January 4th, 2017

Epicureous in Edmonton: 2016 Year in Review

2016 was an interesting year for print-related food media. While several local publications celebrated milestones (The Tomato, Avenue Edmonton) or expanded their coverage (Culinaire), when the Edmonton Journal announced in January that they were laying off their full-time food reporter, it was clear that the food scene would be at a loss. Although the Journal reversed their decision a few weeks later (at least on a part-time basis), it was a sign that the end of an era is inevitable.

Edmonton Sun & Journal 

When that kind of high profile coverage for local chefs, restaurants, and producers end, will diners and consumers turn to other outlets for news? How will those changes impact small businesses that benefit from the exposure? Though we didn’t have to answer that question in full just yet, it’s likely that the time will come soon.

Here’s what else what notable to me in 2016:

  • I love when we can celebrate local success stories, and this year was full of them. Daniel Costa’s empire expanded to include Uccellino, Duchess added the Scandinavian-inspired Cafe Linnea to their businesses, Bodega looked to reverse the revolving door in Highlands, Have Mercy opened above sister restaurant El Cortez, and the Crudo family set-up Amore Pasta in the suburbs. As well, Sandwich and Sons, Careit, Iconoclast, Nomiya, Confetti Sweets and Jacek Chocolates added new locations.
  • As openings go, Old Strathcona had some of the buzziest additions this year, with scratch-ramen eatery Nudoru, southern-inspired Have Mercy, brew pub Situation Brewing, izakaya Dorinku, and Parisian-style bakery La Boule.
  • Brick and mortar iterations spawned from food trucks continued into this year, including Calle Mexico, Fat Franks, The Local Omnivore, and Two to Taco, a new sister for Filistix. Little Village and Casa Doce storefronts are coming in 2017.
  • Fried chicken frenzy finally hit Edmonton, with a second location for Coco Fried Chicken and the rise of both Seoul Fried Chicken and Northern Chicken. Chain restaurant Popeye’s also caused quite a stir in November with their first Edmonton branch, and it was announced that Ong (from the folks behind Jack’s Burger Shack), will be serving up Hanoi-style fried chicken.
  • Bubble tea chains had a banner year – Coco’s, Quickly, Cha Time and Gong Cha all expanded to Edmonton in 2016.
  • In spite of the growth, many notable businesses shut their doors. We bid adieu to Call the Kettle Black, Dovetail Deli, Sabzy, Rosebowl Pizza (at least in its Oliver location), Dauphine, and Culina.
  • The limited success of no tipping restaurants in larger municipalities like New York should be a cautionary tale for us, but Edmonton saw its first two such establishments open in 2016: the aforementioned Cafe Linnea and Asian upstart Grain of Rice.
  • The upswing of local food tour businesses such as Epicurean Adventure Tours and the expansion of Alberta Food Tours to include Edmonton point to the growth of walkable restaurant districts and an increased appetite to explore them.
  • Similarly, Edmonton Cooks helped share some of the stories behind the city’s favourite restaurants, bringing us in line with the six other cities already profiled.
  • We lost Dolce & Banana operator Ernesto Rizzi suddenly in July, and Gail Hall’s passing in November is still ripping through the food community.

You can check out previous year in reviews here.

January 2nd, 2017

Food Notes for January 2, 2017

Happy New Year! I hope you all had a restful holiday and a great start to 2017. On to the first food notes for the year:

  • This year’s Deep Freeze runs January 14-15, 2017. A new aspect of the festival is a tourtiere baking contest. Entries will be accepted until January 12.
  • Ice on Whyte is partnering with the Edmonton Beer Geeks on February 3, 2017 to present the first ever Freeze Your Cask Off event, featuring 10 Alberta craft beers. The festival is also hosting its third annual Stew Off on February 5, 2017, with 5 local restaurants competing for the title of best stew.
  • A food system forum is taking place on February 3-5, 2017 called Cultivating Connections 2017. The goal is to “identify tangible opportunities to collaborate and inspire initiatives for vibrant regional food systems with improved access for all.” Registration is now open.
  • Carla Alexander has been such a constant part of downtown, from Soul Soup to MRKT, so it’s sad to hear she’s decided to sell MRKT. Best of luck with your future ventures!
  • Glow Juicery’s new location at 10216 124 Street is now open!
  • Downtown’s Local Public Eatery will be opening later this month at 11228 Jasper Avenue (formerly Joey’s).
  • The folks behind The Common will be opening up a new restaurant called Grandin Fish ‘N’ Chips.
  • Expect Vivo’s downtown location to open up some time in the next month.
  • Congratulations to Knosh Catering who will be moving into new digs at the Crestwood Curling Rink this year.
  • Love Pizza’s St. Albert location is coming along nicely!
  • Carolyn shared her thoughts about her new neighbourhood bakery, La Boule.
  • Jonny has continued his spotlight on small, often-forgotten ethnic gems with a review of South Indian eatery Masalaz.
  • Great to hear that Edmonton has not one, but two new distilleries: Strathcona Spirits and Hansen Distillery.
  • If you missed someone on your gift list this Christmas, consider a subscription to the Secret Meat Club, which offers monthly deliveries of artisan food products, including house-made charcuterie and condiments.
  • ‘Tis the season for lists: check out Twyla’s roundup of notable 2016 Edmonton food happenings on Eat North.
  • Speaking of Twyla, she, along with Phil, helped CBC put together a list of Edmonton’s best restaurants for 2016.
  • Cindy shared her own list of memorable 2016 eats.
  • Graham also pulled together a summary of the 2016 Edmonton food scene, along with his favourite dishes from 2016, and included a tidbit to expect a formal announcement about a Jamie Oliver restaurant in the new Kelly-Ramsey Enbridge Centre tower.
  • Vue Weekly reflected on Edmonton’s year in food.
  • How does one go about making food trend predictions? The NYT helps answer that question.
  • Some of the grievances in Eater New York’s round-up are specific to that city, but others are somewhat appropriate to our context, too.
  • The signage for the Crudo family’s 104 Street restaurant expansion, Bottega, is now up!

Bottega on 104 Street

Bottega

  • We had some good eats over the holidays, including brunch at Hap’s to celebrate Mack’s birthday.

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Brunch at Hap’s

  • Back to work last week, I chose to drown my sorrows in a bowl of pho at Tau Bay.

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My usual

  • For Christmas, Mack and I were also given a gift card for Blue Plate Diner that we put into use straightaway – it’s always nice when a favourite restaurant is just steps away from home.

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Indulging at Blue Plate Diner

December 19th, 2016

Food Notes for December 19, 2016

This will be my last roundup post for 2016! And as we’re less than a week to Christmas, I would like to wish you a warm and wonderful holiday full of family and good food.

  • Food4Good is hosting a Fruit & Veggie Market on December 21, 2016 from 3:30-7:30pm at the Glenwood Community League (16430 97 Avenue). There will be nothing priced over $3.
  • If you’re in need of stocking stuffers or hostess gifts, Kitchen by Brad Smoliak is hosting their annual holiday sale on December 23, 2016.
  • I’m looking forward to using a pair of screening passes I received for a movie called Theatre of Life, showing at Metro Cinema December 23, 26, 27 and 28, 2016. It’s a film about high end chefs transforming food that would have otherwise gone to waste into meals to nourish the vulnerable in Milan.
  • Pho lovers in the south side rejoice – there’s another option in Pho Boy, located at 10037B 82 Avenue.
  • There’s a new coffee shop downtown: Cafe Lavi is now open at 9947 104 Street. Thanks to Amelia for the heads up!
  • Chic-Hog-O’s Social House, relocated to 10111 117 Street, is now open.
  • Urban Tavern (which replaced The Druid) is now open at 11606 Jasper Avenue.
  • Those who Love Pizza are in luck – a second location is in the works for St. Albert!
  • Andrea is one of the first to review La Boule, Edmonton’s newest patisserie.
  • Twyla checked out Grain of Rice, a new family-run Asian restaurant on the west end.
  • The Journal reviewed Three10, one of the restaurants located inside The Rec Room in South Edmonton Common.
  • Cindy tried the rotating brunch menu at Cafe Linnea a few times to find her favourite dishes.
  • Vue Weekly sampled the cuisine at Maye Restaurant (9411 118 Avenue), calling it “the best Somali food [he’s had]” in Edmonton.
  • Not sure where to eat over the holidays? Phil and Liv have some recommendations, including where to get your turkey dinner fix.
  • Fuge Fine Meats has just launched a crowdfunding campaign to establish a permanent production facility. They hope to raise $20,000 by January 29, 2017.
  • Just in time for the holidays, Cindy is giving away a copy of Edmonton Cooks!
  • Another cookbook to consider is Meals in the Field, first published in 1928 by the United Farm Women of Alberta. This edition combines classic dishes with more modern takes on family suppers.
  • 58% of 1,200 Albertans surveyed indicated that they would support a sugar tax on pop and energy drinks.
  • In light of the two no-tipping establishments that are now open in Edmonton, the NYT reflects on a year of “hospitality included” programs in New York.
  • I was happy that the stars finally aligned so I could check out a La Mision pop-up last week at the Chvrch of John. Although I enjoyed the chicken burrito, the pork carnitas won my heart in the end.

