Edmonton Restaurant Review: Crash Hotel Lobby Bar

The classic styling of the Crash Lobby Bar.

My last two posts were about my experiences during Downtown Dining Week (DTDW). This review will complete the trilogy by covering my meal at Crash Hotel Lobby Bar.

The restaurant, located on the main floor of Crash (previously known as the rundown Grand Hotel), is an unexpected gem in a revamped and refurbished building that has been brought back to its glory days. With heavy woods throughout and a bar wine rack disguised as vintage cubbies — likely to be found at the front check-in desks of older hotels — it’s a nod to the history of one of Edmonton’s long standing structures.

My table was all set to go upon arrival!

It’s not a large space by any means. Nevertheless, although it filled up as my friend and I hung out for the evening, it didn’t seem like anyone coming in had any issues finding a spot to perch on. To be fair, there was no hockey game going on at the nearby Rogers Place arena that night. I’d assume that it’d be much busier if that were the case. That’s why I’m glad to see that Crash offers reservations through the OpenTable system. When I arrived, they had my table all set to go. A card with my name and the time of my booking was sitting there waiting for me.

Our martini cocktails, which we sipped on.

Our server was quite attentive. She provided a couple of suggestions for drinks based on our palate preferences. I took one of her recommendations and tried the namesake martini, which was a mix of muddled ginger with marmalade, grapefruit vodka and lemon. It satisfied my penchant for slightly sweet yet sour cocktails. My companion went with the other, known as The Donald. A combination of vodka, lychee and grapefruit juice, this came off a little bit sweeter, but was still pleasing, especially with that kick of lychee fruit.

My friend’s old fashioned cocktail.

Unlike some of the other DTDW participants that create special dishes for the week, Crash opted to showcase their standard menu by allowing diners to choose any item for both the starter as well as the entree of their $28 three-course dinner. My friend and I decided we’d each go for the DTDW dinner and we’d split four dishes, which would allow us to sample more of the offerings.

I was actually very excited to visit Crash as I had heard that chef Nathin Bye had created the menu. Bye brought Ampersand 27 to life, so I could only imagine where he’d take these pub style plates. What I hadn’t realized was that Bye had completely left Ampersand 27 behind. Crash is his new full-time position and that’s interesting. A hotel restaurant doesn’t usually come to mind as the cool, hip place to hang out, and working in an environment where the goal is to gratify the masses can often be limiting. On the other hand, it’s not unfathomable that Bye would choose to take on the challenge of attempting to change that notion.

We selected the Roasted Beet & Greek Yogurt salad, Alberta Beef Short Rib, Brussels ‘n Bacon and the Crash Burger. The majority of the dishes are made to be shared among the group, tapas style. The latter is most ideal for an individual meal, but it’s easy enough to divide that into halves (I’m not sure it’s the best if it needs to be allocated between more than two people). It’s important to note that plates are brought out as they’re ready. That means nothing is sitting for too long in the kitchen; it certainly makes for a compelling argument to share the food, ensuring no one at the table feels left out while others may already be eating.

Brussels ‘n Bacon

The Brussels ‘n Bacon were presented to us first. My initial thought was that the size was generous and that it could serve as a whole meal. Regularly just $9 for an order, it’s a great value, too. Prepared with Moroccan spices and sweet chili, the balance of flavours was excellent. The bacon was crisp and smoky; the taste melding with the rest of the spices. Fried chickpeas completed the dish. They were an unexpected accompaniment that provided an extra layer of texture and raised the Brussels ‘n Bacon to star status. It became my favourite dish of the night.

Alberta Beef Short Rib

A plate of the Alberta Beef Short Rib showed up next. There were two pieces of beef, each about four ounces in size, along with hickory sticks and broccoli. The menu indicated that there were supposed to be pickled mushrooms. I don’t recollect eating any of those. Nonetheless, I was happy with the dish as the meat was succulent. I still used a knife to cut it, but it was quite tender. Aside from what looked to be a bed of broccoli puree, the meat was cooked in an Asian inspired sauce, sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and topped with hickory sticks (house made versions of the snack chip), which added dimension and made me forget about the lackluster broccoli florets, which were cooked fine, just nothing special.

