Vegetarians, once consigned to the salad section of the menu, have a lot to be thankful for. Plant-based restaurants recently spread roots around the city, and even erstwhile foie gras worshippers like Nota Bene’s David Lee have all but sworn off animal products. My pick of the crop is the new west-end home of Nathan Isberg, formerly of the Atlantic. He’s one of our most cerebral chefs. His every plate is a dissertation on the culture and evolution of taste. That makes him sound like a bore, but he’s truly an incredible cook.
While there’s no mistaking that Awai is a vegetarian restaurant—the Persian carpet wall hangings, Joni Mitchell and tisane selection are dead giveaways—even the most hard-core meathead will succumb to Isberg’s ravioli stuffed with braised artichokes; his flatbreads blackened from a wood-fired oven and loaded with cherry tomatoes, their fruitiness intensified by a complex herb mixture that includes floral, Quebec-sourced sweetfern, alder tip and juniper; his crisp-fried baby eggplant with creamy insides brought into relief by a zesty chermoula; and his black arborio and wild rice paella, with a funky trio of oyster mushrooms, black truffles and huitlacoche, plus a scattering of puffed rice for extra texture. He offers salads, too, including one dazzler with candy-like overnight-roasted apple, quick-pickled onion and various shoots and sprouts, but it doesn’t feel like a return to the salad days of the past.
2277 Bloor St. W., 647-643-3132, awai.ca