April 24th, 2017

Food Notes for April 24, 2017

  • Vivo’s downtown location is holding a four-course wine dinner with Zenato Winery on May 8, 2017. Tickets are $140.
  • Bloom is launching their new seasonal cookie flavours at a free kick-off party on May 11, 2017.
  • COMAL Taco Therapy has just announced their next dinner, taking place on May 17, 2017. Tickets for the three-course meal are $75.
  • Chef Brad Smoliak is again hosting a long table dinner at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village on May 27, 2017. The $130 ticket will include dinner, cooking demonstrations, and a tour of the Village.
  • Alder Room, the sister restaurant of Chef Ben Staley’s Alta, will open on May 24, 2017. Alder Room will be open from Wednesday – Saturday and offer one dinner seating at 7pm each night. Reservations are now being taken.
  • Urban Diner’s southside location at 8715 109 Street has been replaced by Tang Bistro.
  • Edmonton has its second Blaze Pizza location in the Brewery District – 12010 104 Avenue.
  • Nando’s is also now open in the Brewery District, at 11940 104 Avenue.
  • Indulgence tickets for this year’s event on June 12, 2017 go on sale May 1, 2017. Tickets are $80.
  • Alta had three reviews last week – an unabashed positive experience from Graham, a more subdued summary from Twyla, and a celebration of Alta’s creativity from Liv.
  • Crystal returned to Rocky Mountain Icehouse for the first time after several years to try out a more recent menu.
  • Great to see a feature on what the chef at Youth Empowerment and Support Services has to contend with in order to prepare meals for the youth accessing their services.
  • Ever wondered how you can make green onion cakes in at home? Valerie shows you how, in her latest “Cooking with You” post featuring Ming Franks.
  • Cindy tackles Shanghai 456’s recipe for Shanghainese hot and sour soup from Edmonton Cooks.
  • It’s been some time since I’ve had a vanilla latte from Credo, but it was just as good as I remembered.

Credo

Vanilla latte from Credo

  • Sometimes, Mom’s home cooking is in order. This weekend, she made a beautiful laksa for our family dinner. I’m one lucky gal!

Laksa

Mom’s laksa

April 23rd, 2017

New in Norwood: Otto

Looking for some casual eats on Friday, Mack and I ended up at Otto, located in Norwood, a neighbourhood just north of Little Italy/McCauley. I had been once before with a friend in their first week of opening back in December, but had wanted to return again after they were more established.

 

Had the temperatures been more co-operative that day, I’m certain the garage doors separating Otto from the sidewalk would have been up and open – with the late evening sun streaming into the dining room, the restaurant definitely had the upbeat atmosphere of a summer weekend kick-off. Otto was full, with patrons ranging from families with young children to groups of friends catching up. Owner Ed Donszelmann (formerly of Culina Mill Creek) said they hadn’t been that busy in some time, but they were doing their best to keep up.

 

The interior hadn’t changed much since my first visit – a modest sized room with a worn-in feel, Otto is unpretentious and comfortable. They had wanted very much to become the go-to neighbourhood place; anchored by a bar and a large communal table, the restaurant has the infrastructure to do so.

 

The menu is equally straightforward, and celebrates the timeless pairing of beer and sausages. They have several local beers on tap (Yellowhead, Alley Kat, Red Deer’s Blindman Brewing), as well as an extensive selection of cans and bottles. Mack felt a pint of Alley Kat’s summer incarnate Main Squeeze was in order, while I took the opportunity to sample my first wine in a can. Oregon’s Underwood Wines Pinot Gris was easy to drink, and is definitely something I’d seek out for trips to the lake.

 

Otto

Drinks at Otto

Edmonton sausage and charcuterie maker Fuge Fine Meats supplies all of Otto’s sausages. That day, the menu contained nine varieties, including lamb merguez, pork chorizo, curried cod, and a vegan smoked apple sage. Served with saukraut and mustard, sausages run between $7-9. However, you can also upsize your order in two ways – sausage on a bun, NYC style, for $10, or currywurst with fries for $13. We went this route, with andouille on a bun, and beef bratwurst for the currywurst treatment.

 

Otto also offers a handful of sides in addition to fries to round out your meal: potato salad, house salad, beets with goat cheese and horseradish, and mac & cheese. On this occasion, we chose to share the small mac ($6) and a small coleslaw ($4).

 

As mentioned, the restaurant was slammed that night, so our food was noticeably delayed. Staff did check in to reassure us, but we did end up looking longingly at our table neighbours who ordered after us but finished their meal before our plates even arrived.

 

The andouille ended up being our favourite dish – snappy with a good portion of fat for a satisfying, flavourful sausage. The currywurst was interesting – a curry powder-laced tomato sauce overtop the bratwurst and fries. While the sauce had a moderate heat level, we both found it a tad too sweet for our liking. The fries themselves were great, however, and on future trips, we agreed that we’d likely just order a side of fries to complement our sausage on a bun.

