Crystal’s Double Dozen: A Born and Bred Edmontonian’s Top 24 Eateries for 2015

Last year I decided to begin working my way through The Tomato‘s 100 best eats in Edmonton for 2013 and 2014.  There are still places that I haven’t made it to, and the challenge has only become harder with the release of the 2015 list this past March. Not to mention, new restaurants continue to spring up and compete for my attention. Needless to say, I wasn’t as on top of trying different places this year, but my second annual breakdown of my personal favourites in Edmonton does have some variation from my choices in 2014.

I still stand by the belief that any eatery is capable of blowing me away. Whether it’s an independent restaurant or part of a chain, there’s a reason why these places have lasted and continue to bring customers through their doors.

All of my selections are based off of the dishes that I’ve tried, so I by no means can vouch for the entire menu at each restaurant. However, I do feel that whatever I’ve eaten at these establishments are good indications of their brilliance or potential.

If you’ve had the pleasure of enjoying a great meal at the following locations, you’ll understand why they’ve made the cut. Otherwise, this list is my way of nudging all of you to step outside of your comfort zone to try somewhere and something new.

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1. Cibo Bistro
Still my favourite place in 2015. Everything is made from scratch. Delicious arancini, amazing cured in-house salumi, and fresh pasta with the perfect bite.

Review of Cibo Bistro

2. Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen
The official grand opening took place in November and the food really impressed me and my friend. Absolutely fantastic bone marrow agnolotti and tender, smoked duck were the stars.

Review of Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen

3. Woodwork
I recently visited again and it reminded me of why I like this place so much. Talented bartenders mix perfect cocktails, which are usually imbibed with plates of food that often consist of flavourful house-smoked meat.

Review of Woodwork

4. Canteen
The menu changes seasonally, but I still think about the duck breast I had. Visually, it was gorgeous, but it was also incredibly succulent. The chickpea fries and corn fritters are also great for sharing.

Review of Canteen

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5. Rostizado
A great place for gatherings, the platter of 2 consisting of juicy and tasty roasted Four Whistle Farms pork and chicken creates a family-like atmosphere during your meal. Make sure to order the caramel flan for dessert, which is arguably even better than the churros.

Review of Rostizado

6. Duchess Bake Shop
My mom’s first visit to Duchess took place this year, and she loved the desserts. She’s pretty critical, so if she says something is good, it is. The key lime tart is still my top pick here. The banana cream pie has a wonderfully flaky crust, plenty of banana and lots of fresh whipped cream.

Review of Duchess Bake Shop

7. Corso 32
I was maybe a little harsh with Corso 32 last year. My expectations were very high after hearing all the rave reviews before trying it for myself. But, I concede that the fried short rib was a more than memorable dish.

Review of Corso 32

8. Tres Carnales
My quick and dirty review from last year still stands: “This is Mexican street food at its finest. Every time I have been to this establishment, the service has been quick and the food has been fantastic. The guacamole is a tasty starter for the table (I love it even though it contains cilantro). The various aguas – flavoured waters – are a must to quench your thirst on a hot day. If you ever have the chance to eat them, get the duck tacos! They are stellar, but a rarity nowadays. The al pastor quesadilla is a close second.”

Review of Tres Carnales

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9. El Cortez Mexican Kitchen + Tequila Bar
I was skeptical of El Cortez prior to visiting in August. When it first opened, I had heard the food wasn’t all that great, but chef Lindsay Porter who took over a few short months later created a top notch menu. The fried cauliflower and the bulgogi steak tacos are awesome.

Review of El Cortez

10. Rosso Pizzeria
The wood-fired pizza is a must.  I also highly recommend the ricotta with olive oil, which is indulgent, but light. Don’t leave without dessert. The homemade gelato is superb.

Review of Rosso Pizzeria

11. Nosh Cafe
This restaurant moved to 124 Street within the last year and business has been slow to build at their new location. However, I’ve been several times and the traditional Indian dishes – palak paneer and butter chicken – are consistently good.

