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Restaurants

Grasslands

Posted by Liora Ipsum / Profiled on April 15, 2013 / review policy

Grasslands TorontoGrasslands 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.

Grasslands TorontoAs 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.

Grasslands TorontoThe 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.

Grasslands TorontoFrom 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.

Grasslands TorontoBack 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.

Grasslands TorontoI'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.

Grasslands TorontoCurrently Grasslands is open Wednesday through Sunday with plans to expand service to seven days and add brunch and lunch menus in the upcoming weeks.

Grasslands TorontoPhotos by Morris Lum

Discussion

25 Comments

Tiffany / April 15, 2013 at 02:19 pm
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Soooooo, did you like the food...?
Swaggy / April 15, 2013 at 04:33 pm
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It's a profile, not a review. The profiles tend to blow a lil more smoke up the restaurant's ass, but this place looks pretty solid. That canneloni looks like a great value if it's tasty.
Laur / April 15, 2013 at 04:55 pm
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I went there a few days ago. The space is very warm and welcoming as were the servers who seemed to be interested in being there. Food was good, cooked perfectly and was of good size portions (don't expect to order 3 courses though....that might be pushing it). Would have liked to see more options for gluten-free, but they were still very accommodating. Will not be my go-to place for a quick healthy relaxing dinner, but will keep it in mind for special occasions.
Jane / April 15, 2013 at 05:43 pm
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I went there for dinner on Saturday night. The food wasn't "good for vegan"- it's actually great. I had a dijon crusted tempeh steak, my partner had the "chicken." At first the portions looked a little small, but after digging in, you realize just how filling everything is. Their cocktail list is awesome, too. For two beers, a cocktail and two mains it was just under $70.
Ambrese Montagu / April 16, 2013 at 12:51 am
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Did anyone else notice there's no mention of using local or organic ingredients?

There's something weird about this article. It doesn't "smell" right. It reads like an advertisement rather than an unbiased article, which reflects poorly on both the it and BlogTo.

Fressen was a disaster in my books. I thought the food lacked flavour, it was over-priced and the service (to kindly put it)was inconsistent. The owners were wise to go for the fresh start approach. However, the article says that they are trying to "shift the restaurant's identity from casual eatery to an upscale destination." Really? This comment raises a red flag because Fressen seemed to try really hard to be posh and sophisticated but couldn't escape its lackluster food.

I'm skeptical that the same owners will be able to turn it around. Indeed, for an establishment aspiring to be a destination restaurant, bringing in the chef from the not-known-for-being-innovative, very casual Urban Herbivore eateries is a bold choice. Let's hope the food is spectacular. It needs to be given the places checkered history.

To be blunt: the negative reviews I gave Fressen in the past were well deserved. Knowing that the same team has now opened Grasslands is a strike against it before the doors have even opened.

normal person / April 16, 2013 at 07:35 am
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bark eating fuck bags. its called the food chain. look it up. also, look up apex predetor. thats us.
Michele replying to a comment from Ambrese Montagu / April 16, 2013 at 10:49 am
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Always thought Fressen was arrogant (just like Fresh) and
it seemed to be out of place on Queen west ...a place for old rich people who want health food.

Grasslands doesn't sound any different, same owners same snobby attitude and overpricing ...for vegetables that are not organic!

Also, the name "Grasslands" is not so appetizing for a posh vegan eatery ...see animals grazing and grass on the menu.

I stopped going to Fresh because it is so bad now and I can't afford to eat at Grasslands, so I really hope that some new places will open up.

TO really needs some better options for quality vegetarian food, places like this and Fresh are crowded only because there is no competition ... yet.
AC / April 16, 2013 at 11:00 am
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Oh no, the same owners? Forget it. Fressen was horrible, particularly in the daytime. Food was meh and overpriced and the service...egads.
bobo / April 16, 2013 at 12:46 pm
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There was a time I went to Fressen every few weeks, then I had a couple lousy experiences with both the food and service and never went back (e.g. a dish I ordered all the time came soggy and ridiculously salty one night and the server simply insisted "that's just the way that dish tastes" and refused to offer any solution or alternative, after apparently having consulted the kitchen as well).

