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Nirvana: Sanctuary at Rowdy College and Bathurst

Posted by Tanja / Reviewed on December 7, 2007 / review policy

Sliced  potatoes at Nirvana on College Street
A row of greasy spoons and the legendarily loud Sneaky Dee's have, until recently, made the corner of College & Bathurst a haven for the rowdy. Not that I mind really, but sometimes it's nice to have an escape option nearby.

That escape has materialized in the form of Nirvana, a new restaurant/lounge now open in the old Picadilly location across from Sneaky's. A clear re-incarnation of the Red Room (444 Spadina), Nirvana offers up that same eclectically furnished and dimly lit bohemian hideaway, only with a more polished and upscale feel.

20071207-Nirvana on College St (at Bathurst) in Toronto
The menu also differs in many areas, adding more complex ingredients to the dishes, new appetizers and even oysters from Oyster Boy. Not that they've nixed the very College/Bathurst greasy nachos platter from the menu, but like I said before, it's nice to have options.

Pita pizza with pesto and artichokes
Where once we'd have ordered nachos, pizza and fries, we now go for the grilled pita with sour cream and eggplant dip, a pita pizza covered in pesto, olives and artichoke hearts and a plate of garlicky scalloped potatoes (pictured at the top).

Grilled pita and dip
The grilled pita is almost more fried than grilled, but other than that, no complaints. We especially dig the crispy potatoes. All make fantastic starters or standalone dishes to share alongside a pitcher.

Glass noodles with tofu and vegetables
From the entree list we try out various East-Asian style entrees like glass noodles with tofu, chicken curry, and vermicelli with chicken and spring rolls. All come with a mixed green salad to start with.


Chicken curry with rice
The soy-rich glass noodles are paired with piles of stir-fried vegetables and tofu making for a very savoury and filling meal - especially after all those appetizers. The curry is rich and flavourful, though a little too spud-heavy on the potatoes-to-meat ratio.

Vermicelli with chicken and fried spring rollsRed Room style Sangria
The only real miss here is the vermicelli dish.

The chicken and spring rolls are good (typical of this Vietnamese dish), but the "vermicelli" are too thick -- more like spaghetti in disguise. Not to mention that beside them sits another salad just like the one we'd just had.

To make up for it, I order a couple pints of Sangria in the hopes that they're as great as the Red Room version.

Thankfully, they're even better.



DH / December 7, 2007 at 11:05 am
Could you share some price information? Is this from the same owners as the Red and Green Rooms? What do you mean when you say items are "good"? Sorry, but this review is as clear as mud.
Magdalena Olszanowski / December 7, 2007 at 11:22 am
I agree with DH. Please explain! Prices! More info! The review is too vague.
Sameer Vasta / December 7, 2007 at 12:17 pm
Walked by this yesterday. If I had any idea the food would look so delectable, I would have walked in. I'm definitely heading over some pesto pita pizza and sangria.
Toronto Motels / December 7, 2007 at 03:17 pm
I have ate there 2 days ago - and its fantastic - and prices are reasonable. The curry chicken is great. I am actually adding this restaurant as a reccomended one on my site.
Tanja / December 7, 2007 at 04:06 pm
DH & Magdalena -- the prices at Nirvana are within the local cheap-eats bracket. If you've been to the Red Room, things are similar, maybe a dollar more per.
Our entrees ranged from $6-$10, appetizers between $4-7!
david / July 10, 2008 at 05:16 pm
I finally went here the other day, and it's now my favourite place to eat along College St: cheap, tasty and quick service.
Diamond / July 22, 2008 at 04:34 pm
I really like this place. The sangria was one of the better I've had in the city and the food is great considering how cheap it is.
laurel / August 6, 2008 at 03:23 pm
LOVE this place. awesome for brunch too! they don't skimp on the portions, and it's a nice atmosphere. good for people watching, too, the front is open when it's warm!
Brad / November 22, 2008 at 08:38 pm
I spend way, way too much time here. Great food, great prices, friendly staff. I recommend the cold shrimp rolls and the lentil soup. Personally, I also like the vermicelli noodles - even if they are too thick to really be vermicelli.
D.S. / January 2, 2009 at 12:34 pm
Sorry this is long, but sometimes you just have to unload. I really can't comment on the food, but I can speak to some intangible other aspects based on one experience yesterday. Three of us went into the restaurant at quarter to four for some coffee and cake. We were impressed by the decor, an eclectic mix of a large old-word cafe and homey decor and furnishings. It was charming enough that we were willing to excuse the dead cockroach on the table.

A waiter came by to ask if we wanted drinks, so we ordered two cappuccinos and an earl grey tea. After about ten minutes, he came back with two cappuccinos and a lemon grass-green tea and took our order (three cakes). After he left we saw that the cappuccino was served in small cups with no saucer or spoons. So much for adding sugar. Also, they use really subprime coffee beans to make their espresso. Just really nasty Rubusta junk.

