Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Workshop Eatery

Crispy Brussels Sprouts and Carpaccio started our meal.

Open for about three and a half years now, my first experience at The Workshop Eatery was about six months into their tenancy at the Mosaic Centre, which is located in southwest Edmonton at the entrance of the Summerside neighbourhood (2003 91 Street). My friend and I attended a Prairie On the Plate event, a special evening where a local restaurant whips up a multi-course menu utilizing ingredients from Taste Alberta‘s partners. I was impressed by the level of talent in the kitchen; chef Paul Shufelt had brought relatable yet elevated dishes to the far edges of the city.

Fast forward to present day. Despite the quality of the food that I ate at The Workshop Eatery back then, honestly, I didn’t go back. It crossed my mind every so often, but it was never at the top of my list. With so many other businesses launching throughout Edmonton, I was always just trying to keep up with the rest. Eventually, I made the decision to revisit this gem. On a recent weekend, I took Kirk out on a date.

I have to say that I made our reservation (using the YP Dine mobile app) somewhat last minute; I booked our table for a Saturday night on the same morning. Nevertheless, I was hoping for a better spot than what we received. Personally, I don’t think anyone should be subjected to sitting so close to the washroom. There’s only a single stall within the restaurant and it was situated a maximum of ten feet away from our table without any sort of barrier between us and the washroom door.

The dreaded table by the washroom…

Additionally, a small shelf was next to us with “clean” utensils laid out for the staff to easily grab upon having to reset the tables. It didn’t seem the most sanitary to have that within wafting distance of the washroom. It was busy, too. Over the hour and a half that we dined, guests came in and out of that washroom about once every four to five minutes. It was distracting and uncomfortable. I wanted to complain, but I didn’t want to ruin our night out by making a big deal about it. Also, looking around the space, I knew that there weren’t any other available tables that we could have been moved to without messing up their other reservations, so I kept quiet. In any case, that table made us feel like second class patrons. How they have not built some sort of wall to cordon the spaces off after all this time is beyond me. If they read this, I really hope that they take that suggestion into consideration.

Now that I have that off my chest, let’s get to the food and drinks. Firstly, the beer taps are few. They have focused on featuring draughts from Blindman Brewing. Kirk opted to try their IPA ($7.50). On the other hand, when it came to their mixed drinks and wines, they definitely offered a lot more options. As much as I wanted to try something (I had my eye on the Beets by JF cocktail), I chose to save a bit of money and stuck to the plates instead.

To share, Kirk and I started with the Crispy Brussels Sprouts ($10) and the Carpaccio ($18). For our mains, Kirk went with the Chicken Supreme ($33) and I selected the Duck Duck Couscous ($36).

Crispy Brussels Sprouts

I believe that the Brussels sprouts have been a staple of The Workshop Eatery for quite awhile. They were fried until every leaf of the vegetable is browned and crisp. I would have loved for there to have been more larger pieces of the sprouts, but the majority of the dish consisted of single leaves that had maybe soaked up a little too much oil as a few bites were slightly greasy. I did very much enjoy the Sriracha sour cream used as a condiment for the veggie though.

Carpaccio

For the most part, the Carpaccio served at The Workshop Eatery is a classic interpretation. The kitchen carefully placed thinly sliced Jeff Nonay Holstein beef as the foundation and then layered crispy capers, shaved pecorino cheese, flat leaf parsley, and anchovy vinaigrette atop the meat. On the side was a long house made cracker to be topped with each ingredient. What separated their version of carpaccio from others that I’ve had is their use of pickled shiitake mushrooms; they added savouriness, tang and extra bite to the overall marriage of textures within this plate. I ate the majority of this and I was completely satisfied.

Kirk’s Chicken Supreme entrée was surprisingly delicious. We cook chicken regularly at home, so it’s not a meat that I tend to lean towards when I’m going out for an indulgent meal. However, Kirk didn’t seem to mind ordering it. On this occasion, I think he made a really good decision. The maple-mustard brushed free run Morinville Colony chicken breast and thigh was incredibly tender and juicy with the flavour soaked right in and a slightly crispy skin. The puree of roasted squash beneath the chicken brought in some creaminess that worked as a “sauce” for the meat and the pillows of gnocchi, while the sweetness of the squash played well with the fresh corn and salty bacon. I was lucky to have snuck in a few bites of this before Kirk devoured the entire thing.

