October 16th, 2017

Food Notes for October 16, 2017

Just a heads up that there won’t be a Food Notes post next week; Mack and I are heading to Vancouver Island for a short break! On to this week’s notes:

  • The Edmonton Fall Home Show runs at the Edmonton Expo Centre October 20-22, 2017. Among the attractions is their Cooking Stage, with a number of local chefs who will be presenting, including Bundok’s Ryan Hotchkiss, Mini Kitchen’s Damini Mohen, and Ikki Izakaya’s Ayumi Yuda.
  • Baijiu’s Chef Alexei Boldireff will be collaborating with two visiting chefs, Vancouver’s Chef Dilan Draper (Cafe Ca Va) and Yellowknife’s Chef Robin Wasicuna (Twin Pine Diner), on October 25, 2017 on a 5-course dinner. Tickets are $75.
  • During Farmfair International, which runs November 8-12, 2017, Northlands will be hosting a number of hands-on Food Lab sessions, including how to make fresh mozzarella, and steak cooking tips. Workshops are free with paid admission.
  • Hardware Grill will be hosting a Farm & Guest Dinner in support of the High School Culinary Challenge on November 14, 2017. Tickets are $100.
  • The Holy Roller, sister restaurant to El Cortez and Have Mercy, opens on October 20, 2017. Expect an eclectic menu, “from Detroit-style pizza to pintxos (shareable Basque-inspired snacks) to poke salad bowls to chocolate truffles made from Mexican-sourced cacao.”
  • Calgary’s popular OEB Breakfast is coming to #yeg – in the Kelly-Ramsay block (10040 101A Avenue).
  • If you need your Drift fix in the food truck off-season, you’re in luck – they’ve set up shop in the Shamrock Curling Club!
  • Chili’s announced that 9 restaurants in Alberta (excluding the airport locations) will be closing October 31, 2017.
  • Megan shared an early review of An Chay, a Vietnamese vegetarian restaurant that replaced the short-lived Pitaghetti at 11203 Jasper Avenue.
  • Both Twyla and Vue Weekly had good things to say about vegan pizzeria Die Pie.
  • Graham wrote a rave review about Avila Arepa.
  • Vue Weekly is the latest to review Tang Bistro.
  • Liane tackles the question of what it takes to turn seemingly “cursed” restaurant spaces around.
  • Congratulations to the 2017 Gold Medal Plates winners – Chef Shane Chartrand of Sage took home the gold, while Royal Glenora’s Chef Steve Buzak won silver and Chef Ryan Hotchkiss of Bundok was awarded the bronze.
  • The AgFood Council’s signature event, Foodovation, will take place at NAIT from November 9-10, 2017. They will be highlighting three areas this year: food safety, innovation and production, and scale-up and international markets.
  • The inaugural Festival of Witchcraft and Wizardry was a smashing success this past Friday, even with the chilly temperatures! Mack and I made it down to William McIntyre Park to see some great costumes and lots of enthusiasm for all things Harry Potter. We also tried some delicious butter beer and pumpkin juice crafted by the folks behind Meat Street Pies.

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Pumpkin juice and butterbeer!

  • Afterwards, we headed to Have Mercy to warm up with some Southern comfort food. Great hospitality, fun atmosphere, and a solid menu!

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Mack’s Texas grilled cheese with andouille sausage

  • Over the weekend, we took Grandma Male for her first experience of Thai food at Sawaddee in Sherwood Park. I’d definitely go back for the pad thai!

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Pad thai from Sawaddee

October 12th, 2017

Recap: 2017 Grand Taste Tour with Rock Ridge Dairy, Blindman Brewing, Old Prairie Sentinel Distillery, and Doef’s Greenhouses

Back in August, Mack and I had the privilege of co-hosting another Grand Taste Tour with Linda. Organized by Wild Heart Collective and Taste Alberta, the Grand Taste Tour was in its forth year, again showcasing some of the great local producers we are so fortunate to have in our province (you can read about past tours in 2016 and 2015).

This year, we would be visiting farms and businesses in and around the Lacombe area. Our first stop was Rock Ridge Dairy, where we were met by second generation farmer Patrick Bos and his wife Cherylynn.

Rock Ridge Dairy

Goats at Rock Ridge Dairy

Patrick’s father started Rock Ridge back in 1998, converting an ostrich farm to house the goats they would go on to raise for milk. The farm now spans 640 acres total.

Rock Ridge Dairy

We had fun with the goats

The goats mostly consume alfalfa and barley grown right on the farm, and, during the milking process, are provided with additional nutrients at the milking station based on its RFID tag. The machines are very efficient, and can milk their herd of 650 goats in about an hour.

Rock Ridge Dairy

Patrick shows us the milking machines

Rock Ridge processes about 45,000L of goat milk per week and is a primary supplier in Western Canada from Vancouver to Winnipeg. When they began, they originally shipped the milk off-site to process, but in the years since, they have acquired and created the equipment needed to not only process milk, but to also make cheese (find it under the Happy Days label). Patrick even had to repurpose a sausage stuffer in order to fill bags of chevre.

