Edmonton Restaurant Review: Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse

Pampa downtown Edmonton interior

For years, Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse sat on 99 Avenue and 109 Street as the lone location in Edmonton. However, more recently, they’ve grown to include two more spots in the city, one in Ellerslie and another in the west end. Although the premise of rodÍzio (unlimited meat carved at the table) always intrigued me, the price didn’t necessarily encourage me to go.

As my friends had mentioned before, it’s a great experience, but the cost — $52.99 per person for dinner — simply covered the main meal and buffet. Anything such as drinks and/or desserts (if you even have room left) were an addition, quickly racking up the bill. Therefore, it remained on my list of places to try, but it was never a priority.

Then, last year, a different restaurant with the same idea decided to open up along Saskatchewan Drive. A number of other local foodies were popping into Fumaca Brazilian Steakhouse to test run it, and I opted to check it out, too. Personally, I loved Fumaca’s meats (their buffet could use some improvement), and ever since then, I’d been wanting to get to Pampa to compare the two.

Downtown Dining Week menu

I strategically waited until Downtown Dining Week rolled around before booking an OpenTable reservation for our visit. The $45 menu on offer during that event was slightly smaller. It included the hot and cold buffet (over fifty items) as well as ten different meat skewers versus the usual fourteen at regular price. Was it enough of a difference to my wallet to skimp out on those four more meats? Probably not. On the other hand, I made a point of trying all ten cuts that were available to me, and I can safely say that I don’t think I could have eaten any more than what I did (not counting the dessert I tacked on at the end).

My plate of items from the hot and cold salad bar

To recap the overall meal, I’ll start with the buffet. It’s a pretty extensive spread ranging from pickles and veggies to hummus and cheese to potatoes and salads (greens and pastas) to soups and stews. It certainly seemed fresher than the one at Fumaca with more variety and larger portions set out. While I chose not to sample the soups, they did look deliciously creamy. Ultimately, I stuck with some of the house-made hummus (I’ve had better from a store bought container), sliced radishes, raddichio salad (kind of bitter and oddly textured), Brazilian cheese bread (too hard as if it’d sat out too long under heat), beef penne salad, marinated baby potatoes, Caesar salad, and a warm creamy chicken pasta to accompany my onslaught of meats.

Once we were back at our table, we left our cards flipped to the green side to signify that we were ready for the skewers to come; flip them to the red side to let the servers know you need a break.

Marinated Chicken Drumstick

First up was the marinated chicken drumstick. I found this to be simply seasoned and smoky with a very crisp exterior while still maintaining some moisture underneath the skin. Not my favourite, but tasty enough.

Pampa Pork Sausage

Next was the Pampa pork sausage. I have not learned to love cilantro (it has that soapy flavour) and I found that the herbaceousness of it came through too much for me. This sausage was also dry and I didn’t enjoy the full pieces of peppercorn that dotted the pork.

Beef Top Sirloin

I asked for a more medium-cooked slice of the beef top sirloin. Definitely a bit more fatty than some of the other cuts of beef, but this was tender, juicy and nicely crusted at the edges.

Bacon-Wrapped Chicken Thigh

The bacon-wrapped chicken thigh is likely the hottest piece of meat that we were served (everything else was lukewarm). This was probably due to bacon grease being trapped between the pork and the chicken. No question, it was a little oily, but the chicken was quite succulent underneath the bacon.

Parmesan Pork Loin

One of my top choices, more for the flavour than the texture (slightly tough), was the Parmesan pork loin. The meat had a hint of lemon to it and it was heavily rubbed with dry Parmesan cheese crumbs. Honestly, this was a genius combo.

Rosemary-Marinated Pork Shoulder

Before trying the rosemary-marinated pork shoulder, I wasn’t sure that I would like it. Pork shoulder isn’t a cut of the pig that I often have and I was concerned about the preparation of it. Turns out that it was the closest thing to pork belly (go figure) that I’d get to eat on that night. Sure, it didn’t have the same fattiness of pork belly, but the extremely crispy skin held all of the juices in and reminded me of the pork belly I’d had at Fumaca.

