Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Parlour Italian Kitchen & Bar

The living room-like entrance to The Parlour.

The living room-like entrance to The Parlour.

Century Hospitality Group‘s (@centuryhg) latest offering, The Parlour Italian Kitchen & Bar (@TheParlourEdm), has been open for a little over 10 months now. My first visit was with a friend prior to attending the Arcade Fire concert in August. We met up at her office and walked over to the restaurant through a blistering heat wave. Situated behind the Denny’s on 104 Avenue, it’s in a distinctive brick block that may have been an old warehouse, although its facade looks newer. A large vintage looking sign with lights along the border indicated we were in the right place.

The entrance to the building is to the side through the patio, which is fenced in to save diners from a view of the street or the parking lot. It’s spacious with tables set far enough apart to give a greater sense of privacy and enough umbrellas or shade to keep it a bit cooler during sweltering weather. As lovely as it would have been to sit outdoors, it was too hot for the both of us, so we decided to venture inside. As you walk in, you’re greeted by a welcoming mantle place that makes you feel at home. Obviously, we were still at a restaurant, but it is meant to seem casual, relaxed, comfortable and retro despite the patina of sleekness over the whole atmosphere. I loved it. The server took us to a booth in the far corner, giving us a view of the bar and the pizza oven as well as the vast expanse of the layout, which includes a second floor that has many larger booths that are good for groups.

Since it was a Monday, we chose to go with their all day happy hour special ($10 on any of their specialty pizzas and $5 for all wines or beers on tap). We each selected a pizza – my friend went with the Short Rib and I ordered the Truffle – and got a couple pints of beer.

As soon as the pizza was dropped off at our table, we immediately dug in, meaning I forgot to take photos right away. But, no matter! The pizza looked and smelled wonderful and upon taking our first bites, we were sold on the place. A friend told me that she thought the crust was too soft, but I didn’t think it was. The crust is perfect for folding. The truffle pizza was absolutely decadent. Topped with truffle salami, fior di latte, Parmesan, fresh thyme and shaved truffles, I was in heaven. While I wouldn’t pay the usual $25 price of the pie, I would gladly go back on a Monday or during happy hour to get it for more than half off, and I’ll bring people with me! The short rib pizza didn’t disappoint either. Coming with braised Alberta Beef short rib, fire-roasted Serrano peppers, shaved pecorino and EVOO, it had a good amount of heat coming through, great for those who appreciate some spice without losing their ability to taste anything else.

To finish off, we capped our dinner with a couple of desserts. My companion selected the Chocolate Torta, which I expected to be more like a layered cake, but it actually seemed akin to a slab of brownie. It was rich, dense and presented with berry coulis, strawberries and salted caramel gelato. The Banana Panna Cotta called my name and it was also different than what I had pictured in my mind. Most other panna cottas I have tried have been closer to custards, but this had a slightly more gelatin-like texture to it. The banana flavour was subtle and paired excellently with the salted Nutella ganache, candied hazelnuts and fresh berries. Particularly, I was glad that it was a lighter dish.

The staff were commendable – friendly and attentive – during our entire meal. I’ve heard mixed reviews from friends about the establishment, and I think it might get a bad rap for being a Century Hospitality Group restaurant, but I really enjoyed my food and my time there on this occasion, especially at these prices. I look forward to going back with friends and family. It’s just a nice, laid-back place to catch up with people and I like that I never felt rushed. Plus, I like the way they think there. The backs of our drink coasters said, “Age, like glasses of wine, should never be counted.” As I sat there chatting with my friend of 17 years, I certainly felt younger than 28!

The back of one of the drink coasters. It's a cute touch.

The back of one of the drink coasters. It’s a cute touch.

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Edmonton Restaurant Review: Japonais Bistro

The delectable matcha crème brûlée!

The delectable matcha crème brûlée!

Oh, Japonais Bistro (@japonaisbistro)! I have eaten there a handful of times now and it’s pretty stellar. When you walk in the door, if the staff isn’t busy with something else, they greet you by yelling out “good afternoon” or “good evening” in Japanese and they’re usually fairly prompt with seating, especially if you have a reservation, which can now be made through OpenTable. The restaurant is laid out with two sides – the one closest to the door is raised a couple of steps and consists of bench booths and chairs while the other side is taken up predominantly by the sushi bar and a few larger group booths.

My most memorable visit to the restaurant was back in November 2013. I had eaten there just a couple weeks earlier and I picked up a card advertising a couple of all-you-can-eat evenings. They were launching their Kaiten Sushi Catering (plates distributed by mobile conveyor belt) business, and to show it off they were taking reservations for two November weeknights. I immediately texted my friend to see if she would join me and I called to make a reservation as soon as she agreed.

