Edmonton Restaurant Review: Soy & Pepper

Cheese Dongasu with Cabbage Salad

On a recent girls’ night out, my friends and I narrowed our choices down to several places near downtown Edmonton. After some back and forth, we eventually settled on Soy & Pepper, which touts itself as a modern Korean eatery. Located on 112 Street and Jasper Avenue, it actually took a group of us coming from the south side of the city longer to get there than we expected. Thankfully, one of my girlfriends arrived on time and was able to hold our reservation.

When we finally made our way there and found a parking spot (there is a free lot behind the building), I was surprised to see that the restaurant wasn’t that busy for a Saturday evening. There were just a few other occupied tables, and it didn’t change much as the night continued, so I do wonder how business is going for them.

I will say that the establishment is quite nice though. Everything is really clean, it’s roomy, and the furniture and decor are modern — sleek wooden tables, black Eiffel chairs, white stone accent walls. I estimate that the space can fit about forty patrons at a time. The single downfall was that it was slightly breezy inside. We were seated relatively close to the front door, and it’s possible that, despite the shelter built around the entrance to mitigate the issue, a draft was caused whenever it was opened. It wouldn’t be a problem during warmer months, but in the winter, it meant my friends bundling up in their scarves and jackets at one point or another.

Soy & Pepper’s food menu.

Once we all settled in, we inspected the menus. They have a minimal wine and beer list as well as several Korean wine or liquor options. For those who prefer non-alcoholic beverages, they have the usual sodas and tea or coffee. Unfortunately for me, they did not offer any cocktails, so I stuck with water.

Since we hadn’t gotten together in a long while, we weren’t in any rush. Therefore, we decided to go with some starters. I selected the Kimchi Potato Balls ($6), another ordered the Potstickers ($7.50), and a pair shared the Kimchi Pork Poutine ($16).


I did not sample the Potstickers myself, but judging by their appearance, they looked alright. There were four to a plate and they were very long with crispy shells. I’m hoping the dough to pork and veggie filling ratio was okay as I thought the skin seemed a tad thick. Otherwise, they were probably prepared with a quick fry in an oiled pan, then steamed with water, and then fried again to get the consistency I saw. That’s my favourite way to make them at home to ensure the middle is cooked through and the outside is golden brown.

Kimchi Pork Poutine

The Kimchi Pork Poutine was an interesting find. It’s that instance of fusion food that always finds a way onto the menus of local restaurants attempting to do authentic Asian cuisine. This item is available only during dinner at Soy & Pepper. In terms of portion size, it’s generously loaded with braised pork, onions, sautéed kimchi, house hot sauce, cheese, and cilantro. There’s a kick from the combination of hot sauce (mainly this) and kimchi, so if spicy is your thing, go for it. Best of all, the fries were delicious. They reminded me a lot of the ones sold at the Costco food court when I was younger; light, fluffy centers with bubbly outsides.

Kimchi Potato Balls

My Kimchi Potato Balls were served as a duo of mashed potatoes mixed with kimchi, cheese, and green beans, which were then breaded and fried until crisp. They were then placed on a bed of chipotle aioli sauce and then topped with dollops of sour cream and sprinkles of green onions. These had a hint of heat balanced out by the sour cream. I appreciated how smooth the potato was, too.

For our entrées, all four of my friends chose to go with the Bulgogi ($16). Two of them had Chili Pepper Seasoning ($1) added to the dish. A large bowl of House Kimchi ($5) was shared among the group. I went in another direction by picking the Cheese Dongasu ($20).

House Kimchi

I’ll start by discussing the House Kimchi. Admittedly, I thought I’d enjoy it more. However, out of all the kimchi I’ve ever tried, this was probably the most underwhelming. A staple of Korean cuisine, kimchi is a traditional side that is typically made with cabbage that has been salted and fermented. Personally, I think the pickled flavour wasn’t strong enough and the seasonings used didn’t produce enough spice. It was also a bit waterier than I prefer, but it was decent in plain rice.

