Edmonton Restaurant Review: Famoso (Magrath)

Korean BBQ Chicken Pizza

Famoso‘s original Jasper Avenue location was one of the first handful of local restaurant reviews I wrote on this blog. I’ve been a loyal customer over the years, but with the introduction of delivery service through SkipTheDishes, I started having the food dropped off at my condo and I stopped going into any of the physical locations.

Fast forward to January. I had a Groupon on hand for the Magrath Heights Famoso at Rabbit Hill Road and 23 Avenue. My fiancé and I popped in for an early supper on a Sunday afternoon. When we arrived, the server indicated that we could sit wherever we liked. We ended up grabbing a cozy booth and she dropped the menus off.

I took a look at the space and thought I’d make note of the table number, so I’d know what to tell them at the till during our order placement. As it turns out, the number was missing. I asked the server if the restaurant was now full-service and she confirmed what I thought. The manager mentioned that they switched to that template about a year and a half ago. This is actually preferable because it never really made sense to me to have customers get up from their seats. In the long run, they were still paying for staff to work the restaurant during the remainder of the meal and I don’t think it really saved anyone much time.

On this occasion, we opted to get two 12″ pizzas: the white Cavoletti ($17.35) and the seasonal Korean BBQ Beef ($18.35).

Cavoletti Pizza

The Cavoletti is my all-time favourite pie at Famoso and, ever since I introduced it to my fiancé, it has become his as well. The combination of the soft, chewy, slightly charred dough topped with prosciutto crisps, oven-roasted Brussels sprouts, Gorgonzola cheese, dates, walnuts, and honey is always satisfying with its balance of saltiness and sweetness. I call it a game changer.

Korean BBQ Pizza

Our second choice of the Korean BBQ Beef was actually surprisingly good. There was a generous amount of oven-roasted hand-pulled beef covered in house-made Korean BBQ and hoisin sauce. It was sweeter than expected. Yet, the duo of a mild fior di latte and a stronger cheddar cheese, along with chopped green onions, helped to tone that down.

This was a really enjoyable dinner that was speedily prepared (we were in and out within an hour) and provided leftovers for lunch the next day. We even received a couple of vouchers to come back for half off our bills during their Gratitude Week that ran from January 21 to 25, and we took them up on the offer twice.

As usual, the Cavoletti pizza was a staple. However, we also decided to try some different items: a New World Sweet BBQ Chicken pizza, a half order of the Prosciutto Wrapped Mozza Balls ($11.95) and the Pistachio Pesto Primavera pasta ($16.35) with added Chicken ($3.35).

Sweet BBQ Chicken Pizza

Admittedly, the Sweet BBQ Chicken pizza was disappointing. We did alter the recipe by asking them to omit the cilantro as neither of us likes the taste of the herb. That left roasted chicken with honey smoked BBQ sauce, fior di latte, smoked mozzarella, tomatoes, and onions. I don’t think there was enough of the sauce or that the mozzarella tasted like it was smoked at all. If it’s smoked properly, that scent comes off the plate immediately and the flavour packs a punch, but it was missing completely. Maybe in place of cilantro, some spinach would have been good to bring in a little bitterness. That, or a more intense cheese such as feta.

Prosciutto Wrapped Mozza Balls

Regarding the Prosciutto Wrapped Mozza Balls, these were decent. Their Campania tomato sauce is so fresh and tasty. I love that they drown the mozza balls in the stuff. It’s a wonderful accompaniment to the garlic flatbread. Our only issue with the dish was that it wasn’t warm. While we could tell the cheese had melted as it was still soft in the middle, it wasn’t all that gooey and it had cooled considerably by the time it made it to us.

Pistachio Pesto Primavera Pasta

I was quite impressed with the Pistachio Pesto Primavera pasta. Although I would have liked to have seen more of the linguini pasta on the plate, they certainly did not skimp on the roasted zucchini and mushrooms, green peas, sun-dried tomatoes, and chicken. The house-made pistachio pesto cream sauce was lighter than what might be found at other places, but there was enough to ensure that everything was evenly coated. We didn’t think we’d manage to finish our bowl of pasta and whole pizza that night. Yet, both items were so good that we polished it all off.

It seems that the best time to visit is in the middle of the afternoon on weekends though. We never had a problem finding a table at those times and the service was always more attentive. On our last visit, we went after work on a Tuesday night and the location was packed with people, mostly families, out for a meal. Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait as we managed to grab the only available table for two. Despite that, the service was still pretty quick and friendly.

