Brunch at SugarBowl

Review

I’m pretty sure everyone in Edmonton under the age of 30 has either been to, or heard of Sugarbowl.

Hailed as ‘the one good brunch place’ in Edmonton, Sugarbowl is known for its chicken and waffles as well as its expansive beer selection.

The problem with places like this is that everyone succumbs to groupthink and it’s hard to get an honest opinion of the food without getting sucked into the endless ‘MUH CHICKN’ WAFFLES’ circlejerk.

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Relevant, mildly offensive picture.

So let’s try some of the other brunch items (dinner/bar will be reviewed in another post) and see what happens.


If you’ve never been, Sugarbowl is located off 109th street and 88th avenue, right next to the Garneau theatre and within walking distance of the University.

It’s a small restaurant, and seemingly always packed. There isn’t a reservation policy for brunch, so if you’re going during the weekend, be ready for a short line-up.

The interior is hard to describe. A curved wooden bar with numerous taps takes up a third of the restaurant, while dented wooden tables and chairs are squeezed into the remaining floor space. Terrible local art by shitty local artists adorn the walls. While the “art” itself is of poor quality and questionable artistic value, they add to the bohemian feel of the restaurant.

Service is generally responsive, however due to the hectic nature of service and the crowded restaurant, may seem a bit rushed at times. Regardless of the crowd, it does seem like the servers genuinely care about your experience, and will accommodate your needs and/or complaints. The only issue is spending 5 minutes attempting to make eye contact with someone trying to avoid your gaze like it’s the fucking plague..


Because brunch is essentially replacing both breakfast and lunch, you’re allowed to order way too much food.

We started with the face-sized cinnamon rolls, which were pretty fucking delicious. They were soft, warm, chewy, completely covered in cinnamon sugar and awesome with a slab of butter.

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Shapeless, yet delicious.

Next up were the poached eggs with potatoes and béchamel sauce. Presentation wise, it was acceptable, with nice usage of colors and nicely poached eggs, but it was lacking in the taste and texture department. The eggs themselves were adequately poached, with a runny yolk and smooth white, but the sauce just didn’t work. Poached eggs are traditionally served with a more acidic hollandaise sauce to cut through the richness of the yolk and butter. The béchamel in this case was too bland and unnecessarily creamy. Oh, and they used cornbread instead of English muffins and back bacon instead of normal fucking bacon. There is no possible explanation for this besides the urge to be a special little snowflake, and the ‘SugarBowl Benny’ ends up tasting worse in every way compared to a ‘NormalFucking Benny’. The bread is dense and greasy, the bacon is bland and the sauce is flat out wrong.

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Home-made ketchup, which is in every way worse than Heinz.

Fuck.

The potatoes were almost inedible. I generally expect hash browns to be crispy, but our spuds turned out completely soft and drenched in grease. To make matters worse, there was almost no seasoning. Per my discussion with the waitress, SugarBowl cannot serve crispy hash browns as they’re cooked in a batch at the beginning of service and left in a vat until needed. It would just be far too impractical to fry up a new order.

To their credit, I was offered another side, but it doesn’t really make up for cutting so many corners on their fucking potatoes.

My lovely companion had the fruit and waffles, which were, sure enough, fruity and waffle-y. Jokes aside, it was a pretty mean waffle and the grapes were kinda kick-ass.

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Fruit..and Waffles! Who woulda thunk?

Oh, and I had a cappuccino.

It was pretty.

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Tasted nice too 🙂


All things considered, stick to the safe bets at Sugar Bowl. The only adventurous item we ordered tasted like a limp, greasy sock, while the cinnamon bun and waffles were predictably delicious.

So does this place live up to the hype?

No.

In terms of brunch, there are better, more well rounded restaurants in Edmonton. Admittedly, the chicken, waffles and cinnamon buns are solid, but not special enough for me to return time and time again.

I could order a bucket of KFC and toss some batter into my waffle iron and I wouldn’t need to deal with the crowd, blasphemous eggs benedict, squelchy potatoes, and the weeping sores they’ve nailed to the walls in support of local artists.

 

Sugarbowl Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Avec Bistro

Review

French food is wonderful.

Liberal usage of fats, willingness to eat anything and a proud culinary history combine to make French cooking one of the “Three Grand Cuisines”.

Well, not really.

The official reasons are:

  • Presence of a royal kitchen – To produce a variety of complex dishes to please royalty
  • Long dynastic reign – Ensures the coherence and improvement of recipes over time
  • Availability of a variety of foodstuffs – Self explanatory

For the record, the other two are Chinese and Turkish (who would’ve guessed?).

Anyhow, point is, I love French (and Turkish and Chinese) food, and I actively seek out traditional French restaurants, which brings us to this review.


 

First off, the restaurant itself is very, very nice. Located on the ground floor of some forgettable grey office building, Avec Bistro makes wonderful use of its space.

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You so purdy.

Windows make up half of the walls, and the remaining surfaces are made of glassy black stone, towering curtains and vertical slats of wood. The restaurant is brightly lit, while still maintaining a cozy and intimate atmosphere.

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Seems to be missing something..

Seriously.

The place is pretty.

To add to the atmosphere, the restaurant was..

Completely..

Fucking..

Empty.

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If you look carefully, you can see Caroline losing hope in humanity.

We were there between 5:40 and 7:30 on a Wednesday night and had the honor of being the only customers in the restaurant.

But why?

Maybe the food will give us a clue.


 

The charcuterie was up first and didn’t make any lasting impressions. Not that there was anything glaringly wrong, it just didn’t amaze. The home-cured summer sausage was a bit too gamey for my taste, and the tiny little turd-shaped squirts of pâté didn’t really do it for me either.

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Look at the tiny little turdlets!