Bulgogi with Chili Pepper Seasoning

At first glance, the Bulgogi plates came across as small. Yet, once the accompanying rice was stirred in with the marinated and grilled Alberta AAA beef, onions, green onions, cabbage, and bean sprouts, there was plenty of food. The dish seemed to be well-seasoned and flavourful, especially the ones with the chili pepper seasoning. In fact, it may have been too much chili as my friend who loves spicy food reiterated a few times that it was very hot on her palate. I’d recommend ordering the Bulgogi and then sprinkling on the dry chili flakes provided at the table until it’s to one’s liking, and it won’t cost anything extra.

Cheese Dongasu with Cabbage Salad, Rice & Dongasu Sauce

I loved, loved, loved the Cheese Dongasu. This is basically a deep fried, breaded pork loin that is stuffed with cheese. On the side is a wonderful dongasu sauce — simplified versions are often made with Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, brown sugar, and Ketchup — for dipping, a bowl of white rice, and a cabbage salad in sesame dressing. I didn’t really need the rice that much, but it was good, not overcooked. I ended up packing that up (the remaining sesame dressing drizzled on top) with half of my humongous pork loin for leftovers. The cabbage salad was quite tasty as there was a good amount of dressing and the veggies were fresh and crunchy. The pork loin was the absolute star. There was so much cheese inside that when I pulled the pieces apart, the melted cheese just oozed out seductively.


The majority of the group opted for dessert: a scoop of vanilla ice cream ($2.25), a slice of carrot cake ($7), and the Ho-ddeok ($8.50). I can’t say a whole lot about the vanilla ice cream as there isn’t much to elaborate on, but the slice of carrot cake, though it appeared to be appetizing with nuts, raisins and cream cheese icing, was definitely not made in-house. It was brought to the table with plastic film still stuck to it, like when you go to the store and buy an individual piece of cake at the bakery. What was worth every penny was the Ho-ddeok. That is a warm, chewy dough pancake stuffed with sugar, honey, butter, mixed nuts, maple syrup, and cinnamon. It’s served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. My friend described it as being similar to an elephant ear with filling. I think that potentially undersells it. However, I would go back for this in a heartbeat. Between this and the Cheese Dongasu, it’s a total toss up for my favourite bite of the night. Either way, try both, if you can swing it.

The service was attentive and friendly, the food hit the mark for the most part, the portions received for the price are more than reasonable, and the place is easily accessible. It also has the perfect ambience for those who want to spend the night catching up. The staff member was never pushy, so we felt comfortable taking our time and staying for a while. Plus, even though there was music playing, it wasn’t overly loud. We were able to hear each other talk without having to shout. Accounting for everything, Soy & Pepper turned out to be a fantastic spot for a get together. I’m already looking forward to my next visit because I really want to explore more of the menu with my fiancé.


Edmonton Restaurant Review: New Dragon Palace

Peking Duck

For as long as I can remember, my parents and I have been frequenting New Dragon Palace Seafood Restaurant (17743 98 Avenue). I suppose it’s just one of those places that becomes a standard, so much so that my fiancé had to ask me why we go there so often. But, it’s family-run and, the owners know who we are, which offers that feeling of familiarity. Plus, as with most Chinese eateries, they’re always open, even when every other business is closed.

Our most recent occasion to visit was over the Chinese New Year weekend. We went in on the Family Day holiday Monday. Walking into the establishment is like stepping back in time to the late eighties or early nineties with washes of muted pinks and greens. Still, they’ve kept it up okay and the space is quite tidy and clean. Although, I do find that their utensils and dishes can feel kind of filmy from washing, I just give them a quick swipe with a napkin and let it go.

We never veer far from our usual menu items: deep fried chicken, sizzling beef, sweet & sour pork, and Chinese broccoli when we want to incorporate some veggies. When we really want to celebrate, we get Peking duck. This time, we made sure to pre-order the latter dish to ensure that we wouldn’t miss out.

It didn’t take long for our food to start making its way out of the kitchen. The fixings for the duck — hoisin sauce, julienned carrots and cucumber, and shreds of scallions — were laid out first while the bird was being prepared. When the wraps and sliced duck came out, I was ready to pounce. While everything looked and tasted great, I was somewhat disappointed because there wasn’t actually a whole lot of meat on the skins. In fact, there was a lot more fat than anything else, turning the wraps into grease pockets. I had to scrape a lot of the fat off to make them more edible. It was a far cry from our last Peking duck at New Dragon Palace, which was perfectly cooked and meaty with a minimal layer of fat and super crisp skin. Of course, I don’t completely blame the restaurant as it’s hard for them to know how the duck will turn out until they actually prep it and take it apart.

What I do love about Peking duck is that the whole bird is used. Along with the wraps, the kitchen also makes a wonderful duck soup using the bones. The cream-coloured broth is savoury and smooth, improved even further with wilted greens and chunks of tofu. I will usually have at least a few bowls during my meal. Additionally, the remaining meat of the duck is sauteed with bean sprouts and carrots into an earthy stir fry that goes so well with a bowl of white rice.

A half order of the deep fried chicken.

The deep fried chicken is always a delight because they get the skin so crispy, yet the meat is still tender inside. The dark garlicky soy-like sauce is a must to drench chicken and rice in. My only wish is that there were more pieces of white meat in each order as, lately, I have found the pieces of half chicken to be rather bony.

We all enjoy the sizzling beef as it comes to the table so hot. Aside from a slice or two that were too chewy to eat, the meat was, otherwise, thick, succulent and well-marinated with plenty of sauce.

The sweet and sour boneless pork.

Last, but never least is the sweet and sour boneless pork. The meat is battered and fried until crisp and then it’s mixed into a sweet and sour sauce with peppers, onions and pineapple. The balance of flavours and the retention of the crisp outer shell of the pork is why we keep going back to it.

To finish off the meal, a complimentary tong sui (sweet, warm soup) is provided. It typically ranges from red bean to tapioca, neither of which are my favourites, at least the way they prepare it. For the new year, I was in for a treat though. We got bowls of almond soup with black sesame dumplings (filled glutinous rice balls), often served during special occasions. These were a real treat. When my fiancé opted not to eat his, I happily helped myself to seconds.

I was so excited to eat at New Dragon Palace again for Chinese New Year. The kitchen had hit it out of the park on our previous visit. However, comparatively, I wasn’t as impressed in February. Each dish seemed smaller in size, more sloppily made, and less fresh than before. It’s possible that someone else was running the show, which could account for the difference in quality. Consistency is probably one of the restaurant’s main issues. The problem is, customers can’t tell ahead of time what they’re going to get on any given day. They basically have to hope for the best.

What is great about the eatery is the value. Five of us ate that day for about $110 after tax and tip was included. Not only did everyone leave with their bellies full, we also left with a handful of containers to take home, too. If the cost justifies the caliber, then I think things are on par here.

Meal Kit Box & Recipe Review: Chefs Plate

The Chefs Plate welcome booklet.

I’ll come clean. I’m not a much of a cook. Although I don’t hate or dislike the process, I’m just not one to plan out a dinner by picking up specific ingredients and then spending hours slaving over the stove in my kitchen. By the time I get home from work, I need something that can be whipped up quickly. My fiancé and I have our go to dinners nowadays. But, admittedly, we have fallen into a bit of a rut. At times, we’re not even having well-balanced or properly portioned meals.

Luckily, in the new year, I found myself scrolling through the Groupon app. There, I came across a voucher for two weeks of meal kit deliveries from a service called MissFresh (watch for a post later this month). For half the usual price plus an extra 25 per cent off with a promo code, it was too good of a deal to pass up. Little did I know that that decision would be the beginning of a small obsession with these types of businesses. By the end of January, I had signed up with three more: Chefs Plate, HelloFresh, and Goodfood. With all of them, I managed to get some sort of a discount or incentive through ads that I saw on social media, making them affordable enough to justify.