Review of Nosh Cafe

12. Cactus Club Cafe
I know this is a chain. But, arguably, they know what they’re doing when it comes to food and drinks. I’ve never had a disappointing meal at either location. The dishes that keep me coming back include the beef carpaccio, the BBQ duck clubhouse and the calamari (the addition of the fried jalapeno slices is genius).

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13. Joey Restaurants
Don’t start rolling your eyes. This is the second chain on this list and there are reasons for it. I’ve been frequenting Joey for as long as I can remember. It was the place my friends and I would go for a night out. We’d feel like adults as we had long conversations over what we considered to be pretty fancy food at the time. Not much has changed. Joey has always been a mainstay for me. The menu has been revamped many times over the years, but I hope that they never remove that spectacular ahi tuna sandwich. I crave it.

14. Japonais Bistro
They have filling bento boxes that satisfy your belly and the matcha crème brûlée is addictive.

Review of Japonais Bistro

15. Izakaya Tomo
Must tries here include the crispy tako yaki (octopus balls), oyster ponzu and the prawn spring rolls. Gather a group of friends, order a bunch of plates and share everything!

Review of Izakaya Tomo

16. The Common
Go for the chicken and waffles – one of the best renditions available in Edmonton – or the unique tandoori calamari. They also have a great selection of craft beers and tasty cocktails.

Review of The Common

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17. Three Boars Eatery
This tapas style establishment has an ever-changing menu that is meant to be shared. If you can catch them, the lamb neck croquette, roasted beet and carrot salad, oka tart and the pork belly are highly recommended. The intimate space also makes it feel a little more special.

Review of Three Boars

18. Lazia
They’ve recently shifted the focus of their menu back to more Asian influenced dishes, and I think that was smart. The kitchen pleasantly surprised me with gorgeously plated and flavourful dishes that rivaled their sister restaurant, Wildflower Grill, but with price points that are slightly more accessible.

Review of Lazia

19. Sloppy Hoggs Roed Hus BBQ
I was greatly disappointed when I found out that Absolutely Edibles closed. However, their sister restaurant, Sloppy Hoggs, still exists just down the block on 118 Avenue and 95 Street. The barbecued and slow-cooked meat served here is great and the portion sizes are generous. To top it off, the Absolutely Edibles brunch menu transferred over to this location. The waffles with the works (breaded chicken) are my top choice.

Review of Sloppy Hoggs

20. Ampersand 27
A beautiful atmosphere with equally beautiful dishes made for sharing. Get the melt-in-your-mouth maple butter pork belly.

Review of Ampersand 27

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21. The Cavern
Giving the option to select wine in 3 oz. or 6 oz. glasses and the chance to build a cheese and charcuterie board that is healthy and filling, you’ll likely be surprised to find that you don’t actually require anything else. With cheese, meat, nuts, dried fruit, jellies and bread, this is a meal in itself.

Review of The Cavern

22. The Art of Cake
Cupcakes, slab cakes, cruellers, and shortbread cookies are just a few of the baked goods that they offer at their store. It’s impossible to go wrong.

Review of The Art of Cake

23. Tiramisu Bistro
With an extensive menu, there’s probably something to satisfy everyone. I particularly liked the salmone pizza. Even better, after 5pm on Tuesdays, pizzas are buy one, get one half off.

Review of Tiramisu Bistro

24. Belgravia Hub
Tucked away in the Belgravia neighbourhood, this is an easy restaurant to overlook. However, don’t miss out on their contemporary comfort food. The corn fritters, mac and cheese bites and the braised beef are worth a visit.

Review of Belgravia Hub

Happy New Year and Happy Eating! See you in 2016!

Local restaurants present libations inspired by Edmonton Opera’s Lucia di Lammermoor

Lucia's Libations. Image courtesy of Edmonton Opera.

Lucia’s Libations. Image courtesy of Edmonton Opera.

On April 18, 21 and 23, the Edmonton Opera has brought back a show that hasn’t been seen in this city for nearly 20 years. Lucia di Lammermoor, a Donizetti story reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, is an Italian opera set on the gothic moors of Scotland. As the tale goes, Lucia is forced into a loveless marriage by her brother, and as desperation consumes our protagonist, she commits a chilling murder on her wedding night.

