seafront Fish Market for their sushi grade tuna and salmon as well as Buster’s Sea Cove for their east-coast style takeaway dishes, to be shovelled in on the Market’s sunny patio.

Camera credit to Mike for the glam shot below.

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Pai
King West

I also have to give praise to Pai for which we’re regulars. Step into Pai and step into the town itself in Northern Thailand – one of my favourite stops on my tour of South East Asia. Pai was a world in itself – time loosened up, slowed down, lost its purpose. Captivating scents and smiles floated around and soon enough you floated around with them.

At Pai, a dimly lit space recreates the region with an open kitchen set to imitate the famed markets, carved teak panels, prints and artwork imported from Chang Mai and Pai, spacious floor seating beneath tarps and ‘buckets’ on the menu (which cater to the abundance of backpackers in Thailand). They’ve also now just expanded their space, opening a ‘Thai market’ area in the back, the Bebop, where you can grab a quick bite.

Pai is the latest from chef Nuit and Jeff Regular, the husband and wife duo behind Sabai Sabai, Sukothai and Khao San Road. After opening her first restaurant in Toronto only two years after moving here from Pai, Nuit’s feats continued to escalate. Her talent unfolded in her childhood home’s kitchen, her cooking education passed down from her mother. When she later worked as a nurse, she opened a curry shack with her brother as a side job.

And now she brings to us her authentic rendition of northern Thai food, known to be particularly savoury and spicy. With produce sourced from Thailand, her dishes are the next best thing to crossing your legs over a plate in (actual) Pai.

The go to orders: Green curry (served in a coconut) and spicy chicken pad thai. Chicken or pork is an obvious standard for the curry but I recommend trying the fish. The light and flaky contrasted with the warm, deep flavours make for quite the combination. Enjoy with a Singha or Chang – I prefer Singha, a pale logger.

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Sweet Jesus
King West (also a Queen East and an Eglinton location – and now Ottawa)

Gotta finish with dessert.

Strolling a couple blocks from our apartment, Mike and I spotted a ridiculously long lineup wrapping around the block and had to go sniff around to see what could be making for this kind of time (and sanity) commitment.

Sweet Jesus of course. Sweet Jesus is a spinoff off from La Carnita and, as with the taco joint, the ice cream spot struts an urban style, promoting local street artists to design their spaces and logo.

I obviously had to get my  hands on it and made Mike wait thirty to forty minutes with me in the restless, dairy-driven line up. With all the hype and heightened expectation around it, I was disappointed. The cones are just your regular, bland soft serve ice cream dressed up to look impressive in subpar toppings. That being said, you have to give them kudos for show (the birthday cake cone comes wrapped in cotton candy with a lit birthday candle) and for their margins (charging $7.00/cone) but after you snap your picture, give it an unsatisfying lick and get on with it.

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