Canadian-based Chefs Plate is the first service where we completed what I’ll deem the “trial run” as neither my fiancé nor I have any intention of continuing to use the service. At the regular going rate of $65.70 (I paid half that), it’s kind of pricey considering the smallest box that comes with free delivery only covers three dishes in a week for two people, working out to $10.95 per serving. Sure, it’s less expensive than dining out at a restaurant and healthier than picking up fast food. However, armed with a few new recipes, we both agree that we can probably emulate similar meals for less than it costs to have Chefs Plate package and deliver everything to us.

In any case, here’s how the whole process works:

  1. Register an account on the Chefs Plate website. Aside from the typical personal information, it will ask for the number of meals and portions required each week and the preferred date of delivery, along with the user’s credit card information.
  2. Preview the menus for upcoming weeks. Click on each dish to see the level of skill required to make it (the majority are listed as “easy”), the estimated amount of time it takes to cook, all the ingredients that will be supplied, the number of calories in the recipe, and any allergen information, if available.
  3. Set your delivery schedule. The service allows for weeks to be skipped up to four months in advance, or the subscription can be paused indefinitely to ensure nothing is sent out without consent. Turn it back on when service is required again.
  4. Watch for the delivery to arrive on the requested date.

Chefs Plate ships using FedEx. I had our box sent to our condo on a Friday. Our buzzer number and unit info was provided with our address at the time I ordered our package. It arrived by 10:30 am that morning and was brought right to our door after I let the delivery man into our building. My fiancé grabbed it and moved all of the contents from the box to the fridge immediately.

When I got home from work, I inspected the packaging. Everything had been contained within a thermal insulated, double-lidded cardboard container. A couple of small ice packs were inserted to keep the meats cold and a thick kraft-type piece of paper separated those vacuum sealed packs of meat from the three bags of ingredients that sat on the top. The strongly lined paper bags were sealed, but a clear window at the front showed the contents and a sticker on the back indicated which dish it was for. The sticker also had the nutritional breakdown of the meal printed on it.

Read about the food journey.

Inside the box there was a welcome booklet that talked about the food journey of our kit. The three recipe cards were there, too. These are actually printed on heavy card stock and have a nice finish to them. I expect that they’ll hold up well over time. They are big cards though (8.5″ x 11″), so they may not be the easiest to store. It’s also important for me to note that most of these services expect their customers’ kitchens to be stocked with basics such as salt, pepper, olive oil, butter and sometimes milk. If any of those are missing, it’s not the end of the world. There’s usually something that can serve as an alternative.

We decided to start our Chefs Plate experience with their Greek Chicken & Tzatziki Sauce recipe. One thing we did with this one was that we substituted the chicken breasts they had provided with ones we already had in our fridge. This was simply to reduce wastage of produce we had bought before receiving our box, and the chicken that came with this recipe was saved for use later. We did notice that the size of the chicken breasts were quite a bit smaller than the ones we purchased ourselves. No matter though. This dish turned out great.

Good timing is required to get each component on the plate at the same time, but every step is outlined clearly and as long as they are followed, it seems pretty hard to mess this one up. The chicken was pan seared in a bit of oil until golden brown. Cooked cracked wheat was mixed with baby spinach, cherry tomatoes and oregano. Then, all of it was tossed in a honey-based dressing to make the tabbouleh. Pita had been baked into crispy chips. Best of all, we learned how easy it was to make that addictive tzatziki sauce. It’s something we never would have gone out of our way to make from scratch. Yet, now that we know how to do it, we’ll likely do so again. We’d definitely give this a 7.5 out of 10.

A couple of nights later, we made our second recipe: Italian Sausage Cavatelli. This pack consisted of red onions, parsnip, chili flakes, rapini, cream, Parmesan cheese, ground pork and fresh cavatelli pasta. It was a surprisingly tasty dish with layers of flavour. The sauteed red onions provided a mild sweetness to the relatively light cream sauce while the rapini brought in a tinge of bitterness and the parsnips added some earthiness. Chili flakes — go easy on this ingredient, if spicy heat isn’t welcome — helped to season the pork, and the Parmesan finished it off by bringing in a shot of saltiness. The portions were very generous. If we had been a little less gluttonous, the amount of food this recipe made could have certainly fed three people or provided leftovers for someone’s lunch. Out of a 10, we’d rate this one an 8.5.

