Date Night: NaanOLicious and Ice on Whyte

I found a great excuse for Mack and I to finally try NaanOLicious on Friday, New Asian Village’s casual establishment that opened in the fall. It is billed as offering Indian fusion dishes in a funky, hip atmosphere, fitting for its Whyte Avenue location – at the very least, it is a different addition to the spectrum of Indian eateries that already exist. I was planning to follow-up the meal with a walk to Ice On Whyte, so NaanOLicious’ proximity was perfect for that warm winter night.

We took the bus over to Old Strathcona (I checked first to see if the streetcar happened to be running in conjunction with the festival, but I think it was just a special feature of last year’s festivities). Taking our chances without a reservation, we found the restaurant about three-quarters full at the dinner hour. We were greeted promptly and led to a table, and from that vantage point, were able to marvel at the seductive interior. I don’t know what led me to expect a more bare-bones décor scheme (maybe it was the “naan bar” connotation of functionality over form), but with stone accents, rouge carpets, and Bollywood dance videos displayed on the screens and piped through the speakers, it felt like a plush lounge. That said, the room is anchored not by a traditional bar, but a long, open kitchen. It was great to see the chefs at work, and especially to listen to the reassuring sound of naan dough being moulded by capable hands.

I wished the menu was as congruous as the interior, however. While it featured brightly-coloured pages, fun word puns and some photographs, not much thought seemed to be given to the organization and flow. Appetizers were scattered throughout the menu, and it wasn’t clear from the description whether certain dishes were meant to be shared or acted as individual entrees. As a result, we took more time with the menu than we usually do (the servers came to take our order three times before we were ready to do so), but we weren’t the only ones –the pair next to us were similarly confused by the layout and dish descriptions. NaanOLicious, at the end of the day, presents fusion flavours – Indian-spiced pizzas, pastas, and other fun interpretations using familiar spice profiles.

NaanOLicious

Menu

Mack  ended up with a coconut shrimp shooter ($3) to start, a fun two-bite treat served in a shot glass full of mango chutney. Mack enjoyed it, but I’m not sure it was worth the price, though it is unusual to see such small single-serving items on menus in the city.

NaanOLicious

Mack with his shrimp shooter

We split two dishes, one being the clear winner. We’ve found butter chicken wraps at Origin India and at Remedy, but NaanOLicious was the first to present us with a panaani ($15) – butter chicken, cucumbers, tomatoes grilled between fresh naan. The naan was perfectly crispy, the heat level just right in the creamy sauce with the vegetables lending additional texture and pop. The panaani was served with potatoes and a salad.

NaanOLicious

Butter chicken panaani

The server had asked us about the preferred heat level of our entrees, and we requested medium spicy for both. So it was surprising that the Deccan meatloaf ($16) was so much spicier than the panaani. I would have preferred a creamier sauce, and a firmer texture for the meatloaf – it crumbled when cut. The dish was accompanied by a generous serving of vegetables and potatoes.

NaanOLicious

Deccan meatloaf

Service was disappointing. The ratio of servers to chefs was easily 2:1, but they tended to disappear for long periods of time. The food (understandable given said ratio) also took quite a bit of time. We also anticipated that the shrimp shooter would arrive first, but instead, all three dishes were delivered one after the other.

Without question, we would return to NaanOLicious, especially knowing that a craving for their butter chicken panaani is bound to crop up in the future. But we’d likely call ahead for takeout instead.

After dinner, we walked over to End of Steel Park to take in the 10th edition of Ice on Whyte. I made sure to bring a 2-for-1 coupon with me, which cut down the admission cost for us from $10 to $5. Though it’s great that the funds collected likely contribute to the sustainability of the festival, we wondered if the fee (in the face of free winter festivals like Deep Freeze and Silver Skate) heightens expectations for other patrons, as it did for us.

Ice on Whyte 2013

Hands off my honey!

The temperature extremes that week, swinging thirty odd degrees, did not treat the ice sculptures well. Most were visibly damaged (one ice mammoth was missing a tusk, while an ice gymnast had lost a leg), but lit up after dark, the sculptures were still a sight to behold.

Ice on Whyte 2013

Love the sense of motion

To help commemorate its 10th anniversary, carvers recreated one sculpture from each of the past festivals (though not necessarily on the same scale). It was neat to see some of the familiar sights again!

