Saturday, January 03, 2015

Japonais Bistro

I've wanted to visit Japonais Bistro ever since it opened. After all, it is the second izakaya to open in Edmonton (that I know of) after Izakaya Tomo in the South. Of course, the thing to get at in izakaya is alcohol, so I tried the sake sampler ($10.95) which included 1.5 oz each of Hakkaisan Honjozo, Wind Water Man Junmai, and Takara Nigori. It was a decent portion for sampling purposes.

The saba pressed sushi ($14.95) was quite good with onion chips, but I found it a bit dry as it lacked sauce. The description on the menu advertised "yuzu miso", but this was absent in the sushi. Miku in Vancouver still makes the best pressed sushi I have tried to date!

The pizza sushi ($8.95), unlike the one at Mikado, was coated in a thin layer of fried batter. The rice itself was like a sticky pancake, and individual grains were not visible. I prefer Mikado's version with unfried rice, but this tasted pretty good too with the sweet soy sauce and mayo and toppings of raw salmon, scallops, and avocado.

Viv ordered a bento box which I did not try, but it looked way too big for one person to finish.

At Viv's insistence, I ordered the matcha creme brulee ($7.95) for dessert. The presentation was excellent with a pretty fork pattern created with icing sugar. Tastewise it was just okay. Not something I would spend $8 on.

Apart from the saba, I didn't really get a chance to try the nigiri sushi here. Next time I'm interested in trying the omakase ($75/person).

Japonais Bistro on Urbanspoon
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Friday, January 02, 2015

Sushi Sugoi

The first time I went to Sushi Sugoi was in March 2014, shortly after it first opened. At the time, the place was still working out a few kinks and the food took a while to come. I also found out that the owners were most likely Korean, as most of the staff spoke Korean amongst themselves.

We were given hot towels on this first visit, but they have done away with this in subsequent lunch visits. I think they still offer hot towels during dinner time though.

The sashimi bento ($15) was a good price for lunch, and consisted of miso soup, salad, fruit, sashimi, tempura, teriyaki chicken, and a bowl of rice. The salad and fruit were very fresh, but the rest of the food was just average. The teriyaki chicken, in particular, was rather disappointing in its rubbery texture and lack of flavour.

I also ordered two "special rolls": the Fiji Island and Magma, both of which seem to have been removed from their menu, and perhaps for good reason. I found both rolls to be below average, bland, and lacking flavour. The rice was loosely packed and fell apart easily. The Fiji Island roll ($15) below was supposed to have pineapple as a filling, and I thought the chef had forgotten it, but it turned out there was only one tiny piece of pineapple in the whole roll.

The Magma roll ($17) was supposed to have hot sauce, but it was not in the least bit spicy. (And I'm quite sensitive to spiciness.) It also lacked flavour despite the seemingly abundance of sauce on the plate, since the filling ingredients were bland and not seasoned at all.

The best dish of the visit was the truffle oil sampler nigiri ($18). Nigiri is where Sushi Sugoi shines because their fish is usually very fresh. However, I was disappointed in the lack of variety since I had expected 6 different types of fish instead of only 3 for the price of $18.

Due to the general disappointment in this first visit, I did not return for a few months. But after some coworkers brought me here for lunch again, I have been quite pleased with the nigiri sushi. The fish is fresh, the portions are decent, and the prices are reasonable. Also, they have improved on the rice and it is no longer loosely packed. So I have been back several times since, and I always order the nigiri.

Sushi Sugoi on Urbanspoon
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Thursday, January 01, 2015

Spring Cafe

Spring Cafe is one of the worst food establishments I have visited recently (or ever). I saw a lot of advertisements for this place on local Chinese papers where they promoted Macau specialty food items such as the pork chop bun and the Portuguese egg tart. The Macau style pork chop bun ($5) was the size of a slider. The bun had been toasted to a crisp and was completely dry with no moisture at all. The pork chop inside still had the bone attached, and was very oily with minimal seasoning (just salt perhaps). There were no other toppings or sauces in the bun, so the thing was dry and flavourless.

As I have been craving a good Portuguese egg tart similar to Lord Stow's, I was pretty excited to give this place a try. Well this Portuguese egg tart ($2.25) did not even qualify as a regular egg tart. My failed baking experiment tasted a hundred times better. The crust was neither puff pastry nor shortbread pastry; it was simply a dry, chewy, and extremely oily shell. The filling was a chunky pudding with an overdose of artificial vanilla flavouring. The tart was served lukewarm, and tasted like a leftover pastry that had been reheated multiple times.

