Preview: Jang

It’s always great to see locally owned restaurants grow and expand. In Edmonton, the trend over the past few years has been for restaurants to parlay their reputation into new concepts instead of replicating their initial successes – Tres Carnales/Rostizado, The Next Act/Meat/Pip, Elm Cafe/District/Little Brick, and of course, Corso 32/Bar Bricco/Uccellino are just some examples.

There’s another restaurant to add to this list – Jang is the brainchild from the folks behind Nudoru, the popular ramen joint in Old Strathcona (they had the distinction of being the first in Edmonton to make their own noodles). Although there are numerous establishments that serve Korean cuisine in the city, owner Eric Hui saw a gap in restaurants offering higher end Korean food. Chef Jamie Jang shared the same opinion, so when an ideal space became available on Jasper Avenue and 112 Street (formerly Soy and Pepper), Jang was born. It opened its doors in mid-October, and Mack, Emily and I were fortunate enough to attend a media preview of Jang last weekend.

Jang

Chef Jamie Jang and Eric Hui

“Jang” means sauce in Korean, and their hope is to create a fusion of flavours through a combination of Korean, Japanese and Western sauces. We tried a variety of their small plates and mains meant to be shared.

We started with a refreshing apple kimchi, an inspired take on a Korean staple. I appreciated that the heat level was cut by the crisp fruit; it made for a nice accompaniment as we sipped our drinks.

Jang

Apple kimchi

The salmon carpaccio, served with fennel, avocado, tomato, a Korean chili vinaigrette and cilantro mayo was very fresh. The fish was beautifully presented, and it was easy to see this dish as a representative of the type of polished plate Jang wants to be known for.

Jang

Salmon carpaccio

The kimchi croquette was one of our favourites that night – sweet potato mash, kimchi, and grana padano deep fried and served with a shichimi aioli. They nailed the textural contrast, with a crisp exterior and a smooth centre, punched up with the slightly spicy aioli on the side.

Jang

Kimchi croquette

The sizzling hot ika featured calamari tossed in a Korean chili pesto, with a poached egg, mashed potatoes, and a black olive emulsion. It didn’t come together as a sum of its parts, although the squid was itself well cooked.

Jang

Sizzling hot ika

Onto the mains, the baked kimchi dome was a bit of a puzzle. It was presented with some fanfare, with the server cutting into the naan crust at the table to reveal pork loin and tofu in a kimchi tomato sauce. While the meat was quite tender, the flavours of the stew could have been further developed, and the group agreed that the naan bread was unnecessary.

Jang

Kimchi dome

On the other hand, the beer-battered Korean fried chicken was definitely a crowd pleaser. Gojuchang and ganjang (soy sauce) dips were served alongside, but I preferred to enjoy the crispy, well-seasoned coating unadorned. The meat underneath was juicy and satisfying. The side of taro fries were an interesting choice, but they weren’t as crispy as I would have liked. For Jang’s grand opening from November 5-10, the KFC is on special for just $10 (regular $19).

Jang

Beer-battered Korean fried chicken

Jang’s gogi platter reminded our tablemate Cindy of the meat boards central to Rostizado, resplendent with different cuts and sauces. Here, teriyaki ribeye, galbi (Korean short ribs), pork belly and spicy pork shoulder is served with kimchi butter, ssamjeng dip and Asian chimichurri, alongside roasted potatoes, grilled vegetables, and some lettuce to create wraps. The ribeye was prepared well, with a good ratio of meat to fat. I also enjoyed the short ribs and their expected sweetness. If dining in a group, this would be a good way to sample a variety as we did.

Jang

Gogi platter

For the most part, Jang does meet its goal of serving more composed dishes with fusion flavours. As Edmonton’s food scene continues to develop, it’s encouraging to see restauranteurs take risks to bring their vision to life. Thanks to the team at Jang for their hospitality, and I wish them well in the weeks and months to come!

Jang
11212 Jasper Avenue
(780) 421-8281
Monday-Saturday 5-10pm, closed Sundays

For more early perspectives on Jang, check out Eat with Sharon and YEG Cravings.

Preview: Olde Towne Beverly Dining Week, October 5-13, 2018

There are so many parts of Edmonton that I have yet to fully appreciate, and I am grateful when opportunities arise to encourage further exploration. When it involves food, I’m even more likely to participate – so the first ever Olde Towne Beverly Dining Week is right up my alley.