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Chicken and pork burritos from La Mision

  • Su and I met up at the newly-opened Otto in Norwood (11405 95 Street) on Friday night. Featuring a simple menu of sausages and sides, it’s a low-key neighbourhood restaurant great for unwinding after a long day. We shared the chorizo and lamb merguez sausages (crafted by Fuge), and enjoyed both varieties. The potato salad needed some work (potatoes were undercooked) and the mac and cheese wasn’t as creamy as I would have liked, but it’s early days yet. I’ll be back!

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Our meal at Otto

  • Mack and I took Grandma Male to try the high tea at Cafe Linnea. It’s been so popular they are booked until mid-February! We enjoyed the variety of sweet and savoury bites (my favourite was the duck prosciutto), though it’s fair to say the level of service wasn’t comparable to our high tea experience last year at the Hotel Macdonald.
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    With Grandma Male at Cafe Linnea

  • ‘Tis the season for eating – I had a work lunch today at Sorrentino’s in Little Italy. I indulged in the creamy bison cannelloni and didn’t regret my decision. It was notable that though the restaurant was packed, the service remained consistent.

Sorrentino's

Bison cannelloni

December 18th, 2016

Explore BC: Osoyoos and Similkameen Valley

This is the fourth and final post about our trip to BC back in October. You can read about our Kelowna, Penticton and Oliver highlights as well.

We ended our BC trip in Osoyoos, another town that neither Mack or I had visited before. Although there were some points of interest in Osoyoos, the attractions we were most drawn to were actually beyond its borders.

Watermark Beach Resort

We were told by multiple people that the Watermark Beach Resort was the place to stay in Osoyoos. Because we were hoping for a relaxed vacation with a lot of down time, it made sense to for our longest leg to take place here.

Watermark Osoyoos

Watermark Beach Resort

However, I didn’t realize until we arrived just how small the community is – under 5,000 – so amenities were fewer than expected. That said, while reviews indicated that the Watermark may not be the most serene place during high season, just before Thanksgiving, we felt like we had the place to ourselves. We were upgraded to a two-bedroom, two bathroom suite (the extra bathroom felt like a luxury given Mack and I share one between us at home), and the hot tub and pool area rarely hosted more than a handful of guests at any given time. The weather, unfortunately, prevented us from making use of the beachfront area outside of brisk walks, but it added to the low-key feel of the property. I will say that because we just departed the very personalized service at the bed and breakfast in Penticton, the Watermark felt much more corporate, but I’m not sure how such a large facility would be able to operate otherwise.

Lake Village Bakery

Osoyoos was the home of my favourite bakery of the trip, Lake Village Bakery, which had deliciously flaky sourdough croissants. Located a stone’s throw from Osoyoos Lake, we greedily consumed our treats overlooking the water, trying not to make too much of a mess.

Lake Village Bakery

Sourdough croissants from Lake Village Bakery

NK’MIP Cellars

Although most of the area’s wineries are located north of Osoyoos, NK’MIP Cellars has the distinction of being the first (and only) Aboriginal-owned and operated winery in Canada. With a desire to learn about their history, we signed up for a guided tour. NK’MIP was born from an enterprising chief, who wanted to make the most of the land.

NK'MIP Winery

NK’MIP (pronounced Inkameep) vines

Although the transformation of reserve land started with an RV park, it eventually grew to include the winery, a hotel and conference centre, and a desert museum. We were surprised to learn Osoyoos Indian Band is actually quite small, made up of only 500 members.

NK'MIP Winery

Tasting by the cellar

The winery was perhaps even more visually striking than Covert Farms in Oliver – with the surrounding barren  landscape, it’s a small wonder a viable, agricultural-based business can thrive in the area.

The Grist Mill

Initially, I skipped the section in Jennifer’s book about the Similkameen Valley, because I wasn’t sure we’d have the time for a detour. But after looking at the map and realizing the valley’s proximity to Osoyoos, we hived off a day to take our time in the area.

The Grist Mill

The Grist Mill

The highlight was a visit to The Grist Mill in Keremeos, a museum built around a historic 1877 waterwheel-run flour mill. We spent some time wandering the grounds before spending a full hour with Cuyler Page.

The Grist Mill

Cuyler Page

He was in the process of rebuilding the leavers and pulleys inside the mill, and spoke at length about the history of wheat and milling (including his involvement, humbly stated, in bringing red fife wheat back to prominence in Canada). As Mack commented that day, it’s likely we only scratched the surface of his knowledge.

The Grist Mill

Sifted flour

The Grist Mill also features a cafe with a small menu of soups, sandwiches and baked goods. The food was nothing fancy, but tasted homemade and wholesome. It definitely helped to round out our stop.

Twisted Hills Craft Cider

During our trip, we learned that cider houses are up and coming in the Okanagan, with several having opened up in the last few years. Twisted Hills in Cawston is among them, and we stopped in to have a taste of some of their ciders and sparkling juices.

Twisted Hills

Twisted Hills cider tasting

It’s a small operation that isn’t quite salient yet (the owners planted on family-owned land), but given they were sold out of many of their offerings, it’s a good sign. Though we found the Calville’s Winter a tad on the sweet side, we enjoyed our visit to the farm.

Benja Thai

Apparently Benja Thai is known as "Thai worth the drive" in Keremeos. The fact that a Thai restaurant exists in a town of 1,200 is a feat in itself, but the family who runs it demonstrate their wonderful hospitality during our visit, and we could see how they’ve built up a loyal following. Mack especially enjoyed the green curry, and the pad Thai hit the spot for me.

Benja Thai

Green curry

It was a whirlwind week in BC, but I think we made the most of it, and discovered some hidden gems along the way.

December 16th, 2016

A New Frontier for the Telus World of Science: The Purple Pear

Last week, I was among those invited to attend the media showcase of The Purple Pear, the rebranded cafeteria-style restaurant inside the Telus World of Science. Open since September 30, 2016, the eatery has had a complete makeover, from the dining room to the menus.

The entire space has been transformed – from the herb garden lining the newly-installed windows and the much cleaner purple and white colour palette, to the subtle aurora borealis accent lights.

The Purple Pear

The Purple Pear

If you’re wondering about the name – it was generated through an internal contest. Staff were invited to submit entries and the most popular one was selected. “The Purple Pear” was chosen because it echoed TWOSE’s colour branding, and relating a theme of science, is something not found in nature. You can find the name of the staff who submitted the entry on the menu – as the winner of the contest, Mikhaiel had a pizza named after her.

The Purple Pear

Wine-poached “purple pear” appetizers

As expected, the menu features a lot of kid friendly options, but also some more interesting dishes to appeal to more adult tastes, including a prosciutto and pear salad and a tuna tataki sandwich. We had the opportunity to sample a slider version of the TWOSE stacked burger, a solid choice layered with crispy onions, cheddar, applewood smoked bacon and their house sauce.

The Purple Pear

TWOSE sliders

Without a doubt, the star of the new menu are their pizzas. Baked in the same high temperature ovens found at Urbano Pizza, they are ready in just minutes. My sister and I had the chance to sample two types: the Godfather ($11.95) and the Mikhaiel ($14.95).

The Purple Pear

The Godfather

While the Godfather, with tomato sauce, capicola ham, genoa salami, chorizo sausage, red onion and mozzarella was a fairly standard pizza, the Mikhaeil featured more unique ingredients. We really liked the combination of alfredo sauce, chicken, bacon, caramelized onion, artichokes, goat cheese, arugula and mozzarella.

The Purple Pear

The Mikhaeil

The Purple Pear is also trying to offer dishes themed for their current exhibitions. In conjunction with Angry Birds Universe, they have a “Bird Egg Pig” burger on special (unfortunately, trademark laws restrict the kitchen’s ability to name the burger). It’s a fun way for the restaurant to continue the fun to be had in the rest of the facility.

Most interesting to me, The Purple Pear hopes to appeal to area businesses and residents who are seeking different meal options. In warmer climes, they want to attract people looking for picnic lunches to take over to the underutilized Coronation Park, and perhaps in a few years when the Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium reopens, there will be even more foot traffic around TWOSE. It will take much effort on their part to increase awareness about their new offerings, as the facility has never been known as a food destination, but with some creativity and innovation, it may be possible.

Thanks to the staff for hosting the showcase, and I look forward to visiting again some time in the future!

December 13th, 2016

Tipping the Scales: Grain of Rice

Edmonton’s second no tipping restaurant just opened quietly in the west end with much less fanfare than the first. When Café Linnea launched this summer, there was much buzz about the imported concept of building gratuity into their prices, with an end goal of providing servers with more predictable wages. In some ways, the adoption of this philosophy is even more revolutionary with Grain of Rice, given Asian restaurants are stereotypically known for extremely competitive pricing, sometimes to their detriment. Mack and I stopped by this past weekend while running errands in the area.

Located on the far west end (in the same complex as the Save On Foods on 215 Street; GPS failed us by several blocks), Grain of Rice is operated by the Phung family. Son Tony Phung decided to help his parents rebuild years after their restaurant was destroyed by fire, but instead of recreating exactly what was lost, introduced some ideas to help make their business distinct.

The menu was trimmed from hundreds of items to a much more manageable size of a dozen or so dishes, with rotating specials to keep things interesting for regulars. Grain of Rice also sources meat from local producers, which, coupled with their no tipping policy, accounts for their higher prices. While some diners will undoubtedly balk at the idea of paying more for similar style dishes in other parts of the city, I think it’s reasonable if higher quality plates and good service are delivered in return.