Crash Burger

Our third dish was the Crash Burger. Admittedly, this was a bit disappointing. The brioche kaiser bun was, in my opinion, over toasted. The ingredients listed on the menu include braised short rib. I couldn’t tell if there was any in the burger. There was also supposed to be an onion ring, but I don’t recall that either. If it was there, it wasn’t memorable. The patty was decent though; it was well-seasoned and the meat was fresh. There was also plenty of aged cheddar and I enjoyed the fried egg. This burger comes with a side of fries (salad is an alternative) and a deep fried pickle. I’m not usually a fan of the second, but I had a bite of the pickle and it was good. The fries were fine. No dips were served with them though, and I could have used some ketchup or aioli.

Roasted Beet & Greek Yogurt

Of all the dishes, we would have thought that the cold salad would have been the quickest to prepare, but it turned out to be the last to show up. Was this on purpose à la the mindset of the French and Italians where it’s believed that salad at the end of a meal helps to improve digestion? We don’t really know, but it’s a thought. I will say that the Roasted Beet & Greek Yogurt salad was quite a refreshing way to finish off our mains. I would have liked to see more beets and the Greek yogurt was a deceiving replacement for the typical goat cheese. Greens, squash and burnt Mediterranean honey ensured we got our fix of vegetables in a delightfully tasty way.

Cookies & Cream Cheesecake

Dessert was our third and final course. This consisted of a thin slice of tall Cookies & Cream Cheesecake served with a liberal dollop of raspberry jelly or puree. The cake was smooth and silky with layers of chocolate cookie crumble and what tasted like a caramel center. It wasn’t overly dense and, since the slice wasn’t thick, it came across as the perfect portion.

After getting this opportunity to taste a handful of Bye’s creations, I think he made the right move. It’s a chance for Bye to broaden his foodie fan base by showing us how well pub food can be done. The location is accessible and the menu is affordable. Every single dish has an element of surprise – from fried chickpeas to hickory sticks — that elevates each one from something ordinary to something superb (or nearing that, anyway).

Advertisements

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Farrow

The menu is written on the chalk board above the front counter.

The menu is written on the chalk board above the front counter.

Farrow has been around for a little over a year and a half, and, in that time, it has made The Tomato‘s list of top 100 eats in Edmonton twice. In fact, it was voted by readers to the number one spot in 2015.

Being close to the Garneau and Old Strathcona, it’s a bit out of my way, so it wasn’t until this past summer’s Taste of Edmonton, which takes place near my office, that I was able to sample their offerings. Their menu changes all the time, but during our annual food festival, they presented two choices: roast beef and pulled pork.

I tried the roast beef when I was there. It was a small little slider served with chips, but I could tell all of the ingredients were extremely fresh. The arugula was crispy and the roast beef was thinly sliced. Most of the flavour came from the horseradish mayo and the pickled onions. It was decent, but not totally memorable. When my friend finished her roast beef sandwich, she stated their pulled pork slider was the better of the options they brought to Taste.

Flash forward a few weeks to August and the both of us were hanging out at the Fringe Theatre Festival. Since we were spending a full day trekking all over the Old Scona area from show to show with ample time in between, we decided that this was our opportunity to drop by the actual shop on 109 Street.

We perused the succinct menu and, in the end, we both chose to go with the Grick Middle, which is the sandwich that has been heavily lauded by the media and fans of the eatery. It’s the only one that remains a staple at Farrow. By and large, this is basically a glorified breakfast sandwich. Filled with a Four Whistle Farm fried egg, Sangudo bacon, smoked cheddar, rosemary aioli and arugula, the idea of the “unprocessed” comes to mind.

One of the staff packing up my sandwich.

One of the staff packing up my sandwich.

As they were preparing our orders, I watched the staff in the open kitchen fry up the eggs and put everything together. They wrapped up the sandwich lovingly in thick deli packing paper and sealed it with their logo. The location itself is tiny. There are about three bar stools that look out the window and another four to six seats at the picnic table that sits outside the shop’s steps right next to the sidewalk. It’s not the most comfortable, so we took our parcels and walked over to the park between Garneau Theatre and Upper Crust.

I unwrapped my package and, after examining the sandwich and how to approach it, I took a few bites. So far, it was okay. Eventually, I hit the egg yolk and, not only was the bread now soaked, but so were my hands. It’s a messy one. Once the egg yolk breaks, it coats the sandwich and it gives it a different mouthfeel. A fried egg on anything just improves it, and I think this sandwich needs that.

