Edmonton Restaurant Review: Rosso Pizzeria

Their specials board!

Their specials board!

Pizza places are abound in Edmonton nowadays. Add to the growing list Rosso Pizzeria (@RossoYeg), which opened in the Garneau area a little over a year ago. Taking over the old Da Capo location along 109 Street, you’ll spot it to your right as you exit on the south side of the Highlevel Bridge. Seeing as how my visits to the University/Whyte Avenue area are sporadic at best, I had no idea that it was there. It was only after I happened upon a deal from Travelzoo that I learned of its whereabouts, and then I came across their standing as the No. 70 best place to eat and drink in Edmonton as voted by readers of The Tomato in 2014.

The voucher I had purchased was valid for two people, including your choice of an appetizer or salad to share and two small pizzas. Since it could only be used on a Monday to Friday during their lunch hours of 11am to 3pm, I took the opportunity to visit with my mother during my staycation in June. The restaurant being slightly out of the way, I wasn’t realistically able to get there during a usual work day, so this panned out well for me.

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High tables to the right of the entrance.

Seeming like a quiet Wednesday, we were the first table to arrive. There were three servers on hand, one of which indicated that we could seat ourselves wherever we wanted. Personally, I like how the space is broken up. To the right of the entrance is a raised nook that gives you a view of the kitchen including the giant red bell oven. The large bar in the center takes up a huge portion of the square footage, but as you walk in it showcases all of the boutique beers as well as the baked goods, desserts and gelato that they have to offer, and the one side provides additional bar seating. The other half of the restaurant consisted mostly of regular height tables that can be rearranged for different group configurations and a tall raised bar, too. For those sunny, warm days and nights, you also have the option of sitting out on the patio at the front (watching a large truck backing out of a parking spot in the lot next to the patio, coming just inches from the barrier, made me think twice about that though).

We tucked ourselves into a booth as the server brought over menus and explained how our voucher worked. The menu is fairly extensive with several starters, salads, pizza rossas (red) and pizza biancas (white) to pick from, so it took us a while to make a decision. As we eyed the options before us, we sipped on filtered water from their Q Water system (they don’t charge extra for that here, it’s just par for the course). Ultimately, we ordered the Piatto di Formaggi Misto for our first course and the Rucola E Bresaola and the Pesto E Pollo pies for our mains. Truthfully, it didn’t matter if the dishes came together or not because we alternated between the three plates throughout our lunch.

The assorted cheese board.

The assorted cheese board.

The Piatto di Formaggi Misto is the Italian fancy name for an assorted cheese board, something that I have an increasing fondness for as of late. This arrived on a wooden board decked out with what I’m pretty sure were four semi-firm or firm varieties. The differences in texture and taste between each of the cheeses was subtle, but I could distinguish between them. I probably would have preferred if they had changed it up and included a goat cheese or a brie for a greater mixture. However, I was still very happy with this appetizer that came with slices of crostini, a combination of dried fruit (cranberries, apricots and figs), housemade marmalade and a pot of honey. As a side note, I will say that you certainly get your money’s worth with this dish as the portions given are generous.

Moving onto the pizzas, the Pesto E Pollo is a white pizza that uses almond pesto as the base and is then topped with roasted tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and marinated local organic chicken. The crust was crisp on the outside with the soft, chewy texture that is to be expected of traditional Neapolitan pizza. The flavours were a little more subtle than I expected, so it came across as a lighter selection. The Rucola E Bresaola, another pizza bianca, was packed with layers to savour. A combination of beef bresaola, organic baby arugula, mozzarella fior di latte, parmigiano scallions and amorosa tomatoes, I think that the saltiness of the extremely tender, thinly sliced cured beef (dare I say better than what I ate at The Cavern) with the sweetness of the tomatoes and the bitterness of the arugula was such an excellent blend.

Way too full to even think about dessert that afternoon, I did go back to try some in-house made pistachio gelato on another visit just shortly after. The gelato was wonderfully creamy and the medium size that I opted for was perfect to satisfy my sweet tooth.

Personally, I really like the unique touches such as the table tops that were made out of recycled wood from old wine casks. The food was great, the service friendly (maybe a little slow at times, but much better the second time around) and the atmosphere laid back. Perfect for gatherings with family and/or friends, they’re now on my list of go to local restaurants. If you plan to go, they are open daily, and it’s well worth a try. I almost guarantee you’ll want to go back again!

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Hoang Long Casual Fare

My vermicelli bowl from lunch. This is the only photo I took. I don't know why I didn't take more pictures that day...

