Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Dish Bistro (Closed)

Ricotta pasta with a side of salad and housemade chips

Ricotta pasta with a side of salad and housemade chips

In business since 1979, The Dish Bistro (@dishspoonbistro) has amassed many regular customers. However, until a few years ago, I wasn’t one of them. Growing up just blocks away in the Glenora neighbourhood, you would think that my family would have dined there at least once before. The Oliver area is really a skip, hop and jump from their home, yet that was far from the case. It took over twenty-five years before my parents set foot into the establishment and it was only because my fondness for Groupon deals brought us there.

Stepping into the restaurant, it’s unassuming. Large windows brighten up the somewhat dim space, which is broken up into three areas – a room by the bar, a smaller sliver that sits between that and another adjoining span that can likely be rearranged for large parties and is often opened up on busier evenings to expand the total number of seats. The green walls are sporadically adorned by art that kind of reminds me of a grandma’s house. The Dish is homey and has a casual air about it. They also have a patio, which they call the “Secret Garden.” A hidden nook behind the building, the outdoor space must be accessed by passing through a side gate and walking down a small path. I finally had a chance to take advantage of the patio this summer when the weather was still smiling down on us. It’s really cute with hanging flower pots, a bird house, twinkle lights, trees and bright red brick walls. Although, I should note that I overheard one server tell another table of patrons that the space is several degrees cooler than out at the front of the restaurant, so once the temperature cools down come fall, it’s probably not so lovely out there. Make sure to choose a nice, sunny day to dine outside.

Having been several times within the past thirty-six months or so, I developed a taste for certain dishes, specifically the Wild Mushroom & Feta Pasta with beef tenderloin added, so I was pretty much set to order the same thing when I went in June. What I wasn’t aware of prior to getting there were the selections on the daily features menu. Upon seeing the several items on the list, it made my decision all the more difficult. The thing is though, once I spotted the Chicken & Waffles I knew that I had to try it for the sake of comparison. Recently having sampled the dish at The Common and Sugarbowl, I needed to see if The Dish’s version could live up to what I had eaten at the other two restaurants. The friendly server working that evening said it was a good choice.

While my dining companion and I waited for our food to be made, we sipped on water through whimsical paper straws and chatted. Our plates arrived relatively quickly and were each filled with a large circular green onion and cheddar buttermilk waffle topped with two fat pieces of crispy seasoned chicken breast that were drizzled with a grainy mustard and maple syrup. The chicken was battered and fried well – not greasy with a shell that wasn’t too thick and the meat was relatively juicy. It didn’t taste like it was seasoned much, so the majority of flavour came from the fluffy waffle and the syrup, which could easily have been overly sweet. That was avoided with the addition of the mustard. On that note, I would say that The Dish’s ability to keep the Chicken & Waffles more savory than sugary makes it better than what I had at Sugarbowl, but still not quite as delicious as The Common’s offering that builds bacon into the waffle and refrains from the syrup route by going for tart and spicy profiles, using their blackberry and chili sauce instead.

To finish off the evening, we ordered the Double Chocolate Fudge Brownie for dessert. I’d eaten it previously, but I had forgotten just how good it is. You’re given an ample portion (possibly not quite enough for two people as we were fighting for bites) of brownie that has been drenched in chocolate and caramel sauce and comes with a side of vanilla ice cream. The brownie is extremely rich and very moist on the inside, so much so that it almost comes off as being a lava cake. Either way, it was a satisfying end to our meal.

About a month later, my mom joined me there for dinner (that’s when we sat in the “Secret Garden”). She chose the salmon and asparagus quiche with a side of tomato bisque, and I opted for the ricotta pasta dish with a salad of mixed greens and raspberry vinaigrette. Both meals were tasty, but I would say that the quiche would have been better had it come to the table better heated. On the other hand, my layered pasta was piping hot, so my mom kept sneaking some from my plate. We finished off our supper with a tangy lemon tart. More similar in consistency to a light fruit yogurt, the flavour was strong, but refreshing. The whole dessert was kind of airy since they also dismissed using a regular pie crust and exchanged it for a thin filo pastry cup instead. It was exactly what we were looking for after our heavier mains.

I can certainly see why The Dish Bistro is still a favourite of diners thirty-five years after opening their doors. Coming in at No. 45 on The Tomato‘s list of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton for 2013, they certainly have continued to excel at contemporary comfort fare.

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Edmonton Restaurant Review: Café Caribé

I found out about Café Caribé when I received an e-mail notification from Groupon about new food and drink deals in the city. Having never heard of the restaurant before, I decided to Google them to find out more about it and where they are located. As it turns out, they took over the old Crepe Symphony space on Rice Howard Way (right next door to Tres Carnales) in the downtown core of Edmonton. A little bit sad to hear that my crepe destination of choice was no longer in business, but also excited at the prospect of trying something new, I immediately purchased a voucher.

