Edmonton Restaurant Review: Hanjan

Japchae

During a full-day bridesmaid dress excursion across Edmonton, my ladies and I decided to stop for lunch in the afternoon. Hanjan was our final choice for sustenance, so we all made our way over to the south side (3735 99 Street). Although the space was a tad chilly, it’s super spacious inside with both an expansive main floor and additional seating upstairs, too. The style is sort of modern industrial with a touch of the rustic. They’ve also emulated a dreamy outdoor patio vibe inside. It’s definitely like nothing else in the city.

The main floor of Hanjan.

With only two front of house staff on hand for such a large venue, the service wasn’t bad either. What really helps at Hanjan is that each table has a “bell” installed. Press it, and your group number pops up on a waiting list that hangs behind the counter. They can see who needs them and they’ll come over as soon as they can. It’s really quite efficient and it helps to avoid those sometimes inconvenient popovers where your mouth is clearly full, but the staff still have to ask if everything is going okay. We’ll just ring you, if we need you. I love it.

Anyway, once we’d all gathered, we got our orders in. Two of my bridesmaids went for the classic Bibimbap ($15 each), another went for the Fried Rice Bokkum Bap ($15), and I went for the Japchae ($16). We also shared an order of the Bulgogi Fries ($10), and I grabbed a Matcha Latte ($5).

Banchan

To start, we were given complimentary banchan that included kimchi, bean sprout salad, fish cakes, and mashed potatoes. All of them were quite delicious. I found the mashed potatoes to be an interesting choice for banchan though. I’d never seen that presented before at other Korean restaurants. Usually banchan encompasses more pickled or fermented veggies, so this was a change. My favourite was probably the small slices of fish cake though. Easy to tell what it was with the flavour, but not too overwhelmingly fishy. The texture was pleasant and it had a nice chew to it.

Bulgogi Fries

Shortly after, we received our Bulgogi Fries. The thin cut potatoes were perfectly crispy and then topped with small pieces of bulgogi beef, tomatoes, scallions, and their house sauce. Our whole group raved about them. We even tried to find out what the house sauce was made of, but our server told us that it’s a secret that he wasn’t even privy to. That’s fair. I didn’t think they’d actually tell us. My only constructive piece of criticism with this dish is that it’d be ideal if they layered the ingredients more between the fries. I found that, once we got down to the bottom of the bowl, there wasn’t much left of the toppings other than plain fries.

My friends’ plates actually all took a little longer to come out from the kitchen than mine. I also didn’t really sample them myself, so it’s hard for me to judge. However, everyone seemed to enjoy their selections.

The Fried Rice Bokkum Bap was carefully cooked to ensure that none of the egg was raw as was requested by my very pregnant friend. She paired the pork, veggies, and rice with some of the kimchi banchan to amp up the overall flavour. The Bibimbap bowls looked hearty and well-balanced with a variety of veggies and a decent helping of beef. A beautifully fried egg was placed on top to finish it off. On the side was a dish of gochujang sauce (red chili paste) to be stirred in until mixed to your liking. A little bit sweet, savoury, and spicy, it was pleasant and not overly hot on the palate, which was great for my one friend who isn’t particularly keen on extremely spicy foods.

Japchae: glass noodles in soy sauce with beef and veggies

For my lunch, the Japchae hit the spot. I don’t know why, but I’m obsessed with glass noodles, especially of late. How are they made to be clear? This dish was presented still steaming with the al dente stir fried noodles evenly coated in soy sauce and tossed with beef, veggies and roasted sesame seeds. I polished off the entire plate without hesitation.

Matcha Latte

Towards the end of our meal is when my Matcha Latte finally showed up. I’ll caveat this note by saying that I was warned it would take our server a while to make my beverage and that he was also not good at latte art, so he set it up to keep my expectations low. Interestingly, it wasn’t even piping hot when I got it. But, that was actually okay for me. It was warm enough to enjoy, but cool enough that I was able to drink it quickly to ensure we were done at Hanjan in time to make our next dress appointment.

When we were ready to pay, we were asked to make our way over to the counter. Their electronic system allowed for our bills to be easily split. The transactions were quick and we were off in no time. Overall, Hanjan is a friendly place with both traditional and fusion Korean dishes available. The atmosphere (minus the too cold air conditioning that day) was wonderful, and the food was satisfying. I’ll definitely be back to try some more of their offerings soon.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Wilfred’s

Check-in to Wilfred’s upon arrival.