My vermicelli bowl from lunch. This is the only photo I took. I don’t know why I didn’t take more pictures that day…

Hoang Long has had many incarnations in Edmonton over the years. One was the massive, can’t miss, bright yellow flagship restaurant that was situated along 170 Street and 100 Avenue. I’d only been there once before they closed that location, but it certainly had a more traditional Asian feel to it with the rattan chairs and the bamboo decor. Their other establishment, Hoang Long Noodle House, opened in West Edmonton Mall right next to the interior doors to T&T Supermarket. Catering to the many customers that find themselves hungry after a long day of shopping, it’s meant for a quick meal. The newest addition to the Hoang Long family takes fast to a new level. Created with an almost cafeteria-like idea in mind, it was nothing like I imagined it was going to be.

I, in no way, am disappointed with what I saw though. I’m just surprised that this is the way they decided to go. However, their decision makes sense when you take into account where Hoang Long Casual Fare (@HoangLongcf) is situated as well as the restaurant’s full name. Located in one of the commercial spaces at the bottom of the Mayfair Village building on 109 Street south of Jasper Avenue, the establishment is a looker that caters to the business crowd. With high ceilings, modern furniture and light, airy colours, aesthetically, it’s quite pleasing to the eye. It’s comfortable, clean and convenient, too. They have an open kitchen where they’ll make your meals for you as soon as you order and they also have prepackaged foods such as salad rolls. The concept is that you order and pay at the till and then receive one of those notifiers that buzz when your food is ready, letting you know it’s time to pick up from the counter. You have the option to stay and eat there or take your food to go.

The vermicelli bowl lunch menu.

The vermicelli bowl lunch menu.

My friends and I made our way there from work over lunch hour about a couple months ago. Craving vermicelli bowls, I was excited to try out their new venue. We went later in the afternoon, so it wasn’t that busy. After deciding what each of us wanted, our food was ready within minutes. Delighting in the fact that it was a relatively warm day, we found ourselves a spot on their small patio (Yeah! They have one!). While the view isn’t of anything spectacular and it was slightly overcast that day, it’s still good to know that there’s the option to soak in some sun there. If the weather isn’t cooperating, the large windows let plenty of light into the interior, so don’t fret.

The vermicelli bowls were really tasty. The grilled beef that accompanied my noodles was delicious. Cooked in soy sauce, lemongrass, garlic and sugar, it had that unmistakable flavour. I also very much liked the texture of the beef as it had some bite, but was still pretty tender. They also give you an ample serving of fish sauce for the noodles – important so that everything is well coated and adds to the overall profile of the dish. The spring rolls, which I chose as my second topping were fried perfectly, so that the outside stayed nicely crisp even until the end of my meal. My bowl completely satisfied my craving for their Vietnamese and Thai food.

While I didn’t have one, they also had an enticing dessert case filled with individual cakes and macarons that are made in-house. My friend took a piece of chocolate mousse cake to go and she said it was alright. I’ll have to see for myself sometime as I know taste can be selective and dependent on the person, but I’m glad for the additional opinion.

Regardless, I would certainly recommend Hoang Long for their classic menu items and so do the readers of The Tomato. The establishment was voted into the No. 46 spot on the magazine’s list of 100 best eats and drinks in the city for 2014 and they rarely, if ever, steer people wrong when it comes to food! Cited on the list as a favourite is the restaurant’s lamb curry dish, so next time I’m there I’ll have to give that a go. And, being that it’s so close to the office, I can see this becoming a regular hangout either for lunch or even after work.

One quick thing to note is that, although Hoang Long Casual Fare is similar to a fast food joint during the day, they do offer full service dining during supper hours. If it’s anything like their original restaurant, I’m sure they’ll offer a great dinner experience for their patrons.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Blue Plate Diner

Beet Cake #1

Beet Cake #1

I’ve been going to Blue Plate Diner (@blueplatediner) for years now. It’s one of my go-to restaurants for those hearty homemade type meals. What really draws me there is the quirkiness of the place, which has a decidedly vintage 70s vibe with the diner tables, mismatched chairs, unique table lamps and colourfully painted walls. In other words, you know that even though they’re striving for an almost nostalgic type of atmosphere, you’re not going to get plain and boring food.

Named to the No. 64 spot on The Tomato‘s list of the top 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton in 2013, the establishment has clearly remained a favourite of city diners over the years. For me, the food as well as the convenience of the place are what keep me coming back. Located on 104 Street just north of Jasper Avenue, it is just blocks away from work, making this a popular choice for meetups with friends during lunch hour or even for large groups. One of my more recent visits was after work near the end of May. My friend and I had a lovely dinner before going to see City and Colour at Rexall Place. Situated so close to the LRT station, it was a no-brainer that particular evening.

The veggie burger with a side of caesar salad and a coconut caipirinha cocktail.

The veggie burger with a side of caesar salad and a coconut caipirinha cocktail.

