Edmonton Opera Brunch: “Les Contes d’Hoffmann”

Two Sundays ago Mack and I were invited as guests to attend Edmonton Opera’s Opera Brunch for its upcoming mainstage production of Les Contes d’Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffman). Though we’ve attended the opera and related events before (most recently, Storm the Stage last fall), this was our first time attending an event that would introduce us, in recital format, to the artists that would be performing in the show.

Held in one of the banquet rooms at the Sutton Place Hotel, we were told that the buffet brunch would feature some dishes inspired by the production – namely, the circus setting where this production of Hoffman takes place. We were looking forward to seeing what the kitchen had in store.

Opera Brunch

Table setting

The first few chafing dishes revealed some summer fair favourites, including soft pretzels, corn dogs, fries and popcorn. But for those who wanted more traditional breakfast and lunch dishes, there was an overwhelming amount to choose from, ranging from eggs benedict, sausages and bacon to cold salads, roast chicken and perogies.

Opera BrunchOpera Brunch

It became obvious that some items fared better than others in the chafing dishes – the scrambled eggs remained fluffy and light, while poached eggs became overcooked, for example. The throwback to circus fare was also a mixed bag – we weren’t convinced the kitchen handmade the pretzels (and if they had, why wouldn’t they have sized them down into half or quarter portions?), while the corn dogs were of the Pogo variety. I have to say the kitchen disappointed me that day – given we were told the food would be connected to the opera’s theme, I didn’t expect these feature dishes to come from a box.

Opera Brunch

Mack’s plate

The service staff, on the other hand, were fabulous from beginning to end. We started out the morning with a mimosa (the champagne was topped up generously), and the coffee kept on coming.

The performances began about an hour into the event. We would be treated to a total of ten songs, as well as some words from the Director, Designer and Maestro of Hoffman.

Opera is often said to be pretentious, or at least inaccessible. Part of that is the language of opera, to be sure, but part of it too may be the physical distance between the players and the audience. Compared with a smaller, more intimate theatre production, it can be more difficult to connect with the performers. For me, the Opera Brunch helped erase some of that distance.

Opera Brunch

Teiya Kasahara dashed into the audience

Each of the ten artists chose to sing a song of their choosing, and many of them, surprisingly, were in English – no need for supertitles here! Before starting their song, they provided the audience with a bit of context (the scene preceding the song, the general storyline of the opera), so we were able to understand the character’s frame of mind, or the humour in the lyrics. What amazed me, sitting so close to the stage, was seeing the theatricality of the performers; their physical transformation into the character as soon as the music began – a hunch, a scowl – was a subtlety that sitting in the rafters at the Jubilee, I would never have noticed. And I don’t think anyone will disagree that the finale from Hoffman himself, David Pomeroy, who performed “Danny Boy”, was so wrought with emotion that there were more than a few handkerchiefs out at its conclusion.

Opera Brunch

Krisztina Szabo on stage

We also relished the opportunity to find out more about Hoffman, from the words of those working on it behind the scenes. The passion from Director Joel Ivany in particular was evident, as he described the difference between opera in North America and in Europe – in the former, it is presented as entertainment, in the latter, it is discussed and debated in the culture pages. As Ivany shared his vision for the opera, it convinced us that we should go and see Hoffman – I’m curious to see how the opera manifests itself.

All told, the Opera Brunch was the best Edmonton Opera event I’ve ever attended. We were able to learn more about the forthcoming production, get to know the artists a bit more and listen to some wonderful music, all in an informal setting. I know the EO has tried to target a younger audience with the Explorer’s Club and Storm the Stage, but I think the framework of this event, transposed into an evening wine and cheese, would do more to help those 18-35 connect with opera.

Thanks again to Edmonton Opera for the invitation!

Les Contes d’Hoffmann runs at the Jubilee Auditorium on February 1, 3, 5 and 7, 2013.

Eat, Drink and Be Early: Toronto Highlights

I’m still amazed at how much we managed to pack in during our short trip to Toronto back in May. It helps, of course, that on one of the days, we were already up and at ‘em by 7 a.m. Vacation? What vacation?

Aunties and Uncles

Mack and I only had one occasion to take in brunch during the trip, and we probably picked the absolute worst day to do so: Mother’s Day. Getting a reservation was near impossible, so after some research, we chose the walk-in only Aunties and Uncles (voted best brunch by Blog T.O. last year).

By the time we arrived, the line was forty-five minutes strong. It is a small restaurant, but in the summer, the patio seating easily doubles the number of tables.

Aunties and Uncles

The Mothers’s Day line

We were fortunate to get an al fresco seat, shaded by a large umbrella. In the early afternoon warmth, it was outdoor dining that wasn’t yet possible in Edmonton at the time.

Aunties and Uncles

Mack on the patio!

The food was well worth the wait. My omelette was chock full of rapini, tomatoes and smoked gouda, and the hash was nicely charred. The sweet and springy sesame-crusted challah was no doubt the start of the plate, however. Mack equally enjoyed his breakfast burger, with a homemade beef patty topped with brie, bacon and (his favourite), a fried egg. It was served on the same challah.

Aunties and Uncles


Aunties and Uncles

Breakfast burger

Service was better during the first half of our meal – our coffee refills dropped off after that. Even still, I’d recommend Aunties and Uncles for brunch in Toronto– those lines don’t lie!

