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.

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Edmonton Restaurant Review: Rosso Pizzeria

Their specials board!

Their specials board!

Pizza places are abound in Edmonton nowadays. Add to the growing list Rosso Pizzeria (@RossoYeg), which opened in the Garneau area a little over a year ago. Taking over the old Da Capo location along 109 Street, you’ll spot it to your right as you exit on the south side of the Highlevel Bridge. Seeing as how my visits to the University/Whyte Avenue area are sporadic at best, I had no idea that it was there. It was only after I happened upon a deal from Travelzoo that I learned of its whereabouts, and then I came across their standing as the No. 70 best place to eat and drink in Edmonton as voted by readers of The Tomato in 2014.

The voucher I had purchased was valid for two people, including your choice of an appetizer or salad to share and two small pizzas. Since it could only be used on a Monday to Friday during their lunch hours of 11am to 3pm, I took the opportunity to visit with my mother during my staycation in June. The restaurant being slightly out of the way, I wasn’t realistically able to get there during a usual work day, so this panned out well for me.

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High tables to the right of the entrance.

Seeming like a quiet Wednesday, we were the first table to arrive. There were three servers on hand, one of which indicated that we could seat ourselves wherever we wanted. Personally, I like how the space is broken up. To the right of the entrance is a raised nook that gives you a view of the kitchen including the giant red bell oven. The large bar in the center takes up a huge portion of the square footage, but as you walk in it showcases all of the boutique beers as well as the baked goods, desserts and gelato that they have to offer, and the one side provides additional bar seating. The other half of the restaurant consisted mostly of regular height tables that can be rearranged for different group configurations and a tall raised bar, too. For those sunny, warm days and nights, you also have the option of sitting out on the patio at the front (watching a large truck backing out of a parking spot in the lot next to the patio, coming just inches from the barrier, made me think twice about that though).

We tucked ourselves into a booth as the server brought over menus and explained how our voucher worked. The menu is fairly extensive with several starters, salads, pizza rossas (red) and pizza biancas (white) to pick from, so it took us a while to make a decision. As we eyed the options before us, we sipped on filtered water from their Q Water system (they don’t charge extra for that here, it’s just par for the course). Ultimately, we ordered the Piatto di Formaggi Misto for our first course and the Rucola E Bresaola and the Pesto E Pollo pies for our mains. Truthfully, it didn’t matter if the dishes came together or not because we alternated between the three plates throughout our lunch.

The assorted cheese board.

The assorted cheese board.

The Piatto di Formaggi Misto is the Italian fancy name for an assorted cheese board, something that I have an increasing fondness for as of late. This arrived on a wooden board decked out with what I’m pretty sure were four semi-firm or firm varieties. The differences in texture and taste between each of the cheeses was subtle, but I could distinguish between them. I probably would have preferred if they had changed it up and included a goat cheese or a brie for a greater mixture. However, I was still very happy with this appetizer that came with slices of crostini, a combination of dried fruit (cranberries, apricots and figs), housemade marmalade and a pot of honey. As a side note, I will say that you certainly get your money’s worth with this dish as the portions given are generous.

Moving onto the pizzas, the Pesto E Pollo is a white pizza that uses almond pesto as the base and is then topped with roasted tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and marinated local organic chicken. The crust was crisp on the outside with the soft, chewy texture that is to be expected of traditional Neapolitan pizza. The flavours were a little more subtle than I expected, so it came across as a lighter selection. The Rucola E Bresaola, another pizza bianca, was packed with layers to savour. A combination of beef bresaola, organic baby arugula, mozzarella fior di latte, parmigiano scallions and amorosa tomatoes, I think that the saltiness of the extremely tender, thinly sliced cured beef (dare I say better than what I ate at The Cavern) with the sweetness of the tomatoes and the bitterness of the arugula was such an excellent blend.

Way too full to even think about dessert that afternoon, I did go back to try some in-house made pistachio gelato on another visit just shortly after. The gelato was wonderfully creamy and the medium size that I opted for was perfect to satisfy my sweet tooth.

Personally, I really like the unique touches such as the table tops that were made out of recycled wood from old wine casks. The food was great, the service friendly (maybe a little slow at times, but much better the second time around) and the atmosphere laid back. Perfect for gatherings with family and/or friends, they’re now on my list of go to local restaurants. If you plan to go, they are open daily, and it’s well worth a try. I almost guarantee you’ll want to go back again!

