It is nice is to have an expert when writing, someone knowledgable on the topic to bounce ideas off of, someone to fill in any of the blanks that you may face. I lucked out today with local vegan, and serious writer for the SFU student newspaper’s foodie column. (She is definitely a rarity.) I don’t normally list names, and do warn the friends that I dine with, that I will use all their comments as my resource material, and it will become my intellectual property in my post. But today, my disclaimer must include acknowledgement to a fellow writer, and a serious vegan and food lover, Gemma from SFU’s The Peak.
After all the msg filled and deep fried food I had the night before. Going vegan and doing some raw and clean eating sounded like a good idea today.
“Indigo Age” restaurant caters with vegetarian, organic, raw, vegan, gluten free and diabetic friendly foods. They seem to do it all for this community and those looking for more health conscious options. Their cafe one of the only in Vancouver to boast a kombucha bar, they do fresh-made juices, raw vegan and gluten-free meals threes times a day, a high tea service on Sundays for brunch, and even classes where you can learn their style of healthy cuisine at home, for yourself. Their end goal is to help introduce you to foods and ingredients for optimum health and rejuvenation.
As a food blogger who has visited her fair share of vegan restaurants in Vancouver, I have a good base to compare them too, and I must admit, they offered so much more than I have seen any where else. They didn’t just offer soups and sandwiches, but also impressive sounding and looking entrees that could hold their own on any North American, casual chain restaurant menu. These plates included the flare of any finer dining establishment, and that was enough to win me over.
They are located in the basement suite within downtown Vancouver. Their rainbow coloured sign and entryway is flanked by two branches that catches you eye. The tone is set as you walk down the stairs. To your left is an urban garden of bloomed buds and the trickling of running water in a fountain.
Just entering you feel the magic of the place. It is liked you you have stumbled on a clearing in a wooded area, where faeries live and pixies hide. It smelled fresh and you fed off the energy of the place. I loved it.
It felt very earthly with walls of stone and brick, and floors of concrete. Tables made out of the cross sections of trees and their stumps. I claimed the largest and most impressive of the refurbished stump tables. It was waxed glossy, set with rocks and glass stones, and even included a few air plants for the full forest effect. It was a very specific looking table that would only flow with a very specific setting, and this was it.
During our Friday morning visit, it was empty for the most part, but they saw a good rotation of people coming in for their kumbucha on tap and smoothies to go. Enough that we had to inquire and try both.
Asking about the kumbucha got us a sample of each of the flavours they had on tap. They were generous with the tasting and even went so far as to present it on a serving tray with a detailed description of both the rose and chai flavours available today. I have tried kumbucha before so knew what to expect. But if you have never had it, it does confuse the brain. I describe it best as being hoppy tea with beer like qualities, including its fizziness. Gemma preferred the description of cider with the easy drinkability of a fruit juice. The Rose was pretty in pink with its floral notes shining through. The Chai was spicier and true to its full bodied, milky tea version. Smelling it, you expected it to be warmer, but it is served chilled. I’d imagine this one being harder to pair with food, and would want it with a curry with similar spice.
Having tried the kumbucha we decided to buy from their juice bar instead. A couple of green juices for here in mason jars. Though most got it to go in plastic cups. They also had reusable mason jars available for sale to take out with you as well.
The “Green monster smoothie” is made with seasonal greens, banana, pineapple, lime, and mint. It tasted as healthy as it sounded, but was less flavourful then expected. You wanted the pineapple to come through, but got the mint instead. And you expected something thicker and creamier with the use of the word “smoothie”, but it was more like juice. It needed some of the “mylk” like in the shake below, to thicken it up.
“Mylk” is the vegan term for their milk product. It has the consistency and often colour of cow’s milk, but made with almonds instead. Where soy bean milk has its own distinct and hard to mix taste, almond mylk provides a great base to flavour. And in this case it was use to turn avocados into milkshakes with their “Avocado mayhem”. This is made with avocado, mylk, banana, matcha, and dates. From its taste it was a banana matcha milkshake with the creaminess of avocado. Definitely one I would repeat again, if only it was more accessible within my everyday life.
