Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Phork (Closed)

The Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio

The Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio

The Phork (@thePhork) graced Edmonton with its presence at the end of 2013, opening its doors shortly before Christmas. Housed in the previous home of The Copper Pot, I was completely unaware of this new restaurant until I happened upon their deal on Groupon. It seems that the establishment was greeted with little fanfare upon debuting, so I count myself lucky to have come across the place in this fashion. Otherwise, I might not have found out about it until much later.

Although I had the vouchers in hand, it still took me over three months to make my way there, perhaps because it seemed like a slightly out-of-the-way location. Situated near the Grandin LRT Station on the main floor of a small office building, it wasn’t close enough to work to make it there and back during my lunch hour, and it just never was the first to come to mind when making dinner plans during the week or on the weekend. However, after having been there twice now within the last month, I can say that I wish I hadn’t delayed going for as long as I did.

My mother dined with me on both occasions, the first of which was a lunch outing. We had made a reservation through e-mail that time, but had also called ahead to ask about the parking situation. As it turns out, there is free parking available in the building’s underground parkade. The three or four visitor spaces are good to use during lunch hours while the remaining spots open up during the evening. I doubt that this is common knowledge as this information isn’t really advertised on their site. Yet, I think it certainly gives people more incentive to go, knowing that there is going to be somewhere to park their car in an area where parking may not be that easy to come by.

Views of the park, river valley and High Level Bridge.

Views of the park, river valley and High Level Bridge.

So, with that potential issue removed, we ventured into the restaurant where we were greeted quickly, although somewhat frantically, by a friendly guy who I learned later was Jameson the General Manager. Short staffed that day, he took on the role of server during lunch and promptly guided us to a raised booth that provided views of the High Level bridge and the park across the street. With about twenty or so tables that seat around four people each, it looked to be a quiet day as only a handful were being used. Despite that, I had high hopes.

Skipping drinks as it was still very early in the afternoon, we opted to stick to the food menu. I ordered the Boar Belly Chicken Club and my mom decided to go with the Grilled New York Steak. Both of us chose the seafood chowder for our side. When our dishes arrived at the table, my initial thought was that the size of the soup bowl was massive. For a side, they are very generous, and the soup was really delicious. It wasn’t very thick, but you could certainly taste the cream and it had a slight spiciness to it. It was also chock-full of muscles, pieces of salmon, halibut or cod, shrimp and vegetables. It honestly seemed like a full size order of soup and could have served as my whole meal. I’m definitely not complaining though. I consider it to be a plus that they don’t skimp on the portions.

With regards to my Boar Belly Chicken Club, it was quite delicious. I’m not certain what kind of bun they were using that day, but it was quite a crusty type of bread, which I am not that partial to, so I only ended up eating about half of the starch. However, I don’t feel that was a loss as it was a really large amount of bread and it wasn’t all necessary. The body of the sandwich included chicken breast, bacon (nicely crisped), which I’m guessing was the boar belly, aged cheddar, greens and tomato with bacon mayo. Overall, it may have been a little too salty for me when eaten whole. Yet, I enjoyed the strong smoky flavour and everything was well done.

The Grilled New York Steak with a side of Seafood Chowder!

The Grilled New York Steak with a side of Seafood Chowder!

The Grilled New York Steak was also a testament to the chef because it was cooked to perfection – incredibly tender and still pink. The meat sat on top of half an open-faced bun and was accompanied by sautéed mushrooms, Spanish onions, sun-dried tomato, spinach and Asiago cheese. I had several bites of it and it was so good. The different ingredients really melded together well and paired excellently with the steak. I would go back just for that.

We finished off lunch with an absolutely wonderful peach and mango crumble. The dessert was my favourite, and the single order was more than enough to share. Filled to the brim with large chunks of peach and mango, layered with crumble, candied pecans and walnuts and coming with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, it was a great treat for a spring day. Simple, but decadent, I was no longer hungry when we left.

