July 27th, 2015

Food Notes for July 27, 2015

  • The Mercury Room is hosting the Crossroads Pop-up Restaurant on August 9, 2015, with a farm-to-table event inspired by the story of “The Three Little Pigs”. Tickets are $55 each.
  • Chef Christine Sandford (who just won the most recent Edmonton Food Fight) will be kicking off an interactive Dinner Club series at Get Cooking, with a sit-down, multi-course menu. It takes place August 11, 2015, with tickets at $100 each.
  • The sixth incarnation of Jennifer Cockrall-King’s Okanagan Food & Wine Writers’ Workshop runs September 11-13, 2015. The early bird registration deadline has been extended to July 31.
  • Sometimes you have to plan far ahead – Jacek has added new chocolate and coffee tasting dates for the fall – October 2 and November 18, 2015 at Credo Coffee on 124 Street.
  • Jason shared that a new craft brewery and restaurant is in the works for Old Strathcona, called Situation Brewing.
  • Andrea checked out Cured Wine Bar, and was impressed with their house-made charcuterie.
  • Phil couldn’t get enough of fried chicken so put together another blind taste test of some of the city’s offerings.
  • The Journal reviewed Memphis Blues Barbecue, which now has three locations in the Edmonton area.
  • John Gilchrist, the restaurant critic from the Calgary Herald, stopped in Edmonton and named four restaurants worth the drive: Share, RGE RD, Glasshouse Bistro and Ampersand 27.
  • It’s not great to hear about the potential closing of Burrow located in the Central LRT station due to security issues. I really hope something can be done to keep it open.
  • T & T’s newest southside location (3451 Calgary Trail) is now open, and it’s no surprise the parking has been a gong show.
  • Diner en Blanc will be back again on September 3, 2015. I’m happy to say I’ve done it once, and won’t need to do it again.
  • Mack has me hooked on John Oliver’s long-form video commentaries on Last Week Tonight. Here are two food-related segments worth watching on food waste and chickens.
  • Another State & Main is coming to Edmonton, this time at First & Jasper.

State & Main

State & Main

  • Spotted at the City Market: Reclaim Urban Farm is getting into the “ugly vegetables” movement, with some discounted hail-damaged greens on offer.

Reclaim Urban Farm

#uglyistastytoo from Reclaim Urban Farm

  • Mack and I stopped by the start of the Burger Finals of the Canadian Food Championships at Centennial Plaza. I’m not sure what we were expecting, but based on the name “kitchen stadium”, we were anticipating a somewhat more raucous crowd. In some ways, it was too bad the competitors weren’t on a raised platform, or at least in a space with tiered seating so the feeling of a battle arena could be staged. It was just the first year, so hopefully the competitions are highlighted even more publically in the future. Congratulations to the winners!

Canadian Food Championships

Burger Finals at the Canadian Food Championships

  • We also took in K-Days on the weekend, including our share of gluttonous food. I tried the glazed donut grilled cheese from Vancouver’s Melt Town Grilled Cheese, and was left disappointed. There wasn’t enough sweet-salty contrast for my taste.

Melt Town Grilled Cheese

Glazed donut grilled cheese

  • I’m not the biggest football fan, but it’s an experience to attend a live game now and then. It was great to watch the Eskimos win their third in a row, and perhaps even sweeter that we were able to do it in the comfort and shelter of the President’s Suite (thanks, Mack!).

Edmonton Eskimos

Go Esks Go!

July 26th, 2015

Taste of the Edmonton International Airport

It was an odd evening, heading to the airport with Mack two weeks ago without the intention of travel, or the purpose of picking up or seeing someone off. Instead, we were at the Edmonton International Airport for a unique progressive dinner experience, for a taste of what we might have to look forward to prior to a flight.

The EIA has repositioned its marketing to encourage travellers to arrive earlier than the recommended time so that their vacation can “begin at the airport”. With over 60 shops and restaurants, the EIA has definitely increased its retail and hospitality brands over the last few years, offering more variety than ever before. They even have developed a free-to-join EIA Rewards program that will offer monthly discounts from partner businesses. That night, we were able to sample fare from three of its restaurants.

Our first stop was Houston Steak & Ribs, located just past security and one that I’ve passed by countless times (usually during my beeline to the Starbucks across the hall). It’s the only location in Western Canada, and staff boast that the restaurant has the best views in the airport, given it faces some of the runways. Licensed 24 hours a day (though only open from 6am-10pm), it enables travellers to indulge with an alcoholic beverage with breakfast if desired.

Taste of EIA

Houston Steak & Ribs

Their lunch/dinner menu is surprisingly compact, with just a handful of burgers, sandwiches, their namesake ribs, and appetizers on offer. We sampled three of the latter: warm goat cheese ($13), crab cakes ($18) and beef sliders ($13).

The goat cheese was a pleasant surprise, decoratively layered on top of spinach and dried apricots and pistachio couscous. Our only complaint was how few crostini were provided.

Taste of EIA

Warm goat cheese

The crab cakes were my least favourite dish, as I found them to be overwhelmed by the dill dressing and an unfortunately overdressed arugula, tomato and red onion salad.