 

Otto Edmonton

Currywurst with fries

 

As for the other sides, I did enjoy the coleslaw, refreshing with a thin dressing and lots of dill. The mac and cheese was creamier on this outing than my previous visit, but just isn’t worth the $6 charge for the small portion.

 

Otto Edmonton

NYC style with mac and cheese and coleslaw

 

It’s always great to see new restaurants setting up shop in underrepresented central neighbourhoods. The price point for Otto’s sausages and beers is reasonable, and service as a whole was welcoming. With this straightforward concept, it’s no surprise that Otto is becoming a destination for diners seeking a comfortable gathering place. I hope to return when the weather allows the garage doors to be fully operational!

 

Otto
11405 95 Street
(780) 477-6244
Monday-Sunday 5-10pm

April 17th, 2017

Food Notes for April 17, 2017

It’s the best time of year – playoff season! It’s even better this year with the Oilers to cheer for, but like many in Canada, I treat the Raptors as my adopted hometown team, too. Go Canada! On to this week’s food notes:

  • Mount Royal’s annual Culinary Cook-off is scheduled for Saturday, April 22, 2017. Tastes are just $2! All donations raised go towards the school’s core programming.
  • It’s your last chance to snag tickets to Eat Alberta, happening at NAIT on April 23, 2017!
  • I love the idea of Bubbles and Bricks, a YEG Date Night event at The Common, which combines a fun evening of Lego building with Prosecco. The next one takes place on April 24, 2017, and costs $90 per couple.
  • Mark your calendar: the first What the Truck?! event of the season will take place on May 14, 2017 from 12-7pm at Northlands.
  • The next Wild Heart Brunch Club is serving up a Mother’s Day High Tea on May 13, 2017. Tickets are $30.
  • ZooFest, a fundraiser for the Valley Zoo and Zebra Child Protection Society, takes place on June 17, 2017. Expect wine and food samples and lots of opportunities to interact with animals! Tickets are $75 for adults and $50 for children.
  • Roots for Trees is looking for volunteers to help with their fourth annual planting to expand the River Valley’s food forest – join them on August 26, 2017.
  • Sorrentino’s is hosting their 26th annual Garlic Festival in the month of April. Graham has a preview of what to expect.
  • Twyla reviews 104 Street’s Bundok.
  • Linda is the latest to visit Grandin Fish ‘N’ Chips.
  • Crystal recaps the first Culinary Lab that took place at Rostizado in early April.
  • New brewery Polar Park has made their first beer available in the spirit of the playoff run, on draught and growler fills.
  • Vue Weekly spotlights how the Alberta Farmers’ Market Association supports local businesses.
  • This New York Times article mentions a couple of local gems – the High Level Diner and Tony’s Pizza Palace.
  • Eater celebrates the art of Lucky Peach and its legacy.
  • Iron Chef (yes, you heard that right), is back on TV – Grub Street recaps the premiere.
  • My office is relocating north next week, so I’m bidding adieu to walking distance Pho Tau Bay lunches. One last bowl before the move!

Pho Tau Bay

I’m going to miss my usual

  • I only seem to end up at 1st RND during the Raptors’ playoff runs, but after their atrocious game one play, I really could only find solace in this burger.

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Beef dip burger and tater tots

  • The skies finally cleared on Sunday, just in time for a walk down to Riverdale. While we’ve been to Little Brick before, this was our first time for brunch. The dishes were as satisfying as the cozy rooms.

Little Brick

Viegas, with scrambled eggs, crispy corn tortilla, vegetables, cheese and hot sauce

Little Brick

Breakfast sandwich, with smoked ham, fried egg, tomato and aioli

April 15th, 2017

Food by Foot: Edmonton’s Best Brunch with Epicurean Adventure Tours

When travelling, Mack and I try to join at least one walking tour – we’ve found it’s the most enjoyable way for us to explore and learn about new destinations. Of course, when food can be added into the mix, all the better.

For that reason, it’s great to see that Edmonton is finally getting its share of pedestrian-oriented food tours. Last summer, Calgary-based Karen Anderson expanded Calgary Food Tours to include Edmonton and Canmore, under the banner Alberta Food Tours. Local food writer Liane Faulder and chef Cindy Lazarenko lent immediate credibility to this new Edmonton venture. Coincidentally, another upstart company also launched at the same time in the city called Epicurean Adventure Tours (EAT).

EAT is the brainchild of two local foodies, Bryanna Kumpula and Melissa Bourgoin. Inspired by similar tours they’d experienced abroad, Bryanna explained that their original intentions were to showcase Edmonton’s food scene to intrepid tourists. However, they’ve found in the last six months of operations that it’s actually mostly locals that have discovered them through EventBrite. In my mind, it really speaks to the continued growth of our culinary industries on all fronts.