Ice on Whyte 2013

The dinosaur remained intact

Of course, the ice slide was ever popular. It just seems to grow every year, with six slides built into the main attraction (and even more smaller slides in the children’s area).

Ice on Whyte 2013

Ice slide!

Unfortunately, we had missed the programming (which ended an hour before the gates closed), though we did hear the tail end of the karaoke taking place inside the tent. Though we’re sure more must go on during the day, it was such a stark contrast to the variety of activities offered at Deep Freeze.

Ice on Whyte 2013

Skating

We’ve been to Ice on Whyte every year for a while now, and though the sculptures are consistently stunning, we’ve found there isn’t much more than that to see or do. And not every festival has to grow or be all things to all people, but for us, it won’t be something we continue to return to, year after year.

NaanOLicious
10331 82 Avenue
(780) 705-5570
Monday-Thursday 11:30am-11pm, Friday-Saturday 11:30am-3am, Sunday 11:30am-9pm

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

Concession

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!

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Hope you enjoyed your Saturday as well!

2011 Edmonton Transit System Historical Tour: Strathcona Tour & Streetcar Sunset

Though I love joining tours of cities I’m visiting, it’s something I also like to do at home. Being a tourist in your own city is a way to remind yourself of the things that make it great, or at least, things to appreciate and consider from a different perspective.

For that reason, we’ve been meaning to take in one of the Edmonton Transit System Historical Tours for some time, but in the busy festival season, it has fallen by the wayside for a number of years. In July, I made sure to purchase advance tickets for what seemed like the highlight of the series – a bus tour of Old Strathcona, followed by a ride on the High Level Streetcar…at sunset.

Apparently, the tour sold out right away, and could have been sold three times over had there been room, so I was glad to have bought the tickets when I did (at a steal of only $10 each!). Two weeks ago, we walked over to City Hall to board a full bus of excited patrons ready for a history lesson and a ride.

ETS Historical Tour

We were given paper fans at the start, handy while we waited for the bus to depart

The bus travelled through downtown en route to Old Strathcona, as our guide pointed out buildings on 97 Street (such as the W.W. Arcade) that, early in the 20th century, made it the premiere shopping district in Edmonton. We passed the Alberta Hotel, still being rebuilt, the Hotel MacDonald, and the former Canadian Pacific ticket station on Jasper Avenue. Then, there was a stretch where the phrase, “On this site, the former…once stood” were repeated too many times to count. It was a poignant reminder, in the face of the BMO Building’s demolition, that much of Edmonton’s visual history can now be found only in photographs.

The route took us over to the University of Alberta Campus, then back downtown, where we departed the bus in favour of the streetcar. I have so much respect for the Edmonton Radial Railway Society – I am constantly amazed that the High Level Streetcar is maintained and run entirely by dedicated volunteers. The car we were seated in, for example, was refurbished with over 35,000 volunteer hours, after the frame was recovered from a farmer’s field.

ETS Historical Tour

Car #33

One of the operators, Don, had the kind of wry humour that put everyone immediately at ease. He provided commentary while we road over the High Level Bridge to the south side (did you know the south end of the bridge is 8 feet higher than the north end?).

ETS Historical Tour

Our tour guide, Don

Once we reached the Old Strathcona stop (we overheard that the City is considering adding an additional stop further south at Whyte Avenue for next year), we were invited to depart and take a look inside the ERRS museum inside the bus barns.

Though it wasn’t very big, Mack and I loved looking at the memorabilia, and the signage from lines past.

ETS Historical Tour

To market, to market

Once everyone had a chance to stretch their legs, it was back on the streetcar for the moment we had all been waiting for. The skies had threatened to rain all evening, but we were a fortunate lot, as the clouds held off. The sunset was all the more spectacular given our vantage point.

ETS Historical Tour

Onto the bridge

Edmonton from the High Level Bridge

Mack’s spectacular panoramic shot

With the streetcar parked on the middle of the bridge, we were treated to a heightened “cocktail party” (heh). Nothing exotic, just juice boxes and some chocolate, but at that moment, we didn’t need anything more than the view.

Edmonton from the High Level Bridge

Sunset view

Edmonton from the High Level Bridge

Bye, LRT!