Taste of EIA

Crab cakes

The beef sliders were definitely the most value-driven, accompanied by a generous portion of perfectly crispy sweet potato fries.

Taste of EIA

Beef sliders

We also had cocktails to start. My Purple Haze ($9.99) was a fun way to begin the evening, a sweet concoction of vodka, blue curacao, white cranberry juice and grenadine.

Taste of EIA

Purple Haze

Overall, I had a positive reception of Houston’s, and would definitely not overlook the restaurant on future trips to the airport.

Belgian Beer Café, our second stop, has the fortune of being situated next to EIA’s beautiful living wall. Greenery is sparse at the airport, and in the winter, the natural cascade of leaves is especially inviting.

Taste of EIA

By the living wall!

The restaurant interior is meant to evoke 1930’s Belgium, with imported millwork and décor setting the scene. Like Houston’s, Belgian Beer Cafe is also licensed to serve alcohol all day. In addition to an extensive beer menu (with over 40 different Belgian bottles, on top of domestic offerings), the food menu captures both classic Belgian tastes as well as what staff described as “modern Canadian” dishes.

Taste of EIA

Belgian Beer Cafe

Mack and I ordered from both ends of the spectrum. His white wine and garlic mussels ($14.50) was the more successful of the dishes. The portion was substantial (and we were hoping not exaggerated given we were on a food tour), and Mack enjoyed the flavour of the sauce.

Taste of EIA

White wine and garlic mussels

My beer battered fish and frites ($17.99) was disappointing. The coating was too heavy, concealing cod that tasted less than fresh. The fries, weighed down by the fish, ended up not retaining their crispy, double-fried exterior – perhaps a plating change-up could be considered.

Taste of EIA

Beer battered fish and frites

For dessert that night, we headed back towards security to Cookies By George. This stop was perhaps the most insightful for us, as it cleared up a lot of misconceptions we had about the company (and one that I visited religiously for coffee in my university years; I must have consumed my weight in flavoured creamers).

A Canadian company, Cookies by George began in 1983 in Vancouver. Fifteen years ago, an Edmontonian was so wowed by the product that he decided to buy the company, and moved the headquarters to his hometown.

Taste of EIA

Cookies by George

They have eleven locations as far east as Winnipeg, but have continued to use the same recipes and methods from its inception: small batches made from all natural ingredients, using no preservatives. The cookie dough is all made from scratch in Edmonton, frozen and shipped to its stores, then hand scooped and baked fresh every day. Its best-selling cookie today is their milk chocolate chunk.

The EIA shop is the only airport branch of Cookies by George, and is only one of two in Edmonton to serve soft ice cream (West Edmonton Mall is the other). Three locations in Edmonton also stock locally-made yogurt by Bles Wold.

Cookies by George

Soft ice cream cookie sundae

Part of the reason our time at Cookies by George was so delightful can be attributed to its energetic ambassador, Faye Mowers, the VP and Director of Operations. She shared that after she was hired by the company while in university, reading the employee manual was a “spiritual experience”. She has worked for the company ever since.

Besides takeaway customers, Cookies by George does significant business shipping their cookies across Canada and the U.S. (though they have shipped as far as Japan before). For fun, they were getting ready to ship cookies to Prince George of Cambridge for his second birthday (“From one George to another”).

Taste of EIA

Chewy oatmeal raisin

Because of their sales at this location to passengers about to board planes, they developed a sturdy carry box to keep the precious cargo safe. We were fortunate to take home a baker’s dozen each.

Thanks to Jacquie and Gillian and the Edmonton International Airport for hosting us that evening!

July 23rd, 2015

Taste of Edmonton 2015

Mack and I just returned from our third trip around this year’s Taste of Edmonton, and boy, everyone seemed to be talking about Graham Hicks’ takedown of the festival. On Tuesday, the Sun published his harsh take on one of Edmonton’s summer traditions, a litany of his encounter with “awful” food. Although Taste has its fair share of haters, Graham’s piece is surprising in light of his praise of the festival over the past three years, and the fact that nothing significant changed in 2015.

Taste of Edmonton

Taste of Edmonton

We’ve been a bit more deliberate this year in taking advantage of our proximity to the site, stopping by on multiple occasions to gradually use up the tickets we accumulated. This has afforded us the chance to return to our favourites over the course of the week!

Taste of Edmonton

Food trucks were back for a forth straight year

As guests of Taste Alberta, Mack and I were invited to sample the wares inside the Sip ‘n Savour Tent last Friday. The pop-up nature of the tent has enabled the festival to involve chefs who wouldn’t otherwise be willing or available to commit to the duration of the event. That said, with the $10 admission fee, I’m surprised that most of the Sip ‘n Savour dates have sold out – the cost of attending can pretty quickly escalate with the cover charge, given food and drinks inside the tent require Taste tickets. In some ways, should Taste want to expand into the off-season, the Sip ‘n Savour concept could certainly be replicated.

Taste of Edmonton

Mack and Mike at Sip ‘n Savour

That evening, Custom Cocktails and Tapas were on the menu. The patio facing the stage was pretty sweet, and on that sunny evening, it was a very comfortable place to enjoy our drinks.

