Lazia Rebranded: Riz

While there’s no doubt the rise of Rogers Place has led to a number of new restaurants hoping to capitalize on related foot traffic, Riz Asian Kitchen is the first to rebrand in order to do so.

Lazia has been a Downtown staple for more than a dozen years, but owner Richard Lim thought it was time for a refresh. The website heralds the pedway connections between the Ice District and Edmonton City Centre where Riz is located (though to be honest, the ongoing construction in the mall might be a deterrent to some would-be patrons). Commenting that there was no better time than the present to remind diners of the space, Richard commissioned CK Designs (the same firm behind the Downtown mega bar applications) to redesign the restaurant. Given the tight turnaround time of several days, much of the same structure is intact, but the colour scheme has been muted to a palette of neutrals. In some ways, it’s now less distinctive than its other casual upscale competitors.

Mack and I were invited to enjoy a complimentary meal on September 6 when Riz opened to the public. The meaning behind the new name comes from the French word for "rice", and speaks to the fusion cuisine still present on their menu.

The menu, featuring sweeping Asian-inspired flavours from Korea to Thailand to India, does appeal to broad tastes, and includes some on-trend dishes including their interpretation of ramen. That said, they have some mainstream items on the menu, such as a basic burger and a Philly cheese steak. What does set the menu apart is the price – a majority of mains ring in under $20, making it an economical contender against the competition.

We shared the roti canai (so popular at East they had to migrate the item over to Riz), served with a curry dipping sauce.


Roti canai

Mack’s panko-breaded Japanese fish and chips didn’t have a noticeable Asian flair, except for a disjointed slaw comprised of noodles and carrots. He enjoyed it well enough, but thought it could have more readily lived up to the cuisine that inspired it.


Japanese fish and chips

I ordered the duck curry ramen. It was a very heavy dish; I would have preferred a slightly thinner broth as I laboured to finish it by the end. The flavours were good – the confit duck was delicious and married with the curry well. The yuzu red peppers were on the tart side, but they were a welcome pop given the richness of the soup.


Duck curry ramen

The service that evening was top notch, but given most in the restaurant that day were family, friends and media, it was somewhat expected.

Richard and his team have the experience to help draw in the crowds; only time will tell what will play well with the concert and hockey fans making the trek downtown. I wish Riz the best in the months to come – thanks again for having us!

10200 102 Ave, A113 (Edmonton City Centre Mall)
(780) 990-0188
Monday-Thursday 11am-11pm, Friday-Saturday 11am-1am, Sunday 11am-11pm

Worth the Splurge: Wildflower Grill

I had mentioned my exquisite meal at Wildflower Grill (10009 107 Street) so many times to Mack in the last year that he was eager to give it a whirl of his own at the next opportunity. We finally made time on Thursday to go and see if the standard of excellence outlived the new car smell.


Wildflower interior

The restaurant served just four other tables for the duration of our visit, so for that reason (and the basic principle of welcoming), we found it surprising that the hostess greeted us with an abrupt “Do you have a reservation?” as soon as we walked through the door. Granted, we could have simply surprised her, but a “How are you?” would have been an acceptable preface.

At any rate, we were shown to a table by the window, one of my favourite places to sit in any restaurant. Our server promptly came to take our drink order, and throughout the evening, was attentive without being overbearing – I was happy to see that their service had not declined in quality since my inaugural visit.

The menu appeared to be unchanged, which was fine with me, as I had intentions to sample a dish free of fruits de mer this time around. To start, Mack couldn’t resist the temptation of Coconut Buttered Tiger Prawns ($15), and decided to continue on the seafood theme with Pan-Roasted Sockeye Salmon Medallions ($31) as his entrée. I was decidedly in the land corner that day, and the Herb-Crusted Venison Medallions ($38) struck my fancy.

As expected, our server teased our palate with an amuse bouche, of stewed figs this time. I didn’t care much for the cream cheese finish, but I still adored the complimentary sample from the chef. Next was the included treat I was looking most forward to – brioche bread served with two kinds of butter. It was just as good as I remembered – warm from the oven, crisp on the outside, but soft and chewy on the inside. Heavenly.


Amuse bouche

Brioche bread service

We weren’t halfway through our bread, however, when our appetizer appeared. Mack was immediately distracted by the sight of shrimp and scallops, and I was less than interested. The two accompanying sauces provided a color pop to the dish, but were also quite tasty – Mack preferred the lime green chili sauce, while I liked the bite of the red chili sauce. The potato crown which encased the seafood tower was a nice edible addition as well.

Coconut Buttered Tiger Prawns

Anticipating entrees that would arrive prior to completing our appetizer, we finished the plate in no time. To our relief, there was a lengthened pause from the kitchen, and we waited comfortably, sipping our drinks and enjoyed the relaxed ambiance of a quiet dining room.

Our entrees were a canvas to behold. A tiny ceramic pot (adhered to the square plate with the help of mashed potato) supplied a miniature dish within a dish, while the rest of the sides painted a lovely array of colors, accenting the bold, deep pink of the venison medallions which were drenched in a ruby sauce. Mack’s salmon medallions were also heightened visually with beautiful vegetables, though the fish and shrimp were already so vibrant in color that they didn’t need much in the way of accents.

This was my first experience with game, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Though the texture was different than beef or bison, I’m not sure I would be able to identify the meat as “game” in a blind taste test. The crust and the huckleberry compote were great accompaniments, so I have no complaints on preparation or presentation, but as the dish was served with an oxtail ragout, it was difficult not to prefer the softened shards of braised meat served in a lovely broth. Mack’s lobster and crab-stuffed salmon medallions were the closest he’d probably get to recreating Homer Simpson’s “lobster stuffed with tacos” request, and he enjoyed them thoroughly. He didn’t really think there was a need for the butternut squash gnocchi, however, which didn’t seem to relate to the other parts of the dish.

