Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Harvest Room (Full Breakfast Buffet)

My first run at the Full Buffet.

I’ve been to The Harvest Room at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald several times over the past few years, but the last time I wrote about it was just over four years ago. A recent visit, prompted by the purchase of a Groupon, is giving me the chance to talk about this downtown Edmonton spot once more. This time, instead of coming in during lunch or stopping by for dinner, my family and I opted to meet up for breakfast bright and early on a Sunday morning.

Street parking on Sundays is free, so it’s possible to find spaces nearby without having to pay for the use of a lot or for the Fairmont’s valet services. The rest of the week, it will cost to park until at least 6:00pm. We had made reservations for 9:30am, and we arrived right on time. Before we were led into the dining room, the host hung up our coats in the closet, and he also requested our Groupon voucher. In this instance, the deal was a $100 value for $65 to be used on a Sunday to Thursday towards breakfast or dinner. However, I also managed to get an additional 25 per cent off with a promo code, which dropped the price down to $48.75. The original offer is still currently available.

Our table of four was seated next to one of the big windows, allowing us a great view of the entire restaurant and the patio. The space isn’t all that big and it’s not as regal as I’d assume a Fairmont dining room would be. It is classically styled though, and the servers are all dressed more formally. There’s even a window into the kitchen, so you can watch the staff as they work. It starts to feel like a fancier place when it’s apparent that they will bring brand new cutlery every time you begin eating off of a new plate.

French toast, bread pudding and a pastry.

The breakfast menu ranges from $12 for a Super Green Smoothie to $26 for a House-Cured Hot Smoked Salmon Benedict. It’s certainly not cheap. Especially when any additional drinks, including coffee, tea, and juice, are $5 each. Although, they do offer the value option of a coffee or tea with juice for $8. Taking all of that into account, it just made sense for our group to go with their Full Buffet option ($31.50 each). For about the same price as a single dish with a drink, we’d get unlimited fresh fruit, smoked salmon, domestic cheeses, yogurts, assorted cereals, bagels, toast, pastries, eggs benedict, french toast, bread pudding, crispy bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, omelettes, breakfast potatoes, and the daily smoothie. Plus, coffee or tea, and juice — I questioned whether or not the orange juice was actually fresh as indicated on the menu — comes with it as well.

From the Continental Buffet, the best item you’ll find for the value is the smoked salmon.

Personally, I wasn’t super impressed with the Continental Buffet ($21.50) selection as I found the bagels to be kind of hard like they weren’t made fresh and there wasn’t much in the way of cheeses. The fruits were alright. I particularly enjoyed the pineapple and watermelon. Both were juicy and sweet. I also will commend the pastry chef because the mini danishes that I ate were delicately flaky and soft. Otherwise, it’s only worth the money if you’re a fan of smoked salmon and yogurt-based smoothies. Eat as much of the house-cured fish as you can and drink a couple of glasses of the daily smoothie to completely justify the cost. But, really, for an extra $10, it seems like a no-brainer to just go with the Full Buffet. While I didn’t try the eggs benedict or the scrambled eggs (I’m not a fan of eggs that have been sitting for periods of time), I made an effort to sample everything else.

Prairie Omelette made fresh to order.

First off, I’ll say that I appreciate the fact that, even though it is a buffet, they’ll take omelette orders at the table, so the dish is freshly cooked and comes hot from the kitchen. I chose the Prairie Omelette, which is usually $23 on its own, served with potatoes and tomatoes. Filled with boar bacon lardons, charred peppers, tomatoes, green onion, smoked apple wood, and smoked cheddar cheese, it was okay. I definitely could have used more cheese, and I would have preferred a fluffier egg.

The bread pudding at the 12 o’clock position was so good, as were the mini danish pastries.

Again, items that sit out at the buffet in warmers are never going to be the best unless there’s high turnover. That’s why I wasn’t too keen on the french toast. The slices seemed kind of stale and the berries that were tossed into the pan looked as though they’d been heated a bit too long. On the other hand, the bread pudding was fantastic. When I lined up to get some of that, I was at first disappointed to see that the tray was missing. But, that turned to happiness when I saw that a new bowl of bread pudding was being brought out just as I reached the buffet. The sweet bread was subtly flavoured with cinnamon and a dusting of icing sugar. I paired it with a few strawberries I pulled from the tray. It’s simple, but tasty.

