Meal Kit Box & Recipe Review: HelloFresh

HelloFresh’s welcome booklet.

This year, I’ve been on a meal kit subscription kick. So far, my boxes from Chefs Plate and MissFresh were discussed in previous posts. Both Canadian businesses provide delivery across the country. Today, I’ll be talking about option number three: HelloFresh.

Unlike Chefs Plate and MissFresh, launched in 2014, HelloFresh emerged out of Berlin, Germany back in 2011. Within five years, they expanded to the UK, USA, The Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, and then Canada. It is one of the largest scale meal kit delivery services in the world.

Their Canadian branch is based out of Toronto and, from what I’ve received, it’s apparent that the meat and most of the produce is sourced through partnerships with local farms. Smaller items such as a packet of Bonne Maman honey comes from a family-owned French company and Colavita balsamic vinegar as well as a pack of orzo seem to be from Italy.

Similar to the other services, all of the food arrived in an insulated box shipped through FedEx. Vacuum sealed meats were ice packed at the bottom and then partitioned to separate them from the remainder of the items. All of the other ingredients were sorted into heavy paper bags that were closed and labelled with stickers that indicated the meal to which they belonged. Welcome info and recipe cards were placed at the top of the package.

Surprisingly, even though only three of the week’s available recipes were selected for my order, they provided all five cards in my box. I suppose if I’m ever inclined to try out the other options, I can actually do that. My fiancé thinks HelloFresh prints the sets as a cost saver to the company because they can just toss them into every box. They don’t have to spend the time separating the cards out or printing a specific number for each recipe. He’s probably right. Either way, it’s a tiny thing, but I kind of appreciated the extras.

The individual meals and items were all packaged really well. Greens that needed to breathe were placed into resealable baggies that had perforated holes on the backside. Everything else came in sealed plastic. All components were clearly labelled. Some of the veggies had even been prepped ahead of time, shaving off several minutes of washing, cutting, chopping and dicing. Butter, oil, milk, salt, and pepper is assumed to be a staple at home already, so those are not supplied.

For my first box of three meals for two people (regularly $79.99, including free shipping), my fiancé and I picked the following recipes: Moo Shu Pork Tacos, Crispy-Skinned Chicken, and Seared Steak. Each of them took 30 minutes or less to cook and the calorie count ranged between 520 to 1,000 per portion. However, a full nutritional breakdown is not to be found unless viewing through their website.

Moo Shu Pork Tacos shifted things into gear. These were simple to make. The process pretty much required just a single pan and a couple of dishes, which is ideal when it comes to cleanup after dinner. We both loved the depth of flavour from the spice (Note: Moo Shu Spice Blend is a mix of garlic powder and ground ginger, if you want to recreate this) as well as the Sriracha mayo. With three meat and cabbage stuffed 6-inch tortillas allotted for each person, this was actually an incredibly filling meal. I can definitely see why the calorie count is much higher for this dish. My only issues with this kit were the sliced radishes (too thick) and the lack of Sriracha and mayo to make the sauce. Had there been enough mayo, it may not have been necessary for us to add extra cheese to taste. Still, after a minor change or two, this is a recipe that we’d happily make again. This selection deserves an 8 out of 10.

The Crispy-Skinned Chicken was likely our favourite of the week. This consisted of skin-on chicken breasts, smashed potatoes, roasted green beans, leeks, and a rosemary pan sauce. I did find that the chicken was a little bit greasy as we may have drizzled a bit too much oil into the pan when roasting the meat and beans. Yet, the texture of the chicken skin and flavours from the sauce and leeks helped to elevate the dish further. This was hearty without being heavy. We award this recipe an 8.5 out 10.

As experienced with Chefs Plate and MissFresh, the steak dishes were always one of the best in the bunch. Therefore, we left the Seared Steak and its accompanying roasted broccoli and warm caprese orzo salad for last. Unfortunately, HelloFresh truly disappointed. The cut of meat was sub par; even though it was cooked to medium, it was much chewier than we like our steak to be. It was also incredibly bland as they instructed the steak to be pan-seared using just a drizzle of oil and nothing else. The orzo pasta had a decent dressing made using a honey and balsamic vinegar base, but the only added pop to the entire dish came from the tart grape tomatoes and basil. Bocconcini cheese, which has an okay mouthfeel is rather flavourless without some sort of heavier dressing to go with it. Sadly, this supper only warrants a 6 out of 10.

