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Dish names at the Moth Cafe do not reflect what many dishes actually are, such as this raw, gluten-free 'bagel' – effectively a moulded ring of grains topped with tomatoes and sprouts.

JASON FRANSON/The Globe and Mail

  • The Moth Cafe
  • Location: 9449 Jasper Ave., Edmonton
  • Phone: 780-244-9702
  • Website:  themothcafe.com
  • Price: $6-$17
  • Cuisine: Vegan
  • Atmosphere: Warmly decorated space with plenty of natural light and a mix of comfortable seating from banquettes to tables and a lounging area with a hammock.
  • Drinks on offer: In addition to coffee, tea and cocktails, there is a long list of natural beverages such as tonics and elixirs.
  • Best bets: Taro root risotto, tomato mushroom pizzetta, Moth breakfast bowl, raw key lime cheesecake.
  • Vegetarian friendly? Vegan friendly.
  • Additional info: Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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Is “refined hippie dining” an oxymoron? Either way, it seems like a fair brief for The Moth Cafe.

If you’re hoping to have an enjoyable time at Edmonton’s new, polished, plant-based restaurant from the owners of long-standing vegetarian restaurant Cafe Mosaics, you need to leave some expectations one would have of a typical restaurant at the door.

At a first glance, the Moth Cafe is eye-catching with its exposed ceiling and warm wooden rafters.

JASON FRANSON/The Globe and Mail

At a first glance, the space is eye-catching. Moth’s ceiling is left exposed, showing off warm wooden rafters adorned with macrame that hold a mix of tropical plants and ceramic vessels around the bright room. Look past the tables and the banquette to find a faded forest wallpaper that graces a more comfy section offering a couch, fabric stools and even a small hammock. With plenty of natural light flooding the room, it feels inviting enough to curl up with a book.

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As is the case with most cafe-by-day-restaurant-by-night concepts in Canada, Moth struggles in providing service that actually makes consistent sense within its expansive operating hours.

Server Chelsea Schellenberg delivers the raw, gluten-free bagel at the Moth Cafe in Edmonton.

JASON FRANSON/The Globe and Mail

Come in the morning and sit where you’d like. By lunchtime, the room starts to fill, so be warned of servers who may tear one of the teeny banquette tables away from you, not-so-subtly implying you’ve been there too long. I mean, it’s only noon and we’ve already spent $50 on caffeinated beverages and morning bites since 10:15 a.m., but who’s to argue?

Moth’s breakfast bowl is the culinary highlight of the morning, brimming with rice and turmeric-marinated semi-firm tofu that’s been crumbled to resemble scrambled eggs. It’s complemented by eggplant, tomatoes, grilled and horribly out-of-season asparagus, vegan sausage and a deliciously tangy, chilled turmeric cashew sauce served on the side. A semblance of hollandaise, if you will.

As the sun sets and dinner service begins, Moth offers more finesse, greeting customers warmly at the door and taking them to a table, but service ensues clunkily. The casual table service by all active servers on the floor makes menu explanation minimal, drink orders slow and savoury dish delivery fast. And the dessert ordering? Well, you’ll have to walk up to the counter to pick that course.

Moth's taro root risotto sets the bar for nonsensical tastiness.

JASON FRANSON/The Globe and Mail

True to the typical plant-based restaurant-style, Moth’s food menu is all over the place, featuring a jumble of veganized dishes from different cultures around the globe such as jackfruit burritos, (cheeseless) pizzas, Asian-style soups and more. Dish titles do not reflect what many dishes actually are and the raw, gluten-free “bagel” is, perhaps, the best example of that. Effectively a moulded ring of grains topped with tomatoes and sprouts, it might better be described as a salad.

A cute pizzetta makes for a lovely snack while we wait for main courses to arrive. The crispy flatbread is schmeared with a simple tomato sauce, minced sautéed mushrooms, fresh basil and parsley and a drizzle of tart cashew “cheese.”

The raw key lime 'cheesecake' features swirls of vanilla cashew cheese and bright lime-infused cashew cheese that are encased by a soft nut crust.

JASON FRANSON/The Globe and Mail

The taro root risotto sets the bar for nonsensical tastiness. Not a risotto in the least, but rather a pleasurable brown rice and taro mixture with corn, green onions, a fistful of pea shoots and candied chunks of oyster mushroom. It is surprisingly rich and comforting and the chew of the oyster mushrooms adds a nice textural element.

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Likewise, the vegan laksa is brimming with unusual vegetables such as leeks and under-cooked Brussels sprouts. The broth itself, a coconut-milk base, was salty and fragrant, but lacking in turmeric and instead seemed to boast a spice mix more in line with a standard garam masala. Still, suitable for wintery spring day. Ah, statements you only need to write in the Prairies.

The rose pistachio chai – a blended cold drink – was a unique and pleasant surprise.

JASON FRANSON/The Globe and Mail

To round out a filling dinner is a slice of Moth’s raw key lime “cheesecake.” Swirls of vanilla cashew cheese and bright lime-infused cashew cheese are encased by a soft nut crust. Though it looks a bit haphazardly tossed on the plate, this dessert could hold its own against a slice of traditional cheesecake.

Regardless of when you show up, the drink portion of the menu is overwhelming. Coffee, elixirs, tonics, teas, a few cocktails ... flip, flip, flip ... after about 15 pages, you’ll finally find the food at the back end.

One drink in particular, the rose pistachio chai – a blended cold drink – was a unique and pleasant surprise. Slightly floral, slightly spicy and just sweet enough. It is a blended beverage unlike anything you’ve ever had before, I assure you.

After two visits, I remain unsure whether it’s truly Moth’s goal to draw the average Edmontonian into its establishment. It could likely sway meat-and-potato types with its well-seasoned, fulfilling food, but it’s going to need to more attention to detail with service and table-side explanations to bring them back for a repeat visit.

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