Saturday, November 12, 2016

Have Mercy Southern Table & Bar

Have Mercy is a relatively new addition near Whyte Ave, located on the second floor above El Cortez. Once you walk up the stairs into this Southern bar, you're surrounded by loud and upbeat music. This is not a place to sit and chat, but a place to hang out and have a drink or two.

Disclaimer: I was invited to try out the recently revamped fall/winter menu for 2016, so the meal was on the house except for the extra drink I paid for.

The drink menu features a number of cocktails, almost all consisting of at least 2 oz of liquor. And with all that ice in the cup, I would say these drinks are pretty strong. My favourite out of the three I've tried was the sherry cobbler ($12) on the right below. It also had the most alcohol content (2.5 oz), but it was smooth and fruity and went down easy. The other two I had were the gin cocktail #6 ($12) and rattlesnake ($12) topped with foamy egg white, both very good cocktails in their own right. Complimentary pretzels were served with the drinks, and I must say the golden BBQ sauce was very addictive! It was smoky and tangy with just a bit of heat.

I'm not very familiar with Southern cuisine, so I thought the idea of shrimp and grits ($13) as a starter was interesting because I always thought of grits as a breakfast food (and not a particularly appealing one either). However, the grits in this dish was not bland as I had expected, but very savoury and rich combined with the slightly spicy sausage gravy. Surprisingly, I enjoyed the grits more than the shrimp.

The jalapeno queso dip ($12) was very rich and gooey with quite a good kick to it. But this starter needs to be eaten quickly because the cheese solidifies as it cools and loses that stringy gooey consistency.

Fried chicken and donut ($18) is one of the most popular entrees here, and for good reason. The chicken was tender and the coleslaw was refreshing. I would've liked a bit more coleslaw to balance out all of the fried food though. I did not think that chicken and donut go so well together, but the combination works just like beef and Yorkshire pudding. Also the advantage of getting this dish is that there's no need to order dessert because you can just save half of the donut for last.

The picture below is a half order of the Memphis dry rub pork ribs ($18), which is a pretty good portion for one person. I liked how the meat was not too dry and came off the bone easily. The seasoning was flavourful but not overly intense. However, the side of molasses BBQ beans was overwhelmingly salty and bitter. I think there was too much BBQ sauce and/or molasses, and I was unable to take more than a couple spoonfuls.

I really liked the vibe of this place and would return for drinks and snacks. Also I think the fried chicken and donut dish is something I will develop a craving for from time to time.

Have Mercy Southern Table & Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Narayanni's Indian Buffet

Narayanni's, an Indian buffet restaurant that has been serving dinner for 9 years, recently started serving a $12 lunch buffet as well, and they have kindly invited me to give it a try. The restaurant is located on 81 Ave and 102 St with plenty of parking out front.

Lunch Buffet Hours: Tue-Fri (11:30 am - 1:30 pm)
Dinner Buffet Hours: Tue-Sat (5:30 pm - 9 pm)
Closed Sunday and Monday

The exterior of the restaurant did not seem very impressive, so I was surprised to find that the decor inside was quite fancy and elegant. One thing that struck me in particular was how clean and neat everything was. The floor was spotless (not a crumb in sight), and all of the tables were squeaky clean. This is probably one of the cleanest restaurants I have ever been to.

The seating area is comfortable and spacious, with booth and table seating on both sides of the central buffet table. The restaurant is actually quite big and can accommodate large groups.

While the food was delicious, the selection was limited and most of the dishes were vegetarian. Meat lovers who like to pile butter chicken and lamb curry onto their plate at Indian buffets would not appreciate this place, but Narayanni's is perfect for vegetarians, vegans, and people who prefer a lighter meal. For starters, the lunch buffet serves up a soup and salad that change daily. The soup and salad of the day for me were vegetable curry soup and traditional wedding salad. I could tell the veggies in the salad were very fresh and crunchy. The soup was very flavourful and thick, but it was a bit too heavy for me. Great flavour, but I almost felt like I was drinking a sauce.

The lunch buffet consists of 4 main dishes: chicken curry and 3 vegan dishes that rotate daily. The chicken is locally sourced, free-range, and hormone/antibiotic-free. On the day I visited, the vegan dishes were dhal with eggplant, mushrooms and chana masala, and butternut squash. I really enjoyed the spicy eggplants and sweet butternut squash. There was also a dessert of cinnamon infused rice pudding to wash it all down and help alleviate the spiciness. I was impressed to find that all of the food is free from MSG, preservatives, artificial flavours and colours, and the sauces do not contain cream.

Unlike most other Indian buffet restaurants, Narayanni's does not serve naan bread. They serve something different and much better in my opinion — a flaky and buttery pancake known as the roti. It is pretty much the same as the roti canai found in Malaysian restaurants, but I found it just a bit crispier and firmer in texture. The roti is not part of the buffet, and would have to be ordered on the side.

Drinks are also not included in the buffet, but this traditional chai tea is worth a try. It is prepared with a secret blend of hand-ground spices and is especially comforting on a cold day. On the first sip, the creaminess reminded me of a warm cup of cocoa. Then the chai flavour kicks in, but the spice is gentle and not overpowering. It's actually not a very strong tea; it's more soothing and comforting.

Narayanni's prides itself in using top quality ingredients (locally sourced whenever possible), and that is apparent in the food they serve. They show their commitment to healthy eating by hosting a vegan dinner buffet every Tuesday for only $15/person! I would love to give this a try even though I'm not vegan. I'm looking forward to my next visit, and when I come back, I will definitely order a cup of hot chai and a roti to go with it.

Narayanni's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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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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