Rock Ridge Dairy

Cherylynn explains the packaging process

In 2012, Rock Ridge expanded their farm to be able to process organic cow’s milk as well. They work with local producers and process about 20-25,000L of cow’s milk a week. One of the unique types of milk they offer is from Jersey cows (labelled separately, as only one farm supplies it). The protein in Jersey milk is the same protein found in human milk, and may be easier to digest than milk from Holsteins.

Rock Ridge Dairy

Linda loved the goats, too

Rock Ridge products an be found at Blush Lane and through SPUD and the Organic Box.

Our second stop was at the Lacombe Crop Development Centre, which breeds different types of barley and wheat.

Alberta Open Farm Days

At the Lacombe Crop Development Centre

Different stations about honey, pulses, and farming equipment were set up and the group was encouraged to explore and ask questions of the knowledgeable representatives present. Mack and I learned about “winter wheat”, a variety that is planted in the fall. Although it has a lower yield, it is used to help with field rotation.

Alberta Open Farm Days

Andrea among the wheat

Next, we headed to the happy hour stop on the tour. Back in the spring, Mack and I planned a weekend trip out to Lacombe, and checked out Blindman Brewing and Old Prairie Sentinel Distillery then, but were happy for the opportunity to revisit these two vendors.

At Blindman, we were led on a tour by one of the brewery’s founders, Hans Doef. If his name sounds familiar, that’s because his father owns and operates Doef’s Greenhouses, where he worked for many years (we immediately recognized him from our weekly visits to the Doef’s tent at the City Market).

Blindman Brewing

Hans Doef of Blindman Brewing

Blindman has been on a meteoric rise since it opened in 2015. They had to relocate to their current facility to accommodate more tanks and increase their bottling capacity, as their product is now available in up to 400 locations. Their Blindman River Session Ale and Longshadows India Pale Ale are their most popular brews.

Blindman Brewing

Production tanks

Hans estimated that their beer takes two weeks from grain to glass – Blindman leaves their beer in tanks longer than other breweries because they don’t filter their beer.

In late 2016, Blindman undertook a crowdfunding campaign to help them purchase two 3,000L foeders from France that once held cognac. Their first brew, a Brett Saison that has aged in the barrels for the last four months, will be released later this year.

Blindman Brewing

Foeders

Next door at Old Prairie Sentinel, we were amazed at the transformation of the space since our last visit. In May, we learned from co-owner Rob Gugin that they had plans to build a tasting room that would allow them to serve samples of their product. The end result is stunning, incorporating wood accents into the high ceiling and a long bar.

Prairie Sentinel Distillery

Old Prairie Sentinel Distillery

In addition to high balls and cocktails made with their vodkas and gins, Old Prairie Sentinel also offers warm spent-grain pretzels to accompany those drinks.

We picked up a bottle of their Prairie Berry Dry Gin (made with 100% malted barley, as are the rest of their products) to take home.

Our final stop on the tour was the one I was most looking forward to. We’ve been regular customers of Doef’s Greenhouses for years, but there’s something special about seeing where and how the products we buy every week are grown.

Eric Doef, a second generation farmer, provided us with an overview of their year-round operations. The greenhouse spans 11 acres where they grow tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and lettuce hydroponically. They plant one tomato and pepper crop annually, and harvest the products throughout the year, while cucumbers require three crops a year.

Doef's Greenhouses

Eric Doef

Water is the foundation of their crops, which they draw entirely from surface ponds and collected from snow melt and rain water. When their dugouts on their property are full, they have enough water for two years. It’s mind boggling how much water they go through, however – Eric shared that on a hot day, they might use up to 400 million litres of water.

Doef's Greenhouses

Peppers as far as the eye can see

Fertilizer is added directly into the water, while carbon dioxide is brought in through tubes. Computers monitor exactly what nutrients each crop needs, and they can adjust the levels accordingly. Regarding pests, they prefer to be as preventive as possible by ordering the appropriate “beneficials” every week (e.g., wasps to eat white flies). We also saw bees which are used to pollinate the flowers.

Doef's Greenhouses

Tomatoes

The overhead lights are typically turned on in September, and though they employ LED lights for their lettuce crops, most of their other crops need the heat given off by the HPS lights. Their lamps run for up to 15,000 hours before needing to be replaced.

Doef's Greenhouses

Lettuce crops

It was a fascinating tour that preceded a long table dinner set in one of the greenhouses, one of the most distinctive settings for a meal I’ve experienced.

Grand Taste Tour 2017

Greenhouse dinner

The 7-course family style meal was prepared by Chef Liana Robberecht of WinSport Canada. She prepared a beautiful array of dishes, including a smoked Alberta lentil hummus with fennel crackers that I couldn’t stop eating, and a maple bourbon potato salad that nearly outshone its accompanying proteins.

Grand Taste Tour 2017

Roasted Chinook honey carrot tacos with yogurt, bee pollen, and cilantro

Given the surroundings, a salad comprised of lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers sourced from Doef’s, dressed in a sea buckthorn vinaigrette was entirely appropriate, and delicious.

Grand Taste Tour 2017

Salad

Alberta pulled lamb shank, served in a Sylvan Star gouda parkhouse roll was another favourite around the table.

Grand Taste Tour 2017

Pulled lamb shank in Sylvan Star gouda parkhouse rolls

Chef Robberecht ended the meal as brightly as it began, with her twist on spiced dark chocolate mousse, combined with a roasted sweet pepper curd, and a fabulous carrot cake with whipped Chinook Honey cream cheese.