My Duck Duck Couscous was so good. With duck prepared two ways — Four Whistle Farm breast and duck & blueberry sausage — my taste buds got to switch things up throughout my main. Both were cooked perfectly. The duck breast was succulent and still beautifully pink inside. The sausage was thick and divided in two using a diagonal cut to show off the interior mix of ground duck and blueberries. Well-seasoned and moist, the hints of fruit paired excellently with the rich, somewhat smoky duck. To offset the meat, the duck was served with a hearty herb-raisin and almond couscous, smooth vanilla parsnip puree, and pops of pickled sour cherries for a world of textures and flavours that enlivened my palate.

Sadly, there was no room for dessert, but I’ll leave that to next time. I’m certain that, down the road, we’ll be back again (maybe for happy hour or brunch). I’ll just make sure to ask for a table that’s further away from the washroom. Other than that, we had a wonderful meal at The Workshop Eatery with mostly superb food and great service.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Cave Paleo Beastro

The interior of The Cave Paleo Beastro.

Having been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, my friend has had to transform her diet over the last few years. For the most part, she’s stuck with eating gluten free and paleo. Therefore, when it came time to celebrate her birthday this year, she selected The Cave Paleo Beastro (6104 104 Street) for a group dinner.

It’s a relatively new restaurant that just opened mid-summer late-fall 2018, so at the time of our visit, it’d been in business for a little over eight months. We had a large party of about twelve people and our reservation had been shifted from a later dining time to an earlier meal at around 5:30 PM.

Kirk and I were the first to arrive and made mention of the booking. The staff pointed out a long table that was set up in the middle of the space, so the two of us seated ourselves. However, after a few minutes, we were asked if we were too early for our seven o’clock dinner. Turns out they had misplaced an email confirming that our reservation had been altered. The good thing is that the restaurant wasn’t busy, so it’s not like they double booked another group in.

We were honestly hanging out at The Cave for probably close to an hour (waiting for one or two latecomers) before we finally ordered our food. Drinks among the table included a lot of raw and biodynamic wines, both by the glass ($9 to $12 each) and bottled ($50 to $82).

Vegetable Tempura

The only appetizer we tried was the Vegetable Tempura ($14) because our guest of honour was nice enough to share her order. It was one of the only things actually served warm the entire night. The mix of veggies included lightly battered and crisp broccolini, carrots, mushrooms, and yam. On the side was a gingery ponzu sauce for dipping. Overall, it was a pretty satisfying snack and all of us that sampled it seemed to enjoy it.

Yet, when it came to the main dishes, the wait was really long (I don’t think we ate until 7:30 PM). The Cave kitchen is open, so we could see that there were only one or two people working. I guarantee that they waited until pretty much everything was ready — one friend was served well after the rest — before bringing our meals out. That meant our food was probably sitting (in a fairly chilly venue) and that’s why, at best, each plate was lukewarm. Additionally, a few of my dining companions complained of small portion sizes, overcooked beef and duck (I still believe that my friends should have said something while we were there; the staff can’t fix things, if they don’t know about the issue), as well as a flavourless Scallop Crudo ($18).

Strip Loin

When it came to presentation though, I thought that the chefs did a nice job. The veggies were always used to provide a pop or contrast of colour. The fondant potato wedges on one of the Strip Loin ($42) plates alone was beautifully arranged in the shape of a flower. Despite those types of details, everyone I ate with couldn’t look past the shortcomings listed above.

I, on the other hand, thought it was a bit better compared to the group consensus (I rated the place a 6.5 out of 10). I only got a couple bites of Kirk’s Beef Rib ($32). While it wasn’t hot and more meat would have been nice, I found the beef to be succulent, well-seasoned, and tastily charred. Out of the whole dozen people at our table, I was the only person who ordered the Lamb ($29). I think I got the most bang for my buck because I was served three thick rounds of perfectly prepared roasted lamb atop rutabaga and seasonal veggies (squash and carrots). The lamb had zatar spice rubbed on the exterior, which slightly saturated the meat while still allowing the natural flavours to come through. Perhaps Kirk and I just lucked out with what we ordered at The Cave versus everyone else, but I thought the meal was decent other than the temperature of the dishes.

