Lousy food at the Livelihood Cafe

Livelihood CafeLocation: 254 Augusta Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.livelihoodproject.org/

The Livelihood Cafe is a laudable endeavor — it’s part of a non-profit organization that helps new immigrants build a career in Canada.

So maybe I’m a jerk for saying this (okay, I’m definitely a jerk for saying this), but the food was actually pretty bad.

Livelihood Cafe

I tried a few things.  The first dish featured multigrain toast topped with some kind of pepper spread, cucumber, and cheese (I forgot to take a picture of the menu and I couldn’t find one online, so I’m a bit fuzzy on the specifics).  This was the best of the three dishes I tried.  The grainy bread was a little bit too rustic, overwhelming the mild pepper spread, and the whole thing had an overriding bitterness, but it wasn’t horrible.

Livelihood Cafe

Up next was the baba ganoush, which came with a side of over-toasted pita bread that was halfway between crunchy and chewy.  Baba ganoush is a spread that’s made primarily with roasted eggplant and tahini, so how this managed to taste of neither of those things is a complete mystery.  It was just kind of salty and pasty and unpleasant.

Livelihood Cafe

The last (and worst) dish was the mana’eesh, which is a flatbread topped with a mix of za’atar (a Middle Eastern spice mix) and olive oil.  Only there barely seemed to be any olive oil; the za’atar was overly dry and grainy, and the bread was off-puttingly thick and rubbery.  I could barely eat more than a couple of bites of this.

Also: it was a bagel-sized piece of bread for nine bucks, which is gallingly expensive — though if you think of it as a charitable donation, it takes some of the sting away.

This is going to sound harsh, but everything was so bad I would have rather just flat-out donated money to charity without having to eat the food.

A Mixed Bag at Tabule

TabuleLocation: 2009 Yonge Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://tabule.ca/

I like Tabule a lot; it’s probably one of the better Middle Eastern restaurants in the city, though this particular visit wasn’t particularly awe-inspiring.

The starter was fantastic, at least — we got the sampler platter, which came with hummus, babaganuj, and tabule.  The creamy hummus had a nice garlicky bite without overwhelming, the tabule was fresh and zingy, and the babaganuj had a mild smokiness that really set it apart.  It comes with a basket of soft, toasty pita bread.  It’s great.

Tabule

My main wasn’t quite as good.  I got the eggplant, which comes served on mujaddara, a Middle Eastern rice dish with lentils and fried onions.

The eggplant was perfectly cooked; that particular vegetable can easily be mushy, but in this dish it had a satisfyingly firm texture and an amazing creaminess.  I think it might have been some of the most well-prepared eggplant I’ve ever had.

But while it and the rice were both quite tasty, the whole dish was one-note rich; the tahini sauce didn’t do much to contrast with the eggplant and the rice.  Something with some sweetness or acidity would have really rounded things out — as delicious as it was, I was getting tired of eating it by the end of the plate.

Tabule

I had the kunafa for dessert, which was a more unambiguous failure.  I actually had this on a previous visit, and that time it had a really great balance of creaminess and crispiness, without being overly sweet.  This time?  Not so much.

But to quote LeVar Burton: you don’t have to take my word for it.  Here’s a side-by-side of the the one I just had, and the one I was served on my last visit.

Tabule

Yikes.  And it was as bad as it looked — it was absolute mush all the way through, with an unpleasantly intense, throat-burning sweetness.