Grand Taste Tour 2017

Dessert

As I mentioned, it was particularly meaningful for Mack and I to tour the greenhouse because of our weekly purchases at the market. It was also great to see that the family farm will continue with Eric – and perhaps even with a third generation in the years to come!

Thanks again to Wild Heart Collective for organizing another wonderful Grand Taste Tour!

October 9th, 2017

Food Notes for October 9, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you had a restful weekend full of food, friends, and family. On to this week’s food notes:

  • MacEwan is hosting a free lecture titled, “First-Gen Farmers: The Faces of Canada’s Agri-Revolution” on October 10, 2017.
  • The Hotel Macdonald, in partnership with Prairie Gardens and Adventure Farm, will be offering a 5-course farm-to-table dinner on October 13, 2017. Tickets are $100.
  • The next installment of Taste Alberta’s Prairie on a Plate is taking place at Canteen on October 25, 2017. Tickets are $55 for the 4-course meal.
  • Revel Bistro & Bar is now open in the former Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen space (9802 Jasper Avenue).
  • Foodora and DoorDash join several other food delivery services now available in Edmonton.
  • The city’s first Sugarfina, which wills itself as a “luxury candy boutique” is open at Southgate Centre.
  • XO Bistro is offering a pho challenge – earn yourself a free bowl and a spot on their wall of fame by finishing 4 pounds of ingredients and 2.5L of soup in 45 minutes (otherwise, it is $60).
  • If you’re looking for a brunch alternative, Fort Edmonton Park’s Johnson’s Cafe (located inside Hotel Selkirk) continues to serve Sunday brunch until the end of the year.
  • Jonny was disappointed with his experience at Die Pie.
  • The Journal is the latest to review Loft Thai Eatery.
  • Ben Freeland is one of the first to review new-ish Vietnamese restaurant PhoEver.
  • Crystal found the service lacking at The Stone & Wheel Pizza.
  • Also from Crystal – she visited Chartier during one of their weekly Tuesday burger nights.
  • Jonny checked out The Art of Cake for the first time.
  • Graham lists Edmonton restaurants that have been open for 30+ years, with his opinion on which are still at the top of their game.
  • Great feature on Sugared & Spiced in the Journal over the weekend.
  • Sharman enjoyed one of the last 104 Street Feast Tours run by Edmonton Food Tours before the end of the outdoor market season.
  • Only bars that sell Molson products can openly associate with the Oilers, including mentioning the screening of Oilers games.
  • We bid adieu to the 2017 outdoor City Market season on Saturday, but not before having a taste of Bench Creek Brewing – it’s so great to have sanctioned sampling stations as a part of our farmers’ markets now.

City Market

Mack enjoying the Naked Woodman Pale Ale

  • A forgotten lunch last week wasn’t so bad when it meant I had an excuse to indulge in a New York Mama from Battista’s Calzones.

Battista's Calzones

New York Mama from Battista’s Calzones

  • We’re trying to soak up as much of those glorious fall rays as possible before they’re gone – this meant a picnic in the park over the weekend with a spread from Little Village.

Little Village

Our take out from Little Village

    October 7th, 2017

    2017 Alberta Open Farm Days at Erdmann’s Gardens and Sprout Farms Apple Orchards

    Alberta Open Farm Days takes place every August, and is a great opportunity to visit with and learn about some of our food-producing neighbours. However, it is more difficult for those without a vehicle to participate in this annual event. This is where Northlands has played a key role over the past few years by offering one of the best deals of Open Farm Days: $5 organized bus tours of local farms. The morning and afternoon tours depart from their easily accessible Northlands Urban Farm, located just a short walk from Stadium LRT station.

    Mack and I had a great time on the tour last year, so made sure to pick up tickets to this year’s iteration as well. We joined the morning tour, which would allow us to visit two farms in Sturgeon County: Erdmann’s Gardens and Greenhouses, and Sprout Farms Apple Orchards.

    At Erdmann’s, we were greeted by Wendy Erdmann, matriarch of the farm. She shared that her husband Rony stared the farm in 1983, transitioning the fields from alfalfa to vegetables. They now farm 75 acres in crops and greenhouses, with cabbage, carrots, and potatoes making up their primary crops.

    Erdmanns Gardens

    Wendy Erdmann of Erdmann’s Gardens

    Although they are not organic (Erdmann’s uses fertilizer and pesticides), they only spray when needed, and do employ some natural methods such as using organic sprays for their broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. They use the Redwater River for irrigation.

    Erdmanns Gardens

    Cucumber field

    In the summer, they are busy with direct sales at three Edmonton area farmers’ markets, including the City Market, St. Albert, and Callingwood, but also offer some on-farm sales in July and August. Co-op stores have started recently carrying some of their produce, and Erdmann’s does work with several restaurants in the city as well, such as the Shaw Conference Centre, Zinc, and Tzin.

    Erdmanns Gardens

    On the tour

    It was promising to hear from Wendy that her two sons, Shane and Cody, will be taking over the farm in the near future.

