‘Tis the Season at the Hotel Macdonald: Nutcracker Tea and Tour

There are few places in Edmonton that get decked out for the holidays like the Hotel Macdonald. You only need to walk into their lobby to get whisked away in the Christmas spirit – between the bedazzled fifteen foot tree and the twinkly gingerbread rendition of the building, the Hotel Mac does it right.

Hotel Macdonald

Gingerbread Hotel Macdonald

Their holiday season offerings range from special dinners on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, to themed meals like the Dickens buffet (a nineteenth century, English-style lunch) and Nutcracker Tea and Tour. The latter is a festive take on their respected Royal Tea and Tour, featuring a holiday-inspired menu and some other surprises. Mack and I took his Grandma Male for tea on Saturday. We had been meaning to take her for some time – Grandma Male actually worked at the hotel switchboard in the 1950s, and she hadn’t been back to the building since.

Reservations were accepted for 2:30pm in the Harvest Room. Although it wasn’t quite a full house, the families, friends and couples who gathered had all dressed up for the occasion.

Nutcracker Tea & Tour

Grandma Male and Mack

We started off with a glass of sparkling wine, a nice touch for the holidays, and shortly after, were presented with the tea selection. I was anticipating that all of the teas would have been loose, as is traditional, but there was a mix of tea bags and loose teas. Grandma Male and I both chose a nice Buckingham Palace orange pekoe.

Our first treats arrived warm from the oven – classic scones and candied pecan-eggnog scones. They were absolutely delicious, though to be honest, I think I used the scones as a vessel to consume as much Devonshire cream and port cranberry compote as possible.

Nutcracker Tea & Tour

Scones!

The tiered trays contained both savoury and sweet bites. No cucumber sandwiches to be seen, the selection included oven roasted turkey with citrus sage aioli on a mini navette. Our favourite on the savoury side was the applewood smoked cheddar, ham and grainy dijon aioli on an adorable mini bagel.

Nutcracker Tea & Tour

Beautiful presentation

The kitchen did a great job accommodating Mack’s nut allergy, making substitutions when necessary, such as ensuring the white chocolate and pistachio mousse was nowhere to be seen on his tray. While we enjoyed all of the dainty confections, the ginger orange madeleine was the pronounced favourite.

Nutcracker Tea & Tour

Photobombing tea service

The only misstep that afternoon was the fact that we were only told about the timing of the tour about ten minutes prior to its start. Although we weren’t rushed through tea service, it would have been nice to know the flow in advance. Otherwise, the service was impeccable, as is standard at the Hotel Macdonald.

We assembled in the Wedgewood Room for a special performance by some of the dancers from Clara’s Dream. Shumka’s Ukrainian version of The Nutcracker, the preview showcased the music and the energy you would expect from a fusion of dance styles. Clara’s Dream runs December 29-30, 2015 at the Jubilee Auditorium.

Nutcracker Tea & Tour

Dancers from Clara’s Dream

Afterwards, Carlos, a staff of the Hotel Macdonald, led us on a brief tour of the building. This wasn’t my first tour of the Hotel Macdonald, but what I always appreciate is how personal each tour is, coloured by the individual experience of each staff member. In this case, Carlos shared that he had worked as Queen Elizabeth’s butler when she stayed at the Hotel Macdonald back in 2005, commenting on her strong appetite and desire to know how her food was prepared. On this tour, we weren’t able to visit the Queen Elizabeth Suite, as the top two floors of the hotel are currently undergoing renovations, and aren’t set to reopen until April.

Hotel Macdonald

The Empire Ballroom

Carlos also informed us about the Hotel Macdonald’s reputation among the Fairmont properties – although being the second smallest, it hosts the most weddings of all. With as many as six weddings per day in the summer, he jokes to the grooms to ensure they go home with the right bride at the end of the night, and to the brides that in order to have their dream wedding at the castle on the river, that they should book their wedding date and then go out and find the right groom.

Hotel Macdonald

With Grandma Male

The Nutcracker Tea and Tour is a great way to celebrate the holidays. It runs every Saturday and Sunday until December 27, with the only other preview of Clara’s Dream to take place at the December 19 tea. The cost is $49 per person, with reservations recommended. Happy holidays!

