2018 Taste of Edmonton Preview

It’s that time again – Taste of Edmonton is back next week! There are some changes afoot to the festival this year, namely, a new location. Due to the construction around Churchill Square, Taste has relocated to Capital Plaza at 99 Avenue and 108 Street (near the Legislature). In addition, the 10 day festival has expanded to 12 days this year, running from July 18-29, 2018, giving diners an extra two days to sample their way through the over 100 food items on the menu (41 of them new!).

Last week, I was invited to preview some of the new items that will be served at this year’s festival. The restaurants we visited are all new to Taste of Edmonton, and are among the 11 first time participants.

We started off downtown at Wishbone, where we sampled both of the items that they will be serving. The spicy fried chicken sandwich is a smaller version of a popular lunch item, featuring marinated chicken thighs battered, fried, and tossed in their house gojuchang hot sauce. The meat was crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, with just the right amount of heat; it was my favourite of the dishes we tried that day.

Taste of Edmonton Preview

Spicy fried chicken sandwich from Wishbone

Wishbone’s second item is a summer festival staple – fried dough. Their version are buttermilk beignets, bite sized and dusted with powdered sugar. Like their chicken sandwich, I think this will be well received by the crowds at Taste – easy to eat, good flavour, and deep fried.

Taste of Edmonton Preview

Buttermilk beignets from Wishbone

Our next stop was Wildflower Grill. Some may remember that last year, the restaurant changed hands and installed a new chef. Even with the personnel change, however, Wildflower maintained some Asian fusion influence on its menu, particularly evident in what we were served that night.

The Taste of Edmonton item that we sampled was easily the most complex that we tried – an Adobo pork belly with house kimchi, garlic rice, a 64 degree egg yolk and puffed wild rice. It was an enjoyable dish to be sure (the pork belly was deliciously crispy, and given an unctuous boost from the yolk), but from the outset, it does seem like an ambitious plate to churn out at a high pace. I do like that it will showcase the fine dining side of Wildflower, however.

Taste of Edmonton Preview

Adobo pork belly from Wildflower Grill

We were also treated to the night’s feature bao, something that is offered daily at Wildflower. That night, it involved an unlikely but interesting combination of seared albacore tuna and strawberries. I would not have thought those ingredients would work together, but they did.

Taste of Edmonton Preview

Albacore tuna bao from Wildflower Grill

Next, we headed south to Loma House Vegetarian Express. A vegetarian restaurant in the same vein as Padmanadi, they also incorporate soy-based meat alternatives on their menu. To start, we tried their vegetarian tacos. While these are not being served at Taste, it gave us a good idea of the types of dishes they serve. While I liked the crispness of the fried wonton shell as its base, it was a bit difficult to eat without all of the toppings falling off.

Taste of Edmonton

Vegetarian taco from Loma House

The Taste item we sampled had a playful presentation. Five deep fried sweet potato balls were served in a waffle cone, topped with coconut whipped cream and chocolate sauce. The sweet potato was deceptively filling, and not too sweet on their own.

Taste of Edmonton Preview

Sweet potato balls from Loma House

Our final stop of the night was the Southgate location of Wine and Beyond. The renovated store opened last September, but I hadn’t yet been. Wine & Beyond will be putting together the wine and beverage pairings for the Taste 2 Remember chef dinners, in addition to sponsoring the entertainment stage. We sampled a few different wines (which was definitely a treat for me, given I’ve severely limited my alcohol uptake).

Taste of Edmonton

May and I enjoying ourselves!

Thanks again to the Taste of Edmonton staff and Big E Tours for hosting a wonderful evening!

Taste of Edmonton runs July 18-29, 2018. A reminder that advance tickets are available until July 18 at a savings of $10 per sheet (40 tickets for $57).

The No-Line Brunch: Wildflower Grill

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

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

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

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

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

Wildflower Grill

Corn bread

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

Wildflower Grill

Eggs benedict two ways

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

Wildflower Grill

Spanish skillet

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

Wildflower Grill

Brioche bread pudding French toast

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

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

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

An Elegant Brunch: Wildflower Grill

Brunch is my favourite meal – not only does it offer the best things to eat (breakfast foods, in my opinion), but at a time that accommodates sleeping in. I typically prefer my brunches casual, but sometimes, an elegant version is a nice change.

I met May at Wildflower Grill (10009 107 Street) on Sunday for brunch last weekend, and we were both interested to see if their afternoon service would rise to the same level as their superb evening standard. I made a reservation on Open Table, so wasn’t expecting a follow-up call to confirm my reservation, but I received one anyway. As such, I anticipated a busy restaurant.

I entered, greeted by the host, and led to what may be my favourite table in the restaurant – windowside. I was, however, seated directly next to a party of six in a nearly-empty restaurant. Thankfully, the group had already paid their bill, and were on their way out, so May and I would have a relatively quiet corner to catch up.

I put in an order for coffee ($5, unlisted on the menu), with milk and sugar on the side, a little before May arrived. While my server brought me a mug and a French press filled with coffee right away, I had to wait a little for the accompaniments. It turned out they steam the milk on order – a small but thoughtful action that definitely elevated the coffee service above a pedestrian level.

 

Coffee service

After May arrived, we perused the menu together.  Because of my love of their brioche bread, I had to give their Brioche Bread Pudding French Toast ($13) a try. May, a lover of eggs benedict, decided to order their Eggs Benedict Two Ways ($14) – one a red wine poached egg with maple-glazed back bacon and bernaise, and the other a saffron poached egg with chicken breast and roasted red pepper charon.

We didn’t expect bread service at this hour, so were surprised when our server delivered corn bread muffins to start. Naturally sweetened with dried fruit, it was a nice (albeit unnecessary) way to start off our meal. We found though that the muffin negatively impacted our way to finish off our entree.

 

Cornbread Muffins

When our server reappeared with our dishes, he made a joke about having to play “Bob the Builder” – his effort to try to juggle the plate placements to ensure everything fit comfortably on the small tabletop. The plates, as always at Wildflower, were gorgeously assembled, and mine in particular was lovingly garnished with bursts of mango, pineapple, lychee and strawberries. May and I also each had a tiny pot of potato risotto to enjoy – a savoury mixture of perfectly cooked potato and parmesan. The French Toast wasn’t overly sweet, though as someone accustomed to drizzling too much maple syrup over my toast, I did wish for a dash more liquid sugar to add. May enjoyed her dish as well, though preferred the red wine poached egg benedict over the saffron version.

 

Brioche Bread Pudding French Toast

 

Eggs Benedict Two Ways

We were both wholly satisfied with our meal at Wildflower – they consistently deliver good food and exceptional service in a refined atmosphere. They have rapidly become my current favourite in Edmonton’s restaurant scene.

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

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