The public might be more familiar with pub crawls, but I have to say that I much prefer restaurant crawls. I love the idea of exploring multiple establishments on foot, as it usually exposes participants to the neighbourhood as a whole as well. So whether through events like the Red Shoe Crawl or Dishcrawl, I’d encourage you to seek one out!
The North Edge Business Association (representing businesses in the Central McDougall and Queen Mary Park neighbourhoods) had organized several successful restaurant crawls last year, but the timing was never right. Thankfully, this summer, I was finally able to participate in one of the Flavour Journey Restaurant Tours! I convinced my sisters to join me, and along with about twenty other people, sampled three dishes at three different restaurants that night.
Felicia and Amanda
Tickets were just $30, with the profits split equally between the three restaurants. The Business Association covered the other costs (ticketing, marketing, etc.), so the restaurants could focus solely on the food. Given the benefit of increased exposure to the neighbourhood, I wonder why more areas haven’t adopted this tactic.
Regardless, we started out the evening at Caffé Sorrentino. Pedestrian, yes, but by far, the most prepared for the group. Our host for the evening, Chris Hrynyk, graciously welcomed us, and explained that the dish we were about to enjoy has been on the Sorrentino’s menu for thirty six years.
Chris Hrynyk of Caffe Sorrentino
Each batch of veal cannelloni, he tantalized, was simmered with five kilograms of parmesan and seven kilograms of mozzarella. After that introduction, the dish no doubt tasted even more indulgent.
Just before we left, Chris gave us a tour of the kitchens, which double as both prep space and as the venue for their cooking classes. The consummate showman, he made sure to mention that Gordon Ramsay (in town as a part of a charity cooking event) was jealous of the size of their kitchens. In a way, it was unfortunate the subsequent restaurant participants weren’t present for the meal – they could have benefited from learning how to present themselves, and tell a narrative that could be easily shared.
Our second stop a block away was Com Pho 99 (11019 107 Avenue). I’ll be honest – if it weren’t for the restaurant tour, it is doubtful I would have ever stepped foot inside. It doesn’t provide the best first impression, but then again, that’s pretty representative of the neighbourhood as a whole. And in spite of being rough around the edges, Com Pho, like the North Edge, deserves a second look.
Unlike the other two restaurants, Com Pho offered the choice between a rice plate or a vermicelli bowl, topped with grilled chicken, beef and spring rolls. While the options were welcome, it likely slowed the kitchen down a fair bit, as our table wasn’t served until the other table had nearly finished their meals.
Vermicelli bowl (minus the missing spring rolls)
The food itself was pretty good though; Amanda (ever the vermicelli connoisseur) gave it a thumbs up.
Given the unusually large crowd, it was understandable that the kitchen struggled to keep up. That said, hopefully a majority of the diners were willing to overlook the minor hiccups and in the future would consider returning. This is the danger of showcasing small mom-and-pop shops in this way – though it casts a spotlight on restaurants that might fall otherwise under the radar, the business may not be ready or have the capacity to successfully host such an event.
Our third and final stop was Acajutla, a restaurant specializing in Mexican and Salvadorian food. As the evening was running a little late, the kitchen was more than ready for us. Plates were delivered, featuring a flauta, tostada and a pupusa.
Finale at Acajutla
The flauta and tostada shell were a bit overdone, but the pupusa was great, topped with some pickled cabbage and salsa.
In all, it was a great way to spend an evening – trying new restaurants, meeting new people, and learning more about the neighbourhood. The North Edge is considering more tours this fall – check the website for more information!