I met up with Su for EAT’s Edmonton’s Best Brunch tour on a Sunday in March. Tickets were priced at $60, and covered our tastes at five locations. We were joined by two other pairs; EAT groups range in size from 4 to 12.

Our day started at Blue Plate Diner, one of Downtown’s most popular brunch haunts (they also offer breakfast on weekday mornings). Here, we were treated to a half order of their eggs beneduckt, made with duck confit – it had a nice balance of textures, enhanced with a sweet and smoky barbecue sauce.

Eggs Benedict

Eggs beneduckt from Blue Plate Diner

One of my chief complaints about the tour as a whole was the lack of backstory – whether that be history, context, or points of interest. One of the reasons I choose to participate in paid group tours is for the value add of information or access. And when the tours centre around small businesses in particular (when there are fewer degrees of separation between the customer and the owner), the connection to the story behind the business is important because it can help encourage repeat visits.

I acknowledge that for this particular tour, I was biased because I happen to live on the same street as many of the establishments we visited. Still, in the case of Blue Plate Diner, I was expecting some introduction to co-owners John Williams or Rima DeVitt, or in lieu of that (as not all owners or managers can be available at all times), for our guide to fill in the blanks. Blue Plate would have been a great place to talk about the evolution of 104 Street from its warehouse roots to the modern day condos, outdoor City Market, and Ice District proximity.

Our second stop was down the street to KB & Company. I was most looking forward to this visit, as I’m a little embarrassed to say I hadn’t made it down to this eatery yet. I was curious about what led owner Kristina Botelho to pilot a vegan menu in an area that hasn’t embraced similar ventures (see Earth’s General Store). Alas, the tour didn’t include that tidbit, or anything about KB & Company beyond its menu.

The half order of oat & hempseed waffles, with bananas, macaroon granola, almond-coconut whipped cream, and maple syrup, was very good. Served warm, it tasted every bit as indulgent as waffles with powdered sugar and dairy-based whipped cream, but not as sweet.

EAT tour

Oat & hempseed waffles from KB & Company

We detoured next to Craft on Rice Howard Way. The brunch crowd here was quiet, but it was still pretty early for a Sunday. We were seated at one of the tables at the front where the Great One had autographed (lacquered over, of course).

Craft was prepared for our arrival – a manager took us to their keg room, where they had 30 Alberta beers on tap, including Red Deer’s Troubled Monk, one of their newer additions. We learned that they do source from some local producers, including Morinville Greenhouses and Popular Bakery. We also trekked up to the mezzanine level where we could watch some of the cooks prep Craft’s Meals that Mend contribution to the Ronald McDonald House that evening. Craft sealed the deal with a 2 for 1 coupon for a future brunch meal.

EAT tours

Rotating keg room at Craft

We tried one of their breakfast tacos, with scrambled egg, beer can chicken, guacamole, feta, and pica de gallo in a flour tortilla. It was accompanied by their signature hot sauce, though most of us thought it could have rated higher on the heat meter. But overall, it was something I’d consider ordering for myself.

EAT tours

Breakfast tacos from Craft

We returned to 104 Street for our final two businesses. Evoolution was our penultimate stop. If you’ve been to any of their locations before you know that customers are encouraged to sample the different olive oils and balsamic vinegars, ranging from single origin and flavoured oils to vinegars of varying types and flavours. Our group was not treated any differently as we browsed the different products available on the shelves. It’s been a while since I’ve been to Evoolution (which has since expanded to six locations in Edmonton, St. Albert, Canmore, Banff, and Calgary), and it was great to see the number of made-for-Evoolution products they’ve expanded to include, such as olive leaf tea and Wild Prairie soap and Violet Chocolate Company bars made with Evoolution olive oils.

Our last visit was to Credo, the always bustling neighbourhood coffee shop. Our group managed to snag a couple of tables, and enjoyed a cup of coffee or tea. Owner Geoff Linden came to say hi before we left, but again, I was left wanting a bit more from our EAT guide – she could have talked about the Intelligensia coffee they use, the third wave coffee scene in Edmonton, or even how they anchor the so-called "Coffee District".

EAT currently offers two other walking tours in addition to Downtown brunch – a desserts tour and a bacon and brews tour. Bryanna says she hopes to add Old Strathcona and Ellwood Drive tours to the roster in the future.

While I enjoyed spending the morning with Su and other food-loving Edmontonians, I was hoping the tour would offer more information along with the food. I hope EAT considers integrating more of these stories into future tours.