Beef Garlic Steak

Can you ever have too much garlic? It’s a preference thing, I suppose. In the case of their beef garlic steak, I’d say that it’s a big maybe. Initially, I loved the abundance of garlic crusting the piece I was carved. Yet, it eventually became way too salty on my palate.

Chimichurri-Basted Beef Striploin

The only meat that wasn’t served from a skewer was the chimichurri-basted beef striploin. It was one of the last meats that I was presented with, so I asked for a smaller piece to make sure that I’d be able to finish it. If there was cilantro in the sauce (it’s a typical ingredient in many chimichurris), the flavour was thankfully masked; nevertheless, it was too greasy and salty despite the use of a tender steak as the base.

New Zealand Leg of Lamb

To change things up, they also offer a New Zealand leg of lamb. Much leaner than the other meats, it provided a decent chew and a lovely outer crust without the gamey flavour that many dislike about lamb (I don’t actually mind it myself).

Beef Rumpsteak

Last, but not least, was the beef rumpsteak. The slice I received was just a tad dry (shredding apart in the mouth) even though it looked to be cooked perfectly and had a nice colouring to it. It was also very minimally seasoned, making it kind of bland.

As a final bow on the evening, I went for their feature dessert. It was a coconut custard with boiled mango on top. The preparation of the fruit was interesting. It turned the mango into something like a chewy jelly, and the custard actually had flakes of coconut in it. Not the worst, but also off-putting since custards should really be creamy and smooth. This was unexpected.

All in, our meal came to $114 after tax and tip was accounted for. Aside from the one dessert, we refrained from extras like beverages, which made it more reasonable for two people. Nonetheless, with each small glimmer of greatness in the food, there were also many things that I found to be lackluster. I’m not likely to go back to Pampa anytime soon; however, if anyone is a fan of meat, meat, and more meat at a single sitting, then this is the place for you.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Fumaca Brazilian Steakhouse

Unlimited meats, salad bar and brunch items!

Step aside Pampa, there’s a new steakhouse in town! In all honestly, I’ve never actually tried Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse myself. I’ve always been weary of the prices ($51.99 per person for dinner and $33.99 for brunch), unsure if it’d be worth the money considering I can’t really eat all that much meat in one sitting. But, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed earlier this summer and I noticed quite a few posts about a similar restaurant called Fumaca Brazilian Steakhouse.

The spacious interior of Fumaca Brazilian Steakhouse.

This new business is located on the ground floor of the Water’s Edge building at 10143 Saskatchewan Drive. On a nice summer day, it’d be quite enjoyable to sit out on the patio with views of the bridges and the city skyline. During our visit though, it was starting to turn chilly and the winds were high, so indoors we went. It’d been years since I’d set foot into that space (it previously housed New Asian Village). From what I can recall, it used to be a lot more cramped. Now, it’s very open and spacious with a more modern design that utilizes bold colours on the walls and art.

Green = More / Red = Pause

We did have an OpenTable reservation. However, I will note that it wasn’t particularly busy when we arrived. They offer brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 11:00am to 2:00pm. Timing it so that we could eat before a Fringe Festival show, we decided to dine at 1:00pm. Perhaps showing up later meant it had already quieted down. Therefore, we were quickly seated and given instructions on how the meal works — the buffet is available at any time, but the meats are brought out from the kitchen throughout; if you want the churrasco (Brazilian barbecue), flip the circular card to green and if you need a break, flip it to red.

Brunch at Fumaca is $25.99 and includes French toast, pancakes, scrambled eggs and hash browns as well as a salad bar and an unlimited amount of seven select cuts of meat (at dinner there are 15 varieties, hence the increased cost of $44.99). We started our meal by perusing the buffet. I stacked my plate with the aforementioned French toast and pancakes, dressing those with a berry compote. I also scooped up some hash browns and mashed potatoes on the side. From their salad bar, I chose some red beets, marinated mushrooms, a curry pasta, and the pièce de résistance, full bulbs of roasted garlic.

My initial plate of pancakes, French toast, hash browns, mashed potatoes and veggies.