Prior to renovations! The couches are still there, but the wallpaper is gone. I hope the table lamps are still there though.

Prior to renovations! The couches are still there, but the wallpaper is gone. I hope the table lamps are still there though.

Specializing in Caribbean cuisine, I thought my friend might be interested in joining me, so the two of us made arrangements to meet there for lunch during a work day. We arrived shortly before one o’clock and it was almost empty save for one table. At the time, the look of the restaurant hadn’t been altered much – the same coloured walls, counter, tables and chairs were being used as with the location’s previous incarnation as Crepe Symphony. The main differences included a graffiti wall with Café Caribé scrawled across almost the entire span, a baroque style black and white wallpaper on the adjacent side against which sat an antique style couch in a lounge-type space and a large banner with an owl graphic on it hanging on the wall by the bar. These slight changes made the place feel a little more unique, not so cookie cutter. However, I just saw on their website that they have undergone even further renovations to give the space a vibe that better matches the food as well as a bar that provides extra seating.

They have taken out the dessert case and have built a full L-shaped bar on that side now.

They have taken out the dessert case and have built a full L-shaped bar on that side now.

A singer/guitarist had also set up in the corner and was providing entertainment by performing pop covers throughout the hour, which was a surprising touch that made it seem like a special outing. I almost thought I was somewhere in Europe with the relaxed atmosphere that it provided.

Although I was greeted upon walking into the restaurant by Hayley, the owner’s daughter, who will bring menus to you, it’s essentially a self-seating establishment, so we decided to sit at a table next to the lounge area. The tables were adorned with large mason jars that had small twinkle lights inside to add a bit of whimsy to the surroundings. Juni, the Chef/Owner, came by to say hello and let us know that everything was made to order. She seemed very sweet and was happy that we were there to sample her food.

An order of the crab cakes to start.

An order of the crab cakes to start.

The two of us ended up ordering the crab cake appetizer to share. The dish came to the table with two pan seared crab cake patties sitting on a bed of spinach and topped with fresh mango slices and mango chow. We both enjoyed the combination of the fruit with the spice of the cakes. For our mains, we each went with a roti dish – chicken for me, channa and aloo for my friend. Opting to go with the vegetarian dish, my friend liked the curry chick peas and potato that filled her plate. My folded piece of house-made roti was stuffed with large chunks of chicken and potato that were cooked in a Trinidadian curry. I thought the flavours were great and I almost struggled to finish everything because I was getting too full. The roti entrees came with sides of greens and more mango chow as well.

My plate of chicken roti with salad.

My plate of chicken roti with salad.

The restaurant seemed rather quiet when we were there with only a few patrons dining in, but the food is good and you’re given decently sized portions (I certainly didn’t leave hungry). What I liked most is that they are an independent business that is family owned and operated. Those I came across that day were friendly and open to chatting, so I hope that business picks up for them. I wish Café Caribé the best of luck!

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Rostizado by Tres Carnales

"Water for oxen, wine for kings."

“Water for oxen, wine for kings.”

The backs of the coasters are printed with the Spanish proverb, “El agua es para los bueyes y el vino, para los reyes.” Roughly translated to English, it means, “Water for oxen, wine for kings.” While my friends and I did not drink any wine on our evening out, we did feast like royalty at Rostizado by Tres Carnales.

Originally, we had a group of eight that planned to get together, so I had attempted to book a table in advance. However, I was told that they had taken the maximum number of reservations for the evening (they only accept them for groups of 8 or more, 48 hours in advance). Being that all my friends were going to be off work by 5pm that Wednesday, we decided to chance it and do a walk-in. One friend arrived early and put the group down on the waiting list as a table for 6 (a couple of people could no longer make it). We were told that it would likely be ready by 5:15, so we sat on the benches outside the restaurant as there isn’t much room to linger inside. Just shortly after the indicated time, my friend received a text message letting us know that we could come in if our whole party was there. Thankfully, our last two members were within sight as they ambled down the block.

When we walked into the restaurant, I noticed that the Mexican style living room was to my left with the open kitchen directly ahead, seating behind and to the right with a private room (or two) at the far end. Retaining the rustic sensibilities of its predecessor, Roast Coffeehouse & Wine Bar, it’s a decent sized, 70-seat space that allows them to rearrange tables as needed. Mostly though, it has a homey feeling to it. You’re meant to sit back and relax. We were placed at a table against the wall that gave half of us a full view of the chef working away. Warmth was emanating from the rotisserie that was slow cooking chicken and pork, requiring that I acclimate during our meal (I eventually did).