Hopefully the service has improved, and the menu and flavours have become a little more adventurous. Looks like it's worth a try.
MH / April 16, 2013 at 01:11 pm
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Vegan restaurants? Blargg...why cook for someone with an eating disorder?
Jenn / April 16, 2013 at 01:49 pm
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People change! People learn from their mistakes and want to be better. People reinvent themselves all the time! Everyone with a grudge for fressen are probably the same people that walk around with a scowl on their face from another grudge they have with someone else. Relax people!
really? replying to a comment from Jenn / April 16, 2013 at 03:10 pm
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People change? Let's hope so. I also dined at Fressen many times when they were popular. I once asked the waitress if I could compliment the "Chef" and he refused to come out to speak with me. So I emailed him and he never replied. I stopped going there. I hope the new improved Chef/Owner has hospitality skills that match his kitchen skills. I will give it another try as maybe he has learned his lesson with the decline of Fressen.
Janet / April 19, 2013 at 08:09 am
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I plan on checking this place out next weekend, because I'm a vegan and I think the food looks good.
However, I hope their customer service has improved since Fressen. I had a friend who insisted we go there everytime we had dinner, because she couldn't get it out of her head that i can also eat at non-vegan restaurants. Anyway. the food was inconsistent, but usually good. The service, however, was consistently bad. Snotty waiters over and over again.
Managers, if you're reading this: have a chat with your staff and tell them to get over themselves!
Colleen replying to a comment from Janet / April 19, 2013 at 11:51 am
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There similar snotty service issues with the other eateries that this chef owns (Herbivore is full of hipster attitude.)

So, it is not about the managers, it is the pretentiousness of the owner. He needs to get out of the kitchen and lead his staff, talk to customers or Grasslands will go the way of Fressen.

I was really hoping Grasslands has all new owners/staff as I stopped going to Fressen long ago because of the poor service and outrageous prices. I think Grasslands is just a rebranded Fressen... the above pics look more like dessert than dinner. I can only imagine what these fancy creations cost.

