Edmonton Restaurant Review: Narayanni’s

The pistachio chai is amazing! I used the roti in the background to dip.

The pistachio chai is amazing! I used the roti in the background to dip.

Earlier this year after brunch at Under the High Wheel (read my review), my friend and I decided to take a walk around the surrounding block, poking our heads into Blush Lane Organic Market, peeking into the windows of Cally’s Teas and spotting a place called Narayanni’s with its stark white front, big blue lettering and red double doors. The latter is the one that intrigued me the most. I had never heard of Narayanni’s before that day. As soon as I got home, I Googled the restaurant. Their website told me that their cuisine is gourmet South African Indian and that they only serve it buffet style Tuesday through Sunday evenings with Tuesday being vegan night. I decided that I would definitely make a point of going there before the year was over, and I made sure to sign up for their e-newsletter.

Months later, with my birthday coming up, I received an email from Narayanni’s offering me $10 off my meal to celebrate getting another year older. The fine print allowed me a full month to use the voucher, so I called up my friend and told her that was where I wanted to go for dinner. On the Friday after the giant snowfall we received at the end of November, the two of us met and drove over to Old Strathcona, parking about a block away from the restaurant to avoid any high snow banks. The chilly winter air made the warmth of the restaurant that much better.

When we stepped through those huge wooden doors, we saw that, what was once a blacksmith shop and then a machine shop, was now a large yet cozy restaurant with a unique high ceiling, numerous tables – including some booths that can comfortably seat about six people – a fireplace near the back, welcoming yellow walls, and a buffet that sits at the center.

Since we arrived quite early at about 5:30pm, we were able to grab one of the booths. After we stripped off our bags and all of our cold weather gear, we perused the drink menu and each ordered a pistachio latte. While our drinks were being prepared, we ambled up to the buffet and started filling our plates. Their full menu is extensive with all of their recipes having to be spread out over the week, so extra visits are likely necessary if you plan to try everything that is listed on their website. If I remember correctly, I believe there were about a dozen different hot items on offer that evening including a few vegetarian dishes such as butternut squash and braised kale and cabbage, Halal certified lamb curry, fish curry and grilled masala chicken to name a few. Appetizers of potato samosas, fried eggplant and papadum were also available along with a vegetarian soup. There were also three different cold salads – Greek, Tabouli and mixed greens.

The buffet is situated in the center of the space.

The buffet is situated in the center of the space.

I always try to sample a little bit of everything that is available, so I scooped up a small portion of each selection and placed it on my plate. Once I made it around the bar, my dish was piled high. There wasn’t even room for any of the cold salads, so I grabbed a small plate and spooned a bit of the Greek and Tabouli salads onto it. By the time I made my way back to our table, our lattes were sitting there. I attempted to take a sip right away, but the drink was piping hot, so I let it cool for a while.

In the meantime, we started digging through our food. Right off the bat, you can see and taste the difference between Narayanni’s South African Indian cuisine and Punjabi cuisine. While both kinds are flavourful and delicious, the food at Narayanni’s comes off as being a bit healthier because they adhere to non-cream based sauces. In addition, they are adamant about cooking without MSGs, preservatives and artificial flavourings or colourings. There is an emphasis on natural spices and they do not refrain from serving up food with heat as a number of the dishes were spicier than the milder counterparts I’ve had at other traditional Indian restaurants.

The Greek and Tabouli salads.

The Greek and Tabouli salads.

Everything I sampled was fantastic. Of the two salads, the Greek won me over because they chopped all the veggies and cheese into large enough chunks and they did not skimp on the feta, which was fresh and not overly salty. The potato samosas were a good size with the right ratio of pastry to filling and a perfectly crispy outer shell. The grilled masala chicken was juicy and tender. The butternut squash was cooked until just slightly soft and was refreshing on the palate, while the braised kale and cabbage added a layer of texture to my plate. Those were my favourites that evening. As much as I wanted to go back for seconds, I could barely budge out of my seat after clearing off what I thought was my first round.

My plate filled with all of that evenings offerings.

My plate filled with all of that evenings offerings.

There were a handful of desserts on that Friday evening: bumble berry bread pudding, homemade custard, cinnamon infused rice pudding, coconut macaroons and pecan butter tarts. Full as we both were, my friend and I did manage to share a small bowl of the bread pudding with a dollop of the homemade custard placed on top. It was absolutely wonderful, so I’m glad we didn’t skip out. The berries gave the bread pudding a slightly tangy flavour that helped to balance off any sweetness, and the cake pretty much soaked up the custard, which had a really nice, smooth consistency.