Our server, Monika, was great; she brought us still filtered water (no charge) as soon as we sat down, provided us with drink recommendations (FYI…the pitchers of sangria that can be ordered at Tres Carnales, Rostizado’s sister restaurant, are not on offer here) and she indicated whether or not we had ordered enough food for the group. The menu isn’t large by any means, but everything other than the cemitas (sandwiches) are meant to be shared family style. We basically decided to go big or go home, so we ended up ordering the smoked salmon sopes, the albondigas, and queso fundido to start. The salteados verde and the jicama salad accompanied our two platters for two.

The smoked salmon sopes was the first appetizer to come. A plate of three hand-made corn flour sopes – they look like thick tortilla shells, but they’re fried until the outside is cooked and they are still soft on the inside – topped with an avocado cream salsa, tequila cured smoked salmon, mesquite, radishes and white onion, it was easy to split between the six of us. Personally, I wish there had been just a bit more salmon on it to cover every bite. Yet, this was my favourite of the three entradas we ate. The mix of textures from the sope, fish, salsa and raw vegetables, plus the range of flavours in the few mouthfuls that I had was enough to make me want more.

Albondigas are Mexican meatballs made of house ground veal, pork, beef and rice served with tomato and warm chile de árbol salsa, which gives the dish a heat that slowly builds and lingers. I’m a fan of spice and I could handle it, but a couple of my companions thought it was a bit too much for them. Regardless, I think you get four large meatballs that are juicy and really hold the essence of the salsa well. The last starter was the queso fundido, a skillet of melted smoked gouda and monterrey jack cheeses mixed with wild mushrooms, poblano chile strips and sautéed onions served with a side of bread and tortilla chips. This was really tasty. The cheese stayed hot and stringy because of the iron skillet. Unfortunately, it was also smaller than I would have liked, but definitely worth a try.

We opted for two salads, so we’d get some sort of green during our meal. The salteados verde is listed as sautéed seasonal greens cooked with garlic, apple cider vinegar, poblano strips and pumpkin seeds. Seasonal greens on this evening turned out to be kale, which was excellent. The kale really soaked up the vinegar, taking on a tanginess that was offset by the nuttiness of the seeds. Jicama salad, for me, was a nice alternative to the rest of the dishes, which were largely savoury. The salad was a mix of jicama (reminds me of apple), pickled red onion, orange segments, cucumber, mint and lime juice, which I considered to be a refreshing palate cleanser before beginning on our main platters.

The combination platter for two! We ordered two of these.

The combination platter for two! We ordered two of these.

Two huge wooden boards emblazoned with the Rostizado logo had to be fit onto our table. Each was covered with a combination of local Four Whistle Farm chicken (half) and pork roasted in-house (Chris, one of the owners, came by to say hello, and he said they’re experimenting with other meats on the rotisserie, including duck, which they know is my favourite!), garnished with peppers and carrots and served with rosti-papas (potatos) and tortillas. Let me just say, wow! While we all preferred the pork over the chicken, it’s not to say that the chicken wasn’t any good. The bird was perfect; it was slow roasted on the rotisserie so that the meat practically dissolved in your mouth. The difference is that the pork was incredibly juicy and the rub used to marinate the meat was so flavourful that it didn’t require anything else. A bit of pork inside a tortilla shell was all that I needed. The rosti-papas were delicious as well, and they were nice to have as a starch when we ran out of the tortilla wraps that came with the platters. As we were warned by Monika, we did have plenty of meat left over. She packed the rest up in two boxes for us. I happily took one home and it became my lunch the next day.

That meat was saved for leftovers on purpose, of course. Why you ask? Well, because we had to save a bit of room for dessert. They only offer two desserts on the menu: flan de queso and churros con dulce de leche. We made sure to sample both, so we ordered two of each to share. I had seen posts of the churros on Rostizado’s Twitter feed (@Rostizado_yeg) and seen them make them on the morning news, so I definitely wanted to eat some. While they were delectable, especially made fresh and drizzled with dulce de leche sauce, it was the flan that won me over in the end. It looked like traditional flan, but it had cream cheese folded into it, so it was a lot more dense than I expected and incredibly smooth, and it was drenched with a thin caramel sauce and tossed with almond slices. It was spectacular.

We were there for about two and a half hours and felt welcome the entire time. The service and the food was stellar. Between Tres Carnales (@TresCarnales) and Rostizado, I’d say that Chris Sills, Dani Braun and Edgar Gutierrez are doing things right when it comes to the Edmonton restaurant scene. They focus on and perfect core dishes to ensure that no one walks away hungry, but, most of all, they give their full attention to everything – the atmosphere, the service and the patrons – so you feel as if you’re experiencing something special and memorable every time you dine with them.