The Historical Transit Tours will start up again next summer. Though I’m certain all of them are equally informative, there’s just something about a sunset tour of the High Level Bridge that’s priceless, and something I’d say everyone in Edmonton should do at least once.

ETS Historical Tour

Good night!

You can see the rest of Mack’s photoset here.

A Taste of Whyte: The 1st Annual Red Shoe Crawl

Given how much I love exploring neighbourhoods on foot, I was predisposed to liking the idea of the Red Shoe Crawl, put on by the Ronald McDonald House of Northern Alberta. The fact that it exceeded my expectations was just icing on the cake!

Red Shoe Crawl

Red Shoe Crawl

I received an e-mail from Jen Panteluk a few months ago about a fundraising event the House was in the midst of organizing. The Red Shoe Crawl would be an opportunity for participants to sample fare from different establishments in Old Strathcona, with the entire $35 ticket price going to the charity. Jen shared with me that all of the businesses were not only enthusiastic about the idea, but had all generously agreed to donate food or drinks.

Red Shoe Crawl

Red balloon markers!

We had a three hour window on that Sunday afternoon to visit all nineteen participating vendors. There was even an added incentive to complete the loop: the chance to win prizes. Mack and I thought: with ease! Boy, were we wrong.

Having purchased our tickets ahead of time, we signed in at Chili’s, received our passports adorned with red ribbon that doubled as a lanyard of sorts, and we were off.

Red Shoe Crawl

Passport

Our first stop was Accent European Lounge. We were greeted by a friendly volunteer who signed off our passport, then asked us to help ourselves to a tray of tomatoes topped with fresh mozzarella and a balsamic glaze. Because this was our first stop, we assumed all restaurants would providing made-ahead appetizers in a similarly casual, self-serve manner.

Red Shoe Crawl

Tomatoes with mozzarella and a balsamic glaze

Well, perhaps some restaurants should have. Because this was a first time event, and the businesses were donating their food (and staff and space), it’s hard to fault the establishments that didn’t quite make it work. The Pourhouse was one of them. Situated a few doors down from Chili’s, they were slammed from the start, and in the fifteen minutes that we waited, we saw only a single plate of their nacho dogs with stuffed potato soup go out. We ended up leaving, with full intentions of returning, but didn’t get around to it.

Red Shoe Crawl

The Pourhouse

In contrast, Two Rooms was pumping out plates of bannock and bruschetta like a well-oiled machine. It was also the stop that tuned us into the fact that if we had to consume fifteen more plates that size, we likely wouldn’t make it.

Red Shoe Crawl

Bannock and bruschetta – the bannock was great, crispy on the outside, and chewy on the inside

Elephant & Castle had a special place for Red Crawl participants. Cordoned off upstairs, it made it easy for staff to identify who still had to be served.

Red Shoe Crawl

Fish and coleslaw – good, but the fish was a little under seasoned for my taste (Mack disagreed)

With fried food in our bellies, we thought it would be a good opportunity to walk it off, given we still had three quarters of the tour left to go. McDonald’s was the furthest destination we had, and it sounded like at that point in the game, hardly anyone had made it that far. We were rewarded with a full size drink of our choosing.

Red Shoe Crawl

The display cups were too cute!

Red Shoe Crawl

Iced coffees (Mack remarked that he preferred these to the Starbucks iced brewed coffees – sacrilege!)

Back on Whyte, Irie Foods treated us to a beef patty. It resembled a pizza pop, but the spicy, well seasoned ground beef filling was so much better. At $3 a pop on the menu, we thought it would be an easy to eat item to pick up during the Fringe, and a much cheaper, but satisfying alternative to the food on the grounds.

Red Shoe Crawl

Jamaican beef patty

Fuss Cupcakes, further down the street, offered us our first dessert of the afternoon, a cute mini red velvet cupcake topped with yellow icing – a delightful homage to the Ronald McDonald House. Our only grimace – the volunteer who told us she was sick, right before handing us cupcakes without gloves on.

Red Shoe Crawl

Cupcake!

Mack had been looking forward to the next stop all day – Molly’s Eats was parked on 104 Street, just south of Whyte. We’d been wanting to try Molly’s for some time now, but this was the first time it worked out. And even better, it was worth the wait! The proveletta sandwich was delicious, packed with melty cheese and perfectly crispy, buttered bread. It was our favourite taste of the day.

