Vegan at L.A.B – Whatchya going to eat?
Last night we had the opportunity to visit L.A.B Restaurant (651 College St. Toronto) for one of JC’s sibling’s birthdays. It’s been on the To Eat list for a while (ever since Howard Dubrovsky won Vegan Iron Chef at the Vegetarian Food Fair in 2010, but I never got around to it). Looking at the menu at LAB, I have to say I had to wonder… why was this guy even at Vegan Iron Chef. There was lobster and lamb and octopus. And that’s probably why I “never got around to it”. (Though word on the street is he is a vegetarian.)
There are a couple of vegetarian things on the menu, and at least one vegan thing. I sent a tweet the day before to @foodcult (the LAB account) asking if there was anything vegan, the response was that the terrine of harvest vegetables, and that the risotto could be veganized. Since I find it nearly impossible to get excited about risotto, the terrine was a predetermined inevitability as soon as I heard about it. I seriously appreciated the quick twitter response, especially since I sent it on a Saturday. The LAB website is also great in that it’s not annoying – no flash, no music starting up, no pdf files of the menus. Some other resto’s could learn a thing or too.
Both groups of us ordered warm spiced olives and were informed that they just came with the meal – but they never showed up, and we forgot about them (until today when I was looking at the menu again thinking… wait… I want olives). But they did bring a basket of bread with garlic, rosemary, and olive oil, which is always a winner. Other than no olives, service was excellent, friendly, and achieved that lovely balance of formal and casual.
As an appetizer JC ordered the maple eggplant tapenade with crostini and chipolini onions, which looked kind of gross (sorry) – but was a fabulous combination of flavours. Moreover, the crostini acted as more than just a tapanade conveyance.
Though not as tasty as my appetizer. House made pickled vegetables – beets, cipollini onions (or some equivalent tiny delicious onion, though I think I’m probably right) wisps of greens, and some other root vegetable that I enjoyed eating and identified at the time. I love beets. I love pickled onions. But I didn’t realized I liked pickled onions until last night. Not that I’m surprised. I am Polish after all. Pickled things are totally my scene.
The terrine came on my plate like two round half spheres (I was going to allude to something else, but you can get there on your own if you want to). I also don’t understand what made it more of a terrine and not a mousseline – because the harvest vegetables (including another Polish favourite – celeriac) had a really mousse-like texture. I have no idea and it doesn’t really matter. I especially liked the pickled apple and the middle line of mushrooms, and of course the reduced wine spots.
Each layer of the terrine was slightly different in both texture and flavour, but I can’t remember the specifications although the server did tell me in detail while presenting the dish.
JC ordered the risotto, and I didn’t like it. It wasn’t pretty, I found it oddly sharp in flavour, but JC seemed to love it (which is what actually matters). I bet it would have been great with some kind of non-dairy replacement of the basil creme fraiche that originally comes with the not-vegan version of it. But I’m just biased in favour of anything involving basil.
We finished our meal, gave the birthday girl her gifts (and thankfully, she is just as excited about the Molecule-R culinary experimentation kit as I am) and ate some treats the family brought with them. Evidence of how lovely JC’s people are – they brought separate treats for us from Teatree Cafe and Eatery (867 Danforth Avenue, Toronto). The mini maple cupcakes were very very tasty little bites. (and their brunch menu looks interesting…)
Before heading home, we walked down college over to Dolce Gelato (a pretty common stopping ground for the two of us) and had little cups of sorbetto (try the Maracuja/passion fruit.)
I might wait and see if L.A.B changes their menu again (hopefully with a more vegan positive outcome), but I would definitely go there again. It is somewhat expensive, but you can see the care and attention that goes into preparing each dish, and the quality of the ingredients – and for me that’s worth it. I am so curious to see what else Dubrovsky can come up with.
I feel your pain but, having known sevarel top chefs, they will tell you that they are not willing to compromise quality. However, if they informed you prior to your dinner that they could meet your needs, then that is exactly what they should have done. This was another reason why I couldn’t maintain my vegan ways. I never want to be labeled the “impossible eater.” I have to attend too many business lunches and dinners. I just can’t make a scene everyday…unfortunately.