Dessert also seemed to be hit or miss at the table. The Lemon Betty ($10) was comprised of lemon curd, almond crumble and meringue layered in a jar. It was described as very tart and fishy as if those Omega-3 eggs had been used. Others who tasted the dessert didn’t seem to be able to pick out that particular flavour, but my friend was adamant that it was there. I’ll chalk it up to her really sensitive taste buds and the fact that she knows that Omega-3 eggs taste that way (I’ve never had them before).

Chocolate Brownie

Regardless, I can say with confidence that the restaurant makes a great Chocolate Brownie ($10), which actually came out sort of hot! It’s a shareable size, good for a couple, with that slightly chewy edge and soft middle. A light caramel sauce decorated the plate and a scoop of refreshing lemon gelato accompanied the rich chocolate to create a nice balance.

I’m not completely writing off The Cave Paleo Beastro based on this single experience. For all I know, returning for dinner as a duo might change things entirely. From what I could tell, on a Saturday night, this south Edmonton eatery wasn’t busy, and that’s probably part of their problem. The kitchen and the staff likely aren’t used to catering to larger groups during regular service. If they want to stick around and make a better impression in the future, that’s something they’ll have to improve upon.

I’d like for The Cave to be a place people want to hang their hat.

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 Restaurant Review: Bottega 104

Bottega 104 is all about Italian.

Situated on the 104 Street Promenade, between Jasper and 102 Avenues, sits Bottega 104. The Italian eatery is less than a year old. Nonetheless, it seems to have become a favourite in the downtown neighbourhood. When I arrived after work to meet a friend, patrons were starting to trickle in. By the time the two of us left, the venue was jam packed full of people.

My reservation, booked through the OpenTable app, yielded us a table towards the far back corner of the restaurant. It allowed me a bit of a view of the open kitchen as well as perfect sightlines of the long bar and the rest of the establishment. Honestly though, it’s a tight space.

The bar has a lovely design.

Sure, the details of the design scheme and the lighting added to the ambience, but I didn’t find it to be particularly comfortable. It was really cramped. When I was taken to our seats, I was the first to get there, so I decided to sit on the booth side. I had to squeeze myself between the two tables, sucking in my chest, to fit through. Moreover, I narrowly avoided knocking down the wine glasses of the guests next to us. In a way, it kind of reminded me of the close quarters experienced in restaurants on trips to New York City. However, let’s face it. This is Edmonton. People aren’t used to it being like this, and I can’t imagine others love feeling as if they’re sitting on each others’ laps either.

Room aside, I narrowly missed Bottega’s Prohibition Hour specials on their cocktails. From 2pm to 5pm, $13 two-ounce cocktails are marked down to $7 each, which is a hefty savings. Once I had settled in, I may have been able to quickly select something. Yet, our server was gone as soon she dropped off the menus, and she didn’t bother to come back until my friend showed up fifteen minutes later. Ultimately, we both chose water over any other beverage.

Ready to share dishes, family style.

When we did get to place our order, we opted to share a couple of the items: Spaghetti Carbonara Pasta ($21) and Prosciutto Pear Pizza ($21). As we waited for the kitchen to prepare our food, the server came back with side plates and pasta tongs, so we could more easily divide the dishes family style. The food was decent. Although, personally, I found it to be either too salty (pasta) or too bland (pizza).

Spaghetti Carbonara

The Spaghetti Carbonara was made with a “delicate” cream sauce, smoked pancetta, and egg. It was true that the sauce was creamy; unlike other plates of carbonara I’ve eaten, the egg avoided curdling. There was great potential as seen with the extra crispy pieces of pancetta, too. Bottega also didn’t skimp on the amount of protein. The problem was that it became very repetitive on the palate with only the pork and sauce to turn to. They had essentially become one and the same in terms of flavour. I realize that carbonara is not anything fancy; nevertheless, something is needed to help cut through the dish to awaken the taste buds.

Prosciutto Pear Pizza

As for the pizza, I was expecting more. The dough was topped with prosciutto, mozza, gouda, cherry tomatoes, sliced pear, toasted walnuts, and balsamic glaze. It’s a combination that sounds like it’d be amazing. Each inch of the pizza was covered with one of those ingredients, but there was very little stacking. Therefore, each bite provided just a small glimpse of what it could have been. There wasn’t a whole lot of balance between the saltiness of the cured meat and cheeses, the sweetness of the pear, the nuttiness of the walnuts, or the acidity of the tomatoes and balsamic drizzle. Additionally, the pizza cooled off fast, taking away the gooiness that any of the melted cheese may have had.