Red Shoe Crawl

Susan of Molly’s Eats

Red Shoe Crawl

Proveletta sandwich

The skies were threatening to open up at this point, so it seemed like a good time to start wine-ing down (heh). Well, that and we were starting to get full. Eyecare Group was one of two participating non-food establishments (the other being The Tin Box), so I was eager to see how they fit into the picture. Turns out, they were perhaps the most savvy – offering a wine pour and encouraging guests to browse the store, with the added incentive of a coupon for a $50 discount.

Red Shoe Crawl

Wine

We had our most relaxing experience that afternoon at Murietta’s. We were seated and provided with a glass of water while we waited. Staff were calm and professional, and though the visit was brief, it was the restaurant that impressed us the most, and one that we would most likely return to based on that day.

Red Shoe Crawl

Garlic prawns – maybe shrimp would be a more accurate descriptor, but served warm, they were tasty

Next up was another beverage – a chillate from Second Cup. I can’t tell you how relieved Mack and I were when presented with sample instead of full-size servings.

Red Shoe Crawl

Mini Chillates

At this point, Mack had been utterly defeated by the food. He was stuffed past the brim, while I was just uncomfortably full. We agreed to do two more stops. The first was Sabzy, which had set up its tasting station outside of the storefront. They offered tastes of both a quinoa salad and a rosewater-based drink.

Red Shoe Crawl

Quinoa salad and rosewater

We had saved the ice cream for last – any flavour from What’s the Scoop?

Red Shoe Crawl

Ice cream

We ended up missing six passport markers – Cha Island Tea, The Tin Box, The Pita Pit, Chianti’s (which was offering a full appetizer order – we were bursting just thinking about it), the Old Strathcona Rack (we had wandered in, but no volunteer – or staff for that matter – could be found), and Chili’s (where the after party was being held). I’m not sure how many people actually finished the rounds, but hats off to them!

Red Shoe Crawl

We did our best!

We didn’t stay for the after party – we still had some errands to run that afternoon – but we’re sure it was a good time. On the way home, I kept thinking about how this was such a great medium for a taste event. Not only do chefs actually get to cook in a full kitchen, but diners set foot and get a feel for the actual restaurant. I think it’s also a great way to expose people to a neighbourhood – had Taste 118 gone ahead as planned, I would have hoped for something like this. But other BRZs or districts of interest should also take note – Chinatown/Little Italy, Avenue of Nations, 124 Street, Little India, Little Lebanon…the replication of this type of event is possible all over.

I’ve been told that the Red Show Crawl itself will be an annual event, and that even more restaurants had expressed interest than they could have accommodated this time around. So expect an even better (and possibly bigger) event next year! Kudos to Jen and the rest of the Ronald McDonald House staff and volunteers for planning a fantastic afternoon.

A Block Party and Policy in Old Strathcona

The advent of summer brings with it not only warm weather, but also a plethora of activities – you should never be wanting of things to do in Edmonton at this time of year! Saturday was a poster child of event overload – perhaps you ran into frantic City Chase participants, checked out either of the fabulous Royal Bison or Handmade Mafia craft shows, or learned more about public transit at the ETS Community Fair. We wanted to do it all, but with a seat at the CHG Top Chef table that night, we aimed to narrow our scope to Old Strathcona.

High Level Street Car

We should have taken the street car instead of the bus

Flowers at Old Strathcona Farmers Market

Four walls couldn’t contain the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market!

Old Strathcona Farmers Market

Entertainment

Mack and I love a good street festival, so while we were in the neighbourhood, had to check out the East Whyte Block Party.

East Whyte Ave Block Party

East Whyte

It definitely had the right elements – food from the ever-popular Fat Franks and Eva Sweet, art work displays, representatives from the community league, and demonstrations of athleticism from yoga practitioners and stunt bikes.

East Whyte Ave Block Party

Art

East Whyte Ave Block Party

Yoga

East Whyte Ave Block Party

Stunting!

It was just lacking a festive atmosphere – music to help tie it all together would have been a great addition, and perhaps more signage near the farmers’ market to help direct pedestrian traffic that way. That said, for an inaugural event, it can only grow from here. I’m looking forward to see how next year’s party develops!