This is a Hong Kong style cafe after all, so I also tried a bowl of Hong Kong style fish balls noodle soup ($5.95). The noodles were thick and slightly undercooked, the "soup" tasted like water with a bit of chicken extract powder, and the veggies were also undercooked and crunchy. This bowl of noodle soup was pretty much flavourless, and I honestly would've preferred a bowl of instant noodles to this.

Maybe I was just really "lucky" and ordered the worst dishes possible, but if 3 out of 3 items are bad, then I think it's fair to say it's a strikeout.

Spring Cafe on Urbanspoon
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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

High Tea: An Elevated Fundraiser by Firefly Theatre

Last year in October, I attended "High Tea: An Elevated Fundraiser", presented by Firefly Theatre and Circus to raise funds for their new aerial musical performance called Craniatrium. The event took place at the ATB Financial Arts Barns in Old Strathcona. The price tag was high at $50/person, but it was reasonable if I thought of it as an afternoon of entertainment and snacks rather than just a regular meal. And the experience was definitely more exciting than the average high tea.

Upon entering the venue, we found several tables set up along one side of the room. We grabbed a seat and watched as one of the performers did her acrobatics on the suspended aerial silks.

She also managed to pour and serve drinks upside down!

Most of the food was laid out on a suspended table. The baked goods were supplied by Duchess Bake Shop, one of my favourite dessert stores in Edmonton. I ended up stuffing myself with too many sweets!

Some of the food was served on a tray held by a suspended performer. Several performers took turns doing this throughout the event. One of them was even able to do flips while holding and keeping the tray upright!

The tea station offered a choice of three teas from Acquired Taste Tea Company, an Edmonton-based shop that specializes in tea and tea products.

And if that wasn't enough tea for us, we were treated to individual tea leaf reading sessions with the Spirit Sisters of the Flying Seance.

As the event came to a close, we got a sneak peek of Craniatrium in the form of a song. The singer's voice was so charming and magnetic that everyone seemed to hold their breath as he sang this beautiful melody. For anyone who hasn't been to a similar event, this elevated high tea is definitely worth checking out. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like Firefly Theatre is hosting a high tea this year. Hopefully there will be another one soon!
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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Gini's Restaurant

Gini's Restaurant switched ownership in July this year, and the new owner invited me to try his restaurant and give my honest opinion of the food and service. Although my meal was reimbursed later, I chose to visit the restaurant anonymously with a friend for a more authentic experience.

The location is a bit out of the way, just off the roundabout on 142 St and 107 Ave. As I stepped inside, I found the interior bathed in a soft and soothing yellow light. The decor was not very modern or upscale, but rather quite intimate and cozy with family style charm. It was very much like stepping into a quiet French restaurant from decades past. Incidentally, I noticed that most of the clientele were an older population.

The walls were decorated with French-inspired sticker art.

As I was waiting for my friend to arrive, an extremely cheerful and enthusiastic waitress came over to ask me what I wanted to drink. I asked for a drink menu, but she mentioned there wasn't one available. She explained that there was a wine list, and they could also make all kinds of cocktails. I asked if they could make a cocktail with egg white, and she seemed genuinely apologetic as she smiled and said they didn't make those. I ended up ordering a simple gin and tonic. The presentation of my drink was unimpressive, and looked like a small glass of iced water with a green straw like the ones from Starbucks. It tasted fine, but for such a small drink without even a garnish, I was surprised that the price tag was $9.75. I think it would've been smarter to order wine at a French restaurant, and I did note that the restaurant had quite an extensive wine list.

As we were perusing the menu, our waitress explained the daily specials very thoroughly and was patient and helpful in answering our questions. We ordered the table d'hote 5-course dinner for $55/person. Shortly after, a complimentary bread basket arrived with a side of butter. We each got two large buns (Portuguese style, I think), and they were served warm with a super soft and airy texture like fluffy pillows. I would've liked to finish the bread, but I knew I wouldn't be able to eat anything else if I did.

When the first course arrived, both of our jaws dropped. We had both ordered mussels, but this was more like an entree than an appetizer! We started wondering how we could get through all 5 courses. The sauce was intense and piquant with a kick of spice. My friend, being a fan of spicy foods, really enjoyed it. However, the mussels were small and slightly overcooked, so some were a bit shrivelled. Luckily the sauce made up for it.

The second course was a mixed greens salad with smoked salmon. Again, the portions did not disappoint. It was a very light and refreshing salad with a vinaigrette instead of a creamy dressing. I was already starting to get full at this point, so I left about half of the greens. This was almost an entree-sized dish as well!

The third course was a palate cleanser of mango sorbet. We breathed a sigh of relief as this gave us a chance to recover before taking on the next course. The sorbet was cool and refreshing with a strong mango fragrance. I felt it had a very calming effect.

