Edmonton Restaurant Review: Tzin Wine and Tapas

Sweet endings at Tzin Wine and Tapas.

Each year, when March rolls around, I’m always excited to see what Downtown Dining Week (DTDW) has to offer. In 2017, I almost forgot about the annual event. There seemed to be very little advertising, and I was only reminded, at the beginning of the month, when I overheard a co-worker chatting about it in the office.

With it on my mind, I immediately decided to check the website to see if the menus from the participating restaurants had been posted. Sure enough, most of them were there. To my disappointment, the list was noticeably shorter than in previous years. Yet, after perusing all of them, I had narrowed my choices down to a few places that I had been meaning to try.

The first that my friend and I decided to visit was Tzin Wine and Tapas. Located on the 104 Street Promenade at 101 Avenue, it’s easy to overlook. The standout feature when passing by would be the bright orange door and the small window that may give you a peek at the chefs cooking away in the tiny kitchen at the front of the establishment.

The interior of the restaurant. This photo was taken just inside the entrance.

From what I had already read about Tzin, I knew that it was a small venue, but I still found myself slightly taken aback when I stepped foot into the restaurant. With only about six tables and maybe a handful of bar seating, it’s easy to understand how it fills up so quickly.

When we arrived, there was only a single table left by the door, and it was ours. Thankfully, there were only two of us dining together. A third, as the table was set for, would have made for a tight squeeze and possibly an uncomfortable dinner with people coming and going right next to us all evening.

The sole hostess/server was very personable and polite. She grabbed us a bottle of tap water, as requested, while we reviewed the regular menu and the DTDW selections. We opted for the latter as $45 per person for an executive three-course meal is typically a good deal at some of these more upscale eateries.

Cod with Risotto and Chimichurri

To start, we were presented with a filet of cod about the size of a small palm. It was laid on a bed of black garlic risotto and served with white balsamic chimichurri on top. I was quite keen on the risotto as the consistency was creamy and the rice a little al dente. For me, chimichurri is hit or miss. If made in the traditional way with parsley, I’m a fan. In this instance, I’m fairly certain that the parsley was substituted for cilantro, which is not a friend to my taste buds. Even so, that’s something I can work past. What I cannot forgive is how the cod was prepared. The white fish was overcooked to the point of it being almost rubbery. A knife was necessary to cut the cod apart and it was relatively chewy.

Heritage Angus Beef Brisket Sausage

I felt that the kitchen fared better with the second course: a skillet of heritage Angus beef brisket sausage in a red wine and herbed bean salad. Although the sausage was a bit dry, I thought that the flavours were nice and savoury. The beans were prepared well, refraining from becoming mush. Furthermore, I liked the fresh sprouts, which brought colour and crunch to the dish. Other than infusing more juice into the sausage, my one suggestion is that the dish be served hot. Either it wasn’t warm to begin with or it cooled off too quickly.

Alberta Bison Ranch Meatballs

My favourite was our final plate. This included Alberta bison ranch meatballs in sage cream and pecorino cheese. Honestly, the meat was somewhat parched; however, that isn’t entirely surprising with a leaner meat such as bison. The rich cheese sauce helped to counteract that dryness though. I especially enjoyed the sage leaves as they conveyed a bittersweet, piney flavour and crispy texture. As much as I appreciated this dish, I, nevertheless, had a couple of qualms. Most astonishing was the portion size. There were simply two meatballs that were hardly larger than the Swedish variety found at IKEA. My other issue was that there were no accompaniments in the form of either a veggie or a starch. That would have delivered added appeal and sustenance. Therefore, as the last course of the DTDW dinner, I expected it to be more filling.

By the time we worked our way through the evening’s menu, I wasn’t full, so I considered the desserts. The bourbon and butter cake called to me. My friend caved and ordered the flourless chocolate torte. I’d say that these two sweet endings were the stars of the night when compared to the rest of our meal.

Flourless Chocolate Torte

The torte was actually lighter than I anticipated and the taste of fresh raspberry appeared to be folded into the chocolate with dots of fruit puree and balsamic reduction decorating the plate. There were also pieces of almond brittle that amplified the sweetness of the dessert.

