Edmonton Restaurant Review: Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse

Pampa downtown Edmonton interior

For years, Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse sat on 99 Avenue and 109 Street as the lone location in Edmonton. However, more recently, they’ve grown to include two more spots in the city, one in Ellerslie and another in the west end. Although the premise of rodÍzio (unlimited meat carved at the table) always intrigued me, the price didn’t necessarily encourage me to go.

As my friends had mentioned before, it’s a great experience, but the cost — $52.99 per person for dinner — simply covered the main meal and buffet. Anything such as drinks and/or desserts (if you even have room left) were an addition, quickly racking up the bill. Therefore, it remained on my list of places to try, but it was never a priority.

Then, last year, a different restaurant with the same idea decided to open up along Saskatchewan Drive. A number of other local foodies were popping into Fumaca Brazilian Steakhouse to test run it, and I opted to check it out, too. Personally, I loved Fumaca’s meats (their buffet could use some improvement), and ever since then, I’d been wanting to get to Pampa to compare the two.

Downtown Dining Week menu

I strategically waited until Downtown Dining Week rolled around before booking an OpenTable reservation for our visit. The $45 menu on offer during that event was slightly smaller. It included the hot and cold buffet (over fifty items) as well as ten different meat skewers versus the usual fourteen at regular price. Was it enough of a difference to my wallet to skimp out on those four more meats? Probably not. On the other hand, I made a point of trying all ten cuts that were available to me, and I can safely say that I don’t think I could have eaten any more than what I did (not counting the dessert I tacked on at the end).

My plate of items from the hot and cold salad bar

To recap the overall meal, I’ll start with the buffet. It’s a pretty extensive spread ranging from pickles and veggies to hummus and cheese to potatoes and salads (greens and pastas) to soups and stews. It certainly seemed fresher than the one at Fumaca with more variety and larger portions set out. While I chose not to sample the soups, they did look deliciously creamy. Ultimately, I stuck with some of the house-made hummus (I’ve had better from a store bought container), sliced radishes, raddichio salad (kind of bitter and oddly textured), Brazilian cheese bread (too hard as if it’d sat out too long under heat), beef penne salad, marinated baby potatoes, Caesar salad, and a warm creamy chicken pasta to accompany my onslaught of meats.

Once we were back at our table, we left our cards flipped to the green side to signify that we were ready for the skewers to come; flip them to the red side to let the servers know you need a break.

Marinated Chicken Drumstick

First up was the marinated chicken drumstick. I found this to be simply seasoned and smoky with a very crisp exterior while still maintaining some moisture underneath the skin. Not my favourite, but tasty enough.

Pampa Pork Sausage

Next was the Pampa pork sausage. I have not learned to love cilantro (it has that soapy flavour) and I found that the herbaceousness of it came through too much for me. This sausage was also dry and I didn’t enjoy the full pieces of peppercorn that dotted the pork.

Beef Top Sirloin

I asked for a more medium-cooked slice of the beef top sirloin. Definitely a bit more fatty than some of the other cuts of beef, but this was tender, juicy and nicely crusted at the edges.

Bacon-Wrapped Chicken Thigh

The bacon-wrapped chicken thigh is likely the hottest piece of meat that we were served (everything else was lukewarm). This was probably due to bacon grease being trapped between the pork and the chicken. No question, it was a little oily, but the chicken was quite succulent underneath the bacon.

Parmesan Pork Loin

One of my top choices, more for the flavour than the texture (slightly tough), was the Parmesan pork loin. The meat had a hint of lemon to it and it was heavily rubbed with dry Parmesan cheese crumbs. Honestly, this was a genius combo.

Rosemary-Marinated Pork Shoulder

Before trying the rosemary-marinated pork shoulder, I wasn’t sure that I would like it. Pork shoulder isn’t a cut of the pig that I often have and I was concerned about the preparation of it. Turns out that it was the closest thing to pork belly (go figure) that I’d get to eat on that night. Sure, it didn’t have the same fattiness of pork belly, but the extremely crispy skin held all of the juices in and reminded me of the pork belly I’d had at Fumaca.

Beef Garlic Steak

Can you ever have too much garlic? It’s a preference thing, I suppose. In the case of their beef garlic steak, I’d say that it’s a big maybe. Initially, I loved the abundance of garlic crusting the piece I was carved. Yet, it eventually became way too salty on my palate.

Chimichurri-Basted Beef Striploin

The only meat that wasn’t served from a skewer was the chimichurri-basted beef striploin. It was one of the last meats that I was presented with, so I asked for a smaller piece to make sure that I’d be able to finish it. If there was cilantro in the sauce (it’s a typical ingredient in many chimichurris), the flavour was thankfully masked; nevertheless, it was too greasy and salty despite the use of a tender steak as the base.

New Zealand Leg of Lamb

To change things up, they also offer a New Zealand leg of lamb. Much leaner than the other meats, it provided a decent chew and a lovely outer crust without the gamey flavour that many dislike about lamb (I don’t actually mind it myself).

Beef Rumpsteak

Last, but not least, was the beef rumpsteak. The slice I received was just a tad dry (shredding apart in the mouth) even though it looked to be cooked perfectly and had a nice colouring to it. It was also very minimally seasoned, making it kind of bland.

As a final bow on the evening, I went for their feature dessert. It was a coconut custard with boiled mango on top. The preparation of the fruit was interesting. It turned the mango into something like a chewy jelly, and the custard actually had flakes of coconut in it. Not the worst, but also off-putting since custards should really be creamy and smooth. This was unexpected.