April 10th, 2017

Food Notes for April 10, 2017

Let’s hope that today was the last snow of the season, as I am more than ready for spring! On to this week’s food notes:

  • Celebrate Easter with the City Market on April 15, 2017 – the first 150 children (12 and under) will receive $5 in City Market bucks and a chocolate lollipop. The market runs 9am-3pm at City Hall.
  • Downton Abbey fans will be interested to know that Cally’s Teas will be hosting garden party teas on April 19 (2-4pm), April 20 (7-9pm) and April 23 (2-4pm). Tickets are $50 and include a menu of cucumber and pompadour sandwiches, smoked salmon savouries, scones and cream, apple tartlets, and rhubarb fool. Also expect musical and theatre performances. Call (780) 757-8944 for reservations.
  • The latest Dining with Friends event hosted by the Friends of Royal Alberta Museum Society celebrates Haitian food at Caribbean’s Finest Restaurant on April 27, 2017. Tickets are $43.
  • It’s not too early to plan for summer – Foodie Bike Tours are back, offering 4-6 hours of pedal exploration of the city’s culinary scene. Dates start June 1 and run until August 12, 2017 and cost $99 per person not including the bike rental.
  • Chocorrant, Edmonton’s latest patisserie addition, had a soft opening on the weekend at 10328 124 Street.
  • Tokiwa Ramen, Edmonton’s newest ramen restaurant, opened its doors last week at 11978  104 Avenue. Because they serve only until they run out of soup, it’s best to check their Twitter account before heading over.
  • Central Social Hall’s renovated downtown location has reopened, just in time for the playoff run.
  • Edmonton’s first cat cafe opened at the end of March, and Linda tells you what to expect.
  • I’m not sure why Popeye’s has the following it does, but it looks like their second Edmonton location on Castle Downs Road north of 137 Avenue will be just as busy as the first.
  • Urbano Pizza is gearing up for their second location on 124 Street (the branch they had in Orange Market on Whyte has since closed).
  • It’s great to hear that the Italian Bakery re-opened their Beverly location today – the building was gutted by a fire in February 2016.
  • Can you eat thirty wontons in one minute? Grain of Rice is challenging diners in order to raise funds for Hope Mission until June 30, 2017.
  • Baijiu’s atmosphere and food wows the Journal.
  • Vue Weekly had a positive experience at Otto.
  • Graham is the latest to post a good review of Grandin Fish ‘N’ Chips.
  • Crystal recounts her meal at Crash Hotel Lobby Bar during Downtown Dining Week.
  • Jonny was pleased with his visit to Saffron Indian Cuisine on the city’s southeast.
  • One way to gauge the weather is by the return of food trucks – they’re back! Check the Street Food app for an up-to-date listing near you!
  • It’s great to see that the Taste of Edmonton will be welcomed on the Legislature grounds next year. What the Truck?! tried in 2015 to move the needle and failed, so let’s hope this will turn the tide for other festivals as well in the public space.
  • Phil’s latest product taste test involves a kitchen staple – butter.
  • Valerie shares her newest cooking adventure involving a traditional Italian spring vegetable torte just in time for Easter.
  • Best of luck to local company Organic Box as they seek to expand their business across Alberta. Chris is now an ambassador of the Organic Box – check out his blog for a discount code for your first order.
  • Looking to get involved in the local food scene? The Edmonton Food Council is recruiting new members – applications are due April 30, 2017.
  • We are very fortunate to have people like Doug Visser in Edmonton – he is donating 93 hectares of his property in Horse Hill with the hopes that it can be maintained for community agriculture use.
  • Ono Poke Co. on 104 Street now has a sign up!

Ono Poke Co.

Ono Poke Co. coming soon

  • It’s not often I crave a greasy burger, but on Friday, the Vatican City from Burger’s Priest was needed to commemorate the end of a crazy week.

Burger's Priest

Vatican City from Burger’s Priest

  • Vivo Pizzeria and Taverna are offering a deal so good it’s almost hard to believe – a pizza and a pint (or a pop) for just $12. Mack and I shared the gamberi (prawns, garlic oil, cherry tomatoes, pepperoncini) and salsiccia (De Rose Bros Italian sausage, fior di latte, red onion, basil), and a starter Caesar salad and ended up with a bill of just over $30, including tip. We enjoyed the chewy crust and the fresh toppings. The deal is on “until the Oilers raise the Stanley Cup” – so consider it for a pre- or post- game outing!

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Gamberi from Vivo Pizzeria

April 6th, 2017

A Modern Addition: Grandin Fish and Chips

It’s been a while since Mack and I have made the effort to visit a new restaurant in its first week of operations, but in early March, Grandin Fish and Chips fit the bill when we didn’t want to wander too far for some fried delights.