Recap: the ImMACulate Garden Party

On August 24, 2014, the Blink: Parkade Party team reunited to host an event in partnership with the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald. The ImMACulate Garden Party provided an opportunity to explore one of the city’s best patios and vantage points of our stunning river valley.

Blink ImMACulate Garden Party

The terrace at the Hotel Macdonald

Although the Mac is a respected institution in our city, it is often underappreciated and overlooked by locals. We hoped that by organizing an afternoon of light entertainment and activities, we could highlight this gem in the summer leading up to its centennial. The event was also a fundraiser for the Edmonton Humane Society, in honour of the hotel’s canine ambassador, Smudge.

Blink ImMACulate Garden Party

Enjoying the view

Nearly one hundred people joined us on that beautiful Sunday, all dressed in their garden chic attire. A quarter of attendees indicated that they had never been to the Mac before.

Blink ImMACulate Garden Party

Garden party guests

The food and drink were a definite attraction, with the chefs focusing on a fresh, seasonal menu of refreshing nibbles.

Blink ImMACulate Garden Party

Seafood ceviche

Guests enjoyed the melodies of harpist Keri Lynn Zwicker (which included dabbling in Madonna’s catalogue) and had the chance to chat with local artist Lori Frank about her Edmonton-inspired pieces.

Blink ImMACulate Garden Party

Harpist Keri Lynn Zwicker

The Mac was also supportive (in spite of maintaining a pristine lawn) of the transformation of their green spaces into garden games, including lawn bowling, bocce ball and croquet.

Blink ImMACulate Garden Party

Lawn bowling (photo by Monika Czuprynski)

Blink ImMACulate Garden Party

Croquet

Catering Manager Larissa Gonzales led several tours of the hotel. Besides learning about some of the building’s storied history, the last two tours even manage to snag a peek into the Mac’s most expensive (and celebrity-graced) suite.

Blink ImMACulate Garden Party

Inside the Queen Elizabeth Suite

The collaborative canvas was an experiment that went even better than expected – we invited guests to make their individual mark on what started out as a blank canvas. By the end of the event, the pastel-drawn piece resulted in a unique piece that reflected the group’s vision of Edmonton’s river valley. It was handed out as one of the door prizes at the end of the afternoon.

Blink ImMACulate Garden Party

Before (Mack and I are a little embarrassed at how we started it)

Blink ImMACulate Garden Party

After

It was wonderful being able to see people make use of the terrace we ourselves have enjoyed all summer. And though the Mac is open to hosting such events again in the future, I recommend not waiting – make use of this last burst of warm weather and take advantage of one of our city’s assets.

Blink ImMACulate Garden Party

The boys were out in full force (photo by Monika Czuprynski)

Thanks to everyone who attended, and the Mac for being such a great partner. We were able to raise over $550 for the Humane Society! Last but not least – I had a blast working with Hannah, Stephanie and Mack on this event, and look forward to whatever trouble we may get ourselves into next year!

Blink ImMACulate Garden Party

The team! (photo by Monika Czuprynski)

You can see more photos for the event here.

The ImMACulate Garden Party at the Hotel Macdonald – August 24, 2014

Every so often, the river valley development debate comes up in the news cycle, with proponents either for the preservation of its current state or to enhance the ability for Edmontonians to better take advantage of one of our city’s key treasures. While I am in favour of providing more opportunities for folks to enjoy our waterfront, I think it’s easy to forget that some ideal vantage points already exist.

The Hotel Macdonald

The Fairmont Hotel Macdonald will be celebrating their centennial next July, though for a building so etched in our skyline, it is far too underappreciated. Being a hotel, it is easily overlooked by locals, and with the Fairmont franchise attached to it, it may seem out of reach to others.

Hotel Macdonald

In my opinion, there are few better places to soak up our river valley’s views than the terrace of the Hotel Macdonald. Not only can you take in the lush greenery below, but the terrace itself is gorgeous. EnRoute Magazine also recently named the Confederation Lounge (the restaurant that offers primary patio seating at the Mac) as one of its top five must-visit Canadian patios.