Known for their veggie burger, I had never tried it before, so this time I took the opportunity to eat what many have enjoyed in the past. It came to the table with a steak knife holding the bun and “meat” in place. The patty truly looked like an actual piece of beef. It had been grilled, but upon biting into it, it had a more malleable texture, a consistency similar to tartar. I have no clue as to what exactly it was made out of, but I am guessing there were pureed beets, quinoa and onions in it, and possibly beans, too. It was served with Dijon mustard as well as tomato and lettuce (cheese is extra). I think the lack of bite and juice that you get from actual beef is something I missed going with the veggie burger. However, it tasted great and that’s what matters most. Ultimately, the burger and the side of caesar salad was really filling. The housemade salad dressing is perfectly creamy and not overly thick and every piece of green was nicely coated. It might be overload for some, but that’s just the way I like it. I often will just order a full size caesar salad with grilled chicken breast added to it as a meal. It’s particularly nice with a squeeze of lemon juice. And, even though I had my heart set on dessert, there was no way I was going to comfortably fit that into my stomach that night.
Mac & Cheese

Mac & Cheese

My other recommendations at Blue Plate Diner include the mac and cheese, which comes in a massive plate-bowl filled with cavatappi pasta in a creamy béchamel sauce. Loaded with cheddar, mozzarella and asiago cheese and topped with diced tomatoes, it’s a classic. I admit that I remember it being better on previous occasions, but it is still one of my top choices on the menu. For dessert, do order their beet cake! Like carrot cake’s relative, it’s a toothsome selection that is topped with orange-cream cheese icing and walnuts, but potentially more moist. I was just there on a recent Saturday afternoon for a book club discussion and a slice for dessert plus a cup of chai latte was perfect to cure the doldrums on that rainy day.
On a side note, they used to have a falafel dish that my friends miss it as it is no longer on the menu. I’m surprised that, for an establishment that tends to stick to the tried and true, that they removed this popular item. I assumed it was a top choice for patrons because I had been told it was really good, but perhaps I’m wrong. Who knows though, maybe one day they’ll bring it back?
Overall, Blue Plate Diner is a one-of-a-kind, family-owned business that seems very community oriented. Showcasing rotating pieces from local artists on the walls, you can see that this is a place that strives to be both welcoming and supportive, which is why it is a great venue for friends to congregate. They will accommodate large reservations as the space and the tables can be rearranged to seat a variety of group sizes. Having done so myself, I know that they do their best to ensure friendly and reliable service. Every so often, service can be a little slow when the establishment is full, but, if you’re not in a rush, the din coming from the happy people that sit among you is rather nice. It reminds you that life is too good to take too seriously, and, really, Blue Plate Diner is all about finding the fun in your food and your surroundings.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Bothy Wine & Whisky Bar

The bar at the 124th Street location of The Bothy.

The bar at the 124th Street location of The Bothy.

The Bothy Wine & Whisky Bar (@BothyWineWhisky) expanded from the south side with a location on the ever-popular 124 Street. I’ve been to the new destination, which sits on the cusp of the Oliver neighbourhood, a couple times now. While it is never full to the brim with patrons, the dimly lit tavern presents itself as a nice venue to tuck into a good meal and an evening of engrossing conversation with friends.

As the full name of the establishment suggests, they are known for an extensive list of whiskies and scotches (over 175 varieties according to their newly revamped website) as well as wines. The food menu is decidedly less all-encompassing, pared down to cheese and charcuterie sharing plates (excellent for nibbling on with a drink in hand), a handful of appetizers, and some traditional Scottish entrees including haggis (this particular dish putting The Bothy onto The Tomato‘s list of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton, coming in at No. 55 in 2013).

The dinner menu at The Bothy.

The dinner menu at The Bothy.

Although I wasn’t so adventurous with my own order upon dining there, I was sure to have a bowl of their famous Bacon Tomato Soup, which single-handedly drove the restaurant into the No. 23 spot on The Tomato‘s 2014 list. Coming as a side to the Maple Yam Spread sandwich, it’s a hearty bowl of pureed tomato and herbs that simmer with spice and large chunks of bacon. Slightly tangy, but offset by the saltiness of the bacon, it certainly warms you up on a cool evening. For a side of soup, you get quite a large portion, too, so you’ll definitely be full after finishing off your main.

As I mentioned earlier, I ordered the Maple Yam Spread sandwich. You’re probably wondering what exactly that entails. The first time I ate it, I really didn’t know what I was in for. I swear, but I have no proof, that in its original form the sandwich was filled with a steak of yam, goat cheese, roasted red peppers, smoked maple mayo, pesto and greens, so the yam was a solid. However, upon seeing what I got this last time at the end of April, the yam was processed into an actual spread. The good thing is that the form the contents of the sandwich came in didn’t take away from the overall flavour of it at all. The combination of the ingredients was wonderful. However, it made for a much more messy dinner.