All in, our meal came to $114 after tax and tip was accounted for. Aside from the one dessert, we refrained from extras like beverages, which made it more reasonable for two people. Nonetheless, with each small glimmer of greatness in the food, there were also many things that I found to be lackluster. I’m not likely to go back to Pampa anytime soon; however, if anyone is a fan of meat, meat, and more meat at a single sitting, then this is the place for you.

Travel Roundup: Hong Kong & Macau 2019

Public art is showcased at PMQ

I thought I’d write a post about my latest trip to Hong Kong and Macau (we returned home about a month ago). It’d been about two and a half years since my previous visit, and this time I had my parents and Kirk in tow with me.

While we still did some of the usual things a tourist would do (it was Kirk’s first time there, after all), the primary reason for our vacation was to see my extended family, especially my grandparents who are both in their nineties. We wanted to have a big reunion ahead of our upcoming wedding in the fall as it’d allow us a chance to celebrate with them in case they couldn’t make it to Edmonton for the real deal.

From the standpoint of culture shock, I’d say that Kirk did better than me with aspects like the crazy crowds while I fared better when it came to heights; three of the world’s 50 tallest buildings reside in this territory and being the fourth most densely populated region on the globe, you can image that everything is built up, not out. What’s great about Hong Kong, though, is it’s quite easy to navigate. English and Chinese signage is everywhere, and a large portion of the residents speak English, too.

I’ll try to do a short recap of each day of our trip here. If there’s anything that was covered in detail in my past write up, I’ll refer you to that. Hopefully, for the restaurants that we had a chance to try, I’ll be doing separate posts at a later date.

Day 1 – Hong Kong

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We arrived in Hong Kong around supper time. Once my parents had gotten their suitcases from the luggage carousel (Kirk and I only packed carry on for the two week vacation), we picked up Airport Express passes and made our way on the train to Hong Kong Station. From there, my uncle and aunt picked us up. Being around rush hour — many people work from about 10:00am to 6:00 or 7:00pm daily — we hit some traffic. However, it didn’t take too long, and next thing you know, we were in the super convenient area of Causeway Bay being dropped off at the Holiday Inn Express (my cousins were very kind to treat us to our stay there).

Once we’d checked into our room, put away our bags, and freshened up, we walked across the street to Times Square to meet up with the four of them for dinner. On the tenth floor of the mall was Greenhouse, a Southeast Asian restaurant. Honestly, we stuffed our faces here with roast chicken, pizza, salads, and steak. When we finished our meal, Kirk and I decided to walk off the food by perusing some of the shops, including a very cool whiskey store with lots of limited edition bottles, and a business that only sold Totoro items.

After twenty hours or so of travel, we were exhausted. We settled in and went to bed. Best of all, it was late in the evening in Hong Kong, so we got into a good rhythm right away. Thankfully, we didn’t experience much, if any, jet lag during our time there.

Day 2 – Hong Kong

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We took it pretty easy on our first full day in Hong Kong. Once we’d gotten ready to go, we actually went to visit with my grandma in Wanchai before doing anything else. It was so great to see her again and she finally got to meet Kirk. Language barrier aside, they were pretty adorable.

For lunch, we headed back to Causeway Bay where we ate at Din Tai Fung. While it’s not a local restaurant, it’s famous for their Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings). My mom wasn’t overly impressed with them because the dumplings weren’t hot enough. Although I agreed with her on that point, I still love their too expensive (over $30 CDN for six) black truffle and pork variety. Their wontons are pretty delicious as well.

After that, we explored Causeway Bay, giving Kirk a chance to get a lay of the land. We stopped in SOGO, a fancy department store in the middle of the area. My mom wanted to show Kirk the basement-level grocery store with the pricey imported fruits. Honestly, they’re beautifully packaged, looking pristine and at peak ripeness, but I still can’t fathom why any of them cost as much as they do.

As we walked around that area, we found a kiosk for BAKE Cheese Tart (actually a Japanese chain). They’re famous for their pastries and they literally sell only one item. These bright yellow rays of sunshine look sort of like an egg tart, but they’re a little more savoury because of the cheese and the consistency of the crust is more like a cookie than a pie.

If you haven’t guessed yet, a lot of our time in Hong Kong consisted of eating. That night was no different. We met up with another uncle and two of my aunts for dinner inside the Conrad Hotel at Brassarie on the Eighth. To my family’s dismay, they had sold out of the Tomahawk steaks that they had their eyes on. But, in the end, everything that we had (minus the undercooked souffles) were wonderfully prepared. I quite enjoyed my indulgent four-course meal.

Day 3 – Hong Kong

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The smog cleared up a bit on our third day in the city, so we decided it’d be an opportune time to take Kirk to Victoria Peak. From there, you can see expansive vistas of the valley. My dad insisted that we walk along Victoria Peak Loop (from what I could find online, I believe it’s 4.5 kilometers in length) as he wanted to reminisce about his childhood days when he and his brothers would adventure nearby. He kept saying that there were great views. Initially, I didn’t believe him because all I could see were trees along the edge, but eventually, they opened up to reveal those postcard images.

Even though the path was even and paved, it was a slower walk than we’d hoped. No one had really prepared for the distance (because we didn’t know we’d be walking this trail) and the creeping heat. So, it was nice when we made it to the end and sustenance was in sight. My relatives had told us about the new Bread Street Kitchen by Gordon Ramsay on the Peak, and I had my heart set on going there for lunch.

The restaurant serves elevated pub-style dishes. Both my dad and Kirk went for the Dry Aged British Beef Burgers. My mom ate the Fried Buffalo Chicken Burger. Me being me, I had to sample a few different things, including Mushroom Arancini, Mixed Grain Salad, and Smoked Steak Tartare. Nothing disappointed. Everything was prepared well with ample flavour.

When we finished our meal, we caught the bus back down the mountain (double decker buses driving along the narrow winding roads with very short barriers are always a little hard to get used to). We rode it all the way to Central Station. That’s where you can catch a Star Ferry boat over to the Kowloon side. Fun fact: the reliable ferries have been in use since 1888 and many still retain their original wooden seats.

On the Kowloon side, we stopped into the famous Peninsula Hotel. Our original plan was to have high tea there, but at a minimum of $350 HKD (approximately $70 CDN) per person, we opted not to stay. Instead, we walked around the Avenue of the Stars and 1881 Heritage — the past Old Marine Police Headquarters now reestablished as a luxury shopping landmark — before heading back over to the island. It was our intention to stay on the Kowloon side longer, so that we could see the nightly light show across the water, but it would have meant killing quite a bit of time, and everyone was rather tired, especially my father.

Day 4 – Hong Kong

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One thing I can never recall doing during all of my past trips to Hong Kong is riding the tram. Yet, I’d highly recommend this affordable transportation now. Each of these cars have two stories on them and if you can snag the topside seats at the front (or even the back), you’ll have fantastic views of the streets that you pass by. It’s definitely a more leisurely ride, so don’t expect to get anywhere as quickly as you would compared to the subway or the bus. We rode all the way from one end of the line at Happy Valley to the very end at Sheung Wan.

In Sheung Wan, we stopped to check out the views of the harbour and then we sought out a place for lunch. Gioia caught our attention with their lunch special: purchase three meals and the fourth was free. Plus, the set lunch menu of three-courses and a beverage for about $20 each was already a steal.

Once we completed our meal, we explored the area on foot, passing through wet markets and stopping to look at real estate listings. We also noticed that there were more elderly milling about. It seemed like they had regular routines and most were still going about their days on their own even though they were probably in their eighties or nineties. Lots of props to them for keeping up with an active lifestyle.

That night, we took it easy with dinner at my grandma’s. Her helpers prepared such wonderful Indonesian-style dishes for us. They pulled out all of the stops, and we were stuffed silly.

Day 5 – Hong Kong

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On this day, we ventured to the Diamond Hill district where we paused for lunch at Genki Sushi. They’ve revamped these restaurants to utilize online phone ordering and the trains that come right to your table to drop off each plate (similar to what you might find in Japan). While my cousin has stated that the sushi from here is next to inedible, it’s still pretty decent to me. Coming from landlocked Edmonton (where, don’t get me wrong, we do have some good sushi available), anything we can get in Hong Kong, due to it’s closer proximity to water, is going to be fresher than home. Also, sear the seafood and toss some sauce on it, and it will be good.

For dessert, there was a Mamma Mia Gelato kiosk right outside the doors of Genki Sushi. I couldn’t pass up some scoops of the black sesame, matcha, and pistachio flavours.

We followed lunch up with a trek across the street to the Nan Lian Garden and Chi Lin Nunnery. I’ve gone to this spot every single time on each of the last few trips I’ve taken to Hong Kong. It’s because it’s one of the most tranquil locations in the city. Whenever you step into the fenced garden, it’s like quiet envelops the entire area, making it a respite from all of the hustle and bustle.

In the evening, we had our big family dinner with all of my uncles, aunts, cousins, and nieces on my mom’s side. This was Kirk’s opportunity to meet everyone (before they all jetted off on their own holidays or work trips). We had a traditional multi-course Chinese meal and we passed out our wedding invitations in person.

To cap off the night, we stayed at the Hong Kong Jockey Club Happy Valley Clubhouse bar for drinks and snacks. The bartender really knew his stuff when it came to whiskeys and cocktails, and there was live music, which my dad loved.

Day 6 – Hong Kong

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We spent most of this morning and afternoon visiting with my cousin and her family. They made us brunch (delicious Australian wagyu burgers) and gave Kirk whiskeys to taste while we held and played with their baby girls.

When it came to supper, my aunt, uncle, and cousin took us to the iconic Jumbo Floating Restaurant. Reaching the marina, we then hopped on a boat that brought us across the water to the entrance of the building. The restaurant has so many ornate details to it, and I get why it’s become such a landmark. The Queen of England has dined there, and my grandparents even celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at Jumbo when I was just in my early teens. I hadn’t been back since.

The food was incredible and they really put on a show for their customers with certain dishes like our drunken prawns prepared tableside. It’s certainly a spot that’s unforgettable.

Day 7 – Hong Kong

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We head back to Kowloon to meet with my dad’s side of the family over dim sum and roast pigeon. They even bought us a personalized cake to celebrate our engagement. It was a really nice get together.

Since we were at Olympia Plaza, we decided to do some shopping. Hong Kong is littered with shops along every street and corner. There are malls all over the place, too. However, if you find yourself there, you’ll likely notice that most of the stores are high end brands that the average tourist probably can’t afford to shop at. Olympia Plaza is a great mall with a variety of businesses that sell goods at much more reasonable price points. They even had a Muji! In the vein of IKEA, but born out of Japan, their food section sells ample matcha flavoured snacks. I filled up a basket with every single matcha item I could find.

More relatives of ours wanted to meet up, so we arranged dinner with them at Fini’s. An Italian American restaurant, we were served burrata, eggplant parm, a huge pizza, and pasta galore. It was such a filling, yet satisfying meal.