We made our way back to William McIntyre Park at noon to take part in the official kick-off to the City of Edmonton’s Food and Agriculture Policy Project. It was great to see a small crowd gathered to take in the displays and be a part of the launch.

Food in the City

Displays

Mayor Mandel and Councillor Loken emphasized that this policy, which will look at everything from where citizens source their food from, to where it is processed, to how it is disposed of, is a natural fit with the direction of sustainability in The Way We Grow, The Way We Live and The Way We Green (The Way We Grow, for example, highlighted the importance of the pristine farmland in the north east of the city last year, for example).

Food in the City

Councillor Loken addresses the crowd

As with other policies, the City will be gathering public feedback to assist with its development. An online questionnaire is already available, and a forum is being planned for the fall.

Food in the City

Timeline

Though it will be important that policies such as urban beekeeping and backyard chickens are thoroughly considered, I do hope other hands on ideas for sustainability, though decidedly less controversial, are also highlighted. For example, the Alberta Avenue Community League offered a series of “homesteading” workshops a while back, a great initiative that really should be happening on a larger scale. Opportunities for people to learn how to garden (in a yard or containers) and to preserve what they grow (canning, pickling, etc.) should be more common – and for most, will be a gateway into more involved forms of food production.

I look forward to learning more about the development of this policy, and am optimistic that it will help Edmonton become a leader in this area.

2011 Jane’s Walk in Old Strathcona

The name Jane Jacobs is virtually synonymous with pedestrianism and vibrant communities. Even after her death, she continues to inspire new generations with her philosophy about what cities could be. One such way is through Jane’s Walks, tours done annually the first weekend of every May that gather like-minded and curious individuals together in order to explore neighbourhoods on foot:

Jane’s Walk honours the legacy and ideas of urban activist and writer Jane Jacobs who championed the interests of local residents and pedestrians over a car-centered approach to planning. Jane’s Walk often takes Jacobs’ ideas to communities unfamiliar with her ideas, in order to advance local engagement with contemporary urban planning practices.  The walks helps knit people together into a strong and resourceful community, instilling belonging and encouraging civic leadership.

I’m a bit of a walking tour junkie when travelling, but love to discover new facets of Edmonton this way as well. I remember being regretful about missing the 2010 Jane’s Walk, so was sure to make a note of it when the 2011 date was announced. So on Saturday morning, I joined a group of about two dozen folks at the Queen Alexandra Community Hall for a walk through Old Strathcona.

IMG_3261

Photo op!

Interestingly enough, although the tour was officially led by Karen Tabor of the Old Strathcona Foundation and Shirley Lowe of the Old Strathcona Business Association, there were a handful of City of Edmonton employees, including a retired city planner and a staff of Responsible Hospitality Edmonton that took part in the tour and would occasionally pipe up to share their expertise.

Though I recognize that it is naive to think that one could conduct a tour of such a historic community without referencing its past, I didn’t expect it to end up as one of the major focuses. I have to say I was hoping for much more of what was brought up at the start of the walk – the small but important details that contribute to walkability, such as well-maintained sidewalks, traffic calming, and the aesthetically pleasing and safety enhancing benefits of tree-lined streets.

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Traffic calming – narrowing the street to reduce car travel speeds

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Trees help separate the road from the sidewalk

A few historic features of the neighbourhood were highlighted that I found interesting. The Bard Residence (10544 – 84 Avenue) still has its rear carriage house intact, though when it was originally built, it also had a 180 degree turntable installed to make backing out with a horse and buggy easier. Also, I had to chuckle when the guide told us that following the amalgamation of Strathcona with Edmonton, the former Strathcona City Hall was turned into a juvenile detention centre.

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Bard Residence

Shirley talked about some of the developments that help contribute to the area’s vibrant nature. For example, the Strathcona Public Library will be again putting on an “outdoor reading room” with movable tables and chairs and wifi in McIntyre Park. But instead of offering it during the day, they will be concentrating their efforts on early evenings and weekends. Look for it in July.

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Strathcona Public Library and McIntyre Park

Shirley also mentioned that the small green space just north of what used to be the Iron Horse is slated for a $350,000 redevelopment. It will not only see the introduction of more plants and shrubs, but in recognition of the park’s location as the former railway hub, it will be designed to look like two train wheels from above.