    Erdmanns Gardens

    Erdmann’s Farm

    Before we departed, Wendy provided each attendee with a bag of veggies to take home – it was more than generous, and an appreciated token from the visit.

    The group hopped back on the bus for our second stop, Sprout Farms Apple Orchards, located next to Prairie Adventure Gardens. In many ways, Sprout Farms feels like one of the region’s best kept secrets – I was astonished to learn that the orchard grows 150 varieties of apples.

    Farmer Amanda Chedzoy explained that they moved to the property in 1980, and the farm began as a tree nursery. In 2000, they transitioned to a u-pick apple farm, planting any extra stock they had on hand. Since then, they’ve decided to move away from the u-pick business because it has been difficult for them to manage, and have adopted a Community Supported Agriculture model this year, in addition to selling pre-picked fruit. Sprout Farms is not certified organic, but they use organic practices, and haven’t sprayed in three years.

    Sprout Farms Apple Orchards

    Amanda Chedzoy of Sprout Farms

    Although they do grow many varieties, they primarily offer 14 types of apples spread over 700 trees. Amanda shared that the fruit was very small this year due to continued drought conditions. Although they had 7 varieties available that day, she encouraged us to return next month, as September is their prime picking period.

    Sprout Farms Apple Orchards

    Apples!

    Like Erdmann’s, Amanda mentioned that her sons will be taking over the farm in the future – given the prevailing narrative about the lack of interest subsequent generations have in continuing the farm business, it was very encouraging to hear from two families that this is not the case for them.

    Sprout Farms Apple Orchards

    On the farm with my parents

    Before we left Sprout Farms, we had the chance to try some fresh-pressed cider, and buy some of their pre-picked apples from the on-farm store.

    Thanks again to Northlands for organizing a great morning of farm tours!

    October 2nd, 2017

    Food Notes for October 2, 2017

    • This is the last call for outdoor farmers’ markets: I’m partial to the 124 Grand Market and the City Market, but head to your favourite this week before they wrap up for the year!
    • It’s always great to see local chefs collaborating with one another! The latest: XIX Nineteen’s Chef Andrew Fung will be in the kitchen at Baijiu on October 3, 2017 for their Tuesday Bao Night.
    • There’s still time to source out your Thanksgiving supper – Sorrentino’s turkey-to-go starts at $195 without sides (order by October 3, 2017), while the Shaw Conference Centre is offering a turkey feast for 10-12 for $225 (order by October 6, 2017).
    • Transcend is hosting this year’s Canadian National Barista Championship on October 14-15, 2017, and they’re looking for judges and volunteers.
    • Sazon (from the folks behind Comal Taco Therapy Nights) is offering Nixtamal Taco kits to take home. Reserve your kit for 2 ($40) or 4 ($80) in advance for pick up on October 17, 2017.
    • Leftovers YEG is hosting an event to help bring awareness to food waste. They’re partnering with Ernest’s at NAIT on October 21, 2017 to showcase a meal made entirely from excess food. Tickets are $40 and include a tour of the kitchens.
    • It was announced this week that Chef Ben Staley’s Alta has closed.
    • Unfortunately, Mayday Dogs will not be open this Wednesday, October 4, 2017 due to electrical issues.
    • Cafe Vancia is now open on the main floor of the Ledgeview at 9707 110 Street.
    • Pizza lovers take note: Royal Pizza is opening up a location in the Hys Centre at 11010 101 Street.
    • PhoEver Noodles & Grill opened in Griesbach back in the spring at #102, 9934 137 Avenue.
    • Phil has more details about what you can expect from Chef Lindsay Porter’s new restaurant, London Local, opening later this month.
    • Also from Phil, a round-up of some of his best kept “foodie secrets”.
    • Vue Weekly had an overall great meal at Loft Thai Eatery.
    • Cindy recommends the Spanish brunch offered at Bodega Highlands.
    • Graham asks “where’s the soul?” of Bottega 104.
    • Lydia at YEG Cravings reviewed Miga, one of the several Korean restaurants on 34th Avenue.
    • Jonny is the latest to visit Nara Chicken & Tonkatsu.
    • Sharman recapped the latest Taste Alberta Prairie on a Plate dinner that took place last week at Northern Chicken.
    • Congratulations to Sweet Lollapalooza and The Violet Chocolate Company for their medals gained at the International Chocolate Awards.
    • The moral of the CBC Marketplace story exposing some duplicitous vendors at Toronto-area farmers’ markets is to make sure you get to know the vendors, or at least ask some questions.
    • It was neat to see photos of a farmers’ market taking place on the Legislature grounds last week, but unfortunate it was only a one-time pop-up.
    • I didn’t know pea milk was a thing – it apparently has more calcium than cow’s milk.
    • Mack and I finally made it out to Sugared & Spiced’s storefront location at 10334 82 Avenue. It’s a beautiful space, tucked in an alley within view of the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market. We picked up some treats to accompany dinner, but certainly plan to visit again when we’re in the neighbourhood!

    Sugared & Spiced

    Sugared & Spiced

    • We were in the area, so stopped by Kiwado last week for a late lunch. We didn’t realize the restaurant closes between lunch and dinner service, but were grateful they stayed open for us! We enjoyed our usual options (tonkatsu for me, shoyu for Mack), and particularly appreciated that they offer half orders of chicken karaage on their menu!