Honestly though, a board full of pre-prepared meats, pickles and bread isn’t a good indicator of culinary skill, so let’s talk about the mains.

I ordered the duck breast roulade with leeks, onions, cherry compote,and some black quinoa-like grain (it’s been like 2 months, I forgot…). The duck was cooked perfectly, and was tender, delicately savoury and came out of the pan with perfectly crisp and caramelized skin. However, by the time it got to the table, it was just a little bit soggy. The rest of the dish was well executed and mostly made sense. The tart cherry sauce paired perfectly with the duck, while the leeks and grains tasted like..leeks and grains.

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I think I may have eaten a piece.

My dessert, however, was perfection. The crème brûlée was technically sound, with a light vanilla custard and a crunchy, slightly burnt caramel disc. Topping it off was a delicious sugar cookie and some sort of edible flower. While not the most challenging dessert in terms of technical skill, this was executed perfectly and would give any Parisian bistro a run for its money.

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Yes please.


At the end of the day, the food wasn’t bad at all, the service was friendly and charming and the restaurant was beautifully decorated.

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I’m a bastard and took pictures of other peoples food..

If I wasn’t driving that day, I’m sure I would agree with the wine selection as well.

So what went wrong?

Well I’m not entirely sure.

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Sue me, I couldn’t help it..

If I were to take a guess, it’d be a sad case of trying to fit a classy, French peg into an uncultured, Calgarian hole.

Unfortunately, there just doesn’t seem to be a niche for traditional French food because everyone’s bandwagoning over tiny share plates of gluten free organic Asian-Canadian fusion.

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Thanks to Sean and Caroline for their patience 🙂

The next time you’re looking for a relaxing evening or a quiet, atmospheric date, try Avec Bistro. Sometimes it’s nice eating food you can recognize in a restaurant that doesn’t look like a shitty modern art installation.

Avec Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Model Milk

Review

I realized there’s a backlog of posts I need to write, and I want to justify spending exorbitant amounts of money on food again, so here we are.


Sometimes if you take 5 minutes and read the website, you can get an eerily accurate representation of the dining experience.

Choice excerpts:

  • “throw out all checklists, pre-conceptions and rules that govern what a “good” restaurant ought to be.”
  • “a restaurant where you can experience food that is both classic and original, both innovative and comforting.”
  • “quality local and regional products”
  • “natural, sustainable and responsible methods”
  • “organic, bio-dynamic and natural wine making”

Sure, your website is a means of advertising and you don’t want to sell yourself short, but this level of textual masturbation just reeks of self importance.

Pre-conceptions and rules that govern what a “good” restaurant are there for a fucking reason. I have pre-conceptions that the staff will be friendly, service prompt, and food edible.

Of course they’d cream their panties over the fact that they only serve local, natural, sustainable, responsible, organic, bio-dynamic products, but did they really need to share that with us?

What does this mean to the average consumer?

Next to nothing.

Local doesn’t mean better, regional delicacies exist for a reason and I highly doubt Albertan agriculture is known for anything other than grains, canola and cows.

Natural could mean literally anything. Everything we consume originates from the natural world.

What exactly is responsible food? What is it responsible for?

Bio-dynamic wines. Per wikipedia: “[Bio-Dynamic farming] treats soil fertility, plant growth, and livestock care as ecologically interrelated tasks emphasizing spiritual and mystical perspectives.

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Exactly what I imagined..

 

Sigh.

We get it, you need to set yourself apart from the other trendy, new-age establishments, but this is stupid.


 

We went on a Monday night right after work and the restaurant was understandably empty. The staff were friendly and attentive and smelled of arts majors and new-age spirituality.

When we weren’t ogling their trippy mandala-print leggings and 4 inch gauges,  we had the opportunity to check out the rest of the restaurant.

To be perfectly honest, the place was wonderfully decorated. I read somewhere that the space used to be some sort of milk bottling depot (hence the name), and it had been perfectly re-purposed into a dining space. Bare brick walls, faux-retro light fixtures, and a two-level layout with exposed kitchen combined to make the space unique and welcoming. If you’ve ever dreamed of that open-concept loft in New York with the bare bricks and exposed rafters, you’ll love this place.

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I should really blur out faces..

They get another point for having the dining area brightly lit. Nothing like being able to see what you’re eating.


 

The food?

Well, it was pretty damn good.

We started with the MM Beef Tartare and I ordered the “Ewe-nique Farms Lamb”.

The tartare was served with a creamy pistachio mixture, as well as blitzed romaine and horseradish sauces. No complaints on the texture or quality of the meat. The raw steak was combined with olive oil, raw egg and green onions to nullify the potentially bloody tang. The result was creamy, smooth and surprisingly heavy.

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Sauce drizzles uneven, 0/10, would not eat.

To accompany the tartare, we were given “seed bread”, which, to be honest, was horrible. Don’t get me wrong, I still ate it, but society has moved away from making bread from ancient grains and seeds for good reason. The bread was crumbly, had little to no gluten, and tasted like a bird feeder, wood and all.

There’s nothing wrong with a few slices of grilled baguette. Hell, you can tell people the profits go to support the liberation of trans-gendered Somalian child soldiers if it helps you sleep better, just don’t serve me hamster food.

The lamb, however, left little room for complaints. The protein was cooked to perfection, with the interior retaining the consistency of semi-melted butter. While I don’t generally advise the usage of root vegetables or other bland starches as seasoning agents, the root vegetable ‘jus’ added a buttery sweetness to the dish and tied the grain, lamb and turnip together with its earthy undertones.

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Looks sort of like Australia.

Even the turnip was well cooked, and the slightly charred exterior speaks to ancient cooking methods where root vegetables were buried under the ashy remains of the camp-fire and left to roast.