When we finished supper, my cousin wanted to show us the SoHo area where most of the nightlife can be found, particularly around Lan Kwai Fong. We found some of the staff at the busier bars to be quite aggressive as they attempted to lure customers in as we walked by. Rather than go to any of those places, though, my cousin treated us to customized drinks at the hidden J.Boroski. We also popped into Iron Fairies next door to see the hanging butterflies prior to catching a cab back to the hotel for the night.

Day 8 – Macau

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In the morning, once we were out and about, I started noticing weird red welts on my left foot. I’m not sure what happened and when exactly, but I must have been bitten by one vicious bug. I mean, no trip of mine is ever complete without me having some sort of reaction to a bug bite and a potential infection, right?

Anyway, I tried not to think about it too much. We got to the ferry terminal to take us to Macau. TIP: Don’t forget your passport as they are required (Kirk had to hilariously crouch down for the camera after he scanned his documents to get through the customs area). Our tickets were for the regular class on the TurboJET ferry. It takes about an hour on the hydrofoil boats to get from Hong Kong to Macau, so we arrived well before noon. From the Macau ferry terminal, we caught a shuttle bus to The Venetian. Kirk wanted to try his hand at the roulette tables at the casino there. However, with a gaming industry that is seven times larger than that of Las Vegas, required bets were high, and our small amount of money didn’t last very long.

Still, we wandered around to the Parisian (gorgeous marbled building, by the way) where we found a lovely set lunch menu at a French restaurant called Brassarie. With full stomachs, we then took another shuttle bus back over to the Sands where we caught a cab that dropped us within walking distance of the Ruins of St. Paul’s.

St. Paul’s was a Catholic church and college that were destroyed by fire during a typhoon in 1835. Only the facade of the church remains standing at the top of the steps. This is one of Macau’s main attractions and, thus, it’s always crowded with tourists. Slightly to the east, you’ll find the Monte Fort (a.k.a. Fortaleza do Monte), which provides 360 degree views overlooking the city.

No trip to Macau would be complete without purchasing some almond cookies from Koi Kei Bakery (and probably some fresh Portugese egg tarts, which we failed to seek out). These are a very popular souvenir to take home. My mom told me that these are currently the favourite, but back in the day, another bakery was actually considered the best until a Chinese soap opera advertised the Koi Kei brand, allowing it to surpass the other in sales.

We returned to Hong Kong right before the dinner rush, so we popped into Genki Sushi at the ferry terminal for a quick meal. The rest of the evening was pretty lax with a run to 7-11 for treats.

Day 9 – Hong Kong

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We spent the day in Stanley where we perused the market stalls, checked out the pier and Murray House, investigated the shops at the plaza, and grabbed burgers for lunch at Beef & Liberty. On the way back to Causeway Bay, we made a pit stop at Repulse Bay, so Kirk could dip his feet into the water at the beach.

Returning to the city center, we made our way to a street market stall to buy socks ($15 CDN for 10 pairs of quality Korean knitwear). Then, we walked to the Fashion Walk food district for dinner at MINH & KOK, a Vietnamese and Thai restaurant.

Day 10 – Hong Kong

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Kirk saw an ad in one of the local papers for a tailor offering a deal on custom made suits, so my mom made him an appointment. Much to my dismay, the weather gods were not our friends, and we ended up leaving the metro station to find it pouring outside. We did more running around than we needed to, but we eventually found the teeny tiny shop. Alas, it was decided that they were not our best option, and we ventured back underground where it was dry and warm.

The metro station led us to K11 Art Mall (also a mall with a variety of stores that are much more affordable and it doubles as an art museum). There, my dad settled on us having lunch at an eatery called BU Healthy Dining & Gathering. The prices were right. I can’t say much for the service as it was pretty shoddy, and the soup was so-so as was my iced milk tea. Nevertheless, I found my Thai curry pasta to be quite good. It hit the spot with its creamy sauce and level of spice.

While we were at the mall, we decided to do some shopping before we headed back to Causeway Bay. We killed some time at Lane Crawford Times Square and then we got ready to go to the horse races.

My aunt and uncle were kind enough to bring us along to a buffet dinner in one of the members only areas of the Happy Valley Racecourse. Throughout our meal, we were able to place bets on the eight races that ran throughout the evening. I think, all in, Kirk and I spent about $50 CDN between six or seven of the races over a four hour period. Considering the amount of time we spent there and the entertainment value, we thought it was worth the money even though we didn’t take home any winnings.

Day 11 – Hong Kong

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It turned out to be another rainy day in Hong Kong, which meant our initial plans of walking around Sheung Wan’s outdoor markets (specifically in search of Chop Alley) were thwarted. We ended up staying indoors at the IFC Mall, using pedways to connect through to LANDMARK and the HSBC Building.

When we got hungry, all of the places in LANDMARK were full for high tea, so my mom took us to a cafe she knew about in a neighbouring mall. The building (2 Chinachem Plaza) that we found ourselves in was pretty run down, but Delifrance was alright. The place was clean and bright, and the food was tasty with the tea served hot. Just don’t ever go into the bathrooms in the building. If Kirk’s not willing to use them, you know it’s bad.

Eventually, it was time for dinner. We met up with my uncle, aunt, cousin, and my dad back at IFC for a pretty memorable meal at La Rambla by Catalunya. The authentic Spanish dishes were to die for with some pretty succulent seafood. Additionally, meat like the Tomahawk steak and the beef tartare just took things to a whole new level. Kirk was in his happy place before being surprised with cake and a sparkler for his upcoming birthday.