Wilfred’s is one of the newest restaurants to dot the Edmonton landscape. It’s situated within the popular Brewery District inside a fairly nondescript 100-year-old vintage brick building that used to belong to the old Molson Brewery. Completely refurbished, the heritage space is now unrecognizable. The interior is a wash of light woods, a mix of pink and white accents, dark metals, and whimsical art from Vanguard Works.

The Pink Blazer was the weekly Pink Drink sometime in October.

Even though Wilfred’s, a contemporary diner, had opened by the official start of summer 2018, Kirk and I held off on our visit. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago when we decided it was time to check it out. I’m not going to lie, it was their latest weekly featured Pink Drink ($13), The Pastel Blazer, that got me in the door. It was actually more bitter than I expected it to be, and the ingredients — vodka, Aperol, unsweetened coconut milk, lime juice, and egg white — had to be stirred regularly to avoid separation, but it was, overall, a smooth and refreshing beverage that lasted me through our dinner.

Everything about Wilfred’s is curated from the wallpaper to the menu.

To eat, the two of us split a couple of plates: Wilfred’s Burger ($18) with added white cheddar ($2) and soup ($3) subbed in for the usual fries, as well as the Fried Chicken & Prosciutto Cutlet ($25). Arguably the best thing about both dishes was the size as they were generously portioned. For the price, I’m glad to see that they didn’t skimp. However, I do feel that each one could use some improvement.

Beginning with the burger, this consisted of a hefty nine ounce patty of beef topped with bacon, lettuce, tomato and onion. It’s so thick that I found it rather difficult to unhinge my jaw to take a real bite out of the burger. The bun also didn’t fare too well as it slid around and fell apart as I ate. The meat itself was cooked to about a medium well, so it wasn’t completely colourless, but it also wasn’t as juicy as I hoped it would be. Thankfully, it was fresh though. It certainly didn’t seem to be a prefab patty, and, that, I’ll commend Wilfred’s for. Had it not been for the added cheese and the crispy bacon, the burger would have had relatively no flavour. I highly recommend that the restaurant creates a signature sauce to go with this menu item.

Cauliflower & Potato Soup with bacon and chives

The upgrade to their Cauliflower & Potato Soup was the saving grace to this dish. It was thick, creamy and smooth. When served hot, it makes for the perfect hearty soup to have during the onset of winter. The tiny bits of bacon and chives added a little fattiness and herbaceousness.

Fried Chicken & Prosciutto Cutlet

Our second plate of Fried Chicken & Prosciutto Cutlets was enormous. The two breasts or legs of meat had been pounded until evenly thin throughout. Layered with prosciutto and then breaded and fried, they were super crispy without tasting or feeling greasy. I could have used some more prosciutto as it was hard to discern its presence. Yet, upon careful inspection, I did see it there. If you try this, definitely squeeze some fresh lemon juice onto the chicken. The zest kicks the dish up a notch, and the acidity breaks down some of the salt. On the side was an arugula salad with tomatoes and Parmesan. This was a great accompaniment to the chicken. The sharp taste of the greens, the tartness of the tomatoes, and the pungency of the cheese paired very well with the meat.

Postcards designed by Vanguard Works are provided with the bill.

When all was said and done, our meal at Wilfred’s was a bit of a miss. Sure, the service was quite good, the atmosphere was pleasant (admittedly a tad cramped though), and they have an excellent bar program. Nevertheless, the food isn’t meeting it’s full potential. I understand that simplicity is key at times, but, in the case of Wilfred’s, the kitchen needs to do something to set themselves apart from the rest. Right now, they’re not. They should take a chance and be as playful with the menu as they are with the decor.

The interior of Wilfred’s is light and whimsical.

Edmonton Business Review: Square 1 Coffee

The ordering counter is situated at the back of the cafe.

Kirk and I randomly came across Square 1 Coffee in southwest Edmonton about year ago. It’s situated on 15 Fairway Drive just north of the Derrick Golf & Winter Club. We had ordered a pizza from Stone & Wheel next door, and we needed a place to kill time while we waited. As it turns out, both the pizzeria and the cafe share the same ownership. But, for whatever reason, the coffee shop is huge and the pizza place is not (strictly takeout).

As much as I loved the cinnamon knots at Square 1 Coffee and the spaciousness of the venue — a variety of seating including couches, tables, and even a small patio — I kind of forgot about it. That was until we happened across a second address inside the EIA outlet that opened in May. Tucked away towards the back end of a local business-oriented area of the mall, we found ourselves snacking on a sandwich and muffin to help energize us. By doing so, it helped to remind me of their original location.

A packed house and live music on a Thursday night.

