Category Archives: Food

Normand’s at the Citadel

Normand’s Bistro is a new addition to the Citadel theatre complex.  It’s connected with Normand’s, the restaurant in Oliver, an upscale place with interesting wild game on the menu.  Oddly, the new location doesn’t seem to have a website and there’s nothing about it on the website at Normand’s, so I can’t refresh my memory about the menu.  I guess I need to get in the habit of taking more notes.

I stopped in the other night on the way to an improv-theatre workshop run by Rapid Fire Theatre.  The Citadel lobby was surprisingly busy for that lull between end-of-work and evening, because there was a Justin Trudeau rally on the mezzanine, with red and white balloons, loud recorded music, badly-amplified voices, and cheering fangirls.  This was not the best background for a pleasant early dinner, as the restaurant is open to above.

The people who seated me, took my order, and provided other service were competent and welcoming.  It was a little odd that a different worker came by, told me that although he hadn’t seated me or taken my order he was my server, and stopped by again with the bill.  So I really hope they share tips fairly.

The menu is smaller than at Normand’s, but there seems to be some overlap.  The wine list had between 10 and 15 kinds of red wine by the glass, and I had a glass of Men of Gotham Shiraz, which was enjoyable and full-bodied.  Instead of picking an entrée, I ordered things off the appetizer menu.  A spinach salad with goat cheese, slivers of red pepper, and dried cranberries was both tangier and oilier than the similar dish at the Keg.  Candied lamb sliders were delicious savoury patties of ground lamb topped with caramelized onion (no buns).  Bison carpaccio was served with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, a slivered gherkin, and a few olives and greens.  It disappointed me, because the edges of the thin slices were dry and chewy (almost like prosciutto) and it did not have a lot of flavour.  It went well with the vinegar and garnishes though.  Next time I’d probably try the salmon carpaccio instead.

It wasn’t cheap ($47 plus tip) but it was still a treat.  The menu also mentions a three-course special suitable for before/after theatregoing, and they also serve breakfast.  I’ll go back.

Changes in my Edmonton

One of the ways a new city starts to feel like home is noticing all the ways it’s changed since I arrived.  When I lived in Kingston, a small city in eastern Ontario, a lot of people in our downtown and old-society social circles used to give directions by the traffic circle (that’s Upper-Canadian dialect for roundabout) that hadn’t existed since the 1970s, and used to call restaurants by names that weren’t on the sign.  It felt exclusive to those of us who weren’t “old stones” (people whose roots were elsewhere), but after several years I found myself also talking about the traffic circle, the place where the beer store used to be, and so on..

And now I find myself doing the same thing in Edmonton.  I’ve lived in one place for four years, and spent most of my time in the Strathcona/University neighbourhoods.  So I’ve been here long enough to see some changes.

Transit When I arrived there were eleven LRT stops and now there are fifteen.  The opening of South Campus station rearranged some bus routes, so that I used to take the #6 downtown and now I take the #7.  Although lately I’ve gotten so annoyed with watching three #8s go by first that to go home from downtown I don’t wait at the Telus plaza for a bus; I take the LRT to the university and home from there instead.  (MasterMaq discussed this problem in a recent blog entry.) The LRT extension north by the Kingsway seems to be really happening, and the next lines have gotten as far as having station names.

Restaurants  Pad Thai is gone. ouSia opened and I still haven’t gotten around to going there.  A crepe place popped up on Whyte Avenue and went away again.  Langano Skies closed for renovations after the building fire, but is back.  A noodles place across the road changed hands and is now NaanaliciousFour cupcakes places opened in Strathcona/Garneau. Death by Chocolate closed and eventually a Dairy Queen opened.  A Funky Pickle outlet near U of A campus closed, but a Papa John’s opened.  Cargo and James tea disappeared.  Chili’s became O2.  Bars come and go, often too fast for me to visit.  The Savoy became the Gin Mill became Tilted Kilt, and I hadn’t been to any of them.  The Iron Horse sat empty for ages, but didn’t wait for me to become a billionaire philanthropist and buy it to run a passenger- train line to Calgary – it became MKT.  I think there was a live-music bar on the north side of Whyte Avenue which is now some kind of billiards-themed place.  On 124 Street, d’Lish opened and closed, and now there’s something new there but I haven’t gotten there yet.  Downtown, I can’t remember what’s new since I arrived and what I was just slow to discover because I barely crossed the river my first couple of winters here – Zinc opened since I got here, and Underground is new.  La Poutine opened in the Garneau Cinema block – oh, and that reminds me.

Entertainment The Garneau Cinema is now the Metro cinema.  I haven’t been there yet.  I think the Metro cinema used to be in Ziegler Hall at the Citadel, but now Rapid Fire/Theatresports is there.  It used to be at the Varscona Theatre.  The Muttart Conservatory was closed for renovations when I got here, and I think the Art Gallery of Alberta was being rebuilt then too.  The Oilers still play at Rexall Place, except that they’re not playing.  The baseball team that played in Rossdale folded and there might be a new one.