The conveyor was set up next to the sushi bar within arm’s reach from our booth. We ate everything that was offered to us including a variety of salads, tatakis, maki rolls and dessert. We probably ate between 50 to 75 plates that evening, the gluttons that we were (no regrets). Each item was delectable and worth having seconds. There were even new dishes that were being tested for possible menu additions, which we were tasked with rating. The absolute star of the restaurant though? Hands down, the matcha crème brûlée (Japonais Bistro took the No. 42 spot on The Tomato‘s list of 100 best eats in Edmonton this year for this dessert alone)! It is divine. I’m a sucker for green tea flavoured anything, so I was already inclined to enjoy it, but it was beyond what I expected and the two of us snatched those babies up as soon as they hit the belt. They’re too good to pass up. Unfortunately, despite a comment from our server that kaiten sushi nights could become a regular occurrence due to the popularity of these special events, I haven’t seen it there since.

Alas, all-you-can-eat meals there are not currently meant to be, but the food is too tasty not to go again. We ventured there this summer for dinner, making our way through the pouring rain where we dashed for the door as soon as we stepped out of the car. My friend, still full from an Indian buffet at lunch, ordered the new Pow Pow Roll and some salmon maki. I, on the other hand, was famished and went with the Traditional Bento Box.

Stuffed with tuna, cream cheese and jalapeno, wrapped with soy bean paper and drizzled with tobiko, sweet soy and hot sauce, the Pow Pow Roll was nicely plated and surprisingly battered on the outside. The menu did say “deep fried tuna,” so we knew something would be deep fried, we simply didn’t realize it was going to be the outside of the roll and not the fish. No matter though. It was superb.

The Traditional Bento Box is really an all-in-one box. It includes a bowl of miso soup, salad, three pieces of sushi, six pieces of sashimi, California rolls, salmon maki, and shrimp and veggie tempura. I got a little bit of everything I love, so it was perfect. The soup was not overly salty and was piping hot, the fish was really fresh, the tempura was lightly coated in batter and the rolls had a good ratio of filling to rice.

I would also say that I believe that the service has improved over time. I remember sitting there on another occasion waiting forever for our server to come back to process our payment. In the end, we left our table and walked up to the bar to pay, which still took several minutes because they needed our server to put it through. This time, it was a lot better. Our food was prepared quickly and we were checked on periodically, so I felt well attended to.

Sushi is always at the top of my list of favourite cuisines, and Japonais Bistro continues to fit the bill when I’m craving some in the middle of the prairies.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Glass Monkey

Beets Salad

Beets Salad

It was a beautiful July evening when my friend and I got together for a needed catch up. After all, I hadn’t seen her in over a month, which is long by our standards. She had just gotten home from Europe, so not only did she have to share the details of her trip, but we also had to talk about things such as relationships, online dating, speed dating events and just the boring day-to-day things that we find interesting (although, others might not).

On this occasion we chose to visit The Glass Monkey (@GlassMonkeyYEG), which is on the south side of the city in the Lendrum strip mall. The restaurant took over the space left vacated by Jack’s Grill. Opening in December 2013, it took me a while to get there. A group of us had planned to do a birthday dinner there at one point; however, life got in the way and we failed to get that figured out again. So, this time I suggested to my friend that we try it and, of course, she was completely game. Readers of The Tomato named the establishment as one of the places in Edmonton with the best eats and drinks, landing high on the 2014 list at No. 10 because of their charcuterie plates and roasted broccoli, so we suspected we couldn’t go wrong.

Venturing there on a Wednesday, I wasn’t sure how busy it would be, so I made a 5:45 reservation through OpenTable. I thought it best to give ourselves a bit of a buffer because you never know how bad traffic can be during rush hour. Surprisingly, we arrived fifteen minutes early. Walking through the doors, there were plenty of available tables since it was well before most peoples’ dinner time, meaning there were no issues getting us seated when I indicated to the host that we were more than prompt. The interior is mostly wood surfaces mixed with wood and aluminum seating, creating both a homey and modern feel.

The Glass Monkey's patio space.

The Glass Monkey’s patio space.

Yet, since it was such lovely weather, the two of us opted to sit out on their patio, which is situated to the side of the restaurant and fenced off to save you from a view into the parking lot. The patio sets were nice with comfy chairs that were good to lounge on for a few hours. Trees provided a bit of shading in some spots and hanging flower pots and small bushes provided a bit of decoration.