Grain of Rice occupies the end bay of the strip, the interior benefiting from access to lots of natural light. The dining room is clean and minimalist, with the vibe of a fast casual restaurant. I liked being able to see into the kitchen as well, which seems to continue the restaurant’s theme of transparency.

Grain of Rice

Interior

The menu features many popular Vietnamese and Chinese dishes, including vermicelli bowls, peaches and shrimp, and wor wonton soup. Mack decided on the classic beef and rice noodles ($17), while I had to try their pho ($15).

Food arrived in good time, steaming hot. Mack was impressed by the portion size of his plate, and noted that they did not skimp on the beef. I would have liked to taste more smokiness in the noodles, but overall Mack enjoyed the dish.

Grain of Rice

Beef and rice noodles

The pho, on the other hand, could have used more meat (and personal preference, cilantro!). The rare beef was pretty tender, and the meatballs were tasty, but I very quickly ended up with a bowl with broth alone. And though Pho Tau Bay will also reign supreme in the broth department for me, the aromatics in the soup was notable.

Grain of Rice

Pho

Grain of Rice is still in their "soft opening" phase, so I imagine tweaks will continue to be made in these next few weeks. But I really support the philosophy behind the restaurant, so I wish them all the best.

Grain of Rice
1312 Webber Greens Drive
(780) 306-3338
Monday-Thursday 11am-3pm, 4:30-10pm, Friday-Saturday 11am-11pm, Sunday 11am-9pm

December 12th, 2016

Food Notes for December 12, 2016

I love this time of year – beautiful lights, festivities with friends and family, and lots of food to go around. Hope you’re making the most of the holiday season, too! On to this week’s food notes:

  • La Mision is hosting their fourth burrito pop-up at The Church of John on December 13, 2016 starting at 5pm. See you there!
  • Looking for Prairie Pigeon eclairs? Genia will be at Vacancy Hall on December 17, 2016 for the Local Love Pop-up from 10am-3pm.
  • Second Line and Northern Chicken are combining forces for a Holiday Perogy Jam on January 18, 2017. Tickets are $55 for 5 courses.
  • This past weekend, Dogwood Cafe, run by the folks behind Culina, resumed their Nordic Brunches (and have introduced Nordic Suppers) at Victoria and Riverside Golf Courses.
  • New restaurant alert: South Silk Road at 5552 Calgary Trail is currently in their soft opening phase.
  • Similarly under the soft opening category, XO Bistro Bar in the Ultima Tower (10236 103 Street) is now open.
  • Congrats to the boys behind Filistix on their new venture at MacEwan, called It Takes Two to Taco. It opened up back in November in the Robbins Health Learning Centre. Thanks Linda for the heads up!
  • Kings Noodle & Hot Pot is no more, and has been replaced by Golden Dumpling Restaurant (10939 101 Street).
  • Amidst all of the restaurant openings, the Dish and the Runaway Spoon announced their closure due to a change in building ownership. They will be opening again for catering owners in the near future.
  • Linda is among the first to review Me 2 Japanese Sizzling Restaurant.
  • Also from Linda, she enjoyed her recent experiences at The Rec Room.
  • Latino’s Restaurant (10708 98 Street) has found another fan in Graham Hicks.
  • Jonny found another hidden gem in Island Grill on the west end.
  • Great profile on Steve Furgiuele, the man behind Fuge Fine Meat and the products that will soon be served at the new European-inspired restaurant Otto.
  • How can you accommodate those with vegan diets during the holiday season? Vue Weekly chatted with some vegan business proprietors to find out.
  • The latest Community Table Project features Tamara Vineberg’s latkes. Years ago, I had the chance to cook latkes with Tamara at her house!
  • If you want to treat yourself to some local products this season, be sure to enter the giveaway at Earth’s General Store before December 21, 2016.
  • Edmonton Food Tours has expanded its repertoire to include a tour of the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market and a Downtown food tour. Tours cost $115 per person.
  • Another local company also offers food tours at a lower price. Called Epicurean Adventure Tours (EAT), they offer dessert and brunch tours.
  • We headed to D’Arcys Meat Market in St. Albert last week for a taste of a newly-available breed of Wagyu-Holstein beef. What we sampled was beautifully marbled and didn’t need much more than a sprinkling of salt to bring out the flavour of the meat. I didn’t know there was such a market for such premium meat ($250+ per kilogram), but if money is no object, it might be something to try.

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Chefs Blair Lebsack and Paul Shufelt prepared the beef

  • We didn’t want to waste the trip out to St. Albert, so took advantage of the opportunity to stop by Jack’s Burger Shack. I’m a sucker for grilled cheese buns, so an order of the Hangover was a must for me, while Mack chose the Quebecois (with poutine and ranch sauce).