Compared to the other meal kit subscriptions, this one is more expensive. While the others work out to $10.99 per portion for the basic plan of three meals for two people, HelloFresh is ringing in at a lofty $13.33 per person for each recipe. We found the quality of the packaging to be fantastic, but the quality of a few of the ingredients to be less than expected. On the one hand, it’s certainly convenient. On the other, the dinners were hit or miss. Should there ever be a chance for me to try a second HelloFresh box at a discounted rate, I’d be delighted to give them another go. Until then, I will have to pause deliveries as the savings aren’t quite there. If it’s feasible for you, I’d recommend testing HelloFresh yourself, so you can see if it’s a good fit for your life.

This review is in no way affiliated with HelloFresh. I purchased these meal kits on my own and have chosen to share my thoughts here. If anyone is interested in signing up for a subscription, please use my HelloFresh referral link at checkout to receive $40 off of your first delivery.

Meal Kit Box & Recipe Review: MissFresh

MissFresh’s welcome card!

As promised in my earlier post about the Chefs Plate meal kit delivery service, today, I’m going to go over my experience with MissFresh. Where Chefs Plate was based out of Toronto, MissFresh is headquartered in Montreal. Still, both are Canadian-based businesses, which is something to support.

I learned of MissFresh through Groupon. In January 2018, they offered a deal on the discount site for two weeks of delivery for the price of one ($65.94). Additionally, I was able to save an extra 25 per cent off with a promo code. All in, I spent just under $50 for six meals that provided enough food for two people.

After buying the voucher, I pulled up the MissFresh web page to see what was on their upcoming menus. Nothing peaked my interest at first, so I waited a week or two before I found a few recipes that I liked enough to place my initial order. Upon signing up to the subscription, I had to decide on the level of service I wanted (number of meals, number of portions, frequency of delivery, types of recipes, etc.). Then, I got to pick the meals that would be sent to my condo. Past that point, they take your address and payment information as well as any discounts that need to be entered. I put in my Groupon code, and, once everything was processed, it showed that I had another coupon awaiting use for a later date.

Ordering is straightforward and simple. What can get tricky is remembering to confirm or skip shipments before the cutoff date each week (every Wednesday before 11:59pm EST). I forgot to do that at the beginning of March. This resulted in me having to ask the company to cancel meals I didn’t want, and, now, I also have a full price credit applied to my account as they wouldn’t issue me a refund, only a coupon to be used towards a box at another time. Regardless, if I can keep on top of this, it’s kind of nice to know that I have the option of choosing when I want to receive a delivery. Customers are not locked into purchasing every single week. Currently, my calendar is set to skip all boxes for the next two months. I think the majority of users register to test it out and continue with the service as needed. Members can even deactivate their accounts indefinitely to ensure they aren’t inadvertently charged for anything.

Like Chefs Plate, MissFresh is one of the more affordable meal kits out there. The two are comparable in cost. Both shipped packages for free through FedEx who always managed to deliver by noon, but on one occasion left our shipment in the communal lobby of my building when I missed their call to be buzzed in. However, what I noticed is that MissFresh doesn’t quite have the same polish as Chefs Plate. The box it ships in is fine — thick insulated cardboard lined with recyclable ice packs — and the produce is decent with meats vacuum sealed. But, the ingredients are stuffed tightly in basic plastic bags. They don’t really allow things to breath as well. Plus, the recipe cards are printed on pretty flimsy paper.

What is important, though, is that the food is fresh, the recipes are clear, and the meals are tasty. For the most part, I think MissFresh fits the bill. The meals came with everything we needed to cook the dishes, save for oil, salt, and pepper. Our six recipes included: One-Pot Pasta with Smoked Salmon and Spinach, Turkey Cordon Bleu Ballottine, Seared Sirloin Steak, Crispy Battered Sole, Maple Pork Fillet, and Cajun Chicken Pasta.

Starting with the One-Pot Pasta with Smoked Salmon and Spinach, this was just alright. Personally, I love the flavour and texture of smoked salmon after it is cured. So, I wasn’t too keen on cooking the fish over any heat. Sure, the smoky taste remained, but the fish became flaky rather than smooth. I enjoyed the combination of dill, cream cheese, and lemon juice as it popped on the palate. Yet, the sauce wasn’t creamy enough for me. My fiancé and I would give this one a 6 out of 10.

I found the Maple Pork Fillet to be a really nice cut of meat as it was succulent and lean. The buttery baby potatoes that accompanied the dish were yummy. I’m also a big fan of portobello mushrooms for their fleshiness. Nevertheless, this was far from my favourite. The maple glaze had a wonderful flavour; however, the consistency, even when we left the sauce to reduce on high heat, was rather runny. Most of all, I never succumbed to the sharpness of the Gorgonzola cheese that was stuffed into the mushroom. It overpowered much of the plate and gave everything a wine-like aftertaste. Rated out of 10, this one should be considered a 6.