Fish and chips-focused joints aren’t new to Edmonton: Joey’s, Back Home, Sir Winston’s, and Brit’s are familiar, and for some, institutional. But Grandin Fish and Chips is a modern addition to the scene, and dares to offer fresh seafood on its menu.

Sister restaurant and block neighbour The Common adopted a patio to enhance the busy vehicular traffic corridor, while Grandin Fish and Chips features full, unvarnished windows that allow passerby visual access into the space. There’s nothing more beckoning on a cold evening than seeing a warmly-lit, bustling dining room from the outside.

Grandin Fish & Chips

Grandin Fish and Chips

When we stopped in that Saturday afternoon around 4pm, we were the only patrons in the restaurant (business soon picked up with the early dinner crowd). We had ample time to marvel at the tasteful and minimalist décor, including the fantastical white and navy wallpaper, wood furniture, Edison bulbs, and a "living" wall designated for customer photos. The soundtrack was light and fun, and mixed upbeat classics from The Beach Boys and the Monkees, among others.

Grandin Fish & Chips

Dining room

We kept our order simple that day – cod and chips ($16 for one piece) for each of us would provide a good representation of their primary offering. While we didn’t sample their other items such as fresh oysters, seafood chowder and salad Nicoise, a few of my fellow bloggers have done so with mostly positive reviews. Grandin sources their seafood from Sysco-owned Fin’s and Effing Seafoods, and prides itself on serving fresh products.

We were on the tail end of order at the counter lunch service (table service begins at 5pm). Our food arrived pretty quickly, served on aluminum pie plates and disposable liners printed with the wallpaper design – a straightforward and elegant presentation.

Grandin Fish & Chips

Cod and chips

The cod was nicely prepared, with a well-seasoned batter that actually adhered to the fish. The accompanying tartar sauce had a nice punch of acidity, and the coleslaw was dressed with a light hand. But we couldn’t stop raving about the crispy and addictive chips; for that reason, Grandin is perhaps too dangerously close to us.

Of course, the cost at Grandin is a consideration – the same price for a one piece meal might garner you two pieces at one of the old standbys. Still, there’s something to be said for quality and a refreshed, modern take on fish and chips. We’ll be back.

Grandin Fish and Chips
9902 109 Street
(780) 250-3474
Monday-Saturday 11am-10pm

April 3rd, 2017

Food Notes for April 3, 2017

I had a great time in Montreal and Toronto, but was overwhelmed with a nasty flu when I returned to Edmonton. Though I feel like I’m still recovering, it’s time to get back into routine. On to this week’s food notes:

Snowy Dessert

Snowy Dessert

  • Mack and I finally made it to La Boule over the weekend. It’s a lovely little spot for something sweet, though the croissants we tried were some of the best in the city.

La Boule

Pretty pastries at La Boule

March 13th, 2017

Food Notes for March 13, 2017

I’m heading to Montreal for a conference soon, so a heads up that there will be no Food Notes next week. I’m looking forward to some poutine and smoked meat sandwiches! On to this week’s food notes:

  • A reminder that Seedy Sunday takes place on March 19, 2017, at the Central Lions Seniors Centre. Expect demonstrations, presentations, and garden-related exhibitors.
  • It’s time for another Honest Dumplings pop-up at Prairie Noodle Shop on March 21, 2017! Tickets are $15.
  • The free Second Season Street Party will take over Rice Howard Way on April 1, 2017 with extended patios, wagon rides, and activities for the kids.
  • The next Green Drinks is themed around the topic of farm to fork – tickets are now available to the April 2, 2017 event.
  • Edmonton Economic Development is organizing a Culinary Lab series, where chefs will experiment with food and flavours as they create custom menus for each event. The first takes place at Rostizado on April 9, 2017. Tickets are $100.
  • St. Albert’s Dig In horticultural festival has expanded to include a spring session running April 29-30, 2017. Many of the workshops are free to attend!
  • Acme Meats will be opening up in their new home (alongside a brew pub and a new Transcend Coffee location) the week of March 21, 2017 at 9570 76 Avenue.
  • Liane applauds the creativity inherent in Nineteen’s new brunch menu – it sounds delicious!
  • Linda is the latest to review Takami Sushi.
  • Andrea offers her opinion on Grandin Fish & Chips.
  • Crystal offers some honest feedback about her experience at Doughnut Party.
  • Also from Crystal, she gave south Edmonton’s Wing Chix a try.
  • The Journal paid a visit to local institution Coliseum Steaks & Pizza. The review was a reminder of how vehicular transportation is always considered the “norm”, so it’s up to us to include active forms of transportation in the #yegfood conversation.
  • Vue Weekly reminds us that Savoy is still offering solid South Indian eats.
  • Jonny checked out local favourite Elm Cafe.
  • Speaking of Elm Cafe, Alan Suddaby (Executive Chef of Elm Cafe Catering) offers the Ten Sandwich Commandments.
  • Meal prep business Simply Supper is hoping to raise $25,000 through Alberta Boostr to open a second location in north Edmonton.
  • It’s always interesting to see an outside perspective of Edmonton – in this case, here’s the take on our city from two UK-based travel bloggers.
  • Valerie (aka A Canadian Foodie) is looking for people to cook with!
  • Speaking of Valerie, one of her recipes is in the new cookbook Feast, by Lindsay Anderson and Dana VanVeller, which recently launched at a local bookstore. Learn more about the cross-Canada trip that inspired the collection.
  • Summer seems so far away, but it’s closer than you think – daydream away with tickets to the next RGE RD supper at Nature’s Green Acres on August 19, 2017. Tickets are already half sold.
  • Thanks to the Downtown Business Association and to the Art Gallery of Alberta for hosting the kick-off to Downtown Dining Week on Thursday! I’ve already visited two of the thirty-three participating restaurants this weekend. The event runs until March 19, 2017.