    Kiwado Ramen

    Tonkotsu ramen from Kiwado

    • We also celebrated our anniversary over the weekend at Bundok. We had a lovely meal, but the kohlrabi salad and gnocchi were our favourite dishes of the night.

    Bundok

    Bundok’s gnocchi

    • Some of our errands took us to Ritchie on Sunday, so it was a great opportunity to finally explore the Ritchie Market, which we had yet to visit. We sampled some of the bar snacks on offer at Biera, along with a flight of Blind Enthusiasm’s beer. We loved the lofty ceilings and windowed room; we’ll be back some time for diner.

    Biera

    Mack with his flight of beer at Biera

    October 1st, 2017

    Recap: Salz Sausage and Beer Pop-up

    A few years ago, Mack and I were walking home from the Queen Mary Park neighbourhood and stumbled upon what looked like Elm Café’s commissary kitchen. We happened to see Executive Chef Allan Suddaby in the window, and he waved us in for a quick tour. Besides a more expansive kitchen to meet their catering and prep needs for their family of properties, the space also included a small front room that could be set up as a cozy restaurant. Allan mentioned that might be in the cards one day – it seems that finally, that day has come.

    Salz has been announced as the forthcoming restaurant to join the ever-growing family of Elm Café properties, which also includes District Café and Little Brick (Burrow still remains temporarily shuttered). Intended to be a Bavarian sausage and beer hall, the menu will be simple, favouring brats and sides, and in some ways, won’t be too dissimilar from the formula embraced by Otto. However, because the space can only accommodate 8 seats, owner Nate Box said Salz will be a more modest establishment, open for lunch and some evenings to align with Oilers game nights at Rogers Place.

    In anticipation of the opening in October, District Cafe hosted a Salz pop-up dinner in mid-September. The $15 tickets were very reasonably priced, and included a shared starter, an entree-sized plate, and dessert (drinks were extra). Tickets for the pop-up sold out within days of being released, speaking to both the value and interest in the new concept.

    The menu that evening was comparable to an Austrian pop-up dinner Allan hosted several years back (he spent some time cooking in Austria). It’s fair to say that Allan is passionate about sausages; he’s led numerous sausage making classes at Eat Alberta and Metro Continuing Education, and without a doubt, his sausage enthusiasm is infectious.

    That evening, we started our meal with a soft pretzel served with honey mustard. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by the oven-warmed pretzels at Zwick’s, but our only quibble was that it would have been improved had it been served warm.

    Salz Pop-up at District

    Pretzel and honey mustard

    For the entree, we were to select from three sausage options, which would be complemented by house pickles and German salads. Mack added another sausage to his order so between the two of us, we could try all three: a classic bratwurst, Kasekrainer (with Sylvan Star gouda), and spicy Hungarian.

    Salz Pop-up at District

    Sausage plate

    It was nice to be able to sample the trio, but the classic bratwurst, full of punchy garlic and black pepper, won out. We also appreciated the variety of accompanying sides, including a dill-forward potato salad, and for Mack, the creamy spaetzle and cheese.

    Dessert was a tasty apple strudel with a dollop of whipped cream – straightforward but satisfying.

    Salz Pop-up at District

    Apple strudel

    It’ll be great to have an establishment serving up quality sausages and beer within walking distance of the core! We’re looking forward to checking out Salz when it opens later this month.

    Salz
    10556 115 Street

    September 27th, 2017

    Pan-Canadian Cuisine with a View: The Butternut Tree

    Ten years ago, before Mack and I moved downtown, I worked in Grandin in the building now known as The Ledgeview. The quaint and quiet neighbourhood was just far enough from the hustle and bustle of Jasper Avenue and the more commercial aspects of the core that it felt like its own cocoon. That said, the residential component and draw of Ezio Faraone Park always meant feet on the street, and I always felt safe heading home late in the day.

    Now, our evening walks from 104 Street often take us through Grandin, on the multi-use trails or down into the valley. But while much has changed in the areas surrounding the neighbourhood, including new residential developments, additional infrastructure, and more retail outlets, Grandin itself has remained relatively untouched. With the exception of The Hendrix (a rental building), the static nature has preserved the tranquil feel of the community. This may be one of the reasons why one of its most pristine restaurant spaces has also been the most difficult to crack.

    A decade back, The Copper Pot was a familiar, albeit understated fixture of the dining scene. The expansive windows overlooking the park ensured it had one of the best views a restaurant could offer, but the downside was its somewhat hidden location; it had to be sought out. They seemed to do fine accommodating the government and business lunch crowd, but evenings were tougher. I had my share of meals there, but the view always trumped the food. When they closed in 2012, I was hopeful a new tenant might bridge that gap. Successive tenants Antonio’s and The Phork came and went, and the space sat vacant for several years while the building itself was upgraded. To be successful, it seemed that the newcomer would have to become a destination – walk-up traffic is minimal, and while the actual distance to entertainment in the Ice or Arts Districts is not daunting, it’s just far enough to make the location a challenge.

    Over the summer, it was announced that The Butternut Tree was due to open in that space in September. Helmed by Chef Scott Downey, originally from St. Albert but having gained experience in Vancouver, New York, and Denmark, would The Butternut Tree have the right formula to draw a crowd?