You can tell that everything is made fresh and from scratch, which is great, but I wasn’t blown away by the combination or the flavours, and I sort of think that it was lacking in terms of portion size. The sandwich looks big, but it mostly consisted of bread, egg and arugula. There wasn’t enough bacon for me to really discern that taste in every bite I had. Maybe for $7.50, my expectations were too high, but considering that is over $2 more than a breakfast sandwich at Starbucks and it didn’t truly satisfy me, I probably won’t be spending that much on the Grick Middle again.

My wrapped Grick Middle sandwich from Farrow.

My wrapped Grick Middle sandwich from Farrow.

It’s not to say that Farrow isn’t what everyone says it is. To each their own, really. I can see why people like the place. They’ve brought the popularity of the sandwich back. This isn’t what your mom packed for you during your school days. These are grown up versions, and I love a sandwich that is piled high with ingredients that play off each other and make you crave having it over and over.

This one didn’t do it for me, but it’s not to say another of Farrow’s sandwiches won’t be the one that wins me over. For now, Farrow is good, but, personally, it’s not great. It might get there someday though.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Cafe Mosaics

The previous Burger menu at Cafe Mosaics. I think they've refined this as well.

The previous Burger menu at Cafe Mosaics. I think they’ve refined this as well.

I am by no means a vegetarian, let alone a vegan. Yet, when a meatless meal is made well, I could care less if there’s any steak/chicken/fish in it.

There aren’t many restaurants in Edmonton that serve strictly vegetarian or vegan menus. In fact, I only knew of Padmanadi and Noorish until this summer when my friend suggested that we go to Cafe Mosaics on Whyte Avenue for our book club meeting.

Since I’m always happy to try somewhere new, I was completely on board, especially because I’d been hearing about Cafe Mosaics in increasing frequency right around that time. Apparently the establishment has called Old Strathcona home for around 20 years. But, I had no clue that it was there; not until a renovation that took place last year doubled the size of the restaurant. That’s when I noticed it in passing.

The newly renovated interior of the restaurant.

The newly renovated interior of the restaurant.

The best thing going for the eatery is the bright and airy atmosphere and the open storefront, a result of the modifications made to the space. In the summertime, the large windows slide to the side to let in fresh air, helping to create a seamless extension to the seats on their sidewalk patio in the process. Honestly, it is much preferable to snag a table closer to the doors and windows. Tables by the kitchen can get warm and stuffy when it’s hot out.

Of course, you can beat the heat by grabbing one of their ice blends. While we waited for everyone else to arrive, my friend and I each sipped on one. I had selected the Tsunami Wave and she got the Mango Hemp. We sampled each other’s drinks and we both preferred the one we didn’t order. The Tsunami Wave wasn’t as thick and a little too citrusy for my liking. The Mango Hemp had an earthier flavor (I enjoyed that) and had a consistency closer to a smoothie. Looking at their current food and drink menus online, it looks like they’ve revamped a lot of their offerings. They kept the Tsunami Wave though, and they still serve a mix of beverages including: coffee, lattes, teas, fresh juices, cocktails, wine and beer.

Creamy Vegan Portabello Pasta

Creamy Vegan Portabello Pasta

For dinner, two of us ordered the gluten-free Creamy Vegan Portabello Pasta (my friend sans the avocado toast due to an allergy). The server was accommodating and offered her some garlic toast instead. Made with portabello mushroom, tomato, onion and organic black bean noodles tossed in a coconut vegan cream sauce, the dish was rich. At first I quite liked the flavours, but I found that the saltiness started to overwhelm me about halfway through my meal. It was also a heavier dish than I expected, so I ended up packing the leftovers home. I was really pleased with the side of avocado toast, which is something that I can also easily make at home.

Tofu Stir-Fry

Tofu Stir-Fry

One of the guys in our group tried the Secret Burrito, which he found to be lacking. The burrito itself was filled to the brim, so they didn’t necessarily skimp, but everything in it was drowned by some sort of teriyaki-like sauce that wasn’t a good fit. Our other friend opted for the tofu stir-fry, which she finished, but also quickly dismissed as being subpar, stating that she has had better at other restaurants.

On a side note, the tables felt kind of sticky and had a film on them (it might be time to sand them down and refinish the tops) and the utensils supplied weren’t the cleanest. Those are simple fixes for the restaurant to work on. I should mention, too, that they only accept debit and cash for payment. On a positive note, the service was decent.

The place was busy that evening. I suspect that Cafe Mosaics has their regular clientele. However, based on the one visit, I don’t think I’d be inclined to go back soon. Of course, that’s not to say that they won’t ever be able to change my mind.