The most interesting thing on the plate was the mound of ‘kamut’. For the uninformed (gonna be honest, I Googled it), Kamut is an international brand and trademark for certain strains of Khorasan wheat. An ancient, middle-eastern wheat species, the crop grows well in arid environments, and is known for its unusually large grain, nutty flavor, and ‘moistness’.

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This stuff.

Having tried some, I would have to agree. While I can’t overlook the puddle of butter that it was served in, the grains themselves were rich and nutty, while maintaining a satisfying chewiness from the bran.

From the pictures, you probably wouldn’t expect the meal to be filling, but you’d be wrong.

While the individual portions were not large, they weren’t afraid to use heavy and greasy ingredients to fill you up. The tartare was smooth and creamy due to the liberal usage of olive oil and creams, while the jus and grains served with the lamb were saturated with butter.

This was actually quite clever, and allowed for high-fat content dishes, without having customers pass out mid-meal.


 

Beyond all the pomp, pretense and politically correct causes, Model Milk still delivers sufficiently technical, creative and delicious food.

Give them a try if you haven’t already.

If you can get past the hipster vibe and holier-than-thou attitude, you might just be in for a treat.

Model Milk Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Anju

Review

I was in Calgary for work a month ago and I took the opportunity to visit some of their “best” restaurants, as determined by the Avenue Top 10 List.

Since these restaurants have received significant amounts of praise for creative food, plating and service (and also charge a fucking fortune), they will be held to higher standards.

These are the memoirs of my experiences.


For those too lazy to Google for themselves:

Anju (Korean pronunciation: [andʑu]) is a general term for a Korean food consumed with alcohol.”

Few things bother me more than inexplicably/inappropriately named restaurants, so we’re off to a good start.

The restaurant itself is very nice, combining the modern “everything must be black” theme with more traditional Korean decorations.

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Fascinating.

By traditional Korean decorations, I mean the 4-5 ceramic jugs they had displayed in the front. The rest of the restaurant was honestly indistinguishable from a Cactus Club.


 

Service was prompt and friendly, without being intrusive. I like to touch on this as good service is very rarely noticed, but bad service can easily destroy your restaurant experience. In Anju’s case, the staff were attentive, knowledgeable about their food (nothing more embarrassing than not knowing what goes in your own dishes), and seemed to appear only when you need them.


 

The food was…

Interesting.

Most of our choices were based off staff recommendations, as we wanted the dishes that best represented the restaurant.

We started with the Spicy Salmon Tacos (Yuneo Tako if you want a gibberish Korean translation).

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The photos are shitty because I was starving..

While the fish was definitely fresh, and I appreciated the work that went into the avocado mousse, I just found the tacos to be just a bit cloying. The fish was mixed with an oily cream based sauce, and combined with the natural richness of the avocado and deep-fried wrappers, just seemed too heavy for a starter. The bright side is that you get decent sized portions, and this could easily double as a main.

Next up was the Tofu & Foie Gras Parfait. The menu mentioned that it was served with Korean Pear Black Pepper Jam, Pine Nuts and Toasted Brioche. The presentation was well done, with creative use of a bathroom tile as a plate.

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So pretty..

The actual parfait was very nice. The tofu and foie gras had been whipped/blended to a mousse-like consistency.

The “jam” was actually a small salad of pears and micro-greens. Don’t ask me why they called it a jam. The pear was raw, crisp and very sweet, with smaller/less noticeable sclereids. This did well to cut the richness of the parfait.

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-10 points for chipped tile.

What killed an otherwise pleasant dish was the inclusion of the brioche (the wait staff stressed that this was baked in-house). The bread was sliced thickly, buttered and turned into a sweet, chewy pulp when you bit into it. This completely overshadowed all of the other flavors on the plate, especially the light foie gras and tofu. A normal crouton/melba toast would have done much better.

Next up was the Roasted Bone Marrow (So Golsu Gui) with scallions.

This was probably the worst dish of the night. The bone marrow seemed a bit off, and was much grittier than expected. It also had a heavy metallic after-taste. I understand that there’s bound to be some blood in the marrow bones, but this was almost inedible. Honestly, it tasted like sucking back a nosebleed.

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The garnish is just so…flaccid…

To complete the dish, the chef included some brioche crostinis. I feel like my thoughts on the brioche are apparent by this point so I’ll leave it at that.

The last appetizer we ordered was the KFC sliders, which turned out to be a disappointment. The chicken itself was quite nice, with a sweet, spicy and sticky sauce and fatty dark meat. Once again, what killed the dish was the brioche.

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You would expect that the chicken would be the star of the dish, but the brioche over-powered everything on your palate with its starchy sweetness.

I’m no award winning chef, but the dish would be vastly improved with any other type of bread and maybe a pickle or two to cut through the oil.

Oh, the dish also came with some piping hot, lightly salted, kettle-chip style curried potato chips, which were absolutely fucking delicious.

To finish things off, we settled for a more traditional dish, and ordered the spicy seafood stew. While the ingredients were high quality, and the presentation was homely and pleasant, the stew just didn’t taste like it should.

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It’s hard to pinpoint what really went wrong here, but the stew lacked the depth of flavour you would normally associate with Korean home cooking. Maybe it was the toned-down spice levels? Lack of acidity? Or maybe the stew just wasn’t simmered for long enough for the flavours to meld.

Yeah, I think that’s it.

The shrimp were marinated in lime and garlic and were delicious on their own, but clashed with the rest of the bowl. The pork was fatty and perfectly cooked, but just tasted like boiled pork. The mussels were tiny, plump and fresh, but only managed to add a slightly bitter brininess to the soup, and the tofu tasted like nothing.

It’s a shame because it’s clear that the end product was so much less than the individual components that went into it?


 

One may read my post and think that I’m overwhelmingly against Anju, but honestly, I’m not.