The Tres Carnales - Chris and Dani watching over Edgar who's busy in the kitchen.

The Tres Carnales – Chris and Dani watching over Edgar who’s busy in the kitchen.

Open for exactly four weeks as of today, the restaurant has been getting raves and seems to be quite busy already. However, I know that there are still some who haven’t learned of its existence yet. Although, that won’t last for long! I fully expect that it will become a quick favourite for foodies and casual diners all across the city, and, no doubt, it will make The Tomato‘s list of best eats and drinks in Edmonton come 2015.

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

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Leva

Happy diners on the patio saying hello to me!

Happy diners on the patio saying hello to me!

To me, Leva (@cafeleva) was like this apparition that I would periodically spot whenever I was in Edmonton’s Garneau neighbourhood, never realizing it was an actual cafe until friends started mentioning it here and there. I’d pass by many more times before I finally made a point of trying it out at the end of May. Like a hidden gem, it’s slightly off the beaten path, tucked away among the residential enclave of the university area.

My friends and I met up for a late lunch on a Sunday afternoon. Two of us arrived together and, neither having visited previously, weren’t really aware of how their system worked. After we clarified with a staff member that we could seat ourselves and order at the counter when ready (they offer full service during dinner), we staked out a table that bridged both the interior of the cafe and the patio, so we could soak in some vitamin D without being blinded by the sunshine. The outdoor space is actually quite small, but they make good use of it and they even have outdoor heaters for those slightly chilly days or evenings. The interior is nice and bright with wood topped tables, white chairs, hints of yellow in the decor and big windows that let in lots of light.

The order counter and interior of Leva.

The order counter and interior of Leva.

Once our third party showed up, we headed over to the counter to take a look through the menu. One friend went with the Chicken Breast Panini, the other just ordered a chocolate gelato milkshake, and I got the 12″ Spicy Chicken Avocado thin crust Neapolitan Style pizza as well as a chai latte. Upon paying for our items at the till, we were given metal placards with numbers on them, which were to be placed on our table, so the servers would know who to bring the food to. In a way, it’s very similar to the set up at Famoso.

Drinks were ready within minutes. My chai latte was steaming hot. I almost mistook it for someone’s milkshake because it came in this very tall ceramic cup that looked like an old fashioned soda glass. I thought it was a cute touch. Unfortunately, I have to say that the brand of chai latte tea bags that Leva uses are only okay. I left it steeping the entire time we were there and the flavours never got that strong, remaining rather bland.

My chai latte. Cute cup, but not the most flavourful.

My chai latte. Cute cup, but not the most flavourful.

On the other hand, the food completely made up for the subpar beverage (I’ve heard the coffee is fantastic though, but I don’t drink it). My friend’s sandwich was filled with chicken breast, brie, sweet potato, rosemary, buckwheat honey and seasonal greens. She said it was really tasty, especially liking the use of sweet potato to add an extra flavour profile to an otherwise basic panini. My pizza was topped with mozzarella, spicy chicken, avocado and cherry tomatoes. I can’t say the chicken was all that spicy (I can definitely handle more), but I enjoyed the combination of the four items and the overall simplicity of the meal. Everything tasted so fresh and the crust was crispy on the outside yet soft enough to fold for easier eating. I devoured the entire thing in the one sitting.

The dessert case was awfully tempting, too. I was absolutely stuffed after eating my whole pizza, so I refrained from indulging further, but one of my friends did pick up a macaron that she said was very good.

Edmonton foodies knew much earlier than I did about Leva – voted by readers into the No. 47 spot on The Tomato‘s directory of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton for 2014 and No. 38 in 2013), so I have them to thank for nudging me towards the place. I also happened to catch a glimpse of who I’m sure was local celebrity, Chef Daniel Costa of Corso 32 and Bar Bricco, stopping by to pick up a drink. If that’s not enough to tell me that Leva should be on the radar after 10 years in business, I don’t know what is.

Chef Daniel Costa of Corso 31 and Bar Bricco (or his doppelganger) stopping by for a drink.

Chef Daniel Costa of Corso 31 and Bar Bricco (or his doppelganger) stopping by for a drink.

The food seems to be relatively healthy, keeping to the basics of the ingredients. That’s something that I think is important when eating out, so I’m excited to add this establishment to my ever-growing list of city restaurants to revisit. And, after having been twice in the last month, it’s now also one of my friend’s new favourite hangouts, so I’m sure I’ll be coming around more in the future.