Both of us ordered a bottle of Yukon Deadman Creek Cranberry Wheat Ale for refreshment in addition to the unlimited filtered Q Water. They actually have a decent selection of bottled beers at prices that seem fairly equivalent to other restaurants I’ve been to this year. Wines, on the other hand, are quite costly, something that other reviewers have mentioned as well. There are a few choices that seem to be reasonably priced for a 6 oz. glass. The problem is that there are very few of them and it seems that they decided to have much more expensive bottles available by the glass – between $17 to $25 each; a bit too much to swallow because they’ll really cause your total bill to jump up quickly. Needless to say, that’s one of the reasons we steered clear of the wine.

For dinner, their menu is fairly extensive; perhaps not that adventurous though. Put together by chef Darcy Radies (@DarcyRadies), previously of the much loved Blue Pear, the dishes were a mix of Jack’s Grill favourites and plates that covered everything from salads to pastas to pizzas and mains that included meat, fish, chicken and veggies. There’s enough variety to ensure that everyone can find at least one thing they want to eat.

My dining companion chose the Home Made Pappardelle while I decided to sample two items – Beets Salad and the Jack’s Grill Beef Carpaccio – in order to get a better idea of their offerings. I had a fork full of the pappardelle and it was savoury. The pasta was fresh and not too thick, and it was covered with a wonderful pile of tender slow roasted pork shoulder marinating in its own juices as well as wild mushrooms. I asked for both of my dishes to come at the same time. The salad was made with roasted red and yellow beets, goat cheese, balsamic glaze, pine nuts and arugula. The sweetness of the beets with the creamy, slightly tangy goat cheese and balsamic dressing, the earthy pine nuts and the bitterness of the arugula was a great combination. I was unsure of what to expect with the beef carpaccio. Every restaurant seems to prepare the dish differently – not hugely so, but enough that you notice – and The Glass Monkey was no exception. Unlike other establishments, the beef carpaccio came without any sort of starch or greens. Instead, the thinly shaved beef was the star of the show, served with grainy mustard, olive oil, and shaved Parmesan cheese. On its own, the beef was deliciously light and the flavours really popped. Being me though, I did marry some slices of the beef with my salad and I was entirely satisfied by the last bite.

Jack's Grill Bread Pudding

Jack’s Grill Bread Pudding

To top off our meal, we shared the Jack’s Grill Bread Pudding – another migratory dish – so as to ensure that we still had room for a stop at Tutti Frutti on the way home. The bread pudding was a good sized slab that was covered with torched sugar and sat in a bath of caramalized rum sauce with a large dollop of whipped cream on the side. A very toothsome dessert, it was extremely sweet. I actually think a smaller portion (maybe a quarter the size of what I ate) would have been perfect. More than that was overkill. It was good though, just too much for me.

What I really liked about The Glass Monkey was the casual atmosphere, the service and the fact that the server didn’t rush us out after we finished our dinner and had already paid. He even brought us fresh filtered water before we left, showing me that they want you to settle in and have a good time. When we finally did leave, the tables inside the restaurant were about full. There were couples and large parties having what looked like a great time. Judging from my one experience there as well as what I saw others enjoying, I would highly recommend that people try this new Edmonton eatery on their next outing.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Café Caribé

I found out about Café Caribé when I received an e-mail notification from Groupon about new food and drink deals in the city. Having never heard of the restaurant before, I decided to Google them to find out more about it and where they are located. As it turns out, they took over the old Crepe Symphony space on Rice Howard Way (right next door to Tres Carnales) in the downtown core of Edmonton. A little bit sad to hear that my crepe destination of choice was no longer in business, but also excited at the prospect of trying something new, I immediately purchased a voucher.

Prior to renovations! The couches are still there, but the wallpaper is gone. I hope the table lamps are still there though.

Prior to renovations! The couches are still there, but the wallpaper is gone. I hope the table lamps are still there though.

Specializing in Caribbean cuisine, I thought my friend might be interested in joining me, so the two of us made arrangements to meet there for lunch during a work day. We arrived shortly before one o’clock and it was almost empty save for one table. At the time, the look of the restaurant hadn’t been altered much – the same coloured walls, counter, tables and chairs were being used as with the location’s previous incarnation as Crepe Symphony. The main differences included a graffiti wall with Café Caribé scrawled across almost the entire span, a baroque style black and white wallpaper on the adjacent side against which sat an antique style couch in a lounge-type space and a large banner with an owl graphic on it hanging on the wall by the bar. These slight changes made the place feel a little more unique, not so cookie cutter. However, I just saw on their website that they have undergone even further renovations to give the space a vibe that better matches the food as well as a bar that provides extra seating.