Taste of Edmonton

Patio

Century Hospitality Group catered that night, serving up a variety of small plates, including gazpacho, arancini and pulled pork sliders.

Taste of Edmonton

Outgoing CHG Chef Paul Shufelt

We were also happy to encounter Nomad Espresso, Edmonton’s first mobile coffee cart. Steve is set up inside the tent for the entire festival, which is great for those with access who need a pick-me-up, but it definitely limits his exposure to a wider audience.

Taste of Edmonton

Steve of Nomad Espresso

Outside Sip ‘n Savour, as we found last year, the value for tickets is pretty good, with most samples priced at 3. But as with any large food festival, there are hits and misses.

Some restaurants are reliable and consistently good – perhaps Taste should consider formally recognizing those who, year over year, are creative and seek to elevate the food served at the festival. In my opinion, ZINC is at the top of that list. Their City Market salad, dressed with a champagne and lemon olive oil, was a refreshing reprieve from deep fried dishes (and one I went back twice for!).

Taste of Edmonton

City Market salad from ZINC

Similarly, their decadent banana bread pudding was easily Mack’s favourite dessert, well executed and comforting.

Taste of Edmonton

Banana bread pudding from ZINC

Also on the sweet side, the Hotel Macdonald’s scone, with whipped cream and berry compote, is a classic. And though it’s a plate you shouldn’t have more than once, I couldn’t help myself. It was impressive that Chef Jost was there serving both times!

Taste of Edmonton

With Chef Jost and the Mac scone

There were some restaurants that we weren’t expecting to stand out. Mama Lee’s Kitchen was continuously making small batches of its beef and pork bulgogi – we could definitely taste the difference their efforts made (especially when compared with some of the dishes we tried that had obviously languished under a heat lamp).

Taste of Edmonton

Beef bulgogi from Mama Lee’s Kitchen

The rotisserie roasted pig from the Freson Bros. was another pleasant menu addition, with a good ratio of fat, and finished off with applesauce.

Taste of Edmonton

Rotisserie roasted pig from the Freson Bros.

Overall, we appreciated the other small improvements to the festival – more seating outside of the beer garden, and large overhead signs planted above each of the booths that helped with navigation. We didn’t have a chance to check out the Culinary Championships, but given they’re located separately on Centennial Plaza, hopefully they’ve been drawing the crowds they wanted.

Given Taste of Edmonton will be looking for a new home next year (because of the 102 Avenue construction), only time will tell whether they’ll be able to continue the positive momentum they’ve built over the last four years.

July 20th, 2015

Food Notes for July 20, 2015

  • The second SalvagED pop-up is scheduled for July 24, 2015, from 11am-2pm at Earth’s General Store downtown. Taste how some of Edmonton’s best chefs transform produce that would otherwise be designated for the rubbish bin!
  • The annual Pupusa Festival is taking place on July 25, 2015 from 12-8pm at the Alberta Avenue Community League.
  • The Italian Centre invites you to join them for a Picnic in the Park on July 26, 2015 at Kinsmen Park from 11am-2pm. There will be activities and games for young and old, and of course, goodies from the Italian Centre for sale.
  • Local author Kathryn Merrett has written a new book called Why Grow Here, about Edmonton’s horticultural history. The book launch is scheduled for July 27, 2015 at 7:30pm at the Central Lions Seniors Centre (11113 113 Street), with a talk about gardening in Edmonton and a reception.
  • Cured Wine Bar (2307 Ellwood Drive), “specializing in cured meats, cheeses and locally sourced vegetables” is now open.
  • Buco (Boudreau Road & Bellerose Drive), a Neopolitan pizza concept from the Sorrentino’s Restaurant Group, opens on July 27, 2015.
  • It looks like HUMA Mexican Comfort, from the chef who brought us Taco Day at Expressionz Café, might be another solid addition to the city’s Mexican cuisine roster.
  • A wave of Japanese restaurants has opened recently, starting with Sushi Park in St. Albert – Jonny had a very positive experience.
  • Cindy checked out Ikki Izakaya, the newest restaurant in Oliver, on their first weekend.
  • Phil organized a blind fried chicken tasting to find his favourite – who came out on top? I won’t spoil it for you.
  • Mother’s Market has closed from July 18, 2015 until a to be determined date in September: “At this point we at Mother’s Market are striving to gain a good foundation, put our best foot forward to make the changes necessary, and give the market a clean break between what was and what will be.”
  • Diane shared a Kickstarter Project she would back – twentyfour coffee, a Canadian craft coffee advent calendar. Neat idea!
  • Chris tried Soylent – the meal replacement system that is engineered so you wouldn’t have to eat anything else ever again. Too good to be true?
  • This was an eye-opening article about how California’s drought has changed some practices in home and restaurant kitchens. It is a reminder about how much more cognizant we could all be about our water use.
  • We stopped by the Shaw Conference Centre on the weekend to check out Curtis Comeau’s exhibit “Off the Menu”. They were great photos, but we wished all of them had been labeled with the name of the restaurant or kitchen they were taken in. The free exhibit is on until August 16, 2015.