Fresh has a similar "we are the best, take it of leave it" attitude. I don't get it. Perhaps because there are so few vegetarian options? No matter how good the food, poor service will eventually shut a place down.
Omnivore Al replying to a comment from Colleen / April 19, 2013 at 12:51 pm
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You concern is shared. I have been to many vegan restaurants in and around TO and only one had friendly staff and tasty food; that place was a bookstore with a kitchen and diner-counter! Hope Grasslands avoids hyped-up rabbit food manipulated by the mad hatter and his crazed kooks.
Janet replying to a comment from Colleen / April 19, 2013 at 03:48 pm
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I didn't realize the places were connected. I only went into Herbivore once. Rude service there too, so i left before even getting a chance to order. I've worked so many customer service jobs in the past which is why i'm always really nice to waiters when i go out. However, i refuse to leave a good tip when i'm treated like they're doing me a favour. Good service = better tips. You'd think people would get that by now.
Terry / May 12, 2013 at 10:05 am
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WORST DINNER EXPERIENCE EVER. Will save all the nasty things I want to say and only give you the facts of my dinner experience and let you draw your own conclusions.
#1 - Had dinner reservations for two for 8:30, arrived a few minutes early and was promptly seated. Good start. Only problem is our food did not arrive until 10:00PM - no apologies from the server. No check-ins in-between.
#2 - The menu makes you believe that their entrees are different but it is all the same dish with no attempt to even disguise it. I ordered the Crusted Chicken and my GF ordered the Mustard Crusted Tempeh. The menu said my dish is "...seitan cutlet, tumeric scented rice batter, braised vegetables, thyme roasted fingerling potato, garlicky asparagus and gui-lan." Hers was "...seared organic tempeh, grainy organic dijon dredge, maple scented yam mash, seared seasonal vegetables, warm basil mango chutney."
Our plates showed up and the first thing my gf said was that they looked identical and indeed they were. Our plates both had the following "...olive oil mash, warm basil chutney, scented yam mash, barely seared greasy vegetables, chive garnish and for some strange reason hers had asparagus and mine did not". The only difference was that she got the crusted tempeh and I the crusted chicken. So essentially what they do here is serve you the same dish with items that are not even part of your item, switch the protein and call it a different thing. For a $19 entrée this is unacceptable.
So I called the server to tell her that our dishes were not as described on the menu and why for example I had the mango chutney and was missing asparagus. Also my GF had chosen her dish because she did not want the olive oil and Yukon mash but here it was on both plates. We pointed out that the server had actually helped us choose our dishes because we were having a tough time deciding because every seemed so deliciously different and so why did they then serve us the same dish. he said something to the effect of "We have served all dishes this way but I can see what you mean and unfortunately that how we serve our food" My response to how they would deal with someone who for example was allergic to yams and now suddenly found yams on their plate was a blank stare.
I asked to speak to the owner and the server returned a few minutes later to tell me that he had said HE WAS TOO BUSY TO COME TALK TO US. So I asked if he would reconsider if I told them I was not going to pay and she responded that he had said to comp our meal. And then she left us.
So at about 10:30PM we decided to walk out and went off hungry.
If you are willing to be fooled by the two chive garnish on every main and believe you are having a fancy meal then go ahead and go on to Grasslands.
Not impressed / May 30, 2013 at 11:16 pm
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Not impressed...plain no flavor fancy plates. Not going back.
Réjane / August 6, 2013 at 02:40 pm
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Urban Herbivore: Music often too loud. When I was there, service was ok. The food was well presented and tasty. It took more than one hour to get the food though. I would prefer real wine glasses. These ones don't have stems, so you get the waitress' finger prints all over your glass. I find it unfortunate that they spent so much on renovations and they did not invest in good quality bar stools. I don't know how they think someone can enjoy a meal when the bar stools don't even have a back rest. The same thing goes for Urban Urbivore on Augusta rd. That's why I only go there in the summer time where I can sit outside on more decent chairs. Plus, it seems like staff openly handle cash and jump to the kitchen without washing their hands. I had to tell them a few times now. If they do this in front of customers, I have to wonder what is going on in the kitchen out back.
Dr Drum Review / August 8, 2013 at 10:17 am
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Thanks for finally writing about >Grasslands
Lee Dale replying to a comment from Terry / October 31, 2013 at 10:11 am
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Unless the menu has changed since you've been there, it specifically states that all entrees come with a mix of sides which are clearly written out. It's really too bad you walked out, because the food was quite tasty last night, and the service, while sometimes slow, was courteous and friendly.
CookWithPride / December 1, 2013 at 04:14 pm
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You know, I have worked in restaurants for years, and I see alot of comments that dont seem to take into account a few factors. It is INCREDIBLY expensive running a space that large on queen st. Stephen gardener has to pay all of his staff which means price points reflecting business needs. AND there is NOTHING stopping people from coming up to the kitchen and saying "Hi" We love that, we spend hours getting cut, burned, falling down stairs, working sick through holidays and EVERY weekend to make your food. And at the end of the day we crawl into bed and weep knowing what tomorrow will bring, but we come back and do our best. The service staff are unfortunately the one thing that will colour an opinion despite the food. I experience it too, bad service, sour taste. But its a thankless industry, no pritection for workers, and alot of expectation for the pay. So be nice to your cooks.
DavePlantBased / December 20, 2013 at 10:59 am
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Grasslands is clearly one-of-a-kind in Toronto. We should take pride that we have such place serving gourmet vegan food.
Keirsten Morris / February 24, 2014 at 10:51 pm
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I agree that the service at Fressen was rather shitty. The staff's attitude was not so much pretentious but more so annoyed that we were even there to begin with. That being said, I have since been to Grasslands twice & have loved the staff & the new menu.

My server was cute, quirky, & completely friendly. We tipped him very well and he was so gracious.

There aren't many "fine dining" vegan restaurants in the city so I am very happy to have this place around.

Definitely recommend this place to all.
Shannon / July 31, 2014 at 03:12 pm
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I'm having a heck of a time reaching anyone at Grasslands to even make a reservation--I've left phone, email and Facebook messages but no response

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