Vegan with virtue tastes right at Radha Yoga & Eatery

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      Three things make Radha Yoga & Eatery stand out among vegetarian restaurants. First, it serves exclusively vegan fare. Second, its goal isn’t profit. And third, it goes far beyond salads and veggie burgers to serve innovative dishes that place as much emphasis on presentation as on taste. After a meal there, even dedicated bacon eaters might have to admit that good food is good food, whether it contains animal products or not.

      728 Main Street, 604-605-0011
      Open for dinner Thursday to Saturday, 6 to 10 p.m.

      Radha is hidden away on the hardscrabble fringes of Chinatown in a century-old brick building. Condo construction sites flank both sides. But at the end of a flight of stairs to Radha’s second-floor perch, you land in an alternate universe.

      A homey calmness prevails. Hardwood floors reflect the sun that shines through picture windows. Glass domes on the bar are filled with cookies. Fans turn lazily overhead.

      Radha operates as a nonprofit organization, to promote the yogic teachings of Swami Sivananda Radha. By day, the airy space is used as a yoga studio and for catering. Three nights a week, it’s open as a restaurant. “It’s not really run in a traditional way where the chef is at the top,” explains chef Andrea Potter in a phone interview. The four cooks, the baker, and even interested servers brainstorm what goes on the menu. “My job is to filter through the ideas,” she says.

      Trained as a chef, Potter cooked in high-end establishments in Scotland and Ireland before doing a six-month stint as an entremétier (vegetable cook) at Feenie’s. “We do a lot of experimenting,” she says of cooking at Radha, because there aren’t many vegan fine dining or raw dishes to imitate. (To learn more about raw food dishes, in which no ingredients are cooked, see page 13 of Summer Vitality.)

      Radha does serve the requisite salads, grain bowls, and burger platters. But it also offers a three-course table d’hí´te that changes seasonally, and a different raw-food option each week. Pricing’s easy: all appetizers and desserts run $7, mains are $13, and the table d’hí´te goes for $25. Almost everything is made from scratch with organic ingredients, and organic beer and wine are available.

      On my visit, I order along an Asian theme. I enjoy the nori roll: a raw sunflower-and-hemp-seed pí¢té takes the place of rice, and julienned vegetables and avocado fill the centre. It’s lovely and fresh-tasting, at once creamy and crunchy, full of substance but not overly chewy.

      I approach the raw special with a bit of trepidation, not sure what to expect of raw green curry with cashew cream on daikon “noodles”. I needn’t have worried. The base is a mass of fresh daikon, cut long and fine to twirl up like spaghetti. It’s topped with a fresh green curry, complex with cilantro, lemongrass, and ginger. Cashew cream—made by soaking and puréeing cashews—supplies the sauce’s thick, rich texture, and thinly sliced mangos blend beautifully. Collard greens, marinated in lemon juice and olive oil, add just the right amount of crunch. It works—deliciously.

      Later by phone, Potter tells me she “usually gets ideas for raw dishes from cooked dishes”. The daikon noodles, for example, were inspired by rice vermicelli. She says Radha’s raw dishes are “becoming more popular”, and aren’t just ordered by raw foodies.

      My companion goes Mediterranean with a Spanish tapas starter. This large plate could easily be shared, with strips of marinated grilled zucchini, garlic mushrooms, good quality olives, and heavy spelt sourdough flatbread. The yellow-pepper wedges, stuffed with a cashew “cream cheese” (made by soaking and puréeing cashews with red miso) are yummy and surprisingly cheesy.

      The paella is nice, with saffron rice and roasted Japanese eggplant, zucchini, and asparagus. I’m not crazy about its oblong chickpea croquettes, however. Flavoured with smoked paprika, they’re meant to resemble chorizo, but I find them crumbly and oddly flavoured.

      The salads that accompany both mains are perhaps a little too innovative. Mine has several kinds of flowers in it, and while one variety has a pleasant taste, another is what one would expect from eating a whole bud—bitter and perfumy.

      My companion’s dessert, a hearty peach, strawberry, and rhubarb crumble, is a little strong on the cardamom, but the vanilla-cashew ice cream alongside it is a revelation. Dairy-free, it’s rendered even creamier and gentler than ice cream with puréed cashews and a touch of coconut oil. I finish with the chilled strawberry soup, which is also a winner: cold, fresh, and perk-me-up sweet.

      Portions are sizable—two courses per person with a shared dessert is plenty. Even if you go for three, you’ll leave Radha feeling a wee bit virtuous, having gotten your five veg a day, in a pleasurable way.