The food, while not amazing, was passable, and I appreciated the thought and creativity that went behind every dish. The chef clearly loves his craft and makes the extra effort to improve his dishes, sometimes in ways that the customer may not even realize. I harped on the home-baked brioche, but it was a pretty good brioche, the only issue was that it was served with everything and drowned out the other, more important flavours.

Everything was technically sound and the presentations were spot on as well (with the exception of some limp onions on the marrow).

But above all, I’m glad I went to Anju because it provided an interesting insight in how traditional methods and recipes shouldn’t entirely be replaced by creativity and clever plating.

Anju Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Prairie Noodle Shop

Review

 

It has been a strange time in my culinary journey. Most of the restaurants I’ve visited recently have been decent, and to be honest, it’s tough to write about restaurants that were just ‘alright’.

There’s only so many synonyms for unremarkable, and I don’t think anyone really cares to read about mediocrity.

Thank god the Prairie Noodle Shop is here to shake things up.

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This place.

 


 

After a few successful appearances as a pop-up restaurant, the Prairie Noodle Shop has officially opened its doors to the hordes of ramen deprived Edmontonians.

I went last night and was greeted by ten or so patrons-to-be crowding the tiny entrance, waiting for a seat. As I had a party of 5, we were looking at a wait of roughly 40 minutes. Considering the diminutive size of the restaurant and the hype from the grand opening, this wasn’t unreasonable.

While I stood in line, I had a chance to observe the machinations and efforts of the staff (not like I had anything better to do). Four or five convict-looking types run the open-concept kitchen behind the bar… You know, so you can watch people assemble a bowl of fucking noodles.

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Skilled noodle artisans.

I also had the chance to admire the furnishings in the restaurant. Prairie themed wood cut-outs of grain silos and barns line the walls, while the ceiling was exposed to show support beams and aluminum ventilation. Combined with the mild paint job, incandescent lighting and bits of cowhide glued to the wall, the restaurant felt warm and inviting, especially on a cold winter night.

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I wasn’t kidding about the cowhide

 

We ordered at 6pm and it turns out that they had ran out of most of their appetizers, including the pork buns and drumettes (they only had one order left). Batter for the cornbread was also running low, so we stuck with one order of ‘smoked lollipop drumettes’ and the ‘charcoal salted edamame’.

What came out actually made me feel some remorse towards the chickens that died so we could try the dish.

Here, I’ll post the description on the menu and we can go through it item by item.

“Six smoked confit chicken drumettes marinated and served in our house honey and barley tare sauce”

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Whatever you say…

First of all, the chicken was just cooked poorly. Disregarding the ‘confit’ for now, the drumsticks were bone dry and absolutely flavorless (besides some minor charring). How did this happen? I don’t have a fucking clue. The drumstick is probably one of the easiest cuts to cook, but they somehow fucked it up.

 

Sigh.

What else.

Uhhh, it’s also really, really bland. Like ‘completely forgot salt and any form of seasoning’ bland.

Judging from the menu description, the only seasoning is the honey and barley tare sauce. There was a faint hint of sweetness, and the barley effectively did nothing. Honestly, what did you expect from using cereal as a condiment.

Hell, I’ve probably tasted better dorm room shake-n-bake disasters than the crap they served us.

The edamame wasn’t bad, but you get the same thing with a bag of frozen edamame from T&T and a lemon. If I were to gripe, I could complain about how the seasoning wasn’t distributed evenly and how the pods at the top were over-seasoned and the bits at the bottom were flavourless, but why would I ever do that?

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Delightful

But at the end of the day, you go to a noodle shop for their noodles.

I had the prairie pork ramen (blah blah locally sourced blah blah I don’t care).

Surprisingly, the pork was actually really well done. The pork shoulder was moist, flavorful and rich, and the belly managed to maintain a level of firmness while still rendering the fat on top with a bit of light charring.

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Nnggghhhhh…

Unfortunately that’s just about everything that went well with the dish. My first taste of the broth brought up mental imagery of boiled, slightly-rancid shrimp shells. The menu says the base is made from home-made pork broth and “prairie dashi”, but I couldn’t detect any of the lingering umami you would normally associate with pork bone, and the dashi only tasted of slightly-off crustaceans. To top it off, the soup was about as bland as the chicken drumsticks.

The noodles came out glued to each other, and each bowl would have three to four gigantic clumps of noodles that had fused together. Besides the obvious unpleasantness of biting into a giant lump of undercooked dough, this only accentuated the underlying theme of blandness.

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Instant noodles don’t even clump like this…

I tried some of the chicken broth as well, and had a similar impression. Little to no chicken flavour combined with slightly-off seafood and a complete lack of salt.

To top it all off, both orders of chicken ramen were missing the fried kale. Not like that would add much, taste-wise, but it still blows when you order something and part of it just isn’t included.

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Pink things are pickled onions

The umeboshi egg (preserved plum boiled egg) was cooked nicely, with a rich, soft yolk and firm white, but the boiling liquor may have been too strong, as the egg was very salty.


 

The Good

  • Warm and inviting space
  • Friendly staff
  • Boiled frozen edamame?
  • 2/4 of the ramen toppings

The Bad

  • Wait times (although this will change when the hype dies down)
  • Unimaginative twist on the classics

The Awful

  • The ramen
  • The chicken
  • That awkward moment when the waitress comes to ask you how your meal is, and the only words that come to mind are ‘repulsive and fundamentally flawed’, but you know that there’s nothing she can do to make the meal better short of changing the recipe and boiling up a new batch of stock, so you say ‘it’s fine’ and make some ‘mmmm’ sounds to get her off your case.
  • Why would you ever want to use a fucking grain to flavor something?
  • When you taste the broth and the only flavor that sticks out is that of decaying shellfish
  • The fact that people (myself included) were excited that Edmonton was finally going to have a decent ramen shop, and the ensuing disappointment.