Eight restaurants in Beverly are showcasing their fare from October 5-13, 2018, ranging from long-standing establishments to several newcomers to the neighbourhood. I had the chance to visit some of these restaurants with my friend Freya on Wednesday during a media preview event, and was pleasantly surprised by the diversity and the sense of community evident that night.

Wild Heart Collective (the folks behind Eats on 118 and the 124 Grand Market) worked with the Beverly Business Improvement Area on developing the event. Wes Robson, the Executive Director of the BIA, said Beverly is an often forgotten part of Edmonton. That’s definitely been the case for me – I haven’t been back to the area since I visited the farmers’ market a few years ago (with a pit stop for doughnuts from Take 5). After the tour, I could easily see myself returning to spend an afternoon in Beverly, having lunch and picking up groceries and dessert to go.

Beverly Dining Week

Olde Towne Beverly

Two of our stops highlighted the Ukrainian heritage of some of the original settlers in Beverly. Uncle Ed’s is a city institution, and one restaurant that has been on my to-visit list for ages. Collette Hennig, whose grandfather opened Mundare’s famous Stawnichy’s in 1959, is now the third generation to run the family business. Her daughter has recently been dipping her toe in operations as well, something that is great to hear.

Although the first Edmonton location opened in 1986, the current iteration of Uncle Ed’s has been in Beverly for twelve years. The shop is split between a grocery store offering Stawnichy’s meat products and frozen goods, and a family-friendly restaurant serving up Ukrainian comfort food at very reasonable prices. Their Dining Week special is a sampler plate, featuring perogies, sausage, cabbage rolls, baked cheese bun, cheese crepe, and homemade pie for dessert. Based on our tastes of these items, I’ll be back for a full serving very soon.

Beverly Dining Week

The spread at Uncle Ed’s

I hadn’t heard of Widynowski’s Sausage House prior to the tour, but it turns out they also have deep roots in Beverly, having been in operation there for 34 years. Tyler Hawryluk, whose father and uncle started Widynowski’s in 1984, has since taken over the business, and shared that everything in the shop is still hand made. They have a selection of sausages and jerky, in addition to frozen perogies, cabbage rolls, and other Ukrainian delicacies. The ham and garlic sausage we tried was delicious, and is included in the take-home bundle Widynowski’s has put together for their Dining Week deal.

Beverly Dining Week

Sausage at Widynowski’s

We also sampled the fare from two more recent establishments. The first was Old Beverly Cafe, opened by Rachel and Michael Benti in January. Although the interior has been designed to resemble the mine shafts that recall the coal mining history of Beverly, the menu is much more eclectic. That night, we sampled poutine, paninis, and their Dining Week specials, bruschetta and a Mediterranean burger, with tzatziki atop a lamb patty.

Beverly Dining Week

Old Beverly Cafe

It’s a cozy little spot that I wouldn’t have thought to encounter in Beverly, charming and quaint. Their breakfast menu looks particularly intriguing, with a breakfast poutine that I wouldn’t be able to pass up.

Beverly Dining Week

A sampling at Old Beverly Cafe

Nalaz Kitchen is another newcomer to the neighbourhood, having opened in January. The couple behind the restaurant is originally from India, but the chef has extensive experience in international hotels and cruise ships, inspiring a menu they describe to feature “Indian flavours and Canadian tastes”.

We sampled several of their savoury dishes, including a curry poutine, chicken tikka burger and fish and crisps. The spice level was tuned for more moderate palates, but everyone around our table enjoyed the plates. The highlight of the meal, however, was dessert – a red velvet waffle with cream cheese frosting that silenced the room. If one were to plan a food crawl in this area, Nalaz would be the ideal choice to end the evening.

Beverly Dining Week

Red velvet waffle at Nalaz Kitchen

Swiss 2 Go is well-known to many in Edmonton for their scratch-made sandwiches. Originally from Switzerland, Drita Keller and her family moved to Edmonton in 2012, and opened up a small cafe in Beverly. Although they moved to a location across from West Edmonton Mall for a few years, Drita said they didn’t find the community they were hoping for and so, returned to Beverly again about three years ago.

Drita is a consummate host, and warmly hugged each patron before we departed. It’s amazing she has the energy she does, given she starts working at 3:30am to ensure the shop is stocked with freshly baked pretzel buns each day. Given the foundation of a great sandwich is the bread, it’s no wonder why Swiss 2 Go has the reputation it does. The ingredients are fresh (the sandwich I tried featured prosciutto, salami, bocconcini, and sundried tomato), but it really is the pretzel bun, studded with rock salt, that sets is apart. During Dining Week, a select variety of their regular and large sandwiches are 20% off.