The Crispy Battered Sole was a bit of a surprise. Served with the fish were pan-fried plantains. When I had selected this menu item, I had pictured the mini bananas found at the grocery store. To my amazement, we received two huge plantains that looked unripe (the peel was lime green in colour). We pulled them apart, sliced up the fruit, and tossed them into hot oil to fry them up as we made the fish separately. This transpired into a beautifully bright meal with the golden brown sole, yellow discs of plantains, slaw, guacamole (oddly prepacked instead of freshly made with avocados), and lime wedges. It was light, zesty, and refreshing. It felt like summer on a plate. What was unexpected was that the sweet scent of the plantains as they cooked wouldn’t come across on the taste buds. In fact, they were rather bland. As it turns out, this fruit is typically used as a replacement for starches like potatoes as they share a very similar texture. For that, this recipe is graded with a 7 out of 10.

When I was perusing the menus on the MissFresh website, I was excited to see their Cajun Chicken Pasta with Sun-dried Tomatoes. The photo was appealing and the ingredients all sounded great. It was a quick recipe, too, clocking in at around 25 minutes to prepare and cook. It became one of my fiancé’s top picks of the meals we tried. It’s probably because this dish utilized the Cajun mix, generating a lot of spicy heat on the tongue, which he likes (if he can put Sriracha on something, he will). Since I love them, I would have increased the amount of sun-dried tomato used. Not only would it have punched up the flavours more, but it would have balanced out the Cajun spice better. We’d slot this plate at a 7.5 out of 10.

Turkey is often thought of as dry and tasteless, but I thoroughly appreciated the Turkey Cordon Bleu Ballottine. Stuffed with smoked ham and Swiss Cheese, the tender poultry became the star. Our mashed potatoes weren’t as smooth as they could have been. We’ll chalk that up to not having the necessary tools to make them properly. Even with onion powder folded into the potatoes, they were somewhat mild. Swapping out the onion powder for a more potent garlic powder would have improved this dish further. On the plus side, the roasted Brussels sprouts were delicious. The outer layers of the sprouts were crisp from being broiled in our choice of olive oil, salt and pepper, providing another textural element. Out of 10, this deserves a 7.5.

Last, but certainly not least was the Seared Sirloin Steak. The quality of the cuts of sirloin were top notch. We were able to sear in the juices and cook the meat to a gorgeous medium rare. We even elevated the recipe by adding a smoked balsamic vinegar to the meat to amplify the flavour. When it came to the side, neither of us would ever think to use barley in place of rice. Yet, here, the broth and cooking white wine soaked into the barley nicely, giving every bite of the starch full body. Hands down, this was our preferred dish out of the six we ordered, and it’s one that we’d be inclined to make on our own again. This one merits an 8.5 out of 10.

Much like Chefs Plate, the MissFresh meals took between 20 to 35 minutes to prep, cook and plate, meaning it was relatively fast every day. The recipes were also quite healthy with the highest caloric intake listed at just over 750 to the lowest at under 400. I do believe that MissFresh can improve their packaging a little as they don’t have the same level of professionalism that I’ve seen with the other meal kit delivery services. Nonetheless, their offerings get the job done, and, in a household that might be too busy to spend ample amounts of time shopping for groceries, or who just want to make some simple home-cooked food, but don’t know where to start, this could be an excellent option.

This review is in no way affiliated with MissFresh. I purchased these meal kits on my own and have chosen to share my thoughts here. If anyone is interested in signing up for a subscription, please use my MissFresh referral link or enter my coupon code (CRYSTALLEE) at checkout to receive $35 off with your first delivery.

Meal Kit Box & Recipe Review: Chefs Plate

The Chefs Plate welcome booklet.

I’ll come clean. I’m not a much of a cook. Although I don’t hate or dislike the process, I’m just not one to plan out a dinner by picking up specific ingredients and then spending hours slaving over the stove in my kitchen. By the time I get home from work, I need something that can be whipped up quickly. My fiancé and I have our go to dinners nowadays. But, admittedly, we have fallen into a bit of a rut. At times, we’re not even having well-balanced or properly portioned meals.