Steamwhistle Brewery

Besides Alley Kat’s Charlie Flint, the only other beer consistently in our fridge is Steamwhistle. Made in Toronto, we didn’t have the time last year to visit the brewery, so we made sure to include it on our itinerary on this trip.


The Roundhouse

Located in a former locomotive roundhouse, the area surrounding the facility is beautiful, a swath of green in amongst high rises and skyscrapers. There was even a small playground behind the building, situated just beneath one of the country’s busiest roadways. We eventually learned that the City at one point had wanted to demolish the historic building to make way for a convention centre parkade. But Council had the foresight to prevent this, and compromised– the parkade was constructed underground, and the building reconstructed brick by brick over top.



We managed to get tickets for the day’s final tour. At $10 a pop, the ticket included not one, but two beers, plus a souvenir glass or bottle opener. While waiting for the tour, we explored the event space, which is used often for concerts, weddings, and food truck events. I loved its raw, industrial edge, and while I haven’t been inside the Mercer Tavern yet, I am hoping it has a similar vibe.


In the tasting room

I enjoyed hearing about the history of the brewery, including its origins. Steamwhistle was started by three fired guys from the Upper Canada Brewery after it was purchased by Molson (etched on the bottom of each bottle is “3FG”as a reminder of its beginnings).


Free sample

Steamwhistle brews all of its beers in this building, with a volume of approximately 81,000 bottles per day (interestingly enough, our tour guide wasn’t able to compare this with the volume produced by a multi-national company).


Bottling area

We also learned that they had an actual working steamwhistle, which two lucky tour-goers got to pull. The beer’s namesake relates to the steamwhistle sound they wanted to echo through the streets of downtown Toronto to trumpet quittin’ time.



It’s always interesting to see how a product gets on the shelves, and it gives us a bit more appreciation for our fridge staple.

Centre Island

Mack and Amanda will tell you that it was a not-so-pleasant wakeup call the day we intended to check out the Toronto Islands. Because Mack had to be back downtown for his early afternoon conference start time, we knew our window of opportunity was short, and hence, planned to catch the first ferry out. Our walk from our hotel to the ferry stop was a frantic one, dodging commuters on busy streets and narrow sidewalks. But, our tale ends well and we reached the dock in time to catch our ferry.

Centre Island

On the ferry

The Toronto Islands, with its limited real estate, vehicle ban, and need for ferry access makes it a bit of an idyllic, if isolated, community. Though we didn’t make it to the residential side of the islands, the number of bike-toting individuals that poured off the first ferry was astonishing. Here we were, in Canada’s largest city, with a sort-of hippie commune within arm’s reach!

Centre Island

Loved this sign!

The blessing of that first ferry was that we were among a very small group. As a result, once on the other side, it felt like we had the island to ourselves.

Centre Island

Mack also particularly enjoyed the city’s skyline as viewed from the Toronto Islands

The downside of visiting in May instead of June through September, however, is that many of the attractions, including the amusement park, were closed. Still, wandering the serene and lush, dew-sprinkled grounds were an attraction enough.

Centre Island

Centre Island

We did wander over to the beach on the other side, but still early, the mist and fog wouldn’t have made it an ideal time to spend on the sand or in the water.

We were also amazed at the amount of “wildlife” present all around Centre Island, from aggressive sparrows to fearless ducks, graceful swans and innumerable geese. And let’s not forget Amanda’s favourite – snakes!

Centre Island


Centre Island

Amanda’s pet

Even the inanimate animals were fun, the highlight found in Franklin’s Garden.

Centre Island

Mack confronts Franklin

Centre Island

Amanda found a better pet

Toting a picnic basket and swim gear, visiting Centre Island could easily take up an entire day – children in tow or not. The few hours we spent were good enough for us though, especially since our wait for the return ferry saw at least a hundred people pile off – and we weren’t in an island sharing mood.


Guu came to us recommended by a random Toronto blog I came across. Edmonton is bereft of izakayas, and friends of mine who have lived in Japan constantly bemoan this fact. And while I don’t eat sushi, cooked Japanese tapas are right up my alley, so I was curious to see what a Japanese pub was all about.

That said, I wasn’t expecting the raucous welcome that we received. Anytime a guest entered, all staff turned to the door with a loud greeting of welcome. Similarly, anytime a guest was leaving the establishment, hollers of goodbye and thank you travelled with them. It took us a while to get used to the noise, but there is no doubt it creates a very spirited, joyful atmosphere. Mack commented that it really drew attention to how many parties come and go in a given night.


Mack and Amanda at Guu

The interior was made up of low wooden tables and stools, warmed by Edison bulbs and a bustling open kitchen (flames were seen on more than one occasion).



The sharing menu is perfect for large groups, and was great for first timers like us, as it gave us the chance to sample numerous dishes. Our server recommended seven dishes for a three top. The standouts included the sweet and spicy fried calamari and pan-fried pork cheek.


Sweet and spicy fried calamari


Pan-fried pork cheek

I expected the okonomiyaki to be crispier and less wobbly, and the agedashi tofu to have had a firmer exterior, though the dashi broth was great.




Agedashi tofu

Service was brisk, but matched the pace of the restaurant. I could definitely see myself returning on future visits, though it is the sort of place I would love to see in Edmonton. With the runaway success of Three Boars, other true small plates-focused eateries should be in the works. I think Edmonton is ready.