Bourbon and Butter Cake

As for the bourbon and butter cake, it looked to be on the heavier side, but it was moist and the bourbon caramel wasn’t sticky at all. There was a streak of pomegranate molasses to the side of the cake that provided a delightful tartness. It elevated the dish by giving it some dimension where the dollop of lavender whipped cream failed.

DTDW is meant to be a showcase for downtown restaurants. If they’re able to wow patrons, the hope is that they’ll return. Based on my experience of Tzin, I’m highly unlikely to make a point of going back. Sure, the service was excellent and attentive. Moreover, I was thoroughly impressed with how well the chefs were able to function in such a small kitchen space. Perhaps the regular menu would have proven to be more satisfying as well.

Nonetheless, it’s difficult to discount the shortcomings I saw on this occasion, and even harder for me to be convinced that this is a place worth opening up my wallet for. When it comes to similar food at a great value, I’d much rather stop by Tapavino, situated on Jasper Avenue and 110 Street.

Edmonton Bakery Review: Moonshine Doughnuts

Up close and personal with the doughnuts from Moonshine.

This past weekend, I published a review of Doughnut Party, one of Edmonton’s newest bakeries. Today, I thought I’d shift the focus to my experience of their sister enterprise, Moonshine Doughnuts.

Unlike Doughnut Party, Moonshine, the older of the two, functions as a marketplace vendor or by special order only. Although their goods are regularly available at the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market and the downtown City Market, their schedule is prone to change. To seek them out, I recommend checking the “Find Us” page on their website for a detailed calendar of where they will be and when.

My co-worker and I had talked about picking up some of their doughnuts at one of the university pop-ups taking place either at the end of February or beginning of March. Between Grant MacEwan and the University of Alberta, the latter location turned out to be the best option as the train from Central Station was the quickest mode of transportation during our lunch break.

The February U of A pop-up must have been cancelled because it was taken off the calendar prior to the date, so we decided to go the first week of March instead. Everything timed out perfectly during our excursion; less than ten minutes from leaving work, we were already on campus.

Moonshine’s table was set up in the Student Union Building (SUB) along with several others stalls. Surprisingly, the place was buzzing with people, but the market was fairly quiet. There was no one ahead of us when we walked up to pick up our boxes of doughnuts.

As we were standing there making our transactions ($10 cash for four), I noticed that a board was set out with a list of that day’s flavours: earl grey, pear & chocolate chip, horchata and raspberry rose. Similar to Doughnut Party, Moonshine tends to keep posts on social media to a minimum and they rarely seem to inform their followers of what’s going to be available ahead of time.

Boxes of four doughnuts each were already packaged and sealed.

As my co-worker and I assume, this adds a sense of mystery and it also encourages people to stop by despite the lack of information. If Moonshine posts the selection early, it’s entirely possible that customers may be deterred if a flavour they’re not entirely fond of is included in the pack. As a business, they’re taking a chance, but I think it works to their advantage. Once patrons make the trek all the way there, they’re likely to buy regardless of what’s inside the box since they’ve already put in the time.

Honestly, I was slightly skeptical about what was included in the pack. After the strawberry rose from Doughnut Party, I wasn’t sure I could go floral again here; however, I was pretty ecstatic to see horchata on the list.

Contrary to the Party’s yeast based doughnuts, Moonshine, alternatively, goes with a vanilla cake foundation that comes out of the oven as a nice ivory colour. The vegan recipe is non-greasy, soft, yet perfectly dense. The dough bakes thoroughly without becoming firm on the outside and it’s moist enough that the cake stays together with every bite. No crumbs! I’ve heard that Moonshine even offers a gluten free version for those who have intolerances. I haven’t had the opportunity to try those though.

Now comes the best part. Eating them!

Since the strawberry rose was my least preferred out of the ones I managed to get my hands on at Doughnut Party, I decided to make the raspberry rose my first taster out of this box. I found the glaze to be a bit thick and slightly grainy from the sugar, but, in this instance, the raspberry flavour fared much better against the hint of rose. Whereas the strawberry rose tasted overwhelmingly floral, the raspberry rose had a great balance.

Later that afternoon, I cut the pear & chocolate chip doughnut in half to sample it. Personally, I found this to be subtly sweet and it definitely had the natural flavour of a juicy pear (I’m guessing that they may use real juice in the glaze). The semi-sweet chocolate chips added texture and more depth to offset any cloying sugariness. Visually, the chocolate also made the doughnut look more appealing as it, otherwise, seemed rather plain.

