Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Ah, Summerlicious , I wish I knew how to quit you.

Every year around this time and again in the dead of winter, I get my hopes up. At the first whisper of the “word” Summerlicious http://www.toronto.ca/special_events/streetfest/summerlicious.htm (or Winterlicious, for that matter), my imagination soars with thoughts of the lovely and innovative cuisine available at some of our city’s finer establishments at a fraction of the usual price. And ordering dessert is mandatory!

I race to the internet, fingers flying, to discover what’s on the menu. I form lengthy lists of possibilities. I plan and schedule and research. This is where the dream starts to fade away. Too often, the vegetarian item is pasta. Usually, this is not the restaurant’s specialty. In fact, it’s often not good enough to appear on its menu. If, from the restaurant’s point of view, the purpose of Summerlicious is to lure you in, impress you with what they’ve got and get you to come back at full price, why are they offering second rate, half-hearted vegetarian choices with little resemblance to the cuisine that they are famous for? And when the item is on the menu, if you do them math you’ll find out it would be cheaper to order off the menu than to get the special.

The Summerlicious restaurant list denotes the restaurants with vegetarian items with a picture of a carrot. (I take partial credit for this- in past when they only published a list of restaurants without a menu, I must have driven the restaurants mad, phoning them to ask which had vegetarian items only to lose my list and be forced to call them again!) However, if you click on these menus, you’ll often find that they don’t have a full vegetarian meal, only an appetizer, or only have vegetarian items for lunch, or have decided fish is a vegetable.
I first discovered the concept of Summerlicious while I was visiting Boston, at their much less embarrassingly named Restaurant Week. ( For anyone considering a career in the adult film industry, may I suggest the stage name Summer Licious? And if you have a twin, she can go by Winter Licious.) In Boston, I had a delicious meal with a unique puffed pastry vegetable tart to start, a creamy risotto for my main course and a rich chocolate cake for dessert. Imagine my disappointment when I attended my first Summerlicious in Toronto only to be served pasta out of a bag with a handful of frozen vegetables.

Still, older and wiser, I’m making my list this year. I’ve learned to avoid the pasta except at the Italian eateries. I’ve learned to read the menus with a discerning eye to see which chefs really understand vegetarian cooking and which are just tossing us a bone.

Here are some of the menus that have caught my eye. Hopefully, I will get to at least one before the event is over so I can let you know how it went. If not, I may go on a full price day. They’re making the effort for vegetarians, I should make an effort for them, too.

Mistura: offering a Red Beet Risotto to start, with Pomodoro Ripieno, a couscous stuffed tomato and vegetable ragout as the main and molten chocolate torte with pistachio ice cream for dessert.
The restaurant at the King Edward Hotel: Offering “Ajo Blanco”, a white almond gazpacho with roasted pepper salsa, Green Pea Risotto with shaved parmesan and summer truffle oil and dense chocolate truffle tart with pistachio ice cream and raspberry coulis (There seems to be a trend toward pistachio ice cream here!)

Here is my wish list of restaurants I’d like to see participating next year: Jamie Kennedy Gardiner, Perigee and Scaramouche. But I doubt it will happen. I think they’re doing just fine without my help.


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