Awai was born in early 2017 as a curious pay-what-you-want, plant-powered concept. Although Awai (2277 Bloor St. W.) is still vegan, the menu now boasts prices. (Diners, as it turns out, like to be told what to pay).
Almost two years on, chef Nathan Isberg has left, and Awai has morphed into an unorthodox collective offering its staff profit-sharing and benefits.
A strict budget
Armed with our $100 allowance, we have two choices. Either we bend the rules and blow the budget, with two $55 five-course tasting menus, or dive into the $85 eight-course option. We opt for the latter. An order of “one eight-course tasting menu to share” is met by mild confusion and a smile.
Post City's intrepid foodies Karolyne Ellacott and Caroline Aksich at Awai
A feast large enough for two
But when the first course arrives — baba ghanouj–smeared coco bread topped with acorn squash, caper berries and young kale — we decide a mistake was made. We check: Yes, this giant flatbread is for one.
The parade of plates continues. Next up? Gazpacho swirled with cantaloupe and coconut and grape slivers. Course three is a dance of tomatillos and heirloom tomatoes with a shake of furikake.
Vegan food reimagined
Awai’s menu bolsters the reputation of vegan food. Here, each plate is a medley of freshness and colour, incorporating textures from foamy to chewy to creamy and a cornucopia of seasonal vegetables.
Awai's beautifully plated dish called the Woods
Dubbed “the Woods,” course four is a miniature landscape fashioned out of vegetables. The forest scene includes a log (oil-braised salsify), trees (broccolini and cauliflower florets) and “soil” made from pistachios and beets.
One pasta dish, one chickpea panisse, one millet-risotto–stuffed yuba dish and 2.5 hours later, we near the end.
A blooming tart fashioned out of peaches and pastry
The finale is a pretty tart: a swirl of thinly cut tulsi tea–poached Redhaven peaches that looks like a blooming rose cradled in a pastry shell — a sweet end to a truly enjoyable vegan feast.
8-COURSE TASTING MENU $85
Awai, 2277 Bloor St. W., 647-643-3132