So then began the waiting game while our coffees went cold. After twenty five minutes I asked the waiter if our cakes were ever coming. With a big dumb smile he said, "Yes they are!"

Five minutes later, I asked a waitress for our bill - no more time to wait.

And magically a minute or two later, our waiter appeared with the cakes, saying, "we would like to offer you free drinks." So we accepted because, what the hell. And waited another ten minutes for two more bad cappuccinos (this time served with spoons) and some (free!) hot water for the tea bag. Of course the cakes were gone by the time the coffee arrived. Apparently it's too much to ask for coffee and cake to be served together.

Finally when we did get the bill (for 3 cakes, two cappuccinos, and one tea) we noticed that the cakes were $1 more each than they had been on the menu. We brought it to the attention of a waitress who fixed it but implied that it was somehow our fault because the price goes up after 4:00. Sweetheart, we really don't care when or if the price goes up at a certain time of day. We just want to be charged the price on the menus we were given. Oh, and a simple "sorry about that" would be nice.

All in all, it was a waste of an hour. Oh yeah, the cake was mediocre typical baked-off-premises stuff, not terrible but not remotely interesting either. The only added effort to slicing and plating it was to squirt some tasteless chocolatey sauce on the plates - yeah, that took all of 30 minutes! And the staff never apologised once. We won't go back and certainly cannot recommend it either.
Daniel Robb / March 18, 2009 at 11:46 pm
Cheap drinks and cheap food ($4 for a hummus/cucumber sandwich + salad + potatoes, can't beat it). The lentil soup really stands alone as truly delicious. Food here is more tasty than gourmet, but that's what you're paying for of course!

Service is a little inconsistent but acceptable. The temperature inside can get chilly during the winter. The washrooms downstairs have taken a real turn for the worse; they consistently smell awful as of late.

The ambiance, a select handful of really good staff, and pretty decent food at a pretty damn good price keep me coming back again and again.
Ess / September 13, 2009 at 05:26 pm
Waiter looked like Waldo and was just as prone to disappearing for long stretches of time. Insultingly bad service.
Jessica / November 29, 2009 at 05:52 pm
I love Nirvana. I go there a lot, always love the service and vibe. And the food is great. Affordable drinks (tuesdays, $5 oz cocktails!) and meals. My fav on College St.
Jessica / November 29, 2009 at 05:53 pm
Re: DS
You cross posted that long complaint on a few websites. Why? Clearly you had a bad experience, but the staff and facility tried to rectify it. Stop trying to slander them!
Tanja / November 29, 2009 at 06:53 pm
Since I originally posted this review, I'd been back many times. The last time, I saw the largest roach I've ever seen in my entire life (bigger than the spring rolls), scaling the wall. I will not be eating here again.
GO / January 19, 2010 at 12:39 pm
worst service i've ever had. complete disregard for the customer!
G / March 15, 2010 at 01:38 pm
Living so close to the restaurant, I used to frequent Nirvana for Brunch and quick dinners.

For some reason, the last three or four visits have been some of my worst dining experiences ever. The staff took forever with orders and completely disregarded my allergy concerns, even though I've had to send back my food a couple of times.

I used to quite enjoy their food and I wanted to give it another chance. When I went back, my dinner had a chunk of dish sponge hidden under my rice.

I miss their cheap brunch and sweet potato fries, but I will never go back to a restaurant that disregards my health concerns and display carelessness which could potentially harm the customers.

roach issue replying to a comment from Tanja / May 25, 2010 at 11:09 am
a friend of mine created the group 'dirty toronto restaurants' on facebook. her first post is 'deep fried cockroach on potato wedge' from nirvana on college street. seems like they are trying to pass the roaches off as food to the patrons
Holly / July 15, 2010 at 03:58 am
wow, I almost thought that I was reading reviews for some different restaurant named Nirvana as I scrolled down this page. I go there all the time and have never had a bad experience. The servers are awesome! And martini mondays and perogies now?? hell yaaa.
Sam / November 21, 2010 at 11:07 pm
This place is the absolute worst place for service. I went there last weekend already wary because I knew someone that worked there that said the staff were treated horribly and the manager was really rude. We went there because it was close just to have a couple drinks. We waited 1/2 hour to have someone come to our table. I requested a water with my beer and the waiter just rolled his eyes and said if I trust the tap sure. On my way to the bathroom I asked another waitress if they were understaffed since it took so long. She just said "nope but I'm busy so I can't deal with you." Rudest people Ive ever encountered at a restaurant. Bathroom was putrid smelling and dirty as well. WILL NOT BE BACK. Should be inspected
peoplearesoignorant replying to a comment from Sam / November 25, 2010 at 03:51 pm
I've been going to nirvana for years, know all of the staff there including the manager who is one of the nicest people I have ever met. All of the staff there love the manager so clearly you are confused.
I too work in the service industry, and I can guess you never have. There is absolutely no reason why anyone working at that restaurant would be so rude so your claims don't make a lot of sense and seem pretty exaggerated.