The No-Line Brunch: Wildflower Grill

When Amanda was in Edmonton for the Chinese New Year weekend, we decided to go for brunch as a family. We limited our options to places that accepted reservations (so we wouldn’t have to wait indefinitely to be seated, especially given our party of six), and ended up at Wildflower Grill.

I had brunch there once (albeit a few years ago), and it is definitely not the bustling Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives atmosphere that some prefer to ramp up the weekend with. Wildflower Grill offers a casually elegant and refined environment, which is relaxing in a different way.

That Sunday, we were led to a table immediately upon arrival. The restaurant was about half-full, with many parties, like us, made up of larger groups. Unfortunately, we had been seated out of the server’s eyesight, which may have contributed to the fact that we weren’t greeted for some time.

Eventually, the server made her way to our table, and we placed our beverage and food orders straightaway (as a precaution, just in case she was again called away for an extended period of time). We hoped to be proven wrong, but again, it took an unusually long time for our coffees to be delivered – a brunch deal breaker. Thankfully, our server was great in refilling the French press, so we were never without a full pot of coffee on the table.

To tide us over until our dishes arrived, we were served a warm-from-the-oven corn bread with some citrus maple butter. Although Wildflower’s brioche bread will always remain one of my favourites, this was a very close second – dense and slightly sweet.

Wildflower Grill

Corn bread

Our dishes arrived in a flurry, and everyone in my family appreciated the plating. My Mum, Felicia and Mack had all ordered the eggs benedict two ways ($15), featuring one red wine poached served with back bacon, and a saffron poached egg over hickory pear glazed chicken. The eggs were cooked inconsistently; most of them were medium and not soft-poached. Mack enjoyed the back bacon version more, as the chicken was overcooked and dry.

Wildflower Grill

Eggs benedict two ways

Amanda liked her Spanish skillet ($13) of scrambled eggs, potato pave and chorizo wrapped inside corn tortillas enough, but had a bit of dish envy, as she didn’t get the same side of cheesy potatoes that the rest of us had (they were a favourite around the table). She did appreciate the fruit cup though.

Wildflower Grill

Spanish skillet

I had chosen the brioche bread pudding French toast ($14), which was crowned with a generous amount of fresh fruit and grand marnier raisins – it was like having dessert for breakfast! Each slice was moist and dense, but I probably could have done with just two slices because of how rich they were.

Wildflower Grill

Brioche bread pudding French toast

We had the option of actually ordering dessert bites (at $4.50 a pop), but all of us were too stuffed for another course – and to answer to that, they actually had a “cookies to go” program, which was a neat idea.

Although the food and service wasn’t consistent with our previous experiences at Wildflower Grill, for a reasonably-priced brunch without the need to rush or jostle with others in line, I would return again.

Wildflower Grill
10009 107 Street
(780) 990-1938
Lunch: Monday – Friday 11am-2pm; Dinner: Sunday – Thursday 4:30
-10pm, Friday – Saturday 4:30-11pm; Brunch: Sunday 11am-2pm

An Afternoon in Old Strathcona

Mack had a meeting on Saturday afternoon in Old Strathcona, so we decided that it would be a good excuse to spend part of the day there – have brunch, check out the market, go window shopping.

Whyte Avenue

It was such a beautiful fall day, perfect for a stroll. I also love the nuggets that only pedestrians are privy to, such as this sandwich board in front of O’Byrne’s:

Whyte Avenue

We started off the day with brunch at Artisan Resto-Cafe. A 2-for-1 coupon for the restaurant was burning a hole through my wallet with its impending expiry date, so it meant a re-visit was in order – we haven’t been back since we had brunch there almost two years ago.

Unfortunately, it was not a good experience, one plagued with amateur mistakes that cannot be justified by a veteran establishment. It all started with a chaotic front of house. Although a “please wait to be seated” sign seemed to signal that a staff person would be greeting incoming diners, until we stepped up and waived down a server, we received no acknowledgement. Worst of all, without an orderly system, a party of three ended up being seated in front of three other groups that had arrived before them, us included.

After about fifteen minutes, we were ushered to a table with apologies. I know the server did her best, but after forgetting to bring milk for our coffee twice, then failing to refill out coffee at all once our food arrived, it didn’t exactly make up for their poor initial impression.

Our order took about twenty minutes to arrive, but…both of our plates were delicious! Tasty to the point where we really had to shake our heads at the service – the kitchen deserves better! My eggs were creamy, the potatoes fried to a lovely crisp, and the pancake (as it was last time), is one of the best I’ve had in the city.

Artisan Resto-Cafe

Country Harvest

Artisan Resto-Cafe

Bacon and cheddar omelette

Since brunch took a lot longer than either of us had anticipated, we had to split up – Mack headed to his meeting, and I walked over to the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market.

Old Strathcona Farmers' Market


I haven’t been to the OSFM since March, when the City Market set-up shop in City Hall earlier this year until the transition to the street. It’s always nice to visit though, especially since it is the permanent home of some vendors like Peas on Earth and August Organics who I don’t get to shop from.

Old Strathcona Farmers' Market

It really was all about pumpkins at the market on Saturday – from mini pumpkins to those just waiting to be carved into jack-o’-lanterns to absolutely massive “show” pumpkins.

