Edmonton Restaurant Review: Wildflower Grill

Bread to start off our meal.

Bread to start off our meal.

Wildflower Grill (@LaziaWFEast), brought to us by the owners of Lazia and the relatively new EAST, opened as part of the Matrix Hotel several years ago. Since it landed, it has received various accolades and continues to be recognized for their Canadian cuisine. In fact, readers of The Tomato named them the No. 90 best place to eat and drink in the city in 2013 for their braised beef short ribs alone.

In all the years that it has been there, I had heard so many good things and read some excellent reviews, but had never made a point of going. I think the price point may have been one reason that I steered away from it, but as I’ve gotten a little older, I’ve decided that food is literally one of my great loves in life, and I’m okay with the idea of indulging in a sumptuous meal every once in a while.

As such, since my friend and I were spending an evening nearby at the Art Gallery of Alberta to attend the museum’s most recent Road Trip themed Late Night Refinery event, we selected Wildflower Grill as the place to start our festivities.

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The menus

Because I’m a fan of reservations, I made sure to book a table in advance using the OpenTable system, so we were seated promptly when we arrived at the restaurant. Although it was starting to get warmer outside at the end of May, it still wasn’t quite mild enough to sit on the patio, so we opted to stay indoors as did everyone else. The interior of the establishment is quite sleek and modern, using lighter brown woods and shots of yellow, orange and green in the walls and art to make it feel welcoming.

Our server gave us the daily specials soon after we sat down and he was able to answer any questions we had about the food. He was also friendly, joking with us a little, but always remaining professional. When our food was ready, two other staff members brought our plates to us, but as soon as our server walked by he noticed that one was missing and immediately went to see why it hadn’t made it with the rest of the items, so it showed me that he was very attentive, which deserves props.

Three mushroom ravioli.

Three mushroom ravioli.

The menu isn’t extensive, but it still offers plenty of choices, which made it hard for my friend and I to choose what we wanted to go with. All the mains sounded fantastic; however, in the end, we both ordered two small dishes each. Assured by our server that it would be enough, we were happy to go that route as it meant we could sample more items, and we figured that if we were still hungry, we could always get dessert afterwards. Despite that thought, we never had to worry about leaving the restaurant with a half empty stomach because they started us off with an amuse bouche of smoked salmon and grapefruit as well as fresh baked bread that readied us for what lay ahead.

My dining companion ate the Potato Gnocchi and the Sour Cherry & Maple Glazed Duck Confit. The gnocchi was served with a sweet pea puree, triple smoked bacon, serrano ham chips and egg floss. I took a bite of it and the flavours were wonderful. They really popped and the gnocchi was browned and crisped from pan frying, so it had the proper texture. The sweet pea puree and the tomatoes were there to balance out the saltiness of the bacon and ham. Aside from gnocchi, my friend can usually never pass up the opportunity to eat duck and I think that it was appropriate. The meat was tender and paired well with the roast garlic risotto, caramelized brussel sprouts and carrots that it sat upon.

My meal consisted of the Three Mushroom Ravioli and the Braised Beef Shortrib (I couldn’t go there without trying this). The ravioli had a nice, not too thick pasta shell, and was amply stuffed with mushrooms. Placed on a bed of asparagus and drizzled with truffle oil, smoked applewood cheddar fonduta and topped with some shaved piave vecchio cheese (similar to Parmigiano Reggiano), the ravioli was a great example of pasta made from scratch. The beef short ribs were nothing short of spectacular. It was pure meat with very little detectable fat, if any at all, that pretty much melted in your mouth. The port demi glace and white balsamic reduction actually tasted great with bites of the ravioli that I combined with my short ribs.

Needless to say, we left completely satisfied and stuffed from those dishes (no room at all for dessert). I’m happy that The Tomato‘s list pushed me to try another establishment that I just never seemed to get to. Whether I’m back there this year or a few years from now, I am positive that it will be another good experience.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Under the High Wheel

The exterior of Under the High Wheel.

