Monthly Archives: January 2013

Rigoletto’s Cafe – unpretentious good Italian food downtown

A friend from back east was in town on business, so we met for dinner near her hotel at Rigoletto’s Café, 10305 100 Avenue.  The atmosphere was comfortably informal, the service was good, and so was the food.  And, significant in this week of wind chill warnings, the dining room is warm enough and free of drafts.

I started with an Italian salad, which was garnished with anchovy slices and olives and came with a piece of herb toast.  My dining companion had a Caesar salad and I forgot to ask her how it was because I was too busy eating.

For a main course, I asked about ordering the beef tenderloin on the menu but with the honey jalapeno glaze offered for the “bronzed” rib eye steak on the menu, because this combination had been strongly recommended to me by my hairdresser.  The server was willing to order this variation, but she suggested that if I liked steak with fat marbled through it, I’d probably prefer the rib-eye, so I took her recommendation.  My steak came with some ordinary lightly-steamed vegetables, some gnocchi, and the aforementioned honey-jalapeno sauce.  That wasn’t a combination of tastes and textures that I would have expected to go well with steak, but it did.  I ordered my steak rare and it came closer to medium-rare, but it was tender and savoury, and the leftovers were really great in a sandwich the next day.  My friend had penne pasta with chicken and portabello mushrooms.  She was kind enough to let me snag a few noodles.  The penne, one of those pasta shapes that’s not sensitive to overcooking, was a suitable vehicle for a simple sauce of heavy cream, tasting of garlic, pepper, and the mushrooms.

We didn’t have room for dessert.

De Dutch – Dutch supper for lunch, downtown

De Dutch is a pannenkoeken house, the only one in Alberta of a BC chain. It’s open for breakfast and lunch until 3 pm, and on Pancake Day (Tuesday February 12th) it’s staying open until 8 pm.  My friend who’s lived in the Netherlands tells me that people there eat pannenkoeken at suppertime, but that the food at De Dutch is otherwise authentic enough to keep going back.

Pannenkoeken are frying-pan-sized thin pancakes with interesting toppings or batter additions – a bit like crêpes but not rolled or folded up.  I had the “Windmill”, with Edam cheese, smoked salmon, and a little dish of Hollandaise sauce to pour over it.  It was delicious, and fresh so that the pannenkoek wasn’t soggy at all, although it was a little thicker than a Breton crêpe.  And after I looked at it, I realised that the name “Windmill” was probably from the shape of the toppings.  Duh.  Some of my friends had versions with meat, with ham and eggs, or with sweet fruit toppings.  Others had tosties, which looked like interesting grilled sandwiches. One of my lunch companions said it was the best sandwich he has ever had, but to be fair I should mention that he isn’t quite four.  We also shared an order of bitterballen (singular, bitterbal) which my friend told us are a common bar snack in the Netherlands, little crunchy-breaded deepfried bites with meat-paste inside them, eaten with mustard.  They were okay as an accompaniment to lunch, but they would be great along with beer.  My bill was a little over $20 including fresh coffee with refills.

Bitterbollen (fried savoury meat-paste balls) at De Dutch

Bitterballen (fried savoury meat-paste balls) at De Dutch

Windmill pannenkoek at De Dutch

Windmill pannenkoek at De Dutch

De Dutch is at 10030 Jasper Avenue.  That’s in the block with construction, but it’s easy to get to on foot from either end of the block, or from the Central LRT station.  It’s open every day, weekdays from 7 am.

A Clown Double Bill

I’m now caught up recording my theatregoing experiences of a busy week.  I’m going to Rapid Fire Theatre’s Date Night Fundraiser (facebook link) tonight, and to Die-Nasty on Monday, but otherwise I don’t have anything on the calendar until the Rapid Fire improv-workshop performance night that I’m performing in on Thursday 31 January.  (Suggestions, invitations, and temptations for shows not to miss next week and the week after are, of course, welcome!)

Two original clown shows, each about an hour long, make up A Clown Double Bill this weekend at Punctuate Theatre’s TACO Space.  Previously I’d only ever encountered this small warehouse blackbox space at the Fringe festival in August, so I was relieved to discover that the wintertime arrangement has a pleasant lobby and a downstairs bathroom and doesn’t involve having the audience sit in a performance space with an open garage door until it’s time to start.