Beverly Dining Week

Sandwiches at Swiss 2 Go

Their desserts, also handcrafted, were made for Instagram, served in a molded chocolate teacup.

Beverly Dining Week

Freya enjoys her “tea”

While it probably helped that board members of the Beverly Business Improvement Area were among the group that night, we felt very welcome at each of the establishments we visited. Nearly all of the business owners mentioned that they felt a kinship with the community, and indicated that they felt well supported by the residents. Well, it’s about time that this well kept secret is shared with the rest of Edmonton!

Thanks to Wild Heart and the Beverly BIA for a wonderful evening!

Check the Beverly BIA website for more information about Olde Towne Beverly Dining Week.

Recap: FEASTival of Fine Chefs 2018

In Edmonton, we are fortunate to have a diversity of culinary events to attend. While it sometimes seems like there are new tastings or markets popping up every weekend, other events can claim a long history, and have endured the whims of an ever-changing food community. The FEASTival of Fine Chefs, put on by the Alberta Food Processors Association, is one such example, celebrating its thirtieth year in 2018. Mack and I were fortunate to attend the event as guests last week alongside our friends Linda and Sharman.

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

A showcase for Alberta products and a fundraiser for apprentice chefs, FEASTival pioneered the idea of the “black box” challenge. 24 hours before the event, participating chefs receive a hamper containing a variety of locally sourced produce, grains, pulses, and proteins which they have to transform into 4 different courses. Diners are given four vouchers that correspond with each course and a restaurant station number. The distinct aspect of this event, however, is that the station numbers change after each course, so guests end up with dishes from four different places. Linda captured her experience of this really well, but I will say this Russian roulette-style dinner was unique. It’s ideal for those with adventurous palates, and created a easy going atmosphere in the Shaw Conference Centre hall.

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

Our meal tickets

There were a total of 17 participating restaurants this year. Because of the time and labour-intensive nature of the function, organizers shared that it is difficult for smaller establishments to participate. As a result, all of the restaurants were representing hotels, institutions, or chains. Still, event chair Chris Short maintains that FEASTival is a great opportunity for young chefs to challenge themselves, in addition to exposing them to the range of products available from home grown producers.

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

Chefs hard at work

Before dinner, we whet our appetites by exploring the menus the restaurants had put together. Although I could extrapolate from the dishes what ingredients were provided in their black box, it would have been visually interesting to see what a sample hamper contained.

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

Plating perfection

I was particularly impressed by the few who had an overall theme to their dishes (the Renaissance Hotel was inspired by Korean cuisine), or a fun display (the Royal Glenora had set up a big top tent complete with popcorn decorations and a spin-the-wheel game).

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

The Royal Glenora carnival

Overall, I was pretty impressed by the food, and by circumstance, ended up with a fairly cohesive meal. My appetizer was prepared by the Highlands Golf Club; a birch-glazed bison short rib with a sweet potato purée and charred rutabaga. The meat was nicely tender, and I appreciated the pair of vegetables served together, as they complemented the other well.

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

Birch-glazed bison short rib

I was delighted to see a soup course on the menu (Mack jokes that I could eat soup all day every day, and it’s true). Of the two I sampled, I preferred the roasted chicken mushroom consommé from Stages Kitchen & Bar. While it was on the salty side, I thought there was a lot of depth to the broth.

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

Roasted chicken mushroom consommé from Stages Kitchen & Bar

My main course was prepared by the Royal Glenora Club. I very much enjoyed the spiced rack of boar, served with a curried cauliflower purée, cabbage, and northern bean cassoulet. At an event this size, I often find the meat to be overcooked, so I was pleasantly surprised that the boar was a perfect medium rare. In addition, the highlight of the plate for me was the flavourful bean cassoulet.

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

Spiced rack of boar from the Royal Glenora Club

Most of the desserts around the table were chocolate-based. Considering the event’s local philosophy, I was expecting more dairy, egg, or fruit concoctions, but I recognize that chocolate is a crowd-pleaser. My dessert was a flourless chocolate cake from the Highlands Golf Club; it was a very rich way to end my meal.

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

Flourless chocolate cake from the Highlands Golf Club

The event finished with a rousing bagpipe-led parade of chefs, providing diners with the opportunity to show their gratitude to those that had their hand in preparing the evening’s food.

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

Chefs’ parade

Thanks again to the event organizers for a fun evening, and to Linda for inviting us to join her! Tickets for the 31st FEASTival of Fine Chefs next September will go on sale April 1, 2019.

