Edmonton Restaurant Review: Farrow

The menu is written on the chalk board above the front counter.

The menu is written on the chalk board above the front counter.

Farrow has been around for a little over a year and a half, and, in that time, it has made The Tomato‘s list of top 100 eats in Edmonton twice. In fact, it was voted by readers to the number one spot in 2015.

Being close to the Garneau and Old Strathcona, it’s a bit out of my way, so it wasn’t until this past summer’s Taste of Edmonton, which takes place near my office, that I was able to sample their offerings. Their menu changes all the time, but during our annual food festival, they presented two choices: roast beef and pulled pork.

I tried the roast beef when I was there. It was a small little slider served with chips, but I could tell all of the ingredients were extremely fresh. The arugula was crispy and the roast beef was thinly sliced. Most of the flavour came from the horseradish mayo and the pickled onions. It was decent, but not totally memorable. When my friend finished her roast beef sandwich, she stated their pulled pork slider was the better of the options they brought to Taste.

Flash forward a few weeks to August and the both of us were hanging out at the Fringe Theatre Festival. Since we were spending a full day trekking all over the Old Scona area from show to show with ample time in between, we decided that this was our opportunity to drop by the actual shop on 109 Street.

We perused the succinct menu and, in the end, we both chose to go with the Grick Middle, which is the sandwich that has been heavily lauded by the media and fans of the eatery. It’s the only one that remains a staple at Farrow. By and large, this is basically a glorified breakfast sandwich. Filled with a Four Whistle Farm fried egg, Sangudo bacon, smoked cheddar, rosemary aioli and arugula, the idea of the “unprocessed” comes to mind.

One of the staff packing up my sandwich.

One of the staff packing up my sandwich.

As they were preparing our orders, I watched the staff in the open kitchen fry up the eggs and put everything together. They wrapped up the sandwich lovingly in thick deli packing paper and sealed it with their logo. The location itself is tiny. There are about three bar stools that look out the window and another four to six seats at the picnic table that sits outside the shop’s steps right next to the sidewalk. It’s not the most comfortable, so we took our parcels and walked over to the park between Garneau Theatre and Upper Crust.

I unwrapped my package and, after examining the sandwich and how to approach it, I took a few bites. So far, it was okay. Eventually, I hit the egg yolk and, not only was the bread now soaked, but so were my hands. It’s a messy one. Once the egg yolk breaks, it coats the sandwich and it gives it a different mouthfeel. A fried egg on anything just improves it, and I think this sandwich needs that.

You can tell that everything is made fresh and from scratch, which is great, but I wasn’t blown away by the combination or the flavours, and I sort of think that it was lacking in terms of portion size. The sandwich looks big, but it mostly consisted of bread, egg and arugula. There wasn’t enough bacon for me to really discern that taste in every bite I had. Maybe for $7.50, my expectations were too high, but considering that is over $2 more than a breakfast sandwich at Starbucks and it didn’t truly satisfy me, I probably won’t be spending that much on the Grick Middle again.

My wrapped Grick Middle sandwich from Farrow.

My wrapped Grick Middle sandwich from Farrow.

It’s not to say that Farrow isn’t what everyone says it is. To each their own, really. I can see why people like the place. They’ve brought the popularity of the sandwich back. This isn’t what your mom packed for you during your school days. These are grown up versions, and I love a sandwich that is piled high with ingredients that play off each other and make you crave having it over and over.

This one didn’t do it for me, but it’s not to say another of Farrow’s sandwiches won’t be the one that wins me over. For now, Farrow is good, but, personally, it’s not great. It might get there someday though.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Tapavino

The interior of Tapavino including the impressive bar.

The interior of Tapavino including the impressive bar.

Previous plans to visit Tapavino had been thwarted, but I decided, when I found a deal on Groupon, that I would make more of an effort to try it out. After all, I’d already spent my money to buy the voucher, and with an expiry a year down the road, I had plenty of time to make sure I used it.

I usually procrastinate until the very end. However, I’m proud of myself. Just seven and a half months after purchasing the deal, I invited my friend to join me for dinner.

We were the first to arrive on a Tuesday evening earlier this fall. When we walked in, the solo server working the front of house checked my OpenTable reservation and allowed us to seat ourselves wherever we liked. It’s a pretty cozy, rustic looking eatery with about 25 seats or so (about a third of them at the bar). Since it was still sunny out, we decided to sit by the window in the corner booth.

The server was very attentive. As we got settled, he brought us some water and menus. Both of us opted to drink tea with dinner. When we asked what kind of tea was available, we were brought a whole box of a variety of tea bags to look through. Some may think that’s kind of casual. Yet, I think it was nice of our server to let us take our time and select something we really wanted.

A close-up of the Patatas Bravas.

A close-up of the Patatas Bravas.

Moving along to the food, it made sense at a tapas restaurant to share a handful of dishes. Being that my friend has allergies to shellfish, a number of the options were omitted off the bat. But, we were still able to select a good mix of dishes, which included: hot artichoke dip, patatas bravas, spinach pies, spicy chorizo sausage and Spanish meat balls.