Before I left the office, I had also tried a portion of the earl grey. I was somewhat disappointed with the flavour of this one. In fact, I thought that the vanilla in the cake almost overpowered the taste of the earl grey tea mixed into the glaze and that’s saying a lot. I could see specks of the tea leaves throughout the glaze, but the flavour just wasn’t intense enough to warrant much satisfaction from eating it. There was only one bite where I sensed that slight bitter aftertaste that comes with drinking tea.

I saved the horchata for my after-dinner dessert and it was the right thing to do. This was by far my favourite of the grouping. The first time I’d learned of horchata, I was told by a staff member at Tres Carnales that it’s like Christmas in a glass. As made in Mexico, horchata is a milky rice-based drink with vanilla and plenty of cinnamon. Cinnamon is one of my go-to spices and it came through strongly here. It packed a punch and I was hooked.

Having a photo shoot at work before I devoured the doughnuts.

My boyfriend didn’t end up finishing all of the remaining halves that I had left for him, so I kept them covered and found myself eating the rest the following morning. My co-worker and I suspected that there was a chance the cake base wouldn’t stay fresh for long, and, in a way, we were right. The edges where I had cut the doughnuts were kind of dried out by morning and the glaze had grown harder; however, past those bites, they were still okay. My recommendation is that they should be eaten on the same day as purchased.

Generally, I’m not a cake doughnut person, so I can usually take or leave them. Yet, I really did enjoy these ones from Moonshine. I may even like them more than the ones from Doughnut Party.

While I probably won’t make a specific trip to grab a box on the regular, I’d certainly be keen to give Moonshine’s doughnuts another go if I happen by them at the market one day. No doubt about it, these are some tasty and indulgent treats.

Edmonton Bakery Review: Doughnut Party

The devil’s in the details.

I’ll admit it. I’ve been overly obsessed with doughnuts ever since I tried my first Lucky’s doughnut in Vancouver a couple of years ago. I’m going to chalk it up to their fillings. They go beyond the glaze and toppings. To me, those are the epitome of the sweet treat.

Within the past year, I’ve sought the dessert out across the globe – checking out the Donut Mill in Red Deer, PinkBox in Las Vegas, several independent shops in Chicago and, most recently, Good Town in Tokyo – yet none of them quite compare. Japan’s offering is the one that came closest to satisfying my cravings. Nonetheless, there wasn’t anywhere local to fill that void.

Fast forward a few months from my autumn trip to Asia and word started getting out that there was a new sheriff in town. Narcity published a quick article about a shop that was opening in Edmonton that was supposedly killing it on social media. Perfectly filtered picture posts had spread of these gorgeous, bright pink boxes filled with doughnuts along with the bakery’s adorable kawaii inspired logo depicting a welcoming doughnut shaped character.

The shop’s logo is kawaii (Japanese for “cute”) inspired.

The store’s name is Doughnut Party and it’s located at 109 Avenue and 119 Street in an up-and-coming refurbished building that houses new brunch time favourite Café Linnea. Their hours are not ideal for those who do not work or live nearby. Open five days during the week from Tuesday to Saturday, my only option was to visit on a Saturday morning.

It’s really important to go early to ensure they don’t run out of product before arrival. Despite listing their closing time as 1:30pm on weekdays and 2:00pm on Saturday, once they’re sold out for the day (at what point do they decide it’s best to shut it down and stop producing treats?), they will close without warning. I haven’t seen any notices (or many responses to questions for that matter) on their Instagram or Facebook pages to let customers know. In fact, yesterday was the business’s most recent public share on Facebook since February 25, which happens to be the day I went to get my batch. Both messages were simply to inform followers that they had opened.

Part of the line that snaked through the shop.

My boyfriend and I arrived to Doughnut Party just after ten o’clock on the morning we visited. To avoid the chilly weather, patrons had created a line that snaked all the way through the interior of the shop. Everyone was incredibly patient and happy to direct those who had just walked in towards the proper spot in the queue. As I waited, I snapped photos of the crowd and I watched as the doughnuts at the counter dwindled down and trays were removed and replaced. I noticed that the flavours seemed to rotate and ones that I hoped would be brought back out were, sadly, missing in action.

