The atmosphere at Annapurna vegetarian restaurant in the Annex strives for quiet, calm and meditative - just what you'd expect from a resto operated by followers of Hindu meditation guru Sri Chinmoy . Gentle sitar music is playing, everyone is speaking in hushed tones, and the note at the table informs us that loud cell phone chatter is discouraged here.
The scene is set for a relaxing dinner, but I could not feel more tense right now. Around me, the walls of this large space are painted bright white and sky blue hues while the lighting is almost grocery store bright. I'm near the big front window and everyone who passes by can't help but look right into the glowing space (or even stop to watch) from the dark evening scene outside. Furthermore, Annapurna's quiet vibe, contrasted with the big bright space, leaves my dinner date and I feeling like every whisper is just a loud, blaring broadcast. While things improved as more patrons began to fill in the space around us later on, by then I just couldn't quite shake the feeling.
Still, we're seated at the oldest thriving vegetarian restaurant in T.O., so we try to focus on this much-loved menu. Half of it features a mix of customary veggie options, and the other half, the Indian specialties. We decide to pick from both sides and start of with Samosas and Vegetable-Barley Soup.
The soft and flakey Samosas ($1.75 ea) are just the right level of spicy for an appetizer - if you don't want to burn those taste buds before trying your entree.
The small cup of Vegetable-Barley soup ($1.75) is rich for a clear soup, packed with barley and finely chopped veggies.
From the evening specials we try the Spinach Casserole ($6.95) with ginger sliced carrots (pictured at the top). The pasta layers in this lukewarm lasagna-style dish are thick and heavy, especially when teamed up with a bechamel-type sauce. Both starchy counterparts muffle the spinach and sesame-seed topping, though we're more distracted by how cold it got in no time at all.
From the Indian menu, we went for the Annapurna Sampler ($7.50). This mix of tastes from all over the menu makes for a well-portioned and satisfying spicy vegetarian meal. Highlights were the savoury Sagu (spinach and mixed vegetable curry) and Potato Masala (spicy mashed potatoes with onions) aside wonderfully aromatic basmati rice. I'd order either as a solo dish again anytime. The miss, for me, in this sampler was the Sambar (Toor lentil dahl with vegetables) which was just too watery.
For dessert, Carob balls ($1.75) are a dense and nutty delight. The "Fruit Crisp" ($5) (also available a la mode) was pretty much a baked apple crumble in a bowl. Nice, but would 100x better served warm instead of refrigerated.