The latter of my collection from the salad bar was perfect to accompany most bites of meat that I sampled. I mean, garlic works with everything. As for the rest of my choices, they were all tasty and well-seasoned. Nothing was overly salty or inedible. Although, I did feel like the salad bar was a tad scant. There were plenty of dressings and oils laid out to go with bowls of mixed greens and some additional veggies, fruits and toppings, but not much else. If someone opted to pay just for the brunch salad bar on its own ($19.99), I’m not sure that it’d be all that filling.

I was pleasantly surprised by the pancakes and the French toast though. It’s very easy for those to be ill prepared as part of a buffet. When items like those are left out for too long, they can either become hard or soggy. These stood the test with the pancakes remaining rather fluffy and the French toast holding a crispness on the outside.

Then came the meat. Our introduction to their rodizio was through their signature Beef Rumpsteak. Carved right at the table, it was that perfect medium rare pink. The meat was juicy and not overpowered by seasoning. Simply dressed with only a little bit of sea salt, the steak itself was left to be the star of the show. The second was a Beef Garlic Steak; a smaller cut of meat that was succulent and had an extra hint of flavour. The third beef steak we ate was the Top Sirloin. It was a tougher cut since it was leaner than the other two. Flavourful, but, comparatively, the chewier texture wasn’t ideal. Admittedly, we thought the staff were kind of skimping with the slices, but once you’ve eaten several kinds of meat, it’s eventually more than enough.

The Chicken Drumsticks were nicely charred to get that grilled taste. They were also plump. I could have done without those though. I’d much rather something outside the norm of what I might make at home. That’s where the Leg of Lamb comes in. Not too gamey at all and super tender, this was a total treat to be able to have lamb included as part of a limitless brunch.

Crispy Pork Belly with what remained of my Pork Sausage.

When I first told Kirk that there wouldn’t be any regular sausage or bacon, he seemed quite disappointed. Then I mentioned that they serve barbecued Pork Sausage and Crispy Pork Belly instead and his spirits brightened. After all, those are just elevated versions of the usual brunch fare. Initially, we couldn’t put our finger on the herb used in the sausage, and we ended up asking one of the servers. To our amazement, it was cilantro. That is pretty much my taste bud nemesis. Yet, somehow, they managed to make cilantro edible for me. I’m not sure what black magic they’re using in the kitchen, but it worked and the sausage ended up being one of my top picks.

Still, my absolute favourite was the crispy pork belly. These were thick cut portions of pork belly that were seared beautifully on the edges. I did have to remove a little excess fat that had not rendered away during the cooking process, but the acidity from the spritz of lime helped to cut through that as well. The second portion of pork belly was even better. It seriously made the meal.

Fumaca Brazilian Steakhouse seems to have a solid foundation in the kitchen. They’re the only other business of this kind in Edmonton giving the long reigning Pampa a run for its money. The service we received was great, too. I just hope that they get some more people through their doors, and perhaps they can expand their salad bar a bit. Nevertheless, for any meat lover with a hefty appetite, this should be one of their go to places to fuel up on the weekend.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Harvest Room (Full Breakfast Buffet)

My first run at the Full Buffet.

I’ve been to The Harvest Room at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald several times over the past few years, but the last time I wrote about it was just over four years ago. A recent visit, prompted by the purchase of a Groupon, is giving me the chance to talk about this downtown Edmonton spot once more. This time, instead of coming in during lunch or stopping by for dinner, my family and I opted to meet up for breakfast bright and early on a Sunday morning.

Street parking on Sundays is free, so it’s possible to find spaces nearby without having to pay for the use of a lot or for the Fairmont’s valet services. The rest of the week, it will cost to park until at least 6:00pm. We had made reservations for 9:30am, and we arrived right on time. Before we were led into the dining room, the host hung up our coats in the closet, and he also requested our Groupon voucher. In this instance, the deal was a $100 value for $65 to be used on a Sunday to Thursday towards breakfast or dinner. However, I also managed to get an additional 25 per cent off with a promo code, which dropped the price down to $48.75. The original offer is still currently available.