Fast forward to this August when we had several meetings with photographers for our wedding next year, and Square 1 Coffee popped into mind as a great spot to meet. At least, it would have been perfect without live music going on. Their website is still not fully up and running, and none of their social media pages had indicated any events, so we showed up on a Thursday night to find a band playing. The place was packed with drop-in performers and friends of those artists there to support. It was actually really cool to see that community come together. However, it was not conducive to having a decent conversation. In that particular case, we ended up purchasing our drinks to go (a yummy chai latte for $5). All was not lost though. The three of us found a bench outside where we hung out and chatted for a couple of hours.

Wedding planning and matcha lattes go together well.

Another meeting that was planned in advance had us arrive to find it much quieter on a Tuesday evening, allowing us to sit at a table indoors while we enjoyed a scratch made pecan pie and a matcha latte ($5.50). The service was friendly and you could tell that this was clearly a place where regulars come in and out all the time (a la Friends).

Square 1 Coffee is certainly a cute cafe with decent beverages and food. I just think that they need to keep on top of their presence on social media or online. If they can finish revamping their website or post more regularly on Facebook and Instagram, patrons can make better informed decisions on whether or not the shop is the right place for them to be on any given day. If you do plan to go there for a study session or a meeting, I recommend phoning ahead to ask if they have any live events happening first. Otherwise, you may be in for a surprise.

Edmonton Business Review: Awake Coffee House

The cafe side of Awake Coffee House.

I’ve been on a bit of a coffeehouse kick lately. They’re just really great places to go for meetings, and, since I’ve had many a get together over the past month, it’s ideal to have multiple options. One that I visited recently is called Awake Coffee House. Located at 11029 9 Avenue, it’s easily accessible for those on the south side. If coming from the Henday, just exit on 111 Street heading north, and it’ll be the first turn on the right hand side.

When my fiancé and I drove up to the building on a Saturday afternoon, it was incredibly quiet. The parking lot only had a few cars in it. We also immediately noted that it was attached to Twin Brooks Medical Clinic. Upon walking into the actual coffee shop, I did take in the clean, modern space of the cafe, but I also thought that the pharmacy on the other side was a bit odd.

The spacious seating area separates the cafe from the pharmacy on the other side.

The medical clinic has a door that connects into Awake Coffee House, so that patients can easily come in and put through their prescriptions. While that’s convenient, I have to say I’m not super keen on hanging out in a cafe where there’s greater potential of people who have succumb to illness hanging out there. Yet, that is apparently a strategic business decision of the Song sisters who own both the cafe and the pharmacy. As registered pharmacists, they wanted a more welcoming spot for people to wait as their prescriptions were being prepared. While I see it from their side, it’s not exactly my cup of tea.

I really liked the touches of mint/teal throughout.

Luckily, it was pretty empty that day. We were able to sit almost anywhere we wanted to. Some of the tables were more communal. Others were smaller and could be grouped should that be required. They have a suitable selection of beverages. In my case, I ordered a Small Chai Latte ($5), which was presented in a larger than expected simple teal mug. I found that to be a nice touch since the colour matched the rest of the design scheme seen throughout Awake Coffee House — greys on the floor, natural woods on the tables and counter, whites on the seats and lights, and teal/mint on the stools and chair bottoms.

Small Chai Latte

I’ve read mixed reviews about the drinks served at Awake Coffee House with the majority of the negative coming from around the time they opened over a year ago. Most people cited watered down beverages. This was my first and only visit so far; however, based on my Chai Latte, I think they’ve made improvements because it was really good. Not only was the size decent for the price (most places charge a similar amount for this beverage), but it was incredibly flavourful. They certainly didn’t skimp when preparing the latte. It also had a pleasant amount of foam action on the top and they dusted it with an extra helping of spice before serving, adding to the overall taste once it was all stirred in.

There’s a wall of greeting cards near the door.

Awake Coffee House also makes bubble waffles on the weekend! I refrained from getting one this last time. Nevertheless, it’s on my list of things to try when we return. I have my eye on the dessert style Pina Colada Bubble Waffle that I saw on their Instagram page a while ago, so I hope they keep it on the menu. Although I probably won’t be back super often, when and if I do go, I’ll probably stick to weekend afternoons, especially Sundays when the clinic isn’t open. For a germaphobe like me, it’s just preferable. Otherwise, there’s no denying that Awake Coffee House is super cute, and the idea behind it is certainly commendable.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: DOSC Restaurant

DOSC Bar

Sometimes a business comes along and it completely changes the game. After a handful of visits since they opened a month ago, I’d now safely say that DOSC Restaurant is one that falls in that category. Located on 104 Street and 102 Avenue in the downtown core of Edmonton, it resides in a seemingly “cursed” space (four other eateries have shut down in the past few years); however, I’m truly hoping that this ambitious cafe/bar/steakhouse defies the odds.

