Edmonton Restaurant Review: Soy & Pepper

Cheese Dongasu with Cabbage Salad

On a recent girls’ night out, my friends and I narrowed our choices down to several places near downtown Edmonton. After some back and forth, we eventually settled on Soy & Pepper, which touts itself as a modern Korean eatery. Located on 112 Street and Jasper Avenue, it actually took a group of us coming from the south side of the city longer to get there than we expected. Thankfully, one of my girlfriends arrived on time and was able to hold our reservation.

When we finally made our way there and found a parking spot (there is a free lot behind the building), I was surprised to see that the restaurant wasn’t that busy for a Saturday evening. There were just a few other occupied tables, and it didn’t change much as the night continued, so I do wonder how business is going for them.

I will say that the establishment is quite nice though. Everything is really clean, it’s roomy, and the furniture and decor are modern — sleek wooden tables, black Eiffel chairs, white stone accent walls. I estimate that the space can fit about forty patrons at a time. The single downfall was that it was slightly breezy inside. We were seated relatively close to the front door, and it’s possible that, despite the shelter built around the entrance to mitigate the issue, a draft was caused whenever it was opened. It wouldn’t be a problem during warmer months, but in the winter, it meant my friends bundling up in their scarves and jackets at one point or another.

Soy & Pepper’s food menu.

Once we all settled in, we inspected the menus. They have a minimal wine and beer list as well as several Korean wine or liquor options. For those who prefer non-alcoholic beverages, they have the usual sodas and tea or coffee. Unfortunately for me, they did not offer any cocktails, so I stuck with water.

Since we hadn’t gotten together in a long while, we weren’t in any rush. Therefore, we decided to go with some starters. I selected the Kimchi Potato Balls ($6), another ordered the Potstickers ($7.50), and a pair shared the Kimchi Pork Poutine ($16).


I did not sample the Potstickers myself, but judging by their appearance, they looked alright. There were four to a plate and they were very long with crispy shells. I’m hoping the dough to pork and veggie filling ratio was okay as I thought the skin seemed a tad thick. Otherwise, they were probably prepared with a quick fry in an oiled pan, then steamed with water, and then fried again to get the consistency I saw. That’s my favourite way to make them at home to ensure the middle is cooked through and the outside is golden brown.

Kimchi Pork Poutine

The Kimchi Pork Poutine was an interesting find. It’s that instance of fusion food that always finds a way onto the menus of local restaurants attempting to do authentic Asian cuisine. This item is available only during dinner at Soy & Pepper. In terms of portion size, it’s generously loaded with braised pork, onions, sautéed kimchi, house hot sauce, cheese, and cilantro. There’s a kick from the combination of hot sauce (mainly this) and kimchi, so if spicy is your thing, go for it. Best of all, the fries were delicious. They reminded me a lot of the ones sold at the Costco food court when I was younger; light, fluffy centers with bubbly outsides.

Kimchi Potato Balls

My Kimchi Potato Balls were served as a duo of mashed potatoes mixed with kimchi, cheese, and green beans, which were then breaded and fried until crisp. They were then placed on a bed of chipotle aioli sauce and then topped with dollops of sour cream and sprinkles of green onions. These had a hint of heat balanced out by the sour cream. I appreciated how smooth the potato was, too.

For our entrées, all four of my friends chose to go with the Bulgogi ($16). Two of them had Chili Pepper Seasoning ($1) added to the dish. A large bowl of House Kimchi ($5) was shared among the group. I went in another direction by picking the Cheese Dongasu ($20).

House Kimchi

I’ll start by discussing the House Kimchi. Admittedly, I thought I’d enjoy it more. However, out of all the kimchi I’ve ever tried, this was probably the most underwhelming. A staple of Korean cuisine, kimchi is a traditional side that is typically made with cabbage that has been salted and fermented. Personally, I think the pickled flavour wasn’t strong enough and the seasonings used didn’t produce enough spice. It was also a bit waterier than I prefer, but it was decent in plain rice.

