A Summery Sunday in Edmonton: Viva Italia Viva Edmonton and the Alley of Light

Mack and I started off our Sunday at Urban China for dim sum with my family. It’s been much too long since we’ve done that on a weekend morning, because we clearly underestimated the crowds: it was a forty minute wait from the time my parents arrived around noon. We’ll get an earlier start next time; Urban China is still one of my favourite places for dim sum in Edmonton!

Urban China

Crispy pork dumplings

We then headed off to Giovanni Caboto Park for the last day of the East Meets West Festival that celebrated all things Italian!

This was our first time at Viva Italia Viva Edmonton, though we’ve taken in the Chinese and African legs of the celebration in past years. It was easily the best part of the festival we’ve ever attended.

East Meets West 2011: Viva Italia

Chasing Jones

Part of that had to do with the amount of space afforded in Little Italy, especially when compared with Chinatown or the McCauley School grounds. With a playground, spray park, wide green spaces as well as the street, there were definitely a lot more possibilities because of the area.

East Meets West 2011: Viva Italia

Lots of families were out!

That said, the organizers still had to program the wide expanse, and they did that with panache. We arrived around 2pm, and found an abundance of things to peruse. Between browsing the shops and the car show, watching the soccer tournament, taking in the cooking demonstrations, or enjoying the on-stage entertainment, there really was something for everyone (Maki thought so too).

East Meets West 2011: Viva Italia

Zocalo tent

East Meets West 2011: Viva Italia

Mack’s dream car

East Meets West 2011: Viva Italia

Soccer tournament

I have to say I particularly enjoyed Chef Daniel Costa’s demonstration. He made something I’ll never be able to pronounce, let alone spell out. Needless to say, it was a bucatini pasta with cured pig jowl and a San Marzano tomato sauce. He was great handling audience questions, and clearly loved sharing his passion for Italian cuisine with the crowd. Perhaps most invaluable was learning about some of his favourite products available at the Italian Centre (such as the Rio brand of olive oil for cooking).

East Meets West 2011: Viva Italia

Chef Daniel Costa

Speaking of food, one of the most entertaining moments of the day for us was the pizza eating contest. Four women who work in local media were recruited for the spectacle, which required them to eat as much of a medium pizza as they could in five minutes. Brandy Taylor of Sonic and Kit Koon of OMNI tied, and ended up in a two minute eat-off. Brandy emerged as the champion.

East Meets West 2011: Viva Italia

Sizeable crowd on hand

East Meets West 2011: Viva Italia

Chow down!

There was also plenty of food options to keep festival-goers well fed. Fantasia Gelato easily had the longest line-ups that day, though Sorrentino’s and the Italian Centre were also serving up Italian fare.

East Meets West 2011: Viva Italia

Gelato line

East Meets West 2011: Viva Italia

Cooking up sausages


Wine and cheese tasting tent

Our only suggestion for next year is to have all of the information up on a website prior. The postcards with the festival week schedule were nice, but didn’t have the detailed information that would definitely help them attract an even bigger crowd.

We hopped on a bus, and on the walk home, came across the Alley of Light public art installation still in progress.

Alley of Light

It’s a really neat project – three artists were commissioned by the Edmonton Arts Council to create a design that could be made into a stencil. The stencil would then be used to paint a portion of the alley.

Alley of Light

Alley of Light

Featuring bold, bright colours, it is a project that puts art in unexpected (but welcome!) places, and will definitely turn some heads. And hopefully, as forecasted by the speech bubble, invite dialogue about public art and the Alley of Light itself.

Alley of Light

Check it out the next time you’re downtown!

An Unexpected Discovery: Urban China

A few weeks ago, my Dad asked me for my opinion on two new-ish Chinese restaurants downtown, looking for an evening venue: Bird’s Nest of Beijing (10425 100 Avenue) and Urban China. I haven’t yet been to Bird’s Nest (though I had heard that their dim sum was fairly reasonably priced), and though my only experience at Urban China was a mixed one, some people have enjoyed their dinner menu. As the occasion would include some family friends in from Vancouver, I thought it would be a great opportunity to show them a restaurant that showcases the new wave of Chinese establishments in Edmonton.

