Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Vegan in Toronto: Fressen

fressen dessert

I haven't been to Fressen in a while, but I'd really enjoyed it in the past. I've had three great brunches and one delicious dinner there over the past four years so, despite reading a few things online that indicated it was going downhill, I loyally made dinner reservations for Mom and me for Friday night.

I needn't have bothered with the reservations, since the place was nearly empty when we arrived. Granted it was 6 PM, which is sort of early, but not dinner-in-the-seniors'-home early or anything. A few more tables of people arrived while we were eating, but not the crowds that I'd seen during other visits.

The menu was a bit different, too. Though I have only been for dinner once and I may not be remembering 100% correctly. It's supposed to be a tapas place, but it's really only the first portion of the menu that has small, well-priced dishes on it. These were all fairly common appetizer type foods, mostly salads and dips. These were priced three for fifteen dollars which is reasonable, but the selection was kind of uninspiring so I had to struggle a bit with what to order.

salads and babaganoush

We ended up with two small salads and a plate of babghanoush. One of the salads was a combination of mango, jicama, and arugula which was amazingly delicious. Does anyone know where I can get jicama in Ottawa? Because I would like to recreate that salad ASAP. The other salad was a fairly standard chickpea, spinach, tomato thing, which had a few tiny pieces of avocado in it as well. It was fine, but really nothing special at all. Standard first-year-university-vegetarian-potluck fare.

The babaghanoush was nice and the bread that came with it was soft and tasty, but again, it did not make me super excited.

The bulk of the menu featured larger, more expensive dishes which weren't really tapas style. From that part of the menu we ordered one dish to share, a combination of spinach and tofu wrapped in phyllo pastry with a spinach puree.

spinach tofu filo

It was very pretty. Weirdly though, some bites of it were delicious while others were merely okay. There was something really flavourful in there, but whatever that was didn't spread itself through the entire dish. This was also a tough dish to share, proving, I guess, that most of the menu is not meant for tapas at all. I think if I went again I'd just order one dish as an appetizer and one as a main and forget about sharing.

What I most look forward to in vegan restaurants is being able to have dessert. When I asked our server about it, she said they didn't have a dessert menu but they did have one dessert available if I wanted to order it.

Hold the phone. One dessert? One? I could see this being okay if it was some kind of prix-fixe menu where you get what you get, but this is an actual restaurant. With a full menu. Why do they only have one dessert? I didn't ask. I was too stunned. So I ordered the one dessert and said I'd share it with my mom.

fressen dessert

The dessert was very pretty and quite delicious. It was slices of chocolate tort with nuts in the centre, leaning up against chocolate mousse, surrounded by tons of fresh fruit. It was a good dessert for sharing and nicely balanced between the rich torte and the fresh fruit.

We decided we'd have some mint tea to finish the meal off, but before we could order it, our server arrived with our bill. Up until that point the service had been kind of aloof, but I was a bit shocked by the arrival of bill so quickly, being used to servers asking if there's anything else we might want. We let her know that we actually wanted tea and she seemed nonplussed. She took the bill away and brought us our tea. Then another server brought us our bill immediately. We ignored it and drank our tea. Then our original server returned, looked at the bill, figured out that it was the pre-tea bill and then took it away again. We finished our tea and waited for a bit but now that we wanted it, there was no bill in sight.

Eventually we paid and left. It was a good meal but not a great meal. My loyalty to Fressen has been shaken considerably. I think maybe their time has past and next time I'm in the city I'll try somewhere new.

One other thing that has nothing to do with the actual restaurant or food. While we were in there we overheard a completely perplexing exchange between two guys and a girl at the next table. I can't make much sense of it, but here are some facts.

-They were only there for drinks, not to eat, seemingly because it was next door to their eventual destination, some kind of bar.
-The girl was an actress. She'd brought several outfits with her because she wasn't sure how they'd want her to dress.
-The guy she was going to be talking to was 23, so the two guys with her at the table urged her to wear something sexy.
-They were going to be filming this guy talking to her about a drink he was making and they were going to try to get him to call the drink an "Absolut Amber".
-This had something to do with the Toronto International Film Festival but they weren't allowed to call it "TIFF" because that is copyrighted.

I like to think of myself as a reasonably intelligent and intuitive person, but I had no idea what was happening. Did the bartender know he was going to be filmed? Was this some kind of commercial? Was it for the film festival or were they just hoping to have it air during the festival?

Clearly, I just don't get show biz.



Pearl said...

too bad. I hope it was an off night not a slip to decline.

XUP said...

As I think I mentioned on my blog, we went to Fressen last summer and were the complete opposite of completely impressed with the place. The service was pretty much non-existent with the two servers spending their entire evening flirting with some handsome guy who wasn't a customer. Then, when we had the audacity to ask them for something they were really surly about it. The food was very uninspired and tasteless and poorly presented. And the atmosphere was dismal -- also almost entirely empty; music REALLY loud, way too dark (no lights on at all, just a few tea candles here and there) and at some point a couple of people in the kitchen or somewhere had a really big, long, loud fight. I wouldn't go back even if they promised me a free meal.

Caro said...

You can buy Jicama at the Chinese grocery store on Somerset, across from Arthur Street. I think it's might be called the Man Phong. It's a grey brick bulding. I bet you can get it at Grace Foods on Bank St, too. I used to eat it when I was on a Cadida Diet for allergy-preventing food rotational purposes. It's good filler in a stir fry and soups, but I like it best in the Tangled Thai salad they serve at Fresh in TO.

celeste faye said...

Oh Bummer - I had one great experience at Fressen, but am sad that it's going downhill. I felt like it was the "upscale" place for vegans to go when Fresh is just too loud / busy. Any other good vegan Toronto places you've heard of?

Anonymous said...

You're SPOT on about Fressen! The one dessert thing is totally ridiculous (it's a chocolate avocado ganache, by the way). The service has definitely gone south.

It used to be so so so great. My hubby and I used to go there for "special occasions", but now, we go elsewhere. Its sister restaurant (Urban Herbivore) is also going downhill a bit.

We need an upscale vegan restaurant in Toronto!

How would you say that Fressen compares to Zen Kitchen, in terms of ambiance, etc?

Jennifer (It Ain't Meat, Babe) said...

Pearl: Unfortunately, I'm not sure I'd go again.

XUP: I was thinking about your blog post when we were there.

Caro: Thanks! I will seek out the jicama.

Celeste: Not sure about other places, but I will certainly do research the next time I come. There's got to be another high end vegan place in Toronto! It's such a big city!

Anon: I wrote a post about Urban Herbivore a while ago. The food I had was good, but one of the staff members let her child sit on the counter where she was making my sandwich! Yuck.

And I like Zen Kitchen so much more than Fressen. It's friendlier and has a much better vibe. Plus, if my latest visit is any indication, the food at Zen Kitchen is much better.

twelveohtwo said...

i had a similar experience at fressen a few months ago. bummer!

calico is (in my opinion) much more deserving of (y)our hard earned dollars these days:

Jenny said...

I share your disappointment with Fressen, but even more so. Years ago it used to be very good (best vegan brunch I've ever had) - but then it underwent some kind of change, brought in this ridiculous 'tapas' menu (it's not tapas at all! do the people who run Fressen have no concept of what tapas means?) and the dishes became distinctly mediocre. And the service - horrendous - your experience sums it up. Sadly, I shall not be dining in this overpriced, underwhelming establishment; too bad, as vegan places are few enough. But, I love Fresh in Toronto (not totally vegan, but close enough) so I'm more than happy to eat there, bye bye Fressen!