Luckily, in the new year, I found myself scrolling through the Groupon app. There, I came across a voucher for two weeks of meal kit deliveries from a service called MissFresh (watch for a post later this month). For half the usual price plus an extra 25 per cent off with a promo code, it was too good of a deal to pass up. Little did I know that that decision would be the beginning of a small obsession with these types of businesses. By the end of January, I had signed up with three more: Chefs Plate, HelloFresh, and Goodfood. With all of them, I managed to get some sort of a discount or incentive through ads that I saw on social media, making them affordable enough to justify.

Canadian-based Chefs Plate is the first service where we completed what I’ll deem the “trial run” as neither my fiancé nor I have any intention of continuing to use the service. At the regular going rate of $65.70 (I paid half that), it’s kind of pricey considering the smallest box that comes with free delivery only covers three dishes in a week for two people, working out to $10.95 per serving. Sure, it’s less expensive than dining out at a restaurant and healthier than picking up fast food. However, armed with a few new recipes, we both agree that we can probably emulate similar meals for less than it costs to have Chefs Plate package and deliver everything to us.

In any case, here’s how the whole process works:

  1. Register an account on the Chefs Plate website. Aside from the typical personal information, it will ask for the number of meals and portions required each week and the preferred date of delivery, along with the user’s credit card information.
  2. Preview the menus for upcoming weeks. Click on each dish to see the level of skill required to make it (the majority are listed as “easy”), the estimated amount of time it takes to cook, all the ingredients that will be supplied, the number of calories in the recipe, and any allergen information, if available.
  3. Set your delivery schedule. The service allows for weeks to be skipped up to four months in advance, or the subscription can be paused indefinitely to ensure nothing is sent out without consent. Turn it back on when service is required again.
  4. Watch for the delivery to arrive on the requested date.

Chefs Plate ships using FedEx. I had our box sent to our condo on a Friday. Our buzzer number and unit info was provided with our address at the time I ordered our package. It arrived by 10:30 am that morning and was brought right to our door after I let the delivery man into our building. My fiancé grabbed it and moved all of the contents from the box to the fridge immediately.

When I got home from work, I inspected the packaging. Everything had been contained within a thermal insulated, double-lidded cardboard container. A couple of small ice packs were inserted to keep the meats cold and a thick kraft-type piece of paper separated those vacuum sealed packs of meat from the three bags of ingredients that sat on the top. The strongly lined paper bags were sealed, but a clear window at the front showed the contents and a sticker on the back indicated which dish it was for. The sticker also had the nutritional breakdown of the meal printed on it.

Read about the food journey.

Inside the box there was a welcome booklet that talked about the food journey of our kit. The three recipe cards were there, too. These are actually printed on heavy card stock and have a nice finish to them. I expect that they’ll hold up well over time. They are big cards though (8.5″ x 11″), so they may not be the easiest to store. It’s also important for me to note that most of these services expect their customers’ kitchens to be stocked with basics such as salt, pepper, olive oil, butter and sometimes milk. If any of those are missing, it’s not the end of the world. There’s usually something that can serve as an alternative.

We decided to start our Chefs Plate experience with their Greek Chicken & Tzatziki Sauce recipe. One thing we did with this one was that we substituted the chicken breasts they had provided with ones we already had in our fridge. This was simply to reduce wastage of produce we had bought before receiving our box, and the chicken that came with this recipe was saved for use later. We did notice that the size of the chicken breasts were quite a bit smaller than the ones we purchased ourselves. No matter though. This dish turned out great.

Good timing is required to get each component on the plate at the same time, but every step is outlined clearly and as long as they are followed, it seems pretty hard to mess this one up. The chicken was pan seared in a bit of oil until golden brown. Cooked cracked wheat was mixed with baby spinach, cherry tomatoes and oregano. Then, all of it was tossed in a honey-based dressing to make the tabbouleh. Pita had been baked into crispy chips. Best of all, we learned how easy it was to make that addictive tzatziki sauce. It’s something we never would have gone out of our way to make from scratch. Yet, now that we know how to do it, we’ll likely do so again. We’d definitely give this a 7.5 out of 10.

A couple of nights later, we made our second recipe: Italian Sausage Cavatelli. This pack consisted of red onions, parsnip, chili flakes, rapini, cream, Parmesan cheese, ground pork and fresh cavatelli pasta. It was a surprisingly tasty dish with layers of flavour. The sauteed red onions provided a mild sweetness to the relatively light cream sauce while the rapini brought in a tinge of bitterness and the parsnips added some earthiness. Chili flakes — go easy on this ingredient, if spicy heat isn’t welcome — helped to season the pork, and the Parmesan finished it off by bringing in a shot of saltiness. The portions were very generous. If we had been a little less gluttonous, the amount of food this recipe made could have certainly fed three people or provided leftovers for someone’s lunch. Out of a 10, we’d rate this one an 8.5.