With about ten tables full at the dinner hour on a Friday night, it was busier than I expected it to be. I still love the decor, all dark furniture, clean lines and red accents. And how could I forget the aquariums?

Amanda finds fish tanks shocking

My parents decided on a twelve-course set menu, which, at Urban China, will set you back over $200.00. For the most part, our group enjoyed the meal, though my Dad thought that the portions offered were on the small side. Standout dishes for me included the spicy fish (still crispy on the outside, but flaky on the inside) and the Chongqing style beef with spices (no lie, the tender pieces of beef set my mouth on fire, but it was worth it). Amanda and my Mom loved the steamed tofu dish with olives and ground meat.

Spicy fish (we have no idea what it is actually called – darn the food blogger who doesn’t write things down)

Chongqing style beef with spices

 Steamed tofu with olives and ground meat

Malaysian sizzling pork neck

Famous Chaozhou duck

XO sauce with green beans and salted meat

Haka stirfry

Service was steady throughout the night – it seemed someone was always on hand to refill our empty tea pot, or take away dirty dishes. However, the best part of the visit had nothing to do with the food or the staff – it was our discovery of the tiny televisions set into the mirrors in the bathroom. Urban China really should have been included in the Journal’s recent list of “upscale” restrooms.

Hockey night in a restroom?

I’d recommend Urban China if you’re looking for authentic Chinese food in a clean, modern setting. Just don’t forget to check out the restrooms, too.

Urban China
10604 101 Street
(780) 758-1888

“You win some, you dim sum”: Urban China

You can thank Mack for the eye-rolling title quote.

It’s always nice to have more options within walking distance of the office, so when signs of a new restaurant where Rosie’s used to be on 106 Avenue and 100 Street appeared, I was excited. Urban China opened up in the fall, and I was eager to give them a try.

Dickson and I met up for a dim sum lunch one afternoon. A handful of tables were occupied, with one or two non-Asian groups seated when I entered. The host immediately greeted me in Chinese, to which I ungracefully replied in English, and was led to a table.

The interior had been completely redone, with fabulous results. Unlike most Chinese restaurants that utilize too many gold accents and fake fauna, Urban China chose the sophisticated route of dark wood, leather chairs, bright aquariums and a single red accent wall. It is a sleek space that seems destined to become popular for special occasions and banquets.


Of course, that previous statement would only be true if the food matched the expectations set by the décor. At Urban China, dim sum is both a cart and paper affair. For the limited number of tables, it seemed rather silly for the restaurant to offer carts at all, even though I prefer the jostling atmosphere incurred by drive-by hawkers. Because of their limited pre-cooked selection, we ultimately ended up ordering a few dishes directly from the kitchen anyway.

The dim sum litmus test of ha gao and siu mai ($4.25 each) wasn’t overly positive for Urban China – the shrimp dumplings were the better of the two, but for the price and wavering quality, we were better off at a cheaper establishment.

Shrimp Dumplings

Pork Dumplings

The rice crepes with shrimp ($4.75) were probably the best of our dishes that day, which contained a fair amount of shrimp encased in a silky wrap. My BBQ pork buns ($3.75) on the other hand were poor, a congealed meat filling with an almost pasty quality in every bite. Dickson was similarly unimpressed with his steamed egg yolk sauce buns ($3.75), commenting that the frozen versions at T & T were better.

Rice Crepe with Shrimp

BBQ Pork Buns

Egg Buns

Sharing small plates for lunch is always a nice way to go, particularly in a clean and chic environment. But at least for dim sum, Urban China doesn’t provide the best value or quality. I’ll have to come back to try their dinner menu to see if it holds up.

Urban China
10604 101 Street
(780) 758-1888