I am not a good a judge of vegan food because of my accessibility to everything, so thankfully my guest was on this one. One thing great about dining with friends is that they help to increase my food experience. As a foodie I love all kinds of food, I eat everything and will trying anything. So when it comes to picking the place, I allow my guest to make the final decision. This is so that there is an increased variety in my writing and that I am not just showcasing that which I prefer, repeatedly.
This was the case for today’s vegan destination. I am an omnivore who has done a stint as a vegetarian, so given the option, I don’t actively choose a vegan restaurant. A shame, considering how many great ones Vancouver has to offer.
This is the only vegan restaurant in Yaletown. It may match the Yaletown lifestyle, but I didn’t feel like it matched the vibe of the area all that much. It was more laid back with a goal of peace and tranquility, as per the “zen” in “Zend”. Similar to the feeling you would get from a like establishment in Main Street or the Commercial Drive area. Whereas many of the other modern restaurants in Yaletown come with a more rambunctious party vibe. Here is was dim lights, warm tones, calming plants, salt crystals, and deep acoustic music. This is more than just a place to eat, the space cultivates and encompasses a lifestyle.
The restaurant focuses on organic, plant based cuisine that is gluten free and nutrient dense. This includes a unique, holistic beverage program: Canada’s first kava bar featuring their “Zend Elixir”. The “Zend Elixir” is a traditional herbal drink utilizing the root plant, kava. It has been consumed ceremoniously for thousands of years in the islands of the South Pacific. It is a shot that promises relaxation and relief from stress. And was marketed as a replacement for alcohol. It doesn’t get you drunk, but it does come with its own effects, which does not include hangovers, calories, caffeine jitters, or anxiety.
There was a warning that came with the order. Your mouth will go numb from the beverage, and the reaction is not an allergic one. It tastes sweet to start, then triggers some bitterness at the back of your throat. Like the fresh and tingly feeling of swallowing a bit of mint toothpaste, or sucking on a strong lozenge. Given the potential for numb-ness, we decided to save drinking this until the end of our meal, less it effected our dishes after it. However the numbness wasn’t to the point of distracting from our meal, in fact I would say that it could have given us an interesting take on it. Like how drinking alcohol makes things more uninhibited and you ore carefree. Having your mouth slightly numb takes away from the texture component of the dish, and allows you to focus more on flavours that you taste instead of feel. 1oz or 2oz shots at a $2 difference. $40 for a 750ml bottle.
Truthfully, as a meat eater, I was already very worried about being unsatisfied by this vegetable only restaurant, and then even more so as I learned that they specialized in raw food preparation. Although the menu does offer many regular bar classics, done a lot more healthier. Some were good for vegan dishes, others made me missed their cream-filled versions. And as a whole, everything tasted mild and nutty, forcing us to pour hot sauce over it for more depth. Everything was raw and naturally sweet, it just needed some spice to give it a more savoury tone, instead of one for dessert.
The “Flatbread pizza feature” was my favourite out of all that we had. The most satisfying, for someone who has no eating restrictions. Mushroom, greens, cashew cheese, and pico de gallo. It could have used more salt for flavour, but that would taken away from how healthy this was. This is one of the closest vegan proximities to a pizza that I have ever had. You could imagine it a regular garden veggie, except the crust was a little too tough to saw through with just knife and fork, thanks to the gluten-free dough. Despite the harmonious flavours of the seasoned marinara sauce, the fresh grilled veggies, and the creamy white dressing, I still found it lacked something. However, was able to claim that something in the pesto sauce from the cheese plate below.
The “Mushroom and fennel soup” of the day came with an olive balsamic vinaigrette. It was surprisingly creamy for a bowlful lacking milk or actual cream, but still very lumpy with a grainy finish. It had a very heavy flavour, and no shortage of earthy mushrooms, but you got more fennel than anything else. Peppery, with an implacable fishiness to it. Therefore it benefited from the side you choose to have with it. Some crusty gluten-free bread to make the soup feel even smoother when dunked in. Or a refreshing side of greens to lighten and brighten up the serving. Or even the starchiness of crispy yam fries, to helped to change the flavour.
The “Quiche” used seasonal vegetables like beets and sweet potato, along with house dried Roma tomatoes, cashew cheese, and almond fat. It is served with a green salad on the side; but the tangy sauerkraut that topped it was the best accompaniment, along with the mild house made ketchup that was more like a ground up salsa. The quiche surprisingly had a texture similar to the traditional baked egg dish. And the cheese on salad was mistakable for actual goat cheese. A nice tacky binder for the raw salad. Along with the heavy shake of sesame seeds, it gave the salad more substance.
It is hard to order this many vegan dishes looking for variety because at the end it is all nuts, like this vegan “cheese board”; that came with nuts on the side of cheese made of nuts. However, they were all house made and incredibly accurate to normal crumbly and stiff cheeses. And even flavoured wonderfully with a different set of spices.
The board comes in a small and large size. Ours included a seasoned nut mix, a pesto spread, and dehydrated seed crackers. I just wish for a more bland base for the “cheeses”. Each type of vegan cheese was fairly spreadable, and not as grainy as you would imagine. The saltier the “cheese”, the better smeared over a thinly sliced piece of apple it was. I kept searching for the same refreshing qualities from the other toppings, and could have benefited greatly from a jelly or some grapes, to perk this heavy assembly up.
Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
My mind can’t help but compare vegan dishes to that which I know. So I can’t process each as it is: a unique interpretation to stand alone. So when I compare the above to its egg, milk, cheese, bread, and meat counterparts they don’t live up to it. And sadly having shared this much food between two, I found that it all started coming together with the same taste, unavoidable given the similar assembly of nuts and spices used. I am glad to have tried it and be able to speak to and recommend “Zend”, but I myself would not look to be vegan, and therefore cannot see myself craving any of the above again. So in short, okay as an omnivore; and amazing as a vegan restaurant, definitely a step above most that I have been to. Don’t deny your cravings.