Jack's Burger Shack

Jack’s Burger Shack

December 5th, 2016

Food Notes for December 5, 2016

I hope you’re ready for the deep freeze – stay warm, everyone! On to this week’s food notes:

  • New bakery alert: La Boule Bakery opens on December 6, 2017 at 8020 101 street.
  • Congratulations to Confetti Sweets who has just opened its third storefront, at 6861 170 Street.
  • Dirtbag Cafe is now open inside the Rock Jungle Boulders Climbing Gym at 10505 107 Street.
  • It’s great to see another food truck moving into a brick and mortar shop – look for Little Village at 14846 Stony Plain Road in the new year.
  • Chic-Hog-O’s Social House, which was forced to close in March 2015 due to a landlord dispute, will be re-opening in the former Rosebowl Pizza location (10111 117 Street).
  • Monica spotted Pitaghetti, coming soon to Jasper Ave & 112 Street.
  • Liane previews Baijiu, opening soon at the Mercer Warehouse. It is helmed by Chef Alexei Boldireff, most recently of S’wich Food Truck fame.
  • The Globe identified their top 5 new restaurants that opened in Edmonton and Calgary this year. Coincidentally, the #1 restaurants on both lists are technically outside of the city.
  • Atlas Steak and Fish (located inside the Grand Villa Casino) received overall positive reviews from Twyla and Graham. Although I recognize some of the “labelling challenges” surrounding Alberta Beef, it’s interesting that neither called out the restaurant for using USDA beef versus Alberta beef.
  • More love for Bar Clementine, this time from Vue Weekly and The Wanderer.
  • Chateau Louis’s brunch was reviewed this week by the Journal.
  • It was great to read the story behind the new Asian fusion Grain of Rice, where son Tony Phung helped his parents rebuild a restaurant.
  • Enter to win an Effing Seafoods oyster party on Cindy’s blog!
  • Speaking of contests, Diane is giving away a $25 gift card to promote Edo’s campaign to raise funds for food banks in Canada – for every spring roll purchased until January 1, 2017, Edo will donate $0.25.
  • Delux also has a way for you to support a seasonal charity – $1 from each ‘Santa’s Stacker’ burger sold will go to Santa’s Anonymous.
  • If you’re interested in purchasing a tourtiere for the holidays, Phil conducted a taste test of three options available in the Edmonton area.
  • Ever wonder how a home cook places second in an international culinary competition? Linda spoke with Russell Bird, who brought home silver in the 2016 World Food Championships in the bacon category.
  • The latest Community Table Project recipes feature Canada Cornstarch shortbread cookies and Teresa Spinelli’s Italian-style Cajun shrimp.
  • Spotted a forthcoming cafe at Gateway Boulevard and 81 Avenue called London Tea Bar. A sign claims it will be open in December 2016.

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London Tea Bar

  • We tried our hand at butter chicken risotto, one of Phil’s Community Table Project recipes. It was a neat mashup of two of our favourite dishes, and had the flavour that we were craving!

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Butter chicken risotto

  • We kicked off the weekend with a stop at Route 99. There’s just something about greasy spoon poutine…

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Mack at Route 99

  • We also checked out the Miracle Market at Abbey Glen Park over the weekend. It was our chance to finally sample some of Prairie Pigeon’s éclairs, which I’ve heard so much about. They were almost too pretty to eat, but of course, I dove in – the éclairs were soft and decadent, but not too sweet. The flavours of each éclair were also very distinct; my favourite of the three was the salted caramel. Follow Prairie Pigeon on Twitter to find out where she’ll be next!

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Prairie Pigeon trio

December 4th, 2016

Explore BC: Oliver

This is the third post about our trip to BC back in October. You can read about our Kelowna and Penticton highlights as well.

While we didn’t stay in Oliver (we chose to overnight in Osoyoos instead), we ended up spending some time there at some key attractions.

Festival of the Grape

Our Penticton bed and breakfast hosts convinced us that the Festival of the Grape was worth attending, and since it fit in with our plans to head south, we built it into our itinerary.

Festival of the Grape

Festival of the Grape

Located in Oliver, the "wine capital of Canada", the festival was celebrating their 20th year. 60 wineries from the area were represented, in addition to a number of food vendors. It was an efficient way to sample from new wineries (favourites that day included Pipe Dream gamay and Kismet pinot grigio) in a beautiful setting. I also couldn’t resist the sparkling apple wine from meadery Meadow Vista.

Festival of the Grape

I love wine puns

The grape stomping competition was also a lot of fun, with lively competitors that had travelled from as far as Saskatchewan to compete.