 

I understand that there’s a dinner rush and the restaurant is new, but if you have four fucking cooks in a restaurant that seats 40, there’s no excuse for sloppy cooking, technical errors, and running out of ingredients by 6pm.

In the end, the Prairie Noodle Shop lives up to its name. It’s exactly what you expect out of an independent, locally-sourced ramen restaurant in the middle of fucking nowhere. Like the eponymous farmland, the Prairie Noodle Shop is boring, bland, overpriced and takes itself far too seriously.

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Nice cut-out’s though!

Prairie Noodle Shop Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Blue Plate Diner and High Expectations

Review

The ability to set aside expectations and experience something the way it was meant to be experienced allows for unbiased and fresh insights.

‘Oh yeah, how hard can that be?’

Well.

Pretty hard.

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Oh look, a green cat.

The stimuli around you, the information that you obtain through personal experiences or opinions all lead to subconscious (or conscious) bias.

Numerous studies point towards the importance of pre-conceptions and first impressions. Why do we pay more attention to our appearance on an interview or first date? Why do we care less after years of familiarity?

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Because ‘Murica

Because first impressions are important, and people subconsciously catalogue and analyze facts about people and things around them to determine how they want to feel towards that person or thing.

We are familiar with the concept of ‘poisoning the well’, where adverse information is given, and causes the recipient to form negative pre-conceptions against something. Obviously, this is terrible for forming an impartial judgement, but we rarely think of the other side of the issue.

Giving someone a glowing recommendation for something is just as, if not, more harmful. In our society, we often exaggerate and embellish positive experiences. If you left a restaurant without any complaints, and someone asked you how it went, you’d generally say something positive.

‘Oh yeah, it was pretty good’

It’s just a product of the cautiously polite, over-coddling culture that we live in. God forbid if anything was actually good. We’ve all seen the gaggles of basic bitches shrieking accolades about their venti vanilla bean half fat half sweet soy frappuccinos.

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It’s like staring into a bottomless pit.

I digress.

I’ve always heard good things about Blue Plate Diner. Starting from about two years ago, it’s been mentioned in passing, or been flat out suggested to me. It’s quirky, unique, and tries to put an original spin on comfort food classics.


First impressions were mixed.

The interior of the restaurant was a bit confused. Classic diner-style tables with grooved aluminium edges were paired with simple wooden chairs and flat primary colors.

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I was bored, ok?

I would’ve liked to see more diner inspiration. You know, a jukebox, some retro Coke vending machines, maybe a chrome bar stool or two? With the tables being the only diner-themed decor, it seems like they either ran out of budget or just didn’t care.

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Looks like the set of a 90’s Nickelodeon show.

The service, however, was very good. The wait staff were very fast, friendly and just a bit boisterous. It also took about 5 minutes for our food to come out (on a Friday night), which is probably the fastest at any restaurant I’ve been in.

But there’s a caveat.

The food is all pre-prepared. Now don’t get me wrong, you need to have things prepped in advance in a restaurant because there’s no way you’re putting together a meatloaf and baking it in 20 minutes. But at the same time, you lose a bit of the rustic feel you associate with diner food.

I ordered the meatloaf with dijon mashed potatoes (apparently a crowd-pleaser), while my coworker got the special of the day, a “ghoulish goulash” (their pun, not mine) and gnocchi. The goulash and gnocchi tasted OK. There was nothing offensive about it, but nothing really special either. The meat was tender, sauce was brown, and everything was piping hot. We were informed the gnocchi were not made in-house, but purchased from a supplier in the city. Once again, you can’t fault a restaurant for saving on preparation time, but you also can’t help but feel a twinge of disappointment.

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Either goulash or someone had an accident on the gnocchi

The meatloaf was very filling and tasted of nothing.

But that’s just about it. No noticeable herbs or spices, no umami from the meat, just a uniform meat/breadcrumb slab. You would expect an inch and a half thick slab of ground meat and starch to be filling, so that’s nothing special. The gravy was also on the tasteless side. In hindsight, everything on the plate was just bland as fuck. There were a few grains of dijon in the mashed potatoes, but they failed to impart any of the astringency you associate with mustard. On top of that, everything that I tried was…soft. This usually isn’t a bad thing, but all the food had sort of the same texture.

DSC_0809.JPG

Guess what this is

Dessert was a home-made beet cake, which was surprisingly awesome. Think carrot cake, but not disgusting. The beets made the cake incredibly moist, while not really affecting the flavor profile at all. I’m also pretty sure the cake was homemade, because honestly, just look at it…

DSC_0811.JPG

Tasty? Yes. Pretty? No.


 

The Good

  • Lightning quick service
  • Friendly and attentive wait staff
  • Drinks of the alcoholic variety
  • Food was hot..?

The Bad

  • Doesn’t look like a diner
  • Don’t serve diner food

The Awful

  • Everything I ate was bland
  • Non-homemade gnocchi is a disappointment
  • They don’t actually have blue plates…

 

The one lasting impression that Blue Plate Diner made on me was that everything they served was horribly bland.

Admittedly, I wouldn’t be as disappointed as I am now if I hadn’t heard all the rave reviews beforehand, but it’s hard to get past the fact that everything I ate was fucking tasteless.

I wouldn’t go back, but if you have difficulties with food that requires chewing, or want to cut back on sodium for health purposes, this is the place for you.

Blue Plate Diner Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sober Review: The Sherlock Holmes Pub

Review

A good pub is like an old leather jacket.

Comfortable.

Familiar.

A little bit worn down, but and warm and safe.

Somewhere you can laugh and reminisce and complain and wallow and deal with whatever trials and tribulations life throws your way.

I’ve been trying to find a good pub here for a while now and my latest adventures have brought me to a quaint little place right in the heart of down-town Edmonton.