From my observations, on a busy day, the shop could do with an extra staff member or two to help box orders a little faster and to manage the payments. It may also be beneficial to add a second till at some point, and they should ensure that there’s sufficient small change available. Because they only take cash or debit, I paid for my order with a $20 bill. All they had was quarters for change. It’s not a huge deal, but for someone like me who prefers to keep my purse light, I wasn’t expecting that. Plus, it was still rather early in the day, meaning it’s likely a lot more people would be paying with cash later on.

Their menu is posted on the wall. Cash & debit only. Friendly staff!

Putting those minor issues aside, after approximately thirty minutes, I made it to the front of the line. Basically, it’s luck of the draw as to what will be available when it’s time to order. In my case, all of the s’more and banana bread doughnuts were gone when I finally had my chance to pick. On the plus side, there were six different choices, so I decided to try one of each. The half dozen cost me $16, working out to about $2.70 per serving. Single doughnuts are $3.

We took the box home and split them throughout the day. The base of the majority of their doughnuts is a yeast ring with the exception of the fritter, which I’m assuming is the same dough recipe, merely a different shape. Overall, the structure and feel of their dessert is fantastic. According to a note the owners left on Instagram, the master recipe is vegan (although, the toppings are not guaranteed to be free from animal products). Once fried, the dough puffs up to become light, fluffy, airy and not at all greasy. Each one was fresh and soft.

A half dozen of their doughnuts.

In terms of the flavours, I walked away with: matcha sugar, cherry almond, pineapple fritter, strawberry rose, birthday cake and fruit punch sugar.

Matcha is literally one of my favourite flavours. I love it in tea, latte, chocolate, cake, custard and ice cream format just to name a few ways in which it can be enjoyed. Anything matcha, I will eat it. The matcha sugar doughnut was my initial tasting and, I’m sorry to say, it’s definitely lacking. There’s none of that distinct vegetal taste from the matcha tea or that lingering natural sweetness. The texture of the granulated sugar is a nice addition to an otherwise plain, slightly green-coloured doughnut. I’d call this one a fail.

The cherry almond, on the other hand, packed quite a fruity punch with the almond slivers that topped the glaze remaining crunchy. The glaze was thick yet translucent and a beautiful pink. It was also smooth and melt-in-your-mouth good.

We tested the pineapple fritter later in the afternoon. The dough was a bit crispier, which gave it a nice texture. This one may have had a tad too much glaze for my liking though. I’ll also argue that pieces without any pineapple in it were slightly disappointing after having gotten pineapple in the earliest bite or two. The pineapple was somehow juicy without making the dough around it soggy, so more fruit please!

A tray of the strawberry rose doughnuts.

I’m on the fence about the strawberry rose. The floral taste was strong while the strawberry was quite subtle. The fruitiness needed to come through more in order to create a better balance. Granted, maybe those who prefer something less sugary sweet would go for this.

Before the evening was over, we polished off the remaining doughnuts. By the end of the night, the dough seemed to have absorbed the taste of the paper box, which is kind of disconcerting. Next time, I think I’ll transfer the doughnuts into a different container when I get home. The doughnuts themselves were holding up well; they continued to be nice and pillowy.

The texture of the birthday cake was great. The rainbow sprinkles kept firm and the crumbled pieces of sugar cookie on top of the glaze were delicious.

Surprisingly, my favourite out of the day’s selection turned out to be the fruit punch sugar doughnut. It was covered in granulated sugar, same as the matcha, but with a pink tinge to it. The flavour popped and had a tartness that reminded me of the best type of sour candy.

Let’s enjoy!

All-in-all, I’m not sure that Doughnut Party is entirely worth the hype, especially with the relatively long waits that I’ve both experienced and heard about. Maybe when things die down a bit, it’ll be easier to get in and out, and it’ll seem okay to drive out of the way to pick these pastries up.

I will give my kudos to the owners though. Running two businesses (Moonshine Doughnuts is their original baby; watch out for another review to come soon) is a lot of work and, to see such early success and so much community support from the beginning, is amazing. While these aren’t my Lucky’s Doughnuts, they are likely some of the best on offer in Edmonton right now and, for that reason, I’m recommending them.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Wing Chicx

Sizzling Spicy Pork

Continuing with our exploration of Korean cuisine in Edmonton, my friends and I recently met up for lunch at Wing Chicx before attending an escape game in the Ellerslie area. Tucked away in a strip mall, it’s a compact restaurant with about a dozen tables.