Old Strathcona Farmers' Market

Mini pumpkins from Peas on Earth

Old Strathcona Farmers' Market

Pumpkins from August Organics

Old Strathcona Farmers' Market

Massive pumpkins from Riverbend Gardens

I also stopped by to chat with Sarah of Belua Designs, and found out that she will be reaching an important milestone soon: 10,000 monsters! She isn’t sure when that 10,000th adoption will take place, but when it does, there may be balloons and confetti to celebrate!

Belua Designs

Belua Designs

The warmer weather was perfect for outdoor concessions – Molly’s Eats, Eva Sweet, Fat Franks and the kettle corn trucks were out in full force. But apparently in recent weeks the OSFM concession has revamped their menu to feature dishes that source products from market vendors. I’ve heard nothing but good things – when I’m not so stuffed, I’ll have to check it out next time!

Old Strathcona Farmers' Market


After some window shopping, I took the bus back home. Before leaving, I couldn’t resist taking a picture of the newly finished (?) Palomar Building. The signage looks great – it makes me want to come back in the evening to see what they look like lit up!


Hope you enjoyed your Saturday as well!

The No Line Brunch: Big Fish

In perusing Chowhound threads to determine a brunch spot while in Calgary last month, I came across the suggestion of Big Fish, a restaurant run by the same folks behind the ever-popular Diner Deluxe. Posters commented about the restaurant’s under-the-radar quality, meaning that one could snag a seat without a gratuitous wait. We were sold.

Arriving at Big Fish on a Saturday morning, we got exactly what we expected – a table upon arrival. (other pluses – the restaurant has a decent-sized parking lot, and even takes reservations). There were two other parties when we sat down, but the restaurant was no more than half-full during our stay.

Big Fish


The dining room was flush with natural light, and cozy, with well-worn wooden furniture. I could easily see why the family seated behind us had chosen this as the venue for a birthday celebration – in many ways, it felt like eating in a friend’s kitchen, laid-back and comfortable. The service mirrored the room, friendly but relaxed (and our coffee mugs were never empty!).

In spite of the restaurant’s name, Big Fish does have a few brunch options devoid of seafood. I chose two of them. First, the wild mushroom, truffle, basil and white cheddar scramble on duck confit hash ($15). It was a rich, filling dish (my first time enjoying duck for breakfast), with a generous cap of melted cheese on top. The pea shoots were a nice touch, but I was hoping for something more than smashed, boiled potatoes for the hash.

Big Fish

Wild mushroom, truffle, basil and white cheddar scramble on duck confit hash

The second was due to my indecisiveness, and a bit of a Gilmore Girls moment – the Urban Baker raisin brioche French toast with orange curd and maple syrup sounded too good to pass up, and the server said it was all right to order just a slice. And yes, it was worth the indulgence, the citrus providing just the right burst of freshness to balance out the butter and syrup.

Big Fish

French toast with orange curd and maple syrup

Mack ordered the eggs benedict with dungeness crab ($14). Like me, he would have preferred crispy potatoes, but he did say that the smashed potatoes willingly soaked up the runny yolks. And the most telling picture of all: he finished his plate.

Big Fish

Eggs benedict with dungeness crab

It’s odd, the line that separates brunch from lunch. While that line is formed to some degree by the time of day, day of the week, and menu items, atmosphere also plays a big factor, at least for us.  Though the food was solid at Big Fish, the space just didn’t have that buzz, that intangible weekend zest for life that our favourite restaurants do. Half the fun of brunch is the people-watching, after all! For that reason, though it’s probably not rational to choose line-ups over reservations, unless we needed to secure a table in advance, you’ll likely find us back at Dairy Lane or Over Easy instead.

Big Fish
1112 Edmonton Trail Northeast
(403) 277-3403

Day 3 in San Francisco: The Land of Queues

Given that tourism is San Francisco’s number one industry, it’s expected that line-ups are rampant at all major attractions. On day three of our trip however, it was also a theme at most of our dining choices – not surprising given the city’s reputation of good food.

The day started off quite overcast, threatening rain. But nothing would stop us from completing our first mission that day: eating a hearty breakfast. Knowing there was no food service at Alcatraz, I thought it would be best to fill up before heading off to the island, and everything pointed to Mama’s on Washington Square.

The plan was to arrive right when the café opened at 8, but though we hoofed it, we found that a line of a half dozen hungry patrons had already formed outside the restaurant at 8:20am (darn those ‘Friscans and their early starts!).

Mama's on Washington Square

The line-up when we left

The restaurant had an odd set-up that eliminated the need for waiters – it was efficient but cruel. Instead of ordering after being seated, Mama’s is set-up so that diners line up alongside their open kitchen, watching the line cooks at the flat top and the baker at his station. It was hard enough not to salivate, let alone quell hunger pangs.

Mama's on Washington Square

The baker at work

After about a half hour, we made it to the head of the line, placed our order with the cashier, and were led to a cozy table. In no time, after two sips of the disastrously bad coffee (really, the only poor thing about Mama’s) our food was brought to us, piping hot.

Mama's on Washington Square

Western Italian omelette

My Western Italian omelette ($10.50) was packed with roasted tomatoes, mushrooms, cheese and pancetta (which was unfortunately not crispy). The eggs were noticeably fluffy though, and the portion extremely generous. The potatoes were also well-prepared. Mack enjoyed his eggs benedict with roasted tomatoes ($10.50) – difficult not to when it is served with crackly bacon.