The Famoso chain of restaurants is one that I’ll keep recommending to people because there’s a comfortable consistency. Plus, it’s a local success story and I think that patrons appreciate that aspect of the business.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Seasons Hot Pot (Closed)

My hot pot spread at Seasons.

I’m not one to have hot pot that often. For some reason, it’s just never at the top of my list when it comes to food. Yet, I’d been craving it for a while. Whenever I had the chance, I’d snap up Groupon deals. Unfortunately, before I had the opportunity to use it, the first one I bought for Chili Hot Pot fell through as it was cancelled by the business. So, when I saw that Seasons Hot Pot was offering a deal, I couldn’t pass it up.

Seasons Hot Pot is located at 109 Street and 23 Avenue just to the east of Century Park transit station. We dropped in on a Saturday afternoon for a family lunch. I had phoned the day before to make a reservation, but I had a feeling they didn’t actually make a note of it because the woman I spoke with forgot to even ask for my name. I had to offer it to her myself. My parents arrived ahead of us and let them know I had booked a table. It seems that my suspicions were correct because my mom said they were caught off guard. Still, it wasn’t crazy busy at 1:00 pm (the place filled up as we dined), and they got a spot right away.

Aside from the forgotten reservation, the service was pretty decent. While we were making our choices, both of the servers came by to see if we had any questions. They were more than willing to explain anything. Plus, when I inquired about the sweet potato noodles to make sure I was ordering what I thought I was, the one staff member even went to the kitchen to grab a strand to show me. I appreciated that.

At Seasons Hot Pot, their menu has two options: combos or create your own. Prices for the combos vary ($16 to $26) depending on the amount and type of meat selected. However, the cost includes the soup, which happens to be free during lunch hours, an assorted platter, and a bowl of noodles. The create your own menu stipulates a minimum spend of $15.95 with individual items ranging from $2 to $5 each.

My parents both decided to go with the Beef & Lamb combos, one with the plain chicken broth and the other going with the satay broth. My fiancé and I, on the other hand, chose to personalize our meals. He took on the heat with the spicy broth. I hoped to jazz things up with the curry soup. The two of us each ordered three plates of meat and three additional sides as well as some noodles.

Some of the sauces and condiments available.

First off, I will quickly say that the all of the soups, except for the spicy broth, were pretty bland. There was a hint of flavour to them, but nothing that was really able to saturate any of the ingredients. I think that’s why they offer so many different sauces and condiments. We also had to wave someone down to have extra soup added to our pots when they got low, and I also question whether or not it was actually soup that they poured in or if it was just plain water.

In any case, the important part was that I had a boiling pot of liquid to cook my food in, and there was a ton of food! If we’re talking about value for the money, I’d definitely recommend that visitors create their own hot pot meal. The combos were alright because there was a good mix of stuff, but for the price, there really wasn’t that much meat. The beef and lamb combos that my mom and dad ate had a total of about a dozen slices of meat per plate. Whereas I ordered the sliced beef, sliced lamb and sirloin beef. All in, I was looking at around double the portion of meat for approximately the same cost. In fact, after consuming my tofu puffs, pork dumplings, enoki mushrooms and my sweet potato noodles, I had to start sharing some of my lamb and beef with everyone else.

I think every kind of sauce or condiment one would want is here.

Since we had never been to Seasons Hot Pot before, I count this visit as a learning experience. If we go back, I know to: stay away from the marinated chicken (it’s tender, but in a too smooth way), avoid broccoli when having spicy broth because all of the tiny chili peppers get stuck in the florets, choose sirloin beef over sliced beef, mix sauces — satay, peanut and sesame — for amazing combinations, and order only what I truly like so nothing is wasted.

Was this the best hot pot I’ve had in Edmonton? No. It’s not. Some may also argue that they don’t have an all-you-can-eat menu like other hot pot places. Yet, how much can one really consume anyway? For about $20 per person, including tax and tip, all four of us left with full bellies. Neither my fiancé nor I ate dinner that evening. We didn’t have room for it. Therefore, for an affordable and more than passable lunchtime meal, check out Seasons Hot Pot. For those who live in the far southwest side of the city, it’s probably the closest restaurant of its kind to you, too.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Hart’s Table & Bar

The interior of Hart's Table & Bar. Photo courtesy of Century Hospitality Group.

The interior of Hart’s Table & Bar. Photo courtesy of Century Hospitality Group.

