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Wild Leek style 

The bright and inviting cafe-style restaurant packs punch with its fresh flavours, but borders on being too casual.

click to enlarge More Wild Bowl, please.
  • More Wild Bowl, please.

There are few things more delightful than having brunch with my friend Laura. She loves good times, good food and good drinks just as much as I do. Just as much as pretty much all of my friends do. The only difference: she's vegan. So we need to find vegan food. Good vegan food.

There have always been a few solid vegan options in Halifax---the Heartwood, for example---but when EnVie and Wild Leek opened earlier this year a bit of new life was breathed into a part of the restaurant scene that really needed it.

I meet Laura for a late weekend brunch--- it's almost an insult to the concept by the time we show up for what is clearly just lunch---at Wild Leek on Windsor Street, in the former Gracious Indian. The restaurant has undergone a pleasant transformation: it has a bright, light atmosphere with clean white walls and a huge dandelion puff of a light fixture that hangs huge, but airily, in the centre of the room. The colourful abstract art adds pops of colour to the stark room. It's really pleasant.

We start with a couple of selections from the juice and smoothie menus, and I get a coffee. Laura gets the Green Monster ($4.50), a smoothie mix of spinach, banana, parsley and orange. It is really delicious, heavy on the banana flavour. I get the Elixir ($4.50) from the juice menu. It's a mix of beet, apple, celery and lemon. Half of the glass is a head of ruby foam, and the juice itself leans too heavily on lemon, much more bitter than I expect. I would not order it again.

We fare much better with the food. We start by splitting the beet salad ($10). It is really terrific, and would make a nice meal on its own. The roasted beets are richly sweet and earthy, and the tart oranges are a great counterpoint to both the beets and the striking anise flavour of the crisp, raw fennel. Roasted sunflower seeds give a roundness of flavour, along with the acidity of the balsamic dressing. This I would happily order again.

Laura orders the daily special, the Protein Plate ($10) and I get the Wild Bowl ($12), a rice and veggie dish, for our entrees.

The protein plate is a great breakfast. Sweet baked beans, golden potatoes with a slightly spicy ketchup-y salsa dip, and a simple salad with a zingy dill dressing are all fantastic. The tofu scramble is the weak link, underwhelming next to the bold flavours elsewhere on the plate.

I really enjoy the wild bowl, though I wish the bowl itself were bigger since it's hard to get through the vegetables and tofu to the rice without making a mess. Tender, well-seasoned sautéed kale and creamy avocado are standouts. The broccoli is slightly over-wilted, and the curls of carrot, though pretty, are a real pain to eat. Mostly, I wish the tofu had been better browned. But the subtle crunch of toasted sesame seeds and the creamy tartness of the deeply flavourful garlic-lemon tahini sauce make this a dish I'm excited to try again.

It's a relaxed meal, but there is perhaps too little attention from the server. Our water is never refilled, and I'm not offered a top-up on the coffee until we are on our dessert, a Nanaimo bar we pick from the counter of various sweets. It's a decent take on the classic Canadian dessert, not really missing anything except a slight creaminess of texture with the omission of dairy.

Wild Leek feels a bit more like a cafe with great food than a dedicated restaurant, which is perhaps purposeful since half of the menu is a smoothie and juice bar menu. It's casual, perhaps a little too relaxed, but definitely worth a try.

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