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One of my dining companions ordered the Bothy Club, which had a chicken breast, smoked bacon, a sunny side up egg, tomato, cheddar cheese and smoked maple mayo. While I didn’t get a bite of it, it sure looked delicious and it was gone within minutes.

After looking through the menu that is currently showing on the website, it seems like they no longer serve the sandwiches, which is really too bad as they do a good job with them. But, I’m sure that the other items are sure to please as well.

What I liked most on both occasions is the service received. My initial encounter with the staff at The Bothy came during a friend’s birthday celebration. A table of about eight of us came in for drinks and food, most of us never having been before. They had our table ready to go, the server was able to answer questions and provide recommendations and they were prompt with our orders. The same courtesy and knowledge was also bestowed upon me and my friends the last time I went, making me all the more inclined to visit again.

If you decide to go, settle in with a drink that you can savour and some good company. They don’t actually list any set closing hours, so you know they are committed to staying open late for your pleasure. For a place that isn’t too far off the beaten path, but still provides a homey experience, The Bothy is one that you should keep in mind.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Upper Crust Cafe

Upper Crust Cafe opened in 1986, just a year after I was born, and has lived up to their initial goal of becoming a popular yet unpretentious place to enjoy a good meal. After 28 years, they are now well-known for their desserts and catering services. However, it’s their knack for making sandwiches using freshly baked in-house molasses or oat bread (other types are available; however, they are not housemade) that made me a fan several years ago.

The interior of Upper Crust Cafe.

The interior of Upper Crust Cafe.

I was dragged there by a friend the very first time I visited. She couldn’t stop telling me about the fantastic sandwiches and potato salad. Never having been much of potato salad lover, I was skeptical. But, upon sitting down at one of their distinctive green-topped tables and biting into a deliciously thick roast beef sandwich that was layered with alfalfa sprouts, tomato, lettuce, cheese, cucumber and house mustard, I was a convert. Not only were the sandwiches filled to the brim with healthy yet tasty ingredients, the included side salad was there to ensure that your stomach would be completely satisfied. I took my friend’s advice and tried the potato salad and, to this day, I find myself getting a hankering for it at times. I think what I love about the salad is that it isn’t overly creamy or eggy, which I tend to find off-putting with other variations. It’s actually been a long while since I’ve eaten an actual meal there and I hope to do so in the near future.

Bringing this back to the present though, my most recent experience there was after a hearty brunch at the Sugarbowl (@sugarbowlcafe) about three months ago. My friends and I wanted to keep chatting and decided that we would walk over to Upper Crust for dessert. Since they had made The Tomato‘s second annual list of best eats and drinks in the city, coming in at No. 78 this year, this presented a good opportunity to hit up another top 100 location.

A slice of the carrot cake.

A slice of the carrot cake.

Walking into the establishment, you are met with the dessert display where every cake, pie and square looks rich and decadent. The three of us perused the choices for probably fifteen minutes, asking what each iced cake was before making our decisions. After we ordered, we made our way to a table by the window. It was rather quiet in there that afternoon, with maybe a handful of tables occupied.

My friends had carrot cake and chocolate cake with raspberry filling, both of which looked delicious. The carrot cake was without raisins, pineapple and nuts as my friend prefers. I didn’t try their slices, so all I am going off of is the appearance of the cakes. They seemed to be quite moist and fairly dense with the perfect amount of icing to go with each piece.

I went with the coconut cupcake. It was touted as the best cupcake in the city by Edmonton Journal (@edmontonjournal) writer Liane Faulder (@EatMyWordsBlog) a few years back when cupcakes were all the rage. Being someone who certainly appreciates the humble dessert, I was intrigued at the time. Despite that, I never did make my way to Upper Crust on a Saturday (the only day they are available) to eat one. That is until now. I have to say that I did like the flavour of the cake and that the icing was topped with shredded coconut; however, I was a little disappointed with the overall texture. I’m not sure if it was just this particular batch, so I can’t be definitive about this, but the cake seemed too solid to the point of being slightly dry and the icing wasn’t as creamy and smooth as I would have liked.

Regardless, we popped in for a quick dessert and ended up staying for around a couple hours because we had so much to discuss. The server was attentive and, though his shift was over before we were ready to go, we never felt rushed. This relaxed atmosphere makes this restaurant a wonderful place – nice and quiet – for an afternoon or evening out with with family or friends.

Writing this review, I now find myself salivating and wanting, very badly, to eat some of their potato salad and a sandwich. I’ll be back soon to quell that craving!