The Edmonton Opera, working with Yelp Edmonton, challenged local restaurants to flex their creativity, asking them to come up with a libation inspired by this dark thriller. As Tim Yakimec, Edmonton Opera’s general manager and artistic director, said, “Opera pairs well with many things, food and drink included.” A first-time project for this organization, presenting opera as a cocktail is smart – they can reach a new audience while also building relationships within the culinary community.

Three restaurants stepped up to give their take on this show. &27, BLVD and Mercer Tavern’s bartenders all chose to acknowledge the Scottish landscape through the use of various scotches, adding additional ingredients to marry the other themes of the show.

From now until April 23, you’re invited to patronize these restaurants and encouraged to try each of their specially designed Lucia di Lammermoor influenced cocktails in order to ready yourself for this opera. Or, if you’d like, perhaps you can attempt to whip one up at home using these recipes.

 

Lucia's Loch from &27

Lucia’s Loch from &27. Image courtesy of Edmonton Opera.

&27
10612 82 Avenue
Created by Janice Bochon

Lucia’s Loch

1 oz Kahlua
1 oz Bowmore 12 year
1 oz Lavender simple syrup
2 oz milk

“A drink reminiscent, both visually and flavour-wise, of Scotland’s misty lochs and moors,” Bochon said. “Complemented with the lavender subtle flavour notes as well as its more seductive symbolism of devotion, ardent attachment and distrust.”

 

BLVD-COCKTAIL

Lucia’s Royal Blue Hour on the Moors from BLVD. Image courtesy of Edmonton Opera.

BLVD 
10765 Jasper Avenue
Created by Brendan Brewster

Lucia’s Royal Blue Hour on the Moors

1.5 oz Blue Hour Reposado Tequila
0.5 oz Blue Alize
0.25 oz Campari
0.25 oz Drambuie
0.25 oz fresh lemon juice

Short stir for dilution, double strain into a clean flute, top with Prosecco. Garnish with an edible hibiscus flower, which will act like nucleus points for the carbonation in the Prosecco.

“Made with a highlands Reposado, it has a fine balance between the agave notes, the wood, scotch-smoke and the bittersweet strawberry of the Campari. Kind of like a Rosita meets a Seelbach, burnt,” Brewster explained.

 

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The Fat Lady cocktail from Mercer Tavern. Image courtesy of Edmonton Opera.

Mercer Tavern
10363 104 Street
Created by Taylor Zottl

The Fat Lady cocktail

0.5 oz Dubonnet
0.5 oz Campari
0.5 oz Averna
0.5 oz Glenlivet 12year
1 dash of lemon bitters

Build in glass with all ingredients, Stir for 20 seconds with ice cubes. Garnish with an orange peel and the lemon bitters on top.

 

I know that I can’t wait to sample these drink creations over the next two and a half weeks, and will, of course, be posting about them through social media, if I do. So, please be sure to share your experiences via Twitter (@edmontonopera) and Instagram (@edmopera), using the hashtags #eoLucia and #eoMixology; Edmonton Opera can also be found on Facebook.

Here’s hoping to a successful first endeavour for the Edmonton Opera, as I’m certain opera and cocktail fans alike would love to see round two.

For more information about Lucia di Lammermoor, or to purchase tickets, click here.

Edmonton Opera presents Lucia de Lammermoor

Edmonton Opera presents Lucia de Lammermoor

*Please don’t drink and drive. Arrange for a cab or a designated driver.*

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Ampersand 27

A portion of the & 27 menu.

A portion of the & 27 menu.

Ampersand 27 (@ampersand27yeg), one of Whyte Avenue’s newest culinary adventures, opened at the end of 2014 under the watchful eye of Chef Nathin Bye. His work with restaurants such as Wildflower Grill already raised the bar for food in this city, so it was only natural that we come to expect even more from his own venture.

