Edmonton Restaurant Review: Zinc

Dinner begins with our appetizers.

As quickly as it arrived, the Downtown Business Association’s Dining Week (DTDW) disappeared. The dust has settled and here are my thoughts on the second of my three outings (Tzin was the preceding review).

Zinc, attached to the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA), is a place that I’ve dined at on only a couple of occasions previous to this. I’ve also had the pleasure of enjoying food catered by the restaurant during one or two events held at the AGA. Yet, I had never taken the opportunity to write about my experiences. This time seems as good as any to do that.

On a chilly early evening, my friend and I showed up to our reservation (booked through OpenTable) right on time. It took a few minutes, but one of the servers greeted us and promptly showed us to our table. Architecturally, the venue is beautiful. With tall floor to ceiling windows, a mix of modern décor and glossy washes of deep, bright royal blue, the space feels relaxing and tranquil even on a dreary day.

To keep things moving along, the manager took our drink orders. Both of us opted to stick with water for the night. He also put through our meal selections once we had decided between the choices available to us on the $45 DTDW executive dinner menu.

For my starter, I elected to try the fried oyster basket – cheese stuffed bologna or turkey pot pie were the other picks – which was presented in a relatively deconstructed and artistic way. The mini fry basket had been tossed on its side with the oysters scattered on the plate. Next to the basket was a skinny shot glass of sauce and closest to me were a few circular lemon slices. When it was set down before me, the server indicated that the accompanying sauce was of roasted red pepper. This was different from the description on the menu where I had read it was to come with a maple cocktail sauce. Honestly, I think the maple may have been a better flavour to go with the brininess of the oysters. That sense of sweetness and salt. The red pepper cocktail sauce was still good, but it was quite acidic and dilly. I could have done with a little less of the herb. On the other hand, basic lemon juice squeezed atop the non-greasy, crisp oysters was a treat on its own.

Braised Beef Cheeks with roasted root vegetables.

Rather than going with the duck cassoulet or the veal bolognaise, my entrée consisted of the braised beef cheeks. The meat, cooked in a red wine demi-glace, and the garlic smashed potatoes weren’t anything spectacular. They were just decent. I had actually expected the beef to be more succulent than it was. No, the absolute stars of the dish were the roasted root vegetables. A pile of sliced carrots and, my best guess is diced parsnips, sang in my mouth. Smoky from the slight charring and a little bit fragrant, I could have easily gone for another helping.

Butternut Squash Cheesecake

The final course was a butternut squash cheesecake. At first consideration, the squash appeared to be an odd component to a dessert, but that’s merely because it’s not the typical pumpkin. The butternut squash is subtly sweet and nutty compared to its relative. Most of the sugariness in this dish came from the white chocolate curls sprinkled over the cake as well as the peach and pear salsa and pieces of fruit that were there as complements. On the other hand, the minuscule grains of Tonka bean really stood out on my palate. Known to be fruity and spicy, these tiny shavings produced a bitterness that didn’t necessarily overwhelm my taste buds; however, the flavour couldn’t be ignored either. This was an enjoyable dessert, simply because every bite provided something surprising.

Zinc’s website is keen to point out that the menu puts a focus on fresh Alberta ingredients and food products with inspiration for seasonal changes being taken from the rotating featured art exhibits. I have no clue as to what is currently being showcased at the gallery. All I know is that the dishes we tried were delicious and, even though the plates weren’t necessarily inventive, it’s an interesting notion – one that I believe to be true – that food and art are really one in the same.

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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.