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

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Upper Crust Cafe

Upper Crust Cafe opened in 1986, just a year after I was born, and has lived up to their initial goal of becoming a popular yet unpretentious place to enjoy a good meal. After 28 years, they are now well-known for their desserts and catering services. However, it’s their knack for making sandwiches using freshly baked in-house molasses or oat bread (other types are available; however, they are not housemade) that made me a fan several years ago.

The interior of Upper Crust Cafe.

The interior of Upper Crust Cafe.

I was dragged there by a friend the very first time I visited. She couldn’t stop telling me about the fantastic sandwiches and potato salad. Never having been much of potato salad lover, I was skeptical. But, upon sitting down at one of their distinctive green-topped tables and biting into a deliciously thick roast beef sandwich that was layered with alfalfa sprouts, tomato, lettuce, cheese, cucumber and house mustard, I was a convert. Not only were the sandwiches filled to the brim with healthy yet tasty ingredients, the included side salad was there to ensure that your stomach would be completely satisfied. I took my friend’s advice and tried the potato salad and, to this day, I find myself getting a hankering for it at times. I think what I love about the salad is that it isn’t overly creamy or eggy, which I tend to find off-putting with other variations. It’s actually been a long while since I’ve eaten an actual meal there and I hope to do so in the near future.

Bringing this back to the present though, my most recent experience there was after a hearty brunch at the Sugarbowl (@sugarbowlcafe) about three months ago. My friends and I wanted to keep chatting and decided that we would walk over to Upper Crust for dessert. Since they had made The Tomato‘s second annual list of best eats and drinks in the city, coming in at No. 78 this year, this presented a good opportunity to hit up another top 100 location.

A slice of the carrot cake.

A slice of the carrot cake.

Walking into the establishment, you are met with the dessert display where every cake, pie and square looks rich and decadent. The three of us perused the choices for probably fifteen minutes, asking what each iced cake was before making our decisions. After we ordered, we made our way to a table by the window. It was rather quiet in there that afternoon, with maybe a handful of tables occupied.

My friends had carrot cake and chocolate cake with raspberry filling, both of which looked delicious. The carrot cake was without raisins, pineapple and nuts as my friend prefers. I didn’t try their slices, so all I am going off of is the appearance of the cakes. They seemed to be quite moist and fairly dense with the perfect amount of icing to go with each piece.

I went with the coconut cupcake. It was touted as the best cupcake in the city by Edmonton Journal (@edmontonjournal) writer Liane Faulder (@EatMyWordsBlog) a few years back when cupcakes were all the rage. Being someone who certainly appreciates the humble dessert, I was intrigued at the time. Despite that, I never did make my way to Upper Crust on a Saturday (the only day they are available) to eat one. That is until now. I have to say that I did like the flavour of the cake and that the icing was topped with shredded coconut; however, I was a little disappointed with the overall texture. I’m not sure if it was just this particular batch, so I can’t be definitive about this, but the cake seemed too solid to the point of being slightly dry and the icing wasn’t as creamy and smooth as I would have liked.

Regardless, we popped in for a quick dessert and ended up staying for around a couple hours because we had so much to discuss. The server was attentive and, though his shift was over before we were ready to go, we never felt rushed. This relaxed atmosphere makes this restaurant a wonderful place – nice and quiet – for an afternoon or evening out with with family or friends.

Writing this review, I now find myself salivating and wanting, very badly, to eat some of their potato salad and a sandwich. I’ll be back soon to quell that craving!

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Harvest Room

My mother joined me downtown at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald for lunch last week. I was armed with an Opentable reservation and a Groupon (a fantastic opportunity to try restaurants that you may not have thought of before or might not usually be able to afford) for the Harvest Room.

Housed inside the almost 100-year-old hotel (it opened in July of 1915) since 1991, the restaurant continues the chateau-style look with dark woods, distinctly patterned carpets and armchairs, light walls, vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows. Perhaps it may be seen as a little dated, but, essentially, it fits with the overall ambiance of the establishment. The room exudes an air of class and elegance, making it seem a little fancier. Yet, it’s not so stuffy that one would feel uncomfortable. Like the history of the building, which was seen as the epitome of high-class back in its day, it should be thought of as a place that warrants you putting a bit of effort into your dress (not ball gown or cocktail dress fancy, but at least business casual).

The bright Harvest Room with a view of the open kitchen.

The bright Harvest Room with a view of the open kitchen.

What I love most about the space is the large windows that brighten the space up with sunshine during the lunch hour. Come summertime, I expect that the double doors will open up to invite patrons out onto the patio, which overlooks the river valley. I have been out on the adjoining patio while having lunch and drinks with friends at the Confederation Lounge and it’s wonderful to be able to soak up the rays with good company and fantastic views.

On this particular occasion, my voucher allowed both of us to dine on the executive lunch buffet for $14 per person (usually double the cost). This included the daily soup, three cold salads with various toppings and dressings, a variety of cold cuts, a choice of four different sandwiches and wraps, a hot dish, and dessert. While it’s not an extensive selection, it was certainly more than enough for our meal, and the choices were all meant to be healthy, which I can appreciate. They also at least attempt to have some vegetarian options available. And, from other reviews I’ve read, they are quite accommodating – a diner who was allergic to an ingredient in the hot dish provided was made pasta to order instead.

A plate with smoked salmon wraps, lamb osso bucco and salad.

A plate with smoked salmon wraps, lamb osso buco and salad.

I have had the opportunity to eat there a few times now, and I have to say that the service received is always excellent. The servers are polite, water is refilled diligently, emptied plates are cleared away quickly and we’re checked on periodically to make sure the meal is going well. This is likely one of the reasons why the Harvest Room has an 86% rating on Urbanspoon, besides the food.

Voted to No. 4 on The Tomato‘s 2013 list of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton, Alberta – pushed off in 2014 by a hearty dose of newcomers to the city’s burgeoning food scene – because of their Dungeness crab cakes, I would say that, even with the simplicity of some of the buffet choices, the quality of the food is still there, and it is a good indication of what the food on their regular menu is like.

The chicken and rice soup was steaming hot (my mom loved it for that reason alone), the lettuce and greens provided for the salad were fresh, the Caesar dressing was house made, the smoked salmon wraps were delicious (sometimes instead of cold cut meats, they put out a plate of smoked salmon – amazing!), they did not skimp on the meat in the roast beef sandwiches, the veggie sandwiches were filled to the brim with roasted Portobello mushrooms, eggplant and red peppers, the hot dish – lamb osso buco – didn’t wow us, but the lamb was cooked very nicely, and the dessert of warm bread pudding – like a combination of banana bread and carrot cake (literally two of my go to sweets) with raspberries and caramel sauce – was my favourite.

Warm bread pudding with caramel sauce drizzled on top for dessert.

Warm bread pudding with caramel sauce drizzled on top for dessert.

Know that, should you go for the buffet, the items change on a daily basis, so, if you’re hoping to eat the same thing as you did on a previous visit, you may be out of luck. I’m not sure what will be in store for me the next time I make my way to the Harvest Room for lunch, but I am certain that it will be an enjoyable and fairly light meal.

As we walked out of the restaurant, I turned back to take a look at their regular menu. Throughout our lunch I couldn’t help but notice the “couple” across from us on what seemed like a first date. They each ordered an appetizer, entrée and dessert, and I wondered how much the guy had spent on their feast. After perusing the menu, I made note that an entrée alone was around $30 to $40, so I imagine he paid a hefty price to make a good impression (good luck to him!).

The 2013 lunch menu pulled off of the Harvest Room website.

The 2013 lunch menu pulled off of the Harvest Room website.

Would I go back to the Harvest Room regularly? Probably not. But, I do like it every time I go, and will most definitely be back once more. As long as the Hotel Macdonald sticks around, I think the Harvest room will as well. The city deserves to maintain some of the historical significance of what our downtown used to be like and, conceivably, what it can be again in the future. Maybe not in the sense of the classical refinement, but, more along the lines of the caliber of excellence that the Fairmont has strived to bring to Edmonton in the last century.

The Harvest Room is open Monday to Friday for lunch. They are also open seven days a week (including statutory holidays) for breakfast and dinner. On Saturday and Sunday only, they serve Royal Tea and provide a tour of the hotel.