Taking over the spot previously occupied by Murrieta’s, the space has been transformed into something more open, inviting and adventurous. Filled with curved lines, warm colours and the bask of glow from hundreds of twinkling lights, the eatery looks beautifully modern and high class while maintaining a casual sense of atmosphere.

Having made a reservation through OpenTable, we were guided to our table right after we were greeted at the door. Seated in a quiet corner of the dining room I was able to observe the rest of the room. Two long tables sandwiched by bench seating (not really the most comfortable) were surrounded by numerous tables for four, which are perfect for reconfiguring for additional large groups. Next to our table there were doors, which I assume lead into a more private space for special occasions. I’m unsure as to why I felt this way, but there’s something that seems special about this place.

As I took it all in, I started to work my way through the menu. Drinks first, I noticed that they have a well-rounded list of cocktails, beers and wine. In fact, the number of beverages available likely surpasses the food choices. But, I’m okay with that. I often find that restaurants that have more focused menus tend to do a better job with their dishes.

The majority of the food items available for dinner are meant to be split with your dining companions. Broken down into share plates, build-your-own charcuterie boards, larger provisions and flatbreads, many of the options sound tasty. It comes across as a natural decision to divide the dishes amongst the group rather than hoard something to yourself because doing so means getting to sample a variety of things, which is what I often prefer to do since it allows for better and truer reviews.

On this particular evening, we chose three dishes: seared albacore tuna, maple butter pork belly and the forest floor flatbread.

Seared Albacore Tuna

Seared Albacore Tuna

I usually find it hard to pass up seared fresh tuna and I’m glad that we didn’t here. The fish was cooked perfectly with just the outer edges having been seared and the middle still a gorgeous pink colour. The dish was pleasantly light and healthy by plating the tuna with pickled hearts of palm, citrus, seaweed and cashew puree. The hearts of palm reminded me of artichoke with a bit more crunch, the citrus created a refreshing balance, the seaweed provided additional texture and salt, and the cashew puree gave it an subtly nutty quality. Essentially, this was the perfect start to our meal, one that would leave room for what was to come.

Maple Butter Pork Belly

Maple Butter Pork Belly

Personally, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with pork belly. The gummy mouthfeel of the thick layer of fat that so often accompanies this meat has always put me off, but I do enjoy a well made pork dish, so I was willing to chance it. Thankfully, the maple butter pork belly was excellent. Arriving at the table like a work of art, the maple glazed pork belly was just right. Sitting atop a bed of southwestern mesquite corn, baked beans, green peas and fritters like a crown, the fat from the meat acted like butter, simply melting away when eaten.

The Forest Floor Flatbread

The Forest Floor Flatbread

Our last selection for the base of our meal was the forest floor flatbread, which is essentially a thin crust pizza. While the dough was too crisp for my taste, the foraged mushrooms, house made ricotta, truffle and arugula combined to make a delightfully earthy dish that is vegetarian friendly. I particularly loved the cheese.

It appears that no dinner outing is complete without dessert and because they have their own pastry chef (Tim Androschuk), we each opted for our own (sampling the other, of course). My friend’s doughnut was decidedly smaller than expected, but it was quite dense and rich, so it seemed like enough to satisfy the dessert craving. A cocoa orange cake doughnut with Grand Marnier glaze topped with walnuts and served with a side jar of cranberry preserve, it had many layers of flavour. I went for the red velvet. Deconstructed and artfully plated to include pieces of red velvet sponge cake (much airier), strawberry textures (meringues, strawberry pieces, fruit leather), rhubarb rose puree and whipped cream cheese, this was like my idea of dessert heaven. There were so many different things happening, but I could see that it was one cohesive dish where everything was fantastic on its own, but also came together in a wonderful marriage.

Other than the stellar food, one of my favourite things about the restaurant was the professional and knowledgeable service. The staff all seemed to know their stuff when it came to the menu. They were attentive throughout the night, and often times the chef or management would do a round to make sure every guest had their needs met.

It’s that attention to detail in all that they do that will continue to make Ampersand 27 feel like a special place to dine.

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 Ampersand 27.