The following Monday, four days after we had received our delivery, we cooked up our third kit from the box. This was a fabulous Spiced Steak & Garlic Salsa Verde with roasted fingerling potatoes and cheesy kale chips. We felt it was okay to leave this one until later since Chefs Plate recommends eating red meats last as they can be stored longer than fish or poultry. We were very happy with the cut of meat we got. It was so supple, producing a tender steak that held in all the juices once it was seared.

The meat was supposed to be marinated with a dry Salvador spice mix, salt, and pepper. However, we decided to add some smoked balsamic vinegar we had on hand. That, combined with the garlic salsa verde (cooked garlic, chopped parsley, red wine vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper), really worked to elevate the dish further. What’s steak without potatoes? The fingerlings had a pleasant buttery texture and flavour once roasted. Plus, they’re not super dense or heavy in terms of potatoes. The fresh leaves of kale had to be broiled in the oven until crisp as well. They actually provided a lot more kale than needed, so we set some aside for another time. Personally, I loved the kale chips with Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. My fiancé wasn’t as much a fan of those, but he did enjoy everything else. Both of us think this meal deserves an 8 out of 10.

We were really happy with the quality of the meat and ingredients.

All three recipes took around 30 minutes to prep, cook and plate, so we were sitting down to eat soon after we started. We both appreciated the convenience of having everything we needed delivered to our door with the ingredients for each recipe carefully packaged and labelled. Honestly, it was fool proof, and I truly think it made my fiancé feel as if he was a real chef. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, the service is too expensive to become a regular indulgence at our house. Nevertheless, if one’s income allows it, we’d highly recommend testing Chefs Plate at home.

This review is in no way affiliated with Chefs Plate. I purchased the meal kit on my own and have chosen to share my thoughts here. If anyone is interested in signing up for a subscription, please use my Chefs Plate referral link to receive three FREE plates with your first delivery.

Edmonton Business Review: Hansen Distillery

A bit of family history before being led into the production area.

Opened mid-December of 2016, Hansen Distillery was, by a slim margin, the second producer to enter the Edmonton market. Strathcona Spirits beat them to the punch by just a day. Although, to their advantage, Hansen Distillery has been welcoming customers through their doors from the very start.

Located in the west end of the city at 174 Street and 111 Avenue, their warehouse and retail space sits in the middle of a largely industrial area, which would be easy to miss. Nevertheless, the shop’s sweet lounge (available Tuesday to Saturday) as well as the tour and tasting offered Thursdays to Saturdays have given locals a great reason to pop by and expand their knowledge and palates.

Back around the Christmas holidays, I was given a certificate for two people to attend a tour and tasting at Hansen Distillery. I had been meaning to redeem it for a while, but I ended up holding onto it. Upon researching potential wedding venues in the new year, I came across their retail space as an option. I decided to reach out to owner Shayna Hansen to inquire about renting it out. Since I’d never been there, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to use my voucher and to preview the place in person at the same time.

My fiancé and I were scheduled in for the 2:00pm slot on a Saturday afternoon. When we arrived, there were no formalities. We were simply asked if we were there for the tour and when we nodded in confirmation, we were told that we could just relax until the rest of the group made it in. As we waited for things to start, I walked around the room snapping photos. For a business that has only been open for a little over a year, they have certainly done a fantastic job with the branding. The custom logos, signage, metalwork and bar are a perfect mix of rustic and industrial design. Along with that, history and Albertan roots are hammered home here.

Several minutes later, our tour kicked off with Shayna talking about her family’s long tradition. Moonshiners go back four generations to her great grandparents who made it through World War I only to have to deal with the Great Depression. In those years, the spirits were made as a means of trading for food to keep the family fed. Fast forward to a framed photo of her grandparents driving a 1928 Ford Model A (the same vehicle sits in the showroom) in a parade with “Moonshiners” blatantly painted on the side. Things certainly have changed from then to now where moonshining has become a legitimate business. The trade passed down to Shayna’s parents and, after some hesitation, down to Shayna’s now husband, Kris Sustrik, who handles it all from the distilling down to the bottling at Hansen Distillery.