Bulgogi with Chili Pepper Seasoning

At first glance, the Bulgogi plates came across as small. Yet, once the accompanying rice was stirred in with the marinated and grilled Alberta AAA beef, onions, green onions, cabbage, and bean sprouts, there was plenty of food. The dish seemed to be well-seasoned and flavourful, especially the ones with the chili pepper seasoning. In fact, it may have been too much chili as my friend who loves spicy food reiterated a few times that it was very hot on her palate. I’d recommend ordering the Bulgogi and then sprinkling on the dry chili flakes provided at the table until it’s to one’s liking, and it won’t cost anything extra.

Cheese Dongasu with Cabbage Salad, Rice & Dongasu Sauce

I loved, loved, loved the Cheese Dongasu. This is basically a deep fried, breaded pork loin that is stuffed with cheese. On the side is a wonderful dongasu sauce — simplified versions are often made with Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, brown sugar, and Ketchup — for dipping, a bowl of white rice, and a cabbage salad in sesame dressing. I didn’t really need the rice that much, but it was good, not overcooked. I ended up packing that up (the remaining sesame dressing drizzled on top) with half of my humongous pork loin for leftovers. The cabbage salad was quite tasty as there was a good amount of dressing and the veggies were fresh and crunchy. The pork loin was the absolute star. There was so much cheese inside that when I pulled the pieces apart, the melted cheese just oozed out seductively.


The majority of the group opted for dessert: a scoop of vanilla ice cream ($2.25), a slice of carrot cake ($7), and the Ho-ddeok ($8.50). I can’t say a whole lot about the vanilla ice cream as there isn’t much to elaborate on, but the slice of carrot cake, though it appeared to be appetizing with nuts, raisins and cream cheese icing, was definitely not made in-house. It was brought to the table with plastic film still stuck to it, like when you go to the store and buy an individual piece of cake at the bakery. What was worth every penny was the Ho-ddeok. That is a warm, chewy dough pancake stuffed with sugar, honey, butter, mixed nuts, maple syrup, and cinnamon. It’s served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. My friend described it as being similar to an elephant ear with filling. I think that potentially undersells it. However, I would go back for this in a heartbeat. Between this and the Cheese Dongasu, it’s a total toss up for my favourite bite of the night. Either way, try both, if you can swing it.

The service was attentive and friendly, the food hit the mark for the most part, the portions received for the price are more than reasonable, and the place is easily accessible. It also has the perfect ambience for those who want to spend the night catching up. The staff member was never pushy, so we felt comfortable taking our time and staying for a while. Plus, even though there was music playing, it wasn’t overly loud. We were able to hear each other talk without having to shout. Accounting for everything, Soy & Pepper turned out to be a fantastic spot for a get together. I’m already looking forward to my next visit because I really want to explore more of the menu with my fiancé.


Edmonton Restaurant Review: New Dragon Palace

Peking Duck

For as long as I can remember, my parents and I have been frequenting New Dragon Palace Seafood Restaurant (17743 98 Avenue). I suppose it’s just one of those places that becomes a standard, so much so that my fiancé had to ask me why we go there so often. But, it’s family-run and, the owners know who we are, which offers that feeling of familiarity. Plus, as with most Chinese eateries, they’re always open, even when every other business is closed.

Our most recent occasion to visit was over the Chinese New Year weekend. We went in on the Family Day holiday Monday. Walking into the establishment is like stepping back in time to the late eighties or early nineties with washes of muted pinks and greens. Still, they’ve kept it up okay and the space is quite tidy and clean. Although, I do find that their utensils and dishes can feel kind of filmy from washing, I just give them a quick swipe with a napkin and let it go.

We never veer far from our usual menu items: deep fried chicken, sizzling beef, sweet & sour pork, and Chinese broccoli when we want to incorporate some veggies. When we really want to celebrate, we get Peking duck. This time, we made sure to pre-order the latter dish to ensure that we wouldn’t miss out.