Previously, upon the launch of DOSC, I had written a preview post about my experience at one of their media dinners. It was a night that I’ll remember for a long time to come, not only because of the offerings and the people, but also for the showmanship. Today, I really want to delve into the menu, focusing on all of the food and drinks I’ve had the pleasure of trying thus far.

After the dinner Kirk and I attended before their official opening, I wasn’t too keen on putting an actual review of the food out there right away. While we got to sample an array of items that they would be serving at the restaurant, I didn’t know what the actual size of the dishes would be like and, of course, during a media event, it’s always going to be their best foot forward. So, it was hard to judge the place properly based off of the one night.

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Plates that we were presented with at the preview event included: Tostada, Pate, Sweetbreads & Tendons, Wagyu Tartare, Marrow Mash, Pickled Asparagus, Liver & Onions, Tongue, Brisket, Miyazaki Chuck Wagyu, Hickory Smoked Chocolate, and Pineapple Cake. Almost every one still resides on the current soft opening menu in some form or another. As they continue to receive feedback they are tweaking the dishes to find the best fit. Eventually, the tongue to tail menu will be expanded to fully encompass the whole animal as available options, at the moment, are limited to slightly more common offals.

Tostada

Personally, I wasn’t a big fan of the Liver & Onions more due to the metallic taste than the texture. I also wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to order the Sweetbreads & Tendons, which were cooked until very tender, but just not a mouthfeel that I’m too keen on. Everything else was excellent though. I especially liked the Tostada with its layers of chipotle crema, salsa verde, feta, Brussels sprouts, avocado mousse and quail egg. It was light and complex. Hints of Chef de Cuisine Israel Alvarez’s Mexican upbringing shone through and it was a standout. It used to be found on their breakfast menu, but is now listed on their dinner menu and served with beef tongue ($12).

Tongue

Speaking of the tongue, the only way to try this fantastic selection right now is with the Tostada. Their latest menu was recently updated, taking away the choice of ordering the tongue in three, six or nine ounce portions. Still, take a chance on it. Tongue is typically quite tough. Here, at DOSC, they cook it sous vide until it’s incredibly tender, like the best cut of steak.

Wagyu Tartare

I have a tendency to lean towards tartares. The Wagyu version ($18) here is exceptional. The meat melts in your mouth and it pairs well with the potato bread that they make in-house. Just be aware that the portion of meat is only about three ounces, so it’s not a lot. Wagyu is pricey as it is, let alone to be importing it to Edmonton, so it’s understandable that it’s not going to be the usual amount of beef tartare that may be seen at other local establishments.

Miyazaki Chuck Wagyu

If money’s no object, do order the Miyazaki Wagyu ($59 for six ounces or $88 for 9 ounces). I’d probably opt for the rib eye cut with the horseradish, volcanic salt and arugula butter. The meat has a beautiful flavour and a gorgeous texture.

Both of the sweets were fantastic. The Pineapple Cake ($9) is served upside down with a walnut honey ricotta, salted rum caramel and tarragon créme. It’s very decadent and quite sweet. Some think it’s sacrilegious to share dessert, but this one and their tart (to be discussed below) are perfect to be split. Their ice cream and sorbet, on the other hand, are recommended for one. The Hickory Smoked Chocolate Sorbet ($9) is to die for. Last I’d noticed, it’s still being served at the table in a bell jar filled with smoke. It’s kind of theatric and fun to order for that reason alone. The sorbet is made with Mayan 70 per cent dark chocolate, morita flake (chili) and smoked espresso salt. Creamier than expected, it’s got a distinct smokiness to it while retaining a little sweetness and a hint of spice at the end.

DOSC Bar Menu

We found ourselves downtown one weekend shortly after and decided to drop in for a night cap. This time, we sat in their cafe, which is towards the front of the space with windows overlooking 104 Street. It’s comfortable and cozy with such a pretty cafe counter. We started off with some alcoholic beverages. Those who lean towards beer will have a decent local selection (think Blindman Brewing, etc.) from their twelve rotating taps. In fact, one of my favourites that they seem to keep regularly is the WTF Raspberry Sour from Situation Brewing (around $8).

For those who prefer cocktails, they have a stellar team at the bar. The Rose + Leaf ($11) and Transom Sour ($11) are my drinks of choice. Both are great to sip through dinner, although the Rose + Leaf, with it’s underlying flavour of lychee and top note of watermelon, is more refreshing and ideal for those hot summer days. They even have a few mocktails on the menu for anyone who doesn’t or can’t imbibe.