Recap: Urban Beekeeping Tour at MacEwan University

Did you know that Downtown Edmonton is abuzz with urban beekeeping? While I was aware of the hives at the Shaw Conference Centre and Hotel Macdonald, I didn’t know that MacEwan University started a similar program in 2016. At the end of August, I attended a free tour of their hives to learn more.

Kerstyn Lane of MacEwan’s Office of Sustainability led the tour. We started outside, and learned about solitary pollinators, a vital but less often discussed group of pollinators. While most people are familiar with social bees that live in colonies, of the 300 species of bees that reside in Alberta, most are actually solitary bees. To help these bees, many organizations in Edmonton, including MacEwan University, are erecting bee hotels, which provide tunnels for the insects to lay their eggs in. The Edmonton & Area Land Trust has been promoting this as a way to help urban pollinators thrive, and has tips on how to build your own bee hotel, and a map of more than two dozen existing hotels in the city.

MacEwan Urban Beekeeping Tour

MacEwan’s bee hotel

From there, the group moved onto the third floor of MacEwan’s Building 5. From the windows of a classroom, we were able to observe the resident beekeeper Troy Donovan and his assistant Liam as they tended to the rooftop hives. It was certainly a sight to see, with the hives in the shadow of Rogers Place and the new Ice District skyscrapers.

MacEwan Urban Beekeeping Tour

MacEwan’s rooftop hives

The first of MacEwan’s four hives were installed in May 2016, and they have since grown to six hives. Troy (whose full time gig is actually in the University’s eLearning office) is able to monitor the temperature and the humidity of the hives through a bluetooth sensor. This is helpful particularly at this time of year as they are readying the hives for winter.

MacEwan Urban Beekeeping Tour

Resident beekeeper Troy Donovan

He also showed us the plastic flow frames they use, which allow them to collect honey directly from individual frames as opposed to the more traditional method involving a centrifuge. They’re able to fill a 2L jar in just 20 minutes!

MacEwan continues to harvest more and more honey each year – from 80 pounds that first year to 300 pounds in 2017. This year, they’re expecting to bring in 600 pounds. The honey is currently used by Food Services, and we were invited to purchase honey at the end of the tour. MacEwan Honey isn’t yet consistently available at the on-campus store, but will be at some point in the future. The next opportunity to pick up this local treat will be at the upcoming Harvest Fair on November 6, 2018.

MacEwan Urban Beekeeping Tour

MacEwan Honey

Because of the cooler temperatures, Kerstyn wasn’t certain that any more free beekeeping tours would be scheduled for this year. However, for those keen to check out all three Downtown hives before the snow flies, MacEwan is organizing an urban beekeeping tour by bike on September 26, 2018 (tickets are $20 for the general public).

Thanks again to MacEwan for offering this opportunity!

Preview: 5th Annual Sabor Seafood Festival

Sabor is known as one of Edmonton’s best seafood restaurants, and every August, they choose to highlight the freshest products and flavours with their annual Sabor Seafood Festival. In its fifth year, 2018’s iteration welcomes the collaborative touch from Hawaii. Chef Lyndon Honda (of Sheraton Maui) and Chef Tom Muromoto (of Ka’anapali Beach Hotel) worked with Sabor Chef Lino Oliveira to design a menu inspired by a wide range of tastes, reflective of the Korean, Japanese, Filipino, Puerto Rican, and Portuguese roots of Hawaiian cuisine.

Earlier this week, I attended a media preview of the festival, which runs from August 7-31, 2018.

Among my favourite dishes that night was the ahi tartare, served on a taro chip. Prepared poke style, this appetizer couldn’t be trendier in the city, and the taro chip itself was crunchy and addictive.

Sabor Seafood Festival 2018

Ahi tartare

I loved the grilled prawns, dressed in a coconut taro leaf curry. The smoke was apparent in the plump prawn, and I enjoyed the subtle sweetness in the curry. Of all of the plates I tried, I’m pulling for this one to appear on the final festival menu!

Sabor Seafood Festival 2018

Grilled prawns

I’d say Spam is under appreciated in mainstream North American culture, and Chef Lino deftly incorporated it as a chorizo substitute in his Portuguese sausage Spam ‘n clams dish. I doubt any other restaurant in Edmonton would be daring enough to serve this.

Sabor Seafood Festival 2018

Spam ‘n clams

The Ko’ala lamb chops was another highlight. Prepared to a perfect medium rare, I adored the mango mint chutney underneath. The chefs weren’t wrong when they said this dish could sway anyone uncertain about lamb.