Hotel Macdonald

To help more Edmontonians discover this well-kept secret, the team behind last year’s Blink: Parkade Party has partnered with the Hotel Macdonald to host the ImMACulate Garden Party on August 24, 2014, from 2-5pm.

Hotel Macdonald

We are encouraging attendees to dress in their garden party whites or pastels for a chic afternoon of food, drink and entertainment. The Mac has put together a fantastic menu for us, featuring their cherry-glazed duck confit tacos, which were a big hit at the recent Taste of Edmonton, as well as a signature drink.

Hotel Macdonald

Tours will be offered every hour, so you can learn more about one of Edmonton’s institutions. For those who may not know, the Mac sat vacant for years, and was nearly demolished in the 1980s.

Hotel MacDonald

We’ve secured a harpist to help set the tone for the event, a perfect backdrop to try your hand at several outdoor games, including croquet and lawn bowling. We’ve also put together a scavenger hunt – those who complete it will have a chance to win a gift certificate to the Confederation Lounge.

The Mac is unique for many reasons, such as its use of a canine ambassador, the first in Edmonton. Smudge is a six-year-old Yellow Labrador, and was originally trained as a guide dog. She is often seen greeting people in the hotel lobby, and can be requested to accompany guests on a stroll through the neighbourhood. In honour of Smudge, the ImMACulate Garden Party is a fundraiser for the Edmonton Humane Society.

Tickets for the event are $40, and must be purchased in advance here. I hope to see you there!

More information about the ImMACulate Garden Party can be found on blinkedmonton.ca.

Recap: Hotel Mac Patio Launch

There are few places in Edmonton that boast a beautiful view and good eats, and none in the city with as much history as the Hotel Macdonald. Celebrating its centennial next July, the Hotel is also planning some special events in the the year-long lead-up to its milestone.

Earlier this month, the Mac hosted an official kick-off to their patio season, already rescheduled once due to poor weather (it really has been that kind of spring). Even though the clouds were threatening, staff had high hopes that the rain would hold off – and their optimism was rewarded.

Hotel Macdonald

Patio furniture

Treated to a sampling of their patio barbecue and Confederation Lounge menus, Mack, Hannah, Stephanie and I were able to taste some of the Mac’s fair-weather offerings.

Hotel Macdonald

Cheers!

Presentation has always been the kitchen’s strength, demonstrated in adorable mini quinoa wraps, held together with tiny wooden clothespins. Or, in their modern take on caprese salad, with tomato gelee and balsamic reduction taking the place of fresh tomatoes and conventional dressing.

Hotel Macdonald

Mini quinoa wraps

Hotel Macdonald

Caprese salad

Favourites that night included the Westbury crab cake sliders (the brioche bun added a perfect hit of sweetness) and the spicy black bean soup.

Hotel Macdonald

Food with a view

We were also wowed by the dessert table, covered with an assortment of two-bite sweets (Zinc used to sell two-bite versions of their full-sized desserts, a concept that did not seem to stick, even though I think it would do much to sway those with just enough room for something small). Though the Mac isn’t going this route, I appreciated the ability to try several items. At the top of my list was the peach cobbler – a buttery crust, leading to tender sweet fruit underneath.

Hotel Macdonald

Sweet desserts

Amidst the greenery and the spectacular view from the terrace, our group was inspired to start working on an event that will help highlight one of Edmonton’s best river valley assets in a new way this summer. Stay tuned for more details, and thanks to the Mac for a relaxed re-introduction to their patio!

Hotel Macdonald
10065 100th Street
(780) 424-5181

Cook Like a Chef: In the Kitchens of Hotel Macdonald

Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of being invited to cook inside the prestigious kitchens of the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald. It seemed too good to be true – an opportunity not only to peek behind-the-scenes, but also to learn from Executive Chef Serge Jost? But believe me, it was all that and much more.

Hotel Macdonald

Chef Serge Jost

I was among six food enthusiasts chosen to participate. The Mac organized this evening as one way to demystify its identity as an establishment reserved only for grand occasions. Its chefs want to spread the word that the Mac is simply about good hospitality.

Without a doubt, everyone we encountered that evening was gracious and went out of their way to make us feel welcome. This was not more evident than when we were each greeted with a personalized monogrammed chef’s jacket.

Hotel Macdonald

The crew (picture by Hotel MacDonald)

The interactive, hands-on session saw each of us paired off in order to prepare either the appetizer, main, or dessert. I immediately glommed onto Gail Hall, a chef in her own right, and fellow 104 Street resident. We were tasked with the appetizer, a savoury cheese tart, served alongside asparagus, a poached quail egg, and seared foie gras.

Hotel Macdonald

Preparing the tart shells

Executive Sous Chef Jiju Paul guided us through the multitude of steps, and was more than patient with me as I struggled to crack the delicate quail eggs without breaking the yolks. This was also my first time working with foie gras – I knew it tasted good, but the smell of them as they caramelized on the stove? Heavenly.

Hotel Macdonald

Searing the foie gras

Wouldn’t you know – I didn’t end up taking a single snapshot of the final dish. All I have are shots during the plating process.

Hotel Macdonald

What kind of food blogger am I?

Linda and Rebecca were responsible for the main, a complicated duck stuffed chicken cooked sous vide. It was wonderfully cooked, tender and moist.

Hotel Macdonald

Linda and Rebecca hard at work

Hotel Macdonald

Duck stuffed chicken with green bean mousse, mushroom foam and hazelnut lemon gremolata

Dessert was the purview of Karlynn and Phil, a strawberry gelee with rhubarb compote, sherbet and decorative strawberry tuilles. It was a beautiful plate, and a tart but refreshing way to end the meal.

Hotel Macdonald

Phil and Karlynn are serious about dessert

Hotel Macdonald

Strawberry gelee with rhubarb compote

Perhaps most generous of all – Chef Jost sat and ate with us, sharing his perspectives about the Hotel and his plans to make the restaurants at the Mac more approachable. For instance, the chefs are all on Twitter, sharing photos of menu planning, plating and interacting with patrons.

Regarding the Mac’s restaurants, particularly of note are the tapas at the Confederation Lounge, best enjoyed in the summer alongside the smashing view on the patio. To help promote this, the Lounge is offering 2-for-1 appetizers in the month of May, as well as drink specials.

I definitely think that’s a start, as perceived prices are definitely something the Mac needs to overcome. As I mentioned in my post last summer after a visit to the patio, another is the menu itself; a trendier, more inventive menu could potentially pique the interest of different diners. To do this without alienating their regular clientele would require a fine balance between the new and the established. I do agree with Chef Jost – the Hotel Macdonald is a living landmark that should be traversed much more by Edmontonians – but how can they do this without what could be seen as devaluing the Fairmont brand? It will be interesting to see what else the Mac develops in the months to come.

Thank you to Chef Jost, Chef Paul and the rest of the staff at the Hotel Macdonald for a memorable evening.

Check out Rebecca and Linda’s posts about the evening as well.

Patio Seekers: The Confederation Lounge at the Hotel Macdonald

After work on Friday, I was struck with the immediate urge to seek out a patio. If there was a blessing to be had with our recent spell of wet and wild weather, it would be the carpe diem philosophy with which we now approach sunny days.

Living downtown, Mack and I have no shortage of al fresco options within walking distance. From those best suited to soaking up the sun, people watching, or a quiet escape, there are patios to match every mood. On that day, I wanted to enjoy a green vantage point, so immediately thought of The Confederation Lounge at the Hotel Macdonald.

Hotel MacDonald

The Mac

A less formal option than The Harvest Room, The Confederation Lounge has tried in recent years to offer more casual dishes. I recognize it is a delicate balance, as the Mac would not want to jeopardize their bread and butter clientele who prefer the familiar steak and potatoes fare. Still, it would be nice to see the occasional feature menu which might help attract diners who may not select a restaurant based on its views alone.