Off the Menu

Off the Menu

  • Relish Gourmet Burgers, a New Brunswick-based chain, opened its first western Canadian location on Saturday (10704 124 Street). While we didn’t have a chance to try the burgers yet, we took a look at the menu. All restaurants have one signature burger, and theirs is named after their dearly departed neighbour, The Roxy, because the theatre staff had been so supportive of the business.
    Relish Burger

    Relish Gourmet Burgers

  • Mack and I spent a leisurely Saturday exploring some of Edmonton’s newest coffee shops on foot. First up was Rogue Wave Coffee (10517A 114 Street) in Queen Mary Park, the newest roasting business in the city. Their beans are still fairly exclusive to the café, but we enjoyed the single origin iced coffees that we tried that day. Cindy has a more in-depth write-up on the two Davids behind the business.

Rogue Wave Coffee

Rogue Wave Coffee

  • We walked on to Barking Buffalo Café (10842 124 Street), a business that combines a love of fashion and coffee. The space is the retail front for Salgado Fenwick, but is also the only Edmonton café to serve up Pilot Coffee Beans from Toronto. We’ll be back!

Barking Buffalo Cafe

Barking Buffalo Cafe

  • Mack’s been picking up a lot of the dinner prep lately because of my late nights at work. It’s nice to come home to a home cooked supper after a long day at the office!

Yankee Fish Cakes

Yankee Fish Cakes (made with cod from Ocean Odyssey, over Sundog Organic greens and Gull Valley tomatoes)

  • I stopped in at Spring Roll Kitchen (2395 111 Street) for lunch last week. Points for the hustle of their kitchen, as it may have been the quickest vermicelli bowl to appear in front of me! The portion was quite decent as well.

Spring Roll Kitchen

Vermicelli bowl with grilled chicken and spring rolls from Spring Roll Kitchen

  • On a rainy day, a few coworkers and I were craving soup. So with Pho Tau Bay closed, we headed to King Noodle House for some Bun Bo Hue. It hit the spot.

King Noodle House

Bun Bo Hue from King Noodle House

  • We’ve been meaning to go back to Corso 32 for some time (shame on us), so we finally made a reservation (way in advance, of course). We didn’t regret it.

Corso 32

Mack when encountering arancini again

July 18th, 2015

Dark MEÆT: Crowdfunding and Blindfolded Dinner

MEÆT is an initiative of Edmonton’s Next Gen, and serves to crowdfund local initiatives. Part of the event ticket proceeds go towards the funding pot, and attendees vote for their favourite project. The events themselves are varied, and the carrot for Mack and I to attend our first MEÆT function was the unique concept: Dark MEÆT would involve a blindfolded dinner. Tickets to the event were $25, with $10 of that reserved for the project pot.

On that evening in May, Mack and I met up on the ground floor of the Epcor Tower, along with other guests. We were asked to blindfold ourselves with the supplied material, before being led in small groups into the elevator and up to the vacant, unfinished sixteenth floor (ironically of course, we weren’t able to enjoy the view with our dinner).

Dark Meaet Dinner

Blindfolded and ready to go!

Even the process of getting from the elevator to our seats reminded me of how much I take my sight for granted. The Next Gen volunteer asked me to put my hand on Mack’s shoulder, and asked Mack to hook his arm into hers. Because of the unfamiliar surroundings (and my fear of tripping over), I took uneasy baby steps all the way there. It was a relief when we were finally able to sit down.

Dark Meaet Dinner

Sixteenth floor of the Epcor Tower

We were seated next to a couple we hadn’t met before. Unlike the typical handshakes, we introduced ourselves and did our best to conduct a conversation without knowing exactly where to look. In some ways, it was an insightful interaction, as we could make no judgments based on appearance – it was a literal blind date!

Dark Meaet Dinner

Thumbs up from Mack!

We were provided with a three course vegan dinner catered by The Mercury Room. The first course of noodles with red onion and jackfruit was fine (and was surprisingly easy to eat blind), but the main of couscous arancini and chickpea skewers was unfortunately bland. There also wasn’t clear communication between the chef and the volunteers, as it was only announced after the fact that there were nuts in the dish. The dessert, an ice cream, was a good way to end the meal.

Dark Meaet Dinner

Noodle appetizer (the best of the food pictures I took that night)

In between courses, we were treated to some entertainment as well as the pitches themselves. Chris Bullough and Jana O’Connor put on a fun radio play complete with sound effects.

Dark Meaet Dinner

Chris and Janna perform (I could hear the direction of their stomping, so got lucky with this photo!)

Four projects were pitched that night: the RISE Heart Garden, recognizing the lasting impacts of residential schools; Barking Buffalo Café, a new local business on 124 Street; a sexual health clinic based at the University of Alberta; and the Youth Restorative Action Project, which provides youth involved with the justice system support and stability. YRAP ended up with a majority of the votes, and took home the funding pot.

After dinner, we took off our blindfolds and were given the run of the space, including the balconies. Mack had seen the view before, but I appreciated that vantage point for the first time, admiring the forthcoming additions to the downtown core from above.

Dark Meaet Dinner

Mack and I enjoyed the view

In spite of the construction, this perspective made clear how many surface parking lots still exist around Rogers Place. It’s a shame the space (while it remains vacant) couldn’t be opened up to the public as a paid viewing point.

Dark Meaet Dinner

Looking towards Chinatown

Thanks to the Edmonton Next Gen volunteers for organizing a unique evening!

July 16th, 2015

Edmonton on Foot: Doors Open Edmonton and Chinatown Summer Market

One of my favourite things about living Downtown is its proximity to other neighbourhoods we can easily reach on foot. This was illustrated on Saturday, when Mack and I enjoyed some of what Central Edmonton had to offer that day.

I think the Historic Festival and Doors Open Edmonton should make a bigger splash than it does. It flies under the radar, given it takes place over the same duration as the much higher profile Edmonton International Street Performers Festival, but the opportunity to see some of the participating landmarks firsthand only comes around once a year.

Mack and I had already joined a horse-drawn historical tour in Beverly earlier in the week, but what I was really looking forward to was something closer to home – a guided tour of the Westminster Apartments, at 9955-114 Street. We’ve walked by the heritage building numerous times, but I’ve always wondered (a fire stoked by the accessibility of real estate reality shows) what the units inside look like.

Westminster Apartments

Tour of the Westminster

Lucky for us, this was the first year some residents of the Westminster wanted to open their doors up to the public. About forty people signed up in advance – the organizers were a little surprised at the interest in their homes!

The Westminster was built in 1912 as a speculative investment of eastern Canadian capital. It was designed to accommodate people who were transitioning from rooming houses to higher-end apartments. As such, the basement was originally set up as a kitchen, where food was prepared and sent upstairs to residents who re-heated meals in their smaller-than average warming kitchens. In 2004, the building was converted to 24 condo units. Famous occupants of the Westminster include George Bulyea, Alberta’s first Lieutenant Governor.

Westminster Apartments

Clawfoot bathtub

We explored four units, which highlighted each of their individuality. Given the age of the building, some residents had chosen to modernize their spaces, which ranged from opening up the kitchen to installing ensuite laundry and skylights. Most units retained some of the historical features, like clawfoot bathtubs and plate and picture rails.

Westminster Apartments

Picture rails

Coincidentally, we knew the couple who lived in one of the units. Over the last ten years, Mike and Yvonne have extensively renovated their top-floor unit, incorporating many Asian-influenced designs and furniture. It is a beautiful home.

Westminster Apartments

Modernized unit

Hopefully the residents at the Westminster decide to participate in Doors Open Edmonton next year – it is a gem that should continue to be admired and appreciated for years to come.

On a related note, we did try to tour Immigration Hall later that afternoon, but it seemed that the information was contained in error, as Hope Mission staff didn’t seem to know anything about it. As it goes into its twentieth year, one would hope that festival details in its guide are accurate!

After the historical tour, we walked over to Chinatown for their annual Summer Market. It is their rebranded East Meets West Festival, and when I saw that the organizers were promoting the event on social media, I was hoping that the Chinatown BRZ had changed things up this year.

It’s an event that has so much potential, and given the costs of closing down a street, I’m always optimistic that organizers will make better use of the space.

Summer Market in Chinatown

Chinatown Summer Market

They did have a more diverse line-up of entertainment, broadening the cultural lens to include South Asian performers. As well, the vendor tent did seem to house more businesses this year.  But otherwise, it was a similar template to previous events, and unlike last year, had even less street-level engagement.

Summer Market in Chinatown

Vendor tent

The massive stage was placed at the north end of 97 Street at 106 Avenue, blocking the view of the busy grocery store behind it. And while some of the larger performing groups can fill the stage, for the solo dancers or smaller teams, it seems unnecessary and actually serves to distance the audience from the action.

Summer Market in Chinatown

Xiao Hai Ou Dance Group

The food element was also missing. While food trucks don’t always have to be the answer, in lieu of them, it was disappointing that the businesses along 97 Street didn’t set up tables outside to hawk their products. It would have been the perfect opportunity to engage passerby so they might be encouraged to step inside.

We watched a few performances, then headed to Lee House for lunch. In some ways, I was retracing the steps made at the Chinatown Food Crawl back in May – it was a chance to use some of the coupons I’d received then!

One coupon entitled us to a complimentary kimchi pancake at Lee House, which went well with additional dishes of japchae and rice cakes.

Lee House

Lee House eats

To cool off on our walk home, we picked up some refreshing bubble tea from Tea Bar Cafe (also at a discount thanks to the Food Crawl).

Tea Bar Cafe

Strawberry and mango fruit slushes from Tea Bar Cafe

We were ready for a nap after spending so much time in the sun, but it was great to take advantage of what Edmonton has to offer, and (lucky for us) all within a twenty minute radius of our home on foot.

July 14th, 2015

Chef Ryan O’Flynn’s Canadian Experience at The Westin’s Share Restaurant

After his February win at the Gold Medal Plate Championships, Chef Ryan O’Flynn has embraced his elevated status as an opportunity. Not one of personal gain, but a chance to showcase his interpretation of Canadian cuisine – featuring homegrown ingredients and traditional techniques that few other chefs are utilizing in Edmonton.

Mack and I were invited to a special dinner at The Westin’s Share Restaurant in June. Chef O’Flynn has completely revamped the menu, and we had the privilege of tasting nearly every new dish.

Share Tasting Menu with Chef Ryan O'Flynn

Share Restaurant

Diners can expect what he calls the “Canadian experience”. In the last few months, Chef O’Flynn has been spending time with Aboriginal elders, learning ancient cooking methods and then adapting them for use in a modern kitchen. It was obvious Chef O’Flynn’s is not only passionate about his craft, but also about learning from others, hungry for a connection between food and the stories behind them.

Share Tasting Menu with Chef Ryan O'Flynn

Chef Ryan O’Flynn

Perhaps the most special offering at Share is their version of a chef’s table. Starting at $80 per person for a minimum of six people, diners will be treated to a customized meal. The experience will include the opportunity for a one-to-one consultation with the Chef, where you will be able to share your favourite foods, childhood memories, and travels to inspire an entirely personalized dinner. It’s not everyday that diners can sit down with a Gold Medal Plate winner to create a menu, so it is definitely a unique offering in the city’s culinary landscape.

A number of dishes stood out that evening. The vegetarian course was absolutely stunning, a shock of fuchsia set against a charcoal backdrop. Comprised of marinated beets whipped with Innisfail goat cheese, beet relish, orange and a hibiscus petal, it was a dish light as air.

Share Tasting Menu with Chef Ryan O'Flynn

Innisfail goat cheese and Okanagan beets

Those who followed Chef O’Flynn’s Gold Medal Plates competition will be happy to see his award-winning entry on the menu. A labour of love, the terrine of sturgeon and Quebec foie gras takes one week to make. It marries pine smoked BC sturgeon with foie gras rubbed with pine nettles, and is served alongside morels sourced from the Northwest Territories (a company Chef O’Flynn has a stake in), Alberta wheat brioche and Okanagan apples. All of us around the table went quiet, enjoying the textures and concentration of flavours. Interestingly enough, Chef O’Flynn shared that because of his win with sturgeon, his supplier has had to increase production to meet the demand.

Share Tasting Menu with Chef Ryan O'Flynn

Terrine of pine smoked sturgeon and Quebec foie gras

My favourite dish was the “Prairie seabass”, or Northern Lake Pickerel, which Chef O’Flynn and his team receive whole twice a week. Dressed with a toasted pine nut crust, the fish was fatty and delectable, garnished with sea asparagus atop cauliflower puree.

Share Tasting Menu with Chef Ryan O'Flynn

Grilled Northern Lake pickerel and toasted nut crust

Chef O’Flynn’s playful nature was showcased in his version of “chicken of the sea”. “Ficken” involves sous vide poached chicken as well as pan roasted halibut with a layer of crispy chicken skin. It was actually not as odd as I thought it might be, as it was similar to crisped up fish skin. The rest of the plate perhaps deserved more of the spotlight – the perfectly prepared chicken just melted away, and the combination of Taber corn and wild Winnipeg rice was ready to anchor a vegetarian main.

Share Tasting Menu with Chef Ryan O'Flynn

“Ficken” pan roasted halibut and free range chicken

The item closest to the hotel menu mainstay of steak and potatoes is actually the bison. But unlike the usual grilled meat, Chef O’Flynn has chosen to adapt an Aboriginal method that would have involved cooking over hot stones buried in the ground. Instead, bison cured in pine salt is wrapped in foil with onion puree and coffee is smoked for twelve hours under soil, birch bark and pine nettles. The potatoes are also given special treatment, with smoked cream and butter whipped into them.

Share Tasting Menu with Chef Ryan O'Flynn

Bison rib of Alberta bison

The menu will officially be launched on July 16, though intrepid diners may have already noticed the shift at Share.

No doubt Chef O’Flynn’s passion for Canadian cuisine was known before his Gold Medal Plate fame, but it is likely to be cemented with this new direction at The Westin. His growing repertoire of techniques and willingness to experiment can only serve him well – he’ll be one to watch for in Edmonton, and starting this week, you can see for yourself what he has to offer.

Thanks to Chef O’Flynn and the team at The Westin for having us!

Check out Linda and Cindy’s recaps of the evening.