Sabor Seafood Festival 2018

Ko’ala lamb chops

Doughnuts seem to be all the rage in the city at the moment, so it wasn’t a surprise that one made its way to us as dessert. But it wasn’t your typical doughnut – here, the malasada (Portuguese fried dough) was stuffed with Pinocchio’s coconut ice cream, and topped with a decadent mango cream. I may have been full, but I found room to polish off the plate.

Sabor Seafood Festival 2018

Coconut ice cream stuffed Malasada

The full Seafood Festival menu is still being finalized, so check the Sabor website for details! Thanks again to Bonafide Media for the invitation, and for organizing a wonderful evening.

Ramen in #yegdt: Let’s Grill Sushi and Izakaya

Although options abound for pho in the core (including Chinatown, of course), my other favourite noodle soup, ramen, is a bit more elusive in this area. Nomiya in Oliver Square, Kiwado near the Royal Alex and Prairie Noodle on 124 Street are the closest, but I’ve been hoping for something within closer walking distance. As such, I was happy to hear that Let’s Grill Sushi and Izakaya serves ramen before 5pm on weekdays, and was keen to try it out. A few weeks ago, I met up with Linda there for lunch.

Although the restaurant wasn’t full, there was a steady flow of customers, including some ducking in for take-out. I liked the openness of the dining room, with a variety of seating options to choose from, including a nice sized bar for those inclined to watch the action behind the counter. I also appreciated the wide space between the tables (although I didn’t have Emily with me, I could have easily parked the stroller next to our two-top).

Let’s Grill Sushi

Interior

A sign outside the restaurant touts that the broth cooked for 10 hours, which seemed like a good start. At lunch, diners can choose from four types of ramen. And similar to Kiwado, which offers the option to add a side, Let’s Grill sells a $5 combo upgrade that includes a choice of three sides (3 piece chicken karaage, 4 piece tako yaki, 3 piece yellowtail sashimi) and a tea or pop. Both Linda and I opted for the combos – she added sashimi to her black garlic ramen ($14 +$5), while I ordered the tonkotsu miso ramen and chicken karaage ($13.50 +$5).

Let’s Grill Sushi

Black garlic ramen

Our food arrived fairly quickly. The broth was pretty good, with a nice creaminess that I enjoyed, and the noodles were cooked well. The egg yolk wasn’t as soft boiled as I would have preferred, but I did like that the chashu pork wasn’t as fatty as others I’ve encountered.

Let’s Grill Sushi

Tonkotsu miso ramen

As for the sides, the karaage was a decent sized portion, though it could have been crispier. Linda enjoyed her sashimi well enough.

Let’s Grill Sushi

Chicken karaage and yellowtail sashimi

Service was friendly, perhaps so much so that it was only after we left the restaurant that Linda and I realized that we were never served our combo beverages!

Overall, I had a positive enough experience that I wouldn’t hesitate to return to Let’s Grill for ramen again. Hurrah for more noodle options in the core!

Let’s Grill Sushi and Izakaya
10709 Jasper Avenue
(780) 244-1880

Preview: DOSC opens on 104 Street

Late last year, the Journal published an article about seemingly “cursed” spaces in Edmonton, where restaurants can never seem to stick. One of the storefronts included in this inventory was the historic Metals Building on 104 Street, which has seen four failed attempts in the last five years. On July 22, 2018, DOSC (the abbreviated name for Drunken Ox Sober Cat), hopes to finally reverse the trend.

DOSC

DOSC

I was among a small group of people invited to a media preview on Friday, to not only sample some of their food but to also be among the first to see the product of their extensive renovations. The pedigree of the folks behind DOSC is strong. The team is led by Isaac Choi of Japonais Bistro and Dorinku, and Jake Lee of Seoul Fried Chicken. Their restaurants have been lauded for their quality and consistency, and in the case of SFC, for its economical pricing. Although these previous successes have focused on Japanese and Korean cuisines, Jake indicated that the inspiration behind the food at DOSC is pan-Canadian, with representation on the large 50+ item menu ranging from British (think liver and onions) to French Canadian (tourtiere). In the mix as well is Mexican influence from Executive Chef Israel Alvarez (of COMAL Taco Therapy fame), with items such as tostadas and barbacoa-style brisket also making appearances on the menu.