It didn’t take long for our food to start making its way out of the kitchen. The fixings for the duck — hoisin sauce, julienned carrots and cucumber, and shreds of scallions — were laid out first while the bird was being prepared. When the wraps and sliced duck came out, I was ready to pounce. While everything looked and tasted great, I was somewhat disappointed because there wasn’t actually a whole lot of meat on the skins. In fact, there was a lot more fat than anything else, turning the wraps into grease pockets. I had to scrape a lot of the fat off to make them more edible. It was a far cry from our last Peking duck at New Dragon Palace, which was perfectly cooked and meaty with a minimal layer of fat and super crisp skin. Of course, I don’t completely blame the restaurant as it’s hard for them to know how the duck will turn out until they actually prep it and take it apart.

What I do love about Peking duck is that the whole bird is used. Along with the wraps, the kitchen also makes a wonderful duck soup using the bones. The cream-coloured broth is savoury and smooth, improved even further with wilted greens and chunks of tofu. I will usually have at least a few bowls during my meal. Additionally, the remaining meat of the duck is sauteed with bean sprouts and carrots into an earthy stir fry that goes so well with a bowl of white rice.

A half order of the deep fried chicken.

The deep fried chicken is always a delight because they get the skin so crispy, yet the meat is still tender inside. The dark garlicky soy-like sauce is a must to drench chicken and rice in. My only wish is that there were more pieces of white meat in each order as, lately, I have found the pieces of half chicken to be rather bony.

We all enjoy the sizzling beef as it comes to the table so hot. Aside from a slice or two that were too chewy to eat, the meat was, otherwise, thick, succulent and well-marinated with plenty of sauce.

The sweet and sour boneless pork.

Last, but never least is the sweet and sour boneless pork. The meat is battered and fried until crisp and then it’s mixed into a sweet and sour sauce with peppers, onions and pineapple. The balance of flavours and the retention of the crisp outer shell of the pork is why we keep going back to it.

To finish off the meal, a complimentary tong sui (sweet, warm soup) is provided. It typically ranges from red bean to tapioca, neither of which are my favourites, at least the way they prepare it. For the new year, I was in for a treat though. We got bowls of almond soup with black sesame dumplings (filled glutinous rice balls), often served during special occasions. These were a real treat. When my fiancé opted not to eat his, I happily helped myself to seconds.

I was so excited to eat at New Dragon Palace again for Chinese New Year. The kitchen had hit it out of the park on our previous visit. However, comparatively, I wasn’t as impressed in February. Each dish seemed smaller in size, more sloppily made, and less fresh than before. It’s possible that someone else was running the show, which could account for the difference in quality. Consistency is probably one of the restaurant’s main issues. The problem is, customers can’t tell ahead of time what they’re going to get on any given day. They basically have to hope for the best.

What is great about the eatery is the value. Five of us ate that day for about $110 after tax and tip was included. Not only did everyone leave with their bellies full, we also left with a handful of containers to take home, too. If the cost justifies the caliber, then I think things are on par here.

Meal Kit Box & Recipe Review: Chefs Plate

The Chefs Plate welcome booklet.

I’ll come clean. I’m not a much of a cook. Although I don’t hate or dislike the process, I’m just not one to plan out a dinner by picking up specific ingredients and then spending hours slaving over the stove in my kitchen. By the time I get home from work, I need something that can be whipped up quickly. My fiancé and I have our go to dinners nowadays. But, admittedly, we have fallen into a bit of a rut. At times, we’re not even having well-balanced or properly portioned meals.