July 13th, 2015

Food Notes for July 13, 2015

It’s that time of summer where I lament at how fast the season is progressing – it’s already mid-July. Hope you’re out making the most of it! On to this week’s food notes:

  • Time’s running out to get your discounted Taste of Edmonton tickets – they’re 10% off until July 15 at 6pm. The festival runs July 17-25, 2015.
  • Daore is Edmonton’s newest Korean eatery. Both Cindy and Jonny have already paid it a visit.
  • Stephanie checked out a new Filipino restaurant in Riverbend, called The Teaket Eatery.
  • Twyla is the latest to review St. Albert’s 12 Acres.
  • The Journal reviewed a restaurant off the beaten path – Salvadorean Mamenche’s.
  • Karlynn and Phil released their latest episode of Sweet Tooth and Meat Tooth, on the topic of what they think Edmonton needs.
  • The Downtown location of Hudson’s is closing this week.
  • Congratulations to Michelle for her Taste Canada award nomination for The Tiffin Box!
  • Genius – local bakery business Sugared and Spiced is starting a Cake Club: pick three special dates in advance and have a cake delivered to you in the city in time for your celebration. Great for those last minute shoppers who need a reminder! Sign up to be notified of the Club’s launch.
  • Smokehouse BBQ’s sister business The Pie Eatery is launching this fall! We haven’t seen their associated food truck out and about yet, but hopefully it will happen soon.

The Pie Eatery

The Pie Eatery

  • Also in the neighbourhood is the relocated Acquired Taste Tea Company, just a stone’s throw from their previous location, at 10122 124 Street.

Acquired Taste

Acquired Taste Tea Company

  • I’ve been looking forward to peaches all summer – they’re back at Steve & Dan’s!

Steve & Dan's

Peaches for me!

  • Weekend breakfasts for us are usually eggy affairs, but we opted to stop by Coffee Bureau instead on our way back home on Saturday morning. It was a good choice: their Leva-baked fontina and ham croissants are worth getting up for.

Coffee Bureau

Coffees and croissants at Coffee Bureau

  • We had a partial family dinner at RGE RD tonight. Tonight’s kitchen board was probably the best we’ve had (elk terrine, bison sliders and fish sticks), and Mack and I both couldn’t pass up the Arctic char special with beurre blanc. Of course, an order of perogies was also warranted for the table. Thanks to Blair, Caitlin and team for a great meal! Looking forward to the meat shop and expanded space next door in the fall.

RGE RD

Arctic char with Great Northern beans and beurre blanc

RGE RD

Perogies for the people!

July 12th, 2015

Road Trip: Fort Saskatchewan and Jurassic Forest

At the end of June, in lieu of a birthday gift, Mack and I took the opportunity to spend the day together and explore some area attractions that we hadn’t made the time for yet.

To start, we headed to Fort Saskatchewan for their highest profile restaurant – The Downtown Diner. Having been featured not only in the Journal, but also in Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here, Keith and Lori’s brand of comfort food has attracted some devout fans, many who are willing to make the drive from Edmonton for a meal.

Because of that, we were expecting a bit more of a line, but hey, no complaints here. It also probably helped that we missed the frenzy caused by the television episode by about a week. The diner itself is fairly non-descript on the outside, located along one of the main drags in downtown Fort Saskatchewan. Inside, the L-shaped restaurant is lined with cushy red vinyl booths and checkered floors, and looks exactly how you’d imagine a diner to be.

The Downtown Diner

The Downtown Diner

The staff also play their part – they were genuinely welcoming and friendly, with Keith making a point to thank every table for their business.

The menu is full of diner classics including burgers, fried chicken and mac ‘n’ cheese. Our seat by the kitchen actually made ordering very difficult – everything coming off the counter looked amazing. I settled on the diner hash with some meat ($14), while Mack was swayed by the special, a fried chicken and waffle sandwich ($14).

He definitely won this round: the fried chicken was spot on, crispy and tender, sandwiched by layers of waffles and cream cheese.

The Downtown Diner

Fried chicken and waffle sandwich

My hash would have been enough to feed the two of us, made up of potatoes, scrambled eggs, turkey (an add in), and topped with gravy and hollandaise. In hindsight, fried eggs would have been the better choice, but it was still a satisfying dish. Both of us agreed we’d be back soon to take on the later day entrees.

The Downtown Diner

Diner hash with turkey

The staff at The Downtown Diner are definitely proud of their restaurant – it shows in the food and the service, and you won’t regret the trek out to see for yourself.

After brunch, we headed on foot to a nearby park to see the other attraction in Fort Saskatchewan that we’ve heard a lot about: the sheep.

If you didn’t know, Fort Saskatchewan started utilizing sheep as their living lawnmowers in 1992. From June to September, a flock of about fifty sheep can be seen grazing at various parks four days a week. And yes, this novelty draws its share of tourists, to the point where they have a “sheep hotline”.

Fort Saskatchewan Sheep

We found them!

On that scorcher of a day, the sheep weren’t too difficult to find, clustered under the only available shade cast by a grove of trees. Although the website proclaimed how friendly they were, they did seem pretty wary of us.

Fort Saskatchewan Sheep

With Fort Saskatchewan’s mascots

Along the way, we also stumbled upon the Fort Heritage District. It is a much smaller facility than our own Fort Edmonton, but they had an exciting lesson of axe throwing underway. We were invited to watch the students, but needless to say, we were asked to stand way back.

Fort Saskatchewan

Axe throwing at the Fort

We hopped back in the car and continued north to Gibbons for Jurassic Forest. With the release of the popular Jurassic World sequel this year, Mack was hoping for more formal staycation tie-ins with Jurassic Forest, but we only just realized that in some ways, the attraction is old hat – we were both surprised to hear that it opened back in 2010.