I want there to be more vegan and vegetarian options in this city. This month’s refinement of their menu is probably a good start in the right direction. Everything that we ate is actually no longer, so that does provide me with a reason to give them another try. Perhaps what remains will win me over.

The small plants on the tables were a cute touch.

The small plants on the tables were a cute touch.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Tiramisu Bistro

The spacious interior of Tiramisu Bistro.

The spacious interior of Tiramisu Bistro.

The 124 Street district is one of my favourite places in Edmonton. It’s home to numerous independent shops and restaurants, including Tiramisu Bistro. I keep saying this lately, and it sounds ridiculous since I’m known for reviewing eateries, but until this year, I didn’t know this place was here.

I guess I have tended to relegate myself to certain blocks within this area and Tiramisu Bistro fell outside of that usual boundary. Granted, it’s only a few doors down from Duchess Bake Shop, and I’ve made a point of going there. In fact, it’s because of my attempt to go to Duchess that I ended up at Tiramisu Bistro at all.

On a free evening at the start of the summer, my mom and I decided we should stop somewhere for a snack, so I suggested Duchess. She’d never tried their desserts and I was more than excited to be the one to introduce their key lime pie to her. Unfortunately, as we drove by looking for a spot, I noticed that the store was closed for the night (I forgot they shutter early). That’s when I spied Tiramisu Bistro.

We figured that it was our best bet, and we easily found parking around the corner from the door. Prior to this, I’d heard about Tiramisu Bistro in passing. Yet, I failed to place its location. Now, I knew.

As we walked into the door, I found myself surprised to see how large the establishment is. The room is spacious with a coffee bar and numerous tables. A server came over to greet us and said that we could choose any seat. My mom thought we should have selected a smaller table, but the server said that it was already late and she didn’t expect to see any large parties coming through before the evening was out, so we stayed put.

I sat and looked at the menu even though we weren’t there for dinner. The selection appeared to be appetizing and I made a mental note to come back another time. On this occasion, we each had a smoothie and we shared a key lime pie.

Smoothies and key lime pie

Smoothies and key lime pie

The smoothies were packed full of pureed fruit, so I was happy with the value there. Although, my mom’s Happy Heart smoothie was rather sour due to the cranberries. I fared much better with the Brain Boost smoothie, which was a mix of strawberry, blueberry and raspberry. Having gone back to Tiramisu Bistro, it’s worth noting that they now list all of the ingredients next to the names of smoothies (they didn’t months ago) and the names no longer match what we had. The Cran-tastic is now what my mom drank, and the Passion Berry Bliss matches mine.

As for the key lime pie, it was just okay. Key lime pie is sort of the dessert du jour lately. Any and every restaurant has added it to their menu. I’ve gotten used to the lovely key lime infused custard-type filling that has become the norm. The one served here is similar in texture to a gel with a meringue topping and toasted coconut sprinkles. It was unique, but not what I was hoping for.

Evening specials

Evening specials

My second visit came a couple of months later when I met some friends for book club. It happened to be a Tuesday night, which is Tiramisu Bistro’s pizza B.O.G.O. (half off the second) evening special. My friend was game, so we shared two pizzas between us. Our selections included the Baked Brie & Duck Confit and the Salmone.

The duck pizza was a mix of duck meat, figs, roasted garlic, caramelized onions, brie and honey drizzled on top. I enjoyed this one. However, it could have used a little more duck on it and it would serve them well to spread the toppings out a little more towards the edges of the crust. The crust itself was pretty good. Although, it didn’t have the same consistency of a traditional thin-crust Italian pizza baked in a wood-fired oven, which I would have preferred. From what I remember, it lacked that slight chewiness.

Our Salmone pizza was excellent. The crust was the same, but came off better with these toppings: asiago cheese sauce, pears, capers, arugula and smoked salmon (plus a few pieces of onion). Maybe the juice from the fish and the pears changed the texture of the dough a bit. I’m not entirely sure. In any case, the toppings also made it closer to the edge and each slice could be covered by a full piece of smoked salmon, ensuring you got every flavour in each bite. If I were to go back for their pizza, this is the one I would have again.

Another friend in our party opted for a pasta dish, which may have been the special that day as his was made with short rib, and I can’t find it listed on their regular menu. The dish was nicely presented, but not particularly large. The fourth in our group chose either the Lift Me Up or Quinoa salad with added salmon skewers. Her dinner looked delectable. On sight, the veggies seemed to be fresh with a mix of greens, red bell peppers, grape tomatoes and cheese. The pieces of salmon were sizable, cooked well and seasoned nicely.