The following Monday, four days after we had received our delivery, we cooked up our third kit from the box. This was a fabulous Spiced Steak & Garlic Salsa Verde with roasted fingerling potatoes and cheesy kale chips. We felt it was okay to leave this one until later since Chefs Plate recommends eating red meats last as they can be stored longer than fish or poultry. We were very happy with the cut of meat we got. It was so supple, producing a tender steak that held in all the juices once it was seared.

The meat was supposed to be marinated with a dry Salvador spice mix, salt, and pepper. However, we decided to add some smoked balsamic vinegar we had on hand. That, combined with the garlic salsa verde (cooked garlic, chopped parsley, red wine vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper), really worked to elevate the dish further. What’s steak without potatoes? The fingerlings had a pleasant buttery texture and flavour once roasted. Plus, they’re not super dense or heavy in terms of potatoes. The fresh leaves of kale had to be broiled in the oven until crisp as well. They actually provided a lot more kale than needed, so we set some aside for another time. Personally, I loved the kale chips with Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. My fiancé wasn’t as much a fan of those, but he did enjoy everything else. Both of us think this meal deserves an 8 out of 10.

We were really happy with the quality of the meat and ingredients.

All three recipes took around 30 minutes to prep, cook and plate, so we were sitting down to eat soon after we started. We both appreciated the convenience of having everything we needed delivered to our door with the ingredients for each recipe carefully packaged and labelled. Honestly, it was fool proof, and I truly think it made my fiancé feel as if he was a real chef. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, the service is too expensive to become a regular indulgence at our house. Nevertheless, if one’s income allows it, we’d highly recommend testing Chefs Plate at home.

This review is in no way affiliated with Chefs Plate. I purchased the meal kit on my own and have chosen to share my thoughts here. If anyone is interested in signing up for a subscription, please use my Chefs Plate referral link to receive three FREE plates with your first delivery.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Lazia (Downtown Closed – Visit North Location)

The Hula Hula Chicken & Firecracker Prawns

The Hula Hula Chicken & Firecracker Prawns

Over the past 15 years, the menu at Lazia has shifted, moving away from their origins as an Asian fusion restaurant. However, the new menu, introduced this summer, is a realignment to the type of cuisine they started with. There are still a few items meant to appease those who just want a straight up steak and potato dish, and there are about a handful that present a more Mediterranean leaning. Yet, the majority of the dishes have hints of Chinese, Thai and Malaysian influences (owner Richard Lim is Chinese by way of Malaysia) that are combined with flavours found across the globe.

Having had the opportunity to profile Richard’s other restaurant, Wildflower Grill, for The Local Good last year, I was pleasantly surprised to hear from his daughter, Tamara, who reached out to me through Twitter in August. Lazia’s menu had been updated for the fall season, and Richard wanted to invite me out for a one-on-one tasting session (myself and two guests). Being that I’m a fairly frequent patron of the restaurant since I work rather close by and I cannot pass up the offer of food, I wholeheartedly accepted the chance to gain more in-depth knowledge of their dishes and to meet Richard in-person.

Although I would recognize the bartender or the managers any day, funnily enough, I cannot recall ever seeing Richard prior to this past week. He told me that he’s always there, but he prefers to be in the background, making sure that things are running smoothly in the kitchen.

Things seemed to go very well on the quiet Wednesday evening that we dined. Richard and our server, Dave (who is usually a supervisor, but was attending to our every need this particular night), were incredible hosts. To start things off, they suggested a few beverages from their drink menu – a golden margarita, the grand phoenix martini and a lavender blueberry collins – of which we each sampled one. While we waited for our cocktails to be prepared, Richard took the time to go through the menu items that he thought we should sample. Then he left us to ponder. In the end, we decided to just go with the suggestions that were put forth. After all, Richard should know best.

Let me start by talking about those drinks.

The golden margarita was a more traditional blend of tequila, Grand Marnier, lime juice and agave nectar with the glass rimmed in salt. This is a cocktail that my friend would not typically order because of the tendency to be more sweet, but this one leaned towards a slightly bitter and tart flavour instead. It actually went down quite smoothly.