Hands down the best thing of the evening? That pistachio latte. I’m pretty sure it uses a chai latte base, and, by far, it is the best chai latte I have ever had in my life. I even dipped pieces of roti into the latte, creating my own dessert. I could not stop raving about this beverage. In fact, I still think about it regularly, and I find myself tempted to drop into Narayanni’s just for drinks, if they’d have me.

Daya and Selva Naidoo have a history of opening successful Edmonton eateries, their first being Block 1912, located just a short distance away from Narayanni’s. Although I did not speak with Daya and Selva, I had the pleasure of meeting one of their daughters that night. She actually sells some of her own jewelry at the front of the restaurant as well as pieces made by a friend of hers, so after we paid, she took us up to the display case to show us the designs. With a variety of prices and some fun and pretty options, it’s not a bad idea to keep the restaurant in mind for last minute gifts. On occasion, the establishment even plays host to jewelry sales.

What I really love about Narayanni’s is the family’s friendly nature, combined with their scrumptious food and a great atmosphere. These are the things that will bring me back in due time.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Canteen

A close-up photo of the seared duck...beautiful.

A close-up photo of the seared duck…beautiful.

Within the past year, I have made it to Canteen (@Canteenyeg) on 124 Street just two times, the second of which was about 11 months after the first. Taking such a long break between visits was not due to the quality of the food. On the contrary, the first meal I had was delicious. I’ll chalk up the delay to Edmonton bursting at the seams with great restaurants that are kicking ass and taking names while keeping me from going back to previously tried eateries.

However, Canteen (sister establishment to the beloved Red Ox Inn) did warrant another tasting, especially since it has made The Tomatos list of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton for two years in a row now (No. 8 in 2013 and No. 40 in 2014). My initial dinner at the establishment happened well before my friend and I decided to tackle the 2013 restaurants. As such, I felt that we needed a more recent evening sampling their menu before I could give Canteen an actual review.

During our original meal we had chickpea fries to share as our appetizer. Then my friend followed that up with an entree of white fish (likely halibut, tilapia or cod) as well as the bread pudding for dessert. For my main, I selected the lamb, and to finish off my meal, I had the chocolate ganache. Supper was incredibly filling, but completely satisfying.

This last dinner in October was no different. Arriving probably 15 to 20 minutes earlier than our booked OpenTable reservation, we were greeted warmly by the hostess who took us right to our table.

The interior of Canteen...very modern and industrial.

The interior of Canteen…very modern and industrial.

Our server came by to say hello, so we each chose a beverage off of the menu – a cider for myself and a cocktail for my friend – and we decided to split an order of the corn fritters with smoky maple syrup to start. I noticed that, while the selection of items changes regularly at Canteen, a number of the dishes remained the same as previous. That’s not a bad thing though. It kind of ensures that what you’re eating is likely what has remained popular with patrons and that, if you loved that plate, you’ll probably be able to get it when you return. The corn fritters were very tasty. Nice and fluffy, but crisp on the outside like little beignets, they were savoury and just a tad spicy. Once dipped in the smoky maple syrup that came with them, the sweetness from the sauce created this excellent contrast.

An order of the sweet and spicy corn fritters to share on our second visit!

An order of the sweet and spicy corn fritters to share on our second visit!

When duck is available in any form, both of us have a hard time passing it up, so we didn’t. We each ordered the seared duck breast for our entree. Beautifully plated, the dish looked like a work of art – slightly pink meat with seared brown skin, bright green snap peas, dark beluga lentils, magenta and white butter radishes, deep burgundy cherry mostarda and dollops of green garlic. Yet, it wasn’t so gorgeous as to stop us from polishing everything away. The duck breast was the most tender I have ever eaten. You could literally almost cut the meat apart with only a fork. The meat was juicy and the skin and fat gave it some bite as well as amped up the flavour without being overly salted. All of the other additions to the plate created a fantastic balance of textures.

The two of us opted to move along to another location for dessert, but before we did, I asked to have a look at the menu. Their amazing bread pudding, which I happily had a bite of when my friend ate it the first time, is not currently being offered. A different variation of the chocolate ganache I had eaten graces the list, as does a lemon crema and a poppyseed cake. I’m certain that no matter what is consumed here, it’ll be scrumptious.

Canteen's dessert menu on our last visit in October.

Canteen’s dessert menu on our last visit in October.

Canteen is just one of many wonderful establishments that has popped up in the last few years, and I can definitely say that it is one worth trying.

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 Canteen (and Red Ox Inn).

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: Wild Tangerine (CLOSED)

The restaurant's tag line.

The restaurant’s tag line.