DOSC

Brisket, wrapped in banana leaves and cooked sous vide for 15 hours

DOSC bills itself as a steakhouse, but in that labelling much about their ambitious concept is lost. Not unlike Holy Roller, they plan to be open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, an attempt to gain some of the market share in a neighbourhood already known as a coffee district, while also appealing to those venturing on to Rogers Place in the evening (the central bar is decked out in copper and blue). Notably, the restaurant has received a permit to build a new entrance facing 104 Street, which they will undertake next year.

DOSC

DOSC bar

Walking in, diners are greeted with the “Sober Cat” concept, a beautifully rendered coffee bar surrounded by plush seating. During the day, the area will be flooded with natural light , making it an attractive space for work and meetings alike. Their coffee program was headed by Rogue Wave, who supplies the beans and led the training of their baristas. I’m perhaps most excited about their breakfast menu, with house-made breads featured alongside tableside scrambled eggs and bacon sliced and cooked to the diner’s preference (thick or thin, tender or crispy). These hot items will be supplemented by house-made pastries, yogurt, and granola.

DOSC

Sober Cat

The “Drunken Ox” concept is comprised of a whisky lounge and the aforementioned steakhouse. The standard meat and potatoes have been given an upgrade at DOSC. While steaks can be ordered in 3, 6, and 9 oz. portions, and a variety of sides are available, it’s the type of meats available that really sets them apart.

Diners can expect cuts not found at other steakhouses, primarily because the restaurant is committed to a nose-to-tail philosophy. Case in point was the beef tongue, cooked sous vide until tender and charred, complemented well with a salsa verde and tomatillo.

DOSC

Beef tongue, with charred salsa verde, tomatillo, smoked tongue oil

On the higher end, DOSC is importing Miyazaki wagyu from Japan. For our taste of this luxury we were each given a slice to sear ourselves on a hot stone, dressed simply with a house made horseradish and volcanic salt. The marbling was unparalleled, and the meat melted away on the tongue.

DOSC

Miyazaki chuck wagyu, with “horse with a rash”, volcanic salt

The sides are also elevated, with their fries, for instance, first coated with whole wheat, flash frozen, then fried to a crisp. The marrow mash that we sampled was one of the highlights of the night, rich, dense and whipped to silky smooth perfection.

DOSC

Marrow mash, with yukon gold potato, bone marrow, and wheatgrass, parsley, and arugula oil

I happen to live in the condo next to the Metals Building, and have been impatiently waiting for a more permanent fixture to open. Only time will tell if DOSC is it, but I wish them the best of luck, and a warm welcome to 104 Street!

Thanks again to DOSC for a wonderful evening! Check out Crystal’s blog for another perspective of the event.

DOSC (opening July 22, 2018)
10190 104 Street
(780) 540-0606

2018 Taste of Edmonton Preview

It’s that time again – Taste of Edmonton is back next week! There are some changes afoot to the festival this year, namely, a new location. Due to the construction around Churchill Square, Taste has relocated to Capital Plaza at 99 Avenue and 108 Street (near the Legislature). In addition, the 10 day festival has expanded to 12 days this year, running from July 18-29, 2018, giving diners an extra two days to sample their way through the over 100 food items on the menu (41 of them new!).

Last week, I was invited to preview some of the new items that will be served at this year’s festival. The restaurants we visited are all new to Taste of Edmonton, and are among the 11 first time participants.

We started off downtown at Wishbone, where we sampled both of the items that they will be serving. The spicy fried chicken sandwich is a smaller version of a popular lunch item, featuring marinated chicken thighs battered, fried, and tossed in their house gojuchang hot sauce. The meat was crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, with just the right amount of heat; it was my favourite of the dishes we tried that day.

Taste of Edmonton Preview

Spicy fried chicken sandwich from Wishbone

Wishbone’s second item is a summer festival staple – fried dough. Their version are buttermilk beignets, bite sized and dusted with powdered sugar. Like their chicken sandwich, I think this will be well received by the crowds at Taste – easy to eat, good flavour, and deep fried.

Taste of Edmonton Preview

Buttermilk beignets from Wishbone

Our next stop was Wildflower Grill. Some may remember that last year, the restaurant changed hands and installed a new chef. Even with the personnel change, however, Wildflower maintained some Asian fusion influence on its menu, particularly evident in what we were served that night.

The Taste of Edmonton item that we sampled was easily the most complex that we tried – an Adobo pork belly with house kimchi, garlic rice, a 64 degree egg yolk and puffed wild rice. It was an enjoyable dish to be sure (the pork belly was deliciously crispy, and given an unctuous boost from the yolk), but from the outset, it does seem like an ambitious plate to churn out at a high pace. I do like that it will showcase the fine dining side of Wildflower, however.

