While vegetarian cuisine has become decidedly mainstream—a host of innovative restaurants have opened in Vancouver over the past few years that make even the staunchest carnivore forget that they’re not eating meat—vegan food remains a much harder sell. Without the aid of dairy products like cheese and eggs that can transform vegetables into rich, delectable dishes, vegan food is often assumed to be bland and boring and only suitable for those with extreme dietary restrictions. A recent addition to Vancouver’s lively restaurant scene, Graze, is attempting to challenge these stereotypes, serving up interesting and unusual dishes made entirely from plant-based ingredients. Located at an unassuming, quiet spot without a lot of foot traffic on Fraser at King Edward, Graze is the sort of restaurant that you might never know about unless you are a resident of the neighbourhood but it is well worth the trek off the beaten track. The casual, comfortable space was nearly empty when we arrived on a sunny, weekday evening but quickly filled up with couples enjoying Graze’s tasty libations and beautifully prepared grazing boards. Despite the number of people in the restaurant, we could still comfortably have a conversation with our fellow diner, which often feels like a novelty these days.
We began our meal with selections from Graze’s interesting cocktail menu, which includes both old favourites (Dark and Stormy, Negroni) and the establishment’s unique creations such as the Graze Spectrum which somehow makes the seemingly disparate pairing of white wine, gin, grapefruit and bitters appetizing. We also enjoyed the Vegan Caesar—really a Bloody Mary—with its house-infused tomato cocktail and tasty pickle. We opted to bypass the small plates on this visit and instead shared one of the delectable grazing boards as our appetizer. Each of the boards sounded so delicious it was nearly impossible to choose, but we settled on the antipasti—a selection of preserves, dips and pâtés served with house made flatbread. The board’s presentation looks like it was made to be Instagrammed; the vibrant colours of the vegetables combined with the sense that the items had just been picked and foraged makes for a very appetizing dish. The nut cheese was mild and had a tofu-like texture while the beet pâté had a bite that paired well with the salty flatbread. The pickled vegetables were expertly seasoned and were a highlight as were the giant, succulent green olives. We can’t wait to return to sample the Fry Board—spiced chickpeas, root vegetable chips and beet fries—and Graze’s vegan take on the always popular sliders.
The selection of mains all sound so rich and appetizing that you’ll instantly forget that you’re eating at a vegan restaurant. Focusing on homestyle cuisine, Graze transforms perennial favourites like perogies, stew and pot pie by using fresh, plant based ingredients in lieu of the expected meat and dairy. We sampled the yam and eggplant perogies—delicate yet hearty dumplings that were smothered in a rich and surprisingly creamy, coconut-based “cheddar” sauce. While the dish was unlike our past experiences with this polish delicacy, it was quite scrumptious and very filling—we were stuffed before finishing the plate. The Pot Pie was also an unexpectedly rich treat. The spelt crust—an entirely different beast than the more conventional flaky, buttery pastry—was hearty while the kale and parsnip filling cooked in a delectable mustard cream sauce was tasty and satisfying. We looked on with envy at a fellow diner’s basil and chickpea crepe and will definitely be back to sample that along with the raw enchilada which also caught our eye.
While we may not be in the mood for vegan cuisine every night, we thoroughly enjoyed our meal, and Graze has done an admirable job elevating the dishes beyond the expected tofu and rice. With fresh flavours and ingredients, Graze is a welcome addition to the plant-based renaissance currently dominating Vancouver’s restaurant scene.