When we passed through the doors into their production area, we got our first glimpse of the gorgeous copper still, named The Mistress. It happened to be distilling a batch of their Barn Owl Vodka on that day. Unfortunately, I didn’t retain the exact details of the distilling process. I will chalk it up to the fact that I’m encouraging everyone who reads this to book their own tour and tasting in support of this local business. Yet, I can relay that we were allowed to taste vodka directly from the machine by dipping our finger into a tiny pool of the liquor. I probably wouldn’t do that under normal circumstances. However, Kris assured us, at 98 to 99 per cent alcohol, it was extremely sterile. The lick of vodka was strong, but also quite sweet.

Each ingredient used for their spirits are natural and/or locally sourced. The single fake ingredient (Kris was very honest about this) is the stabilizer in the cream used for their cream liqueurs, giving the products about a year of shelf life. As soon as a batch of liquor is ready, they bottle it right there. On a typical day, they’ll likely be able to do 500 bottles and labels, although the record stands at over 700. It’s actually such a small crew, that Kris pretty much has his fingerprints on every single item that leaves the warehouse.

Expanding their current line of vodka, rye, gin and moonshine, they’re just over a third of the way to finishing their first batch of rye whiskey, which by Canadian standards must be mashed, fermented and then distilled in a wood cask for a minimum of three years. When the barrels are ready, they’ll bottle and sell everything through the shop to ensure fans of Hansen Distillery get to be the first to try them. Explaining the steps and how the wood of the cask affects the flavour, I could tell that Kris is incredibly passionate about the craft. A year in, they’ve already won a couple of awards. Call it beginners luck, or perhaps it’s a real knack. Either way, Hansen Distillery seems to have a good thing going for them. If anything, they’ve come into it at the right time, acting as influencers in a new and burgeoning industry.

The tasting begins.

As the tour came to a close, we were led to a long table laid out with popcorn, water, and taster cups sitting in specially made horseshoe-shaped trays. While most of the hard liquors were quite smooth, admittedly, I’m not inclined to drink them straight, so I only had small sips of their vodka (a bit like disinfectant), Border Crossing Rye (a decent precursor to an aged whiskey), and Trouble Gin (lots of juniper berries with a hint of citrus). They absolutely knocked it out of the park with their seasonal spirits though. After initial tastes of the two cream liqueurs (Saskatoon Berry and Chocolate Hazelnut), Ring of Fire, and Cherry Rye, I went back to finish each of those off as they were all delicious on their own. The one that took me by surprise the most was the Ring of Fire. As a rye spirit, I was fully expecting not to like it, but the cinnamon really comes through and the chilli peppers provide just the right amount of heat to warm the body.

For about an hour and approximately three ounces worth of alcohol, the usual price of $7 per person for the Hansen Distillery tour and tasting is well worth it. Plus, if inclined, grab a bottle of a favourite as they’ve recently lowered the prices of their bottled spirits, passing along savings incurred when the Government of Alberta and the Alberta Liquor and Gaming Corporation reduced the markup for small manufacturers who self-distribute products. When the tour and shopping spree is over, the cozy lounge space is ideal to relax and chat over a cocktail, too. Heck, it’s so adorable that I really could picture having a wedding reception there. At about thirty seats, including the bar, it would be quite intimate. A few extra tables could be squeezed in though. It may not work for me and my fiancé. Yet, it could be another couple’s dream spot.

Overall, this was a fun, casual learning experience. Shayna and Kris have been hitting it out of the park. With more than twelve months under their belt, I wish them the best of luck as they continue building the family’s legacy. They are the true embodiment of the entrepreneurial spirit in Edmonton and Alberta, and I look to them as an example for what can be accomplished here in my hometown.

A fun use of storage in their warehouse.