Luckily, in the new year, I found myself scrolling through the Groupon app. There, I came across a voucher for two weeks of meal kit deliveries from a service called MissFresh (watch for a post later this month). For half the usual price plus an extra 25 per cent off with a promo code, it was too good of a deal to pass up. Little did I know that that decision would be the beginning of a small obsession with these types of businesses. By the end of January, I had signed up with three more: Chefs Plate, HelloFresh, and Goodfood. With all of them, I managed to get some sort of a discount or incentive through ads that I saw on social media, making them affordable enough to justify.

Canadian-based Chefs Plate is the first service where we completed what I’ll deem the “trial run” as neither my fiancé nor I have any intention of continuing to use the service. At the regular going rate of $65.70 (I paid half that), it’s kind of pricey considering the smallest box that comes with free delivery only covers three dishes in a week for two people, working out to $10.95 per serving. Sure, it’s less expensive than dining out at a restaurant and healthier than picking up fast food. However, armed with a few new recipes, we both agree that we can probably emulate similar meals for less than it costs to have Chefs Plate package and deliver everything to us.

In any case, here’s how the whole process works:

  1. Register an account on the Chefs Plate website. Aside from the typical personal information, it will ask for the number of meals and portions required each week and the preferred date of delivery, along with the user’s credit card information.
  2. Preview the menus for upcoming weeks. Click on each dish to see the level of skill required to make it (the majority are listed as “easy”), the estimated amount of time it takes to cook, all the ingredients that will be supplied, the number of calories in the recipe, and any allergen information, if available.
  3. Set your delivery schedule. The service allows for weeks to be skipped up to four months in advance, or the subscription can be paused indefinitely to ensure nothing is sent out without consent. Turn it back on when service is required again.
  4. Watch for the delivery to arrive on the requested date.

Chefs Plate ships using FedEx. I had our box sent to our condo on a Friday. Our buzzer number and unit info was provided with our address at the time I ordered our package. It arrived by 10:30 am that morning and was brought right to our door after I let the delivery man into our building. My fiancé grabbed it and moved all of the contents from the box to the fridge immediately.

When I got home from work, I inspected the packaging. Everything had been contained within a thermal insulated, double-lidded cardboard container. A couple of small ice packs were inserted to keep the meats cold and a thick kraft-type piece of paper separated those vacuum sealed packs of meat from the three bags of ingredients that sat on the top. The strongly lined paper bags were sealed, but a clear window at the front showed the contents and a sticker on the back indicated which dish it was for. The sticker also had the nutritional breakdown of the meal printed on it.

Read about the food journey.

Inside the box there was a welcome booklet that talked about the food journey of our kit. The three recipe cards were there, too. These are actually printed on heavy card stock and have a nice finish to them. I expect that they’ll hold up well over time. They are big cards though (8.5″ x 11″), so they may not be the easiest to store. It’s also important for me to note that most of these services expect their customers’ kitchens to be stocked with basics such as salt, pepper, olive oil, butter and sometimes milk. If any of those are missing, it’s not the end of the world. There’s usually something that can serve as an alternative.

We decided to start our Chefs Plate experience with their Greek Chicken & Tzatziki Sauce recipe. One thing we did with this one was that we substituted the chicken breasts they had provided with ones we already had in our fridge. This was simply to reduce wastage of produce we had bought before receiving our box, and the chicken that came with this recipe was saved for use later. We did notice that the size of the chicken breasts were quite a bit smaller than the ones we purchased ourselves. No matter though. This dish turned out great.

Good timing is required to get each component on the plate at the same time, but every step is outlined clearly and as long as they are followed, it seems pretty hard to mess this one up. The chicken was pan seared in a bit of oil until golden brown. Cooked cracked wheat was mixed with baby spinach, cherry tomatoes and oregano. Then, all of it was tossed in a honey-based dressing to make the tabbouleh. Pita had been baked into crispy chips. Best of all, we learned how easy it was to make that addictive tzatziki sauce. It’s something we never would have gone out of our way to make from scratch. Yet, now that we know how to do it, we’ll likely do so again. We’d definitely give this a 7.5 out of 10.