Day 12 – Hong Kong

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After passing by Mother of Pizzas several times during our vacation, we thought it was time to sit down and try it. It costs a pretty penny for food there and the pizza is a tad greasy (at least the one with pepperoni), but it was damn good.

With that satisfying lunch out of the way, we made it to Chop Alley. This narrow street is full of stalls that sell hand carved stone stamps. We were told that they made the best ones, but for the price and the quality, we actually thought that the ones we found in Stanley Market were better.

Talking about hand-crafted items, we then ventured to PMQ (formerly the Police Married Quarters), a building that has been restructured into an arts district. The main courtyard serves as a showcase for work from local artists and the surrounding units are filled with shops that sell their own locally made items and designs. I could have spent hours there.

Lastly, we passed by Ladder Street and the Cat Street Market, specifically known for antiques (I do wonder if they’re legit antiques though). With the rain and the time of day, most of the stalls were beginning to pack up for the evening.

Our final dinner on the trip was back at the Fashion Walk. I’d seen a sign for a place called Little Bao during our previous visit to MINH & KOK, and I sought it out on this night. It’s a contemporary take on those traditional Chinese bao pockets filled with meat. Here, they served their baos like burgers. My favourites were definitely the pork belly and the salted ice cream baos.

The next day, we had several hours left before our flight home. We spent it with my mom’s family at their weekly Saturday lunch gathering and then at my aunt and uncle’s home. After one last visit with my grandma, we took off for the airport.

We were totally spoiled on this trip. My family showed such hospitality to us and Kirk has been having Hong Kong withdrawal ever since we got back to Edmonton. It’s safe to say that Kirk loved it there, and he’s already been asking when we’ll be returning. I’m so lucky to have these opportunities to explore the world and I’m even luckier to have Kirk who’s willing to do so with me.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Tokyo Noodle Shop (AYCE Location)

Sashimi

All you can eat (AYCE) sushi is fairly hard to come by in Edmonton, and when you find a place that offers a menu like that, it can cost a pretty penny. As such, it’s important that you get a decent value for what you’re paying. I recently found out that Tokyo Noodle Shop, a longtime tenant on Whyte Avenue (I do have a soft spot in my heart for that place because it’s where Kirk and I had one of our first dates), opened a second location on the south side of the city. Situated at 10430 61 Avenue, the owners took over the space vacated by the short-lived Takami Sushi. Here, they now provide patrons with a brand new AYCE option.

The Tokyo Noodle Shop website vaguely mentions that they have AYCE sushi under the location listings of their homepage with no other mention of it anywhere else. Therefore, I had to search online for more information. Other diners had posted the menu on review sites or on their blogs, so I had a general idea of the cost (expected to be around $34 per person) and the items that would be available.

My friend and I decided to head over there for an early supper — they open at 4:00 pm — on a Sunday afternoon before we had a scheduled Paint Nite event. Upon arriving, we found that the building provides free parking around the back, so the restaurant has both an entrance there as well as at the front. We walked into the former and found ourselves navigating a long hallway (filled with crowded booth seating along one wall) to make it towards the staff who asked if we had a reservation. Unfortunately, we did not, but they managed to accommodate us even though they were apparently fully booked for the evening. There were a couple of tables situated right by the front door waiting area (where we were seated), making for a slightly awkward placement. Thankfully, not many customers came in from there, so it didn’t get crowded or cold at all.

All You Can Eat Sushi Menu

The table had been laid out with drink menus, a pen, and two AYCE sushi sheets (already prepared for your second order). As we looked it over, I noticed that the pricing had been revised since I’d last found an online review from late-December with a copy of the menu included. Rather than one flat rate through the week, they had changed it to have one cost Monday to Thursday and then another Friday to Sunday and on statutory holidays. It makes sense though. They’ve essentially matched what you’ll find at Watari. In my opinion, that’s their biggest competition; therefore, if Tokyo Noodle Shop sees themselves as on par with what you can find at Watari, then they may as well act as if they deserve to charge the same. On the plus side, they’ve also mirrored the different pricing for children and seniors, so you can expect to save a bit there.

We quickly filled out our first sheet, focusing heavily on the sashimi and tataki with a few other selections from the sushi, maki and appetizer categories. At first, service was quite quick. Salad, beef sashimi, and appetizers didn’t take too long to come out from the kitchen and, next thing you knew, everything had been placed on the table.

Beef Sashimi and Bean Sprout Salad

Each of us ordered the Bean Sprout Salad. I found this to have less of a sesame flavour compared to other places with much more prominent amounts of ginger. Not my favourite, but it was crisp and fresh. The Beef Sashimi is limited to three plates per person and comes with about four to five slices per plate. The meat was deep red in colour, doused in a pleasantly acidic sauce and covered with onions. Very tender cuts owing to the thinly shaved beef and quality of the meat.

Appetizers

Our other appetizers consisted of the Agedashi Tofu, Crabmeat Puff, Deep Fried Scallop, and Cheese Wonton. The Crabmeat Puff was a fried wonton filled with shredded fake crab meat and maybe a little bit of Japanese mayo to hold it together. It was alright, but lacked major flavour. Initially, I thought that the Deep Fried Scallop was decent. It wasn’t greasy and the scallop flaked apart easily. However, they didn’t serve it with any sauce, which could have been a nice touch. I ended up ordering a second one on our follow-up sheet, but I didn’t like it as much that time. The scallop seemed mushier, so I suppose that’s a hit or miss.