Driving I was here before the big construction project that had 99 Street closed all last summer, I figured out how to work around that, and then it all opened again.  I don’t drive often enough to be confident on road directions farther away, but it seems like every time I drive to IKEA, the route changes, the exit to 23rd Avenue looks different, and the sprawl of South Edmonton Common shopping district has gotten bigger.  I also think that Fox Drive and nearby routes have been under construction the whole time I’ve lived here.

Stores  Two record stores have closed on Whyte Avenue, Southside Sound and the big one I forget the name of, and Permanent Records opened on Gateway.  Alternative Video Spot moved and became Videodrome.  Urban Knitter opened on Whyte Avenue, moved to Gateway, and closed.  Ewe Asked for It and Knit and Purl closed.  River City Yarns opened a second location and moved its first location.  Greenwoods Books moved back to Whyte Avenue (it’s the one store I knew about from before I moved here), and then closed.  Earth’s General Store moved from a central upstairs location on the busy part of Whyte Avenue to a bigger place with parking farther away from the crowds.  Lucid Lifestyle moved from a storefront to a pop-up kiosk to a different storefront.  Blush Lane Organic Market and other interesting outlets opened in a new building where Pad Thai’s parking lot used to be.  A Shell gas station closed on Whyte Avenue.  It looks like some progress was made on remediating the other gas-station site on Whyte by 106.  A Vespa-scooter dealer with bar closed.  I think Blockbuster Video closed, but I haven’t checked.  The Shoppers Drug Mart at Whyte and 109 moved across the road to a bigger two-story space, and the old space sits mostly empty.  Home Depot just south of Strathcona doesn’t have a Harvey’s in its lobby any more; just more things to buy.  Scottish Imports moved from Whyte Avenue to 124 Street just when I was becoming aware of 124 Street as a destination.  My hairdresser (Mousy Brown’s), on 124 Street, opened a second location in Old Strathcona.  And now I’m one of those people who call things by their old names, because I just learned about Treestone Bakery around the time it was changing hands and becoming Boulangerie Bonjour.

While some of these specific changes make me sad, I love living in a city that’s prosperous enough that I can look forward to new ventures, and that’s big enough that I still have lots and lots to explore beyond the fifteen blocks of Whyte Avenue I’ve gotten to know.

What Edmonton changes make you happy?  Which ones make you sad?

Dinner by twitter

On Sunday night I was hungry and I had transportation, so I decided to go to the Next Act Pub, where I don’t go very often.  By the time I found a parking space in Old Strathcona, it was fashionably late and the pub was almost full, so I sat at the bar.

I asked the bartender to recommend some hoppy ale, and he served me an Alley Kat Orange Dragon Double IPA.  I would definitely drink this one again.  It was moderately hopped and had a sort of orange-peel citrus taste to it.

Then when I was reading the menu and contemplating dinner, the bartender reported that the Cameo Burger (the Next Act’s name for burger/sandwich special) was the Paul Reubens, their take on a Reuben sandwich.  Before he was finished reciting the ingredients, I realised that reading the bar’s twitter-feed description of that sandwich was what had put the Next Act in my head in the first place, so I waited til he finished, told him so, and ordered the sandwich along with fries.

The official description of the Paul Reubens is “the amazing Paul Reubens cameo!! Corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, pickle and homemade sauce on marble rye.”  It was a really good version of a Reuben sandwich, with lots of meat but not enough that it fell apart, and savoury fresh marble-rye bread lightly grilled with – I don’t know if it was butter or oil, but the grilling added to the satisfying mouthfeel.  The fries were thin and crisp and not too salty.

Also, from my seat at the bar I could read the show posters on the wall, and I saw signs for at least two interesting plays closing that day that I hadn’t known about before.  Which is another good reason to go to the Next Act more often.

On corn on the cob

It seems strange to me to have corn on the cob any time that it isn’t fresh and fairly local, although to be fair I can’t say for sure that modern freezing or supermarket transportation makes it taste awful, because I’ve almost never tried under those conditions. I indulge for a few weeks every summer, just like strawberries and asparagus.

When I was young, about half our vegetable garden space was corn. We used to peel it outside while the water was heating up. We used to leave on the stems as handles, and if a handle was too long to go in the pot some of us would cry, and the grownups would eat that one. We’d roll the cooked corn in butter or margarine on our plates and add salt and pepper. Whoever was missing his or her front teeth that summer would need to have the kernels scraped off, but that was a far inferior way to eat it. We also used to buy it from farms and roadside produce stands, and we learned never to open it until we were ready to eat it. One year when my mother was planning a big August party in Muskoka, she even found a farm source of corn outside Bracebridge.

My family of choice also loved fresh corn, but their customs included breaking off all the handles, and using little prongs stuck in the ends to hold it by. I eventually convinced them to leave the handles on one or two for me. Also, they believed that the polite way to put the butter on was to take a pat of butter on your fork and rub it back and forth over the corn.

Around here, if you say “corn”, people say “Ah, Taber corn” and smile. I’ve never been clear on whether corn from Taber is the best, or the first, or the most readily-available, or what. It seems to be sold from pickup trucks on the sides of highways, mostly. This weekend I was wondering about going to a 5km race at the Taber Cornfest, but I looked up how far away Taber is (6+ hours driving) and decided not. So instead I bought some Taber corn. I’d seen the vendor peeling back the edges of other cobs before sorting them into bags, but I asked her not to open mine and she didn’t question that.