A couple of nights later, we made our second recipe: Italian Sausage Cavatelli. This pack consisted of red onions, parsnip, chili flakes, rapini, cream, Parmesan cheese, ground pork and fresh cavatelli pasta. It was a surprisingly tasty dish with layers of flavour. The sauteed red onions provided a mild sweetness to the relatively light cream sauce while the rapini brought in a tinge of bitterness and the parsnips added some earthiness. Chili flakes — go easy on this ingredient, if spicy heat isn’t welcome — helped to season the pork, and the Parmesan finished it off by bringing in a shot of saltiness. The portions were very generous. If we had been a little less gluttonous, the amount of food this recipe made could have certainly fed three people or provided leftovers for someone’s lunch. Out of a 10, we’d rate this one an 8.5.

The following Monday, four days after we had received our delivery, we cooked up our third kit from the box. This was a fabulous Spiced Steak & Garlic Salsa Verde with roasted fingerling potatoes and cheesy kale chips. We felt it was okay to leave this one until later since Chefs Plate recommends eating red meats last as they can be stored longer than fish or poultry. We were very happy with the cut of meat we got. It was so supple, producing a tender steak that held in all the juices once it was seared.

The meat was supposed to be marinated with a dry Salvador spice mix, salt, and pepper. However, we decided to add some smoked balsamic vinegar we had on hand. That, combined with the garlic salsa verde (cooked garlic, chopped parsley, red wine vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper), really worked to elevate the dish further. What’s steak without potatoes? The fingerlings had a pleasant buttery texture and flavour once roasted. Plus, they’re not super dense or heavy in terms of potatoes. The fresh leaves of kale had to be broiled in the oven until crisp as well. They actually provided a lot more kale than needed, so we set some aside for another time. Personally, I loved the kale chips with Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. My fiancé wasn’t as much a fan of those, but he did enjoy everything else. Both of us think this meal deserves an 8 out of 10.

We were really happy with the quality of the meat and ingredients.

All three recipes took around 30 minutes to prep, cook and plate, so we were sitting down to eat soon after we started. We both appreciated the convenience of having everything we needed delivered to our door with the ingredients for each recipe carefully packaged and labelled. Honestly, it was fool proof, and I truly think it made my fiancé feel as if he was a real chef. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, the service is too expensive to become a regular indulgence at our house. Nevertheless, if one’s income allows it, we’d highly recommend testing Chefs Plate at home.

This review is in no way affiliated with Chefs Plate. I purchased the meal kit on my own and have chosen to share my thoughts here. If anyone is interested in signing up for a subscription, please use my Chefs Plate referral link to receive three FREE plates with your first delivery.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Old Spaghetti Factory

Place settings haven’t changed for as long as I can remember.

If there are any restaurants I’d be likely to avoid, Old Spaghetti Factory would fit the bill. At the very least, the one at West Edmonton Mall checks all the boxes. There’s almost always a wait to get a table, it can be crowded, and it’s often filled with the din of noisy children. In spite of those downsides, it’s really hard to say no to a fully inclusive meal for under $20 per person or under $15 when it comes from the lunch menu.

Where else can one spend that much and get unlimited bread, a soup or salad appetizer, a main, dessert, and coffee or tea? The answer is a resounding “nowhere.” For that reason, Old Spaghetti Factory has become one of my family’s favourite meeting spots. We’ve been going there more regularly since last year when the restaurant offered holiday deals on their gift cards over Christmas (purchase $25 worth and receive a bonus $10 to be used by mid-March). This year, my fiancé and I received a couple sets and, at the beginning of February, we got together with my parents to redeem the first $35.

Sourdough bread with whipped butters!

We already had plans earlier in the afternoon on the Saturday that we dined, so we ended up arriving just in time to take advantage the lunch specials that run until 4:00pm. My mom and dad had both placed their orders already. They were snacking on a loaf of sourdough and that heavenly whipped garlic butter. Seriously, I don’t even know why they still pass out the regular butter. Do customers even bother using the latter? Between the two options, it’s not even a competition. Whenever our table is cleared by the servers, it is, without a doubt, going to be strewn with pots of unused regular butter that are probably destined for the garbage bin.

