Commensal, Laval

by Leanne Vogel (Healthful Pursuit) on January 24, 2013

Commensal (41)

I got into New York yesterday afternoon, found the M60 bus, and made my way to the hostel. The plan today: a little morning Moksha Yoga to get my energy all fired up, a trip to Liberty Island, lunch at Pure Food and Wine, sight seeing at Rockefeller center, and dinner at an allergen-friendly Ethiopian restaurant. It’s going to be an awesomely busy day!

Today’s restaurant review has absolutely nothing to do with me being in New York, but has everything to do with food, and couldn’t not be shared… so here goes.

Commensal is a chain of restaurants in Quebec and Ontario that caters to the flexitarian eating style. It’s a buffet restaurant so there is a potential for cross contamination, but they’ve done a pretty good job at keeping things easy and safe for us allergen-free folks.

Commensal (11)

Okay, so you walk in the door of the restaurant and there’s this big sign. We were in Laval and; as I understand, Laval is ALL French so there was no English translation. Pretty sure the sign says something to the effect of, ‘a meal for any budget’ and goes on to list that you’ll pay $2.20 per 100 gram up to $13.95 for… breakfast? and $16.95 for… lunch and dinner? Okay, how’d I do? Would I make my fourth grade French teacher proud?

We ended up paying over $30 for our lunch so I’m thinking that my French to English translation is at least a bit accurate. Too bad you can’t just claim ignorance and make up your own price when you get to the register to pay. Heh.

Commensal (18)

As you enter the buffet area, there is a smaller sign that explains the allergen information for the items before you. They indicate when soy, dairy, egg, and gluten has been used, in addition to noting which items are vegetarian.

Commensal (13)

There are loads of different hot and cold options. I was able to find grain-free, gluten-free and dairy-free items and Kevin was able to find a good selection of goodies, too.

One thing we both didn’t like was the amount of soy in many of the items. There were only a couple of meal items and salads that didn’t have soy and were also gluten-free. I would have loved to see beans or seeds being used as a protein source instead of tofu.

Commensal (16)

What I liked was that each bowl had it’s own spoon, everything was very clean, and items were restocked quickly. Of course you still run the risk of someone dropping the nibbly bits from one bowl to another, so as a precaution, I just avoided the gluten-free items that were right next to a gluten-filled item.

Commensal (44)

I loaded up my plate with:

  • Moroccan salad – chickpeas, raisins, honey and cinnamon vinaigrette
  • Greek style casserole – organic tofu, tomatoes, zucchini and red bell peppers
  • Avocado and capers – lemon juice, green onions, garlic and mustard
  • Apple and beet salad – lemon juice, sunflower oil and sea salt
  • Carrot salad – with a caper vinaigrette

Kevin’s plate was packed full of rice, tofu steaks, chow mein, and baked tofu strips.

You can see from the pictures of our lunch that we didn’t get too much food, but the total (with tax) came to $38.00. A bit steep for a vegetarian lunch.

Commensal (45)

As I was taking pictures of our Commensal experience, one of the staff members came up to me and started yelling at me in French. She was speaking so fast that I couldn’t make out any of her words. I asked her nicely (in English) to slow down so that I could try to understand… but she didn’t. After minutes of feeling like I was being attacked; in perfect English, she said, ‘You cannot take photos in here’. Totally respect that we were in a French community, but really? I was in the wrong for not asking to take photos beforehand, but the staff could have approached the situation a lot better.

In short, the food was good – well seasoned and full of flavor, but the price, coupled with the extremely rude interaction that I had with the disgruntled worker left a bad taste in both of our mouths. If you’re looking for a vegetarian, gluten-free spot in Montreal and Commensal is your only option, check it out. The food is good, but you’ll pay quite a bit and the energy of the place isn’t superb.

  • Ambiance: Cafeteria style, very little ambiance. 2/5
  • Authenticity: Coming from a small town lovin’ Albertan, it’s cool to see an all vegetarian buffet that caters to multiple allergies. It’s unheard of back home. 4/5
  • Health factor: We liked all of the fresh, healthy options but were a bit surprised at the amount of oil and soy in many of the dishes. 4/5
  • Plating: I’d like to think I did a good job adding food to my plate! Everything was clean and easy to find. 4/5
  • Service: Totally not friendly at all. 1/5
  • Taste: Kevin and I both thoroughly enjoyed our meals. All of the dishes were fabulous, especially the parsnip fries. 4/5
  • Value: We were definitely not expecting to spend almost $40 on lunch. It was healthy and good, but far too expensive to do often. 1/5

Total: 20/35 = 57%

Commensal (34)

After lunch, we headed to the flea market down the road to search for some props for the blog.

The place had lots of clothes, shoes and other personal items, but no kitchen things. But we did find an incredibly large fruit & veggie grocer! Man, I wish I would have taken a picture of the place, the variety of produce was unreal! It was like nothing I’ve ever seen. I loaded up on clementines (can’t get enough of the baby oranges) and we made the trip back home to the island.

The end. ;)

commensal2

Do you like hitting up buffets for lunch?

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Erica { EricaDHouse.com }

The food looks incredible but boo for bad service!

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Leanne Vogel (Healthful Pursuit)

It was pretty incredible. But yes, “BOO” is a perfect word for this!

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Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat

Ahhh I so want to come to Pure Food & Wine with you!! I hope it’s absolutely fabulous – I’m sure it will be! We have a Commensal in Toronto that I’ve been to but like you said, there are a LOT of soy-based dishes. I still can’t get over that customer service story, and the fact that she yelled at you. Despite the tasty food, that would have totally overshadowed the whole experience for me.

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Leanne Vogel (Healthful Pursuit)

I’ll bring you along with me in spirit :)

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Kevin

Great post. Love the review. Now I am hungry! Great.
And yes, big BOO for bad service.

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Tammy

Le Commensal in Toronto is no longer strictly vegetarian. ‚ÄúStarting December 18, the Toronto Commensal restaurant will be more inclusive than ever. Flexitarians, people who occasionally adopt a vegetarian diet, and carnivores who wish to eat more healthily, can now choose dishes with added nordic shrimp, maritime crab or Quebec chicken. These delicious new dishes will be presented in separate sections. Vegetarians and vegans can continue to choose from the wide variety of hot and cold dishes they already enjoy.”

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Leanne Vogel (Healthful Pursuit)

Thanks for sharing, Tammy. I listed it as a flexitarian restaurant, so I think we’re good on that front, but awesome that you explained what flexitarian is! Thanks a bunch :)

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Michelle R

I think one of the phrases I remember from my five or so years of French (excuse any poor spelling or lack of accent marks): S’il vous plait, parlez un peut lentment, merci.

I had a dream last night that I was visiting a small town in Canada with my sister and our five kids… At one point, one of my sons and I were clothes shopping and I realized suddenly that, in the rush to try on several different things, my pants had gone missing and I was wandering around sans pantaloons. Not. Cool.

And, for pete’s sake… Yelling at someone for photographing their meal that, in effect, THEY created?!? Ridiculous. She HAD to know that would end up in a poor review SOMEWHERE. As we say in the South, bless her heart!

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Leanne Vogel (Healthful Pursuit)

No pants? Wow… I’d be terrified in that dream! Great that you remembered that whole phrase, wow. I don’t remember ANYTHING from the 12 years I studied it. Guess I didn’t take it all too seriously at the time. Silly me!

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Rady

Hi Leanne, great review! I don’t know why but often places with great food have problem with service. If they were clever enough they would’ve given you a free meal and thank you for the review, but …
As for the Sami Fruits store – great place, we go there every Friday to buy fruits and vegetables for the week.
If you live in Verdun / Lasalle / Lachine area, you can visit Sami Fruits located at 400 avenue Lafleur
Lasalle, QC,H8R 3H6. They are open every day without Tuesday. Have a wonderful day!

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leanne@ healthful pursuit

Oh my gosh, thank you! That’s so much closer to our house!!

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tiffany

I can’t wait till you review Pure Food and Wine, the bf and I are headed to NYC in six weeks and we have been keeping it healthy these days – In trips past, we always end up at the unhealthy but oh so good, cheap and famous halal cart on 53rd and 6 ave.. If you like Pure Food and Wine, I will put it on the itinerary :)

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sophie

*All Commensal restaurants adopted the Maximum Price Policy. This means that however much delicious and healthy food you put on your plate, you never pay more than $13.95 at lunchtime or $16.95 in the evening.

Thanks for the review…and it’s very true…Even if the food is outstanding – I would not go back to a restaurant that was over-priced and whose staff didn’t have proper etiquette…

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Sonia! The Healthy Foodie

The sign also says “up to one kilo per plate, else the regular rate of $2.20 applies”. Hmpft. That’s not what I call “never”…

I never liked Commensal for that very reason: their food is sold by weight, so you better steer clear of heavy foods, such as lasagna, or even dense fruits and veggies. Think of it… $2.20 per 100g for sliced tomatoes? When you consider that your average tomato weighs about 150g – 200g, that comes up to well over 3 dollars, just for a tomato. And at that rate, a kilo of food adds up pretty fast too!

