Saturday, August 12, 2017

Saigon Taste - Tasty Pho Broth

Saigon Taste, a Vietnamese restaurant located just across from Oliver Square, contacted me last week to try them out as they have recently changed management. My meal was complimentary, but I aim to remain objective in my review. If you would like to give Saigon Taste a try yourself, you can receive a 10% discount until the end of November if you show them you follow me on Instagram!

The place was clean and well maintained, and the menu was one of the nicest I've seen at a Vietnamese restaurant, complete with colourful pictures and interesting blurbs.

I ordered the house special beef noodle soup ($11.95) which came with a variety of toppings including medium rare beef, beef brisket, and beef balls. The broth, simmered for over 8 hours, was one of the best I've tasted — clear and light with a fragrant savouriness that made it rich in flavour and satisfying. There was a page in the menu that advised customers on how to add basil in the broth to maximize the aroma. One tip was to add the basil in small pieces instead of putting the whole leaf in. This actually made a difference and enhanced the flavour of the broth even more. I'm one of those people who don't drink the soup when I eat pho, but I definitely made an exception this time.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the intense flavour of the Vietnamese coffee ($2.95 during lunch). Strong coffee and condensed milk over ice made for a refreshing summer drink. It actually tasted like a Werther's coffee candy in creamy liquid form. So delicious!

I wanted to try the honey garlic wings, but they were sold out, so I opted for barbeque wings ($8.95) instead. The chicken was tender, but I found the sauce a bit too salty and overpowering. Basically these were no different than barbeque wings at any other establishment. In fact, I think this is on par with homemade wings with a bottle of barbeque sauce from the supermarket. I wouldn't order this again, but I have a feeling the honey garlic might be better.

Recommended Dishes:
- any beef noodle soup (that pho broth!)
- Vietnamese coffee

Saigon Taste Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Zinc - Tuesday Tapas

The Art Gallery of Alberta currently offers free admission on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and the attached Zinc Restaurant offers a Tuesday Tapas menu, so everything worked out perfectly last night with an art tour followed by dinner at Zinc. I did a quick one-hour walkthrough of the gallery, but I would recommend a bit more time if you wanted to check out every exhibit in detail.

Dinner at Zinc also did not disappoint. A must try is the $4 pulled pork burger that the restaurant is taking a loss on to attract customers. It is a full size burger with generous amounts of meat and creamy coleslaw inside. The pulled pork was tender, but I didn't find it very flavourful. However, I have no complaints since it was a steal for only $4.

My favourite dish was the DLT ($12) - tea cured duck breast served with heirloom tomatoes, microgreens, grapefruit and mandarin orange slices, and tarragon aioli. The duck breast was cooked perfectly, and I could taste the distinct flavour of tea leaves in the meat.

I did not expect the sausage ($9) to be a hot dog. But it was a fancy hot dog with a grilled juicy chorizo sausage inside a crusty baguette. The chorizo was quite spicy and went well with the sour sauerkraut and piquant Dijon mustard. This would make a pretty filling entree for one person.

The sweet spicy prawns ($12.50) were interestingly neither sweet nor spicy. Instead I found them well-seasoned with salt and pepper. I'm sure "sweet spicy" actually refers to the ginger tomato chutney served with the prawns. While this dish was not bad, it was not what I had expected.

The full Tuesday Tapas menu is shown below:

Recommended Dishes:
- pulled pork
- sausage (only if you like spicy hot dogs)

Zinc Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

More Fun Gourmet Sweets - YEG Cupcakes

Ashley from More Fun Gourmet Sweets is an aspiring baker in the Edmonton area, and I was very lucky to have met her in person to try some of her delicious creations. Currently her focus is on custom cupcakes, and she is constantly coming up with new flavours and designs. She uses organic sprouted spelt flour and unbleached flour, as well as organic eggs, butter, and produce. The quality of her ingredients is evident in the taste and presentation of these beautiful cupcakes. What strikes me most is the amount of detail in each of her cupcakes. Every cupcake is a complex combination of flavours, and some even include exotic ingredients like lemongrass or lingonberry. And somehow Ashley is able to take all of these flavours and blend them together perfectly. It really is an art to create something that tastes as beautiful as it looks.

Before I go into the details of each flavour, I'd like to comment on the topping Ashley uses for all of her cupcakes. Instead of traditional American buttercream composed of mainly butter and sugar, she uses a much lighter Swiss buttercream which is mostly made up of egg white. Swiss buttercream is basically an airy meringue with just enough butter added to make it creamy. I usually scrape off half the icing from cupcakes because I find it too heavy and sweet, but I ate all of the toppings on these ones. In fact, what I like most about Ashley's cupcakes is that they are not overly sweet and I can focus on the delicate flavours of the ingredients and how they come together.

