Le Commensal measures up

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By Jess Milton

Your guide to veg-tastic eating!

To the vegetarian connoisseur, tofu is like a blank canvas – it takes on any flavor and texture given to it and can be transformed into a variety of edible masterpieces. Tofu is the medium that the culinary artists at Le Commensal do best. Tantalizing tofu dishes are the highlight of their cafeteria-style vegetarian buffet. Blocks away from two downtown universities, Le Commensal caters to veggie diners’ dietary needs brilliantly. Everything is labeled to indicate which animal products, if an, are included. Considering some restaurants in this city still think chicken is a vegetable, Le Commensal is a godsend.

The tofu paté has the smooth, velvety consistency of meat pate without the smell and flavor of cat food. The Greek tofu is marinated in traditional Greek flavouring (peppers, oil, onions) and sautéed to a perfect consistency. The small cubes are firm with just a hint of flavor. The Ginger Nuggets are a safe bet. The large balls of tofu are fried in ginger until their coating is crispy and their insides are soft.

The problem with Le Commensal is the price. At $1.79 per 100 grams, many students ma not want to cough up the $25 for a plate of serve-yourself food. A dinner for two, including desert and a bottle of wine, costs about $65. That’s a bit hard to swallow, particularly when the cafeteria-style décor resembles Ryerson’s Hub. (They do offer a 10 per cent discount on weighed food and desert after 9 p.m.)

Were it’s lacking in atmosphere and affordability, Le Commensal makes up in taste and presentation. Unlike so many veggie menus at carnivore dives around town, they know that more than just meatless dishes, vegetarians want flavor and choice. The buffet has over 100 selections, including a variety of hot and cold items, fresh juice, beer, wine, and desserts. The cold buffet has salads and fresh vegetable dishes, mostly made without the use of evil pesticides and chemicals.

The best selection comes from the hot buffet. The chefs borrow techniques from various cultures to create truly unique dishes. The sweet and sour Seitan, a thin, pasta like noodle, comes in a sweet Thai version or a lighter tasting Chinese.

The lasagna is made from two gourmet cheeses, sweet onions and plum tomatoes in soy pasta. The Tofu Fricassee is cubed tofu sautéed in sesame oil, onion and tamari marinade.

Oddly the weaker buffet items are the dishes traditionally offered to vegetarians at regular restaurants. The honey and sesame noodles have less colour and flavour than their food-court counterparts. The hummus dip (a classic veggie staple) has a thin, runny consistency that lacks flavour and body and the pita bread is stale.

These veggie standards are mediocre and considering the price, it’s better to opt for more innovative dishes.

Above all price matters, and for the average student, paying for a meal at Le Commensal is comparable to buying a new textbook. But for people with complex dietary needs, Le Commensal is trust worthy and offers vegan tofu dishes that are good enough just as tofu, not tofu dressed up lie hamburger. And for some, that’s worth any price.

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