Seeing as we took their table for at least a few hours, the restaurant was accommodating. They never once rushed us even when it did get busier (there was never a line up though). I’d certainly go back for their food, especially on nights when they have specials or live music on Friday evenings. Mostly, I like the ambiance. It’s quiet enough to talk to whoever you’re with and they have a great patio during the warm season. Plus, the huge windows let in a lot of light when it’s bright out.

In essence, it’s a great community establishment that makes you feel right at home.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Leva

Happy diners on the patio saying hello to me!

Happy diners on the patio saying hello to me!

To me, Leva (@cafeleva) was like this apparition that I would periodically spot whenever I was in Edmonton’s Garneau neighbourhood, never realizing it was an actual cafe until friends started mentioning it here and there. I’d pass by many more times before I finally made a point of trying it out at the end of May. Like a hidden gem, it’s slightly off the beaten path, tucked away among the residential enclave of the university area.

My friends and I met up for a late lunch on a Sunday afternoon. Two of us arrived together and, neither having visited previously, weren’t really aware of how their system worked. After we clarified with a staff member that we could seat ourselves and order at the counter when ready (they offer full service during dinner), we staked out a table that bridged both the interior of the cafe and the patio, so we could soak in some vitamin D without being blinded by the sunshine. The outdoor space is actually quite small, but they make good use of it and they even have outdoor heaters for those slightly chilly days or evenings. The interior is nice and bright with wood topped tables, white chairs, hints of yellow in the decor and big windows that let in lots of light.

The order counter and interior of Leva.

The order counter and interior of Leva.

Once our third party showed up, we headed over to the counter to take a look through the menu. One friend went with the Chicken Breast Panini, the other just ordered a chocolate gelato milkshake, and I got the 12″ Spicy Chicken Avocado thin crust Neapolitan Style pizza as well as a chai latte. Upon paying for our items at the till, we were given metal placards with numbers on them, which were to be placed on our table, so the servers would know who to bring the food to. In a way, it’s very similar to the set up at Famoso.

Drinks were ready within minutes. My chai latte was steaming hot. I almost mistook it for someone’s milkshake because it came in this very tall ceramic cup that looked like an old fashioned soda glass. I thought it was a cute touch. Unfortunately, I have to say that the brand of chai latte tea bags that Leva uses are only okay. I left it steeping the entire time we were there and the flavours never got that strong, remaining rather bland.

My chai latte. Cute cup, but not the most flavourful.

My chai latte. Cute cup, but not the most flavourful.

On the other hand, the food completely made up for the subpar beverage (I’ve heard the coffee is fantastic though, but I don’t drink it). My friend’s sandwich was filled with chicken breast, brie, sweet potato, rosemary, buckwheat honey and seasonal greens. She said it was really tasty, especially liking the use of sweet potato to add an extra flavour profile to an otherwise basic panini. My pizza was topped with mozzarella, spicy chicken, avocado and cherry tomatoes. I can’t say the chicken was all that spicy (I can definitely handle more), but I enjoyed the combination of the four items and the overall simplicity of the meal. Everything tasted so fresh and the crust was crispy on the outside yet soft enough to fold for easier eating. I devoured the entire thing in the one sitting.

The dessert case was awfully tempting, too. I was absolutely stuffed after eating my whole pizza, so I refrained from indulging further, but one of my friends did pick up a macaron that she said was very good.

Edmonton foodies knew much earlier than I did about Leva – voted by readers into the No. 47 spot on The Tomato‘s directory of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton for 2014 and No. 38 in 2013), so I have them to thank for nudging me towards the place. I also happened to catch a glimpse of who I’m sure was local celebrity, Chef Daniel Costa of Corso 32 and Bar Bricco, stopping by to pick up a drink. If that’s not enough to tell me that Leva should be on the radar after 10 years in business, I don’t know what is.

Chef Daniel Costa of Corso 31 and Bar Bricco (or his doppelganger) stopping by for a drink.

Chef Daniel Costa of Corso 31 and Bar Bricco (or his doppelganger) stopping by for a drink.

The food seems to be relatively healthy, keeping to the basics of the ingredients. That’s something that I think is important when eating out, so I’m excited to add this establishment to my ever-growing list of city restaurants to revisit. And, after having been twice in the last month, it’s now also one of my friend’s new favourite hangouts, so I’m sure I’ll be coming around more in the future.