Sherlock Holmes is, for the lack of a better term, adorable.

The building takes stylistic cues from the traditional Middle-German house, with exposed brown beams, white walls, and a barn-like appearance. If you go when there’s snow on the ground, the front area even looks like a lawn with a tiny little picket fence.

Pretty much this.

Pretty much this.

The inside is pretty much what you would expect.

Dented, mismatched tables and chairs fill up the floor space next to barstools and the odd booth. Exposed rafters are plastered with logos, posters and license plates and anything vaguely British. The floor is old and wooden, and there’s a somewhat cozy upstairs level for when things really get busy.

Now I normally complain about how restaurants and bars are all decorated the same and lack personality, but I think Sherlock Holmes takes it too far in the opposite direction. Everything screams “LOOK AT ME I’M A SPECIAL FUCKING SNOWFLAKE”. Personality isn’t something that you ham-fistedly slap onto every available surface.

Complete with decorative bald dude.

Complete with decorative bald dude.

Service was unreasonably slow. There was almost a half hour wait between sitting down and placing orders. Much time was spent trying to catch the waitress’ attention without being too obnoxious. This mainly involved trying to make eye contact with her as she looked anywhere but our table.

When we finally did get our order taken, it didn’t take too long for our food to come out. The honey garlic wings, pretzels and beer cheese came out first.

Wings n' cheese

Wings n’ cheese

The wings were typical pub fare and were pleasantly crispy and sticky. Nothing to write home about, but nothing glaringly wrong either.

The pretzels were soft, warm and chewy and were absolutely delicious with the Dijon-horseradish dip. They tasted like they were home-made, and if not, well it’s a damn good re-heated pretzel.

Actually delicious

Actually delicious

Beer Cheese.

This one actually came with a warning from the waitress when we ordered it, which is always nice. It was described as a “cold, hard, salty cheese-string”. Fortunately for me, cheese strings were an integral part of my childhood.

To be honest, the cheese was actually pretty good. Once you get past the bizarre texture (like a harder, stringier, cheese string…), you realize it actually tastes quite good. Somewhat like an old cheddar with less kick.

The pizza was alright. Note that I’m writing this nearly a month after my visit, so my memory is a bit fuzzy, but let’s just say I wasn’t blown away. The veggies seemed fresh, the thin crust was a bit soggy, the sauce tasted canned and they didn’t skimp on toppings.

!!!

!!!


Sherlock Holmes, more so than most restaurants in town, sells an experience. With a drink or four, the tacky decorations don’t seem as tacky any more. You find that there’s always something to look at and talk about, be it the clientèle or the decorations. The alcohol softens the edges on the scarred tables and chairs, and suddenly they’re not ugly, they’re quaint. It’s not claustrophobic, it’s cozy.

It goes without saying that the food would be significantly improved too.

With that being said, I fear that my sobriety affected my ability to experience the Sherlock Holmes the way it was meant to be enjoyed.

Guess I’ll need to go back and have a few drinks.

You know, for science.

Sherlock Holmes Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pampa and the Deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest

Review

Haven’t posted in a while.

Let’s fix that.


Brazil is currently the largest global exporter of beef.

This is great. Beef is love, beef is life.

The Brazilian people love beef, North Americans love beef. Naturally  there would be trade and all the benefits that arise from it.

We get our McDonalds dollar menu items, and the money from the sale of cattle drives a strong agricultural industry in Brazil, which in turn is translated into millions in tax revenue to be squandered on incomplete world cup stadiums.

Responsible and efficient use of taxpayer money.

Responsible and efficient use of taxpayer money.

Clearly a case where all parties benefit, right?

Well if you were paying attention in grade 8 social studies, the answer is no.

See, the main biomes in Brazil are the Amazon basin rainforest (5 million square km) to the northwest, the Caatinga (barren desert) to the northeast, Mata Atlantica (Atlantic forest) near the Atlantic coast, and the Cerrado (savanna type grasslands) in central Brazil. At the very south, a tiny amount of natural grassland exists, this is the Pampa region.

LEARNING

LEARNING

Of course, other ecosystems exist as Brazil is an enormous and ecologically diverse country, but these are the only relevant regions to our discussion.

Out of the regions listed above, only the Cerrado and Pampa regions are anywhere close to being grazing lands. As a result of this, 79.7% of the Cerrado has been converted to human use, and 70% of the beef cattle production occurs in this region. Similarly, the Pampa biome has been almost entirely converted into farmland.

But this isn’t enough to feed the global appetite for delicious, delicious cow.

This thing.

This thing.

Total Brazilian beef exports have risen from 1.01 million tonnes to 1.57 million tonnes between 2011 and 2014 and this doesn’t show any sign of stopping.

So my question to you, dear reader, is:

At what point do we give up delicious cow for sustainable farming and a healthy environment?

Fuck if I know.


On a slightly less depressing note.

Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse has been a lunchtime go-to for when my co-workers feel like lying comatose in a puddle of meat-grease and sweat in the afternoon.

Before I go on any further, I must clarify that Pampa receives two types of customers. Those who want to enjoy a pleasant meal in an “up-scale” restaurant with unique Brazilian touches, and those who want to wage war on the Amazon rainforest.

Fuck youuuuuu

Fuck youuuuuu

For those who have never been, the restaurant functions on an all-you-can-eat basis. Ambiguously ethnic waiters bearing skewers of meat stop by your table to slice bits onto your plate.

Of course, there’s a well-stocked salad bar with a veritable cornucopia of vegetables, breads, and sauces, but visiting the salad bar for anything more than sauce is a rookie mistake.

I regret the feta.

I regret the feta.

At the table, you are presented with a small round card. It’s green on one side and red on the other. When the green side is showing, the meat-bearers know to approach your table with offerings of protein. The red side signals surrender to the servers.