The breakfast potatoes were savoury and tossed with roasted tomatoes. They were the perfect accompaniment to the plump sausages and the copious amounts of crisp bacon strips that I had. Those were all perfectly prepared.

My pot of tea was included in the price of the Full Buffet.

All in, my family paid about $100 after tax and tip out of pocket. At $25 per person, the value was there. However, when it comes down to the regular price, this is more than I would typically spend on breakfast (I’ll take the $8 happy hour special at Earls over this any day). Yet, if it’s not too out of the way, you’ve got a big appetite, and you’re looking to treat yourself to something nice, the Full Buffet at The Harvest Room should be a contender. Go for the drinks, fish and meats, and fill out the rest of your meal with other sides such as the delicious pastries. Just keep in mind that the value lies in certain items and stick with those.

Meal Kit Box & Recipe Review: MissFresh

MissFresh’s welcome card!

As promised in my earlier post about the Chefs Plate meal kit delivery service, today, I’m going to go over my experience with MissFresh. Where Chefs Plate was based out of Toronto, MissFresh is headquartered in Montreal. Still, both are Canadian-based businesses, which is something to support.

I learned of MissFresh through Groupon. In January 2018, they offered a deal on the discount site for two weeks of delivery for the price of one ($65.94). Additionally, I was able to save an extra 25 per cent off with a promo code. All in, I spent just under $50 for six meals that provided enough food for two people.

After buying the voucher, I pulled up the MissFresh web page to see what was on their upcoming menus. Nothing peaked my interest at first, so I waited a week or two before I found a few recipes that I liked enough to place my initial order. Upon signing up to the subscription, I had to decide on the level of service I wanted (number of meals, number of portions, frequency of delivery, types of recipes, etc.). Then, I got to pick the meals that would be sent to my condo. Past that point, they take your address and payment information as well as any discounts that need to be entered. I put in my Groupon code, and, once everything was processed, it showed that I had another coupon awaiting use for a later date.

Ordering is straightforward and simple. What can get tricky is remembering to confirm or skip shipments before the cutoff date each week (every Wednesday before 11:59pm EST). I forgot to do that at the beginning of March. This resulted in me having to ask the company to cancel meals I didn’t want, and, now, I also have a full price credit applied to my account as they wouldn’t issue me a refund, only a coupon to be used towards a box at another time. Regardless, if I can keep on top of this, it’s kind of nice to know that I have the option of choosing when I want to receive a delivery. Customers are not locked into purchasing every single week. Currently, my calendar is set to skip all boxes for the next two months. I think the majority of users register to test it out and continue with the service as needed. Members can even deactivate their accounts indefinitely to ensure they aren’t inadvertently charged for anything.

Like Chefs Plate, MissFresh is one of the more affordable meal kits out there. The two are comparable in cost. Both shipped packages for free through FedEx who always managed to deliver by noon, but on one occasion left our shipment in the communal lobby of my building when I missed their call to be buzzed in. However, what I noticed is that MissFresh doesn’t quite have the same polish as Chefs Plate. The box it ships in is fine — thick insulated cardboard lined with recyclable ice packs — and the produce is decent with meats vacuum sealed. But, the ingredients are stuffed tightly in basic plastic bags. They don’t really allow things to breath as well. Plus, the recipe cards are printed on pretty flimsy paper.

What is important, though, is that the food is fresh, the recipes are clear, and the meals are tasty. For the most part, I think MissFresh fits the bill. The meals came with everything we needed to cook the dishes, save for oil, salt, and pepper. Our six recipes included: One-Pot Pasta with Smoked Salmon and Spinach, Turkey Cordon Bleu Ballottine, Seared Sirloin Steak, Crispy Battered Sole, Maple Pork Fillet, and Cajun Chicken Pasta.

Starting with the One-Pot Pasta with Smoked Salmon and Spinach, this was just alright. Personally, I love the flavour and texture of smoked salmon after it is cured. So, I wasn’t too keen on cooking the fish over any heat. Sure, the smoky taste remained, but the fish became flaky rather than smooth. I enjoyed the combination of dill, cream cheese, and lemon juice as it popped on the palate. Yet, the sauce wasn’t creamy enough for me. My fiancé and I would give this one a 6 out of 10.