We were directed to choose a seat anywhere on the patio, all sheltered under a draped metal canopy. It was about a little more than a third full, with most diners appearing to have transitioned directly from the office to begin their weekend. Though the surrounding vista, in all its lush summer glory was exactly what I was looking for, the nondescript jazz being piped from the speakers behind us was unnecessary. I would have much preferred no deliberate soundtrack, as the comforting lilt of the nearby water fountain was fitting enough for the setting.

Hotel MacDonald

Picturesque fountain

Not a surprise, prices were on the steep side, both for libations and food. Mixed drinks were $14, and though the menu touted the inclusion of local ingredients, we were reminded of the fact that these were indeed hotel prices.

Hotel MacDonald

Raspberry 75 and Triple-Pepper Caesar

We had no intention of having a full dinner, but were interested in some nibbles. Their one-page menu focused very much on salads, sandwiches, and entrée plates, with only half a dozen truly sharable plate options. We settled on the item most unlike the others, a butter chicken poutine ($20).

Service waivered – although our food arrived quickly, our initial wait for service numbered fifteen minutes. Though our server was friendly and seemed like he was doing his best, it was clear he was being run off his feet. With the Hotel MacDonald’s reputation of being customer-driven, we expected better on this front.

However, the poutine itself was great! In our experience, poutines often receive failing grades because of poorly made fries that can’t stand up to the gravy, resulting in a mash of soggy potatoes. The Confederation Lounge’s fries were delightfully crisp, and remained so all the way through. The tandoori chicken (mostly dark meat, cooked until tender) was sauced in a relatively mild dressing, and was a tasty topping for the fries. Our only minor complaint was that the chicken pieces could have been diced further, as poutine shouldn’t require a knife to eat!

Hotel MacDonald

Butter chicken poutine

It’s difficult to think of a patio that allows such wondrous river valley views, but based on their current food menu, I’d likely return just for drinks.

The Confederation Lounge at the Hotel Macdonald
10065 100 Street
(780) 424 5181

Patio Party at the Mac

Last Monday, Mack and I headed over to the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald to help celebrate the launch of their patio. It had opened for the season on the previous Friday, but they wanted to offer the media and other writers a formal opportunity to have a chance to try their outdoor barbecue menu. And although the skies threatened rain, it held off long enough for us to enjoy one of Edmonton’s most beautiful river valley vantage points.

Hotel MacDonald

Hotel MacDonald

Mack and I started off with a drink. He chose a Quebec beer by Unibroue, which he liked well enough. I had to try their feature cocktail, the Pimms Cup, perfect given the Queen’s Jubilee celebration was taking place that weekend. Made with Pimms, ginger ale, simple syrup, lime juice and a slice of cucumber, it was a refreshing drink to sip while taking in the view.

Hotel MacDonald

Pimms

In terms of food, it was hard to resist the dozen different appetizers that floated by on platters (most of the dishes we tried that night are available on the Confederation Lounge BBQ menu). We were tantalized by the aromas coming off the grill all evening – it was a good reminder that Mack and I have yet to fire up our own barbecue yet this season.

My favourite bites included the Moroccan-spiced lamb kofta kebab, served on warmed pita bread with feta and a cucumber yogurt sauce. The lamb was moist and so flavourful; I am certain that those who typically shy away from lamb would see the light with this dish.

Hotel MacDonald

Moroccan-spiced lamb kofta

The Alberta beef sliders also caught my attention with their whimsical presentation. The Canadian whisky BBQ sauce had been portioned into individual pipettes that not only held the sliders together, but also allowed guests to garnish their own burgers! Although we were told that these mini syringes were special for the event, I am hoping they will reconsider this given how much of a frenzy they caused!

Hotel MacDonald

Alberta beef sliders

Mack liked the spicy chipotle and honey-glazed chicken skewers with roasted mango. Chicken satay are a staple at my parents’ house in the summer, so it was an interesting version lightened up with fruit.

Hotel MacDonald

Chicken skewers with roasted mango

Mack also enjoyed the chocolate-dipped cheesecake lollipops. With the rising popularity of cake pops, I could see this dessert being requested in lieu of cupcakes at any weddings hosted at the hotel.

