My ambivalence towards vegetarian and vegan restaurants has already been documented in these pages (e.g. here). While I can get behind the health benefits and ethos of sustainability, I rarely find the end product a worthy endeavor from a purely gastronomic perspective.
I have always been of the opinion that dishes that are vegetarian by definition – i.e. originally conceived using veggies – can be and are often great. However, things fall apart when vegetables or legumes are used as substitutes for meat, poultry or dairy – e.g. plant-based burgers, mushroom gravy or almond cheese.
Now, I won't go as far as shunning that entire category of restaurant permanently; today I hit up Aux Vivres' Westmount location for lunch with an open mind and a readiness to be proven wrong.
Billed as Montreal's first vegan restaurant, Aux Vivres started out with a Plateau location in 1997. It would take them nearly twenty years to expand, adding their second and only other branch to Westmount's scene in 2018.
Taking over from a clothing store, the corner locale was redone in the style of a contemporary diner. Burgundy leather banquettes and booths occupy the interior's long edges, with bar-height tables running down the middle.
Above that are a combination of exposed brick walls and wood paneling, underneath a painted white ceiling. The lunch service was fairly quiet; only three other tables were taken inside. Outside was a riskier venture due to intermittent bursts of rain.
The animal-free menu travels the world, passing through most continents from the Americas to Europe and Asia. International flavours include – but are not limited to – spicy buffalo, chili, gyro, chutney and satay.
Vegetarian staples and superfoods such as sprouts, beets, seeds, brown rice, chickpeas, tofu and tempeh make heavy appearances; as do animal derivative substitutes like faux salmon, coconut bacon and – shudder – cashew parmesan.
An amazing start to any meal, this comforting bowl of red lentil soup nailed everything from the fragrance and spice to the thick, pulsed consistency. My wife and I had to fight for this.
While I did enjoy the souvlaki-marinated tempeh, it took me a couple of bites before realizing what was wrong with this wrap: the lack of dairy in the tzatziki gave it a sour taste of fermentation.
A heap of too many greens and veggies to individually list sat atop of brown rice, and was shredded and julienned so small it was difficult to enjoy. Also, the dragon sauce/dressing failed to make things interesting.
For my second visit this summer, my waiter here was a bespectacled young chap. With just under forty minutes before I had to return home to take a work call, time was of the essence. My request to bring everything at once as soon as plates were ready was duly fulfilled. Wham, bam, thank you ma'am!
tagged: IN & OUT
The critique above may sound negative in a couple of parts; but in fact, the food at Aux Vivres is not bad at all. That said, I don't go out for "not bad" or for mere sustenance.
Vegans and vegetarians will find such an establishment accommodating to their lifestyle choice, but I did not witness anything beyond a decent, filling, healthy and environmentally-responsible meal.
Today's lunch reinforced my position that we do not need to reproduce animal foods using plant-based ingredients to serve good, vegan-friendly food. Let's just focus on traditionally-vegetarian dishes. Dal? Yes please! Non-dairy tzatziki? No thanks.
tagged: PLAN B.
Price per person: $23.13
Montreal restaurant and bar reviews brought to you by two regular guys who like to eat and drink. We will go anywhere and we will say it like it is.