Even if a person ate out twice a day, it would take more than a month to try all the vegan restaurants in Montreal. At press time, the number was 66. And that doesn’t count vegetarian restaurants and places with sizable vegetarian sections on their menus.
With only three days in Montreal, I’d barely begun to sample the restaurants. I relied on web reviews and recommendations from locals to find a few of the city’s best vegan offerings. Here are four delicious discoveries:
Two local vegans call Sushi Momo the must-visit restaurant in Montreal. The place was busy on a Sunday night after eight, but I snagged a seat at the bar. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a clear view of the sushi chef’s hands as he turned out intricate vegetarian rolls and plates. But I did see the finished dishes on the counter and they were beautiful. At one point, the chef filled a wooden boat with sushi pieces for a big table to share.
I played it safe at first, marking eggplant and avocado and other things I recognized on the sushi menu. But the server suggested I order something off the more adventurous side of the menu, which was written in French. He recommended a few mysterious items, which I ordered. I wound up with three very complicated rolls. I never did figure out what all was in them, but they tasted good and were supposedly vegan. For 30 dollars, I ate enough sushi to get a stomachache.
The chef was too busy to talk much, but my slightly less busy server told me when the chef worked at another sushi restaurant, he concocted special rolls for his vegan friends. Then, he started his own tiny sushi restaurant. But when he decided to open an all-vegan sushi joint, he had to move to the current, much larger location. They’ve been serving veg sushi to throngs of people since early in 2016.
Café Venosa’s vegan menu of pizzas, sandwiches, soup, salads, desserts, vegan pastries and espresso makes it a good lunch spot. But people really come here for the cats. Montreal is a bit cat-crazy with at least three cat cafes. Venosa is the only vegan one.
When I visited on a Saturday afternoon, people outnumbered the cats by far. Only three of the eight cats in residence were feeling sociable. The others had retreated to their quiet room, which is off-limits to visitors. I took a seat in the covered patio, where two cats let me know I could admire them – from a distance. I ordered a Cesar tofu wrap and studied a list of house rules. My favorite was “Ne tirez jamais un chat par la queue, les moustaches, les oreilles, les poils…vous comprenez.” Which means you’d better not pull their tails, whiskers, ears or fur.
I watched folks try to coax attention from the cats. “Some people bring catnip spray!” a woman drinking tea in the patio whispered to me. Sure enough, a cat rubbed its head against a guy’s shoe with the ardor of a crack addict hitting the pipe. We agreed this seemed like cheating. But probably we both secretly wished to borrow the spray and get a little affection.
The cats are all up for adoption. So if you fall in love, you might bring home a furry souvenir from Montreal.
This hip, slightly upscale restaurant was hopping on a Saturday night. Be sure to make a reservation. The interior is sleek and modern without feeling cold, thanks to the care of Zebulon Perron, a Montreal-born designer who specializes in restaurants and bars.
Invitation V is upscale without being expensive. Entrees like tofu bourguignon and homemade vegan filet range from $16 to $25. The chef strives to use organic ingredients when possible, and to source supplies from small businesses. I ordered the curry stew with vegetables, sunchokes, chick peas and coriander. My stew arrived in a darling little wooden barrel.
I was too full for dessert. But if I had ordered a treat, it would have been the peanut butter and coffee cake, the almond tart with cashew cream or the triple chocolate cake. It’s not every day you find so many delicious-sounding vegan desserts.
For lunch in the neighborhood around McGill University, Lola Rosa is a solid choice. It’s been feeding people of all ages, but especially students, for at least a decade.
I got the chance to talk to Chef Scott Wong. He told me the menu is based on “things that people’s mothers would make for them, all over the world.” This includes salads, samosas, burritos, mac and cheese, tacos and two types of veggie burgers. Some dishes feature innovative ingredients, such as daikon radish in the tacos and house-made seitan (wheat gluten).
I asked my server to name the most popular items. He said the burrito and the hemp burger. I ordered the burger. The flavor turned out to be more complex and flavorful than I’d expected from a veggie burger in a student hangout. Wong explained that they use three sauces on the hemp burger: a barbecue sauce with a hint of maple, an intense balsamic reduction and a touch of ketchup. As a chef, Wong is especially interested in veganizing French food. Maybe one day I’ll return to Montreal to find Wong operating his own vegan French restaurant. Now that’s something I’ve yet to encounter in the vegan world.
Wong recommends the vegan key lime pie for dessert. The description of matcha cake also intrigued me: “Moist green organic tea cake topped with passion fruits and chia seeds, whipped coconut cream and raspberry coulis.”
As noted, I only had time to visit a few of the veg wonders of Montreal. This is a city where good food awaits you around every corner, whether you’re a vegan or an omnivore.—by Teresa Bergen, RFT Vegan/Vegetarian Editor