Festival of the Grape

Grape stomping

Hammer’s House of Hog

It’s doubtful we would have ever come across one of Oliver’s few food trucks without Jennifer’s handy guide. We managed to get to Hammer’s House of Hog, parked at Lions Park in Oliver, on his last day of his season.

Hammer's House of Hog

Hammer’s House of Hog

The pulled pork sandwich, customized with one of three house-made barbecue sauces, weighed nearly a pound each, and was tender, tangy and messy. It was everything you would want from a pulled pork sandwich.

Hammer's House of Hog

Pulled pork sandwich

McIntyre Bluff

Looking for a more physical activity, we chose to hike up to McIntyre Bluff, a fairly recognizable South Okanagan landmark and a sacred place for the area’s Indigenous peoples.

Covert Farms

View of McIntyre Bluff from Covert Farm (can you spot the “face” of the rock?)

Being the inexperienced hikers that we are, it took us close to 4 hours to complete the 10km round trip. While the trail itself was clearly marked, distance markers would have been great so we could better pace ourselves.

Hiking to McIntyre Bluff

Increasing elevation

The trail itself traversed some varied terrain, from rock faces painted a dazzling red from the sagebrush to mossy, shaded meadows layered with pine needles to barren, dry desert.

McIntyre Bluff

Loved the colours

The payoff was better than we expected, offering sweeping views of Oliver and the adjacent Okanagan river. We were also able to see Covert Farms, located at the base of the bluff from above (we chose to tour the farm separately the day after).

McIntyre Bluff

We made it!

Covert Farm

We decided not to do a multi-winery tour during our trip, and instead chose a few wineries we would visit and tour in a more in-depth way. One of these was Covert Farm in Oliver. The tour price is on the high side at $49, but we lucked out and ended up with a private tour. Campbell Kearns was our knowledgeable and passionate guide, and ended up spending two hours with us along the way.

Covert Farms

We had fun riding in the beautifully restored truck

Covert combines a number of agri-tourism aspects on their 700 acre property, including tours, children’s programs, on-farm dinners, and a u-pick, and will be looking at collaborating with Indigenous communities to develop a forage/hike up to McIntyre Bluff.

Covert Farms

Squash patch

He introduced us to their Scottish Highland cattle, who are actually protected by a small herd of alpacas (we didn’t know they had been domesticated for this purpose). The manure is helpful for fertilizer, since Covert is a certified organic operation. We also visited the small u-pick area of the property, featuring a small orchard, tomatoes, and strawberry patch. Campbell told us the strawberry variety actually bears fruit twice a year, and they’ve been able to pick strawberries as late as December.

Covert Farms

They had to drag me away from the strawberry patch

We spent the bulk of the tour learning about the organic practices they employ on their 25 acres of vines. To mitigate weeds, they plant competing crops such as vetch, which also have the added benefit of fixing nitrogen in the soil. To dissuade birds from feasting on the fruit, they planted fields of sunflowers (the unintended consequence from this was that it ended up attracting more birds than they’d ever seen before, but it opened up the skies to their predatory friends). Recognizing that they do lease about 300 adjacent acres to Sandhill, which is not certified organic, Campbell was careful to say that Sandhill is expected to be respectful of the land. One of the technologies that Sandhill does employ are propane-powered fans, which automatically kick in when frost is a possibility to sweep the cold draft up and away from the vines. The cost to run a single fan for one evening is $800.

Covert Farms

Covert Wine grapes

During the tour, we also had the chance to sample some of their wines, though many of their varieties had sold out for the year already. They paired the wines with a lovely cheese and charcuterie board.

Covert Farms

Cheese and charcuterie

While we chose not to stay in Oliver, we found there were many reasons to linger!

December 3rd, 2016

Eat and Play Your Heart Out: The Rec Room

There’s a new full-service food and entertainment option in town! Back in September, Cineplex opened its first Rec Room in South Edmonton Common, the first of many planned for the country. In fact, after a second outlet is completed in Toronto next year, expect a third to follow some time in the summer at West Edmonton Mall (in the former Ed’s space). Though this first location happens to share the same parking lot as its theatre big brother, this may not always be the case, and besides some Scene Card branding on site, the visual connection is subtle.

At 60,000 square feet spread out over two floors, the Rec Room has been created as a destination. With more than 140 amusement games and crowd-pleasing music, it appeals to an adult crowd (like Chuck E Cheese for grown ups), but they’ve taken the concept even further. They have incorporated some nostalgic elements – there’s a small bowling alley upstairs and several retro games like pinball and Pacman.

The Rec Room

The gaming floor

However, they’ve also done their research to stay on top of trends; hence, they also offer axe-throwing and virtual reality (curiously, considering the current market in Edmonton, they don’t feature escape rooms).

