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Montreal Vegan Throwndown: Aux Vivres vs. Crudessence

Posted by Amie / February 8, 2010

Montreal Vegan Throwdown (4631 Boulevard St-Laurent) | Crudessence (105 Rachel West)

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7 out of 10 | 8 out of 10

THE CRITERIA: flavour, vegan innovation, and price
THE CATEGORIES: Best burger, best wrap, best juice/smoothie, best service, best dessert
I know this is maybe not a fair comparison, since Aux Vivres is vegan and Crudessence is vegan, organic, and most importantly, raw, but both have surprisingly similar, meat- and dairy-free menus. The big difference is that Aux Vivres uses an oven, a grill, a steamer and a lot of tofu and beans, while Crudessence doesn't cook a thing, and sticks to fresh or dehydrated vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts and their oils. So no flour, no beans, no lentils, no rice, and no steamed, boiled, sautéed, or roasted vegetables, but 'raw' means a whole lot more than salad. Yes, you can use sunflowers to make a paté. Yes, zucchini can substitute for lasagna noodles. No, you don't need to cook sundried tomatoes to make a marinara sauce. So should you go vegan, go raw or stay home?

BEST BURGER: Crudessence, hands down.
Crudessence Om Burger

Crudessence Om Burger ($14.50)

The Om Burger is a tangy combination of sundried tomato, mushrooms, flax and other unidentified vegetables with fresh tomatoes, lettuce, sprouts, shredded sweet red onions, sugar-less ketchup, mustard and caper aioli you'd swear was egg-y mayonnaise. Take that, nayonnaise. The burger actually tastes a little like beef, because of the texture and the flavour of the sundried tomato patty. Served with a green salad of lettuce, carrots, beets, sprouts, a creamy, sesame vinaigrette, mild pickled beets, and the carrot and sesame creation of the day, this is a feast for the eyes and the stomach. Oh, it's served on chapatti. Well, more like thin, nutty bread...it's nowhere near as light and fluffy as the Aux Vivres chapatti, but besides the name there's nothing to complain about in the delicious burger.
Tempeh Plate

Aux Vivres' Tempeh Burger Plate with Chipotle Ketchup and Creamy Coleslaw ($11)

Then there's the Aux Vivres burger...a square of tempeh on a little bun, plus a handful of potato wedges. This is pretty tiny. Sure the chipotle ketchup takes up room on the plate and is basically the highlight of the meal, but the little container of nayonnaised coleslaw does not pass muster(d?), and takes up room that could be given to something else. Anything else. Then when you actually have a bite of the dry burger...it tastes like...well, sadly, not much. Okay, vegetarians. What do carnivores like about their burgers? They're big and JUICY. Vegans shouldn't have to live with flavourless burgers, like non-vegetarians shouldn't have to live with flavourless pork.
Chana Wrap

Chana Wrap ($11)

BEST WRAP: Aux Vivres gets it right with the Chana Wrap. A beautiful chickpea and potato curry wrapped in freshly-made chapatti with a very sweet, generically named chutney (it's actually tamarind but apparently the cooks here have never been to Parc Ex where Indian chutney comes in multiple varieties. Mango? coriander?). Anyway, compared to the 'mango chutney' in Crudessence's 'Fleurs de Macadam' appetizer (really just sadly under-ripe mango), this chutney is so good it can call itself whatever it wants. There's something so satisfying about a warm, sweet wrap of comfort. Crudessence serves their wrap in sushi nori or rice paper instead of a flour-based shell, but now you can get the same wrap as actual sushi. Instead of soy sauce, dip the wrapped pieces in fat-Free Tibet dressing. Adorable...but just not as good as the Chana wrap, and the sunflower paté in the sushi starts feeling heavy after a few pieces.Crudessence Sushi

Crudessence Sushi

BEST JUICE: Crudessence. The fruit is organic, there's no sugar added, there are more milk options (home made coconut, almond, hemp, and macademia nut milks), and there are more exotic ingredients and choices (like maca in the macao - a chocolatey blend of raw cacao, maca, banana and brazil nut milk - or gingko biloba and ginseng with banana, pineapple and mango in the Energy Elixir. This is long-lasting energy. No sugar highs and lows). Even the "healthy" vegetable juices aren't bitter. I swear I really enjoyed the Gaia. There was enough sweetness from the carrot, parsley and celery, and not too much acid or heat from the lemon and cayenne.Crudessence Juice
Crudessence's Gaia Juice ($5.50)

BEST SERVICE: Crudessence. Both restaurants get really busy and you can end up waiting for water for a while, but at Crudessence the atmosphere is so relaxed that you don't really care. One person can run the whole floor by herself, and the woman I saw do it, did it with a natural glow and ease. Normally you feel stressed out for busy servers, but despite the café bustle, there was a distinct lack of stress. Aux Vivres has a friendly atmosphere too, but it feels more like a business. At Crudessence there was an unique appreciation for the food the restaurant was serving, as well as the overall experience of the customers.