Hotel MacDonald

Cheesecake lollipops

The only appetizer that we really didn’t enjoy was the lime and ginger shrimp ceviche. By the time it reached us, it was mottled grey in colour.

Hotel MacDonald

Shrimp ceviche with tomato water caesar

We took some time to take in the patio itself. Although it wasn’t quite in full bloom yet, there were many colourful containers to admire, and Chef Andrew Ihasz had planted an herb garden on the deck below the week prior.

Hotel MacDonald

In all its glory

Hotel MacDonald

Herb garden

Hotel MacDonald

Parting shot

Thanks again to the staff of Hotel Macdonald for the invitation, and for their warm hospitality that evening. Although it may not be the patio that is top of mind for most Edmontonians, it should be, with its spectacular views and approachable menu. Make the most of our short patio season and plan to visit this summer!

Confederation Lounge @ Fairmont Hotel Macdonald
10065 100 Street
(780) 424-5181
Monday-Saturday 11am-1am, Sunday 11am-midnight

Restaurant Relaunch: Harvest Room at the Hotel MacDonald

On October 17, 2011, the Harvest Room at the Hotel MacDonald reopened after a nine-month hiatus. The space had to be meticulously repaired after extensive water damage to the ceiling, but the closure also meant that Executive Chef Andrew Ihasz had ample time and space to revamp the menu and locate local producers to source certain items. Mack and I were fortunate enough to have been invited to a media dinner two weeks ago to help celebrate the relaunch.

Harvest Room

Place setting

It was obvious that all of the staff were proud of their restaurant, but what surprised me the most was the serving length of the wait staff. A majority had worked at the hotel for over a decade; that kind of dedication and loyalty seems rare in the hospitality industry.

It’s always a privilege to be asked to attend such an event, especially because the chefs are usually on hand to introduce each of the dishes. I relish the opportunity to listen to chefs describe the genesis behind combining certain ingredients, or the inspiration behind a particular dish. Although Chef Ihasz did mention his affinity for crab (given his last Fairmont posting was in San Francisco), I found that the storytelling was lacking that night.

That said, the food was solid. Well-prepared, fit for the season, and items like lobster and crab notwithstanding, skewed towards local. We also appreciated that the producers’ names were highlighted on the menu.

The Sunworks Farm chicken & cognac parfait was not a dish I would have been likely to order on my own, but I was happy to have tried it – so smooth, each bite spread on the toasted brioche topped with the sweet berry chutney and crisp microgreens was perfect. This dish featured Mack’s favourite wine pairing, a Chateau de Sancerre.

Harvest Room

Chicken & cognac parfait

I could see the Dungeness crab salad becoming a favourite on the menu – beautifully plated in a layered fashion showcasing the avocado, oven-roasted tomatoes and frisee, it was surprisingly light. Lemon was prominent (even with a bit of preserved peel on top) and I relished the variety of textures throughout.

Harvest Room

Dungeness crab salad

I’m a sucker for dishes that serve an ingredient in more than one way, so I knew I would be biased towards the roasted Innisfail lamb rack. The lamb had been cooked to a succulent, tender rare, and the crispy lamb shank and basil cannelloni was a nice starchy counterpoint. Of note – the eggplant and mint tian was cooked well, worth mentioning given eggplant is a vegetable often overdone.

Harvest Room

Lamb rack and crispy lamb shank and basil cannelloni

Mack’s Sunworks Farm chicken roulade was quite generous. As a whole, it’s always interesting to see the interpretation of the chicken main on the menu, given it is typically the “go-to” for fussy diners. Chef Ihasz’s version incorporated a moist sage stuffing, and an underbelly of lentils which Mack quite enjoyed.

Harvest Room

Chicken roulade

Harvest Room

Lobster ravioli (the third alternating entree)

I was keeping my fingers crossed that my alternating dessert would end up being the delice of chocolate, and my wish came true (it felt a little like getting to sample several desserts on the same plate). Funny enough, what I liked most on the plate was actually the peanut butter ice cream, creamy and full of flavour. If they sold it curbside, I’d line up! The chocolate coulant (a molten cake) was wonderfully consistent, albeit rich, and was my favourite of the chocolate trio which also included a mousse and brownie.