Being the first to quit and flip the card firmly cements your status as a ‘little sissy bitch’.

You know who you are.

You know who you are.

And the food?

To be honest, it’s not bad, but it’s gradually getting worse.

When I first visited Pampa nearly two years ago, I was impressed. The variety was great, service prompt, the idea was novel, and the meat was seasoned and cooked well.

While the concept, cuts and service haven’t changed at all, it seems that some shortcuts are being taken and general quality has decreased.

The main draw to a Brazilian style barbeque is that cuts are returned to the broiler after the seared outside layers are served. This allows for a higher proportion of seared ‘crust’ per bite. Recently, it seems that the meats are not being broiled for long enough after the initial serving, and you’re left with a soft, flavorless cut.

Case in point. This is the rump steak.

Case in point. This is the rump steak.

To be fair, this is only applicable to the rump steak and top sirloin.

The other lunchtime cuts include chicken drumstick, parmesan pork, and pork sausage.

My favourite cut would have to be the rump steak. When cooked well, it’s fatty, crispy, and tastes overwhelmingly of cow. The fat is wonderfully rendered and you’re left with a rich umami flavour.

A close second would be the chicken drumsticks, which have been consistently tender, juicy, well seasoned and piping hot.

I get three at a time because I'm disgusting

I get three at a time because I’m disgusting

The pork sausage is inconsistent, sometimes it’s fragrant, spicy and juicy, and other times it falls flat.

Not so great

Not so great

Finally, the parmesan pork is almost always dry and salty. This is due to the restaurant using a very lean cut on the barbeque and grilling the pork until it’s well done.

So bad, it un-focused the camera

So bad, it un-focused the camera

Shame on you.

As for the rest of the dining experience?

The service is exactly what you would expect out of a restaurant in Pampa’s price range, and the atmosphere of the restaurant is very mellow and professional.


The Good

  • Little to no judgement from the wait staff as you shamelessly stuff your face
  • Service is prompt, and the staff ask which cuts you would like more of
  • Rump steak and chicken are almost always on point
  • Salad bar is fresh and varied, if you want to go to a steakhouse and eat salad

The Bad

  • The novelty wears off fast
  • Inconsistency in seasoning and quality of cooking turn lunchtime trips into a gamble

The Ugly

  • Smiling at the waitress as she offers you lukewarm ‘filtered’ tap-water for $3

And the conclusion?

I would say it’s worth a try.

The novelty of the concept will make dinner a bit more interesting, and I’m willing to bet you won’t leave hungry.

Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Don’t S’wich

Review

For some, sandwiches are an art form.

Care is taken in selecting fine artisanal breads, fresh produce, and choice fillings to create a balanced amalgamation of flavour that transcends the sum of its parts.

This isn’t the case with S’wich.

S’wich is awful.


Ok.

Maybe not completely awful, but pretty damn bad for what you’re spending and the amount of time and effort expended waiting in line on a hot day.

I ordered the Root Beer Brisket sandwich and was rewarded with a soggy, bland sandwich with room-temperature ingredients.

Nothing like biting into a sandwich that feels like it’s been sitting outside for a few hours.

Doesn't look terrible though

Doesn’t look terrible though

The root beer sounded like an exciting twist on your normal braised meat, but honestly it added nothing and nobody would have noticed it was made with root beer if they weren’t told so. The braise seemed a bit off as well. While the meat was definitely dripping in juice, the braising didn’t seem to soften the beef in the slightest. Regardless of whether this was due to low quality beef or shitty braising, the end effect was the same. The beef tasted like tiny wires of cardboard soaked in juice. The bread is apparently made from scratch, but is an unappetizing combination of spongy and chewy.

Sadly, the common theme of moist and chewy applied to the sandwiches that everyone else ordered as well.

Seriously, who gets "chickpea masala" from a sandwich trailer?

Seriously, who gets “chickpea masala” from a sandwich trailer?


On a slight tangent, one of my greatest (possibly irrational) pet peeves when eating anywhere is when the establishment doesn’t actually have any heating implements.

I peeked inside the S’wich food truck and was somewhat surprised to see that the entire operation comprised of a few coolers, some stainless steel vats and a work surface. Nary a panini press, flat top or even a toaster in sight.

Personally, this cheapens the experience. I mean, you can go to Subway and the smiling immigrants behind the counter will happily toast or (god forbid) microwave your sandwich to your desired temperature. With S’wich, this isn’t even an option. You can have your sandwich at either room temperature or slightly above room temperature, depending on how long they’ve held it for.

It even looks damp.

Mmmm, wet.

The Good

  • No food poisoning!

The Bad

  • Sandwiches were bland, wet and chewy
  • Everything is lukewarm
  • Questionable safety standards in serving room temperature food
  • Lack of options to heat your fucking sandwich
  • Sandwiches are $9

The Ugly

  • I accidentally tipped 20% for some idiot to make me a sandwich…

Click to add a blog post for S'wich on Zomato

The Tastes of Edmonton

Review

So, Taste of Edmonton was a few weeks ago, and I think it’s about time I wrote something about it.

Deviating from the normal restaurant review template, I’ve decided on a free flowing photo documentary in order to provide you with ground-zero coverage on “the largest food festival in Canada.


For those of you unfamiliar with local events, Taste of Edmonton is a food festival where Michelin-star restaurants and celebrity chefs present the best that Edmonton has to offer in an open-air, ticket-based marketplace.

Off to a good start...

Off to a good start…

We stopped off at the Melting Pot tent as they were the first stand that didn’t serve a slider or burger or some sort.

Instead, they served their signature fondue mix on what appeared to be a Costco hamburger bun. Surprisingly, despite the shitty bread, this was probably one of the tastier items. The cheese mixture looks a little pre-digested, but tasted how a fondue should: rich, creamy, and sharp.

