Category Archives: Food

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.

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.

Dessert plate: bananas, folded crepe, cinnamon ice cream, a few blackberries

Madison’s Grill – good food, done well

Last night a gathering of friends met up for a celebration at Madison’s Grill in the Old Bank Hotel on Jasper Avenue, having discovered that many Edmonton fine-dining establishments aren’t open Sunday evenings. I was glad of the excuse to try somewhere new to me, and I enjoyed a good meal with friends. Our server told us that they could do wine pairings, drinks chosen to suit three courses, for $35, so I said I’d do that. I never did get around to looking at the rest of the wine list, and although I was shown the labels of everything I drank I didn’t write down enough information to order them again.

My appetizer was beef carpaccio, along with some light but interesting Beaujolais Villages. It was served with some very lightly dressed arugula greens and shaved hard cheese (Grana Padano). The meat was so thinly sliced and tender that I couldn’t pick up a whole slice with my fork, and the delicate flavour made it seem to melt in my mouth. And the garnishes were subtle enough that they didn’t distract. My absolutely favourite carpaccios have a little more of the savoury meat mouthfeel, but I would definitely have this one again.

For a main course, I had the sea bass, moist and simple with a lightly-crisped skin. Alongside it were some seasoned rice and grilled seasonal vegetables, again nothing dramatic or unusual but not overcooked or overseasoned. The wine was a cold Gewurtztraminer from Alsace, with that bright-shiny appearance, a crisp smell reminiscent of flowers (hibiscus?), apple juice, and spice. It worked well with the meal. The portions were just the right size for me, enough to please my palate and make me comfortably full with room for dessert.

There were lots of things I would have liked to try on the dessert menu and on the “holiday” additions page, but I settled on the banana-rum crepe with inn-made cinnamon ice cream, and it was also very good, especially the ice cream. To drink with it, I had some Ratafia dessert wine from Peninsula Ridge winery in Beamsville, Ontario, very close to where I grew up. It was not too sweet, and combined very well with the texture of the ripe bananas.

The menu at Madison’s Grill is simply written, without a lot of extraneous geographical name-dropping or adjectives. Snooping at my friends’ plates and asking them about their dinners gave me the impression that everything was actually more interesting than I could picture it from the menu, and everyone seemed to like what they had. The restaurant was not full on a snowy Sunday evening, and the service was attentive. One patron at a table behind me had a carrying voice with distracting snippets of stories, but the atmosphere was otherwise very pleasant and comfortable. There is a big gas fireplace, padded chairs that are not too tall for me, room between the tables, and some dining tables set beside couches. Including my share of the 18% tip written in for large parties, and the three glasses of wine, my meal cost about $100. So I wouldn’t go there often, but I was glad I went.  You can look here for the menu, and elsewhere on the Inn’s website for information about parking (transit is easy, because it’s right by Central LRT station and a block away from the big bus transfer point at Telus Plaza), but be warned that the website plays music on every page as a default.

  sea bass at madisons Beef carpaccio appetizer, Madison's grill Dessert plate:  bananas, folded crepe, cinnamon ice cream, a few blackberries