Although the ambiance is nothing to write home about, it is clean, comfortable and the décor is bright and colourful.

As we snacked on the complimentary starters, the four of us took some time to review the options on the menu and once we were ready, the server came over to take our order. A few of us opted for dishes that were marked as spicy on the menu and when we asked just how hot the dishes would be, the server told us they were on the higher end and she suggested we go more mild. Before we did, we inquired as to whether or not extra spice could be added after the fact and she seemed to indicate that it wasn’t possible.

My boyfriend and his skillet of spicy chicken.

My boyfriend decided to go for the spicy option on his sizzling spicy chicken dish. The thinly sliced meat was marinated in hot sauce and served on a bed of cabbage with green onions sprinkled on top. It looked really good, but he didn’t think it was fiery enough. It’s a fair assessment coming from someone who puts sriracha sauce on almost everything.

For my girlfriend’s plate of spicy pork, she took the server’s recommendation and had the heat toned down, which she did regret (if she had her way, the spice would have been taken up a notch as well). The dish itself was prepared in the same fashion as the chicken, so there wasn’t any difference in terms of presentation. I sampled a piece of the pork and I enjoyed the flavours, but it certainly lacked any kick and it was a little bit greasy.

Chicken Tangsuyook

Her husband went for the large order of the chicken tangsuyook, where the meat comes battered, deep fried and smothered in a sweet and sour sauce. The chicken was mixed with a colourful array of veggies and fruit including carrots, pineapple, onions as well as red and green bell peppers. The meat was tender and lightly battered.

Spicy Beef Stew

I decided to be different by going for a bowl of the beef stew. I requested that they keep it spicy and I think this one delivered in that department. Unlike the other dishes, there was a lingering heat to the soup. It tasted good and I appreciated the sweet potato noodles and the sliced mushrooms; however, it didn’t seem to have as much meat and I spent a lot of time swirling the soup around trying to find more of the ingredients. This was the least expensive item out of everything we ordered. Maybe that’s the reason why they skimped on the soup. If that is the case, I’d rather they charge a dollar or two more to make the soup heartier.

All of the dishes were served with a bowl of rice on the side. Excluding the soup, I’d say that the rest of the plates were well-portioned for the price. Also, if you like piping hot food, the soup was still boiling when it arrived at our table and those sizzling skillets were spitting grease and sauce all over when they were settled in front of my friends.

Personally, I’m not sure I’d visit Wing Chicx again of my own accord, but I wouldn’t say no if someone else wanted to go there. The food was decent enough that I’d be okay eating there on another occasion. It simply wouldn’t be my first choice. Perhaps if I had taken into account the online reviews raving about the fried chicken and gone with that instead, I’d feel differently. Yet, based on my experience, I can really take it or leave it at this point.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Bündok

The interior of Bündok, including the focal bar.

The interior of Bündok, including the focal bar.

I’ve now had a couple of weeks to think about the dinner that my friend and I had at one of Edmonton’s newest restaurants, Bündok. The two of us met up after work on a Thursday evening in February and walked towards 104 Street and 102 Avenue.

Lacking any signage outside of the entrance, we easily passed it by and ended up having to back track by heading north of Japanese Village, which happens to be just a door or two down the block from the Fox Tower business.

The décor of the eatery is simple. There’s an open kitchen (run by chef Ryan Hotchkiss of Jack’s Grill, Bar Bricco and Red Star), exposed ventilation systems as well as classic dark wood chairs and tables. The focal point is a deep blue-coloured bar and shelving that almost reaches the top of the high ceiling.

We had a 5:00pm reservation (booked through OpenTable), so we were the earliest diners that night. Our table was tucked in next to the front window right behind the glass entranceway. It was a cozy spot that allowed us a view of Oilers fans passing by on their way to the hockey game, and, despite being near the door, it was still warm.

Our server Joe was friendly and provided some recommendations for drinks. He told us that he made the in-house craft root beer that day and, initially, I didn’t believe him. But, by the sounds of it, he was quite hands on with the restaurant even prior to its opening.