Mama's on Washington Square

Eggs benedict

Service was warm (the servers made sure to wish those leaving with a “thank you”, even as they bustled to clean tables and seat other parties. Be sure to check it out if you’re looking for a good brunch in San Francisco!

Then we were off to Pier 33, to hop on a ferry to cruise to the cursed, storied prison. We had pre-purchased tickets on the website, but it turned out on that gloomy day that advanced planning wasn’t necessary.

Though only five minutes away from Fisherman’s Wharf, it seemed like a world away – instead of a carnival atmosphere, it felt muted and bleak (the miserable weather didn’t help much either). Waiting for our turn on the ferry also felt a bit like herding cats, between the barricades, divided line-ups and stern National Park staff.

San Francisco

Bye, mainland!

After a quick but rocky fifteen minute cruise, we were there. Alcatraz is larger than life, immortalized on the silver screen, and with more myths than you can shake a stick at.


Cell tiers

And yet, Alcatraz held its own during our visit. I think it mostly had to do with the audio tour – voices of former inmates, prison staff and families who lived on the island guiding us through the building, explaining the day-to-day grind, the isolation wards, the insurgent movements. The background noises as each scene was being described – the tinkering in the lunch room, the shouts in the cell blocks – coupled with the physicality of walking through the spaces, really made the history come alive.


Shower area


A single cell


Mack behind bars


Kitchen (with shadows indicating where sharp objects should go so it was easy to know if something was missing)

The only tickets that had been sold out for weeks were for the night tours. After our day trip, I was glad we didn’t have the chance to visit after dark – I’m certain I wouldn’t have been able to handle the chills.


Burned out warden’s residence


Yes, it was that windy

Back on the mainland, Mack was already anticipating our first taste of In-N-Out Burger, the famed west coast fast food chain. There is much to admire about In-N-Out: they pay staff a living wage and they are committed to using only fresh ingredients (never frozen beef, potatoes they peel in-store).

Our order of two combos was speedily prepared (they had separate order and pick-up counters), and cost only moderately more than their quick-serve counterparts ($13). The meal looked appealing, and tasted okay, but I couldn’t see what the hype was about – the burger was on the greasy side, and though Mack liked the fact that you could salt the fries on your own accord, he still preferred McDonald’s fries.


Our meal

Coit Tower was next on our agenda, another tourist destination within walking distance of Pier 39. Another fairly steep hill meant we almost immediately worked off the grease consumed at lunch, but I didn’t mind it – I loved any opportunity to explore the residential neighbourhoods, fascinated by the lack of space between houses, and the steep garage gradients.

Coit Tower

Coit Tower

Coit Tower stands 210 feet tall. The price of the elevator ride to the top was $5, operated by a young man who joked that he took the vertical route 1264 times a day. Though not the highest structure in the city, it did provide a panoramic view, and perhaps more interestingly, a peek of some of the rooftop luxuries afforded in a city with a mild climate – pools, gardens, patios and the like.

Coit Tower

Downtown SF

Coit Tower

Piers and the Bay Bridge

We also discovered just how small the world is – we ran into another Edmonton couple at the top, who were vacationing in SF as a part of their honeymoon.

Coit Tower

Thanks to Allison for taking this photo!

At the base of the Tower are beautiful murals, depicting various scenes of life. I liked this one:

Coit Tower

Orange picking!

On our way to the Embarcadero, we stumbled across the Filbert Steps. It was one of my favourite discoveries, and to me, more of a must-see than Lombard Street.

Filbert Steps

More green than your eye can see

Filbert Steps


It was gorgeous – lush, bursting with flora and fauna, it felt like we were taking a tour of someone’s private garden. Similar to Lombard though, residential houses lined the tiered levels – it still strikes me as peculiar to have a tourist attraction on your doorstep.

Filbert Steps

Tiered garden

Filbert Steps

People live here!

We made our way down the stairs, and to the Ferry Building. We knew we would be back to this hub of produce, food and drink again, but I had wanted to see it on a sans-farmers’ market day.

Most of the shops were near closing, so we didn’t have much time to browse. After picking up a pound of coffee from Blue Bottle, we swung by Cowgirl Creamery and picked up a $20 tourist pack of cheese. It included three varieties and a cheese knife, which we thought would be perfect to take along with us for lunch during our winery tour the next day.

Ferry Building

Cowgirl Creamery

Just before they closed their gates, we ducked into Boccolone for their infamous “meat in a cup” salumi cone ($3.50).

Ferry Building

Salumi cone from Boccolone

For dinner, we had decided upon The Slanted Door, a friend’s recommendation – it is a restaurant known for its modern take on Vietnamese food, and sourcing of local products and ecologically-farmed meat. We didn’t have reservations, but given it was a Tuesday, we didn’t think we’d have any problem getting in. We were wrong.

The dining room was full for the evening, and the lounge was packed. Though seats were available in the lounge, we were told only an abbreviated menu would be available to us there – in order to access the full menu, we’d have to snag a seat at the coveted bar (something that was a bit comical to us, since the bar was literally two steps away). The lounge servers were great though – they took pity on us and offered us tips on how to get seats at the bar – and thankfully, after some hovering, we were successful.

Service was excellent – our bartender/server was friendly and easygoing, and was a touchstone of calm in the frenzied restaurant (over the course of the evening, the lounge became standing room only, with a group of patrons immediately behind us trying to have a conversation over the din).

