Edmonton Restaurant Review: Villa Bistro

Braised Short Rib

To my surprise, this summer, I was scrolling through my OpenTable app when I came across a new restaurant called Villa Bistro. It was the first I’d heard of it, so I decided to Google the business. As it turns out, the trusty Free Press Bistro on 100 Avenue and 104 Street had been sold and renamed. Villa Bistro’s goal is to serve high-end comfort food, which, in a city that seems to be in the throws of winter for half the year, seems appropriate.

I kept the new eatery in mind for the past few months, and I finally visited with a friend at the end of November after we completed a big Christmas shopping spree at City Centre. We happened to be hanging out downtown on an Oilers game night, so depending on where we parked, we could have ended up paying for it. However, we lucked out by driving an extra block further where we found a spot on 99 Avenue. The payment machine didn’t indicate that it cost anything after 6:00pm. Yet, just in case, we phoned 311 to double check and they confirmed that the zone we were in fell outside of the event area. Bonus! Otherwise, if money isn’t a concern, there is parking in front of the establishment as well as an Impark lot across the street, too.

When we entered Villa Bistro, it was fairly quiet. I’d say there were, at best, a handful of other tables and a couple of bar stools occupied. I noticed the space had been freshened up with brighter walls, new modern floral art (i.e. the ubiquitous succulent), as well as updated tables and chairs. It looked lovely. The host greeted us from behind the counter and told us we could take any available table. We opted for one tucked into a nook by the windows. Once we settled in, the server brought the menus over along with glasses of water.

Veggie Panini with Fries

The food selection has an Italian leaning with entrees that include panini sandwiches or pasta bowls and appetizers of meatballs, charcuterie, and caprese skewers. My friend ended up ordering the Veggie Panini ($15). I indulged by going with the Braised Short Rib ($24). The two of us also shared an order of the Baked Brie ($15).

As we waited for the kitchen to prepare our meal, it seemed to be getting cooler inside the restaurant. I assumed it was because we were next to a window and didn’t think too much of it at first. But, right before our dishes arrived, my friend stepped out into the building’s adjoining hallway to use the bathroom and, when she returned, she confirmed that the temperature had most definitely dropped. The server eventually let us know that what we were experiencing wasn’t the norm. Apparently, the whole building was hit with a heating problem and someone was being called in to fix it as soon as possible.

Despite the cold, we powered through our dinner like the true Canadians we are. My friend was really hoping that her Veggie Panini would be reminiscent of the vegetarian toasties she had when she visited Australia. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. The sandwich, consisting of goat cheese, grilled zucchini, mushrooms and red peppers in a balsamic glaze was still tasty. Her one recommendation to Villa Bistro though? The ciabatta bread was barely toasted, if at all. Paninis are supposed to be heated and pressed and this one didn’t seem to fit that description. Coming with the sandwich was a large side of fries. They looked to be freshly made and lightly seasoned.

Baked Brie

We quite enjoyed the Baked Brie. Honestly, it’s kind of a hard appetizer to screw up. This one was presented with a whole mini round of brie that was topped with fruit compote (the menu said it was blueberry, but the colour and flavour made me think it was more akin to raspberry). There were six slices of focaccia crostini to go with it. When we cut into the cheese, it was warm and nicely melted with the center oozing a little. The sweet compote paired perfectly with the rich, creamy, nutty brie.

I will give myself a pat on the back for choosing the Braised Short Rib because I think it was worth every penny. The meat was braised in-house until it was tender enough to be pulled apart with just a fork. There was only a minuscule amount of fat throughout the cut, so I was able to eat every bite of the short rib. It was also marinated very well with the flavour completely saturating the meat. Since it was so savoury, the combination of the short rib with a large helping of sweet potato puree was kind of ingenious, providing that important balance. The addition of fried parmesan Brussels sprouts that were charred and crisp on the outside just made the whole thing even better (and provided me with some actual veggies).

Braised Short Rib

By the time we polished off our plates, Villa Bistro had become a literal ice box. Our server was tucked behind the bar with a heater while she wore her parka, and my friend had also pulled on her coat. Otherwise, there was a slight chance we would have hung out a bit longer and had dessert. In those circumstances, however, we couldn’t bring ourselves to stay. We grabbed our bills to pay and then head back out into the winter evening.

I’ll admit that the staff could have offered to compensate us for the inconvenience of eating in freezing conditions. Even though I know what happened wasn’t their fault, it’s still good business practice to acknowledge when something is wrong and to do whatever possible to rectify the situation. The host/server was super friendly and, despite the issue, she did her job pretty well. But, there wasn’t any discount on the bill or anything, which I think another restaurant would have considered. I believe the least they could have done was to offer each of us a hot beverage to keep us cozy as we ate.

