Sunday, November 08, 2015

Kazoku Ramen

When I first moved to Edmonton, Nomiya was probably the only place that served ramen. Thankfully in the past few years, other Japanese restaurants like Japonais Bistro have started serving ramen as well. And as of Oct 15 of this year, we now have Kazoku Ramen, a new restaurant specializing in ramen in the west end.

There are currently 5 types of ramen:
kazoku ($15), tonkotsu ($14), miso ($13), shoyu ($13), shio ($12)
I was told that kazoku is made with minimal seasoning (though I still found the broth quite salty), and it's also the only bowl that comes with a full soft-boiled egg instead of just half. It was a good portion compared to the ramen from Japonais Bistro. Apart from the egg, toppings included 3 thinly sliced pieces of char siu, seaweed, bamboo shoots, corn, wood-ear fungus, beansprout, green onion, and even toasted sesame seeds served separately in a suribachi (Japanese mortar)!

The dessert menu consisted of only 3 items: waffle-yaki ($6), purin ($4.5), and matcha ice cream ($3). I was interested in the waffle-yaki, a waffle sandwich with red bean filling topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. When I first tried to order, the server told me it was sold out as the chef might not have time to mix more batter. But my disappointment was short-lived, as the chef agreed to make more after all! I love waffles and I love red bean, so needless to say, I really enjoyed this dessert. However, I did find the texture of the waffle slightly mushy.

I was tempted to visit Kazoku when it first opened, but I'm glad I waited because new restaurants usually need some time to run smoothly. And of course the first couple weeks are always too busy as everyone in town wants to try the new place out. But I think the hype has settled now, as the restaurant was only about 70-80% full on a Saturday night. There have been some reviews about poor service, but I have not found that to be the case. I received a rather comprehensive explanation of the menu items when I asked, and when I finished the ramen, more than one server came to ask if I was ready for dessert and promptly collected the empty bowls. Also at the end of the meal, a lady whom I think is the owner went around the tables to ask customers if they enjoyed their food. Taking into account portion size, taste, and service, I think Kazoku is currently the best ramen place in town, so give it a try if you haven't already.

Kazoku Ramen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Sorrentino's South - 21st Annual Mushroom Harvest

After my visit to the new Buco Pizzeria in St Albert, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to attend another Sorrentino's event — the 21st Annual Mushroom Harvest. This is a month-long event (September) at all Sorrentino's locations in the city including sister restaurant Bistecca, though Bistecca's menu offerings are different and less extensive. Last week, I was invited to a media event at Sorrentino's South location that showcased almost all of their Mushroom Harvest menu items this year. In past years, I have tried a couple of Mushroom Harvest dishes at Bistecca and I was happy with them. But this year, I think Sorrentino's really outdid themselves. And remember, I generally dislike mushrooms (in fact, I hate them), so I'm especially impressed that Sorrentino's managed to get me to lick the plate clean with all these mushroom dishes.

Starters (right to left):
1) Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup
This is the only dish I did not particularly enjoy. I expected a smooth and creamy consistency, but the soup was a coarse mixture of mushroom bits and cream like the ingredients had just been dropped together into a blender. I also found it a bit too salty, which was further enhanced by the sherry infusion.
2) Mushroom Salad
The salad was pretty standard with a refreshing lemon vinaigrette. Mushrooms were well-seasoned and did not have any grassy taste.
3) Wild Mushroom Fritelle
My absolute favourite starter! The fritelle was basically a moist cake doughnut with specks of savoury mushroom inside. I would call this a dessert disguised as a starter. If I could only order one dish, it would be this one.
4) Stuffed Portobello
I was slightly apprehensive of this one since I never enjoyed the taste of portobello mushrooms. But the way this was prepared was quite nice, and honestly the goat cheese filling dominated the flavour, along with the crunchy pine nuts topping.

Before going into the entrees, I would like to mention some of the drink pairings we sampled. The first was La Marca Prosecco, a light and crisp sparkling wine with fresh citrus notes. For the month of September, this drink is available in mini individual bottles as pictured, so you don't need the whole table to participate in order to enjoy some bubbly. I don't have pictures of the other featured wines, but they are the Santa Cristina Le Maestrelle and Tenuta San Guido Le Difese, both red wines exclusively available at Sorrentino's. Apparently you can't find them anywhere else in Alberta.

Risotto and Ravioli
5) Risotto
Made with Carnaroli rice, this soft and creamy risotto is the perfect comfort food with a mild flavour that complements the grilled shrimp and lobster mushroom. Maybe it's partly due to the shrimp's flavour absorbing into the mushroom, but I think the lobster mushroom actually has a distinct seafood taste to it. No wonder Executive Chef Sonny Sung claims this is his favourite mushroom!
6) Wild Mushroom Ravioli
A well-executed pasta with a delightful savoury filling. The ravioli was al dente, which is actually pretty rare since most places make them soft.

7) Veal and Mushrooms
For me, the highlight was the salted caramel sauce. It was delicate and savoury, and perfectly complemented the meat.
8) Catch of the Month
September's catch is the cobia, poached in San Benedetto mineral water (fancy!). Cobia has large flakes with a firm texture and mild flavour. I prefer tender and fatty fish, so this fillet wasn't for me. But just like the veal, the sauce really made this dish. The beautiful thyme lemon chardonnay reduction was light and refreshing.

9) Grand Marnier Rice Pudding
The rice pudding is similar in texture to the risotto, except it's not as creamy and a bit more sticky. I could definitely taste the Grand Marnier (kind of like how you can taste the rum in a rum cake). Not my cup of tea, but I really enjoyed the sweet candy cap mushrooms. (Yes, candy cap is a type of mushroom!) They have a rich and aromatic maple syrup flavour. Very unique indeed.

I was impressed with the Mushroom Harvest dishes at Bistecca, but now I am even more impressed. I need to remember to make a reservation at Sorrentino's before the Mushroom Harvest ends. Must-try dishes? The wild mushroom fritelle for sure, and either the risotto or ravioli (or both!). Sorrentino's will also be hosting a number of events throughout the month. Find out more on their website: Click here!

Sorrentino's South Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Buco Pizzeria + Vino

Buco Pizzeria + Vino is the newest member of the Sorrentino's family. This casual yet trendy restaurant is located in St Albert and will be opening to the public this Saturday August 1. I attended a sneak peek on Sunday, and it was a great experience true to its name, with good pizza and good wine. Loved the prosecco! So light and crisp and bubbly.

The pizzaiolo (read pizza chef) hails all the way from Naples, Italy, and he makes the pizza in this fiery wood-burning oven. These are guaranteed to be authentic Neapolitan pizzas!

The first to make its debut was the margherita pizza, a signature Neapolitan pizza fashioned after the colours of the Italian flag. This is probably the pizza of choice for a true Neapolitan. I was sitting next to the owner's mother-in-law and she specifically requested a couple slices of margherita pizza for dinner.

I tried several different kinds of pizza that night, but my absolute favourite was the quattro-formaggi (below right), the four-cheese pizza. The cheeses were just so rich and aromatic, blended together in warm and gooey strings of satisfaction.

The assistant corporate chef kept busy shaving various cured meats and preparing bruschetta with the other staff. I tried the one topped with pancetta (Italian bacon), roma tomato, and basil. I'm not a fan of bruschetta, but I liked that the bread was not too greasy and I was pleasantly surprised that Italian bacon had a more delicate flavour and was not nearly as dry and intense as regular bacon.

Other appetizer choices include a variety of carne and formaggi (meat and cheese), as well as salads such as the buco chop salad below. It was a mix of romaine lettuce, cherry tomato, and chickpeas. The meats were tasty, but salads are not Buco's forte. When I visit next time, I don't think I'll be ordering any salads. Instead I'll focus on the pizza and antipasti.

Talking about antipasti, the cauliflower goat cheese fritters were something new to me. They were little balls of batter with cauliflower embedded inside, a tasty vegetarian alternative to fried meatballs.

I saved the best for last. The prosciutto wrapped figs were also new to me, and I have to say, the salted ham and sweet fig were the perfect pairing. This was so addictive that I wanted a whole plate to myself.

Although my visit was short, I could see that Buco conveyed a strong sense of family and hospitality. The founding family behind the Sorrentino's Group is obviously tight-knit, as pretty much the entire clan showed up to the event, from the grandmother to the grand-kids. The grandmother is a very sweet lady, and she introduced me to every single one of her family members who happened to pass by. And I could see that this sense of family extends to the staff as well. Most of the attendees that night were employees of Sorrentino's, and it was like a giant family reunion. I have no doubt that this hospitality would be extended to the customers as well. I look forward to visiting after the grand opening and trying some pasta and desserts which I missed out on this time.

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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Gama Cafe

Gama Cafe is one of the only places in Edmonton that offers trendy Taiwanese snacks and drinks. I really miss this type of cutesy and semi-pretentious decor that is common among Taiwanese style cafes in Vancouver.

The owner is very talkative if you speak Mandarin, and he kept convincing my friend and I to check in on Facebook for a free gift. The gift turned out to be a small scoop of ice cream.

Complimentary cookies are offered at the beginning of the meal. They look like Kjeldsens butter cookies, but they taste homemade.

Gama's signature drink is the cap tea ($4.95), a Taiwan invention that places frothy cream on top of iced brewed tea. The "cream" is actually made largely of butter, and tasted quite salty by itself. But combine it with the refreshing sweet wintermelon tea on the bottom and the flavour is perfect!