Our drinks: a glass of house made root beer and the amaretto sour.

Our drinks: a glass of house made root beer and the amaretto sour.

I enjoyed the root beer. The flavour was akin to a strong organic ginger ale as opposed to what I think of as root beer (i.e. A&W). It also wasn’t as carbonated. The sip of my friend’s Amaretto Sour cocktail was fantastic as it was both zesty and tart with just a slight hint of alcohol on the palette. This was a drink that went down effortlessly.

When it came to ordering for our meal, we were told that the dishes are made to be shared. Neither of us had an issue splitting the food as it meant we would both have a chance to try several items on the menu. Between the two of us, we selected four dishes. Joe seemed skeptical that there would be enough sustenance. I had already intended to add a bowl of the soup, and once I did, he relented.

Chicken Skin

Chicken Skin

A platter of the Chicken Skin was offered to us first as it was the quickest to prepare. With just three pieces on the wooden board, it seemed a bit costly (the price may have been lowered since as the site now lists it at $7 instead of $8). It was deliciously addictive though. The skin was crispy without being greasy and the honey mustard was a nice touch that faintly reminded me of the taste of wasabi.

Beef Tartare

Beef Tartare

Two dishes showed up next, including the Beef Tartare and the Sea Bream Crudo. My foremost impression of the tartare was that it lacked any robust flavour. Yet, when I took my second helping of the beef and placed it onto the crostini, I was pleasantly surprised with how the spice from the pickled mustard seeds and bitterness of the chopped arugula came through. The egg yolk also made the consistency very smooth.

Sea Bream Crudo

Sea Bream Crudo

“Crudo” means raw in Italian, so the slices of sea bream (a white fish) were prepared similar to a Japanese tataki whereby the meat is dressed with oil, citrus juice and seasonings. In the case of this dish, the fish was accompanied by apple, citrus and chili. Personally, I found a couple of the pieces to be chewier than preferred; however, in terms of taste, it was refreshing to the palette.

Parmagiano Soup

Parmagiano Soup

Next up was my bowl of Parmagiano Soup. I had seen a photo of this posted on Bündok’s Facebook feed and I was convinced I needed to have it. I wasn’t wrong. A bowl was placed in front of me that contained layers of melted leeks (how do you melt leeks?), bacon and breadcrumbs to which the soup was then added before my eyes. I stirred everything together and took a spoonful. It was incredibly rich as if they literally melted cheese into cream. Because the soup was added after the fact, the bacon and breadcrumbs remained crisp. I wanted to lick this bowl clean. My friend thought it was equally amazing.

Gnocchi

Gnocchi

If awards had been handed out for the night, the gnocchi would have been given the gold medal. The potato pasta was made Parisienne style using pâte à choux – dough typically made for profiteroles, cream puffs and eclairs – leading to a much more pillowy texture. My friend and I are practically gnocchi connoisseurs and we both agreed that these were the fluffiest and lightest we’d ever eaten. They almost melted away in our mouths. Combined with the roasted brussels sprouts, squash and brown butter, this dish was a real treat with varying textures in every bite.

Grilled Apple Tartine

Grilled Apple Tartine

For dessert, it was suggested that the Grilled Apple Tartine offered on the dinner menu was a good alternative option to the actual desserts. My friend opted for that. It can become a sticky mess due to the use of clover honey, but it’s forgivable. The pink lady apples provide a bit of acidity while the oka cheese gave it an earthy, mushroom-like taste.

Citrus Posset

Citrus Posset

I completed my meal with the Citrus Posset, which was presented in a shallow bowl that, at first glance, looked as if it was filled only with a strip of diced apples, fennel and mint. On closer inspection, I could see that those sat atop a base of citrus cream. This was a wonderful dessert with a silky smooth foundation sitting somewhere between a pudding and custard. It was somehow airy yet also juicy and thirst quenching.

Having only been open for three weeks at the time we visited, I found myself thoroughly impressed. Word-of-mouth advertising seems to be working for Bündok. As we ate, the other tables filled up. Although there were really only one or two people working the front of house, the service was attentive and the recommendations were excellent.

It is intended that the menu rotate regularly, meaning the offerings may be different next time I go, but I think that’s part of the fun. One never knows what might be in store, and I can’t wait to see where chef Ryan Hotchkiss takes things.