Matcha Latte

In terms of the DOSC cafe, I find the cost of the drinks to be pretty much on par with any other specialty coffee shop in the city. The beans here come from Rogue Wave Coffee. Unfortunately, I don’t drink coffee, so I can’t really talk much about that. My beverage of late is definitely their Matcha Latte ($5). While most other places in Edmonton mix ones that are much sweeter, their baristas use pure matcha with milk. It results in a much stronger flavour. For some, it may be too bitter, but I love it.

Our third visit was with friends over supper. We went to town that night. Kirk ended up ordering the 16 oz. T-Bone Steak ($30). This was pan seared and simply seasoned with salt and extra pepper. The flavour of the meat was allowed to come through rather than masking it with a heavy sauce. On the side, they put a dollop of their freshly grated purple horseradish that has been pickled with cabbage, sherry and corn nectar. It works really well with the beef. To go with the steak, Kirk also went for their Daily Bread ($4). Kirk thought it was delicious, but with just two slices of the bread and a square of cultured butter, it was a tad expensive. Had the slices been thicker, the bread may have been justifiable, but they were very thin pieces. He also chose the Russet Fries ($5), which were an amazing starch. Thick, hand cut potatoes are whole wheat crusted, infusing them with an intense flavour and creating a nice crisp outer shell.

I had enjoyed the tongue so much at the media dinner that I had to have it again as my protein on this evening. I selected the three ounce size for $6, and it actually seemed like a more generous portion than that. It was also prepared as well as I remembered. I combined that dish with their Brussels Sprouts ($8) and Brown Barley Fried Rice ($9). Between the two sides, the Brussels sprouts was, hands down, the better. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the rice with it’s leeks, funghi, crispy ginger egg, and pickled shallot, but it had almost too slick of a texture over the rice and the mushrooms were a little bland. The Brussels sprouts were awesome though! Big, round Brussels were cooked thoroughly. The outer leaves were charred and crisp. Tossed with large, perfectly cooked pancetta and using an egg white foam and cured yolk as a sauce, it’s like no other Brussels sprout dish I’ve ever had.

Citrus Tart

Finishing off our date night, Kirk and I shared the Citrus Tart ($9). Made with whisked egg yolks to create a sabayon custard, this dessert utilizes a handful of citruses: lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, and yuzu. It holds their essence without becoming overly sour and the sugariness is light, too. On the palate, the pastry shell is more like a butter cookie and the custard is creamy.

My latest visit was with another friend of mine for an early dinner after work this week. We decided to share four items. Since we both have an affinity for Brussels sprouts, that was a repeat dish. Yet, I did make a point of trying some new to me things: Pappardelle ($9) and Skirt Steak ($13 for 6 ounces). We also got a bowl of the Marrow Mash ($5). Regarding the latter, this is just such a rich take on mashed potatoes. The use of marrow makes the Yukon potatoes taste butterier than butter itself. The herb oil is a nice touch, adding a bit of earthiness. Stir it up to get the best flavour profile. The green pappardelle is freshly made and tossed with garlic leek, roasted garlic oil, kampot red peppercorn, and lemon. The oil makes it a little slippery in texture, but the overall taste is great and it’s different from the typical saucy pasta.

Skirt Steak

The star of the evening was definitely the skirt steak. This cut is smoked with juniper and dry rubbed with espresso cocoa grounds from Rogue Wave Coffee. It’s delectable. My friend, who isn’t even a huge fan of steak, said it was her favourite dish of the night. Usually, skirt steak is not the best cut to order. It can often be overcooked and chewy. DOSC handles the meat with precision. Seared so the juices stay in the steak, it’s actually superbly succulent. No word of a lie, it’s probably one of the best things I’ve eaten in a while.

Earl Grey Ice Cream

Added to the dessert menu this week was an Earl Grey Ice Cream ($9). It was infused with orange and rosemary and topped with sponge toffee. I’m usually not one to order ice cream from a restaurant as it’s sort of costly for what you’re getting. But, it was the only dessert I hadn’t tried. I’m also weary of tea-flavoured desserts because it’s often the case that the flavour doesn’t come through enough. Surprisingly, DOSC managed to saturate the ice cream with the earl grey taste.

DOSC seems to have found early success. Patrons steadily come in and out whenever I’ve been there, and, on weekends, it’s clearly a bustling place until closing. From my perspective, DOSC is getting better and better. Each time I go, it’s evolving and improving. The service is impeccable and the team behind it is fantastic. Honestly, my hope is that it’s just too good to fail.