Regardless, it didn’t take long for us to get our coffees, teas and starters. Everyone else at the table chose to go with the Minestrone Soup while I decided on the Crisp Green Salad with ranch dressing. The soup has a hearty tomato base seasoned with herbs and filled with conchiglie (shell) pasta and veggies. The salad is a mix of lettuce, red cabbage and julienned carrots. It’s fresh enough, although nothing too special.

For our mains, my dad opted for the Chicken Parmigiana Sandwich with Fries ($11.50), my mom and my fiancé both selected the 6 oz. New York Steak Sandwich ($14.25 each) — hers was medium rare with a side of spaghetti in clam sauce, his was medium served with fries — and I got the Lunch-Size Fettuccine con Pollo ($11.95).

Chicken Parmigiana Sandwich with Fries

Everything looked pretty appetizing. I’m a fan of their regular Chicken Parmigiana, so I assumed that having the breaded chicken topped with marinara sauce, Parmesan and mozzarella cheese in sandwich form would be just as good. Perhaps it would be a bit starch heavy considering the ciabatta bun and the fries, but the fundamentals of the dish would still stand.

The New York Steak Sandwich comes open-faced with the meat sitting atop a slice of garlic bread. Again, it’s quite a starchy dish when the fries or pasta are accounted for. The steak looks large as it covers a decent amount of surface area. However, it’s actually cut thinly, which means the kitchen has to be careful not to overcook it. Despite the meat appearing to be prepared as requested, it was somewhat tough when I had a few bites of my mom’s steak. Honestly, it’s hit or miss at Old Spaghetti Factory whether or not the meat will be okay. I prefer it to be more succulent. Occasionally, that’s what one will get there. Other times, it’ll have more chew. Yet, it’s hard to blame them when it’s such an inexpensive outing.

I’m not entirely sure how I forgot to snap a photo of my Fettuccine con Pollo. Nevertheless, I can describe it. Sautéed chicken and mushrooms are tossed in a tangy white cream sauce with the pasta and then laid in a ceramic dish and topped with mozzarella and cheddar cheese before being baked in the oven. My lunch stayed hot the entire time we were eating. The cheese was gooey and in abundance, and the sauce coated everything evenly. There was more chicken and mushroom than I expected, too.

Spumoni Ice Cream; I almost forgot to take a photo of this, too.

Next up, after our entrées were polished off or packed up, was the dessert. This is my favourite part of eating at Old Spaghetti Factory. Spumoni ice cream — chocolate, vanilla, and pistachio swirl — is kind of tough to come by at the grocery store (I do know that Chapman’s now has a gelato version), so I definitely consider this to be a real treat. It has the right consistency where it shows up at the table perfectly firm. And, for me, the green pistachio portion is what makes it special, so I tend to eat around it and save that flavour for last.

Our receipt decorated by our friendly server.

When I take in everything happening at the restaurant, I can see that it runs like clockwork with staff dancing between tables and chairs, dropping off meals, carrying dishes away and, all the while, they do it with a smile. I don’t think I’ve ever come across an unhappy server at Old Spaghetti Factory. In fact, on this particular day, ours joked around with us. When we got our bill, she’d drawn a giant heart around the total, written a “thank you” at the top of the receipt and stuck a smiley sticker to it as well.

I feel like that receipt is pretty representative of the eatery. Old Spaghetti Factory has been a mainstay in the city for as long as I can remember. Sure, the West Edmonton Mall location may have gotten a facelift a few years back, but it is ultimately the same friendly place with affordable food that people remember. It’s welcoming to anyone and everyone and it will continue to be (as will the Downtown spot) for years to come.

Daily drink specials at Old Spaghetti Factory.