Edmonton Restaurant Review: Tres Carnales

Aspiring to bring the traditional, authentic recipes of the various regions of Mexico to life in a fresh and bold way, Tres Carnales burst onto the Edmonton food scene back in 2011 and hasn’t looked back. Number 25 on The Tomato‘s top 100 eats and drinks in the city, it certainly has left a footprint in the downtown core. The restaurant is dedicated to the close food movement, farm to table, sustainability and community, which is felt as soon as you walk in the door and sit down for a bit to eat. You also get a glimpse of their support of local artists with the mural painted by @CurlyBlackBeret (Trevor Peters) on the south wall and the paintings by Justina Smith on the opposite side of the room.

The mural by @CurlyBlackBeret

The mural by @CurlyBlackBeret

Chris Sills and Dani Braun, owners who watch over the place with a passion and sometimes man the tills, love to walk around the restaurant to say hi to diners and ask their opinion on the food. They create a friendly atmosphere with their personable attitudes, making it a joyous place to be. The servers are the same and seem genuinely happy to be working there. They aim to please. And, in my experience, if you Tweet them enough (@TresCarnales), they might go out of their way to make sure your cravings are satisfied (the duck tacos were to die for).

I’ve been there many a time and I can say, without a doubt, that my favourite dishes are as follows: Pato Tacos (duck), Al Pastor Tacos or Quesadillas (slow roasted, marinated pork), Pescado Tacos (lightly battered and fried fresh Pacific red snapper), and the Guacamole Y Totopos (housemade guac and chips). Unfortunately, the cost to bring in fresh duck meat has relegated the Pato Tacos to an occasional featured menu item, but, should you ever have a chance to try them, do not pass them up. My friend did, and, to this day, she still regrets it. To quench your thirst, I recommend you give one of their agua frescas (“fresh waters”) a shot. I especially like the Agua de Jamaica, which is made using hibiscus flowers. On occasion I’ll go for the Agua de Horchata, which Chris once told me was like Christmas in a glass. I think it takes a little getting used to, but I quite like it and it’s refreshing.

Al Pastor Quesadillas and a view of the restaurant's large shared table and @CurlyBlackBeret's previous mural.

Al Pastor Quesadillas and a view of the restaurant’s large shared table and @CurlyBlackBeret’s previous mural.

Ultimately, I would say the food is absolutely addictive. When I take a break and don’t go for a while, I’m okay, and I can show some restraint, but, as soon as I eat there once, it’s dangerous and I’ll probably be back several times within a short span because it’s hard to get the flavours off your mind once you’ve had a taste.

A single order is a good portion size for one person. You’ll feel full, but not overly stuffed. Want to try a few things? The plates are great for sharing with your companions. It’s also a fantastic lunch place for those who work downtown because the service is always quick and you’ll usually have no problem getting in and out within an hour-long break.

If you have yet to dine there, here are some additional things to know: it works as first come, first serve with the tables, it’s similar to restaurants like Famoso (see my previous review) where you order at the counter and then they bring your food to you, you typically order at the till before you grab a table (they will sometimes let you sit first and start a tab), sometimes you may need to share a table with strangers, the tarot card they give you once you’ve placed your order is how they know who to bring the food to, gluten-free items are available, they have two tills – one for those eating in and one for those getting take out – to help speed up the ordering process, and they are closed Sundays and holidays.

Come summertime, I hope that their patio will be open again as it increases the number of available seats and allows patrons to enjoy the few months of warmth we get in Edmonton.

Mexican souvenirs

Mexican souvenirs decorating the east wall

This is my top pick for Mexican street food in the city. I always look forward to going there with friends and co-workers and, every so often, on my own because it’s a place where I feel we are always welcome. Tres Carnales represents the young, entrepreneurial spirit that is so present in Edmonton nowadays and I expect that they will be here for the long haul.

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 Tres Carnales.

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Speed Dating: An 8-Minute Numbers Game?