My mom also joined us, and she chose the grand phoenix because she liked the name. This one was a blend of vanilla vodka, pomegranate liqueur, orange juice and Grand Marnier. For an added dose of fun and decadence, the drink was lit on fire and then topped off with blood orange gel capsules (they used molecular gastronomy to prepare the natural acids from the juice in a certain way, creating these balls that, when popped, gave an extra shot of flavour), which floated in the liquid.

I had opted to go with the lavender blueberry collins. This one consisted of elderflower liqueur, gin, fresh lemon, lavender and blueberries. I missed the note in the menu about it being “in a fog,” so I was in awe to see that it arrived at the table in a capped bottle that once opened released a heavy dose of vapour like a potion in a witch’s cauldron. It was awesome! So great, in fact, that I simply watched that happen instead of pulling out my camera to capture it.

Now that we were happily imbibing, we had to start preparing ourselves for the meal at hand.

To begin, the kitchen created their daily amuse bouche. It’s a chance for the chefs to experiment with flavours and ingredients that they may not otherwise get to use. This is something that I notice Lazia has started to incorporate into their experience, borrowing from what you’d find at the arguably higher end Wildflower Grill.

Afterwards, Richard started us off with three small plates to share: Mediterranean pork belly, Moroccan lamb meatballs and Japanese barbecue pork.

The Moroccan lamb meatballs were skewered with a whole cherry tomato, avocado, jalapeno mousse and a thick slice of cucumber atop a bed of barbecue sauce. The 15 spices used within the meat really brought in a lot of flavour. This is a good choice if you want a starter that isn’t too heavy.

The Japanese barbecue pork really moves away from the traditional BBQ pork that you might find at a Chinese restaurant with the thick accompanying sauce. The pork is cooked with an orange, miso glaze and served in a ginger, sweet soy, Shaoxing wine vinaigrette. The tanginess and lightness of the sauce paired very well with the meat.

The Mediterranean pork belly was by far my favourite appetizer of the evening. Pork belly is becoming a rather common dish on menus across the city, but not everyone does it justice. Lazia’s dish was near perfection for me (don’t hold it against me if you go and you don’t agree). The pieces of pork belly were crisped so well on the outside, making that fatty layer disappear, all the while leaving the meat quite tender on the inside. I’m also so glad that Richard brought us an extra side of the duck fat cherry aioli for dipping because that sauce was so delicious with the pork belly or placed on the side of wonton chips dusted with black sesame powder that came with the dish.

The colourful and beautifully plated Roasted Beet Salad.

The colourful and beautifully plated Roasted Beet Salad.

Next up was the roasted beet salad, which had been made on a more miniature scale for the evening, allowing us to see the true colours and composition of the dish. It’s a beautiful course and one that the entire table would highly recommend. The plate is first covered with a layer of the lemon, miso vinaigrette dressing and then each ingredient is carefully placed on top. A mix of organic carrots, carrot leaves, frisee, strawberries, orange, rainbow cauliflower, red and yellow beets, feta, sponge cake and chia seeds, this would make for a wonderfully healthy and tasty lunch or dinner.

Good thing I wore some forgiving clothes because what followed were three entrees that were shared between me and my guests. Laid out before us was the hula hula chicken & firecracker prawns, the pacific wild salmon and the teppanyaki New York steak.

The prawns were large and had a good amount of heat from the seasoning and the chicken breast was cooked until tender, not overdone at all. Paired with a cilantro gremolata, it was the herbs that took me by surprise. Most people who know me are aware that I am not a fan of cilantro. I have one of those palates that believes that cilantro tastes like soap. But, I didn’t even realize that’s what I was eating in this dish. My friend once said that, supposedly, if cilantro is crushed, the molecule that creates that unbecoming flavour is destroyed. Perhaps that’s the reason why I found it to be pleasant. Crispy polenta formed a base for the chicken and the prawns, along with a zucchini and carrot pave – thinly sliced and layered like scalloped potatoes – and a pineapple, Malibu rum sauce. The sauce tasted a bit too sweet on its own, but it was great to offset the spice from the prawns.

As explained by Richard, the BC sockeye salmon served with skin was seared on both sides and then poached in olive oil to create the crisp outer texture while keeping the juices in the center. A painterly swipe of carrot emulsion graced the plate, which was topped with sauteed broccolini, confit tomatoes and a lovely combination of chorizo and black lentils. The latter provided a smoky flavor, contrasting well with bites of the mandarin orange chutney topped fish.