Our server did his due diligence by asking if we wanted to add any pasta and garlic bread to our feast (according to their site it’s free on Tuesdays when you purchase an a la carte item; although, I don’t believe that particular daily special applies when you’re using a Groupon). It seemed like we were ordering a lot of food, so we asked if what we picked would be enough for the two of us. Because he quickly told us that it would be plenty, we skipped the extras.

The three “sharing” vegetarian plates came out to our table first, but the two meat dishes followed soon after. It was a large spread that made it a little bit difficult to maneuver around the table as a few things were just a tad out of reach for me without having to pass the dishes back and forth. Really, if you think about it, it’s a testament to the portion sizes provided. The eatery did not skimp on any of the items we went with. I also liked that everything was essentially served to us at the same time because it allowed for us to make our own combinations of meat and sides as we ate.

What was left of the Spinach Pies when I remembered to take a photo.

What was left of the Spinach Pies when I remembered to take a photo.

To start, the hot artichoke dip wasn’t necessarily anything special when compared to what you might eat at other restaurants. However, the dip was creamy, thick and it paired well with the crisp pita chips. It hit the spot considering I hadn’t had a dip like that in quite a while.

Patatas Bravas is a native Spanish dish. We’ll call it a fancier version of hash browns. This particular rendition consisted of pan fried potatoes cooked in a spicy tomato sauce and drizzled with garlic aioli. It did have a bit of a kick to it that worked with the meat balls and chorizo.

I loved the spinach pies. A decadent version of spanakopita, the pastries were warm and the crust was super flaky. The spinach filling was especially good with a heavier hit of lemon that was made even more delicious with the accompanying yogurt dip. I think the last bite I ate during the meal was of the spinach pie as I always like to finish off with my favourite thing.

The Spicy Chorizo Sausage and the Hot Artichoke Dip.

The Spicy Chorizo Sausage and the Hot Artichoke Dip.

For our “mains,” the spicy chorizo sausage was cooked in a red wine tomato sauce and served with a few large pieces of crostini. Overall, it was a thinner sauce. Personally, a thicker sauce would have been more preferable with the crostini bread. It did help, though, that the sausage was served with a variety of sautéed veggies, providing the dish with different textures that otherwise may have been lacking.

Regarding the Spanish meat balls, they were large and succulent. These would probably have been fabulous with some of that pasta and garlic bread (I’ll be keeping this in mind for another visit). The balsamic marinara sauce provided a nice acidity to the meat, creating a great balance of flavour.

Their delicious Spanish Meat Balls in a balsamic marinara sauce.

Their delicious Spanish Meat Balls in a balsamic marinara sauce.

As much as we would have liked to, we weren’t able to fit anything in for dessert. It just wasn’t possible after polishing off all five plates.

The Groupon we had was valued at $50, and, all in, the food we ordered came to $55 before taxes and tip. If we had been less indulgent, this meal could have easily fed a third (maybe even a fourth) person.

Tapavino certainly makes it possible to have a nice time out on the town without breaking the bank. I’m looking forward to going back to try some of those seafood dishes and, perhaps, a dessert in the near future.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: MRKT

My plate of tomato butter prawns.

My plate of tomato butter prawns.

I love MRKT‘s idea that they’re filling the niche of the modern indoor picnic. It’s a fun idea even if the restaurant’s space and food doesn’t really scream outdoorsy dining.

For several years, MRKT has occupied the upper-level space above Red Star and The Bower, but despite having been to the two latter places, I hadn’t been to MRKT. There were things I had heard about the eatery; it looks like you’re underneath a flipped canoe, I’d read or been told.

I can finally attest to the fact that it does sort of give you this sense of being inside a giant upside-down wooden boat. That’s probably as rustic and nature/camp-like it gets. The rest of the interior is all dark tiled floors, heavy wood-topped tables and a few other salvaged wood-type touches. Otherwise, it’s very minimal in design and it’s pretty unassuming. I have a feeling the atmosphere warms up when the space isn’t all lit up by harsh daylight.

The interior of MRKT.

The interior of MRKT.

My friend and I arrived after work on a quiet night. There were only one or two other tables occupied. Our server found our reservation and sat us down quickly. She was the only one taking care of the front of house that evening.

Since we had book club after dinner, we didn’t have a lot of time to try out much of the menu, so we opted to stick with an entree each. After a bit of deliberation and assistance from our server, my friend decided to go with the boneless beef short rib, and I decided on the tomato butter prawns.

It wasn’t too long of a wait for the food. When it arrived to our table, it looked so good.

My friend's boneless beef short rib dish.

My friend’s boneless beef short rib dish.

It’s kind of difficult to make a brown slab of short rib seem pretty, but the colours from the accompanying risotto and slaw popped on the plate. The short rib pulled apart easily and my friend said it was delicious and tender.

My tomato butter prawns were wonderful. It’s likely one of the somewhat lighter dishes out of the mains available. It consists of six seared tiger prawns finished with white wine and tomato butter, placed atop sweet potato mash and covered in miso-chimichurri. The prawns were cooked perfectly and the sauce was to die for. All of the flavours worked together so well.