First of all, who in their right mind would wait half an hour and not leave?
You probably waited 5 minutes.
Ha, you're likely one of those really annoying spoiled people who think the world revolves around them and their uncontrollable need to intoxicate themselves enough to excuse their incessant behavior.
And, if anytime I'm doing my job with two arm fulls of trays of drinks and plates and some miserly moron decides to angrily stop me in my tracks "on their way to the washroom" to ask a very stupid question I definitely make it clear to them that I am currently occupied. Without using the words "busy" or "deal" or course, those of which I doubt were used on the occasion you are describing.

Correct that the bathrooms are not the best smelling but I can assure you that this restaurant IS inspected, as every restaurant in Toronto is.

All of this being said, your declaration to never return to nirvana is probably welcomed. I don't think any servers would miss you and your ignorant tantrums.
James B replying to a comment from Sam / December 21, 2010 at 02:01 pm
I too know all the staff and they love their manager, it shows in how low their turnover rate is. Your story is full of holes, but I won't comment further as the guy above me already touched on most of it.
slaps / February 27, 2011 at 09:59 am
love this place. and brad (guy with the elastic in his hair) is supremely cute :)
sarah / March 27, 2011 at 11:31 pm
Went there a week ago with some friends for drinks and dinner. The food, drinks and service were good and the prices were really affordable. The staff was accommodating and helpful, they came by often to make sure we had everything we needed but weren't annoying and didn't try to rush us out. I plan on going back again.
Izzy / April 19, 2011 at 11:17 pm
Horrific service. They treated us with utmost disrespect. We work in the service industry and have never seen anything like this before.
Nicole / June 1, 2011 at 03:52 pm
Been here numerous times as I live close by. Love the food, it's very affordable. Love the environment! However, service is extremely slow. I essentially had the same server every time who was rude and lacked personality. I have worked in the service industry and was appalled by some of the things that went down. Anyway, it could have just been this server but I would still go back...only when I am not on a schedule.
Diane / June 24, 2011 at 01:05 pm
I got diarrhea right after i finished my smoked salmon sandwich. My coworker ended up puking all night after her grilled chicken sandwich. I'm thinking it's the lettuce. Our waitress forgot to add our drinks to the bill. My coworker had to tell her to add it. The pad thai had way too much ketchup. Not going back.
trishy / August 27, 2011 at 10:35 am
i was thinking of going here for brunch today as it looks like a busy place. but did i just read that the pad thai had ketchup??? i don't think I'll even consider this as a contender. PS. "jessica" do you WORK there?? some people sound to be taking this a little to personally making me wonder how creditable the positive comments are. ...
Ziggy / January 17, 2012 at 11:54 pm
This place is flippin amazing! The Waldo comment made my whole evening, though, so I'm close to asking for more bad reviews
apply for payday loan online / February 3, 2012 at 04:59 am
My spouse and I stumbled over here different website and thought I should check things out.
Aaron / February 20, 2012 at 02:11 pm
Crap service, bad food. Avoid.
blahdeblahblah replying to a comment from Diane / September 21, 2012 at 03:12 pm
food poisoning actually takes a bare minimum of 2 hours to set in, so your diarrhea was clearly not courtesy of nirvana.
just reading replying to a comment from trishy / January 23, 2013 at 05:53 pm
umm incase you didnt know majority of pad thai has ketchup in it...:s
kansakwens / April 5, 2013 at 03:10 pm
If you want to go out for some cheap drinks, Nirvana's a good choice, just order at the bar.

Decent lunch service, servers are apparently night blind however as the dinner service is usually slow, especially if you're sitting on the peripheries. One night our server didn't appear at our table for an hour. We were going to order more drinks, but apparently she didn't want our money... or a tip.

Food is okay. I always get the avocado and brie sandwich and it's never let me down.
Juna / August 28, 2013 at 11:49 pm
This place has a nice atmosphere and is nice and cheap. It's a great place for drinks and maybe some sweet potato fries. However, the food isn't the best. Every time I eat at Nirvana it seems to take forever for them to bring the food, even though it's not busy. I made the mistake of ordering the chicken curry which was a big disapointment. Next time, I had the breakfast plate which is pretty hard to mess up so I left satisfied. I love that they have raspberry wheat beer.
Katie / December 18, 2013 at 07:28 pm
This review clearly needs to be updated! None of the items mentioned are even on the menu anymore or are plated completely differently! Also you don't get a starter salad with your mains (not that it really matters considering the pricing). Service at night is terrible but during the day its actually pretty great. Irish guy with the beard and tall guy with curly hair (JP? PJ??) are clearly the best servers there. Awesome caesars!!! (although i wish they had horse radish)

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