Our table of four was seated next to one of the big windows, allowing us a great view of the entire restaurant and the patio. The space isn’t all that big and it’s not as regal as I’d assume a Fairmont dining room would be. It is classically styled though, and the servers are all dressed more formally. There’s even a window into the kitchen, so you can watch the staff as they work. It starts to feel like a fancier place when it’s apparent that they will bring brand new cutlery every time you begin eating off of a new plate.

French toast, bread pudding and a pastry.

The breakfast menu ranges from $12 for a Super Green Smoothie to $26 for a House-Cured Hot Smoked Salmon Benedict. It’s certainly not cheap. Especially when any additional drinks, including coffee, tea, and juice, are $5 each. Although, they do offer the value option of a coffee or tea with juice for $8. Taking all of that into account, it just made sense for our group to go with their Full Buffet option ($31.50 each). For about the same price as a single dish with a drink, we’d get unlimited fresh fruit, smoked salmon, domestic cheeses, yogurts, assorted cereals, bagels, toast, pastries, eggs benedict, french toast, bread pudding, crispy bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, omelettes, breakfast potatoes, and the daily smoothie. Plus, coffee or tea, and juice — I questioned whether or not the orange juice was actually fresh as indicated on the menu — comes with it as well.

From the Continental Buffet, the best item you’ll find for the value is the smoked salmon.

Personally, I wasn’t super impressed with the Continental Buffet ($21.50) selection as I found the bagels to be kind of hard like they weren’t made fresh and there wasn’t much in the way of cheeses. The fruits were alright. I particularly enjoyed the pineapple and watermelon. Both were juicy and sweet. I also will commend the pastry chef because the mini danishes that I ate were delicately flaky and soft. Otherwise, it’s only worth the money if you’re a fan of smoked salmon and yogurt-based smoothies. Eat as much of the house-cured fish as you can and drink a couple of glasses of the daily smoothie to completely justify the cost. But, really, for an extra $10, it seems like a no-brainer to just go with the Full Buffet. While I didn’t try the eggs benedict or the scrambled eggs (I’m not a fan of eggs that have been sitting for periods of time), I made an effort to sample everything else.

Prairie Omelette made fresh to order.

First off, I’ll say that I appreciate the fact that, even though it is a buffet, they’ll take omelette orders at the table, so the dish is freshly cooked and comes hot from the kitchen. I chose the Prairie Omelette, which is usually $23 on its own, served with potatoes and tomatoes. Filled with boar bacon lardons, charred peppers, tomatoes, green onion, smoked apple wood, and smoked cheddar cheese, it was okay. I definitely could have used more cheese, and I would have preferred a fluffier egg.

The bread pudding at the 12 o’clock position was so good, as were the mini danish pastries.

Again, items that sit out at the buffet in warmers are never going to be the best unless there’s high turnover. That’s why I wasn’t too keen on the french toast. The slices seemed kind of stale and the berries that were tossed into the pan looked as though they’d been heated a bit too long. On the other hand, the bread pudding was fantastic. When I lined up to get some of that, I was at first disappointed to see that the tray was missing. But, that turned to happiness when I saw that a new bowl of bread pudding was being brought out just as I reached the buffet. The sweet bread was subtly flavoured with cinnamon and a dusting of icing sugar. I paired it with a few strawberries I pulled from the tray. It’s simple, but tasty.

The breakfast potatoes were savoury and tossed with roasted tomatoes. They were the perfect accompaniment to the plump sausages and the copious amounts of crisp bacon strips that I had. Those were all perfectly prepared.

My pot of tea was included in the price of the Full Buffet.

All in, my family paid about $100 after tax and tip out of pocket. At $25 per person, the value was there. However, when it comes down to the regular price, this is more than I would typically spend on breakfast (I’ll take the $8 happy hour special at Earls over this any day). Yet, if it’s not too out of the way, you’ve got a big appetite, and you’re looking to treat yourself to something nice, the Full Buffet at The Harvest Room should be a contender. Go for the drinks, fish and meats, and fill out the rest of your meal with other sides such as the delicious pastries. Just keep in mind that the value lies in certain items and stick with those.