I’m 28 years old and currently single. The majority of my friends are coupled, engaged, married or starting families. They don’t know anyone they can set me up with and I work in an office that is primarily filled with women or people who are quite a bit older than me. I’ve never been the type of person who frequents the bar to meet people and that’s not changing anytime soon. What’s a girl to do?

I’ve tried online dating like so many others are inclined to do nowadays, but it has never really worked for me. So, when my friend, who has also tried the online thing, asked if I would be willing to go speed dating with her, I thought now was as good a time as any to mix it up. Life isn’t throwing guys my way through the usual means anyway, so why not give it a shot, right?

We did a little bit of research and saw that events through Fastlife.ca catered to specific themes (university educated, travel lovers, professionals, tall men, etc.) and decided that we would wait to see if we could find a deal through a discount voucher site (another friend of mine had done that before). The usual cost of the majority of their events is $59.99, which is a hefty price when you’re not really sure that it’s going to lead to anything; if we could save some money, it would help to convince us it was a good idea. Plus, if we had a good time, the extra cash could be put towards going to another date night in the future. Eventually we lucked out and found ourselves a coupon through Groupon (my go to website). The stars were aligned; we were on our way to potentially meeting some new people, new guys.

The Venue - L1 Lounge at WEM. We took up the left side.

The Venue – L1 Lounge at WEM. We took up the left side.

Arriving a bit before the 7:30 pm start time, we entered L1 Lounge at West Edmonton Mall and had absolutely no idea what to do. The host for the evening hadn’t arrived, so we popped back out and waited a bit before returning. When we came back about 10 minutes later, the hostess was there and greeted us, letting us know where everyone would be seated later on and invited us to grab a drink at the bar to unwind until all participants showed up.

My friend and I were the first ones there, so we each ordered a beverage and perched ourselves on a couple stools, watching as various men and women trickled in. I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit we were sizing people up a little bit. After all, the girls were our competition and the guys were the reason why we were there.

The whole thing didn’t even begin until about eight o’clock, but it was a whirlwind of 12 mini dates. While it was a good time and it breezed by (before I knew it, it was over and it was already 10 pm), it was also a tad draining. Thankfully, though, it wasn’t like the movies tend to depict it.

I will say that some of the “dates” were great – conversation flowed well or I could feel an immediate connection – and others were a bit strained or awkward, feeling as if the eight minutes dragged. If you think about it, there is a lot riding on that first impression. Based on the experience of my friend and I, here are some tips for the guys: never talk about your ex, refrain from getting too touchy-feely, avoid rehearsing what you’re going to say to us, and don’t steer the whole conversation. The time we spend together, although short, should feel organic. Many of the guys were very nice, some a bit shy, a couple were somewhat arrogant, lots were engineers, all of them were just hoping, like we were, to meet someone great. If we liked them, we were supposed to check off their name on our cards. The host would go through them afterwards to figure out our matches and then notify us.

Ultimately, we ended up making a new girlfriend who is relatively new to the city, and, naturally, we invited her to join us for dessert after the event closed up shop and all the speed daters dispersed. We chatted about how it all went as girls are apt to do and came to the realization that there are plenty of us in the same boat. All of the ladies looked like great catches. We’re not sure why it’s so hard to find someone we can connect with, but we’re willing to take our time to find the right person. Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun in the meantime. One friend pondered why they didn’t make it larger where would we meet twenty people instead of a dozen, but my response to that was that it’s so overwhelming. We already had a hard enough time recalling all the conversations we had that night and differentiating the guys from one another after we left, let alone adding another eight people to the mix.

Our treat for the evening. The dessert trio at Moxie's!

Our treat for the evening. The dessert trio at Moxie’s!

However, I posed this question to my friends over our dessert: despite some complaints about some of the guys and the event itself, would you ever go speed dating again? At first it was a resounding “no” from both of my friends, but slowly one changed her mind. Initially, I said I might choose to take part once more, but after being told we would receive our mutual matches the following day and not actually hearing anything for three days, I thought the service could have been better.