Let's have a look at some of her innovative flavours below:

Very Blueberry
Base: blueberry vanilla cake
Filling: blueberry hibiscus
Topping: blueberry Swiss buttercream and maple syrup

I'm going to start with one of my favourites. The presentation alone is enough to draw anyone's attention with its beautiful purple topping dotted with luscious drops of maple syrup. The cake base is a bit more moist than the plain vanilla cake because of the addition of blueberries in the cake batter, which perfectly complements the sweet blueberry hibiscus jam filling.

Very Strawberry
Base: strawberry vanilla cake
Filling: strawberry lingonberry
Topping: strawberry Swiss buttercream and maple syrup

Another one of my favourites. This is very similar to Very Blueberry as the cake base is also more moist due to the addition of strawberries, and the strawberry infused topping is also beautifully decorated with drops of maple syrup. The lingonberry in the filling adds a tart profile which I find very refreshing with the sweetness of the strawberry.

Lemon Lemongrass
Base: vanilla cake
Filling: lemon and lemongrass curd
Topping: white chocolate Limoncello Swiss buttercream

The plain vanilla cake base was slightly firmer, and I could just detect a hint of the spelt flour used. I couldn't taste the lemongrass in the filling; I just thought it was a very light and smooth lemon curd.

Lime and Coconut
Base: vanilla cake
Filling: lime and lime leaf curd
Topping: white chocolate coconut Swiss buttercream and shredded coconut

I'm not a fan of coconut, so this cupcake didn't particularly appeal to me. Luckily the coconut flavour was not overwhelming as it was only in the topping. I did find the lime and lime leaf curd filling very exotic and unique. It was also very tart, and the sweet white chocolate buttercream balanced it out well.

Quad Cocoa
Base: chocolate cake
Filling: chocolate fudge
Topping: milk chocolate Swiss buttercream and cocoa nibs

Out of the five cupcakes, this one was the sweetest with a runny chocolate fudge filling that was almost like a caramel. The cake base was a very light and fluffy chocolate cake that was a lot softer than the vanilla cake. I would've preferred a slightly firmer and denser texture, but appreciated the fact that the cake was not too sweet as the topping and filling were both quite sweet.

Overall Thoughts
I would say these cupcakes are made for foodies who appreciate the quality of ingredients and have a taste for complex flavour profiles. If you are the kind of person who just wants something sweet and well-portioned for the price, then this is probably not for you.

So where can you find More Fun Gourmet Sweets? Right now Ashley is mainly taking custom orders, but she is also trying to take part in farmer's markets around town. Keep an eye out on her Facebook page and Instagram to see what she's up to!

Disclaimer: Ashley has kindly provided these cupcakes for sampling free of charge. However, I aim to be as objective as possible in my review and my opinion is 100% honest. I would highly recommend these cupcakes. In fact, I plan on visiting Ashley tonight at the Beaumont Farmer's Market to purchase more of her tasty treats!
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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Snowy Dessert - Korean Shaved Ice Bingsu

Snowy Dessert is located on Whyte Ave just beside Dorinku, and they just had their soft opening on July 10. For the first 2 weeks, you can get a 10% discount if you follow them on Instagram or Facebook.

In addition to bingsu (Korean shaved ice), they also serve taiyaki and drinks.

Currently only red bean and chocolate taiyaki flavours are available.

I ordered the large injeolmi bingsu ($12). The shaved ice was made with milk instead of water which made a real difference to the taste. It was a lot creamier and enjoyable even when it started melting. The injeolmi (Korean rice cake) was soft and chewy, but hardened when left in the ice for too long. The red bean topping was very sweet. I guess bingsu is supposed to be shaved ice with toppings, but I think it would've been better to have layers inside the ice so that people wouldn't run out of toppings when they eat from the top down. Another small complaint I have is that the spoons were sticky and gave me the feeling they were not cleaned or handled properly. Hopefully this will not be an ongoing issue.

On a second visit, I tried the small green tea bingsu ($9). I've noticed that there's basically no difference in amount of toppings between the large and small size, so the small size is better value unless you really like the shaved milk ice. This time there were actually almond flakes and matcha powder layered in the ice. Not sure if that was intentional or not, but I thought it was a nice touch.

I had a red bean taiyaki ($3.50 each or $10/3) and it was a pretty decent size. It was unlike other taiyaki I've had in the past that was more spongy and cake-like. This one was very crispy and flaky. Its buttery layers reminded me of a croissant or danish. At first I thought there was barely any filling, but actually all of the red bean was concentrated near the tail area. This was a good pastry, but I prefer the cake-like taiyaki more.

Snowy Dessert Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Thursday, July 06, 2017

Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse

I went to Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse with my family for Father's Day brunch this year. I'm not sure if it was any different from their regular Sunday brunch buffet which they have every week for $29.99/person.

The buffet consisted of a bunch of cold items including salads, fruits, and cold cuts. Nothing spectacular, but there was a good selection and there were also a few hot items. The warm French toast was quite tasty.