Looks like a paper towel but isn't

Mmmm edible paper towel.

Next stop is the “Lagano Skies Special Tibs-Beef Stir-Fry & Injera”, courtesy of Lagano Skies Ethiopian Restaurant.

The beef had the consistency of shoe leather, the vegetables were fresh out of the freezer and the bread tastes the way tetanus feels.

I know you were expecting some sort of tasteless joke about Ethiopian food (or lack thereof), but I’m above all that.

Really.

Right next to the Burger King tent.

Right next to the Burger King tent.

I don’t have much to say about this beside the fact that it makes me a little sad.

???

???

Roughly an hour in, I stumbled upon an Indian food truck. I assumed it was part of the festival and purchased some sort of saucy onion dish on rice.

Upon closer inspection, I realized the dish also contained little flecks of chicken.

I looked up the menu on the Taste of Edmonton website, but there was no such item.

The plot thickens.

The mayo squirt bothers me.

The mayo squirt bothers me.

If I recall correctly, these were the “Chicken Masala Perogies with Caramelized Onion and Tamarind Sour Cream”.

My memory may have been somewhat distorted by the pre-festival beverages, but I think I remember this tasting mostly like mayonnaise and perogy wrapper.

Haute cuisine.

Haute cuisine.

Slice of Bread.

Really?

Get your shit together Kimon and Andrea, I know you can do better.

You ain't foolin' nobody with that sign..

You ain’t foolin’ nobody with that sign..

What surprises me here is that people are actually lining up for an Old Spaghetti Factory food stand.

2015-07-16 18.54.33

I like the lettuce on the side.

Fresh out of The Underground Tap and Grill comes the “Buckin’ Bison Slider with Gorgonzola Blue Cheese”.

Heavy on the onions, and the patty was a bit dry, but otherwise unoffensive.

That’s all I’m really asking for at this point.

2015-07-16 19.05.59

Chef John Cohen has seen some shit..

We stopped off at the Frenson Brothers Markets stand for some “Rotisserie Roasted Pig”.

2015-07-16 19.06.52

Slaw n’ pig.

Hats off to the genius that decided to pair bland, dry pork with bland, moist cabbage.

2015-07-16 19.16.50

One hand on camera, one hand on plate, where to put fork? 😦

Surprisingly, one of the better tasting items at the festival this year came out of Zinc.

This was a “Banana Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce, Brulee’d Banana and Whipped Cream”.

The pudding was dense, moist and not cloyingly sweet, which allowed the caramel, cream and brulee’d banana to play a more important role on your palate.

The only detail missing would be two greasy idiots in suits loudly shilling banana bread.

Buy 10 and save 2 shekels on the 11th!

Buy 10 and save 2 shekels on the 11th!

Zinc never ceases to amaze.

2015-07-16 19.23.21

This could be anything really..

“Marvelous Stuffed Mushrooms” from The Cheesecake Cafe.

They tasted like mushrooms, grease and batter.

2015-07-16 19.45.27

I don’t even know what this is

I forgot what this was.

The food vendor menu on the Taste of Edmonton menu comes up with a “Bacon Bomb Slider” from Smokehouse BBQ, but it doesn’t quite look right.

No matter.

What’s important is that it wasn’t memorable in the slightest and tasted mostly of bread and cabbage.

Mmmm fried vegetable protein.

Mmmm fried vegetable protein.

I typically respond to meeting new vegetarians by consuming double the amount of animal products that I would normally eat that day.

Needless to say, I don’t consider myself a fan of vegetarian food.

This sort of changed after I tried the Padmanadi Vegetarian “Chicken” Satay Skewers.

For those unfamiliar with vegetable meat substitutes, they often mess up on the texture of the meat fibres, and you get the taste equivalent of dry tofu. Padmanadi, however, has greatly improved on the mainstream recipe, and has formulated a veggie protein mix with a slightly chewy, fibrous mouth-feel. It also fries fairly well, and you get crispy brown edges on the ‘meat’.

The satay sauce was a bit heavy on the peanut, but otherwise the skewers were one of the best items at the festival.

If you haven’t before, definitely go try Padmanadi, even if it’s just for the novelty of space age fake meat.

Squiggle game on point.

Squiggle game on point.

This is the “Nehiyaw (Native ) Taco” (no really, that’s what they call it), from Native Delights.

This consists of normal taco ingredients on top of bannock.

I like to think this is the passive-aggressive aboriginal way of getting revenge for the residential school cultural genocide committed by the Canadian government.

10/10 drizzle.

10/10 drizzle.

Pictured above is the “Smoked Bison Carpaccio”, from Normand’s Bistro.

Think pseudo-bison jerky with vinaigrette and wilted salad.

The bison honestly wasn’t bad, but it also wasn’t really carpaccio either.

I think it needs more jam.

I think it needs more jam.

Another pleasant surprise came from the Hotel Fairmont stand and the “MAC scone with whipped cream and berry compote”.

While technically uncomplicated, the flavors are tried and true and it didn’t pretend to be more than what it was.

The cream was fresh, berries tart, and the scone tasted like a scone.

Only the best.

Only the best.

I didn’t get anything from La Pasta because I don’t hate myself.

Are we even trying any more..

Are we even trying any more..

Now I didn’t actually try the “Pork Tacos with Kimchi Slaw and Lemon Thyme Aioli” from the Fairmont, but a few choice quotes from a friend include:

“Oh it was shit”

“…some kind of chlorine-y sauerkraut”

“…what I would imagine dirty dishwater would taste like”

Nuff’ said.


All said and done, the food from Taste of Edmonton was largely a disappointment, but the food is only part of the reason you go out to festivals like these.

The atmosphere is fun, the weather is generally nice, and it’s refreshing to see Churchill Square not packed with homeless people for once.

50 bucks well spent.