I left the steak as the last to discuss because this one had an interesting back story. Had Richard not told us, I never would have guessed that this dish was a mix of Japanese (easy to see) and Mexican (not so evident at first) influences. The steak itself is prepared using a yakitori glaze; it is plated with pickled ginger and togarashi on top and a bed of chile hollandaise. A miso, sesame dressing sat on the side with flash fried cauliflower and fingerling potatoes. All the elements were done well, even that Mexican inspired chile hollandaise. As it turns out, Richard loves Mexican food, and one of his favourite restaurants is in Phoenix, AZ. There they can cook with hatch chile peppers, which have a fairly low spicy heat rating on the Scoville scale, but give off enough of a fresh, earthy pungency to make a manageable impact. Unfortunately, hatch chile peppers are not available in Alberta, so Richard worked with his chefs to find a mixture of peppers that can be purchased locally that, when combined, closely emulates the taste of the hatch chile.

If you don’t already feel full reading about all of the food we had eaten so far, you will be after learning that we also split two desserts: the raspberry white chocolate cheesecake and the dark chocolate raspberry bomb. Little works of art, the sweet endings were nicely plated. Both had a bit of weight to them, but the cheesecake came off as less dense, which was welcome. They’re actually great for sharing, especially after a large meal.

Overall, I would say that the menu, in its various incarnations, has had its ups and downs, but what we sampled last week was fantastic. The experimentation and playfulness that has been shown with the options that they’ve decided to put on their latest menu is a testament to the talent in their kitchen. Everything we tried was thoughtfully prepared, and I was impressed, not just with the taste and texture, but also the presentation. It was almost as if the Wildflower chefs had taken over. The level of craftsmanship from the bar to the kitchen was close to on par with Richard’s more upscale offering, but at a slightly better price point.

Based on what I had the pleasure of tasting, their effort to step back and reassess what they do best is working for them. Now, they just need you to remember that they’re an option when you’re in the downtown area. And, should you be worried about parking, don’t fret. While nearby construction is taking its toll, Lazia offers free secure, heated underground parking in the West Preferred Parkade by the Bay at City Centre Mall every weekday evening after 5:30pm and all day on weekends.

Lazia is definitely worth a visit, or a revisit if you haven’t been in quite some time.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Rostizado by Tres Carnales

"Water for oxen, wine for kings."

“Water for oxen, wine for kings.”

The backs of the coasters are printed with the Spanish proverb, “El agua es para los bueyes y el vino, para los reyes.” Roughly translated to English, it means, “Water for oxen, wine for kings.” While my friends and I did not drink any wine on our evening out, we did feast like royalty at Rostizado by Tres Carnales.

Originally, we had a group of eight that planned to get together, so I had attempted to book a table in advance. However, I was told that they had taken the maximum number of reservations for the evening (they only accept them for groups of 8 or more, 48 hours in advance). Being that all my friends were going to be off work by 5pm that Wednesday, we decided to chance it and do a walk-in. One friend arrived early and put the group down on the waiting list as a table for 6 (a couple of people could no longer make it). We were told that it would likely be ready by 5:15, so we sat on the benches outside the restaurant as there isn’t much room to linger inside. Just shortly after the indicated time, my friend received a text message letting us know that we could come in if our whole party was there. Thankfully, our last two members were within sight as they ambled down the block.

When we walked into the restaurant, I noticed that the Mexican style living room was to my left with the open kitchen directly ahead, seating behind and to the right with a private room (or two) at the far end. Retaining the rustic sensibilities of its predecessor, Roast Coffeehouse & Wine Bar, it’s a decent sized, 70-seat space that allows them to rearrange tables as needed. Mostly though, it has a homey feeling to it. You’re meant to sit back and relax. We were placed at a table against the wall that gave half of us a full view of the chef working away. Warmth was emanating from the rotisserie that was slow cooking chicken and pork, requiring that I acclimate during our meal (I eventually did).

Our server, Monika, was great; she brought us still filtered water (no charge) as soon as we sat down, provided us with drink recommendations (FYI…the pitchers of sangria that can be ordered at Tres Carnales, Rostizado’s sister restaurant, are not on offer here) and she indicated whether or not we had ordered enough food for the group. The menu isn’t large by any means, but everything other than the cemitas (sandwiches) are meant to be shared family style. We basically decided to go big or go home, so we ended up ordering the smoked salmon sopes, the albondigas, and queso fundido to start. The salteados verde and the jicama salad accompanied our two platters for two.

The smoked salmon sopes was the first appetizer to come. A plate of three hand-made corn flour sopes – they look like thick tortilla shells, but they’re fried until the outside is cooked and they are still soft on the inside – topped with an avocado cream salsa, tequila cured smoked salmon, mesquite, radishes and white onion, it was easy to split between the six of us. Personally, I wish there had been just a bit more salmon on it to cover every bite. Yet, this was my favourite of the three entradas we ate. The mix of textures from the sope, fish, salsa and raw vegetables, plus the range of flavours in the few mouthfuls that I had was enough to make me want more.