Regardless, I hope that Villa Bistro’s building has since fixed the problem and that every visit hereafter will be much more comfortable. While the establishment is still coming into its own and there’s always room for improvement, they’re on the right track. With good service, a fantastic location and delicious food, they can expect to grow a wealth of regular customers.

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Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Dish Bistro (Closed)

Ricotta pasta with a side of salad and housemade chips

Ricotta pasta with a side of salad and housemade chips

In business since 1979, The Dish Bistro (@dishspoonbistro) has amassed many regular customers. However, until a few years ago, I wasn’t one of them. Growing up just blocks away in the Glenora neighbourhood, you would think that my family would have dined there at least once before. The Oliver area is really a skip, hop and jump from their home, yet that was far from the case. It took over twenty-five years before my parents set foot into the establishment and it was only because my fondness for Groupon deals brought us there.

Stepping into the restaurant, it’s unassuming. Large windows brighten up the somewhat dim space, which is broken up into three areas – a room by the bar, a smaller sliver that sits between that and another adjoining span that can likely be rearranged for large parties and is often opened up on busier evenings to expand the total number of seats. The green walls are sporadically adorned by art that kind of reminds me of a grandma’s house. The Dish is homey and has a casual air about it. They also have a patio, which they call the “Secret Garden.” A hidden nook behind the building, the outdoor space must be accessed by passing through a side gate and walking down a small path. I finally had a chance to take advantage of the patio this summer when the weather was still smiling down on us. It’s really cute with hanging flower pots, a bird house, twinkle lights, trees and bright red brick walls. Although, I should note that I overheard one server tell another table of patrons that the space is several degrees cooler than out at the front of the restaurant, so once the temperature cools down come fall, it’s probably not so lovely out there. Make sure to choose a nice, sunny day to dine outside.

Having been several times within the past thirty-six months or so, I developed a taste for certain dishes, specifically the Wild Mushroom & Feta Pasta with beef tenderloin added, so I was pretty much set to order the same thing when I went in June. What I wasn’t aware of prior to getting there were the selections on the daily features menu. Upon seeing the several items on the list, it made my decision all the more difficult. The thing is though, once I spotted the Chicken & Waffles I knew that I had to try it for the sake of comparison. Recently having sampled the dish at The Common and Sugarbowl, I needed to see if The Dish’s version could live up to what I had eaten at the other two restaurants. The friendly server working that evening said it was a good choice.

While my dining companion and I waited for our food to be made, we sipped on water through whimsical paper straws and chatted. Our plates arrived relatively quickly and were each filled with a large circular green onion and cheddar buttermilk waffle topped with two fat pieces of crispy seasoned chicken breast that were drizzled with a grainy mustard and maple syrup. The chicken was battered and fried well – not greasy with a shell that wasn’t too thick and the meat was relatively juicy. It didn’t taste like it was seasoned much, so the majority of flavour came from the fluffy waffle and the syrup, which could easily have been overly sweet. That was avoided with the addition of the mustard. On that note, I would say that The Dish’s ability to keep the Chicken & Waffles more savory than sugary makes it better than what I had at Sugarbowl, but still not quite as delicious as The Common’s offering that builds bacon into the waffle and refrains from the syrup route by going for tart and spicy profiles, using their blackberry and chili sauce instead.

To finish off the evening, we ordered the Double Chocolate Fudge Brownie for dessert. I’d eaten it previously, but I had forgotten just how good it is. You’re given an ample portion (possibly not quite enough for two people as we were fighting for bites) of brownie that has been drenched in chocolate and caramel sauce and comes with a side of vanilla ice cream. The brownie is extremely rich and very moist on the inside, so much so that it almost comes off as being a lava cake. Either way, it was a satisfying end to our meal.

About a month later, my mom joined me there for dinner (that’s when we sat in the “Secret Garden”). She chose the salmon and asparagus quiche with a side of tomato bisque, and I opted for the ricotta pasta dish with a salad of mixed greens and raspberry vinaigrette. Both meals were tasty, but I would say that the quiche would have been better had it come to the table better heated. On the other hand, my layered pasta was piping hot, so my mom kept sneaking some from my plate. We finished off our supper with a tangy lemon tart. More similar in consistency to a light fruit yogurt, the flavour was strong, but refreshing. The whole dessert was kind of airy since they also dismissed using a regular pie crust and exchanged it for a thin filo pastry cup instead. It was exactly what we were looking for after our heavier mains.

I can certainly see why The Dish Bistro is still a favourite of diners thirty-five years after opening their doors. Coming in at No. 45 on The Tomato‘s list of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton for 2013, they certainly have continued to excel at contemporary comfort fare.