Unconventional Las Vegas

To celebrate my 30th birthday a week ago, my friend and I flew down to Las Vegas for a long weekend trip. Itinerary in hand, we had no plans to party or gamble over the four days. This being our third holiday in Vegas within a two year period, we didn’t need to go dancing and drinking until the clubs close at 4am. No, this vacation was going to be different and unconventional – relaxing, eye-opening and filled with great food and a bit of shopping.

Here’s the info on where we stayed, what we drove, what we ate and where we went. I’ll try to be as brief as possible and let the photos do most of the talking.

Hotel

Whenever we go to Vegas, we tend to stay at a different hotel. On this occasion, we purchased a flight and hotel package through Expedia that included accommodations at The Mirage. Upon check-in, we were given keys for a non-smoking, two queen bed room on the 15th floor. The room was clean (although the countertop was a bit dusty) and spacious with enough room to lay out our luggage and walk around.

There is a fridge under the counter, but it’s a fully stocked minibar, which I didn’t dare touch because you just never know and my money isn’t going towards overpriced mini bottles of alcohol or bags of candy. I do wish that there was some empty space in the fridge to store some leftovers though. Otherwise, the beds were comfortable and housekeeping never bothered us in the mornings.

Overall, I liked the hotel enough to consider another stay there and I would recommend it to others.

On a side note, I still question why Vegas hotels continue to charge people a daily resort fee. This is especially the case during the colder months when amenities like their pools are often closed for the season. What exactly are we paying for?

Car Rental

For this trip, a car was required for drives to the Grand Canyon and Valley of Fire State Park. We rented through E-Z Rent-A-Car because it was one of the cheaper options. It was easy enough to get to the large rental location because of the shuttle bus from the airport, but the problem with E-Z is that we thought what we paid through Expedia would cover the entire cost. Unfortunately, liability insurance (we thought my friend’s credit card coverage would be enough) still had to be added on top of that, meaning we didn’t really save any money. We’ll probably look at other options next time.

The one good thing is that we were upgraded to a nice sage green (they listed the colour as white) Prius for the weekend, which was really efficient on gas.

Shows

Instead of going to Cirque du Soleil or a concert this time, we decided to change things up by checking out some new shows.

Lipshtick

Our first evening in Vegas, we ventured to the Sands Showroom at the Venetian for Lipshtick. They’ve been running shows under this name for the whole year to showcase female comediennes. The headliner for the night was Whitney Cummings who was hilarious. I’m actually happy to have seen her do live stand-up. She can be crass, but she has great rapport with the audience and she’s quick on her feet with jokes and comebacks.

Whitney Cummings will be back in Vegas for another show in January under the Lipshtick banner. I’m hoping that they continue to add new dates because they’ve also had Iliza Shlesinger in the past and her Netflix shows always make me laugh out loud.

Mat Franco: Magic Reinvented Nightly

America’s Got Talent 2014 winner (I never watched the series), Mat Franco, now has his own residency in Las Vegas at the LINQ. Neither my friend or I had seen a magic show in Vegas (I’m fairly certain I haven’t), so we were game to check it out.

Mat Franco is definitely a showman and he has got his tricks down. I was impressed with his humour and his sleight of hand. Also, I’m one of those people who doesn’t think about how a trick was done. I don’t need to know. I just want to be amazed.

Food

Jean Philippe Patisserie at Aria

For lunch when we arrived in Vegas, we ate savoury Italian crepes at Jean Philippe Patisserie. The two of us had each redeemed myVEGAS vouchers, so we got to eat for free. The crepes were huge with plenty of veggies for the filling and a good portion of prosciutto on top. This was a satisfying meal.

Sage at Aria

Dinner led us back to the Aria hotel where we indulged in the $89 Signature menu at Sage. To start, we ordered the Pearfection cocktail, recommended to us by our wonderful server. Bread (with butter and salt) was provided as well as an amuse bouche.