The Rec Room

Virtual reality

In addition, I was surprised to find out they have a 225 seat auditorium and another stage in the main restaurant where programming is planned 7 days a week – everything from hockey on the big screen to karaoke, trivia nights and comedy shows.

The food at the Rec Room – divided into three distinct “restaurants” – mirrors its philosophy on entertainment. The nostalgia can be found in comfort food classics: a casual food bar called The Shed offers a poutine bar and a “sweet emporium” with gourmet doughnuts that can be injected with liqueur.

The Rec Room

Doughnuts at The Shed

But they also stay on-trend with The Loft and its wood-fired pizzas (wood-fired anything continues to be hot) and the chef-inspired cocktails at the Rec Room’s main restaurant, THREE10 (named for the three territories and ten provinces of Canada).

The Rec Room

THREE10

Mack and I were invited by the Rec Room to try the food at THREE10 over the weekend. Arriving for a late lunch on Saturday afternoon, we found the crowds still relatively sparse. By the time we left prior to the dinner hour though, it was starting to fill up. We were told that line-ups are frequent on weekends, and private rooms have been completely booked into the new year. And although minors are permitted as long as accompanied by an adult, based on customer feedback, they are considering adult-only hours.

Mack and I were impressed with THREE10’s beer list – it was nice to see several Alberta beers on offer, including Alley Kat and Yellowhead. On the cocktail front, we were a tad disappointed with our drinks. The restaurant boasted its recognition of seasonality, so it was unfortunate that we were recommended the strawberry basil lemonade – it was an easy drinking vodka-based cocktail, but one that should be retired until warmer times. The “new fashioned” that Mack sampled wasn’t quite as smooth as he was hoping for, with its mace-nutmeg syrup and rootbeer bitters.

The Rec Room

New fashioned and strawberry basil lemonade

The menu at THREE10 is said to be “inspired by Canada’s vast and varied landscape”, meaning primarily that it strives to appeal to many tastes. It features some conventional plates (steak frites, pork chop, half chicken), but they also have nearly a dozen starters to consider.

The applewood smoked bacon maple jam ($11) was a tasty combination of melted double cream brie and an underlay of smoky, sweet jam. Served with crostini, this was a great shareable appetizer.

The Rec Room

Applewood smoked bacon maple jam with crostini

Similarly, the popcorn fried chicken ($13), served with a chipotle BBQ sauce, was really satisfying. The morsels were lightly battered, and paired well with the moderate kick of the sauce.

The Rec Room

Popcorn fried chicken with chipotle BBQ sauce

For larger plates, we selected two dishes suggested by their staff. The pickle brined fried chicken ($24) is prepared as described – before being dredged and fried, it is marinated in a pickle juice brine. We didn’t expect the brine to impact the flavour of the meat as much as it did, and unfortunately, it didn’t quite work for our palates. I was also hoping the house biscuits would have been flakier and more layered than simple drop biscuits.

The Rec Room

Pickle brined fried chicken, with whipped potatoes, slaw and house biscuits

The organic BC salmon ($26) fared better, served with a bed of whipped potatoes, sautéed spinach and crispy shallots. The fish was cooked nicely, and as a whole, it was a refined plate that I wouldn’t have originally expected to find here. Reflecting their aforementioned seasonality however, they could have substituted root vegetables for the asparagus.

The Rec Room

Organic BC salmon with whipped potatoes, sautéed spinach and crispy shallots

We didn’t have room for dessert, but continuing the theme of fun and games, the sweets menu is printed in the form of a paper fortune teller.

The Rec Room

What’s your preference?

Although we’d likely return to THREE10 on future visits to The Rec Room for their appetizers, I’d prefer to round out my meal next time with a stop for poutine and a doughnut from The Shed, or perhaps a pizza from The Loft. The breadth of choices offered under the same roof at The Rec Room are what make the complex unique.

Before we departed, we took a spin through the amusements. Games are activated through credits purchased on an RFID bracelets, as opposed to using tokens, which can be cumbersome. For $20, 120 credits can be purchased, and most games we played cost between 4-6 credits per person.

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Ice Ball (a Skee ball equivalent)

We had fun racing Mario Karts, playing a Skee ball equivalent, competing at basketball, and conquering Fruit Ninja and Crossy Road on big screens, among other games.

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Hoops are my go-to amusement

Points achieved are recorded on the same RFID bracelet for convenience, and after a quick tour through the redemption room, it’s clear the prizes are much better than those found across the street at Chuck E Cheese.

The Rec Room

Redemption Room

If you’re needing a break between errands at South Edmonton Common (especially during the busy Christmas season), consider stopping at The Rec Room for some games and a bite to eat.

Thanks again to The Rec Room for hosting us!