The Slanted Door

Slanted Door served me the best milk tea I’ve ever had

Our friend had recommended the daikon rice cakes ($12), something I probably wouldn’t have ordered on my own. I’m glad we did – the texture was fantastic, browned and crispy on the outside, with an almost fluffy interior. And I’m not usually a fan of daikon, so props to the chef!

The Slanted Door

Daikon rice cakes with shiitake mushrooms and shallots

The cellophane noodles with green onion and Dungeness crab meat ($18) was portioned well. The noodles were diner friendly, cut short for easy consumption, and the dish as a whole was perfectly seasoned.

The Slanted Door

Cellophane noodles with crab and green onion

I had read much online about the shaking beef ($32), a Vietnamese dish made from marinated filet mignon seared at very high heat. The meat, served with watercress, red onions and lime sauce, had a firm crust, but was nice and tender inside. Though we weren’t sure it was the showstopper it was meant to be, we did enjoy it.

The Slanted Door

Shaking beef

It’s worth noting that the receipt had a handy tip breakdown, listing amounts for 15% and 18% gratuities, based on our cheque total.

While Slanted Door was definitely a made-in-San Francisco experience, I’d recommend a reservation for a more leisurely dining experience.

San Francisco

Goodnight, San Francisco!

After dinner, we retired to our hotel, gearing up for a full day of wine.

Solid Brunch: Blue Chair Cafe

The Saturday before Christmas, Mack and I had brunch with Grandma Male at the Blue Chair Cafe. I’d been meaning to try the restaurant for brunch for some time, after having a positive experience on one of their music nights earlier this year. We were hoping a musician would be lighting up the atmosphere during our meal, but it turns out live music only takes place on Sunday mornings.

Blue Chair Cafe


Perhaps the lack of performers was linked to the empty restaurant when we walked in that Saturday, but truth be told, it was a pleasant change – the morning dash for tables at places like the High Level Diner or Urban Diner can be quite harrowing.  Two other parties eventually joined us in the restaurant; maybe they had the same idea for a stress-free breakfast followed by a trip to the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market.

Blue Chair Cafe

Love the bank of windows

With a dozen dishes on the brunch menu, including vegan and celiac-friendly options, we had a tough time deciding what to order. Mack eventually settled on the blueberry yogurt pancakes with maple alder-smoked bacon ($13.50), while Grandma Male chose the banana bread French toast ($13.50), and I opted for the basic benny ($13.50) with capicola ham and buckwheat sunflower bread.

My eggs benedict was fine, though I am probably not the best judge, given it isn’t a brunch dish I usually order – the eggs were poached well, the yolks still runny, and the bread was the hearty, grainy sort, my favourite. I also would have preferred crispy, home-style potatoes instead of the roasted baby potatoes. All of our dishes were served with a colourful side of fresh fruit, reminiscent of the New York Bagel Cafe.

Blue Chair Cafe

Basic benny

Grandma Male thoroughly enjoyed her banana bread French toast (something you’d think would be more common – such a great twist on a classic). The brown sugar finish was a nice touch, and the serving was so large she had leftovers to take home!

Blue Chair Cafe

Banana bread French toast

I had serious dish envy with Mack’s blueberry yogurt pancakes though. The pancakes were so light and fluffy, even more so than the usual buttermilk pancakes on restaurant menus. His serving was also quite large, but Mack managed to power through it, not a difficult task because  the dish was accompanied by super-crispy bacon, his favourite.

Blue Chair Cafe

Blueberry yogurt pancakes

I’d definitely return to Blue Chair Cafe in the future. Service was friendly and prompt, and the food was solid. Check it out if you haven’t already!

Blue Chair Cafe
9624 – 76 Avenue
(780) 989 – 2861
Monday – Sunday 10am-10pm

Recap: Weekend in Calgary

At the end of July, Mack and I decided to escape to Calgary for a weekend, eluding the boxes and avoiding the general chaos that surrounded us after the move. I had good intentions to write a series of posts about all of our epicurious encounters down south, but as you can guess, I put it off. I figured – better late than never, and better something than nothing at all.

Belmont Diner

It’s no secret that Mack and I adore diners. so it wasn’t a surprise that our first stop ended up being a diner.

Belmont Diner in Marda Loop had been on my hit list for some time (operated by the same people behind Galaxie Diner and Myhre’s Deli), and though our driving schedule meant we would reach our destination towards the end of their operating hours on Saturday, their all-day breakfast menu meant we wouldn’t be penalized for our late arrival.

Belmont Diner

Mack loves his Coke

Though we had a decent experience at Belmont, I think our visit to Galaxie Diner coloured our introduction to Belmont. The layout and menu were strikingly similar to Galaxie, and unfortunately, my burger ($10.75) was dry. Thankfully, the bottomless(!) hash browns saved the plate – though they don’t look like much, the slightly crispy potatoes were nicely seasoned with an interesting blend of spices.

Belmont Diner


Mack had better luck with his hearty “everything” Calgary sandwich ($12.25), which also included a side of bottomless hash browns.

Belmont Diner

Calgary sandwich

While we would eat at Belmont again if we were in the area, based on this meal, we wouldn’t go out of our way to return.

Phil & Sebastian Coffee Company

After lunch, we wandered into the nearby location of Phil & Sebastian. This storefront opened in late November 2009, and based on the excitement exuded by the food folks down south, it was evident Phil & Sebastian has long outgrown their original booth at the Calgary Farmers’ Market.