Zeppoli

Our night concluded with us splitting the Zeppoli ($9) for dessert. Bottega lists it as Italian street food. Typically, they come in the form of fried dough balls covered in some sort of sauce or a dusting of sugar and spice. They’re kind of like the mini doughnuts available at all of our annual festivals. When they were presented to us, I was surprised at the portions (definitely enough for two to three diners) as well as the shape of the Zeppoli. Instead of puffy balls, they were sticks of dough in the vein of churros, yet chewier. Sprinkles of icing sugar decorated the zeppoli along with zigzags of Nutella ganache. Again, this was underwhelming. Had the menu not mentioned Nutella, I wouldn’t have guessed there was supposed to be any hazelnut taste to this. It came across as a basic chocolate sauce.

In the end, this wasn’t what I was hoping for. The service, once both of us were there, was passable. The food was edible, but nothing to write home about. Mostly, it was too crowded and noisy. I mean, the din from everyone conversing makes it loud enough as it is. So, my recommendation is that they take out a table or two and lower the music a bit. I think visitors would appreciate it more than they know. Ultimately, the menu is their bread and butter though. If I’m to return and spend my hard earned money there, that’s where they need to see some major improvements.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Famoso (WEM)

Our spread of food at Famoso WEM.

I recently reviewed the Famoso Magrath location of my own accord, and, subsequently, I was invited, along with my fiancé, to the Famoso at West Edmonton Mall (WEM) for a VIP meal on the house. We decided to take them up on the offer, visiting the eatery at 5:00pm this past Monday.

With Famoso’s brick and mortar space situated next door to the popular Cactus Club Cafe, it would seem that diners could be enticed when shoppers are already so close. Yet, thinking about it, it’s really not the ideal spot. There is no direct door connecting the restaurant to the mall from inside, and there are no convenient entrances that allow patrons to sneak out of the mall for a quick jaunt over to the restaurant. The closest way to get to Cactus Club or Famoso used to be a shortcut through a set of Sears doors, but with the store closed, I’m assuming it’s always locked.

Now, customers either have to hightail it across a large parking lot to get to Famoso, or, like my fiancé and I, grab the car and drive it right to Famoso to park there. My guess is this small hurdle is a deterrent for a lot of people. After a long day of walking around the mall, many won’t go out of their way to get to Famoso, and once they’re in the car, they may just opt to go home instead of dining out. If potential visitors aren’t near the mall to begin with, I could see them skipping out on going to WEM all together to avoid the crowds.

Speaking with the manager on staff when we arrived, I was apparently correct in my assessment. Famoso WEM is not attracting the numbers that the other locations in Edmonton are, which is unfortunate news. Aside from it’s questionable proximity to our famous landmark, it’s actually a lovely space. It’s incredibly open, airy and bright compared to the rest of the Famoso establishments I’ve been to. The venue has high ceilings, a big kitchen, lots of lower tables that are roomy and comfortable, a fireplace that grounds the room, and they even have a waiting area at the front. It’s actually a sharp contrast to what I’m accustomed to seeing at Famoso, and I appreciated this.

When it came to the food, we were pleased, too. The quality is on par with what we’ve had at the rest. On this occasion we sampled more than a handful of their items: a glass of Raspberry Ginger Beer ($4.65), the skillet of Cauliflower Artichoke Dip ($12.35), a bowl of Mac + Cheese ($14.65), the Italian Pulled Beef Sandwich with Caesar Salad ($16.35), a Create Your Own 5-Topping 12″ Pizza ($18.35), and a jar of White Chocolate Panna Cotta ($6.65).

My glass of Raspberry Ginger Beer and a bottle of Peroni.

The Raspberry Ginger Beer is a non-alcoholic beverage that includes one refill, so the value isn’t too bad. It’s made with fresh lime, bitters, house-made ginger syrup, soda, and raspberry syrup. Initially, I found it to be subtler than I expected (not overly sweet). As it turns out, I should have mixed everything together because the last few sips were quite sugary. In terms of the flavour, my second glass was better balanced when I made sure to stir the ingredients regularly.

