Tag Archives: restaurant

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.

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

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.

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.