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The park won’t look like this for long

While I enjoyed finally being able to participate in a Jane’s Walk, I have to admit that I didn’t feel I learned enough to warrant the two and a half hours I spent with the group. It was mentioned that the annual tour will trace a different path every year – if that is the case, I wouldn’t mind joining the group again, but would hope for more attention to be paid to aspects of walkability.

Food/Service Dissonance: New York Bagel Cafe

May and I met up on Victoria Day to catch up over brunch. While holidays are a lovely opportunity to linger with a friend over coffee, it was easier said than done. Most of the independent restaurants I could think of were either closed for the holiday, or closed on Mondays, so we resorted to options across the river. We ultimately ended up at New York Bagel Café (8430 Gateway Boulevard), the charming and cozy eatery a stone’s throw away from the bustle of Whyte Avenue.

My only previous visit was an exercise in patience, in both the wait for a table and the delay in getting our food at the table, and this experience was no different. We were second in line, but it took staff more than ten minutes to even acknowledge our existence, and no one so much as stopped to provide a ballpark estimate of the wait time. Granted, I did not envy the job of the two servers on the floor, run ragged and only halfway through the afternoon, but for such a well-established restaurant, it surprised me that they presented such a poor first impression.

After we were seated (about forty minutes later) away from the entrance and with a view of the still-shuttered patio, we were finally able to relax. Our server was friendly and she was thankfully calm at the table where she was frantic in the lobby.

While I still have qualms about their lack of drip coffee on the menu, I was satisfied with my espresso-based house coffee ($3.25) this time, served piping hot and made creamy with the addition of a side of steamed milk.

House coffee

The food was quite good as well, living up to their reputation of having great bagels and benedicts. My cheddar bagel was cheesy and toasted perfectly, and I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of my classic breakfast ($13), including my perfectly cooked scrambled eggs and well-seasoned potatoes (where a morsel of coarse salt would occasionally burst forth). The fruit accompaniment, while not necessarily rivalling Cora’s in quantity, definitely strikes a prettier note.

Classic breakfast

May equally delighted in her eggs benedict with duck ham ($19), a rich and savoury way to start the morning (my taste of the duck ham led me to believe it would make a steadfast rival to traditional bacon). Though she found the sweet apple an unusual inclusion, she still declared it among the best benedicts in the city.

Smoked duck breast and grilled apple benedict

The only other blemish during our stay came when we asked for our bill. It took the server more than fifteen minutes to bring it by. Though we didn’t mind drinking in the sunshine and ambiance, we assumed her lengthy time away meant the demand for tables had died down. However, when we later approached the door, bill in hand to pay at the register, we were surprised to see that the line was even longer than before. For New York Bagel Café’s sake, I’m hoping that day was a blip in their service delivery, because their food deserves better.

New York Bagel Café
8430 Gateway Boulevard
(780) 432-2003

Consistent Quality: Origin India

Given the news that another Indian restaurant is joining the Old Strathcona fray (where New Asian Village, Daawat and Origin India have already staked their claims), it looks like Whyte Avenue is becoming quite the hotbed of Indian cuisine.

Origin India is my favourite in the area, owing to their elegance and attention to detail. Their dining room, accented with spot lighting and dark furniture, is intimate and polished. The naan, prepared fresh to order every time, is excellent, and their service is gracious and timely.

Mack and I dined there again in the late fall, but this time opted to order from the a la carte menu, a departure from our usual buffet harvest. We were told by our server that two dishes would suffice to share, though we ended up having to supplement our basmati rice accompaniment with an additional side ($3.00).

Mack, ever the butter chicken faithful, made that dish a necessity ($16.00), while my personal favourite, mutter paneer ($15.00), rounded out our meal. It was a quiet night at the restaurant (we were the only party early on), but it did allow for quick kitchen-to-table service.

Naan

The plates were beautifully arranged – tiny pomme frites in a rainbow of colours and an artful mound of rice bookended each entrée serving, and made it seem like we had ordered a buffet for two. Their butter chicken is one of the best in the city – moist and tender, I find the heat just perfect for my palate. The mutter paneer was equally good, the velvety cubes of cheese and pop of peas enrobed in a thick and creamy sauce.

Butter Chicken

Mutter Paneer

Even with the competition, I think Origin India will remain my favourite – its consistency and food quality will keep me coming back, regardless of its neighbours.