Herb-crusted Venison Medallions

Pan-Roasted Sockeye Salmon Medallions

We were both stuffed by the end of our mains, and opted not to order dessert. Between the amuse bouche, bread course, and complimentary chocolate they provided prior to handing us our bill, we felt that the diner’s experience was a top priority for staff. It was definitely not an inexpensive meal, but for a special occasion, the Wildflower Grill is worth the splurge.

Wildflower Grill
10009 107 Street
(780) 990-1938
Lunch: Monday – Friday 11am-2pm; Dinner: Sunday – Thursday 5-9pm, Friday – Saturday 5-10pm; Brunch: Sunday 11am-2pm
Appetizers $10-22, Entrees $26-49, Desserts $12

Mixed Makeover: Lazia

In the past on this blog, I have mentioned  my disdain for Lazia (10200 102 Avenue). However, after being wowed earlier this year at their newest outpost, the Wildflower Grill, I was in the right frame of mind to give Lazia another try, especially after seeing that their downtown location had been completely remodelled, from the interior to the menu. I had trust that Chef Yoshi Chubachi could spread some of that Wildflower magic to the rest of Lazia’s holdings.

Prior to a show at the nearby Citadel Theatre, Mack and I headed to the restaurant with with expectations in check. We were greeted by a hostess, and immediately taken past the lounge, into the dining room, and offered a choice seat in a rounded banquet. Plush and large enough to easily accommodate a party of five, we enjoyed the semblance of privacy our table provided us.

The decor in the dining area hadn’t changed as much as in the lounge. I was happy to see that the blown-glass sculpture had been saved through the renovation, but besides some minor furniture adjustments, the core of the dining room seemed to have remained the same (granted, my image of the restaurant is several years old). The lounge, however, was now sleek and sophisticated, with the back wall a popping orange shade, a bar with ample seating situated in the centre, and a small glass area in the front lined with couches – perfect for a girls night out.

Dining area

I was most excited about the potential of the new menu. While it did look a lot better on the outset than what I remembered, it was a bit scattered (though to be fair, most mid-range restaurants Lazia is trying to compete with have the same problem). I did really like the fact that there were two streams of desserts to choose from – a range of $8 regular desserts and a set of $5 plates to satisfy those just looking for something small.

I ended up ordering the roasted butternut squash Ravioli ($23) in a white truffle rosé sauce, while Mack opted for the Colossal Prawns ($25), served with a laundry list of accompaniments, including a panko crusted crab cake, cooked shrimp ceviche, miso soya sugar snap peas, basmati rice, sweet
pineapple curry and tomato & corn confit.

Service was great throughout, much improving my outlook on Lazia. Our food was also delivered quite promptly, with a flare for plate presentation – our dishes were treated like pieces of art, the white plates an empty canvas for visual design. The portion sizes, however, left much to be desired – though Mack enjoyed his meal, he could have easily consumed two of the same. My pasta was too sweet all around, between the filling, the sauce, and the accent vegetables – I found no delicate interplay between flavours (as with Rob Feenie’s masterful interpretation at Cactus Club Bentall 5).

Colossal Prawns


Overall, we found the Lazia dining room to be a local, but pricier version of the upscale casual brand purported by the Earls and Joeys of the world. We’d be back to try the desserts, but probably after a cheaper meal elsewhere.

I was back at Lazia sooner than I had expected – a two days after my meal with Mack, a few girlfriends and met up for a bite to eat in the lounge. I now have a better appreciation for the reason why food reviewers at major newspapers visit restaurants multiple times to sample dishes off all parts of the menu – I was ready to give Lazia a thumbs up after our dinner, but following our lounge experience, I’d include a small asterisk on that recommendation.

While the lounge was busy, it wasn’t as packed as we thought it would be on a Friday evening. Though it was clear that our party was still waiting for one more, none of the waitresses thought to check on us to see if we wanted to order anyway – a clear twenty minutes passed before we were acknowledged by any of the staff members after sitting down.

Eventually, we were asked to order. The small plates ranged from $6-12, the dishes influenced by the same haphazard “world cuisine” philosophy that dominated the entree side of the menu. I ended up choosing the Ginger Beef ($9), Janice and May the Garlic Prawns ($12), and Annie the Patatas Bravas ($6), or Spanish home fries, because the kitchen had run out of sweet potato fries.

The kitchen was thankfully more together than their floor counterparts, and our dishes were delivered in good time. Based on our sampling, we weren’t too impressed with the appetizers – my ginger beef was barely above the standard served at Beijing Beijing, while Janice couldn’t taste any garlic in her prawns. Annie’s dish sounded great on the outset, but really, the home fries were really a fancy name for potato wedges.

Ginger Beef

Garlic Prawns (served with smoked tomato bruchetta)

Patatas Bravas (served with a really well-executed red onion watermelon salad)

Also worth mentioning was an out-of-place employee who, while well-intentioned, put us off. She came by our table twice, leaned her elbows on the table, and almost seemed like she was going to pull up a chair to join our group. She asked about the occasion of our get-together, and about how we felt about our food thus far. We didn’t hesitate to answer her questions, but the way in which she asked seemed awkward and forced – an attempt at connecting with customers that failed.

And so, the asterisk – the lounge, with a vibe for those to see and be seen (similar to Hundred), is chic for an after-work drink, but for food, choose the mains over the appetizers.

10200 102 Avenue (one other location)
(780) 990-0188
Sunday, Monday and holidays 11am-10pm, Tuesday to Saturday 11am-midnight
Appetizers $6-12, Entrees $9-43, Desserts $5-8