Tag 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.

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

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.

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 http://eatmorelamb.com. 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.

Food and drink that doesn’t go together

When I was a teenager, I noticed that ground beef tasted great in lots of one-pot combination dishes. We ate a LOT of ground beef as a family of several picky eaters, one heart patient, and mostly one busy cook. I also discovered that eggs tasted pretty good with stuff mixed in, starting with a can of Campbell’s cream soup, but then extending that to various other things in scrambled eggs such as cheese, mushrooms, or celery. So one summer when I was keeping house for myself I thought to extend these observations to cooking eggs and ground beef together in a frying pan along with a can of soup. It didn’t taste good at all.

On Thursday night I went to a cocktail tasting at deVine Wines. Our party gathered in honour of a birthday celebrant.  It was a lot of fun – we tasted seven cocktails, and brought home recipes, a silly souvenir drinking vessel, and whatever ingredients we bought. I feel like making cocktails at home now, except that I don’t have a shaker, and I’ve just gotten around to putting an ice cube tray in the freezer, and I don’t have a complete set of ingredients for any of the things we tried. But one or both of the drink-mixers for the event was really encouraging people to try out combinations on their own and make up names for them.

Here are my conclusions so far:
1. Cranberry liqueur from Okanagan Spirits is really good on its own. It would probably also be very good with orange juice, with ginger ale or soda, with cranberry-cocktail juice, or with champagne, but I don’t have any of those things here yet.
2. Frangelico, the hazelnut liqueur dressed up with a monk’s knotted belt around the bottle, is a bit too sweet to drink warm on its own, and it smells oddly like an old library.
3. Diet root beer and 6yo Cuban rum, while each is something I would gladly drink on its own, when mixed together have a terrible overtone or texture or something, together, like outgassing plastic. Fortunately I didn’t mix very much of it. I had thought it could be called an R&R, but now I don’t want to waste a name.
4. Adding a dribble of Frangelico to the above makes most of the weird chemical thing disappear. It actually just makes it taste like cheap pop, which may be a fake-flavour taste or may be an artificial-sweetener taste.

Conclusion: I need to buy more compatible drinks.

What foods or drinks have you discovered just don’t go together?