Harvest Room

Delice of chocolate

Mack’s pot de crème of Fairmont Earl Grey tea and orange was comforting, though the star of his dessert was also an unlikely candidate – the accompanying lavender shortbread cookies.

Harvest Room

Pot de crème

I do hope people rediscover the Harvest Room now that it is open for business again. It is an institution in Edmonton, and for good reason. Their attention to detail that night meant that nothing was overlooked; service was flawless. Thanks again to the staff of the Harvest Room and the Hotel MacDonald for their generosity and hospitality.

Harvest Room at the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald
10065 100 Street
780-424-5181

TMAC Alberta Retreat: Hotel MacDonald and Moriarty’s

A few months ago, I was asked to be a speaker at a retreat hosted by the Alberta Chapter of the Travel Media Association of Canada (TMAC), an organization made up of tourism industry professionals and journalists. I had met Susan Mate, a member of TMAC who was also on the organizing committee, last year. I had provided some information to her for an article she had written about Alberta’s culinary scene, and because of the group’s interest in food blogging, she asked if I would share my experience at the retreat.

I have done conference presentations for my day job in the past, but never about blogging. Turns out, it’s not difficult to speak about something you’re passionate about!

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Speaking at the TMAC retreat

Coincidentally, they also wanted a speaker to address the topic of social media. Someone else on the conference committee had contacted Mack separately, and it was only a few days before the conference that they realized we were partners in crime, heh.

We were fortunate to be invited to join the rest of the activities that evening, arranged by Bin and Amy of the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation. We started out the night with a light reception at the Hotel MacDonald.

I had no idea the gazebo behind the hotel even existed! Apparently, it is often used for small private parties. When I commented about the number of patrons in the Confederation Lounge, hotel staff made mention of the fact that the Harvest Room had been closed since January due to ice damage, and is not set to reopen until October.

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Inside the gazebo

There was a lovely spread of nibbles, but nothing I tried that night was as tasty as the saskatoon berry cocktail. It went down like Kool-Aid, and though one should have been enough, I couldn’t help myself, and had seconds.

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Salmon tartare and crab cakes

Saskatoon cocktail

Next, we were split up into smaller parties for dinner at nearby restaurants, treated by EEDC. The plan was to regroup at the Winspear Centre for an Edmonton Symphony Orchestra concert. Mack and I had been assigned to Moriarty’s, one of EEDC’s partner restaurants.

The small table facilitated conversations nicely, and it was great getting to know the visitors from Calgary. Lucky for us, we even scored an introduction to Jelly Modern Doughnuts, the city’s hottest bakery, fortuitous especially because Mack would be heading down south the next week (hello, doughnuts!).

Everyone seemed to enjoy the selection of cocktails they had ordered, but I was a bit disappointed with the food. I have a soft spot for butternut squash ravioli, so was eager to try Moriarty’s version with maple cream sauce. Given it was a dish under “small plates”, I assumed that for $12 several small ravioli would be served, instead of a single large one. The filling was nice, creamy and light, but the pasta was a touch overcooked. The vanilla tulle was also an odd choice – its sweetness was off-putting.

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Butternut squash ravioli

I also ordered a second small plate of meatballs ($8.50). Unlike its predecessor, this dish could easily be shared among diners. Although a puree of beets would have made more cohesive sense, the fried golden beet chips were a guilty, well-seasoned pleasure. The meatballs themselves were okay, but the sweet root beer glaze didn’t work for me, especially alongside the jarringly sour mushrooms.

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Mushroom meatballs

Mack found similar inconsistencies with his chicken apple gnocchi ($19.50). He enjoyed the gnocchi, but found it much too greasy. He felt chicken breast would have worked better than chicken sausage. It also lacked an elegance expected in the restaurant’s surroundings – it could have been plated in a bowl, with some garnish, instead?