They had other in house blended beverages like the “muscle shake” made with hemp seed and organic peanut butter or “The Yam-My” with yam juice and cinnamon. The “super drink” smoothie had over ten ingredients and included many well known superfoods like wheat grass and pomegranate juice. And funny their juices tempted you with would be health attributes. The “Fountain of Youth” combined kale and apple, the “reset button” has seasonal greens with mint and sprouts, and “the shield” combined citrus with ginger and pineapple. It was impressive how extensive it was.
Similarly, I was also excited by the length of their food menu. So much so that I immediately began to spam text my only other vegan friend all the dishes we had today and insisted she visit herself soon.
As I have already mentioned, I am no stranger to the vegan food scene, so to see all this across two columns with options under breakfast, starters, soup, sandwiches, and entrees; I was happy. Typically a vegan menu only offers just soups or salads. What we had before us was the offerings of a normal restaurant, vegan or not.
Their “Ukrainian Cabbage Rolls” was a house specialty and one of their better known dishes. They are homemade with cabbage, rice, carrots, onion, tomatoes, garlic, dill, and topped with cashew dressing. They smelled good, but I personally don’t like and can’t take the texture of soggy leafy vegetables, so in hindsight this wasn’t the best dish for me. But as a food blogger, I make an effort to try all the notables and taste everything. And in this case, trying their must have dish was worth me gagging on a mush of cabbage in my mouth.
Though from the bite I could keep down it was tasty. Aside from the wrapping it was a solid dish. The filling was fulling with plenty of seasonings to hold its own. It was hearty like a pot pie and I would have liked to see it as part of such, or in a savoury quiche, or even as a spread to be smeared over some vegan bread product. The solid pieces of vegetable on the side aided in changing the texture when bites became too soft. Potatoes and carrot for crunch, and pea shoots and dill leaves for freshness.
I could see the “Zucchini Pasta with Marinated Portobello Steak” on any casual dining menu. Their noodle was made from strands carved from a whole zucchini. It had the textured chew of spaghetti without the heaviness of the carbs. And as such it definitely left you lighter on your feet, with plenty of room for dessert. (Which we ended up needing.) Their zucchini pasta came with your choice of marinara or pesto sauce, either is served with a marinated portobello steak and topped with a cashew cheese dressing.
We got it in the more popular pesto flavour. I expected it warm, but instead bit into cool vegetable. I guess it was necessary, seeing as warming the zucchini would cook it and therefore change its texture. You needed the cold to keep it firm and most like noodles, as possible. The “pasta” was such a good proximity that you are able to twirl it on your fork. Though overall, the serving felt more like a salad with the freshness and the dressing. According to Gemma zucchini is higher in fibre, so like flour pasta, it will keep you fuller for longer.
My only gripe about the dish is the amount of liquid that pooled at the bottom of the bowl, and the need to have something on the side or in addition to change the taste with. The sauce was good, but repetitive. So mid way I was long out of mushroom and craving some veggie balls or even some crisp steamed vegetables to mix things up with. Though simply more mushroom steak would have been just as good. Gemma couldn’t get over the fact that a large mushroom cap was referred to as a “steak”. I likened the mushroom to the portion, colour, and firmness of a 6oz steak. Especially as it was seasoned well to hide the tell-a-tale earthy mushroom flavour. In fact, like a steak could be, it was flavoured with a nice sweet soy glaze.
Part way through our extended meal the restaurant got busy. Our attentive server was gone and solely behind the counter, there was another two on the floor, but the eight new customers in house, and with those who continued to come in to take out; the staff were kept busy. So busy that we were forgotten and had to chase down their server to inquire about the dessert menu, again to ask questions about their desserts, and then finally to order the desserts. And then after we finished, I had to head to the desk to ask for a box to pack things up to go, twice; and again approach the front to pay. All this while a stack of comment cards and pens were passed out and stationed at each table. Though Gemma and I gave a very favourable review with our scoring, as we were impressed with the food and the service when it wasn’t peak, after work snacking time.