They have taken out the dessert case and have built a full L-shaped bar on that side now.

They have taken out the dessert case and have built a full L-shaped bar on that side now.

A singer/guitarist had also set up in the corner and was providing entertainment by performing pop covers throughout the hour, which was a surprising touch that made it seem like a special outing. I almost thought I was somewhere in Europe with the relaxed atmosphere that it provided.

Although I was greeted upon walking into the restaurant by Hayley, the owner’s daughter, who will bring menus to you, it’s essentially a self-seating establishment, so we decided to sit at a table next to the lounge area. The tables were adorned with large mason jars that had small twinkle lights inside to add a bit of whimsy to the surroundings. Juni, the Chef/Owner, came by to say hello and let us know that everything was made to order. She seemed very sweet and was happy that we were there to sample her food.

An order of the crab cakes to start.

An order of the crab cakes to start.

The two of us ended up ordering the crab cake appetizer to share. The dish came to the table with two pan seared crab cake patties sitting on a bed of spinach and topped with fresh mango slices and mango chow. We both enjoyed the combination of the fruit with the spice of the cakes. For our mains, we each went with a roti dish – chicken for me, channa and aloo for my friend. Opting to go with the vegetarian dish, my friend liked the curry chick peas and potato that filled her plate. My folded piece of house-made roti was stuffed with large chunks of chicken and potato that were cooked in a Trinidadian curry. I thought the flavours were great and I almost struggled to finish everything because I was getting too full. The roti entrees came with sides of greens and more mango chow as well.

My plate of chicken roti with salad.

My plate of chicken roti with salad.

The restaurant seemed rather quiet when we were there with only a few patrons dining in, but the food is good and you’re given decently sized portions (I certainly didn’t leave hungry). What I liked most is that they are an independent business that is family owned and operated. Those I came across that day were friendly and open to chatting, so I hope that business picks up for them. I wish Café Caribé the best of luck!

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Rostizado by Tres Carnales

"Water for oxen, wine for kings."

“Water for oxen, wine for kings.”

The backs of the coasters are printed with the Spanish proverb, “El agua es para los bueyes y el vino, para los reyes.” Roughly translated to English, it means, “Water for oxen, wine for kings.” While my friends and I did not drink any wine on our evening out, we did feast like royalty at Rostizado by Tres Carnales.

Originally, we had a group of eight that planned to get together, so I had attempted to book a table in advance. However, I was told that they had taken the maximum number of reservations for the evening (they only accept them for groups of 8 or more, 48 hours in advance). Being that all my friends were going to be off work by 5pm that Wednesday, we decided to chance it and do a walk-in. One friend arrived early and put the group down on the waiting list as a table for 6 (a couple of people could no longer make it). We were told that it would likely be ready by 5:15, so we sat on the benches outside the restaurant as there isn’t much room to linger inside. Just shortly after the indicated time, my friend received a text message letting us know that we could come in if our whole party was there. Thankfully, our last two members were within sight as they ambled down the block.

When we walked into the restaurant, I noticed that the Mexican style living room was to my left with the open kitchen directly ahead, seating behind and to the right with a private room (or two) at the far end. Retaining the rustic sensibilities of its predecessor, Roast Coffeehouse & Wine Bar, it’s a decent sized, 70-seat space that allows them to rearrange tables as needed. Mostly though, it has a homey feeling to it. You’re meant to sit back and relax. We were placed at a table against the wall that gave half of us a full view of the chef working away. Warmth was emanating from the rotisserie that was slow cooking chicken and pork, requiring that I acclimate during our meal (I eventually did).

Our server, Monika, was great; she brought us still filtered water (no charge) as soon as we sat down, provided us with drink recommendations (FYI…the pitchers of sangria that can be ordered at Tres Carnales, Rostizado’s sister restaurant, are not on offer here) and she indicated whether or not we had ordered enough food for the group. The menu isn’t large by any means, but everything other than the cemitas (sandwiches) are meant to be shared family style. We basically decided to go big or go home, so we ended up ordering the smoked salmon sopes, the albondigas, and queso fundido to start. The salteados verde and the jicama salad accompanied our two platters for two.