Downtown Dining Week

Delicious bite of steak from Atlas Steak + Fish

March 12th, 2017

Downtown Dining Week 2017: Atlas Steak + Fish and Crash Lobby Bar

Running from March 10-19, 2017 this year, Downtown Dining Week remains the last event offering prix fixe (fixed price) menus in Edmonton. Given the number of restaurants that have opened Downtown over the last few months, it’s a great way to test them out with a lower overhead cost.

I took advantage of the two new additions to the roster – Atlas Steak + Fish (in the Grand Villa Casino) and Crash Lobby Bar (in the renovated Grand Hotel, now known as Crash Hotel). They were both offering deals too good to pass up.

Atlas Steak + Fish

First up, I met up with Linda for lunch on Friday at Atlas. The casino was quiet at noon, but it was obvious the word was out about the Downtown Dining Week specials as the restaurant was half full. Our server was clearly a bit panicked – he was being run off his feet as he shared that they weren’t expecting it to be as busy as it was. I understand that it may be difficult for new Downtown Dining Week participants to predict the potential uptake in business, but given this is likely the introduction for many to the business, I wonder why restaurants would risk leaving a poor first impression.

At any rate, Linda and I were excited about the $15 two-course lunch, particularly because it was our first time at the restaurant. Atlas has the gleam of a modern day steakhouse – the leather and wood banquets that you would expect, but reflective ceiling accents and statement light fixtures that you wouldn’t. I also appreciated that there was a generous amount of space between the tables – something that is becoming more rare with most new establishments.

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Atlas Steak + Fish

The bread course we started with was noteworthy – there are few things more comforting than warm bread. Atlas serves their house-made dinner rolls warm in cast iron pans, brushed with blue cheese butter and sprinkled with coarse salt. Thankfully for me (not a blue cheese fan), the flavour wasn’t so pronounced, and I was able to enjoy them.

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House made blue cheese butter buns

Linda selected the salad appetizer – the house salad with mixed greens, daikon, beets, carrots, almonds, goat cheese, and white balsamic dressing. It was certainly an aesthetically pleasing plate, but Linda was hoping for more substantial beet flavour, instead of beet curls as a garnish. I ordered the squash soup with spiced oat crumble and cherry balsamic. The squash had been smoked in their special Josper oven (what they use to prepare all of their steaks), and the smoky flavour was definitely notable. It was a very smooth puree, but I did appreciate the added texture from the crumble.

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Smoked squash soup

For mains, Linda was swayed by the off-menu prime rib special. I found it to be a tad too fatty for my taste, but she didn’t mind it as much. I opted for the spaghetti carbonara with Josper smoked pork belly, garlic, parsley crumbs, grana padano, and poached egg. The egg was perfectly soft poached (and beautiful in presentation), but as I typically prefer my carbonara creamier, I would have chosen a more traditional preparation of coating the pasta with the egg.

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Spaghetti carbonara

Service was spotty; we had to flag down the server on multiple occasions – for a soup spoon, for the bill, to pack up leftovers. Again, I think he did his best in the understaffed circumstances. Based on the food alone, I’d consider returning, but I would hope for better service on future occasions.

Crash Lobby Bar (inside the Crash Hotel)

Downtown’s former Grand Hotel has been undergoing full-scale renovations over the past few years. First came Denizen Hall, which opened in the hotel at the end of 2014, offering relaxed pub fare alongside restored retro arcade games. Then, Crash Hotel, with its initial phase of 25 rooms and refurbished lobby tavern, followed suit two years later. Urban Sparq Hospitality (who also run Knoxville Tavern, The Pint and Beercade) operates both Denizen Hall and the Lobby Bar, but has wisely chosen to distinguish them in feel and food. While Nate Box (of Elm Cafe) had been asked to create the menu at Denizen, Nathin Bye (formerly of Wildflower Grill and Ampersand 27) was brought in for Lobby Bar.