Lost ‘N Lost Department, by PIE Factory Collective of Calgary, was a three-handed story performed by creators Elaine Weryshko, Jed Tomlinson, and Kristin Eveleigh.  It made good use of a charmingly-detailed set, and of the humour of physical repetitions.  The clowns spoke partly in gibberish with enough English and French to be understood.  You could see how engaged the audience had become in their reality by the number of horrified gasps when a cardboard box was damaged.  As in many clown realities, the characters seem to be adults, but they don’t seem to have relevant gender or sexuality. That’s not part of the story and it doesn’t matter.  The story would be appropriate for any children old enough to appreciate the absurdity and tolerate the occasional sad bit, and the program notes say it started as a piece for the Calgary International Children’s Festival.

Sofa So Good, by Small Matters Productions, involves the same characters as the 2012 Edmonton Fringe offering Fools For Love, played by Edmontonians Christine Lesiak (Sheshells) and Adam Keefe (Rocket) and created by them along with their director Jan Henderson, the well-known clowning instructor from University of Alberta.  As in the first-act show, the characters spoke a bit in a stylized fashion, but communicated mostly through actions and facial expressions.  They used a few simple props.  Both companies involved the audience a little bit, but not in embarrassing ways.  I loved the ways in which the characters’ gender expression was played but not overplayed – I could laugh at the ways a woman might be childish or ridiculous and the ways a man might be childlike or ridiculous without feeling as if these differences were insurmountable or the most important facets of the characters, or as if the portrayals were hostile or gender essentialist..  Several jokes came from a “Clownsmopolitan” magazine, which appeared to have images on both covers like a typical Cosmo cover girl and cosmetic ad, but with clown noses.  As in the Fringe show, the most enjoyable parts of this show were when the characters shifted seamlessly from two adults setting up housekeeping to two playful collaborators in delightful pretending games, clearly enjoying each other’s company in various fictional universes.  Part of the story was risqué enough that your 12-year-old would be mortified to be seeing it with chortling parents, but would then probably repeat the whole thing to his or her friends.  Not having family members with me, my inner 12-year-old was free to guffaw.

There are three more shows, Saturday night, Sunday afternoon, and Sunday night.  If you enjoy clown work in general or if you liked Fools for Love, you should definitely catch it. 

Legally Blonde – the musical

Continuing in this opening week for a variety of different performance genres, Thursday’s ticket was for a Moxy B production of Legally Blonde the Musical, at the Westbury Theatre.  The director was Marion Brenner, a drama teacher at Ross Sheppard Senior High.

It’s a lightweight upbeat show with some very catchy songs – I still have “Omigod you guys!” stuck in my head a day later – some funny lines, and a satisfying happy ending.  The strongest singers and actors in the cast were Emily Smith particularly in the role as Paulette the Boston hairstylist who dreams of Ireland, Brooklyn Rowe (the main character Elle), Aaron Schaan as Emmet the law-school TA of working-class background, and Elise Dextrase (Brooke the accused in the murder trial, Pilar the sorority sister).  And Scott Boerefyn was hilarious in the small role of the UPS Guy.

The music was recorded, and sometimes distractingly loud.

There’s one more show, Saturday night.

Azimuth Theatre’s Free-man on the Land – better than its blurb!

Free-man on the Land, playing at the Roxy Theatre on 124 Street, is the most unconventional or postmodern performance I have seen since the Fringe Festival.  And it’s fun!  It was both more playful and more provocative than I expected, and less of a humourless rant (or to keep the alliteration, I could say polemic).   The handbill description really doesn’t make it sound as interesting as it is.

I saw a preview show, with the theatre not very full, so I sat in the second row with nobody in the first row.  When I realised at the start that the narrator was ignoring the fourth wall and other conventions of theatre, I suddenly wondered if I would regret being so visible – and of course they called on me, but I think I responded well (all this improv training is coming in handy!)

I’ve read a bit about the Free-man on the Land movement and some of its proponents.  This Edmonton Journal article is one of the more entertaining bits.  I have a lot of sympathy for many people who call themselves anarchists whom I might describe as grassroots activists, but the FOTL thing has me sort of scratching my head and backing away, in general.