HONOURABLE MENTION
: Rice bowls at Aux Vivres. Call me a sucker for cooked food, but the rice bowls at Aux Vivres are very good.
When I see a rice bowl in a restaurant, I think that it's incredible I'm paying more than $10 for something I could make at home pretty easily. Congratulations, you took a big bowl, put about 3 servings of brown rice on the bottom and topped it with steamed green things, two pieces of heavily marinated tofu, and served it with a high-fat, thus delicious, sauce, but to be fair, a sauce like the good-tasting peanut version at Aux Vivres, takes the right balance of salty and sweet, not too thick, not too thin. You can make good peanut sauce at home for less, though, or buy it...La Vieille Europe would be happy to point you to a good one in their shop...and encourage you buy some sausage while you're at it...and some cheese. Some meat-lovers are incorrigible.

So I have a bit of respect for Aux Vivres, despite my rice bowl hesitations. They keep it simple with only a really good sauce + vegetable combinations instead of offering a million mix and match options. That way you can't mess up your own dinner, and they can also actually focus on using unique ingredients, like the pickled daikon and carrots. You really don't expect that hit of sweetness from a radish that sits along the side of the bowl. At most Asian restaurants you'd call that garnish and probably leave it on the plate after you ate the pig or cow part of the dish. The peanut and miso-tahini sauces really hold the whole bowl together. Kudos, though, for putting the sauce on the side so you can add as much as you want. It can get annoying swimming through peanuts to find the few remaining grains of the three cups of rice you just ate. Thai Bowl

Aux Vivres' Thai Bowl

BEST DESSERT: Crudessence. Maybe I'm just disappointed with Aux Vivres because the first time I went there I left the happiest person in world. I had their carrot cake - a towering piece of moist spice cake with enough cinnamon, nutmeg, dates and cane sugar to satisfy any sweet tooth. The icing is what knocked me over, though. It was thick and smooth (may they never change to vegan cream cheese), not like most grainy or seven-minute-fluff frostings, or heaven forbid, Betty Crocker.

But the second time I went back, after dreaming about the cake, the slice was dry because it had been sitting in a fridge waiting to be bought, and the icing suddenly was swimming in orange zest, and oh I hate orange zest...Gateau aux Carottes

Aux Vivres' Carrot Cake

So when I went back a 3rd time I felt like I was testing the waters of my relationship with the carrot cake. I could forgive it if it could give me what I wanted (gigantic layers of spice enrobed in dense sheets of orange-free icing. No compromises). All of a sudden, with no change in price, the carrot cake had shrunk in half, the icing was more like a peasants' whisper of white than a respectably royal sugar onslaught.Choco Banane

Aux Vivres' Tarte Choco-Banane

So I cried a little inside and tried the Choco-Banana Pie instead, unable to bear more disappointment. For a tiny slice of tarte, I don't think the pie is worth the high price tag (over $5), but it was very good. Somehow the chocolate and banana became perfectly smooth, like a chocolate cream pie...without the cream and apparently also completely soy-free.
Still, Crudessence wins with its avocado key lime pie ($5.25) and Blueberry gateau fauxmage ($6.75!). These are so rich that you could make a meal of them, despite the small size of the pieces. The fake cheesecake is made with a mixture of nut butters and topped with a refreshing blueberry glaze. It doesn't melt in your mouth like Aux Vivres' Choco-Banane, but you wouldn't want it to disappear so quickly.Crudessance Gateau Fauxmage
Gateau Fauxmage ($6.75)
Aux Vivres Gateau Faumage

Aux Vivres' Fauxmage just doesn't compare to Crudessence's. It's easy to look at all the yellow and get turned off, but Crudessence's cake appeals to a much wider audience. You don't eat there just because you're vegan. You eat there because it's a very good restaurant with very good food.

I think I'm just bitter about the carrot cake heartbreak and can't forgive Aux Vivres. I hereby issue a challenge to Crudessence to invent a raw carrot cake. Then I would be sure of their dessert victory...

OVERALL WINNER: Crudessence. With better quality and more unique ingredients, Crudessence can proudly hold its head high as the top Montreal Vegan restaurant, despite the slightly higher price tag. But if you don't want to go raw all the time, Aux Vivres will warm up your hungry stomach with giant bowls of rice, crispy chapatti and your choice of a smoothie, chutney, peanut sauce or icing sugar-induced high. Mmm...