The Agedashi Tofu was good. I’d just recommend that you don’t let it sit in the sauce for too long otherwise the fried exterior gets soggy. Also, allow the morsels to cool off a bit before eating (best to split them apart to let the heat out) to prevent burning your mouth. My favourite out of the appetizers was definitely the Cheese Wonton. Again, the consistency is not exactly there at Tokyo Noodle Shop. The first Cheese Wonton I had was literally filled with cream cheese by itself. But, in our next round, the cheese had been combined with yellow corn. Admittedly, both versions were good. This was like a meatless take on the crab and cream cheese wontons I’d come to love from Panda Hut Express without my friend having a potential allergic reaction from consuming the crustacean.

Spicy Tuna and Shrimp Avocado Maki with Inari and Chop Chop Scallop Sushi

I wasn’t overly impressed with the maki, which came in orders of six pieces each. The two of us shared the Spicy Tuna. I found that to be okay in terms of flavour as there was definitely a kick of heat, but there was very little filling. Same goes for the Shrimp Avocado Maki as those barely seemed to have anything other than rice. The Chop Chop Scallop sushi was also average at best. While the nori wrap was crisp, I found that the scallop was diced much smaller than I’m used to and the seafood was tossed with way too much mayo, making it the only thing I could really taste. The Inari sushi was alright. I love the sweet sheets of bean curd and these were fine. I do suggest eating the whole piece in one mouthful as they do not bite apart easily and, if you try to split it with your teeth, you’ll end up with a mess.

Hidden under the Cones category, you’ll notice Tuna and Salmon Tataki on the menu. I have to say that the Tuna Tataki wasn’t my favourite. It was served with ponzu sauce and crispy fried onions, which were delicious; however, I didn’t like the texture after the tuna was seared on the edges. It was like it’d been overcooked and the sides were dry and scratchy in the mouth. The Salmon Tataki was fantastic though. Some have complained that the yuzu black pepper sauce is too peppery, but I thought it was perfect when I tried it. The salmon was especially good and soaked up the zesty sauce nicely.

Look at all of the sashimi!

At Tokyo Noodle Shop, the price of the AYCE menu accounts for up to 30 pieces of sashimi per person at the table. In all, we were able to order 60 pieces between us and we maxed it out. My friend stuck to the standard Salmon and Tuna sashimi. I split my selection between those and the Butter Fish. This was most definitely the highlight of our meal. Every single piece was accounted for and the portions were generous, especially with the salmon. Although I did think that the butter fish and tuna could have been thawed out a bit more (they were colder and icier towards the middle of the cut of each fish), they were still fairly fresh and of a decent quality. The meat was smooth — no discernible tendons — and had a light bite to the fish. The salmon sashimi was spectacular. The pieces we received had an excellent ratio of flesh to fat, making them incredibly succulent. The salmon almost melted in our mouths. Next time I’m at Tokyo Noodle Shop, there’s no doubt that I’ll stick to more of the salmon for the best experience.

My friend ordered more of the Inari Sushi

From our first sheet, only one item was missed. It was the Sunny Roll under the House Specials. It comes with eight huge pieces (we saw another table get something similar) and we chose to forego checking it off on our second submission as we didn’t want to end up being too full to finish everything. We just repeated a few of our favourites like the beef sashimi, agedashi tofu, and cheese wontons. All super snackable portions that we knew we could manage after devouring so much sashimi.

Green Tea Ice Cream

One thing I really do like at Tokyo Noodle Shop is that they include dessert in the price. It’s just a simple scoop of Green Tea Ice Cream, but that was enough to make me happy. Honestly, it was a little bit icy, but it tasted great. I’m a sucker for green tea desserts and this hit the spot.

I absolutely believe that this AYCE sushi option presented by Tokyo Noodle Shop is a fantastic addition to a city that is truly lacking in this realm. Sure, the service towards the end wasn’t the best (we kept putting our second order sheet towards the edge of the table and they skipped over us a number of times; I had to wave someone down to get it placed in the end), but overall, we were treated well. The space is clean, the staff are friendly, there’s a variety of items, food came out fast, 99 per cent of our order was correct, and we never felt rushed. Since it’s similarly priced to others in Edmonton and it’s on the south side, there’s a good chance that I’ll be back here more frequently.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Local Omnivore

Sausage Party

Before the Christmas holiday, I was scrolling through Instagram when I came across a post from GetintheLoop. They were offering $100 in local gift certificates to those who could prove that they were following their page. I wasn’t sure if I was too late to benefit from this, but I took a chance and screenshot my information, so they could verify.

Shortly after I sent my direct message, I received a reply asking for my mailing address. Within a few days, an envelope showed up that included $50 to spend at The Local Omnivore (10933 120 Street). In my mind, it was perfect because I’d been wanting to try this deli for a while. Although owners Mark Bellows and Ryan Brodziak had run their food truck of the same name for about two years prior to launching their brick and mortar restaurant in 2015, I’d never even tried their offerings then. Therefore, this visit had been a long time coming.

We walked into the place to find a crowded entrance. Some of the patrons were clearly attempting to pay for their bill at the till. But, I couldn’t tell if another group was waiting for a table or an order to go. The painted wood pallet wall indicated that guests still waiting for companions in their party should hold back on grabbing a table. Otherwise, you should have been able to seat yourself. This being our first visit, I opted to double check before walking in. We were told to go ahead and select any of the empty chairs in the eccentric — walls marked up with graffiti, an exposed cement floor, table tops of linoleum tiles — diner space.