Phil & Sebastian Coffee

I love their packaging

There is no question is it an absolutely stunning space. With a high ceiling, a clean white and black colour scheme and interesting light fixtures (a huge, Pixar-like arm lamp near the door, and of-the-moment Edison bulbs), I wouldn’t think twice about relocating my mobile office here.

Phil & Sebastian Coffee

Phil & Sebastian at the Marda Loop


It’s hard not to salivate when reading about a 35 pound poutine, made with 3kg of cheese curds and fries simmered in duck fat. So although the family-style serving wouldn’t be in the cards for us, I knew a visit to Charcut would be, after reading Julie Van Rosendaal’s post.

Charcut opened in February in the swanky new Hotel Le Germain downtown, the name reflecting the “custom-built rotisserie and charbroiler” (char) and “featured vintage-style slicer and hand-crafted charcuterie eating bar” (cut). We would have loved to sit at the back of the restaurant, facing the kitchen (and the charcuterie cooler, complete with two pig’s heads), but they were unfortunately full that night.


How cute is the porcine paper clip?

I wasn’t too fond of the “ranch” touches in what could have been a sleek dining room – a cow mural, wooden beams, and wagon wheel light fixtures featuring mason jars – but I suppose they reminded diners of the rustic nature of the food.



The menu isn’t extensive, but changes every day (old menus are recycled into dish liners), and prominently highlights local producers. We decided to share three dishes, which although seemed doable at the time, filled us up in no time due to their sinfully rich nature.


Amuse bouche of turkey terrine and peaches atop a brioche crostini

The lamb croquettes ($15) were delightfully crispy, and were lovingly smoked, which enhanced the flavour of the meat.


Lamb croquettes

The share burger, “Charcut style”, consisted of a roasted garlic sausage patty, cheese curds, and a fried egg ($2.5/oz, minimum 9oz). It was interesting to try a sausage patty, dense and fatty as it was, but it was overcooked, making it even more difficult to eat. The brioche and egg, on the other hand, were perfect, the latter fried to a wobbly, yolk-bursting precipice.


Share burger

And the poutine ($8)? Heaven. The truffle oil assaulted our senses first, and gave way to fries that had been simmered in duck fat and drenched in a generous amount of cheese curds. The gravy was a bit thin (Mack prefers it thicker), but truly, it’s a dish to fight over.


Duck fat poutine

The trend of throwback desserts caught us, as it did at Farm. We couldn’t pass up their animal crackers, accompanied by a garden rhubarb and summer berry crème brulee ($8). The shortbread cookies didn’t taste quite like those boxed crackers of our youth, but went really well with the warmed custard (it was actually warmed through! a pet peeve of mine with restaurant crème brulees). Mack especially liked the softened fruit, which was distributed evenly throughout the custard.


Crème brulee

It’s worth noting that the kitchen was efficient, and that service was attentive but respectful. But regardless, need I say it again? Duck fat poutine.

Fiestaval 2010

On our way home from dinner, we stumbled upon Fiestaval, Calgary’s Latin Festival. Olympic Plaza was filled with food and product vendors, and we were able to catch the tail end of their last performer of the day.


Olympic Plaza

Between the crowd and the energy (people were dancing in the square), it’s hard to deny that Calgary has their own festival culture.


These pink gophers still crack me up

Over Easy Breakfast

Located just down from Diner Deluxe (one of my Calgary favourites), Over Easy has become a popular breakfast destination.

I loved the chalkboard ceiling just bursting with colour, and the equally fun “We Got Huevos” t-shirts (similar to the cheeky “Line Tamer” shirts at Diner Deluxe). Our server was exceptionally friendly and ensured we were never left wanting for coffee, and was notably excited when we told her it was our first visit to the restaurant.

Overeasy Breafkast


Unlike Belmont Diner, Over Easy has an extensive menu, and one I could see locals returning to many times without compromising variety. And though they got my pancake order wrong, it was a happy mistake – the waffle was sweet, crispy and finished with icing sugar and berries, was like having dessert for breakfast.

Overeasy Breafkast

Fruit-topped waffle

Mack’s blue plate special (actually served on a blue plate), featured a nice amount of fruit, and wonderfully crispy bacon.

Overeasy Breafkast

Blue plate special

We’ll be back!

Sun & Salsa Festival 2010

We ended our weekend at the Kensington Sun & Salsa Festival, which I had added to our itinerary once seeing it on Andree’s blog.

Our introduction to the festival wasn’t pleasant – we couldn’t find parking in the neighbourhood for the life of us. Driving around in circles, it seemed to us that the entire city of Calgary had decided to drive to the event that day (our original plan was to take the C-Train there, but as it was our last stop, it didn’t make too much sense to backtrack on transit). We eventually secured a spot, and wandered into the grounds to see what all the fuss about.

Kensington Sun & Salsa Festival


It was actually pretty cool – patrons were invited to sample over 40 salsas put together by local businesses and organizations, with proceeds from the taco chips going to charity.

Kensington Sun & Salsa Festival

The salsa from Naked Leaf was more chutney than salsa – a jasmine-infused peach salsa – but it was creative an unique

Though many stations were out by the time we made our rounds, our favourite was the salsa by Higher Ground – mild, tomato-based, but tasty.