    Mack and I were fortunate enough to be among those invited for a media preview last week. The interior has been completely overhauled; the room has been opened up, with views of Ezio Faraone Park on one side, and the open kitchen on the other. The muted grey and brown tones ensure the visual focus is external, and on the food at hand. We were seated with a few fellow food bloggers in a windowed private room with clear views of the Legislature.

    The Butternut Tree

    Interior

    The website addresses the origin of the restaurant’s namesake, stemming from Chef Downey’s memory of a butternut tree in his grandmother’s backyard in New Brunswick. The tree symbolizes the variety of Canadian ingredients available, some of which are celebrated in Chef Downey’s pan-Canadian menu.

    The Butternut Tree

    Chef Scott Downey

    For now, The Butternut Tree is only open for dinner, but they are considering brunch and lunch once they’ve firmed up their systems. We were permitted to order an appetizer, entree, and dessert from the regular dinner menu. Given the size of our group, our table ended up trying most of the dishes, resulting in consensus favourites.

    Mack’s broccoli appetizer ($16) was easily the most unique dish on the menu. I’m a sucker for charred broccoli, so I immediately knew this was right up my alley, while Mack was tempted by the pork belly. Complemented with a perfectly prepared soft boiled duck egg spectacularly coated in a leek ash, the silky yolk brought everything together.

    The Butternut Tree

    Broccoli with pork belly, soft boiled duck egg, pickled garlic scapes, cereal grains

    I chose the grilled bannock ($14), a vegetarian option featuring disks of flatbread with wild mushrooms, berries, winged kelp, and pumpkin seed. This was a much more shareable two-bite appetizer, with the kitchen showing a deft skill in extracting maximum flavour from the mushrooms.

    The Butternut Tree

    Grilled bannock with wild mushrooms, berries, winged kelp, pumpkin seed

    The Haida Gwaii halibut ($38) was pretty popular around the table. The substantial portion of fish was paired with a squash ragout, parsley onion pesto, braised leek, and lobster mushroom. The halibut was very well prepared, as again were the mushrooms.

    The Butternut Tree

    Haida Gwaii halibut with squash ragout, parsley onion pesto, braised leek, lobster mushroom

    Mack’s Bentley bison duo ($44) was the most expensive item on the menu, but the kitchen ensured the protein was showcased well. The tenderloin was cooked to medium rare, while the shortrib was fork tender. The accompanying lentil, carrot, and cauliflower were fine, albeit inconspicuous plate mates.

    The Butternut Tree

    Bentley bison duo with lentil, carrot, cauliflower and Saskatoon berry jus

    For dessert, the overwhelming favourite was the plum ($10), served with milk ice cream, honey meringue, and oat crumble. It was full of contrasting textures and comfort, and was light enough to not weigh the diner down.

    The Butternut Tree

    Plum with milk ice cream, honey meringue, oat crumble

    I ordered the ployes cake ($12), made from a buckwheat-based batter served up like a short stack of pancakes. It was topped with maple butter, Alberta Rose, and berries. The cake was very dense, and though I didn’t find it overly sweet, the richness meant a few bites were enough to satisfy me after the preceding dishes. 

    The Butternut Tree

    Ployes cake with maple butter, Alberta Rose, berries

    There is no doubt The Butternut Tree makes a great first impression – the panoramic views will translate well for those celebrating a special occasion, wooing business associates, or having a fine night out. The menu also features enough familiarity to keep a wide swath of diners of happy, but with a few surprises to interest more exploratory eaters. Still, only time will tell if a chef returning to his local roots will make a splash big enough to overcome the inherent challenges of the restaurant’s location.

    I wish Chef Downey and his team the best of luck – thanks again to The Butternut Tree and Bonafide Media for organizing a great evening! For alternate perspectives on the evening, read Cindy and Crystal’s recaps.

    The Butternut Tree
    101, 9707 110 Street (The Ledgeview)
    (780) 760-2271
    Tuesday – Sunday 5pm-midnight, closed Mondays