Seriously, it IS rather pricey for what you get. I haven’t been in ages, but I can’t imagine that it’s gotten any better since. And now that I hear how friendly they are to top it off, I don’t think I’ll ever be going back.

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Leanne Vogel (Healthful Pursuit)

Where were you when I needed ya? Gosh, I don’t even know the weight of a tomato. It’s too bad, too. I was really looking forward to liking it but that much for a tomato? Gosh.

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Leanne Vogel (Healthful Pursuit)

Maximum price… okay, good to know! Thanks Sophie :)

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Jillian Hudson

Leanne, While you’re in New York, you should try Organic Grill. It was the best meal I had during my entire trip. The place is small but the service was great and they really worked with me to make sure my allergies were handled fully.

On the other hand, Angelica Kitchen was a joke in handling my allergies. They wouldn’t make substitutions so I had a plate of plain quinoa and plain tofu. Blech!

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Leanne Vogel (Healthful Pursuit)

Wow, okay I’ll add it to the list! So many places, not enough time. Thanks for the honest opinion of Angelica Kitchen. I wont bother with that one!

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Danielle

Sounds like you have an awesome day in NYC planned! I’ve been to the Commensal a few times in Toronto. It’s interesting – it actually used to be totally vegetarian but a few months ago they added meat dishes – and I remember there was big uproar about this!

I’ve always found the food ok but experienced a similar surprise with the price! This also happens when I go to a Whole Foods salad bar… Haha. But that’s besides the point! :P

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Leanne Vogel (Healthful Pursuit)

It’s weird that they added meat dishes, no? Ugh… I went to the Whole Foods salad bar yesterday. I couldn’t resist. That butternut salad gets me EVERY time.

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Holiday

Hi Leanne, check out Babycakes in the Lower East Side for their gluten-free sweets. They are heavenly!

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Leanne Vogel (Healthful Pursuit)

Oh, thanks! I’ll try to check it out :)

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Jessica

I don’t mind buffets for lunch if they are per pound payment which makes me mindful of what I take, but I loathe all you can eat. NOT worth it for me.

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Leanne Vogel (Healthful Pursuit)

Ya, I guess with a max price it is kinda an all you can eat thing… I’m not big on that either!

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Holly

It says 13.65 for lunch, 16.65 for dinner. Though how that works out to $38, I’ll never know. Drinks must be outrageous.

As for the photos, I don’t know what the deal is in French-Canada, but we’ve been discussing it a lot in my marketing/restaurateur/wine classes here in France, and it’s a really hotly debated topic for so many reasons. Chains can have “copyright” issues, Gastronomic restaurants sometimes feel it’s disrespectful to other diners. And some restaurants simply don’t want some random blogger taking photos and criticizing their food. None of this excuses the server from yelling at you, but it is a subject that restaurateurs, magazines, and food critics are starting to take notice of: proper photography etiquette. I either try to be really really super discreet… sometimes this means eating before any other customers have arrived, or actually asking the server if I can take photos.

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Leanne Vogel (Healthful Pursuit)

I totally understand. I always ask. In fact, most times I call ahead just to make sure it’s okay that I take pictures. Never had a problem. But I couldn’t find anyone to ask here and I figured since it was more cafeteria-style that it would be okay. I’m no food critic and definitely don’t do reviews that thorough, just want to share awesome places with the community. As bad as an experience that we had at Commensal, it’s good for others to know it’s out there if they don’t care about service or the price. For some it’s all about taste!

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Dayna

Welcome to Montreal, Leanne!
Sorry you had such a bad experience at le Commensal. Service and quality varies greatly from location to location; I’ve had good luck with the one on Ste. Catherine street just east of Place des Arts.

Also, if you haven’t you must check out la Panthere Verte on Mackay for vegetarian gluten free options (bonus, it is right next to Crudessence). Lola rosa in the McGill ghetto is reliable. The soups at la Foumagerie in Westmount are always dairy and gluten free, and of course there is Zero8, which I haven’t had a chance to try yet but seems to be consistently good.
Happy eating!
Dayna

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Leanne Vogel (Healthful Pursuit)

Thanks, Dayna! I didn’t know that Panthere Verte had gluten-free options. I’ll definitely have to check it out. I’ve heard of Zero8. Okay, I definitely have a bunch of places I need to get to!

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Sandra Carson

Hi, there. May I request the 35 Recipe download book again? I was having problems with my computer when I signed up. The problem is now repaired. I wasn’t able to download the book until this repar. When I returned to the link, again it wouldn’t allow the browser to link. Would you be able to re-send to my address again?

Very grateful. Thank you.

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