At first, we selected a table located at the far end of the bench that runs along the concrete wall. After a few minutes, one of the servers spotted us there and told us that, even though we were instructed to sit wherever we wanted, this was the only table we couldn’t actually have. It’s apparently the only spot that can comfortably sit a group of five, meaning it had to be left open for larger groups. Fine. That’s when I noticed an available table tucked into the corner over towards the entrance. It was cozy minus the slight breeze whenever someone opened the door. Thankfully, the cool air dissipated quickly in those cases.

While The Local Omnivore serves brunch daily until 3:00 pm, I wasn’t super keen on trying anything from that selection. Ultimately, I decided that Kirk and I would head over there on a Saturday afternoon for a late lunch/early supper to take advantage of their regular sandwich, burger, and shareable menu. The two of us ended up splitting the Roast Vegetables ($9.99), Total Recall Philly sandwich ($15.50) with a side of Pirate Poutine ($9.99), and Butcher’s Board Sausage Party ($21).

I do have to say that the service was not ideal here. After they asked us to switch tables, it took at least five minutes for one of the servers to bring us some menus. She did come back fairly quickly to take our order; however, I’d say about 15 minutes later, another server came over to ask if we had gotten any drinks and inquired as to whether or not our food was on the way yet. Because of her lack of confidence, we assumed that they’d forgotten to put our order through; I was especially worried when I noticed that a duo who came in much later received their items before us. All in, I’d say that we waited about 30 minutes until our dishes were finally brought over.

Everything looked great when presented though. As I snapped photos, the aromas made my mouth water even more. Kirk kept eyeing all of the plates, mostly upset about the melted slices of Swiss cheese sliding out of the sandwich.

Roast Vegetables

I’ll begin with the Roast Vegetables. This was a mix of carrots and Brussels sprouts topped with sweet cider beets and pickled daikon. They were lightly seasoned and still earthy in flavour. I would have preferred the carrots to be less crunchy and that the veggies be more charred. Honestly, the best part was having the preserved beets and daikon, adding both a natural sweetness and acidity that balanced well together. For the price, I’ll admit, there are many other places that do roasted vegetables better than this and in ways that are more unique.

Total Recall Philly

The Total Recall Philly is The Local Omnivore’s take on a classic Philly cheese steak sandwich. Theirs includes a foot long sesame bun filled with a zesty cheese sauce, green peppers, mushroom, onion, Swiss Cheese, and a generous amount of roast beef. I was able to discern the sauteed mushrooms along the bottom of the sandwich and I found one piece of green pepper, but I didn’t notice much in the way of onion. It could certainly have used more of the veggies to round it out better. Kirk didn’t like how soggy the bun got either. On the other hand, I enjoyed the fact that it was a straight up bun, no crazy toasting, as I hate bread that is too hard. The zesty cheese sauce, Swiss cheese, and roast beef are what makes this delicious. I found the shaved meat to be a good thickness, easy to bite apart, and quite succulent.

Pirate Poutine

When the Pirate Poutine was brought over, it came in a separate bowl rather than on the same plate as the sandwich. I thought they may have given us a full order, but upon paying, I confirmed that it was actually put through as a side. Considering that, I feel like the side portion is quite decently sized and great for sharing. The shoe string pirate fries (seasoned with a paprika based mix) were doused in vegetarian gravy, cheese curds, and green onion. Based on the description, the potato itself wasn’t as skinny cut as I expected. There was still a little width to each stick. Granted, the outside of the fries were not all that crisp, so they got soggy fairly quickly. We ate this fast though as it turned out to be one of our favourite things at the table. In fact, the gravy was so good that Kirk truly thought it was made using meat. He was surprised to learn of it’s veggie origins when I broke the news to him.

Sausage Party with Pirate Poutine

Under the Butcher’s Boards category is where you’ll find the Sausage Party platter. This includes three of The Local Omnivore’s smoked sausages: Garlic Uke, Hot Italian, and Yellow Curry. Pots of house-made preserves are served on the side. Two of them were repeats of what already came with the roasted veggies, so we had hefty portions of the pickled daikon and sweet cider beets. More traditional pickle slices came in another (Kirk said these were super garlicky). In the last was plenty of grainy honey mustard. Initially, I chose to taste test each of the sausage flavours by themselves. The meat was well-blended, allowing for an easy chew and didn’t taste too fatty. The Garlic Uke was somewhat standard in terms of flavour profile, but easily the most approachable and probably the best one to pair with the preserves. In the other cases, I didn’t believe that the preserves paired well with the sausage. I kept thinking that the honey mustard and the beets were just too sweet and the pickled daikon was too acidic to go with the Hot Italian and Yellow Curry options (both of those offered a noticeable amount of heat). In my opinion, the sausages were all best when appreciated on their own merits.

I’m a bit on the fence about The Local Omnivore. I felt like we were approached as a nuisance to the staff. They were never all that attentive or friendly to us from the second we walked in, and it was almost like they had a mentality that the service didn’t matter. That’s how it came across to me, anyway. Perhaps they were having an off day. That being said, there’s no doubt that they make some excellent smoked meats and poutine. Ultimately, if the hospitality doesn’t bring me back, the hints of greatness in the food might do the job.

Edmonton Local Love Winter Wedding Experience

The registration desk at the Royal Glenora Club

On Friday afternoon, I made my way over to the Royal Glenora Club to attend Local Love‘s sixth Edmonton Wedding Experience. Unlike the massive fairs held at the likes of the Convention or EXPO centres, theirs is meant to be a much more intimate event with a curated selection of the city’s best vendors.