Aux Vivres
Price: Appetizers $3.50-$9, Entrées $8-$14
Expect to pay $18-$30, including tea or a smoothie and dessert
Hours: Everyday, 11am-11pm, including Saturday and Sunday brunch
Phone: 514-842-3479
www.auxvivres.com

Crudessence
Price: Appetizers $6-$8, Entrées $10-$15
Expect to Pay: $20-$35, including tea or a smoothie and dessert, because I don't know how you could fit an appetizer, entrée, dessert and smoothie in you in one sitting. So many nuts...
Hours: Everyday, 10am-9pm, including all day breakfast
Phone: 514-510-9299
www.crudessence.com

Discussion

28 Comments

Richard / February 8, 2010 at 05:34 pm
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Montréal has quite a busling vegetarian and vegan scene. Lolla Rossa is really worth checking out too. Their desserts are just to die for.

Anyone who hasn't had vegan desserts, done well, they're a much better experience that standard ones!
Gabby / February 8, 2010 at 08:09 pm
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I completely agree with Richard on the vegan dessert part - they're lighter and tend to be much easier on the stomach, but they still satisfy the cravings. Lola Rosa's key lime pie is probably the best thing that ever happened to me!

Although I personally prefer Aux Vivres, I also prefer my food cooked, not dehydrated, so I think it boils (pun!) down to taste.
Amie replying to a comment from Richard / February 8, 2010 at 09:30 pm
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You're killing me with the key lime pie! As much as I love Crudessence's Avocado key lime, I'd love to try Lola Rosa's. Do you know if it's dairy-free? Soy-free? Unfortunately the restaurant itself isn't dairy-free, so I haven't had much luck there. Lola Rosa is good for anyone around the McGill or downtown area hunting for a vegetarian lunch, though.
james / February 9, 2010 at 06:21 am
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ya i find aux vivres to be kind of whatever. the time i waited 2 hours for a meal there kind of soured me.
aluminum / February 9, 2010 at 09:45 am
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This sounds all delicious.
Though, having a nut allergy myself, I am hesitant to try these places.
Reading your descriptions of the meals does not help that fear!
nut this, nut that..
I assume the staff would be helpful with my allergies, however with everything having a peanut sauce, or a nut bread, I am still very hesitant.

any suggestions?
Amie replying to a comment from aluminum / February 9, 2010 at 02:15 pm
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Yes! Try a new restaurant: Zero8. You're right, it would be hard to have a meal at Aux Vivres and practically impossible to have a meal at Crudessence, depending which nuts you're allergic to, but this restaurant specializes in food that are free of the 8 major food allergens (fish and seafood, peanuts, nuts, sesame seeds, milk, soy, eggs, wheat and gluten, and sulfites. To be honest, I had only an okay experience here...they had just opened, and the food wasn't amazing, but the concept is great, and you can let the staff know your allergies in advance or when you arrive. http://www.zero8.com/english/index.html

Otherwise, the dragon bowl at Aux Vivres may be nut-free, and I would think also the chana wrap. There would definitely be more options than Crudessence. Just check with the servers. Traces of nuts may be in more of the dishes than the servers know, though.
Margot / February 10, 2010 at 06:55 pm
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I'm just going to chime in and say that despite the delicious key lime pies you guys are talking about, there's something decidedly wrong (read: not tasty) about vegan brownies. Some things are just supposed to have butter and eggs in them.
Gabby / February 10, 2010 at 11:04 pm
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Amie, I'm not sure for Lola Rosa... Happy Cow describes it as "Ovo, Lacto, Vegan-friendly, Organic, International" so... I guess?

Margot, I so completely and utterly agree with you. A brownie without butter and eggs is just chocolate... something - still good, but not a brownie!

aluminium, I don't know much about allergy-friendly restaurants but if you have a sweet tooth, there's a bakery on Monkland street called Cho'cola that is entirely nut-free. Check it out! http://www.midnightpoutine.ca/food/2008/02/nut-free_cupcakes_at_chocola_bake_shop/
Amie replying to a comment from Gabby / February 19, 2010 at 11:51 am
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I went on a mission to Lola Rosa to find out once and for all if their key lime pie was vegan and better than Crudessence. Turns out it's not vegan! There's egg and milk in it, probably making it delicious for the same reasons brownies are definitely just chocolate without butter and eggs. Had a great chat with the staff there, though, and I got to try their only vegan dessert - a chocolate cake topped with walnuts and a raspberry coulis. The cake had dairy-free chocolate and oil as its base, so it was light and a little chewy, and the top was really nice with the walnuts. Even the raspberry was tart and refreshing, but it just wasn't the rich chooclate-y taste you want from cake (or brownies), despite using pure chocolate instead of cocoa. The very accommodating guy there swears the cake is not their best dessert and the key lime is much better, but unfortunately not vegan. So Crudessence definitely still has the best vegan key lime, both by default and because it's amazing, but if you're a lacto ovo vegetarian, or an omnivore, give Lola Rosa a try. It's worth checking out for the good people working there.
Seb / February 19, 2010 at 12:38 pm
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Although I've been disappointed by Aux Vivre's desserts, the chana wrap was so good that it more than made up for it. Just wanted to put that out there - it's amazing.
JVH / April 1, 2010 at 08:11 am
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Crudessence DOES have a raw carrot cake, and like all their other desserts, it is to DIE for. But if you really want to perish of ecstasy, try their pecan pie with a pot of nettle tea.
lilette / April 9, 2010 at 11:17 pm
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Both places are great. i have to agree.
But my fav vegan (most things can also be gluten free) restaurant is Bonny's on rue Notre-Dame...near the salvation army super store.
they are such a wonderful hidden secret.
the prices are great and the food is unbelievable.
They always have fresh new deserts, soups and a daily special.
You should visit and write a lil' thing on them.
the bonny's secret needs to be let out.