Both of us loved the piping hot — let it cool for a bit first — Cauliflower Artichoke Dip. It’s a new take on the ubiquitous spinach dip with the greens replaced by roasted seasoned cauliflower. The majority of the texture still comes from the artichokes. Oven-baked cream cheese, cheddar, and smoked mozzarella created that gooey yet smooth consistency. Even though I ate all of the tortilla chips, I will admit that they were not my favourite. I thought they’d be more crisp. Somehow, they weren’t. In any case, the garlic flatbread is where it’s at.

I was curious about the Mac + Cheese. Again, this wasn’t my top pick. It was passable though. My recommendation is to eat the whole dish when it’s made fresh. Don’t take it home as leftovers because it’s not as good when warmed a second time. They use a beer cheese sauce as the base and then it’s topped with cheddar, herbaceous gremolata, green onions, and prosciutto crisps. It’s garnished with crunchy bread crumbs as mac and cheese should be. The taste was there; however, it lacked enough sauce. The amount provided coated the pasta, but it didn’t leave much else.

We were surprised by the Italian Pulled Beef Sandwich (I believe this is a seasonal item). Sure, the house-roasted hand-pulled beef was a tad overcooked and dry as if it’d been reheated. Nevertheless, all of the other elements of the sandwich were superb. The crispy prosciutto, provolone cheese, caramelized onions, pepperoncini, lettuce, tomato, horseradish aioli, and the butter grilled brioche bun added layers of texture and flavour, so that every bite was slightly unique. The side of Caesar salad was alright. They utilize a very light house dressing that was barely noticeable on the romaine lettuce. What improved the salad was the spritz of lemon juice along with the exorbitant helping of Grana Padano flakes and prosciutto crisps.

In the past, whenever I went to Famoso, I would typically order one of their signature pizzas straight off of the menu. While it’s still tempting to do so as there are some fantastic choices, my fiancé and I now prefer to build our own 5-topping pizza. We started with a parmesan crema base and added sun-dried tomatoes, fresh feta, chicken, soppressata, and fresh prosciutto. Basil and olive oil were included at no charge as well. It leans on the salty side with the cheese and cured meats, but the chicken is so succulent and I love the sweet-tart flavour and chewy texture of the preserved tomatoes. My fiancé and I refer to this creation as “The KC” (our initials). If anyone is ever inclined to try this pizza, let me know what you think of it! Oh, and don’t forget to order tzatziki to dip the crusts.

White Chocolate Panna Cotta for two.

Dinner out is never complete without dessert. I chose to go with one of the lighter selections for the two of us to share. As White Chocolate Panna Cotta goes, this was decent. The sweet is house-made with the panna cotta set in a mason jar. Strawberry sauce and shaved dark chocolate are placed on top to finish it off. I would have liked to have seen extra strawberry sauce to pair with each bite of the white chocolate panna cotta. I also found the dark chocolate shavings to be harder than expected. This is probably because the dessert was prepared earlier and refrigerated, which solidified the dark chocolate. I think adding the chocolate shavings right before the dessert is served would improve it because the dark chocolate would more easily melt in the mouth.

It’s funny. When we sat down for our reservation at Famoso WEM, it was quiet in the restaurant. Only a few other tables were occupied. It matched what the manager told me about how slow business could be. Yet, when we left, it was a packed house with customers waiting at the front to be seated. The realization that it was spring break kicked in, and that time off for families certainly made a big difference. In fact, the majority of diners had young children in tow. Even though the restaurant wasn’t staffed appropriately for the rush they received, they didn’t seem to miss a beat. Every table with kids was greeted by the manager who asked how many dough balls he should bring for the kids to play with. Is this a new thing at Famoso? Or, do they just do this at WEM? Either way, it’s an ingenious way of preoccupying the children, so everyone can eat in peace.

Living in the southwest side of Edmonton, Famoso WEM is never going to be our location of choice for their Neapolitan-style pizzas. It’s too out of the way for us to go there regularly. Nonetheless, our experience was a good one this week. So, if we’re ever in the neighbourhood, this spot will definitely be on our list of options for a delicious meal and great daily specials.

Current daily specials are listed in the drink menu.