The space of the Lobby Bar (which shares the same entryway as the the hotel front desk) definitely resembles its sister restaurant, with identical wood paneling, leather banquets, and some of the same furniture. However, it is brighter, smaller in size and more open, with a reflective tin ceiling and a focus-pulling bar. And though two screens were tuned to the Oilers broadcast during our visit, the sound was muted in favour of a pop/dance soundtrack.

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Crash Lobby Bar

Mack and I stopped by on Sunday night to take advantage of the $28 three-course offering. Two of the three dishes could be selected from their regular menu, so it was a great way to sample several of their dishes in one shot.

As mentioned, the menu is quite a bit different than the comfort food-oriented fare found at Denizen Hall. The dishes at Crash Lobby Bar are more refined, less likely to require a deep fryer, and follow the trend of small plates meant to be shared. We did so with our four dishes.

The pork n’ beans was not something I would have expected to find here – sweet and sour honey scented shoulder, served alongside a trio of beans and kale. Everything was well prepared, and the pork was nicely flavoured.

Crash Lobby

Pork n’ beans

The meatballs, a mixture of beef and pork, looked promising, were unfortunately on the dry side, even when doused in the tomato sauce bath.

Crash Lobby

Meatballs

My favourite dish of the evening was the Crash take on beef and broccoli, with a 72 hour braised Alberta beef short rib. I loved the subtly sweet glaze, and the meat was perfectly tender and moist. The smoky, crispy house-made hickory sticks sealed the deal for me.

Crash Lobby

Alberta beef short rib

Mack’s favourite was the Crash burger, topped with aged cheddar, braised short rib, and a perfectly cooked sunny side up egg – it may have been messy but it was worth it. He also appreciated the deep fried pickle on the side.

Crash Lobby

Crash burger

Our third course was the dessert of the day, a cookies and cream cheesecake with a house-made berry compote. It was rich and satisfied our sweet tooth, but in some ways felt like an afterthought when compared with the previous courses.

Crash Lobby

Cheesecake

Service was good – the space was only about half full, but we were well taken care of. I certainly had a better overall experience at Crash Lobby Bar than at Atlas, and wouldn’t hesitate to return again.

Downtown Dining Week runs from March 10 – March 19, 2017 – check out the menus here.

March 10th, 2017

5 Reasons to Visit Lake Louise

After a visit to Jasper early last year, Mack and I were reminded of how invigorating a trip to the mountains can be. It’s an amenity of living in Alberta that we don’t take advantage of often enough, so we vowed to return next year.

In February, we planned a long weekend for a mini-break, but instead of returning to Jasper, we thought we’d tread newer ground to Lake Louise. Though we’d both been to Lake Louise on family vacations as children, it had been years since we ventured past Banff. And it’s probably our aged state, but it’s safe to say we appreciated the surroundings much more as adults.

If you’re thinking of heading down to Lake Louise, here are five reasons why I think you should.

Reason 1: Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

When Mack and I got married a few years ago, his coworkers gave us a Fairmont gift card. We had been fortunate enough to stay at the Jasper Park Lodge in the past, so looked into the other two mountainside Fairmont properties we had yet to experience. We ultimately chose the more economical option, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.

Lake Louise

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

Don’t get me wrong though – "economical" doesn’t mean cheap. I’m certain this was the most either of us have ever spent on a hotel room, but the Fairmont brand, as we have come to know it, is equated with an unparalleled level of service and quality.

Lake Louise

Winter wonderland

We’ve never been to an all-inclusive, but I have been on a cruise ship, and this property reminded me of that. It was billed as a resort, with daily posted activities for the guests of all ages, shops and restaurants all under one roof, and excursions that could be booked for additional cost.

Lake Louise

Picture perfect

On the weekends, the property organizes a free evening campfire, complete with marshmallows for roasting.

Lake Louise

Evening campfire

We also marvelled at the ice sculptures that were created at the Ice Magic Festival that takes place towards the end of January.

Lake Louise

Wooly (snowy) mammoth

With a distance from Edmonton of about 4.5 hours, we had decided to park the car after our arrival and take advantage of all the amenities the Chateau had to offer. This included dining at several of their restaurants. Our favourite was their signature Walliser Stube, named and inspired by cozy haunts in the Swiss Alps. We shared an indulgent cheese fondue with all the fixings, my favourite part of the meal.

Lake Louise

Cheese fondue!

Reason 2: Snow!

We learned on this trip that Lake Louise, on average, receives about 45cm of snow per month between November and March – more than double the amount Jasper typically receives over the same period. This is one of the reasons why it’s such a prime destination for skiers.

