I make it to Westboro every couple of months. It’s not so much that it’s far, but it hasn’t had something to bring me there regularly. With Pure Kitchen recently opening right in its heart, there’s a chance of that changing.
The yoga and veggie worlds have been abuzz about Pure Kitchen opening for a few months now. Nobody had many details and it was all a bit of a mystery. I wasn’t even sure if it was real. But I went last night to try it out, on its third official day open, and I can assure you, it’s real.
When we arrived at 8 pm, the restaurant was about half full. There were many staff members, all wearing Pure Kitchen t-shirts with cute expressions like, “Give peas a chance.” The space was bigger than I expected. When you go in the door, there is a juice bar straight and to the right, and to the left is the main dining area. The decor is modern and a bit funky. Light floors, light walls, and a funky and colourful print along the back wall.
Pure Kitchen is a vegetarian restaurant. It has many vegan options; most of the menu could be described as vegan, but with various non-vegan add-ons. Mostly cheese. It is reminiscent of Fresh in Toronto at which I have eaten many, many times. It also has an undertone of Aux Vivres (Montreal). There are creative appetizers, noodle bowls, meal salads, and wraps/burgers. There’s an extensive juice bar, and wine/beer (although no cocktails.) Dessert is currently limited, but I know they’re planning to stock an array of vegan goodies soon.
The menu is divided into a few different section – the appetizers, wraps and burgers, bowls, and meal-sized salads. I saw several appetizers that looked good before I even moved on to the rest. It took us a while to order though; a number of items were not available, and there was a lack of clarity around the veganness of others (despite the menu having tiny icons intended to identify the status). My dining partner had to change her entire planned order as a result.
I ordered the “playful” onion rings ($9), and my friend ordered the “grounded” poutine ($9). We had a dialogue with the server about the vegan status of the poutine, as the menu indicated it could be vegan, but wasn’t automatically so. She was a few bites in before she realized that she was NOT given a vegan poutine. It took a few minutes to flag someone down, and a new poutine was brought out. To Pure Kitchen’s credit, she was not charged for either poutine. The onion rings, on the other hand, are automatically vegan. I asked – and was assured – that both dipping sauces that came with it (chipotle avocado and spicy mayo) are vegan.
The onion rings themselves were absolutely delicious and quite creative with a puffed quinoa coating. The dipping sauces did the job, but were not terrific. I am not sure which was which, but one was a bit acidic (as though it contained a fair bit of vinegar) and the other was very spicy but without a huge depth of flavour. That could just be my own taste preferences though. My friend thoroughly enjoyed her vegan poutine, once it arrived. It doesn’t use a “faux” cheese like Daiya, but rather, small marinated tofu cubes.
Deciding on a main course was pretty easy; I don’t eat salad unless I have to, I didn’t feel like a wrap or burger, and I love “bowl” style meals. The “fantastic” noodle bowl (s $11, l $15) sounded like something I would create myself. Rice noodles with spicy peanut sauce, veggies (broccoli, bok choi, red peppers, sprouts) and tamari maple tofu. I ordered the larger sized one, and regretted that because the onion rings were very filling. The peanut sauce was fantastic, and the vegetable portion was generous. I couldn’t finish all of the rice noodles. The tofu was a bit bland; I could taste a bit of sweetness, and the grill marks are always a nice touch, but it could have benefited from a longer period of marination. Overall it was a nicely balanced dish, that I would definitely have again. My dining partner ordered the mushroom burger with a side kale caesar salad. That dish is automatically vegan. She gave it a thumbs up.
My friend Amanda is a server at Pure, and she told me that there are three types of nut-based tart currently available. We were contemplating which of the three to share (we were stuffed!) when the manager (co-owner?) presented us with a platter which had one of each, on the house. Wow! Somehow we managed to find the room to eat them all. I loved the chocolate and salted caramel tart the best, and my dining partner preferred the strawberry vanilla. Each had a slightly different crust. I really enjoyed the texture of the crusts – they weren’t mealy or damp as some raw vegan crusts can be. I don’t know what the cost is; they weren’t on the menu, and we had the privilege of enjoying them complimentary.
At the end of our meal one of the owners (a gentleman) came to chat with us about our experience. He told us that they had done some trial runs with friends and had received overwhelmingly positive feedback, but wanted to hear honest, even critical feedback so that they can continue to improve the restaurant. He mentioned that they hope to implement brunch at some point soon, but that their current focus is fine-tuning the existing menu. He also mentioned that they are very sensitive to the needs of vegans and gluten-freers in particular. Their fryers are completely gluten-free, and different pans are used for anything containing non-vegan ingredients.
I am really pleased to see a restaurant like Pure Kitchen open in Ottawa. It fills a bit of a void – there currently isn’t anywhere that offers this kind of hearty but healthy fare in a casual environment. While I ate in the sit down area, I love that there’s more casual seating for if you just want to pop in and eat a quick noodle bowl or juice. It provides a nice complement to the existing offerings, and since it’s tied to a yoga studio, hopefully it will draw in a lot of non-veg people without drawing too much away from the amazing veg restaurants that are already serving us.
A word of warning though for vegans: This is not a vegan restaurant. It mostly is. If you order coffee, you will be served cow’s milk unless you specify otherwise. You do need to be on alert, at least until staff are more up-to-speed. For example, my dining partner was considering ordering the dumplings, and discussed it with the server. While we’d already established clearly that we are vegan, she was advised that the dumplings were not currently available, however, not that they aren’t vegan. We learned that when another diner we know mentioned it later. This is not a deal breaker or a huge deal, but is just a reminder that this may be new terrain for some of the staff.
Additionally, I found the vegan/vegetarian/gluten-free icon system a bit confusing and difficult to follow. My suggestion to Pure Kitchen would be to make it a bit more prominent, and a bit more clear. One possible way to approach it would be to make the vegan option be the default, with vegetarian options, rather than the reverse.
Overall though, it was a pleasant experience, the food was very tasty, and the staff were eager to please. Go give them a try, and tell them I sent you. :)
357 Richmond Road