    September 25th, 2017

    Food Notes for September 25, 2017

    • Oktoberfest returns to the Northlands Expo Centre on September 29-30, 2017, with local craft and Bavarian beer on tap.
    • Get ready – the City Market moves indoors to City Hall on October 14, 2017. The first 200 customers through the door that day will receive $5 in market bucks to spend.
    • The Avenue Burger Challenge has continued and is currently accepting votes to determine the final two competitors. Voting for round five closes October 2, 2017.
    • Mayday Dogs has finally confirmed their opening date to be October 4, 2017, just in time for the first regular season Oilers home game.
    • Liane shared that the folks behind North 53 and Baijiu are opening not one, but two bars on 104 Street – one just inside Baijiu and another adjacent to Blue Plate Diner.
    • Town Square Brewing is holding a soft opening phase to collect early feedback – check them out for lunch.
    • It looks like Bean Here, the cafe that replaced Rogue Wave at 10571A 114 Street is now open!
    • Kiwado Japanese Cuisine is now open in the space formerly occupied by Sapporo Sushi at 10923 101 Street.
    • The Nook Cafe will be hosting a grand opening celebration September 28-30, 2017.
    • Earth’s General Store’s downtown location will be open until October 8, 2017.
    • Phil reports that Pitaghetti is no more, and will soon be replaced by another restaurant.
    • CBC, the Journal and Sharon all positively reviewed Old Strathcona’s Avila Arepa last week, but it’s worth noting there is a second lower-profile Venezuelan restaurant in Edmonton on 118 Avenue called El Fogon.
    • Vue Weekly profiles the operators and food at Nonna’s Bistro downtown.
    • The Globe & Mail thought Wishbone could have been better.
    • Jonny checked out Songkran Thai in St. Albert.
    • In anticipation of La Ronde’s 50th birthday this week, Graham sampled their Retro Thursday menu ($66 for three courses).
    • Cindy recapped the recent dumpling pop-up hosted by MasterChef Canada competitors Mai Nguyen and Jordan Levin.
    • CBC had a taste-off of five locally-sourced cinnamon buns, which crowned Hazeldean Bakery’s bun the winner.
    • Seafood lovers rejoice: Effing Seafoods is starting up a Fish Club, offering a monthly subscription to interesting seafood options. Vue Weekly also profiled Effing Seafoods last week.
    • Congratulations to the bloggers, including Linda and Phil, who were recognized under Vue Weekly’s Best of Edmonton 2017 Food Blog category!
    • While I’ve had my share of soy-based meats, this bleeding plant-based burger is definitely imitation taken to a whole different level.
    • Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and Love Pizza is getting into the spirit with a special #lovesgivingza, available from September 22 – October 7, 2017. It’s topped with mashed potato spread, pulled turkey, stuffing, cranberry chutney, gravy, and brie cheese drizzle. The chutney was on the sweeter side for me, but I loved the mashed potato and gravy! And bonus – $1 for each pizza sold goes to the charity Stop Abuse in Families.

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    Our #lovesgivingza and Meatatarian

    • Since my office moved away from being walking distance to Chinatown, I haven’t had the chance to frequent Pho Tau Bay as often. I finally returned over the weekend, not realizing just how much I missed my regular order.

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    My ritual at Pho Tau Bay

    September 21st, 2017

    Recap: Urban Pedal Tour in Old Strathcona

    Urban Pedal Tours have taken Edmonton by storm. Launched just this May by Matt and Carol Gosse, they’ve nearly been at capacity all summer, offering a unique alternative to the typical pub crawl. Instead of the usual bus or exploration by foot, Urban Pedal Tours moves tour groups through Old Strathcona and Downtown via 15-passenger bikes.

    Inspired by a similar tour they enjoyed in Seattle two years ago, Edmonton joins Montreal, Victoria, and Kelowna as communities in Canada that have adopted this interesting mode to see the city. While no liquor laws in the country allow consumption while on the bike, the u-shaped bike definitely promotes more interaction throughout the tour.

    On Sunday afternoon, Mack and I were invited by Linda to participate in an Urban Pedal Tour, along with a dozen others. Part of a Travel Alberta-funded excursion, our trek would be filmed for an “Edmonton on wheels” spot to be released next year.

    The group met up at the Urban Pedal Tours garage in Old Strathcona, signed waivers, and received an orientation to the bike from Matt. Although the bike holds up to 15 passengers, only 10 are pedaling seats. We rotated positions between stops so everyone had the chance to pedal (something I much preferred!). For the most part, it was an easy cycle, with the bike maxing out at speeds of 8km per hour. It was also a much less intense than the Food Bike Tour Mack and I joined back in August.

    Urban Pedal Tours

    With our ride

    Matt, who was in charge of steering the bike, was very careful about merging us into traffic. Although we were definitely moving much slower than vehicle traffic typically travels down Whyte Avenue, most drivers were surprisingly forgiving about our pace. Combined with the friendly horn and the on-board music system, drivers were more inclined to smile and wave as we passed than honk.

    We made three stops that afternoon on the two hour tour. The first was El Cortez for some appetizers and drinks. The $38 per person fee only covers the tour portion; any food or drink is extra (on this tour, the fee was covered by Travel Alberta, but we paid for our own food and drinks). That said, Urban Pedal Tours has arranged some special offers for its patrons – in the case of El Cortez, it was happy hour pricing.

    El Cortez

    El Cortez

    Our table split an order of guacamole and chips (half price), and a few people tried their sangrias (on special every Sunday). Matt was great about ensuring the group knew how much time we had at each stop (approximately 25 minutes), but the limit did result in some people having to down their drinks quickly depending on when it was delivered.

    El Cortez

    Linda is all smiles!

    Our second stop was Malt and Mortar. Several tables had been reserved for the group, with bowls of house-spiced popcorn ready for us to snack on. Sundays at Malt and Mortar mean $10 Caesars, which Mack took advantage of.

    Urban Pedal Tours

    Mack tried the Smoke Caesar

    We spent the most time at the final stop, Situation Brewing. We were all encouraged to grab a pint before a quick tour of the brewery.

    Urban Pedal Tours

    Thom and Mike enjoy a pint

    We learned that their current best sellers are their Page Turner IPA, Uno Mas, and Afternoon Tea Saison, and that they brew approximately 10-15,000l per month.