I found the Maple Pork Fillet to be a really nice cut of meat as it was succulent and lean. The buttery baby potatoes that accompanied the dish were yummy. I’m also a big fan of portobello mushrooms for their fleshiness. Nevertheless, this was far from my favourite. The maple glaze had a wonderful flavour; however, the consistency, even when we left the sauce to reduce on high heat, was rather runny. Most of all, I never succumbed to the sharpness of the Gorgonzola cheese that was stuffed into the mushroom. It overpowered much of the plate and gave everything a wine-like aftertaste. Rated out of 10, this one should be considered a 6.

The Crispy Battered Sole was a bit of a surprise. Served with the fish were pan-fried plantains. When I had selected this menu item, I had pictured the mini bananas found at the grocery store. To my amazement, we received two huge plantains that looked unripe (the peel was lime green in colour). We pulled them apart, sliced up the fruit, and tossed them into hot oil to fry them up as we made the fish separately. This transpired into a beautifully bright meal with the golden brown sole, yellow discs of plantains, slaw, guacamole (oddly prepacked instead of freshly made with avocados), and lime wedges. It was light, zesty, and refreshing. It felt like summer on a plate. What was unexpected was that the sweet scent of the plantains as they cooked wouldn’t come across on the taste buds. In fact, they were rather bland. As it turns out, this fruit is typically used as a replacement for starches like potatoes as they share a very similar texture. For that, this recipe is graded with a 7 out of 10.

When I was perusing the menus on the MissFresh website, I was excited to see their Cajun Chicken Pasta with Sun-dried Tomatoes. The photo was appealing and the ingredients all sounded great. It was a quick recipe, too, clocking in at around 25 minutes to prepare and cook. It became one of my fiancé’s top picks of the meals we tried. It’s probably because this dish utilized the Cajun mix, generating a lot of spicy heat on the tongue, which he likes (if he can put Sriracha on something, he will). Since I love them, I would have increased the amount of sun-dried tomato used. Not only would it have punched up the flavours more, but it would have balanced out the Cajun spice better. We’d slot this plate at a 7.5 out of 10.

Turkey is often thought of as dry and tasteless, but I thoroughly appreciated the Turkey Cordon Bleu Ballottine. Stuffed with smoked ham and Swiss Cheese, the tender poultry became the star. Our mashed potatoes weren’t as smooth as they could have been. We’ll chalk that up to not having the necessary tools to make them properly. Even with onion powder folded into the potatoes, they were somewhat mild. Swapping out the onion powder for a more potent garlic powder would have improved this dish further. On the plus side, the roasted Brussels sprouts were delicious. The outer layers of the sprouts were crisp from being broiled in our choice of olive oil, salt and pepper, providing another textural element. Out of 10, this deserves a 7.5.

Last, but certainly not least was the Seared Sirloin Steak. The quality of the cuts of sirloin were top notch. We were able to sear in the juices and cook the meat to a gorgeous medium rare. We even elevated the recipe by adding a smoked balsamic vinegar to the meat to amplify the flavour. When it came to the side, neither of us would ever think to use barley in place of rice. Yet, here, the broth and cooking white wine soaked into the barley nicely, giving every bite of the starch full body. Hands down, this was our preferred dish out of the six we ordered, and it’s one that we’d be inclined to make on our own again. This one merits an 8.5 out of 10.

Much like Chefs Plate, the MissFresh meals took between 20 to 35 minutes to prep, cook and plate, meaning it was relatively fast every day. The recipes were also quite healthy with the highest caloric intake listed at just over 750 to the lowest at under 400. I do believe that MissFresh can improve their packaging a little as they don’t have the same level of professionalism that I’ve seen with the other meal kit delivery services. Nonetheless, their offerings get the job done, and, in a household that might be too busy to spend ample amounts of time shopping for groceries, or who just want to make some simple home-cooked food, but don’t know where to start, this could be an excellent option.