Taste of Edmonton Preview

Adobo pork belly from Wildflower Grill

We were also treated to the night’s feature bao, something that is offered daily at Wildflower. That night, it involved an unlikely but interesting combination of seared albacore tuna and strawberries. I would not have thought those ingredients would work together, but they did.

Taste of Edmonton Preview

Albacore tuna bao from Wildflower Grill

Next, we headed south to Loma House Vegetarian Express. A vegetarian restaurant in the same vein as Padmanadi, they also incorporate soy-based meat alternatives on their menu. To start, we tried their vegetarian tacos. While these are not being served at Taste, it gave us a good idea of the types of dishes they serve. While I liked the crispness of the fried wonton shell as its base, it was a bit difficult to eat without all of the toppings falling off.

Taste of Edmonton

Vegetarian taco from Loma House

The Taste item we sampled had a playful presentation. Five deep fried sweet potato balls were served in a waffle cone, topped with coconut whipped cream and chocolate sauce. The sweet potato was deceptively filling, and not too sweet on their own.

Taste of Edmonton Preview

Sweet potato balls from Loma House

Our final stop of the night was the Southgate location of Wine and Beyond. The renovated store opened last September, but I hadn’t yet been. Wine & Beyond will be putting together the wine and beverage pairings for the Taste 2 Remember chef dinners, in addition to sponsoring the entertainment stage. We sampled a few different wines (which was definitely a treat for me, given I’ve severely limited my alcohol uptake).

Taste of Edmonton

May and I enjoying ourselves!

Thanks again to the Taste of Edmonton staff and Big E Tours for hosting a wonderful evening!

Taste of Edmonton runs July 18-29, 2018. A reminder that advance tickets are available until July 18 at a savings of $10 per sheet (40 tickets for $57).

The Return of the Secret Garden: Bodega 124 Street

When the Dish and the Runaway Spoon announced the closure of their restaurant at the end of 2016, I mourned the loss of one of Edmonton’s most unique patios. The “secret garden”, as it was known, was tucked behind the back of the building and only accessible through an adjacent gate. Shielded from the traffic noise of Stony Plain Road, the combination of the pergola, hanging plants, and the shelter of a fully grown tree created the feeling of an oasis in the middle of the city. When it was announced that Bodega would be taking over the space (opening their third location to join the original Downtown and the second in Highlands), I was glad that they also decided to reopen the patio as well.

Two weeks ago, I met up with some girlfriends at Bodega 124 Street for brunch, which we enjoyed outside on the patio. Although the furniture and planters have been refreshed, it appears that not much else has changed, and the space is as charming as I remember.

Bodega 124 Street

Bodega’s secret garden

It so happened that same weekend the restaurant had a special 3 course Prairie on a Plate menu, so we were fortunate to also see how Chef Lino Oliveira would choose to showcase some Alberta products for the very reasonable price of $25 (as Sharman noted in her post, he incorporated Alberta canola, eggs, milk, pulses, turkey, and pork).

The menu offered three mains to choose from. It seemed brunch here has changed somewhat since the restaurant opened back in January. Originally, Bodega 124 Street offered many brunch plates (similar to the menu at Bodega Highlands I had tried last year), but as so many diners were requesting their tapas menu, by popular demand, they now offer their full tapas menu supplemented by a trio of brunch specials. Although this particular menu incorporated local products, the server did share that the mains were pretty typical of what they would serve any other weekend.

A note on their coffee (which I consider a brunch necessity) – when we ordered coffee, the server informed us that they were brewing French vanilla. I typically avoid flavoured coffees as the additives are usually trying to compensate for a poor quality bean. In this case, I did find the coffee a bit thin and sub-par; perhaps this was just a one-off for Bodega, but my hope would be that they adopt the same standards for their coffee as they would for their other ingredients.

The first course was a two-bite appetizer featuring a slice of Winding Road’s RDB cheese and quince marmalade on bread. The flavours paired nicely together, the sweetness of the quince balancing out the more pungent notes in the cheese.

Bodega 124 Street

RDB cheese and quince marmalade on bread

Of the three mains, May’s crispy turkey was the unquestionable winner. Two generous pieces of turkey, breaded with cornflakes and chickpeas and fried, served with a a potato and bell pepper hash and a side salad. The turkey was deliciously crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside.

Bodega 124 Street

Crispy turkey

Annie’s enjoyed her choice of potato wrapped braised pork cheeks – I had a bite of the pork which was nicely cooked.