    Situation Brewing

    Tour at Situation Brewing

    While at Situation, we were eyeing up the other parties around the brew pub who were having lunch. It would mean lengthening the tour, but I would have preferred at least one stop where we could have the opportunity to order a more significant portion of food. We did learn from Matt that next summer, they do intend to add a third bike to their roster, and potentially offer more specialty tours that could be more food-oriented. It will be interesting to see if they do introduce an all-inclusive rate to their offerings; I’d personally prefer to pay for my food and drinks up front, but I can understand the logistical challenges this may cause to their business model.

    At any rate, it was great to be able to take part in an Urban Pedal Tour – it was a fun way to spend a fleeting summer afternoon. Thanks again to Linda for the invitation and to Travel Alberta for setting this up!

    Urban Pedal Tours

    We did it! (photo credit: Linda)

    Urban Pedal Tours runs until September 30, 2017, and will return in May 2018.

    September 19th, 2017

    A Tale of Two Baos: Chef’s Table at Baijiu

    Though living on 104 Street gives us easy access to some of the most trendy restaurants in the city, I’d say the closer they are, the less likely we’ve been to them. We’re just not as spontaneous as we used to be, and don’t tend to venture out once we’re in for the night. So in an effort to make it to Baijiu a mere seven months after opening, we made plans to have dinner there in early September.

    It was only fitting in some ways that we waited for my sister Amanda and her boyfriend Jason to visit before hitting up Baijiu. We had dined together at Toronto’s Dailo last year, one of Baijiu’s inspirations. We had enjoyed Dailo’s fusion take on Asian dishes, but were keen to see what Chef Alexei Boldireff has done locally.

    We reserved the four top chef’s table on a Thursday night. The stools provide a perfect vantage point into the kitchen, with a view of the camaraderie and a perspective of the night’s most popular dishes. Lex and his team were more than happy to chat throughout our meal, which made for an even more engaging experience. Perhaps the only (small) downside was having our back to the stylish bar and the restaurant as a whole as our attention was directed at the kitchen.

    Baijiu

    Baijiu

    It made sense to leave things up to Lex, so we opted for the small plates chef’s choice tasting menu ($25/person, 4 guest minimum). We found this to be of good value, as we were able to share seven different dishes (some of which were off-menu), and still had room for dessert.

    To whet our palate, Lex gave us some of their house-made pork jerky to try, something they’re hoping to introduce as a bar snack in the future. While it didn’t quite have the texture of the jerky I’ve had abroad, the  sweet-salty flavour was definitely coming through. This was just their first crack at the recipe, so I’m sure they’ll land it soon enough!

    Baijiu

    Pork jerky

    Our first course, the devilled tea eggs, were also an example of Lex’s interpretation of a traditional dish. To maintain the soft consistency of the white, he opts not to overcook the eggs, then dresses it with crispy shallots, pickled chilies, togarashi, wasabi, scallion, and sesame seeds. The presentation is beautiful, and they made a lovely two-bite starter.

    Baijiu

    Devilled tea eggs

    The green papaya salad was particularly refreshing that day (having reached temperatures of +30), with the mild heat of the dressing complementing the crispness of the shredded vegetables.

    Baijiu

    Green papaya salad

    The kitchen had just received the first corn of the season, so were excited to serve it up with some Fairwinds Farm goat yogurt mixed with charred scallions, mint, fish sauce, chives, and Korean chili. The yogurt was so rich it had a taste reminiscent of parmesan, making even non-dairy fan Jason a convert.

    Baijiu

    Corn, Baijiu style

    The lap cheong fried rice is an Asian staple, and I particularly appreciated the fact that the kitchen makes sure to dry the rice for a few days to produce the optimal consistency.

    Baijiu

    Lap cheong fried rice

    Lex, back when he was slinging sandwiches at his food truck S’wich, was known for his house-made breads. For that reason, we knew that his steamed baos were probably a good bet – and we weren’t disappointed. The braised pork bao were easily my favourite dish, dressed with soy mayo, and pickled and shaved cabbage. Even better, we were reminded that Baijiu offers bao specials every Tuesday – just 2 for $7.

    Baijiu

    Braised pork bao

    The pork and shrimp lion’s head dumplings were Amanda and Jason’s favourite, and were fairly authentic in their flavour and execution, served with a ginger-soy sauce.

    Baijiu

    Pork and shrimp lion’s head dumplings

    The vegetable tempura was a nice plate to share (it was my first time trying a tempura zucchini blossom), but the lightly battered vegetables didn’t elicit the same level of interest as the previous dishes.

    Baijiu

    Vegetable tempura

    We split the fried bao matcha ice cream sandwich; if we weren’t so full, I’m sure all of us would have ordered an individual portion. It’s definitely one of the tastiest desserts I’ve had recently, not overly sweet, and a fun take on a doughnut ice cream sandwich.

    Baijiu

    Fried bao matcha ice cream sandwich

    Though Mack and I were predisposed to rate Baijiu above Dailo, Jason and Amanda both agreed that this meal did reign supreme. It’s really great to see a restaurant of this style and caliber in Edmonton; I look forward to my next (planned) visit!

    Baijiu
    10359 104 Street (Mercer Warehouse)
    (780) 421-7060
    Tuesday-Thursdays 5pm-midnight, Friday-Saturday 5pm-1am, closed Sundays and Mondays