Live and Breathe (or L.AB.), a fantastic new restaurant in downtown Toronto serves up a menu and atmosphere that allows diners to enjoy an evening full of new experiences with the comfort of being cared for by an incredible team. It is always best to try something new with people you trust.
The dishes push you to live a little and experience something slightly unexpected. While the ambiance is wonderfully modern, there is a simplicity to the design of this small space that provides the perfect refuge from a chaotic day – clean lines, exposed brick and white walls. As soon as I stepped inside my heart rate slowed. I was relaxed and ready to enjoy the flavours and textures that emerge when a chef is able to apply his passion to really create in the kitchen.
L.A.B is co-owned by Chris Scott and Howard Dubrovsky. Howard is a vegetarian chef who has been experimenting with molecular gastronomy for the past few years. I was intrigued by his cuisine after a food demo he presented at the Vegetarian Food Fair (three years ago). He created a number of truly unique dishes and shared his secret for perfectly luscious chocolate mousse that required only two ingredient (it is all about perfect proportions with Howard). It was a demo that stayed with me over the years because his enthusiasm was contagious. As you all know, I eat simple, whole foods most of the time but the science and invention that Howard brings to developing new dishes is very interesting (in the best sense of the word).
This year, Howard will be competing in the Vegan Iron Chef event at the Vegetarian Food Fair (Sunday, September 12 at 3 pm at the Harbourfront Centre). Before hosting Howard (and Doug McNish) in this battle of compassionate cuisine I wanted to check out what he is serving up on a daily basis at L.A.B. The lovely Nicole agreed to join me for a beautiful end of Summer dinner. We had both had a hot and hectic day at the office so having a couple of hours to languish over amazing food and engaging conversation made for a perfect evening.
L.A.Bis not a vegetarian restaurant but there are a number of meat-free options. When we arrived we advised our server that we were vegan. Chris gave us an overview of all the dishes that could be prepared without animal products. The entire menu is only two pages but we were left with a choice of a couple of appetizers, a couple of main dishes and a single, simple dessert.
We settled on the Vegetable Ragoutas our entree. The annato seed oil dominates the brilliant vegan bouillabaisse. I loved the powerful spiciness imparted by the annato seed. The vegetables were soft and succulent after being poached in the rich broth. It is an ideal entree for a hot summer evening, not too rich or heavy but full of endorphin releasing elements.
From the appetizer menu we selected the Grilled Romaine dish with caper berries. The leaves were blackened by a quick sear on the grill. If you’ve never tasted grilled greens, I would say, it is a delightfully different experience. The caper berries contributed a salty/sour flavour that balanced the rich vinaigrette.
We ended our meal with the one vegan dessert – Messed Up Citrus. We were both enamoured by the brilliant presentation. The fruit peel was filled with a citrus flavoured jelly. It has been a long time since I’ve experienced jello and it isn’t a texture I’ve missed. This treat was slightly firmer in texture and had the very vibrant flavour of lemon, orange and grapefruit. However, we were most taken by the refreshing scoop of blood orange granite. It had the an amazing balance of sweet and sour. After one bite we were discussing evening strolls in Italy.
Actually I think that is the best way to describe the entire experience, it transported me. When I walked into L.A.B I left the city and my to-do list behind. I was so engaged in the conversation and the enjoyment of each bite that I fully immersed myself in the moments of the meal.
As we settled up our bill Howard poured us each a glass of a cabernet ice wine. It was heavenly – sweet but not cloying. A perfect end to a wonderful night.
I can’t wait to see what he creates for the Vegan Iron Chef – you don’t want to miss the magic.