Another look at my tomato butter prawns. So tasty!

Another look at my tomato butter prawns. So tasty!

For my first visit to MRKT, it certainly left a lasting impression and I’m eager to go back to try some of their other offerings. Based on what I’ve eaten so far, this is a local restaurant that I would definitely recommend to everyone.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Culina Mill Creek

bibo-culina

The exterior of Bibo and Culina. Photo credit: Unknown.

Culina Mill Creek has been around for a dozen years and in all that time I had never visited. So, call me surprised when I found out that the restaurant, along with its sister location, Bibo Wine Bar, would be closing this fall. The news lit a fire under me, and earlier this summer, my friend and I decided to try the food before it was too late.

First off, I would like to say that we arrived at Culina for our reservation right on time. It was still relatively quiet in the eatery, so they had our window-side table ready to go. Kyle, our server, was excellent throughout the night. He provided some great recommendations, was attentive and really friendly.

We started off with some peach iced teas, which were perfect to quench our thirst on a warm evening. Our drinks were accompanied by two shared starters. The lamb meatballs were flavourful and succulent with a bit of heat that was cooled by a yogurt, tzatziki-like dip. The second appetizer was a plate of pão de queijo, if I remember correctly. Those were Culina’s take on Brazilian cheese fritters. Big and fluffy with lots of melted cheese inside, these were rich and filling. The house-made tomato chutney was a must to top every piece of fritter, too.

My friend’s dish (unfortunately, I cannot remember what exactly it was called) was prepared with fresh pasta noodles and was filled with chunks of roasted tomatoes and leaves of arugula, which created a nice balance with the beef and sauce. For my entrée, I went with the half order of the sockeye salmon. It was the perfect portion, especially after our starters. The salmon was cooked so well and the skin was deliciously crispy. If I could have, I would have licked my plate clean just to get every last drop of the creamy sauce that served as the base of the dish.

Brigadeiro Cheesecake

Brigadeiro Cheesecake

Since this was likely going to be my one and only chance to eat at the Mill Creek location, I figured I needed to go all out and try one of the desserts. Kyle said we couldn’t pass up the Brigadeiro Cheesecake. This was a decadent finish to an already satisfying meal. The mascarpone goat cheese cake with a crust of Oreo crumbs that was all topped off with a classic Brazilian sweetened milk-cocoa truffle sauce was wonderful. It was also a large enough slice for two to three people to share.

Sadly, October 23’s brunch will be the last service provided at Culina Mill Creek, and October 22 will be Bibo’s final night (chef/owner Brad Lazarenko does hope to reopen Bibo somewhere downtown once he finds a suitable location). If you find yourself looking for a cute independent restaurant to go to within the next month, consider dropping by one or both. The food is fantastic and worth the visit.

However, don’t fret if you miss out on either because Culina Muttart will still be available for lunch and brunch daily and for dinner every Thursday evening. As well, Brad’s culinary offerings can also be found at the Dogwood Cafe located in the Victoria, Rundle and Riverside golf courses.

It’s going to be a new adventure for this local chef and his team, so let’s give Culina Mill Creek a great send off.

Upcoming Event: 124 Street Red Shoe Crawl on Sept 10

Tiramisu Bistro on 124 Street. Photo from: 124street.ca

Tiramisu Bistro on 124 Street. Photo from: 124street.ca

I was recently told about the upcoming Red Shoe Crawl taking place in the 124 Street District of Edmonton on Saturday, September 10. From what I’ve learned, this is the second year where 124 Street will play host to the event.

If you’ve never heard of the Red Shoe Society, it consists of a network of community leaders who band together to volunteer for and host events where they raise funds for Ronald McDonald House Charities Northern Alberta (RMHCNA).

Registrants who purchase a $35 pass ($15 kids tickets and adult 4-packs for $120 are also available) will be welcomed at about two dozen participating businesses along 124 Street. Culinary delights will be served at each venue, allowing patrons to snack while they explore. The various shops and restaurants in the area may also be offering special one-day deals. Passports will be handed out to everyone to ensure they don’t miss any of the vendors, including Duchess Bake Shop, Carbon Environmental Boutique, Miss Boss Handbags & Accessories, Table Top Cafe, Ascendant Books and many more.

In addition, tickets for raffle prizes and a 50/50 draw will be sold.

Not only is this a fantastic way to support the RMHCNA, but it’s also an excellent opportunity to shop local. 124 Street has had a tough go over the last couple of years. With the temporary closure of the 102 Avenue bridge cutting off one of the main entry ways into the area, the majority of businesses saw a decline in visitors. Now that the bridge is once again open and the Red Shoe Crawl will be raising money in the district, there’s really no excuse not to go.

Tickets for this event can be purchased here: http://rssnaredshoecrawl.kintera.org/faf/home/default.asp?ievent=1162884.

Get excited by checking out a video of 2015’s Red Shoe Crawl below!