Thursday, September 22, 2011

Review: Aux Vivres brunch

As I've mentioned before, B is lactose intolerant, which is luckily not life-threatening, though it is incredibly inconvenient at times. He usually keeps a supply of Lactaid tablets on hand (I try to always carry some in my purse) so if we are out somewhere to eat and he can't avoid dairy*, he can take one and not have to worry. At home though, I generally find ways to avoid using dairy in my cooking. Soy, almond or rice milk can often be substituted for regular milk,and we're lucky to have a growing number of lactose-free products available at the grocery store.

Riviera, a local Quebec cheese maker, makes a line of lactose-free cheeses that are, gods be praised, regular cheese! I can make honest-to-goodness macaroni and cheese with real cheese and B can eat it without problem. I buy at least one block of their stuff each time we do groceries just for the sheer joy of being able to cook with cheese.

There are also a few different lactose-free margarines on the market now, and while they are a bit more expensive than the regular stuff, what can you do? I've found that in general, I can substitute it for butter in most recipes with no appreciable difference. And for those times when cream is called for, Belsoy has a soy-based cooking cream that I actually prefer to using real cream. I have not come across a recipe yet in which it does not do a beautiful job. There is also Silk who have a coffee creamer that's quite good, and lasts longer in the fridge than normal cream (and is also cheaper, score!). And while I have not tried it yet, Natrel now offer lactose-free coffee cream (not soy-based like the Silk stuff, but real dairy) and whipping cream. When in need of whipped topping, I've been using NutriWhip up to now, which contains no dairy but I've always been a little freaked out by the teeny tiny statement at the bottom of the label proclaiming it to be an "edible oil product". Ew. So yeah, I think I'll give the lactose-free but real dairy stuff a whirl next time.

So anyway! In the spirit of dairy-free things, we discovered and quickly became fans of a vegan restaurant in Montreal called Aux Vivres. Neither of us are vegan by any stretch of the imagination, but the ability to go out to eat and know there isn't a speck of dairy in anything on the menu is quite a luxury. Plus they offer amazing veggie pate ;) So we've been a number of times and my favorite dinner is usually one of the grilled tofu bowls. Recently we were in the area on a Sunday morning and realized we could actually stop and try their brunch, so we did!

B had the waffles while I had the Le Complet, which was scrambled tofu, corn bread, sweet potato home fries, salad and something called tempeh bacon. I've never been a fan of meat substitutes... I don't particularly enjoy my food pretending to be something it's not. And this bacon was no exception. The flavor wasn't far off from smoked bacon, but the texture was so far removed from that of bacon, I just couldn't stomach it. I pawned a bit off on B and left the rest on the plate. With the texture as it was, it would have been a far more successful attempt to make it as a sausage patty instead. The rest of my plate was quite good... the tofu scramble was fine, and likewise the salad and fruit, but what blew me away were the sweet potatoes. They were done as regular home fries and paired with a small dollop of the dressing that came with the salad, they were life-alteringly good.

B enjoyed his waffles which came with cashew cream, maple syrup, some fruit and what looked to be whipped cream. Now... being in a vegan restaurant, I knew it couldn't be... but it sure looked like it. So I tried a taste and holy crap, it tasted exactly like whipped cream. So before B had any, we asked the waitress about it and she assured us it wasn't dairy based, but rather coconut oil, soy milk and sugar. I was blown away that something could taste that good without being real whipped cream. I ran out and bought some coconut oil and attempted to reverse-engineer the recipe, but so far have not been successful. And what with there being lactose-free whipping cream, and since I'm not vegan, I don't think I'll put much more effort into that.

So all in all, it was a tasty brunch experience and I would go back, but I would not order Le Complet again, solely because of the "bacon". Brunch, lunch or dinner, if you're in the area, Aux Vivres should definitely be on your "to try" list. It doesn't matter if you're omnivore, vegetarian or vegan, their food is not to be missed (with the possible exception of the tempeh bacon ;). They have a wide variety of sandwiches, salads, rice bowls and hot entrees as well as an impressive list of fresh juices, hot drinks and desserts. The atmosphere is light but homey, the service is quick and they also offer an express counter so you can grab your food to go. You'll leave feeling satisfied and far more virtuous than had you gone to McDonald's instead ;) 

* How does one find themselves in a situation where they can't avoid dairy? Easier than you think... on our vacation last month we attended a family potluck at which a great deal of the items on offer had dairy in them. It often hides in unusual places, as well. Next time you buy a bag of flavored potato chips, check out the ingredient list... betcha there's modified milk ingredients or some form of whey powder on the list. Likewise, we've been at restaurants where we've inquired if there is dairy in certain dishes and the waitstaff have no idea. Or worse, B will order something without cheese (or some other dairy component) and often gets his order to find the dairy still included. I'm at the point where I'm going to start telling them he's deathly allergic to the stuff when we place our order, see if the threat of a customer dying in the middle of their restaurant will get them to be more careful about it.

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