Bodega 124 Street

Potato wrapped braised pork cheeks

I had ordered the coca verduras, which had been described by the server as somewhat similar to a pizza, with a Spanish flatbread acting as the crust, and another appearance of Winding Road cheese – this time, the fromage blanc and Josef. Although I liked the toppings well enough (the slight tang of the vegetables, and perfectly soft poached eggs), the dough was much too dense and weighed down the dish overall.

Bodega 124 Street

Coca verduras

For dessert, we were served a warm Portuguese custard tart with a sprinkling of cinnamon. I confess I was already much too full, and had to pack it up for later.

Bodega 124 Street

Portuguese custard tarts

Service was excellent, especially given we were (surprisingly!), the only party on the patio for most of our meal. We never felt rushed, and our server did a great job to make sure our needs were taken care of.

I’d be eager to return to Bodega for a glass of wine and some tapas, which, enjoyed out on that special patio, would surely taste even better on a warm summer evening.

Bodega 124 Street
12417 Stony Plain Road
(780) 250-6066
Sunday-Thursday 11am-11pm, Friday-Saturday 11am-1am (brunch Saturday-Sunday 11am-2pm)

Food with a Purpose: The Hallway Cafe

With Emily in tow for meals, Mack and I have had to be more thoughtful with restaurant selections. Many of the places we frequented prior are inaccessible with baby – narrow aisles, small gaps between tables, and stairs make it difficult to accommodate a stroller, not to mention not all welcome children or are child friendly. While we have made it a priority to have date nights with just the two of us, the reality is much of our dining future will have to factor in how well suited they are for kids.

One of the most recent restaurants I’ve discovered that fits this bill is the newly renovated Hallway Café (formerly Kids in the Hall). Located in City Hall, it is central, but hard to stumble upon, with only window signage to rely on, and daytime hours of 7am-3:30pm on weekdays.

The Hallway Cafe

Interior

If you were familiar with the previous design, it’s safe to say the interior has been completely refreshed while still making the most of the prominent wall of windows. Most groupings of tables and chairs are enclosed by brightly coloured metal frames resembling greenhouses with built-in planters. The structures are a fun but functional way of visually breaking up the space while sacrificing none of the natural light that filters into the room. I also much appreciated the wide aisles that are very accommodating to strollers. Opposite the windows is an open kitchen, allowing diners to observe the food prep action, important because the restaurant has retained its foundation as a social enterprise that provides skills training to vulnerable youth.

The Hallway Cafe

Lots of room for Emily!

E4C operates The Hallway Café as a program that works with individuals aged 16 to 24. After screening applicants to ensure they have the stability necessary for success, the 17 week program teaches modules in hospitality and kitchen skills, with hands-on experience at the Café where they are paid minimum wage plus tips; the program ends with a job placement.

The food is not secondary at The Hallway Café, with coffee and freshly baked goods for those seeking a light snack, and full breakfast and lunch plates for those with heartier appetites. It’s worth mentioning that the prices are very reasonable – for instance, a standard breakfast with two eggs, bacon, potatoes and toast is just $9, while pizzas range from $9-10. I’ve had lunch here twice with Emily since April, and enjoyed both experiences.

Back in April, I had the chicken panini ($8), with a side of house-cut Kennebec fries ($3). This was my favourite of the two meals; the sandwich, on house made focaccia, was quite generously sized. The chicken was complemented well by the blueberry and Dijon aioli, spinach, and spicy jack cheese, and the bread was fresh and nicely toasted. The fries, however, were the star for me, tossed in their house seasoning and incredibly crispy and addictive.

The Hallway Cafe

Chicken panini and fries

My friend Su ordered the pizza con patate, and said she enjoyed the thin crust topped with potatoes, rosemary, caramelized onions and grana padano and goat cheese.

The Hallway Cafe

Pizza con patate

I was looking forward to those fries when I returned with a friend to the Hallway in June, to be consumed alongside the Philly cheese steak ($10), but they were sadly out. That said, it was a good opportunity to try their kale salad on the side ($4). Topped with beets and goat cheese, it was a heartier salad than most. The sandwich was tasty enough, with grilled red onions and roasted peppers adding interest. The beef was on the dry side though, and benefited from the melted cheese.

The Hallway Cafe

Philly cheese steak and kale salad

Service (like many establishments these days – food is ordered at the counter then bussed to the table) was friendly, and the kitchen kept up with the pace even as the lunch rushes hit.

I’m glad to have found The Hallway Café – the program is worth supporting, but it’s the food and the surroundings that are going to bring me back again and again!