Grasslands is the newest incarnation of the Queen West space that was until recently Fressen, a pioneer vegan destination of 12 years. Although ownership remains the same, everything else (staff, menu, floorplan, decor) is new and representative of the desire to shift the restaurant's identity from casual eatery to an upscale destination.
As part of the interior overhaul, the bar has been moved up front and a more formal dining room has been relegated to the back. Hand-milled woodworking from Dialogue 38 features a singular raw-edged slab at the bar and sculptural lighting throughout warms up the now darker room. Slate-coloured subway tiles and luxe tufted banquets (presumably not leather) offer all the characteristics of any "it" bar.
The new menu is divided into starters, mains and bar snacks offering small plates for sharing and an array of fried foods that go well with the expanded offerings of cocktails, beers and wines. The miniature sliders ($11) composed of seitan, black beans and mushroom patties are served three per order on house-made buns garnished with pickled onions, arugula, tomato and a triple swirl of cashew mayo, Dijon and spicy ketchup.
From the menu of starters, the Cannelloni ($11) is substantial enough that it could pass as a main. Asparagus and tofu ricotta-filled rice flour crepes artfully stacked and finished with walnut pesto and tomato basil sauce.
Back in the kitchen, owner Stephen Gardner is happy to be cooking five nights a week after overseeing the expansion of Urban Herbivore at the Eaton Centre and a recent reno at the flagship Kensington site.
I'm treated to a new creation set to debut on an upcoming menu that showcases a sweet mango onion salad stuffed into a hollowed avocado that's then rolled in crushed almonds. It's a wacky looking plate, but demonstrates nice balance via the various textures of creamy avocado, crunchy fried taro sticks, tart and juicy fruit and a bed of kale slaw.
Currently Grasslands is open Wednesday through Sunday with plans to expand service to seven days and add brunch and lunch menus in the upcoming weeks.
Photos by Morris Lum