Albondigas are Mexican meatballs made of house ground veal, pork, beef and rice served with tomato and warm chile de árbol salsa, which gives the dish a heat that slowly builds and lingers. I’m a fan of spice and I could handle it, but a couple of my companions thought it was a bit too much for them. Regardless, I think you get four large meatballs that are juicy and really hold the essence of the salsa well. The last starter was the queso fundido, a skillet of melted smoked gouda and monterrey jack cheeses mixed with wild mushrooms, poblano chile strips and sautéed onions served with a side of bread and tortilla chips. This was really tasty. The cheese stayed hot and stringy because of the iron skillet. Unfortunately, it was also smaller than I would have liked, but definitely worth a try.

We opted for two salads, so we’d get some sort of green during our meal. The salteados verde is listed as sautéed seasonal greens cooked with garlic, apple cider vinegar, poblano strips and pumpkin seeds. Seasonal greens on this evening turned out to be kale, which was excellent. The kale really soaked up the vinegar, taking on a tanginess that was offset by the nuttiness of the seeds. Jicama salad, for me, was a nice alternative to the rest of the dishes, which were largely savoury. The salad was a mix of jicama (reminds me of apple), pickled red onion, orange segments, cucumber, mint and lime juice, which I considered to be a refreshing palate cleanser before beginning on our main platters.

The combination platter for two! We ordered two of these.

The combination platter for two! We ordered two of these.

Two huge wooden boards emblazoned with the Rostizado logo had to be fit onto our table. Each was covered with a combination of local Four Whistle Farm chicken (half) and pork roasted in-house (Chris, one of the owners, came by to say hello, and he said they’re experimenting with other meats on the rotisserie, including duck, which they know is my favourite!), garnished with peppers and carrots and served with rosti-papas (potatos) and tortillas. Let me just say, wow! While we all preferred the pork over the chicken, it’s not to say that the chicken wasn’t any good. The bird was perfect; it was slow roasted on the rotisserie so that the meat practically dissolved in your mouth. The difference is that the pork was incredibly juicy and the rub used to marinate the meat was so flavourful that it didn’t require anything else. A bit of pork inside a tortilla shell was all that I needed. The rosti-papas were delicious as well, and they were nice to have as a starch when we ran out of the tortilla wraps that came with the platters. As we were warned by Monika, we did have plenty of meat left over. She packed the rest up in two boxes for us. I happily took one home and it became my lunch the next day.

That meat was saved for leftovers on purpose, of course. Why you ask? Well, because we had to save a bit of room for dessert. They only offer two desserts on the menu: flan de queso and churros con dulce de leche. We made sure to sample both, so we ordered two of each to share. I had seen posts of the churros on Rostizado’s Twitter feed (@Rostizado_yeg) and seen them make them on the morning news, so I definitely wanted to eat some. While they were delectable, especially made fresh and drizzled with dulce de leche sauce, it was the flan that won me over in the end. It looked like traditional flan, but it had cream cheese folded into it, so it was a lot more dense than I expected and incredibly smooth, and it was drenched with a thin caramel sauce and tossed with almond slices. It was spectacular.

We were there for about two and a half hours and felt welcome the entire time. The service and the food was stellar. Between Tres Carnales (@TresCarnales) and Rostizado, I’d say that Chris Sills, Dani Braun and Edgar Gutierrez are doing things right when it comes to the Edmonton restaurant scene. They focus on and perfect core dishes to ensure that no one walks away hungry, but, most of all, they give their full attention to everything – the atmosphere, the service and the patrons – so you feel as if you’re experiencing something special and memorable every time you dine with them.

The Tres Carnales - Chris and Dani watching over Edgar who's busy in the kitchen.

The Tres Carnales – Chris and Dani watching over Edgar who’s busy in the kitchen.

Open for exactly four weeks as of today, the restaurant has been getting raves and seems to be quite busy already. However, I know that there are still some who haven’t learned of its existence yet. Although, that won’t last for long! I fully expect that it will become a quick favourite for foodies and casual diners all across the city, and, no doubt, it will make The Tomato‘s list of best eats and drinks in Edmonton come 2015.

For a more in-depth look at this establishment’s involvement in the local community and its efforts towards sustainability visit The Local Good to read my profile of Rostizado.