I had been to Wild Tangerine (@goWildTangerine) years ago, visiting after hearing many excellent reviews. While the experience at the time was great, for some reason, even though I kept telling myself to go back, I never did. Fast forward to the beginning of this month and I came across a Twitter post or perhaps a quick news snippet announcing the impending closure of the restaurant on June 21. I was shocked to hear that such a successful and loved establishment was deciding to shutter their business after 10 years, especially when siblings Judy and Wilson Wu’s passion for food has continued to shine so brightly (voted by readers into the No. 19 spot on The Tomato‘s list of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton in 2014 and No. 22 in 2013).

So, upon learning of the countdown to the restaurant’s final day, I immediately texted my friend and asked if she wanted to join me there for supper the following week. When she agreed that we should definitely make a point of going before it was too late, I reserved us a table and we were off to the races.

The interior of Wild Tangerine

The interior of Wild Tangerine

Walking into the brightly lit and colourful space, it hadn’t changed much since my first meal there, but I could see that everything was well taken care of and had been kept in great condition. We were seated at a booth by the windows at the front, giving me a view of the entire room. Arriving a little before the dinner hour, there were only a handful of other occupied tables. However, as we dined, the restaurant was eventually filled to capacity with patrons both showing their love and wanting to indulge in one last meal that usually consisted of at least one order of their known shrimp lollipops.

Enticing as that appetizer sounded, my friend decided to go with Chef Judy’s famous Thai Green Curry with Prawns & Tortiglioni minus the seafood as she is allergic, making it a vegetarian dish. I opted to go with the Cha-Siu Organic Pembina Pork Tenderloin with Spicy Tangerine Glaze as well as a side of Gnocchi with Coconut Cream. What I love about their food is that they always serve everything with fresh seasonal vegetables, so you know you’re getting the best that producers have to offer and that the meat products are one hundred percent Alberta grain or vegetable fed in addition to being antibiotic and growth stimulant free.

My order of pork tenderloin and gnocchi with coconut cream.

My order of pork tenderloin and gnocchi with coconut cream.

I tasted a bit of my friend’s Thai Green Curry dish and the flavours were fantastic. It wasn’t overly spicy and was filled to the brim with green beans, zucchini, red peppers and eggplant. And, as we found out at the end of our supper, they were really fair in that they lowered the cost of my friend’s meal since she had asked for no prawns. They could have charged the regular price of the dish without resistance from us, but they went ahead and altered the cost in a way that was pleasantly surprising. It showed me that this is an independent business that really knows how to take care of their customers.

The Pork Tenderloin that I ordered was very good, too. The meat was, well, tender. Pork is often easily overcooked, but it was perfection here. The tangerine glaze was a nice balance to the saltiness of meat and the bok choy was another little nod to their Asian roots. Paired with the coconut cream covered gnocchi, I was easily satisfied. Of course, I still saved room for dessert, and, am I ever glad that I did!

The warm gingered bread pudding with black sesame ice cream. To die for!

The warm gingered bread pudding with black sesame ice cream. To die for!

When Wilson brought the dessert menu over to the table he made a quick disclaimer about the warm gingered bread pudding, saying they were now out of the typical banana ice cream and that they had replaced the usual with a black sesame seed version instead. That really didn’t matter to me. I was sold as soon as I saw bread pudding there and, truth be told, I love black sesame, so that is indeed what I went with. When the plate was placed on our table, it looked almost too good to eat. The ice cream was in this perfect little cube next to a round cylinder of the bread pudding that was encrusted with a thin layer of torched sugar like a crème brûlée. It was served with a side of blueberries and small cubes of watermelon. The whole dish was wonderful and really the best cap to my meal. The slightly gritty texture of the ice cream was a great compliment to the smoothness of the bread pudding and the fruit provided an excellent palate cleanser.

I would say that I can’t wait to go back again, but, alas, that is not to be the case this time around. Now, it’s more like I’m kicking myself for not having gone more often in the past. I don’t think I’m the only one who feels that way either. I overheard a table of ladies tell Wilson that they were sad to see the restaurant go, and although Wilson appreciated the sentiment, he wasn’t down about the idea, telling them it was just time for them to move on.

The good news is that Wild Tangerine will still remain in some form after June 21. Judy and Wilson will continue to manage their prepared foods business part-time, serving up items such as soups, snacks and bagged cuisine meals at the new Mother’s Market, a downtown farmers’ market that is located indoors and open year round on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 102 Avenue and 109 Street.

With that, I wish the Wild Tangerine a fond farewell. It will truly be missed by Edmonton foodies. However, the show must go on, and I give three cheers to Judy and Wilson as they take their next steps! All the best!