The smoked salmon sopes was the first appetizer to come. A plate of three hand-made corn flour sopes – they look like thick tortilla shells, but they’re fried until the outside is cooked and they are still soft on the inside – topped with an avocado cream salsa, tequila cured smoked salmon, mesquite, radishes and white onion, it was easy to split between the six of us. Personally, I wish there had been just a bit more salmon on it to cover every bite. Yet, this was my favourite of the three entradas we ate. The mix of textures from the sope, fish, salsa and raw vegetables, plus the range of flavours in the few mouthfuls that I had was enough to make me want more.

Albondigas are Mexican meatballs made of house ground veal, pork, beef and rice served with tomato and warm chile de árbol salsa, which gives the dish a heat that slowly builds and lingers. I’m a fan of spice and I could handle it, but a couple of my companions thought it was a bit too much for them. Regardless, I think you get four large meatballs that are juicy and really hold the essence of the salsa well. The last starter was the queso fundido, a skillet of melted smoked gouda and monterrey jack cheeses mixed with wild mushrooms, poblano chile strips and sautéed onions served with a side of bread and tortilla chips. This was really tasty. The cheese stayed hot and stringy because of the iron skillet. Unfortunately, it was also smaller than I would have liked, but definitely worth a try.

We opted for two salads, so we’d get some sort of green during our meal. The salteados verde is listed as sautéed seasonal greens cooked with garlic, apple cider vinegar, poblano strips and pumpkin seeds. Seasonal greens on this evening turned out to be kale, which was excellent. The kale really soaked up the vinegar, taking on a tanginess that was offset by the nuttiness of the seeds. Jicama salad, for me, was a nice alternative to the rest of the dishes, which were largely savoury. The salad was a mix of jicama (reminds me of apple), pickled red onion, orange segments, cucumber, mint and lime juice, which I considered to be a refreshing palate cleanser before beginning on our main platters.

The combination platter for two! We ordered two of these.

The combination platter for two! We ordered two of these.

Two huge wooden boards emblazoned with the Rostizado logo had to be fit onto our table. Each was covered with a combination of local Four Whistle Farm chicken (half) and pork roasted in-house (Chris, one of the owners, came by to say hello, and he said they’re experimenting with other meats on the rotisserie, including duck, which they know is my favourite!), garnished with peppers and carrots and served with rosti-papas (potatos) and tortillas. Let me just say, wow! While we all preferred the pork over the chicken, it’s not to say that the chicken wasn’t any good. The bird was perfect; it was slow roasted on the rotisserie so that the meat practically dissolved in your mouth. The difference is that the pork was incredibly juicy and the rub used to marinate the meat was so flavourful that it didn’t require anything else. A bit of pork inside a tortilla shell was all that I needed. The rosti-papas were delicious as well, and they were nice to have as a starch when we ran out of the tortilla wraps that came with the platters. As we were warned by Monika, we did have plenty of meat left over. She packed the rest up in two boxes for us. I happily took one home and it became my lunch the next day.

That meat was saved for leftovers on purpose, of course. Why you ask? Well, because we had to save a bit of room for dessert. They only offer two desserts on the menu: flan de queso and churros con dulce de leche. We made sure to sample both, so we ordered two of each to share. I had seen posts of the churros on Rostizado’s Twitter feed (@Rostizado_yeg) and seen them make them on the morning news, so I definitely wanted to eat some. While they were delectable, especially made fresh and drizzled with dulce de leche sauce, it was the flan that won me over in the end. It looked like traditional flan, but it had cream cheese folded into it, so it was a lot more dense than I expected and incredibly smooth, and it was drenched with a thin caramel sauce and tossed with almond slices. It was spectacular.

We were there for about two and a half hours and felt welcome the entire time. The service and the food was stellar. Between Tres Carnales (@TresCarnales) and Rostizado, I’d say that Chris Sills, Dani Braun and Edgar Gutierrez are doing things right when it comes to the Edmonton restaurant scene. They focus on and perfect core dishes to ensure that no one walks away hungry, but, most of all, they give their full attention to everything – the atmosphere, the service and the patrons – so you feel as if you’re experiencing something special and memorable every time you dine with them.

The Tres Carnales - Chris and Dani watching over Edgar who's busy in the kitchen.

The Tres Carnales – Chris and Dani watching over Edgar who’s busy in the kitchen.

Open for exactly four weeks as of today, the restaurant has been getting raves and seems to be quite busy already. However, I know that there are still some who haven’t learned of its existence yet. Although, that won’t last for long! I fully expect that it will become a quick favourite for foodies and casual diners all across the city, and, no doubt, it will make The Tomato‘s list of best eats and drinks in Edmonton come 2015.

For a more in-depth look at this establishment’s involvement in the local community and its efforts towards sustainability visit The Local Good to read my profile of Rostizado.