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Chicken apple gnocchi

The table was saddened to find out that their premiere chocolate dessert, supplied by Duchess, was no longer available (they also weren’t able to provide us with a reason why). In its place, we ordered the French profiteroles ($10) and saskatoon and rhubarb tart ($11). The latter was the better of the two desserts, fresh and tart. The profiteroles suffered from age – a few commented that the pastry tasted dry and lacked the airiness of a good cream puff.

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Saskatoon and rhubarb tart

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French profiteroles

The service was solid throughout our meal, but based on past experiences, I expected the food to be better. I’d just hope for some more consistency from the kitchen next time.

Thanks again to TMAC for the invitation (and for EEDC for hosting) – I had a great time!

Moriarty’s
10154 100 Street
(780) 757-2005
Monday-Saturday 11:30am-close, closed Sunday

artsScene Edmonton Summer Patio Party and Behind-the-Scenes at Fairmont Hotel Macdonald

Though I’ve attended a few artsScene Edmonton events before (notably their patio party at Latitude 53 last summer), this was my first of their behind-the-scenes series, which provides attendees with the opportunity to “go backstage” at cultural institutions such as the Alberta Ballet, Edmonton Opera, and most recently, at the Freewill Shakespeare Festival. This time, Hotel Macdonald was to be centre stage.

artsScene Summer Party + Behind the Scenes

Hotel Macdonald

The haze outside meant most people opted to stay inside, which meant the room was all the more lively. With music from the Jerrold Dubyk Trio and beats from Mindy Cooper (DJ Sweetz) thrown in, it was a great atmosphere to mingle the night away.

artsScene Summer Party + Behind the Scenes

Inside the Wedgewood Room

artsScene Summer Party + Behind the Scenes

Jerrold Dubyk Trio

Sarah Jackson was also on hand as one of the featured artists, showcasing her new project Angles of Love. I love that she is able to incorporate fun, interactive elements into her exhibits (at the last Refinery party at the Art Gallery of Alberta, Sarah created condiment portraits of guests).

artsScene Summer Party + Behind the Scenes

Sarah busy with card readings

Some hors d’oeuvres were included in the price of our $29 ticket, and I made sure to sample away. The kitchen had prepared all sorts of skewers, and, more up my alley, several crispy deep-fried treats, including spring rolls and spanakopita. A selection of cold appetizers were also available, including salsa and chips, cucumber cups, and very tasty squares of toast topped with brie and strawberry.

artsScene Summer Party + Behind the Scenes

Food, glorious food!

I had been most looking forward to the tour portion of the evening, which was supposed to provide insight on the building’s history and architecture. It did somewhat, though not to the extent I was hoping for. Also, with such a large group, it was difficult to hear the guides at times.

artsScene Summer Party + Behind the Scenes

Inside the Drawing Room (formerly known as the Ladies’ Drawing Room, where women would wait for their escorts)

I have dined in the Empire Ballroom before, but I had no idea the room had been used to house jean makers during World War II. Or, that the ceiling (called “The Chase”), featured anatomically correct hounds.

artsScene Summer Party + Behind the Scenes

Empire Ballroom

The decidedly masculine Jasper Room was built to overlook the Fathers of Confederation painting on the wall next door. The room also includes windows set near the floor – done so they are level with diners seated at the table.

artsScene Summer Party + Behind the Scenes

Jasper Room

Our last stop was up to the eighth floor rooms, where many high profile visitors have stayed – recent guests have included Van Morrison and Bon Jovi. Though someone was occupying their most lavish suite that night ($3000/night, where Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie stayed), we were able to see the Churchill Suite, a cozy two-story room with generously-sized bathrooms, priced at $999/night.

artsScene Summer Party + Behind the Scenes

Imagine waking up to Churchill in the morning

After the tour, we wandered outside to take in the patio, smoke be dammed.

artsScene Summer Party + Behind the Scenes

The haze

artsScene Summer Party + Behind the Scenes

Lots of green!

Thanks to artsScene for a great night – check their website to find out about their future events!

You can read Mack’s post about the evening here, and see his photoset here.