The streets were closed to cars, and were packed shoulder to shoulder with people. A haphazard mix of booths lined the streets (with no method to the madness – non-profits placed at random in between municipal election candidates and private businesses), as well as outdoor food vendors. Though I think the food could have taken some attention away from the salsa (especially when the salsa stations weren’t clearly marked), the salsa didn’t seem to be the focus of the event anyway – instead, the intention was to bring people into the neighbourhood and to promote the area merchants.

Kensington Sun & Salsa Festival

Sun & Salsa

It was a fun event, and really, such a great idea – kudos to the organizers!

Breakfast Value: Madison’s Grill

I’ve raved about lunches and dinners at Madison’s Grill, but there was still one meal they serve that I hadn’t yet sampled – breakfast. A birthday brunch with the girls provided a good opportunity to finally do so, on a sunny morning in June.

When I initially looked at their breakfast menu online, I just couldn’t believe what they were charging. Just $10 for a customized omelette? $12 for French toast? $14 for Alberta beef hash? What made the low prices even more incredulous is their use of local products – from eggs to bacon to cheese. And in their well-appointed dining room, I would think brunch at Madison’s offers one of the best values in the city.

The only downside was their limited hours (being a hotel after all) – they only serve breakfast until 11am. May and I arrived just after 10, and after settling in with beverages, awaited Annie’s arrival. We called her half an hour later, and it turned out she had our meeting time confused, and asked me to order something for her. Plates were served to May and I not long after, while the kitchen tried to keep Annie’s dish warm in her absence. They ended up having to make her dish again because they deemed it not fit to serve – a testament to how accommodating and understanding Madison’s is as a whole.

In terms of the food – both May and Annie enjoyed their dishes. May had asked for one each of their crab cake and smoked salmon Benedicts ($14; which our server happily combined), while I had ordered Annie a regular eggs Benedict ($12).

Madison's Grill

Crab cake and smoked salmon Benedict

Madison's Grill

Eggs Benedict (I love the cups bursting with fruit)

My omelette ($10) included three fillings of my choosing from a list of ten options – Irvings bacon, mushrooms and Sylvan Star Gouda. Though the eggs were prepared quite nicely – fluffy and light – the fillings were distributed inconsistently throughout, with the cheese concentrated on one end and the bacon on the opposite end. Also, this was personal preference, but the mushrooms were chopped a little too finely for my taste. I did like the pan potatoes, however, flavoured with some fresh herbs.

Madison's Grill

Omelette with bacon, mushrooms and cheese

There are several other dishes I’d like to try off the Madison’s breakfast menu, and with their fantastic service and demonstrated value, I know I’ll back in the future.

Madison’s Grill (in the Union Bank Inn)
10053 Jasper Avenue
(780) 401-2222

Weekday breakfast served 7-10am, weekend breakfast served 8-11am

Cozy Birthday Brunch: Cafe Haven

In thinking about brunch places where we could take Grandma Male to celebrate her birthday, my mind drifted to Café Haven. I first noticed Café Haven on Twitter, active in announcing their daily specials and musical acts. However, we didn’t often visit Sherwood Park, and as with most restaurants outside of the core, usually need a geographic excuse to stop by. Mack’s Grandma, always game to try new establishments herself, happens to live on the southeast edge of Edmonton.

Mack and Grandma Male

We had tweeted Café Haven the night before, asking them if we could make reservations for Sunday brunch. The response we received indicated no, reservations weren’t taken, but that we wouldn’t need them either. Imagine our surprise when we were greeted by a standing room-only crowd at the restaurant! That May morning was a chilly one – we suspected patrons had substituted any planned outdoor activities for relaxing with comfort food. And wouldn’t you know it – Café Haven announced later that it was a record-breaking day for them.

Open kitchen

Anyway, we opted to hover for a while, and thankfully, didn’t have to wait ten minutes before a table opened up on the sunny side of the restaurant. What was immediately apparent from the interior was that diners (at least when Café Haven isn’t entirely full) have a choice of seating areas that would befit any number of moods. In our section, lined with windows and with a full view of the open kitchen, painted a vibrant blue, felt bright and cheery. The rear of the restaurant, with sconce lighting and no natural light, felt intimate and cozy. Finally, an entirely separate room that went almost unseen, decorated with rich, sequined fabrics and painted in bold hues was exotic and private.


The one-page brunch menu (which changes every weekend) focused on fresh, local ingredients. They do subscribe to Eat Local First, and as indicated on their website, try to source from area farmers as much as possible. I was also happy to see that Café Haven serves Transcend coffee!

Cool, framed menus

I was very happy with my selection – a breakfast crepe with Westphalian ham, spinach and mushroom with a parmesan cream sauce ($10). The sauce was rich and undoubtedly imbued with calories – just the way I like it! And while I usually shy away from salads to start off my day, the balsamic dressing on the greens ensured I did not regret my choice.

Breakfast crepe with ham, spinach and mushroom

Mack and Grandma Male both ordered the free-range ham, scrambled eggs and toast ($10). Mack said the potatoes in particular were his favourite.

Free-range ham, scrambled eggs and toast

With a bustling atmosphere and lovely interior, I can see why Café Haven’s business is picking up. Hopefully I’ll have to pass through Sherwood Park again soon!

Cafe Haven
9 Sioux Road, Sherwood Park
(780) 417-5523