The exterior of Under the High Wheel.

I wasn’t aware of Under the High Wheel‘s (@thehighwheel) existence until I came across The Tomato‘s lists of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton. In 2013, readers voted the noshery into the No. 86 spot touting all of their breakfast items as worthy. Then, again, this past March it made the list once more, shooting up to the No. 48 position. So, after seeing that it has been getting high marks, I suggested to my friend that we stop there for brunch on a nice, warm, sunny day over the May long weekend.

Located inside the Roots on Whyte building at 102 Street and 81 Avenue, there is ample street parking in the vicinity in case you were at all worried. We parked directly across from the patio and headed towards the restaurant. There are two entrances, one through the DaCapo Caffe and another through the automatic sliding doors next to the Blush Lane Organic Market. Not realizing that DaCapo and Under the High Wheel actually share the same space, we got a little confused and thought we had to enter through the other door. Eventually, we made our way inside and were promptly greeted and seated outside at the last available patio table.

Most of the patio is shaded, so you won’t be blinded by the sunshine if it’s a particularly bright day. However, the table we got was at the far end of the space and wasn’t covered at all. While it was great for soaking in some vitamin D, it’s also good to know that, if you’re sensitive to the sun, you may want to avoid that location because without a pair of sunglasses you’ll be squinting throughout your entire meal.

The feature menu.

The feature menu.

The menu was actually quite thorough. It included their usual brunch dishes, encompassing soup, salads, breakfast items as well as a variety of sandwiches and burgers. In addition, a small selection of featured plates were tacked on for good measure. Seeing as how I think it’s important to try an establishment’s tried and true offerings, I opted to go with the Savoury Belgian Waffles with smoked salmon. On the other hand, my friend decided to go with one of the specials, which ended up being the Hand Rolled Gnocchi because I have almost never seen her pass up the chance to eat potato pasta.

Our server was really pleasant and friendly. She made a point of asking us if we were in a rush that day. I’m guessing if we were they would have tried to get to our order more quickly, but we stated that we had time and were there to relax. As we waited for our food, we both drank mugs of chai latte. I thought the tea was good, but it lacked the amount of spice that I typically like. At over five dollars I would have expected a little better, but it was nice to sip anyway.

My savoury Belgian waffle with smoked salmon.

My savoury Belgian waffle with smoked salmon.

The brightly coloured meals did eventually make their way to us. When they landed on our table, the server pointed out that I was lucky to have gotten my order in when I did as they had just run out of waffle batter for the day. With the breakfast gods on my side, I dug into my waffles with smoked salmon and it was delicious! Like a glorified plate of eggs benedict, the waffles, if I do say so myself, are an excellent and preferred replacement for English muffins, giving a slightly sweet taste to the otherwise savoury dish. The smoked salmon was fresh and the poached eggs were cooked perfectly, providing just the right amount of runniness when the yolk was broken. The side of greens was a great palette cleanser that brought an earthy quality, especially with the pumpkin (I’m assuming that’s what they were) seeds mixed in.

My friend’s gnocchi was generously portioned and was covered with amazing, fresh hazelnut pesto and pea and mint sauce. She shared some with me and I have to say it was one of the best I’ve had in the city. Different from pan seared gnocchi, which I usually prefer, it was the sauce that really made it a solid competitor.

Completely full after cleaning off our plates, we didn’t have room for dessert, so I can’t comment on what they have to offer there. But, if they put as much effort into them as they do their mains, I’m sure they’re equally as delectable.

I’m glad that we tried Under the High Wheel and that my eyes were opened up to a new food destination. The interior of the restaurant is really quite cute with an antique look that seems comfy and cozy for those days when all you want to do is sit and chat with those closest to you. I’ll definitely be back to sample some more food soon!

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.

For a more in-depth look at the establishment’s involvement in the community and its efforts towards sustainability visit The Local Good to read my profile of Hoang Long Casual Fare.

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.