Although when we did grab the attention of one of their servers we got it all. She took the time to give us a verbal run down of the entire dessert menu. Never mind I didn’t ask for it or that we acknowledged it was busy all around us. To her, right now, we were the most important customers, and it showed. I was immensely impressed, to be seen a a patron and not just a number on a bill. Although we were two larger spending customers. Two $8 juices, two $14 entrees, and three $7 desserts.
According to our informed server, the dessert menu didn’t have a best seller or was there anything that was the “most popular”. She said that each item was different and therefore all good in their own way. (How diplomatic.) So we ended up going for the slices of pies and cakes that spoofed the traditional. With each we would have a good comparison between regular and vegan cheesecake, tiramisu, and key lime.
You needed to have at least two tastes of each thing to gather whether you liked it or not. And I found each time that it was only the texture that I couldn’t get past. But that isn’t surprising when you remove milk and eggs from baking, and instead use nuts to replace both. Each mix was blended as soft as possible, but not fluffy and smooth like it ought to be, or that it looked to be. I say “ought” to be, being a omnivore more familiar with the traditional versions of the desserts below. Each dessert item was well decorated with various wild and fresh fruit, although they could have done with different sauces and ones more complimentary in colour and flavour to the slice. Overall, it was sad that my knowledge of milk and egg based desserts ruined my experience of these, I couldn’t help but to compare what I knew with what I tasted.
The “berry cheese cake” is made with almond cheese, coconut, dates, cashews, black current, coconut oil, and agave. They were proud to boast that they are one of the only places that actually make their own cheese from almonds, and then use it to make this cake. This process, instead of making the almond straight into cheesecake. And as a result, their final product was something more on the mark.
The flavour was tart and the texture was grainy with blended nuts, coconut shreds, and berry seeds you had to chew through. These were two attributes I didn’t like on its own, and together they made your mouth feel like it was in a vacuum: dry and chalky, that left a film on your tongue. The fresh fruit helped, and we wished for more than just garnish. Instead of a cheese cake, this would have been better left as a berry compote over their nutty base/crust. But with all things considering, this was a good cheesecake dupe, given you were unable to use a few of the traditional ingredients like cheese, butter, eggs, or milk.
The “Key lime pie” was made with avocado, coconut, lemon, dates, almonds, spinach, and agave. I don’t know how they snuck spinach in there without you tasting it. The coconut flavour was pronounced, the avocado made it creamy, and the spinach lent its bold green colour. The key lime flavour was spot on, but overall a little too sweet with the agave. Like the first, the texture left us pausing. This one gave us a weird numbing feeling after the first bite, and bite after bite, we couldn’t figure out where it was from. The berry sauce here was the same as above and it overpowered thing. Instead of it, I could have used more of the white layer of foam that mimicked meringue or icing.
The “Tiramisu” was made with almonds, dates, coconut, cashews, agave, cacao, power, and organic coffee. It was a dense cake with good flavour. It was so rich that it left you wondering, “how can there not be any milk in this?” But then you got that tell-a-tale grainy texture and you remembered it was made with nuts. If you just enjoyed the brown part by itself, you got the smooth and creamy texture you wanted, with a gentle coffee flavour. This one was better with the berry sauce, here it added a tart freshness, like the pairing of fruit with chocolate. Tiramisu is one with so much milk and cream that it is very hard to copy. This was a nice spin on it, as they can’t mimic the spongey and creamy texture of real tiramisu.
With all the juice from all the vegetables, I found myself visiting their washroom a few times. Luckily it was a hospitable little nook. Concrete creeping over brick, with exposed piping and a new blue paint job. The mirror was a repurposed porthole and gave the room some depth.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
Not only for vegans, “Indigo Age” is a good place for those interested in seeing if they can venture down this path of healthy eating.
This was vegan comfort food, where plates were dressed up and garnished, where you can’t believe it’s not cheese, and where you know there isn’t any meat on your plate and yet it isn’t missed. You come here cause you are vegan or want vegan plates, and they don’t hide that by giving you the option of eating vegetable pretending to be meat. I am happy that this is an option for all the vegan foodies out there wanting, but not being able to find designer plates like these. I will definitely be bringing and recommending this place to all vegans I know. And I myself want to return for their Sunday high tea service. Don’t deny your cravings.
436 Richards Street, Vancouver BC