The trailer I bought mine from had a certificate posted, saying that it was official Taber/Medicine Hat corn, so I guess it’s like terroir or appellation controlée. A CBC article says that some of the corn sold in Edmonton is counterfeit, so it’s important to look for the certificate, and that one distributor said that any being sold before last Tuesday was fake. Well, I’m pretty sure the stand I went to was there when I was driving back from last Sunday’s race, so maybe their certificate is a forgery. And it’s really good corn.

I still don’t know, though. Is sweetcorn for human consumption also produced closer to home? Is Taber corn the first, the best, the biggest crops, or what? On Facebook yesterday, you might have seen me wondering whether Taber corn was like Leamington tomatoes. Leamington ON is known for tomatoes. It’s the southernmost agricultural region in all of Canada (Point Pelee sticks out from Leamington into Lake Erie). As a teenager I worked on a fruit and vegetable farm in the Niagara region. We used to buy Leamington tomatoes at the wholesaler for about two or three weeks before our own came in. I didn’t have the impression that Leamington tomatoes were better than ours, just that Leamington tomatoes started earlier and were a major cash crop for that region, moreso than in Niagara. But of course I was incredibly biased towards local agriculture in those days, to the point of wildly resenting my parents for having bought a house in a surburban development that used to be fruit-growing land before the mid-1950s.

So tell me about Taber corn. Or about your memories of corn on the cob. I have a car for tomorrow; is there some special pick-up truck where you get your Taber corn?

Three meat meals

Last weekend I ate at LUX Steakhouse. The atmosphere was not too pretentious and I would be interested in going back. I had a rare New York strip steak, which didn’t quite meet my pinnacle of steak-excellence but I’m not sure I have words for why not. Partly it wasn’t thick enough so it wasn’t charred on the outside, but it was properly rare and tender inside. For a side dish, I had “lobster poutine”, (sort of a misnomer since there were no cheese curds involved).

When Jo was visiting, , we went to Yianni’s, a Greek place on Whyte Ave (the one by Mettera). I think of it as the Greek place, but it’s true that now there are others. When I was checking whether they were open on Mondays, I discovered that their website is I had a lamb souvlaki plate and it was good;Jo’s roast lamb was possibly even better.

And on Friday night I went out with neighbourhood friends to Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse, a new restaurant downtown which was full while we were there. There’s a salad bar with interesting assorted offerings, and then carvers keep bringing various kinds of meat around and cutting you off a bit of everything you want. I sort of lost count, but I think I had everything except the more ordinary looking chicken. Our party didn’t have consensus on what was the best, because a lot of it was really good. It was all from conventional domestic meat animals: pork, beef, lamb, and chicken. I also had some mango dessert which was good.

Two kitchens

Spice Kitchen re-opened Thursday under new management. Their menu is different, and they don’t have takeout menus yet. They have new tablecloths and new tea service (the pots still drip). They were not full Saturday night. Their new menu doesn’t seem to have the Szechuan Ginger Chicken that I liked as something similar to General Tso’s chicken. The fried rice noodles with beef is different and maybe better. I also had some Kung Po chicken, which had more peanuts than chicken and was really good, not as spicy as the Kung Pao chicken my former partner used to make at home.

I’d definitely be up for a group excursion with people who remember more stuff from the old menu. I do not know whether they still have the puffed-up kind of green onion cake.

fried rice noodles with beef kung po

Highlands Kitchen used to be called Culina Highlands, and Bacon before that I think. It was actually my first time there, and I haven’t yet made it to the yarn store next door either. They had really good fresh decaf coffee, and I had the waffle special (andouille sausage, compote of apples and blueberries, cream). Mostly they don’t have a brunch menu, but there are really interesting sounding things on the lunch menu. I’d definitely go back there.

coffee service Waffle at Highlands kitchen


What do you call the cucumbers that aren’t English cucumbers?

When I was in the grocery store yesterday trying to figure out what I might like to eat, I bought one. Today I ate the whole thing in sandwiches with a bit of mayo, and it was delicious, and I don’t know why I hadn’t been buying them more often.

I asked this question tonight of my tv-watching friends and their net connections, and we thought of “normal cucumbers”, “traditional cucumbers”, “garden cucumbers”, “slicing cucumbers”, and “field cucumbers”.

I first encountered long English cucumbers wrapped in clingfilm as something that the farm I worked at bought at a wholesaler and sold. I’ve never liked them all that much. People mostly leave the thin skins on, and I don’t like the skins. But I’d forgotten how much I like the other kind. They’re juicy and flavourfull and they respond well to salt, mayonnaise, or dips. I can’t wait to get another one.

I think that maybe after they started selling this kind too, the farm started calling the other kind “field cucumbers”.

There was a story in L.M. Montgomery’s The Story Girl where a character says that cucumbers and milk, taken before bedtime, generate vivid dreams. I can’t tell you tomorrow whether that’s true, since I ate the cucumber this morning and I’m drinking rock-chilled whisky now.