This review is in no way affiliated with MissFresh. I purchased these meal kits on my own and have chosen to share my thoughts here. If anyone is interested in signing up for a subscription, please use my MissFresh referral link or enter my coupon code (CRYSTALLEE) at checkout to receive $35 off with your first delivery.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Nello’s Cucina Italiana (St. Albert)

The giant plate of Carbonara pasta.

Always looking for a deal and to try somewhere new, my fiancé and I recently ended up at Nello’s Cucina Italiana in St. Albert. We stopped in to use our dinner Groupon on a Sunday night at 6:00pm. We had reserved a table in advance to ensure a spot; however, it wasn’t actually all that busy during that hour.

It’s a cute, inviting restaurant with a bit of a European flair: warm lighting and wall colours, tiled floors, and paintings of Italian landscapes. Nothing fancy, just relaxed and casual. As we were left to make our decisions, I took a look around. There was a table of two about to leave with a huge bag of leftovers. Then, a few minutes later, the guests seated next to us received their dishes. The portions were massive. This was not going to disappoint.

In the end, my fiancé opted for the Pollo Parmigiano ($23.50) and I selected the Carbonara Pasta ($22). We both stuck with water for the evening, and complimentary bread with butter was provided to start.

Considering that the Pollo Parmigiano really doesn’t come with a whole lot other than a flattened breaded chicken breast topped with tomato sauce, parmigiano, and mozzarella cheese that is then baked in the oven, this was still quite filling. To go with the chicken, there is a choice between the Di Casa (house) or Caesar salad. He went with the latter of which they certainly gave a generous amount, especially when taking into account the size of the plates used to serve all their meals. I found the greens in the salad to be quite fresh. There was plenty of dressing to coat everything. The croutons were crunchy and buttery and I enjoyed the bacon bits for that added saltiness. Along with the salad, the chicken had been sprinkled with extra Parmesan for good measure. Dried chili flakes finished it off. Personally, I think the ratio of tomato sauce to melted cheese was perfect. It created a seal that kept the heat in the meat, and added that unmistakable heartiness to a very comforting dish.

Getting ready to take a bite of carbonara pasta.

Arguably though, the pasta options are where patrons will find the best value for their dollar. Sure, pasta is pretty inexpensive to cook at home. Yet, when it comes to restaurant quality pasta, Nello’s most definitely does not skimp. I swear that the pile of Carbonara that was placed in front of me was almost the size of my head (the pictures don’t do it justice). It was a giant plate of spaghetti sautéed with chopped bacon, mushrooms, fresh herbs, parmigiano, and eggs. As expected, it was relatively salty. Nevertheless, the sauce was pretty creamy, and every single bite was enhanced by the bacon and/or mushrooms. As my fiancé noted, by the time he finished eating, it appeared as if I had still barely made a dent in my supper. At least half of it was packed up to go (and reheated as dinner for two the next night).

A slice of the tiramisu for dessert.

Had I kept on devouring my food, we wouldn’t have had room for dessert. It seems that their usual offerings include either a Crème Brûlée ($9) or Tiramisu ($10). We chose to share an order of the classic Italian sweet. Seeing as how I dislike coffee and anything flavoured that way, it really was atypical for me to go with the tiramisu. But, my fiancé favoured it, and I was willing to give it a try. For the most part, it was alright. I would have preferred more ladyfingers. The thin layer of cookies used didn’t soak up enough of the liquid, leaving behind a small pool underneath that made the dessert somewhat soggy. Otherwise, it was surprisingly light enough on the coffee that I didn’t mind the taste much.

Overall, our time at Nello’s was wonderful. The service we experienced was kind and attentive, and the kitchen must have a great rhythm as we were in and out in just over an hour. However, I expect that if the intention of one’s visit is to hang out for the whole evening, the establishment wouldn’t have any issue with that. It comes across as a place where family and friends can feel free to catch up with each other over food and drinks. It’s also hard to beat some of their daily specials, such as Bring Your Own Bottle Mondays (no corkage on wine), All You Can Eat Pasta on Tuesdays (this one had me intrigued), and Kids Eat Free Sundays. This is a spot that my fiancé and I can now add to our favourites.

Their list of daily specials.

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).

Potstickers

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.

Ho-ddeok

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.