My Maid of Honor and one of my two other bridesmaids were able to join me. We arrived at the venue by 4:30pm (it started 30 minutes prior) to find a bit of a line at registration. It didn’t take too long to make our way to the front where they scanned our Eventbrite tickets and gave those who were of age (bring your IDs) wristbands, so we could be served alcohol samples. At the far end of the table was a draw for a gift basket and one of the other hosts was handing out swag bags.

Goodie bags were only available for the first 100 guests. But, they’re packed with a ton of information, discounts and treats (which I’ll go over later), so it is beneficial to make it there when the doors open as opposed to later in the evening (although, it’s understandable if you cannot as 4:00pm is somewhat early for a work day), if you hope to snag one.

Sweetness makes some great sugar cookies and pretty lollipops.

Once we were signed in, we walked up the stairs to find two of the Royal Glenora’s banquet spaces — available to be rented through to the end of 2019 before they undergo a massive renovation in 2020 — set up with stations. The Braemar room actually has the larger capacity, so they fit the majority of the participating businesses in there. However, I do think it would have been nice if they had spread them out a little bit more between that room and the Strathcona/Glenrose rooms because with four rows of booths, it was quite cramped whereas the latter was quite spacious in comparison.

To help with congestion further, I think a rearrangement of a couple of the vendors would have made a big difference. At the back of the Braemar hall was the Old Fashioned Mobile Bar (so cute!) and Elizabethan Catering. Both of them were preparing samples for attendees, leading to large groups hovering around the area as they worked. Separating those two would have alleviated the mass of people in the same small space. Lastly, it was just super hot in that first room. Opening a few of the patio doors to let in a breeze would have made it much more pleasant.

Look at this amazing chair displayed in the Strathcona/Glenrose room!

All of that aside, I did appreciate the mix of vendors that Local Love handpicked. There were a few entertainment options, including the more standard DJ as well as a live acoustic singer who was performing. And, while I don’t need to hire any planners or book any decor rentals, there were some amazingly talented creators and fun ideas for inspiration. Beautiful photographers and venues — we’ve already chosen to go with Jennie Lea Photography and Ampersand 27 — were sprinkled about the rooms, too. There were also a number of cake/dessert businesses handing out tasters. I found it was nice to see what they had to offer, not just in terms of the cake itself, but for party favours or cake alternatives (the tiered macarons from Sweetness!).

My fave finds:

  1. iDo Accessories – Nadia provides very reasonably priced jeweled belts, tiaras, headbands and hair combs out of her home studio. All of the pieces are handmade and so gorgeous. From what I could tell, items ranged from $15 for the smaller accessories to maybe a maximum of $100 for the larger ones. It’s wonderful to know that there’s someone out there who understands the need for more affordable accessories like this. The majority of other shops (aside from Claire’s Accessories; I cannot vouch for the quality) tend to charge $200 or more for similar pieces.
  2. More Than Gold (Fine Jewellery by Sonja Deklerk) – Such pretty jewellery ranging from more simple bands to vintage-style pieces that are likely to become family heirlooms.
  3. Art of Charcuterie – Seriously, Diana’s table was amazing! It was just a feast for the eyes and the palate. The way that she stacked and arranged all of the displays and the food on her charcuterie boards was incredible. It was absolutely a work of art that looked just as good when half eaten as it did when it was first laid out.
  4. Edmonton Wedding & Party Centre – This is actually a division of Special Event Rentals and I didn’t know they existed. Their booth had some unique guest “books” as well as many items that could be personalized for the bride/groom and wedding party.
  5. Special Event Rentals – Again, I don’t require their services. Yet, it was worth a stop at their booth since they were handing out complimentary copies of a wedding guide binder from “America’s #1 Wedding Planner” Beverly Clark. These normally retail for $25 USD each; a very nice bonus particularly if you’re just starting to figure out the details of your big day.
  6. What the Flowers – They’ll make fresh floral arrangements for bouquets, boutonnieres and corsages. Larger displays like arches or centerpieces can be made out of more cost effective high end silk flowers that still bring out the wow factor.

The three of us spent a little over an hour and a half there, leaving with our bags even fuller than when we’d started our exploration. It was a good amount of time and it didn’t feel too overwhelming. We had ample opportunity to chat with the vendors that we were interested in and we never felt rushed. Overall, it was worth the visit.

I believe a regular ticket would have cost $15, but we received a discount when we purchased ours during the early bird period. At just over $12 after fees and GST, it’s a phenomenal value, considering what we found in our swag bags: a scrunchie from Wild Theory Weddings (photographer), a beaded bracelet from Bridal Avenue, earrings from Urban Drawer (a sock company), a gift card for Buff Wax Spot, a bath bomb from Travel Beyond This City (travel agent), a frameable quote card as well as a $100 discount from Delica Bridal, offers for a free chocolate bar from The Violet Chocolate Co. and a free teeth whitening kit from Highmoor Dental, copies of Blush and Wedding Bells magazines, a brownie from Whisk Dessert Co., a sugar cookie and lollipop from Sweetness, a chocolate cake pyramid from Melt Confections, and a container from The Cotton Candy Shoppe, and a variety of other pamphlets with promos.

Local Love’s next Edmonton wedding experience probably won’t be until the fall, but I recommend that any brides, couples, or wedding parties who are looking for a completely manageable fair to gather ideas, deals, and enter contests keep an eye out (follow them on Instagram or Facebook). For a gal that didn’t even think it was necessary at this point in the planning stages of our late summer/early fall wedding, I can definitely say that I was pleasantly surprised by this event and walked away with at least a few new options and ideas that I hadn’t necessarily thought of before.