Origin India
10511 82 Avenue
(780) 436-0558

Ice on Whyte 2010

Mack and I finally attended Ice on Whyte today, twice in fact. We stopped by this afternoon on our way home, dutifully paying our $2 admission and joined a crowd of adults and young families at Festival Park in Old Strathcona.

At Festival Park

We took our time admiring the ice sculptures, all of which had already been adorned with prize ribbons in both artists’ and people’s choice categories. Mack and I both liked “stretched” – an adult and baby giraffe, complete with frosted spots on their clear ice flesh.

“aquarium”

“stretched”

We then walked over the ice bridge to the castle, which, unlike in previous years when I have visited, was complete with ice furnishings! The fountain was particularly neat, where patrons had moulded coins into its surface.

Would you like some ice?

Cooling his hands at the fireplace

Freezing coins into the fountain

The ice maze was probably better left to those under three feet. Though the entryway was accessible to anyone standing over five feet tall, the only through exit was via a small crawl-hole. It’s a kid’s world out there!

Inside the maze

The ice slide was the most popular attraction that afternoon, with adults and kids alike lining up to race each other down the frosty decline on a crazy carpet. It looked like fun, but after my clumsy mishap a few years ago, I avoided a potential repeat tumble.

Even though it was the last day of the festival, several ice carvers were still on site working on various sculptures. It was –19 with the windchill this afternoon, but the carvers did not look like the cold bothered them in the least.

Hard at work

Following dinner this evening, we returned to Festival Park to see the sculptures illuminated at nightfall. I’d never been to Ice on Whyte after dark before, but I was glad we took the time to do so – there was a different vibe on the grounds – it was more relaxed and peaceful somehow.

“aquarium” after dark

“branching out”

Ice bridge

Besides sculpture viewing and the ice slide, there was a blues concert going on in the small indoor venue. As with all festivals, it’s nice to see Ice on Whyte expanding and offering different events.

Whee!

Make sure to check out Ice on Whyte next year, or if you can’t wait that long – the next Winter Light event is Hearts of Fire on February 13 at the Boyle Street Park.

You can see Mack’s photoset here.

Korean Delight: Lee House

On a fine fall day (you read that right), I met up with Annie at Lee House, a Korean restaurant tucked away almost unseen in an Old Strathcona strip mall. I hadn’t been there before, though Annie had, but the ultimate reason we chose Lee House was because of its proximity to Annie’s school and my ability to get there on one direct bus after work.

About half of the tables were full upon our arrival, but continued to pick-up throughout our stay. And though we were seated at the odd table out (most of the furniture was wood; our table and chairs were seemingly spared from an 80s furniture cull), we still benefited from the warm surroundings – wood floor, wood paneling, simple grey wallpaper and incandescent lighting. Service was conversely pleasant, as our waitress respected our desire to linger.

Neither Annie or myself deviated far from our Korean favourites – I ordered my usual stone bowl bibim bab ($12.95), while she opted for the spicy noodle soup with seafood ($12.95). I did succumb to the intriguing vegetable pancakes ($10.95), however, and selected them to start our meal.

The vegetable pancakes were the weakest part of our experience, and weren’t worth it. The plate contained what was essentially battered zucchini – the dish could have been good, but had a texture that neither of us enjoyed – not quite crispy, yet not quite tender.

Vegetable Pancakes

On the other hand, my dolsot bibim bab was fantastic. I’ve never had a stone bowl version stay hot for the entire duration of my feast (being a slow eater and all), but this bowl was absolutely sizzling. I love the combination of pickled carrots, bean sprouts, and a creamy fried egg to bind the mixture together. Of course, the bits of crunchy rice are the best – a reward for reaching the bowl’s bottom.

Dolsot Bibim Bab

Annie liked her entrée as well, and in particular, the flavour and heat of the soup. She commented that the seafood was a bit lacking though, and would have traded the large mound of rice noodles for more mussels, prawns and squid.

Spicy Korean Red Chili Noodle Soup

It was a solid meal overall with few blemishes. Lee House’s relative accessibility on public transit is also a bonus (compared with, say, B-Bim-Baab), so I know I will be back in the future.

Lee House
7904 104 Street
(780) 438-0790