About a month ago, my friends and I were trying to make plans for a girls’ night out. We wracked our brains for somewhere to eat. Most of us live on the south side of Edmonton, and, as has become apparent, there aren’t a lot of dining options when you exclude all of the chain restaurants from the list.

While there’s nothing wrong with a chain (many of you know how much I love places like Cactus Club and Joey), we simply wanted something different on this occasion. Eventually, we narrowed down our limited choices and settled on Hart’s Table & Bar.

Part of Century Hospitality Group’s collection of restaurants that dot the city of Edmonton, it was a location I hadn’t yet set foot in. Situated in a strip mall just off of 23 Avenue and Rabbit Hill Road, I’d seen the eatery’s sign while passing by on the bus, but never made the effort to stop by.

Arriving for our get together, I pulled at the heavy main door and found myself in a stylishly decorated space. With lounge-type chairs and couches near the entrance and a huge bar as its focal point, I could tell that the restaurant caters to a clientele that just wants to relax and enjoy a good time over some drinks.

The host took us to our bar height table where we started to settle in while we waited for our one friend to join us. My first thought was that the table was incredibly small for four people.

The share plates and cutlery that were set took up all the space and our menus were teetering on the brink. In fact, before our last member showed up, I had already created a loud clatter twice as I sent a couple of the menus belly flopping to the floor. How embarrassing. Those tables really should only seat two people at the maximum. By the time water and drink glasses are added and your main plates show up, there is literally no room left for a group of four to maneuver that comfortably.

The 'Not Nachos' ordered as our shared starter.

The ‘Not Nachos’ ordered as our shared starter.

When it came to the food, we decided to start off with a shared order of the ‘Not Nachos.’ The flavour was there thanks to the shredded braised short rib, but the greasy house made kettle chips left more to be desired. Once covered in melted cheese, they lost their crispness and would often break when we tried to pick them up. It was a so-so appetizer that I am unlikely to get again.

For our mains, the three people I was dining with opted for salads. Two of them went with the My Wife’s Favourite Salad. A mix of grilled chicken breast, baby greens, berries, goat cheese, red quinoa, sunflower seeds and a champagne & lemon verbena vinaigrette, it’s the one I would have opted for had I gone the salad route as well. From what I could see, the salad was large and hearty. There was plenty of goat cheese, which to me would be the most important as it almost acts as an addition to the actual dressing, making for a creamier texture overall.

My other friend decided on the ‘Country Club’ Cobb Salad. It was also quite large (for almost $20 it should be massive). Off the bat, because of the blue cheese and the egg, it wouldn’t be my first choice on the menu, and when it came down to it, I think my companion was also a bit disappointed as the egg was very hard boiled and not what she expected. Also, Hart’s iteration of the Cobb salad just requires more work to eat as you have to cut the romaine hearts yourself. Simply digging right in doesn’t work. You have to really be more formal with that dish.

My Pig & Fig sandwich with Caesar salad.

My Pig & Fig sandwich with Caesar salad.

To be different, I chose to dine on the Pig & Fig sandwich. It sort of seemed like the cousin of Earls Kitchen + Bar’s Chicken, Brie + Fig Sandwich, which has been a longtime favourite of mine. A toasted ciabatta bun filled with slow roasted pork, fig preserve, apple arugula slaw, crispy bacon and Gruyère cheese, I figured I couldn’t go wrong. Although it tasted pleasant, I didn’t love the slow roasted pork. The meat wasn’t super tender. Rather, the pork was fattier than I’d prefer and somewhat chewy. The side of Caesar salad was okay though.

Hart’s has a decent drink menu, which will get a group through a long night of talk, and the desserts sound pretty good. In our case, we ended up foregoing dessert since we couldn’t decide on one that we’d all be willing to share, and we just didn’t have it in us to each eat our own.

Overall, I like the atmosphere of the restaurant and the service was good; however, whenever my next visit occurs, I’ll make a point of trying something new as what I’ve had and/or seen so far hasn’t wowed me. If I ever do go back on a date, or with a larger group of people, I just hope there’s enough space for us to spread out, so we can enjoy our meal without worrying about knocking something over.

Hart’s probably won’t be my go to place in the neighbourhood, but I’m not striking it from my list either. It’s likely a place that deserves a second chance, especially in an area saturated with the same old offerings found all over town. Plus, with good company, it becomes easier to overlook any misgivings I have about the restaurant.