In the end, I received two matches, but after such a delay to find out who they were, I think many of us already forgot who we had spoken to. The details melded together and it became a big blur, at least for me. The postponed notice of our matches took away from the momentum of the initial contact, and we started to think maybe we didn’t get any matches at all. I was the one who decided to reach out to my matches first (it’s time for the ladies to take charge), but I feel that with e-mail as the only point of contact, it becomes too easy for someone to disregard the matches and move on without attempting to see where an additional meeting could lead. In my case, one of my matches told me he doesn’t like to go out with more than one person at a time, and since he already had plans to meet someone else from the same event, he wasn’t planning to see me. I don’t know what you think about that, but my first thought was, “this is the first time you’re going out with this other person since the event. Based on an eight minute conversation, you’re putting all your eggs in one basket and missing out on other opportunities.” But, really, it’s his loss, not mine. I went into this without any major expectations, had a fun night, checked off guys that aren’t usually my “type” (not that I have one), but had good conversation with, and just left it at that. I figured the worst that could happen is that they didn’t feel the same. I had no attachments yet, so I wouldn’t be broken up over the outcome.

Would I recommend going to something like this with a friend or two? It’s a tough call. If you like the idea of having a friend there for support and to talk to about the whole ordeal afterwards, then, yes, I’d say bring someone along. But, if you can be the jealous type, I’d tell you that it might be best to go on your own. It would be terrible if you were excited about someone you met, but your friend was matched instead, or perhaps if you both received the same matches, but it didn’t work out for one of you. It’s really a judgement call. Although, no matter what, you have to take it all in stride. You can’t invest everything in this one instance because life doesn’t always go the way you expect it to. I enjoyed going with my friend as the discussion alone was worth it.

The index page of FastLife.ca

The index page of FastLife.ca

With regards to the event coordination, I would say that, for the regular cost of $60, not having a drink included is unfortunate; also nacho chips with no toppings and just sides of salsa and sour cream were included, but not placed out until the very end. They weren’t enticing enough to keep participants there. In fact, in my opinion, FastLife was a bit cheap considering the amount of money each person spent on the evening. Know that if you decide to attend one of these events, there might be extra costs associated. I may try this avenue again because I wouldn’t mind seeing what kind of guys show up at the other themed evenings. However, I would definitely seek out another deal or wait for FastLife to offer one (they do on occasion) as I think it’s too expensive to go for full price.

At the end of the day, dating nowadays seems like it’s a numbers game. You have to put yourself out there if you want to find someone you’re willing to start a relationship with. Some people are lucky to find their other half early in life and for others it takes a little more time. If anything, going to events like this, I might make a new circle of friends and I’m always up for that.

If you’re considering speed dating, remember that it’s all in good fun. You have to go in with an open mind and just be ready to take a chance. Hopefully, you’ll have a fun time, maybe make a friend or two and come out of it with some good stories to tell.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria (Jasper Ave)

Appetizer - Prosciutto Wrapped Mozzarella Balls

Appetizer – Prosciutto Wrapped Mozzarella Balls

Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria, number 53 on The Tomato Food & Drink’s top 100 best things to eat or drink in Edmonton, Alberta, has been a mainstay in the city ever since it opened its first location at Jasper Avenue and 118 Street in 2005. Over the years, Famoso has expanded to 26 restaurants between three provinces with a 27th franchise opening in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan come this spring.

Pizza isn’t something that I go out for regularly, but, when I do, it should come out of the oven hot, flavourful and it shouldn’t be too heavy in the stomach. Famoso’s pies certainly fit the bill.

Out of all the times I have been, I have not once tried the margherita pizza, which was mentioned in the Tomato’s list. However, I have tried a number of the others, including the Sweet BBQ Chicken and Spicy Thai, and very much enjoyed them.

My latest visit to the original downtown location was a chance for me to use my soon-to-expire Groupon. The voucher included an appetizer, a regular pizza and a seasonal pizza, allowing for a nice variety during our meal.