Since then, Jurassic Forest has undergone a number of upgrades, and have increased the animatronic figures from 42 to 51, and have enhanced their educational displays. We didn’t really know what to expect, but we hoped to be intrigued.

Jurassic Forest

T-Rex

The dinosaurs were split between two heavily shaded trails (something we were thankful for on that day). We initially liked the idea of “stumbling upon” the creatures as we turned the corner, unknowingly tripping a motion sensor, causing the figures to come to life.

Jurassic Forest

Edmontonsaurus, on the right

But in some ways, we were disappointed that the dinosaurs had such limited movement (opening of eyes, raising of arms, and flicking of tails).

Jurassic Forest

Stegasaurus, one of my childhood favourites

Mack was also anticipating that we’d be able to get closer to the animatronic displays. The novelty of seeing them in the distance like wildlife quickly go old, and some of the figures were hard to see in the bush.

Jurassic Forest

In the distance

While we appreciated the placards describing each dinosaur, there were also some randomly placed placards about the flora and fauna, which may not have actually coincided with their location. We understand the facility was trying to encourage learning about our own native species still present, but they seemed like an afterthought.

Jurassic Forest

T-rex selfie!

Since we were there anyway, we extended our stay with a round of mini golf. It was probably a mistake to remain out in the full sun for any longer than we had to, but it was a fun side activity.

Jurassic Forest

Journey to Extinction mini-golf

The Telus World of Science now has a similar animatronic exhibit called Dinosaurs Unearthed, so you may not have to travel as far to see these prehistoric creatures come to life. But it is at a smaller scale, and doesn’t have the built-in appeal of the outdoors. And while I’m not sure I’d recommend Jurassic Forest for very young or older children, it was still a site to experience.

Looking forward to our next adventure close to home!

July 8th, 2015

Date Night: Beverly Farmers’ Market and Historical Tour

A few years ago, Mack and I had dinner followed by a carriage ride, and in that post I wrote that this was only possible in Highlands. Well that wasn’t true.

On Tuesday, Mack and I headed to the neighbourhood of Beverly. I’d been meaning to visit their farmers’ market for some time, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to combine a few activities.

A smaller market open Tuesday evenings from May to September, it is definitely modest in its offerings, but anchored by two recognizable vendors, Riverbend Gardens and Steve & Dan’s, it does draw regular shoppers.

Beverly Farmers Market

Beverly Farmers’ Market

Rounding out the offerings are more than a dozen other vendors, with wares ranging from baked goods, seafood, and crafts. It was nice to see that the Beverly Farmers’ Market had an incentive program in place – if customers purchased $10 from the featured vendor of the week (in this case, it was the kettle corn truck), they would receive $5 in market dollars to spend at a future market.

Beverly Farmers Market

Steve & Dan’s

An inflatable play structure was set up in an adjacent field (accessible by admission), and we were told that live music was also a mainstay. Three food trucks were present, but Dolce & Banana immediately drew our attention. We had the chance to sample their mojito-flavoured Italian sodas at our last What the Truck?!, but we were keen to finally try one of Ernesto’s sandwiches on this occasion.

We ordered the The Soprano, filled with spicy salami, mortadella, banana peppers, muffelata and vegetable spreads, basil pesto and mozzarella. Made fresh and pressed to order, the focaccia was hot and delightfully crispy, each bite layered with salty pops of flavour.

Dolce & Banana

The Soprano from Dolce & Banana

We actually ended up taking our sandwiches on the carriage ride. A part of Doors Open Edmonton (on until July 12, 2015), the free historic tours of Beverly provide a chance to learn more about a neighbourhood that just celebrated its centennial in 2014.

We had to pre-register, and given the group was at capacity, I was especially glad we did so. Seated in a horse-drawn wagon, it was a comfortable introduction to Beverly. Mack and I were particularly taken with the Cenotaph Park. Built to commemorate the men who served in the first World War, we were told it is the oldest cenotaph in Alberta.

Beverly

Cenotaph Park

Unfortunately, the majority of the tour, led by a member of the Olde Towne Beverly Historical Society, was difficult to follow. The chronology of the events shared were not linear, and given a vast majority of the historical buildings are no longer standing (another discussion altogether), some photographic resources could have been shown for reference. In some ways, it was disappointing that a quick perusal of their website and Wikipedia was more informative than the in-person tour.

Beverly Historical Tour

Horse and wagon

Still, we were directed to some beautiful murals we wouldn’t have otherwise looked for, such as Beverly Beginnings, which shows, among other things, the town’s coal mine foundations.

Beverly

Beverly Beginnings

To end our evening in Beverly, we stopped by Take 5 (11801 48 Street), a doughnut shop I hadn’t heard of until recently. Lucky for us, they still had multiple varieties for us to choose from. The ones we tried tasted really fresh and springy, and both agreed that the most straightforward flavours of honey glazed and raised sugar were the best.

Take 5

Hawaiian and banana cream

It was great to spend the evening in a corner of the city we haven’t frequented before. It has been said before, but a stay-cation in Edmonton over the summer is a blessing in so many ways.