In the play, there’s enough story shown and hinted to make the main character (the man commonly known as Richard Svoboda, played by Des Parenteau) interesting and to suggest how he developed his views.  His attitudes bring him into conflict with his partner, played by Dale Ladouceur, who also sings several original songs during the show while accompanying herself on a Chapman Stick.  Her character isn’t quite as interesting as Richard, but more than a foil.  Other parts (a narrator and his chorus or counterfoil, a taxman, a court-appointed defence lawyer, a former employer, etc) were played by director Murray Utas and playwright Steve Pirot.

The Azimuth Theatre production of Free-man on the Land is playing at the Roxy until Sunday January 27th.  If you like weird theatre, you should go see it.

Contemporary opera: Svadba – Wedding

Last year I enjoyed Edmonton Opera’s production of Beethoven’s Fidelio, my first opera ever.  This winter I decided to try out a contemporary opera, Svadba – Wedding, by composer Ana Sokolović, produced by Toronto’s Queen of Puddings Music Theatre and part of Edmonton Opera’s ATB Canadian Series.

Svadba is Serbian for wedding, and the opera is sung in Serbian (with English surtitles of course).  It is performed almost completely a capella (with some percussive sound effects done on stage), with a cast of only six singers, four sopranos and two mezzo-sopranos.  The show didn’t really seem to have conventional linear storyline, but was rather a series of songs sung by a bride and her group of female friends throughout the night before her wedding and as she finishes preparing in the morning.  In one of the songs the bride, Milica, seemed to be saying that she wanted to marry Ilija but her mother was giving her to Jovan, but I’m not sure I understood that right since the later wistfulness and farewells could have just easily been a sort of farewell to unencumbered life with friends.

The close harmonies and impeccable timing of the singing were impressive.  I don’t know enough about music to tell why they worked so well, but Mark Morris’ review from the Journal explains some.  I was surprised before the show to see that there was a conductor, because I had never really thought about whether a conductor in a fully orchestrated opera would be directing the singers as well as the instrumental musicians.

The costumes were all black and red: flouncy short dresses, corset-inspired tops, and leather in a combination with both folkloric and modern allusions.  There was a lot of magenta-toned lighting making the reds harsher, and some effective dramatic use of other colours in a couple of songs.  Good use was made of interesting props enhancing the mood and imagery.

There are two more shows, Friday and Saturday night at C103 (the space on Gateway Boulevard formerly known as Catalyst Theatre), and probably not many tickets left.  My own operagoing experience was marred somewhat by an inconsiderate fellow patron who chose to occupy two seats until the last minute before the show, but I gather from the conversation that I couldn’t help overhearing that she’s gone back to Toronto now so you shouldn’t have that problem.

January playbill

I’d noticed before that sometimes food businesses with a holiday rush sometimes close for vacation in January – bakeries, restaurants, vendors at Strathcona Farmers’ Market.  But I’d never noticed before this year that theatres and performance spaces might also be dark at the start of the year.  It seems a little counterintuitive that there isn’t much to watch between Christmas and New Years, when people with academic schedules might have time off and be done their pre-Christmas to-do lists, but it does make sense for performers to take a break after New Year’s, when it’s cold and dark and the viewing public might be feeling frugal or unsociable.

Both Rapid Fire Theatre and Die-Nasty were dark between Christmas and New Year’s, but then jumped right back in to their weekly entertainments.  Rapid Fire is now filling up Ziedler Hall for many of their Friday-night and Saturday-night shows, so fans should buy tickets on line or line up early.

Other companies have been in rehearsal, meaning that several shows are opening this week.  The new Canadian opera Svadba, in Serbian with English subtitles, is playing at C103, the space formerly known as Catalyst Theatre.  Azimuth Theatre previews Free-man on the land at the Roxy starting Tuesday (tickets here).  A Clown Double Bill opens Tuesday at The TACOS Space in that awkward bit of neighbourhood that nobody can decide whether to call Ritchie, CPR Irvine, or “you know, behind Wunderbar, there” (tickets through Tix on the Square). Westbury Theatre, Transalta Arts Barns, welcomes the musical Legally Blonde starting Wednesday.

Deep Freeze Festival wraps up (see what I did there) today, Ice on Whyte sparkles in a couple of weeks, and ForkFest fills up January.  So if you’ve been hibernating the last couple of weeks, it’s  time to bundle up and check out what’s happening in Edmonton entertainment.