Immediately upon entering the establishment, I noticed that it looked refreshed. I’m not sure when it happened, but I think the space had a new coat of paint and the booths had been reupholstered fairly recently. We grabbed a table and immediately started perusing the menu. One improvement I noted was that they now include a note pad at the table, so you can jot down everything you want without having to work from memory when you head over to the till to place your order (maybe they always had them, but I had never seen that before and I thought it was great addition). The only thing they should also provide is a pen or pencil as well.

The front counter

The front counter

As a further comment, I always found it strange that a sit-down restaurant with servers that bring your food over to you and will take subsequent requests for drinks and desserts at the table later requires you to take your initial order to the counter. But, after thinking further about it while dining this time, I can see a couple of benefits. The first is that you can take your time going through the menu and picking out the items you want without the server stopping by every few minutes to ask if you’re ready. The second is that when you are ready, you can make sure you’re not waiting for someone to come by before you can get your order in, meaning you can delight in your meal at your own pace. Service is usually attentive as they make sure they are well staffed to handle and attend to the tables.

Regarding the food, I feel that it has always been tasty, but the menu has diversified and incorporated many more elements that bring in new flavours from different cultures and I love it. This particular dinner, my mother and I shared a small order of the Prosciutto Wrapped Mozzarella Balls as well as the Cavoletti and Moo Shu BBQ Duck pizzas.

As an appetizer, the Prosciutto Wrapped Mozzarella Balls are a great starter. The small size comes with three of the mozzarella balls smothered in a light tomato sauce with a side of fresh flatbread. I have never really been a fan of the tomato paste type sauces put on most pizzas, so it’s nice to know that this dish incorporates a simple, quick-cook sauce that isn’t overpowering and still lets the flavours of the prosciutto and gooey mozzarella shine through.

The Cavoletti pizza bianca

The Cavoletti pizza bianca – one of my favourites!

The Cavoletti falls under the white pizza category (no sauce) and is topped with Brussels sprouts, prosciutto crisps, gorgonzola cheese, dates, walnuts and a bit of honey. I will say that the first time I ate this pizza, I was a little skeptical, but it has become a favourite and is now ordered almost every time I go to Famoso. I’m a sucker for the combination of nutty, salty and sweet flavours that come out in recipes like this. The textures of this pizza are fantastic as there is a nice crunch from the oven-roasted Brussels sprouts, prosciutto crisps and walnuts. On another occasion I added duck as a topping and it paired well, reminding me a little bit of the BBQ Duck Clubhouse sandwich made at Cactus Club Café with its Peking duck, roasted chicken, San Daniele prosciutto and pecan fruit bread.

Our second pizza, the Moo Shu BBQ Duck is seasonal for fall/winter 2014 and falls under the new world pizzas list on the menu. This one has toppings that include house-made hoisin sauce, fior-di-latte (mozzarella), pulled duck, green onions and chopped cilantro (not a flavour that suits my palate, so I typically ask to have it omitted if I can). This was reminiscent of the many Peking duck dinners that I have eaten at New Dragon Palace where you build wraps filled with crispy duck skin, duck meat, hoisin sauce and julienned carrots and green onions. The barbecue taste provided extra bite and heat, which I appreciated as someone who likes spice.

The Moo Shu BBQ Duck new world pizza

The Moo Shu BBQ Duck new world pizza

Best of all, the food showed up at our table piping hot – not always the case in the past – and I was glad as my mom needs her food to be almost scalding, otherwise, to her, the meal becomes “just okay” or subpar, so big props to the kitchen this time around.

It was also extremely busy at the Jasper Avenue location this particular Saturday. I’m not sure if some people were coming in to use up their Groupon as I was, but having arrived for an early supper at four o’clock that afternoon, we saw the place fill up promptly afterwards, and the stream of people coming into the place did not let up at all.

As a whole, if you love authentic Italian cuisine (all owners and managers of each new franchise go through an intensive training program in Naples, Italy), Famoso will not disappoint.

For a more in-depth look at the establishment’s involvement in the Edmonton community and its efforts towards sustainability visit The Local Good to read my profile of Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria.