Sunday, July 20, 2014

Devonian Garden - Rose Day High Tea

The University of Alberta's Devonian Botanic Garden hosts an annual Rose Day High Tea in July. The garden is a 40-minute drive to the southwest of Edmonton, just north of a small town called Devon. Admission to the grounds is free with purchase of the high tea, so it's a good opportunity to check the place out. I attended this event last year, and I'm sure it was just as popular this year. I prepaid for tickets online and picked them up at the greeting table outside of the garden entrance. We followed the signs all the way to the Pine Pavilion where tables with settings were already set up for the event.

We were assigned to the Grebe table, which we shared with a few other visitors. Tea was standard black tea served by the pot.

The food was catered and I saw the staff unpacking and loading items onto the tiered towers. Needless to say, the quality wasn't particularly impressive, but I didn't expect too much anyway.

On the bottom tier were the cucumber mozzarella sandwich, shrimp mayo sandwich, and egg salad sandwich. The fillings weren't that great, but the bread was very soft and fluffy.

The dessert tier was probably the most palatable tier. The chewy Florentine, the chocolate cup with cream and stewed cherry, the shortbread with fennel seeds, the macarons, and the chocolate meringue were all quite decent. I really liked the marmalade filling in the orange macaron, and the chocolate meringue tasted similar to the one from Duchess Bake Shop.

The scones were the most disappointing part of the experience. All three flavours (cranberry, blueberry, cheese) were cold, soggy, and undercooked. The strawberry preserve was fresh, but the cream was hard and didn't spread at all.

The high tea was really not the highlight; it just gave me a reason to come visit the garden. What a relaxing afternoon to take a stroll among the greenery after a spot of tea!

Kurimoto Japanese Garden
Tropical Butterfly House
There was also a gift shop at the garden entrance where I picked up a few pairs of fancy chopsticks to take home. Overall it was a nice little visit, and I would recommend taking time out of your busy schedule to come check it out.
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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Palace Casino: Aces Grill - Breakfast

I heard about Aces Grill, a restaurant in West Edmonton Mall's Palace Casino, from a group of seniors who go there for the weekday breakfast special. It costs $3.99 for one of three choices: pancakes, two eggs with toast and hash brown, or ham and cheese omelette. Brewed coffee is complimentary. It sounds like a good deal, but I wouldn't choose to come back again given the lack of service and mediocre food. As expected, the clientele was mainly comprised of seniors, many of whom were regulars. Some of them were just dropping by after an early morning in the casino. Nobody greeted us when we walked in, and I had to walk up to the counter to ask a staff member if we could sit wherever we wanted. She said yes, and we proceeded to seat ourselves. Menus arrived shortly after, but it took a while for the waitress to return to take our order. And after we placed our order, we had to wait nearly half an hour for the food, while the restaurant wasn't even half full!

The food, when it finally arrived, did not look very appealing. The eggs were too brown and the hash brown was dry and lacked oil. I'm not a fan of grease, so I never thought I'd say that. It's obvious in the picture that there is no oil glistening on the potato chunks, which were also under-seasoned and bland. Add on dry toast, and that completes this flavourless dish.

The pancakes were just as underwhelming. No buttery flavour and no fluffiness. The texture was actually kind of mushy. I'd rather have McDonald's hot cakes because they at least have some flavour to them.

I suppose $3.99 is a reasonable price for breakfast, but in terms of value, I'd take IKEA's $1 breakfast over this any day.

Aces Grill on Urbanspoon
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Monday, July 07, 2014

EAT! Vancouver 2014: Food + Cooking Festival

Vancouver guest blogger Py takes us to EAT! Vancouver 2014.

EAT! Vancouver 2014 is a great celebration of food as well as a great snapshot of food trends in Vancouver. I first visited EAT! Vancouver in 2009, when the words "gluten-free", "vegan" and "organic" were just starting to appear in the common vernacular. At EAT! Vancouver 2013, there were much more "gluten-free", "vegan" and "organic" labels, but none so much as this year, when many vendors proudly announced that they were (any or all of the below):
- vegan
- organic
- GMO-free
- vegetarian (can something be vegan but not vegetarian?)
- wheat free
- no preservatives
- all natural
- no MSG
- artificial coloring free
- gluten free
- sugar free
- egg free
- dairy free
- lactose free
- kosher

It got to the point that I would actually take the product and read the ingredients list to see what was actually in the product! This sentiment was echoed by my partner in crime, Mau5, and his parents. As food trends go, this isn't a bad food trend. It makes for healthier eating and living!

Maille, a producer of some very delicious mustard, is one of the newcomers to EAT! Vancouver, and since the food festival, have been appearing at numerous day festivals around Vancouver. In addition to the traditional honey and dijon mustard, they also have "moutarde a l'ancienne": a delicious, spicy mustard that is an emulsion of sauce and multi-colored mustard seeds for an extra textural and gustatory kick.

Granola Girl and Chef Kev, two side-by-side booths, offered healthy granola mix and delicious candied nut mixes. I wonder if they deliberately paired up together; granola with candied nuts sounds like the perfect dual buy!

Dolly's Delicious Treats is a Vancouver-based company that sells deliciously sweet and spicy jelly condiments. At their stand, they had samplers of habanero tequila jelly, red pepper vodka jelly and sangria jelly (alcohol seems to be the common theme here).

Blaze's Beans has the best pickled green beans I have ever tried. They're not cringingly sour, eye-watering spicy, but hover at the limits of being boldly pickled and spiced without crossing over into being intolerable. The other best thing about their beans? Every single bean I've ever tried from Blaze's Beans has given me a crisp crunch when I bite into it. Their canners know what they're doing.

Otimo, selling Brazilian cheese puffs, is another newcomer to EAT! Vancouver. Their puffs can be bought and reheated and puffed up in the oven at home. To my surprise, they're not gooey, hot or greasy, but taste like a nice, slightly heavier, savory version of cream puffs.

Raw Canvas, located in Yaletown, also had a booth at EAT! Vancouver this year. Raw Canvas is a lounge, a wine bar, and a place to paint. While definitely on the pricey side, it's a fun place to go to paint a farewell canvas for a friend or workmate over glasses of wine and delicious charcuterie.

There were two products that made me go WOW this year.
The first is Sriracha Mayo. Yes sriracha plus mayonnaise. Produced by Asian Family, and apparently appearing in grocery stores like T&T, it is a taste combination that at first, results in quizzical eyebrows being raised, before putting all doubts to rest. It is surprisingly and brilliantly delicious. It is mayonnaise with a kick, mayonnaise in 3D. Go try it.

The other is Pulo. Pulo is a company that specializes in Philippino sauces for cooking, use as a marinade, and seriously, just as a topping on rice. It's delicious, and makes me wonder what I've been missing in Philippino food and culture all these years.

While EAT! Vancouver has become a little typical in its offerings, it is nevertheless a great place to discover new foods and tastes (sriracha mayo, Pulo), food and drink clubs (like Tea Sparrow), and to observe food fads (gluten free, dairy free, vegan, sugar free, GMO-free, egg free cookie, anyone?)
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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Fatburger (South Edmonton Common)

The one and only time I've been to Fatburger was three years ago when I shared the XXXL triple king burger with friends. Recently a coworker suggested a quick lunch at Fatburger, so I tried the 1/4 pound baby fatburger ($4.49) with cheese (+$0.79), and fries with a side of gravy ($3.79). I was surprised at the size of the baby burger; it wasn't as small as I had expected. The beef patty was juicy and the toppings of lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickles were fresh and crunchy. The golden fries were served piping hot and crispy on the outside. The gravy was a bit weak in flavour, but the fries were enjoyable enough without it.

Although I'm not very much into burgers, I do think that Fatburger is one of the best burger chains in town. Compared to Five Guys Burgers, the Fatburger patty is much juicier. And although Five Guys offers complimentary peanuts, I prefer a cleaner floor without peanut shells. Five Guys also has boardwalk style fries which are firm but not crispy, and much less appealing to me than the crispy golden ones from Fatburger. Some complain about the steep prices, but that isn't much of a problem for me since I don't usually get extra toppings or add-ons.

Fatburger (South Ed Common) on Urbanspoon
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Friday, June 06, 2014

East "Old Town" Chinese

East is advertised as "authentic, modern Chinese with a Malaysian twist". While there are some Chinese dishes and some Malaysian dishes, I would say the flavours definitely lean towards Malaysian. The decor is also surprisingly nice for a Chinese restaurant, but I would've expected as much from the same restaurant group that brought us Lazia and Wildflower Grill. Though I did notice several of the staff conversing with customers and amongst themselves in fluent Cantonese.

I knew there was a "secret menu" based on East's advertisements in the Chinese newspaper. This menu (written in Chinese only) was not readily available, but was provided upon request. The deal offered a special combination meal for two, three or four dishes at $38, $58, and $78 respectively. Customers could pick from a list of 29 dishes, and all meals would include the daily soup, roti canai, rice, dessert, and Chinese tea or ginger tea. I opted for a pot of hot ginger tea. It was sweet, but had a spicy kick that gradually built up. I opened the lid to find a chunk of fresh ginger inside the teapot — a welcome change from ginger powder or extract.

The first dish was the Malaysian roti canai (馬拉飛餅), served as a starter with a side of curry sauce. The texture of the roti canai was very flaky with a slightly crispy exterior. It reminded me a bit of puff pastry. Personally I would've preferred softer and fluffier layers.

The soup was super flavourful, and one can seriously get hooked on this stuff. The richness was reminiscent of a hearty meat broth, but the consistency wasn't too thick or heavy. However, there was definitely a lot of MSG in this bowl. I was thirsty for the whole night. Out of curiosity, I asked a waitress about the ingredients. She had no idea and offered to ask the kitchen for me, but she never got back to me. Points to another staff member for warning us about the sharp ladle handle though.

The star of the show was the butter prawns (雙味奶油蝦). The batter was thin and light, and there was just a touch of creamy sauce to complement the crispiness.

The poached chicken (清遠真味雞) looked tasty, but it was actually quite mild in flavour compared to the other dishes.

We also picked a vegetarian dish with the oddest name — "melon of plenty wok vegetables" (佛海蒲團圓). And no, it's not a direct translation of the Chinese name, which has something to do with a Buddhist cushion made of grass. Anyway, the dish was simply a vegetable stir-fry with a fancy name.

The rice was the normal white kind, not coconut rice or jasmine rice.

The meal concluded with a signature Malaysian/Indonesian/Thai dessert — a hot bowl of black sticky rice with a dash of coconut milk. This bowl even had an extra topping of tapioca. I appreciated the fact that it wasn't too sweet.

All in all, it was a good meal and the special combination deal was excellent value. Since this visit was quite a while ago, I'm not sure whether East is still offering this promotion. And even if they were, it would probably be quite a challenge for those who can't read Chinese to request and order from the "secret" Chinese-only menu.

East on Urbanspoon
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Monday, May 26, 2014

Famoso (South Edmonton Common)

I remember the first time I heard my coworker rave about the tiramisu at Famoso. We made a trip there to pick some up, but unfortunately they were all sold out. This piqued my interest in the Italian pizzeria chain known to serve authentic Neapolitan pizza. A lunch size pizzetta, with a side of soup or salad for $4, is a good option for a hearty lunch. My coworker swears by the signature fire-roasted tomato bisque and the spicy Thai pizzetta ($8 + $4 for soup).

My favourite is probably the prosciutto arugula pizzetta ($8). I like how it's light without too much sauce. The leafy greens are very refreshing and go perfectly with the savoury prosciutto and shaved cheese. The lemon wedge also adds a touch of tartness that's very appetizing.

Appetizers, on the other hand, are not so interesting. Apart from soups and salads, there are really only three choices: Mediterranean flatbread, polpette al forno (pork meatballs), and prosciutto wrapped mozzarella balls. Flatbread is a redundant choice because the entree is going to be pizza, and the other two dishes are not particularly memorable. Pictured below are the prosciutto wrapped mozzarella balls (3 for $10.50) swimming in a pool of tomato sauce. Since the sauce was served hot, it was basically like eating gooey melted cheese in a tomato soup.

What about the legendary tiramisu? Well I've been told that the tiramisu is in fact made in Milan, Italy, flash frozen, then shipped over to Edmonton where it's cut into pieces and served to customers. It's very creamy and substantial, also quite reasonably priced at $6 apiece.

Another tasty dessert is the banana nutella pizza ($10). I almost like this more than the tiramisu because it's served warm and is such a great comfort food. The crust is folded in half to create a pizza pocket to hold the soft and squishy banana and nutella. To top it off, there is a drizzle of caramel and whipped cream on the side.

Mousie, who used to work as a pizza chef, told me that Famoso is not quite authentic. That may be true, but it's good enough for me. Famoso pizza beats American pizza any day!

Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria (South Edmonton Common) on Urbanspoon
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