Story Slam – storytelling performance and competition

Last night I attended the monthly Story Slam at the Blue Chair Café.

I know the café as a friendly comfortable neighbourhood restaurant with a quirky menu and good food, and as a performance space for live music.  Last night I had the vegetarian lasagna with side salad and garlic toast and an Alley Kat Orange Dragon IPA.  Other favourites on their menu are the various kinds of eggs Benedict they offer for breakfast (and they are able to cook the eggs hard on request), the Pad Thai, and the pavlova.

Story Slam is a storytelling competition.  Last night there were eight writers / readers / performers.  A jury assigns scores, a timekeeper assigns penalties for speakers who run over five minutes, and the audience also gets to vote on an audience-choice winner.  Cash prizes are funded by a collection from the listeners (the suggested minimum donation is $5).  And the restaurant was full; this is obviously an event with a following.

Most of the stories were framed as first-person reminiscences with the narrator willing to laugh at himself or herself.  The EPL writer-in-residence for 2013, Omar Mouallem, took home the judges’ prize for a tale that quickly created three memorable characters, the teenage Omar, his cousin, and a local crack dealer, and within the five minutes moved through a few scenes to a satisfying resolution.  The audience-choice winner was Annette Sabo, with a casually-told anecdote about encountering members of the rock band Led Zeppelin on a transpacific flight.  Other stories popular with the audience included Wade Kelly’s “scrawniest construction worker ever” coping with a worksite accident, and Susan Barrie’s humorous take on metaphors about dogs.

Next month’s event, Wednesday 13 February at the Blue Chair Café,  is a Slam Off where the winners throughout the last year each tell a new story.  And after that, well, now I’m wondering if I could give it a try myself.

Cafe Crepe Symphony – an unplanned treat

When I was on my way downtown, I was thinking about going to Tres Carnales Taqueria for supper, but on the way there I noticed Café Crepe Symphony and went there instead.

The menu has about 8 kinds of savoury crepes, a similar number of sweet crepes, and hot drinks.  You can also add soup or a salad.  I had the smoked salmon and asparagus crepes (a serving is two medium-sized crepes, so about the same size as one filled crepe from the fast-food franchise Crepeworks) with a bowl of borscht to start.

The borscht was superb.  The interesting texture had a fairly thin soup with a dollop of cream to stir in, shreds of beet, larger slivers of potato, and some shredded fresh green bits.  It smelled and tasted great.

The crepes were fresh and not soggy.  The filling included salmon with enough fishy taste to be interesting, cream cheese, and green asparagus which was not overcooked.  (The asparagus was actually a bit hard to cut with the badly-designed table knife.)  It was garnished with capers.

The server also brought me a small piece of their house-made tiramisu to try.  It must have been fresh because parts of it were suitably gooey but the other parts were not soggy.

Total cost less than $16 before tip.  Café Crepe Symphony is closed Sundays, but otherwise open for breakfast (with interesting-sounding breakfast-crepe variations) and until mid-evening.

Haandi: new-ish Indian restaurant downtown is worth a visit

My friends recommended Haandi (10056 107 Street, in the location that used to be Boun Thai) for good Indian food, and a group of us tried it out last night.  We weren’t disappointed.

The restaurant website plays music until you find the widget at the bottom of the pages, and doesn’t always come up early in a search.

Apparently they have a lunch buffet, and it might include some interesting dishes that aren’t on the regular menu.  The regular menu has the usual dishes offered in Indian restaurants in Edmonton, as well as some interesting different ones.  The taste and quality was excellent and the prices were reasonable.  The naan is delicious – fresh, buttery, and not too doughy.  My favourites of the dishes we tried were the chicken jalfrezi (with moist savoury chicken pieces), the aloo tikki, and the aloo gobi, but I didn’t dislike any of them (even the bharta and I’m not a big eggplant fan).  Mango lassis were neither too sweet nor too salty.

The food didn’t come very quickly but otherwise the service was excellent.  Without being asked,  they took special care of the preschooler member of our party, bringing his lassi in a smaller glass and also bringing the dish he ordered before the rest of our food.  There was a television playing Bollywood-type music videos with sound, which was a bit distracting.  The website and the sign outside say that it’s also Serengeti Grill with East African Fusion cuisine, but I didn’t see that menu when I was there and I don’t know how it works.

Haandi is closed on Sundays.