Gama Cafe has a very limited food menu, but it does offer a few hot dishes that include pasta and risotto options (all $14.95). I've tried both the alfredo and basil pasta and the flavours were quite mild. I personally really like it, but others may think it's too bland if they're used to authentic Italian flavours.

I wanted to try the waffle on my first visit, but the owner recommended the Tommi Toast ($14.79) instead. He said waffles can be found anywhere, but the Tommi Toast is a new and more unique trend from Taiwan. Basically these are toasted bread cubes stacked into a tower, cemented together with custard and topped with ice cream and cream. Very good for sharing, but probably too much for just 2-3 people. I also think there's too much custard and cream in general, making it very hard to enjoy more than a few cubes.

I got to try the plain waffles ($9.45) on another visit. The texture was very dense and pillow-like, kind of like a spongy cake. And it was served with the same cream and custard that was in the Tommi Toast. I really didn't like that stuff very much. I actually enjoyed the waffles more than the Tommi Toast because at least I can have this as a meal.

My favourite specialty item at the Gama Cafe is the Taiwanese pancake (a.k.a. wheel cake or 車輪餅, $3.95/order [2 pieces]). There are a variety of flavours including red bean, custard, taro, oreo, chocolate, cheese, etc). The most traditional filling (and also my favourite) is the red bean. I think Gama Cafe is the only place that offers this traditional Taiwanese snack in Edmonton. Please let me know if there are others!

All in all, Gama Cafe is a nice place to catch up with friends. The atmosphere is quiet and private, so it's perfect for chatting. The drinks are unique and tasty, and the dishes are great for sharing. I'm hoping more Taiwanese cafes with more extended menus open in Edmonton!

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

El Cortez Tequila Bar + Kitchen

El Cortez, a Mexican restaurant just off of Whyte Ave, has invited me to join their Cinco de Mayo celebrations on May 5. It was quite a coincidence actually, as I had just dined there the week before. At the time, I did notice the food was a bit different. It turns out the restaurant has just released a new food menu, as well as a reinvented craft cocktail menu (based on tequilas of course, since El Cortez is a tequila bar). And this Cinco de Mayo event was the perfect chance to showcase the new offerings. It was a bit cold that evening, and as the event was held outside in the patio, I was pleased to find that the heat was on and blankets had been thoughtfully laid out for guests.

On one side of the patio, staff from Calgary's Rodney's Oyster House were busy shucking away for a good portion of the evening. The El Cortez folk really know how to throw a party. All-you-can-eat raw oysters? I'm in. I didn't realize how much I missed Rodney's, or any good oyster place really. There is definitely a shortage of oyster bars in Edmonton.

West Coast - smaller but sweet, the more popular choice
East Coast - fat and juicy, but more brine
In addition to raw oysters, there were also free cigars. My friend convinced me to try it, but can't say I'm hooked.

As the early comers sat and indulged in oysters and cigars, the appetizers started making their rounds. The first was ceviche, with a choice of tuna or swordfish. I found the tuna too mushy, but the swordfish was nice and firm with good flavour and a complementing accompaniment of avocado and tomatoes.

Next up were spicy chorizo meatballs and pork tenderloin served with salsa. El Cortez did a good job with the sauces and seasoning. Flavours were intense, but not overwhelmingly so.

Tacos are usually the main focus of a Mexican restaurant, and El Cortez serves up a variety of different fillings. I tried the beef and fish, and as previously mentioned, the meat was seasoned perfectly with just the right amount of sauce and garnishes. The tortilla, however, did not really capture my heart. I was told it was made in house and it tasted fine, but I would much prefer traditional corn tortilla to this mixed corn and flour tortilla. It didn't have the full corn flavour, and the texture was a bit doughy and gummy.

I have to say, the cauliflower was pretty amazing. One of the guys sitting next to me kept raving about it. It was like the veggie version of sweet and sour pork. The sauce was an appetizing bright orange with sharp tangy notes.

I finished off with a freshly fried churro in warm gooey chocolate sauce. I don't normally enjoy churros too much, but this was light and moist with no greasy aftertaste. I would definitely order this for dessert next time.

Blue Hour Tequila came to advertise their spirits and served up a few tasty cocktails.

These included a lemonade, a tamarind drink, and a Manhattan, all made with the Blue Hour brand tequila. My favourite was the tamarind (lower left). As my friend put it, it was like a spiked chai with rich and aromatic spices.

Overall, I enjoyed the food and drinks at El Cortez. The flavours were bold, but subdued enough to allow one to finish the entire dish without overstimulating one's taste buds. There is an art in this balance, and El Cortez is pretty good at it.

El Cortez Mexican Kitchen + Tequila Bar on Urbanspoon
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