For the entree, we were given a choice of ostrich or rabbit, but instead I opted for the filet mignon aux deux sauces for an extra charge of $5. There were two pieces of steak; one was topped with wild mushrooms while the other was topped with Madagascar peppercorns. Sides included cooked carrots, string beans, mashed potatoes, and roasted potatoes. I had asked for a rare steak, but the smaller of the two steaks was cooked to medium-rare, and so was half of the larger steak. The other half was a nice and red colour — a true rare, and that was delicious with the savoury sauce. The overcooked parts didn't matter though, because I could only manage to finish the rare half of the meat anyway!

Dessert was a choice between mixed berries and creme brulee, and I chose the latter. The custard was creamy and aromatic, but the burnt sugar topping was not very crispy. My friend ordered the mixed berries, and she was shocked at the portion size. Yes, at this point we should've expected it, but she got a HUGE bowl of fresh berries and she could barely finish half of it.

Apart from the drink, the price of this meal was very very good value. The table d'hote portions were large enough to feed two people easily, so this restaurant is great for people with big appetites. Also our waitress provided great service, and was attentive without being intrusive. Food quality was decent, but could use some brushing up. Though I think the extremely large portions more than compensate for the shortcomings in quality.

Gini's on Urbanspoon
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Sunday, September 07, 2014

Coco Deep Fried Chicken

I've noticed that many Korean dramas make references to fried chicken and beer, or "chimek" as they call it ("chi" for chicken and "mek" for mekju, the Korean word for beer). This seems to be the go-to comfort food for failed relationships and work woes, or just a casual takeout meal. And now Edmonton has its own authentic Korean fried chicken store — Coco Deep Fried Chicken.

The store is simple with no fancy decor, but it is quite spacious for what one would consider a takeout joint. Food is ordered at the counter, and eating utensils (paper plates, plastic forks, wooden chopsticks) are self-serve. There is a pretty good selection of domestic and imported beers in the fridge including Korean brand Cass (330mL: $3.99) and Japanese Sapporo (500mL: $4.49).

I ordered a 10-piece half-and-half family pack ($22.99) which includes both crispy chicken and sweet and hot chicken. So what makes Korean fried chicken different from its American counterpart? First of all, the battered chicken is double-fried to create a crunchy, crackly, and non-greasy skin. Secondly, the meat inside is more juicy and moist due to the use of younger chickens.

The same double-fried chicken tossed in a specialty sweet and hot sauce offers a completely different taste. The skin on the marinated chicken is not crunchy but moist with a strong garlic flavour. The sauce is not too spicy with a subtle sweetness that adds to the tanginess.

The 10-piece family pack also comes with a complimentary side dish. This time I got pickled radish cubes, but on other occasions I have also gotten a free can of pop instead. It seems to vary from time to time.

Since I was dining in on this particular visit, I also ordered a large rice ($2.49) and a side of large kimchi ($2.49).

I'm glad to see the chimek craze coming to Edmonton. I tend to crave the foods I see people eating on TV, so next time I see chimek in a Korean drama, I can go and get some too!

Coco's Deep Fried Chicken on Urbanspoon
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Wednesday, September 03, 2014

La Poutine

I was quite excited when I discovered another store in Edmonton that specializes in poutines. I still crave the authentic poutine with squeaky cheese curds from La Belle Patate (Vancouver), and was hoping that La Poutine's offerings would be similar. The ordering process was simple: choose a poutine from the list available, and specify a size (regular/large) and type of gravy (traditional, beef, or gluten-free). I opted for the traditional poutine (reg: $6.19) with no toppings other than the typical cheese curds and gravy. I selected the traditional gravy, a vegan option that was light and not very rich in flavour. Overall I enjoyed this poutine much more than the one at MyFries, but there were some parts I did not appreciate. First of all, the fries were not crispy on the outside; they were not mushy, but just kind of soft. And although the cheese curds did not melt into gooey strings, they were also on the soft side and did not "squeak" as they were not firm enough.

I also tried a bit of the Hawaiian poutine (reg: $8.50) with a topping of smoked meat, crushed pineapples, and BBQ sauce in addition to cheese curds and gravy. The sweet-tart pineapple was refreshing, and worked well to balance the heaviness of the fries, meat, and cheese. Unfortunately the Hawaiian is only a seasonal flavour available in March.

The store was small and cramped, and seemed to be a popular hangout for students due to its location near U of A. Lunch hour was especially busy, so it was difficult getting a table. (The entire store has only 10 seats excluding outdoor seating.) And even with a table, it was not enjoyable dining in because of the cramped surroundings and people coming and going with their takeout orders. Not particularly convenient for me, but I think it's a good takeout option for people studying or working nearby.

La Poutine on Urbanspoon
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