The servers brought the various cuts of meat available that day to the table. I don't remember all the cuts we had that day, but there were some beef cuts, pork belly, sausage, and chicken drumstick. All of the meats were supposed to be medium-rare, but I found most of them a bit overcooked and quite tough.

Each person gets a double-sided cardboard coaster thing that's green on one side and red on the other. Green side up means "I want more meat!" and the servers will come by to serve the meat. However, I've noticed that the servers don't actually care whether your card is on green or red. They come by anyway if they see you looking, so my plate was piled up with meat within a few minutes.

There was a 1.5 hour time limit, and our server came by several times when time was almost up to politely ask if we needed anything else. We were waiting for them to refill the fruit in the buffet, but it took a really long time. Our server was great though, and made sure to let us know the minute it was refilled.

I think the price is a bit steep for the quality of food, so I wouldn't recommend this place unless you have never had a rodizio experience or you can eat a lot of meat and get your money's worth.

Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Sunday, July 02, 2017

Max's Restaurant - Filipino Cuisine

The other day I saw a picture of a vibrant purple ube (purple yam) ice cream cone on my Instagram, and I decided that I had to try it. A quick google search showed that ube ice cream is usually part of a Filipino dessert called Halo Halo, and I could find it at an authentic Filipino chain restaurant called Max's Restaurant in the west end. Then I realized that I had never been to a Filipino restaurant in all my years of dining out, so I was intrigued by the idea.

I visited on a Friday night with no reservation, which was a bad idea since I was told the wait would be half an hour. After I was seated, it was another 15 minute wait just to get the order placed. And then it took more than 45 minutes for the food to arrive! I was starving by the time I finally got to eat. The soup that came with one of the meals basically tasted like canned chicken soup, only worse because it was super starchy.

I ordered Max's platter which consisted of a Max's chicken leg, pancit bihon (rice noodles), garlic rice, and a caramel bar. The fried chicken is Max's signature dish and it's what made the chain famous to begin with. Maybe that's why I found it so underwhelming. The skin was crispy, but the whole thing was so overcooked that it was tough and chewy. The garlic rice was good, and the pancit bihon was decent, but it was no different from any stir-fried noodle dish you could get at Good Buddy or any other mediocre Chinese restaurant. The caramel bar was not even removed from its plastic packaging to be served, so that basically told me it was something they took out of a box and threw on the plate. It was a soggy thing with a texture somewhere between cake and fudge.

After the disappointing and very greasy meal, I finally got to try what I came for — the halo halo dessert with ube ice cream. I suppose they were trying to jazz up the presentation with the paper umbrella, but that hardly helped since the other toppings looked so carelessly thrown together. Tastewise, everything tasted like it came directly out of a can. In fact, I could probably recreate this at home after doing some shopping at T&T. The flan was hard and chunky, and I found out that I didn't like the flavour of ube ice cream.

After this meal, my dining partner and I both had stomach pain and indigestion issues. This could be due to the extremely long waiting time followed by such a greasy meal. In any case, I would not recommend this restaurant.

Max's Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Monday, June 26, 2017

Chocorrant Patisserie and Cafe

Chocorrant is a French bakery cafe located on 124 St just down the road from Duchess Bake Shop. There isn't a lot of variety here as they currently only offer 4 cakes: (left to right) the most popular lemon cheesecake, chocolate crunch, caramel apple, and espresso. They recently discontinued the passion fruit almond tart, but they are working on something new to replace it.

I think what sets Chocorrant apart from other French bakeries is their innovative croissant flavours including chocolate, strawberry milk, and matcha. They also have a savoury mushroom danish which I have yet to try.

I tried both the strawberry milk and matcha croissants, along with a London fog and a regular latte. I've also tried the matcha latte on another visit. The drinks were average and not comparable to most coffee shops, but it was nice to have something hot to go with the cakes and pastries.

I had imagined fluffy and flaky croissants filled with strawberry jam and matcha cream, but they were not like that at all. They were crispy on the outside, perhaps even a bit crunchy as they were quite browned. They did not have a very fluffy interior texture and were in fact more on the doughy side. There was not much of a filling, but just a thin layer of flavouring that was rolled in with the dough. Having said all that and despite being different from my expectations, the croissants were actually not bad and I quite enjoyed the matcha flavour.

Chocorrant used to offer a dessert sampler that includes all 5 cakes, but this is not available until they come up with a new creation to replace the almond tart. However, on my visit, they were nice enough to give me a sampler with an extra cake of my choice instead of the almond tart. So I got to try all of their current selection. My favourite was definitely the most popular lemon cheesecake. It was light and refreshing with a good balance of sweetness and tartness. I didn't find the other cakes too special; the chocolate crunch was just a regular moist chocolate cake and the espresso tasted just like a regular tiramisu cake.

Chocorrant P√Ętisserie + Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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