The Signature menu consists of your choice of four courses. Both of us had the wagyu beef tartar. That dish was fantastic. I could have eaten 10 plates. My friend had the salt roasted beets next. It was a beautiful dish that looked delicious. I had the Maine day boat scallops, which were perfectly seared and tender. The salted caramel reduction was rich and went well with the slightly bitter greens and the earthy mushrooms.

For our mains, my friend had the 48 hour beef belly and I selected the Beecher’s Farm whey fed pork loin. The bite I had of the beef belly was really succulent. The pork loin wasn’t as juicy as I would have liked, but it was tasty and not too heavy.

Knowing that I was celebrating my birthday, our server had told the kitchen about the occasion and my pumpkin clafoutis dessert arrived with a candle in it. That was a nice touch that I didn’t expect.

Tableau at Wynn

Before our excursion to the North Premium Outlets on day 2, we stopped at the Wynn for brunch at Tableau. What a gorgeous restaurant. We were seated near the entrance by a window that looked out into the garden. I didn’t see further back, but I think there’s an atrium space with more tables that would have been lovely.

My friend had a juice and I had a smoothie (vanilla strawberry balsamic) to wake us up. Both were refreshing. The smoothie was interesting because the balsamic made the drink more acidic than it would have been without. Judging from the strawberry that was placed on the rim, if it had just been vanilla with strawberry, it would have been very sweet because the strawberry was the best I’d had in a long time. I would love it if we could get such amazingly flavourful berries at home.

Viewing the menu, we both chose the duck hash & eggs. Our server told us that was one of the most popular dishes, so much so that it has never been removed from the menu even when they make updates. The duck was smoky, the eggs were fluffy, the pastry was decadently buttery and the hollandaise sauce was lighter than normal.

Sprinkles Cupcakes

Prior to our Vegas visit, I joined the Sprinkles Birthday Club and received an email offer that allowed me to redeem for a free cupcake on my celebratory day.

This turned out to be our quick “dinner” before the Mat Franco show. I ended up getting the pumpkin cupcake (seasonal) along with an additional chai latte flavour, which was my favourite when we picked up Sprinkles in San Diego earlier this year.

Sprinkles cupcakes are awesome. However, I will say that two of them eaten back-to-back does cause sugar overload, and I don’t say that often.

BLT Burger at The Mirage

After the magic show and a drink at the Seahorse casino bar at Caesars Palace, we were feeling pretty famished, so we decided to head back to The Mirage for some food at BLT Burger.

This was a great choice. The burgers were stacked high and for a decent price you could add a drink and a side of fries (skinny, curly, fat, waffle or sweet potato). My friend opted for the buffalo chicken burger and I went for the sesame tuna. Everything about mine was scrumptious. What was most surprising was seeing that they stacked two steaks (not extremely thick though) of ahi tuna on top of each other for my sandwich. Our crisp sweet potato fries were also accompanied by some ranch dip. Yum!

The Buffet at Monte Carlo

The reviews for the Monte Carlo buffet were less than stellar, but going in with lower expectations meant that I was pretty pleased with what we got for breakfast.

Eating for free because of another redeemed myVEGAS reward made it all the more worth it.

I had some banana bread french toast, hash potatoes, potatoes au gratin, bacon, chicken apple sausage, fruit and a glass of club soda and I was ready to go.

I would have tried more of the food, but I didn’t have a big appetite that morning. If I had, I would have gone for the roast beef, which some reviewers have said is often dry, yet it looked cooked to a nice medium rare when I walked by.

Maybe we can give this place another go.

In-N-Out Burger

On our way to the Grand Canyon, we paused in Kingman, AZ at the In-N-Out Burger for a snack.

My friend had been wanting to try their burgers for a while, so we thought this was the perfect opportunity. Plus, celebrities always rave about this chain.

Sticking to the regular menu (they also have the not-so-secret one), we both ordered a single patty cheeseburger without onion. I have to say that I was underwhelmed.

When we were waiting for our orders, I saw customers picking up their double-doubles and they looked good. However, when I ate my burger, the patty, while fresh, was thinner than I thought it would be. The meat itself wasn’t that seasoned, so most of the flavour came from their special spread. By far, the best part of the burger was the toasted bun.

Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill at MGM

Another day, another deal from myVEGAS. This time, we got a free entree with purchase of another during dinner at the MGM Grand’s Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill.

The restaurant is the bees knees. Our server was friendly and quick to offer his suggestions and favourites off of the menu. We each started with a pineapple mojito to quench our thirst. Those were great. I would absolutely order that drink again.

A basket was also provided with two types of bread. The onion bread is amazing. In fact, we asked for more and our server practically gave us a whole loaf.

We continued our meal with a plate each of the short rib entree and shared sides of roasted cauliflower and brussels sprouts with pancetta.

The amount of food that came with our order was crazy. We ended up packing half of it with us (bread included) for breakfast and snacks the next day.

If you ever go there, and you like meat, I highly recommend that you try the short ribs. The beef is divine and I swear that they gave us twenty ounces of meat per plate. We could have shared one entree with the same sides and it would have been more than enough to feed the two of us.

Sushi Roku

With just a little over an hour before we had to leave for our flight home, we grabbed a quick dinner at Sushi Roku in the Caesars Palace Forum Shops.

Their happy hour is a great deal and I ended up getting a small order of albacore tataki and three maki rolls – spicy tuna, rock shrimp tempura & jalapeno and salmon & avocado – for $29, including tax and tip.

The service is good and the food is prepared fast while the seafood is fresh.

More info about Sushi Roku can be found in my last post about Vegas.

Fun Stuff

North Premium Outlets

Since we happened to be in Vegas the day after Black Friday, I expected to find better discounts and deals at the outlet mall, but they weren’t as great as I thought they would be.

That’s not to say I didn’t find anything. Actually, we did a lot of damage in five hours, and we weren’t even able to get to every store that we had planned to stop at.

One of the reasons for that is the addition of an extra strip to the mall. An associate at the new Marc by Marc Jacobs outlet store said that they had just opened earlier this year. They also now have a Neiman Marcus Last Call Studio, Saks Fifth Avenue OFF Fifth, Dolce & Gabbana and AllSaints among others, so it was a lot to take in.

Grand Canyon National Park

On day 3, we drove the four and a half hours to the south rim of Grand Canyon National Park, avoiding the exorbitant entrance fees charged by the Hualapai tribe at the west rim.

Once through the south entrance, we drove along making stops at many of the parking lots. We got out to walk along the rim at each location. The best spot that we went to was the Desert View Watchtower. With the canyon and the Colorado River before our eyes, it was a beautiful sight to behold. The watchtower provided various vantage points to take photos and it is also home to an extremely showy raven.

It was windy and cold that day, but nature is amazing and, if we weren’t freezing and it wasn’t going to be dark so soon, we would have stayed there longer.

On the drive back to Vegas, I noticed that the sky was so dark that all of the stars could be seen. They sparkled so brightly. We ended up taking the exit onto the Kingman Wash Access Road, so we could stop and soak it all in.

Valley of Fire State Park

Rather than revisiting Red Rock Canyon, we decided to go somewhere different during this vacation.

I came across images of Valley of Fire State Park on Instagram about a month before we were set to leave and it looked beautiful.

About an hour away from the Strip, we were able to fit it in on our last day in Vegas.

Although we didn’t quite make it to every feature of the park, we managed to see Atlatl Rock, Arch Rock, Beehives, Rainbow Vista, White Domes and Fire Canyon/Silica Dome within two to three hours. That’s only about half of the sights in the park, not including various hikes that you can do as well. Some Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep also graced us with their presence.

We’re certainly planning to go to Valley of Fire again. But, we’ll be a bit more prepared next time. Here’s a tip: bring hiking boots with excellent grip and high ankle coverage. Much of the park is covered in deep sand, which makes for a difficult walk in basic flats or runners.

This was another whirlwind holiday down south. I like that we’re going off the beaten track to explore more of what Las Vegas and Nevada have to offer, and we’ll continue to do so on subsequent visits.

Again, I hope that this information inspires others to expand their horizons whenever they might find themselves there.

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.