Amie replying to a comment from lilette / April 11, 2010 at 08:31 am
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Thanks for the heads up! I've been meaning to check out Bonnys, so I'll be interested to see if it's as delicious as it sounds. I love a restaurant with integrity, and this place certainly seems to have it. It also looks like it would fit right in with the other eco-conscious restaurants that Cycle Bird Bike Courrier works with, so I (and you) could post under that article on Midnight Poutine as well (http://www.midnightpoutine.ca/food/2010/03/montreal_bike_courier_offers_meal_delivery/#comments), to let the owner of the Bike Company know about it.

You're very right that a good secret should be let out.
Amie replying to a comment from JVH / April 11, 2010 at 08:53 am
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Wow...a raw carrot cake. Now I'm really interested. I've never seen it there before. How can you make a moist cake-like texture without baking? I shouldn't be so naive. Crudessence has already proved that I should have faith. The icing I understand. I know it could be creamy and delicious, but the cake...How?? Do you know what's in it? How they make it? When it's available, even? I'm going to have to start calling for take-out everyday, just to see if they have the carrot cake that day. Okay, I'm a little obsessed...
Colleen / April 20, 2010 at 01:12 pm
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Wicked. I'm going to Montreal next week and will enact my own Aux Vivres vs. Crudessence cage match.
Amie replying to a comment from Colleen / April 20, 2010 at 04:17 pm
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Yes, that's a great idea! I'd love to hear what you think! Have a great trip.
Jim / July 9, 2010 at 11:30 am
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Aux Vivres will always win in my books.
I got sick from this raw lasagna I ate at Crudessence, and it was really expensive .
Aux Vivres has improved so much over the years and it's still amazing value.
Amie replying to a comment from Jim / July 9, 2010 at 11:37 am
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You got sick? Were you allergic to something in the food? Or was it past its prime? They're usually very good about food safety, since no bacteria gets cooked off, things get fermented, and they have to be careful. I often have problems at Crudessence because there's a lot of coconut in their dishes (not the lasagna) and my body doesn't like when I feed it coconut. A lot of people also have trouble dealing with the heaviness of the nuts. I know I've personally tried to eat a double portion of the lasagna once and felt awful for a long time, but that was completely my fault.
Damien / August 5, 2010 at 06:59 pm
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Ahahaha I'm vegan and I eat 80% raw food ...All I can say is that "Aux Vivres is so much better" !!..

Crudessence is expensive and a bit too snobby. You know it's on Rachel next to Mnt Royal and you're paying for that ;) Last time I went there I've paid $30 and I wasn't not full at all. The sprouts were not that fresh and IMHO raw food (especially dehydrated stuff) made from sprouts and superfood..hemp, flax, salba (u name it) is supposed to fill you !! It wasn't the case...After my meal I was about to go up Saint-Laurent andto get a végépâté sandwich from Aux Vivres !! Raw food is a bit too trendy and ridiculous sometimes... I like simple things...simple people and food for money !!!! People going to Crudessence are mostly not vegans (!) while people going to Aux Vivres are mostly flexitarians---------- You can tell by the body fat of the people serving you :)
Jim / August 30, 2010 at 11:50 am
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Aux Vivres wins.
You must try the new cheese cake, it is so much better than the old one. It is off the hook. Anyway, I want all of the vegan places in Montreal to do well, and serve us fresh food. I will always love Aux Vivres but I still might give crudessence another shot sometime.
Amie / August 30, 2010 at 03:25 pm
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You know I was actually there the other day to give Aux Vivres carrot cake another shot and it got even worse! They changed the icing recipe and now it's more like slightly citrus-flavoured whipped cream. The cake itself it just as mediocre.

I haven't tried the fauxmage in awhile, though, so thanks for the heads up, Jim. I did try their chipotle cinnamon brownie, though, and was pretty impressed. It's about the size and density of four brownies and it's iced, which is so important. The chipotle was only a subtle after-taste, though, and I couldn't even taste the cinnamon, but still it was much better than the carrot cake.
Hey / October 27, 2011 at 02:29 pm
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great, thanks.
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