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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Sunday, August 03, 2014

Ginseng Restaurant

I was craving meat one night, so what better place to go than all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ? It's a good thing I don't crave meat often, because I was surprised by the $32/person price tag. And according to new reviews on Urbanspoon, the price has gone up to $33/person. But at least that includes unlimited drinks (Pepsi, iced tea, ginger ale, green tea and coffee).

The alcohol menu had some interesting creations like soju martinis and cocktails.

I ordered the Silk Road ($6), a blend of lychee and grenadine juice on ice with a splash of soju. It was a very fruity cocktail and I thought it was quite tasty. A bit too sweet, perhaps, but I enjoyed the flavour.

There was a small variety of cold dishes including kimchi, salad, bean sprouts, and radish. These were not done well and they all tasted rather bland.

Hot food included fried rice, stir-fried noodles, two soups, two stir-fried dishes, and two deep-fried dishes. The vegetable fritters seemed to be the most popular, as I saw many customers take plate after plate. Indeed the fritters were quite good with a light and crispy batter and savoury veggies inside. This was actually the only item I enjoyed out of the bunch, but I also found it quite heavy and greasy. The seaweed soup was just a bit salty, but didn't have much flavour otherwise. The other bright red soup looked more like a sauce, and seemed much too oily to drink.

Interestingly, the buffet lineup also included a California roll. The sushi looked out of place beside a tray of raw meat, and I didn't dare try it out of fear of contamination.

There were six trays of red meat and three seafood options (mussels, squid, prawns).

Veggie options were much more limited, with only mushrooms and onions for grilling and lettuce leaves for wrapping the meat in. Korean dramas have taught me that the authentic way to eat barbecued meat is to wrap it inside a crisp piece of lettuce.

Fresh orange and melon slices served as a refreshing dessert to complement the meat.

This was truly a dining experience for the carnivore. Korean hot sauce and sweet vinegar sauce were provided on the side, but all of the meats had already been seasoned and marinated, so extra seasoning was really not necessary. I personally enjoyed one of the spicy meats the most.

The staff were quiet and seemed a bit shy, but they were very prompt in replacing the grill once it became too charred. I think our grill was replaced 2-3 times during our meal. This place was not that great in terms of food quality, but I would enjoy hanging out here with friends, grilling meat and having a few soju drinks together.

Ginseng Restaurant on Urbanspoon
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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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