Mack and I aren’t skiers, but we were interested in snowshoeing, prompted somewhat by our introduction to snowshoeing in Jasper last year. One of the guided excursions offered by Chateau Lake Louise is a snowshoeing trek into fresh mountainside powder.

We were lucky enough to end up with a private tour, as we were the only two who joined up that afternoon. It had also just snowed the day previous, so all signs pointed to a perfect afternoon. When we showed up though, our guide Mike jokingly referred to our non-water resistant jeans as "death cloth", and had to properly outfit us city folk with snow pants and convince Mack to leave his camera behind.

Snowshoeing at Lake Louise

Outfitted!

I enjoyed snowshoeing up the mountain on a semi-worn path (what Mike referred to as the "trans Canada trail") as we chatted about his experiences living in the area for more than twenty years. I’m not sure I was adequately prepared, however, to snowshoe back down by making our own pathway in waist-deep snow.

Snowshoeing

So much snow!

In some ways, with the incline, it almost felt like skiing. It was also more difficult than I expected, what with fallen branches and timber to watch out for (or, in my case, to get my snowshoes caught under – Mack had to dig me out twice). Mike also taught us some useful techniques on how to flip ourselves over with the help of a walking pole, a skill I never knew I needed until surrounded by three feet of snow on all sides.

Snowshoeing

Surrounded

It was a really memorable experience – one I’d definitely seek out again.

Reason 3: Johnson Canyon

A trail along one side of Lake Louise is maintained for those looking to walk or cross-country ski on the snow-covered lake. The path takes you to a frozen waterfall on the other side, with breathtaking views of intrepid ice climbers attempting to scale the cascades.

Lake Louise

Ice climbers

Just outside of Lake Louise, however, there’s an opportunity to get even closer to a similar natural wonder in Johnson Canyon. Located about 30 minutes outside of Lake Louise, it’s a year-round hiking opportunity. In the winter though, ice cleats are strongly recommended – we were very thankful to have brought them with us, especially when we encountered a young woman who had slipped and twisted her ankle halfway down the trail.

Johnston Canyon

Lower Falls

Even with the crowds, it was a lovely hike, with sections of the guardrail built right into the side of the rock face, and a tunnel through the rock that leads to a closer view of the Lower Falls.

Johnson Canyon

Pathway

The hike to the Upper Falls rewarded us with beautiful views of the frozen waterfalls, in addition to seeing the death-defying climbers up close.

Johnston Canyon

Upper Falls

Reason 4: Canmore

This is a bit of a cheat, as Canmore is obviously a town separate from Lake Louise. However, given how tiny the hamlet of Lake Louise is, and how comparatively touristy Banff can be, we really enjoyed the hospitality and retail we discovered in Canmore on the way in and out.

Canmore

Canmore

There was some great shopping to be had: I picked up some great deals at the Canmore location of consignment company Trend Fashions (they also have stores in Edmonton, Calgary, and Chestermere). Canmore is also the home of the Rocky Mountain Soap Company, and they offer tours of their factory on Fridays and Saturdays (something we didn’t get the chance to see).

We had a lovely sit-down lunch at Crazyweed, an upscale casual restaurant with an interesting menu. We enjoyed both our entrees – Icelandic cod fish and chips and a Vietnamese pork ball sandwich (which, incidentally, had flavours reminiscent of Pucker’s banh mi burger). It was a nice place to get our bearings after the long drive in.

Crazyweed

Icelandic cod fish and chips from Crazyweed

On our way out of the Rockies, we stopped for a quick lunch at The Range. I was expecting larger portion sizes (the half sandwich could have easily been served on a kid’s menu), but the quality of the food was apparent. The porchetta was tasty, and the thick, textured mushroom veloute hit the spot for me.

The Range

Porchetta and mushroom veloute from The Range

Beamer’s is also worth checking out. It’s a comfortable coffee shop that seems to have quite the local following. We were impressed with their coffee as well as their selection of beans (always our souvenir of choice).

Beamer's

Coffee from Beamer’s

I wouldn’t hesitate to stay in Canmore in the future – it would give us even more time to explore what they have to offer!

Reason 5: It’s Free!

You’ve probably heard by now that in commemoration of Canada’s 150th birthday, Parks Canada admission is free (by obtaining a Discovery Pass). It’s a really great opportunity (and excuse) to visit some of the green spaces in our own backyard.

And if you’re worried about the spike in traffic from other like-minded Canadians this year, our snowshoe guide reminded us that 95% of visitors are only interested in the "shore and smile" – snapping a photo from the lakeside then moving on. If you go off the beaten path – into the bush, onto the water – you’ll be able to escape the hoards. It was sage advice and will come in handy as we approach the spring and summer months.

Lake Louise

Shoring and smiling

I hope you’ll have the chance to create your own adventure – whether in the Rockies or beyond!