If I can, I really do like to base my reviews off of more than one visit, so exactly a week later, we dropped in for dinner. This time, I reserved a table through the OpenTable system. As we arrived at 5:30 prior to the dinner rush (it was almost a full house by the time we left), we were promptly seated at a table next to the window. The view was basically the same as during our previous lunch, but I was now also able to see the Legislature building directly ahead of me as well as the High Level Bridge Streetcar passing by every so often.

The interior of The Phork.

The interior of The Phork.

Again, we opted to skip the drinks (Although, I will have to go back to try one of their tableside flare cocktails. They are served by local, professional flare bartenders and, according to their website, The Phork is the first and only restaurant in Edmonton to offer this service.) and concentrate on the food offerings (the supper menu is double-sided). Since Mother’s Day was coming up, we went all out and ordered three appetizers and a main to split, including Crispy Fried Truffled Mac & Cheese Balls, Smoked Jalapeno Blue Crab Cake, Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio and the Pistachio Crusted Rack of Lamb.

I’ll start with the Mac & Cheese Balls. These were awesome. The breading on the outside reminded me of the Mac and Cheese Maki at The Hat, but with a more even ratio of panko to pasta. The spicy chili Ketchup, truffle oil and what I assume to be shaved Asiago cheese that accompanied the balls were excellent additions that really elevated the palate of the dish while keeping from being overpowering. The two Crab Cakes were seared well. Plated with a side of gathered greens and honey & mustard aioli, it was a light appetizer that had that great balance of piquant and sweet profiles. The Beef Carpaccio came with fresh slices of sesame seed topped bread and thin sheets of beef tenderloin topped with baby arugula, shaved reggiano cheese, a sprinkle of coarse sea salt and a drizzle of EVOO. The beef was melt-in-your-mouth good, and the flavours from the extras were subtle enough to ensure that the meat remained the focus.

For the entrée, we divided the Rack of Lamb and I’m glad we did because the starters already provided plenty of food. On the other hand, I am also happy that we didn’t skip this main as the lamb was incredible. The kitchen really does an excellent job with the preparation and cooking of their meats. We asked for the lamb to be medium-rare and it came to us just as requested. The steak knife that was provided cut through the rack like butter and there was plenty of juicy meat on the bones, which isn’t always the case when ordering this dish. What I loved most was the strong Dijon mustard and crushed pistachio that crusted the lamb as it paired so well with the natural flavour of the meat. The brush of butternut squash puree and braised leeks were texturally appealing and gave the plate an artistic look. The side of sweet potato pave was a good starch to anchor the entrée, but there was so much that we couldn’t finish it.

Having experienced both their lunch and dinner services, I can safely say that this establishment is another fantastic addition to Edmonton’s growing restaurant scene. The bright, new interiors and the views make it appealing, and the personable service (although, they can refill water glasses more regularly) is something I noticed and has stuck with me.

For those who have yet to try The Phork, here are some potential incentives for you. Currently, the restaurant is offering $10 off lunch for groups of two or more during their Monday to Friday lunch hours. Every Tuesday they have half price off every wine after 4 PM, and Saturday evenings from 7 to 10 PM there is live music. I expect I’ll be back to indulge in beverages, more food and some music soon enough! It’s that good!

Speed Dating: An 8-Minute Numbers Game?

I’m 28 years old and currently single. The majority of my friends are coupled, engaged, married or starting families. They don’t know anyone they can set me up with and I work in an office that is primarily filled with women or people who are quite a bit older than me. I’ve never been the type of person who frequents the bar to meet people and that’s not changing anytime soon. What’s a girl to do?

I’ve tried online dating like so many others are inclined to do nowadays, but it has never really worked for me. So, when my friend, who has also tried the online thing, asked if I would be willing to go speed dating with her, I thought now was as good a time as any to mix it up. Life isn’t throwing guys my way through the usual means anyway, so why not give it a shot, right?

We did a little bit of research and saw that events through Fastlife.ca catered to specific themes (university educated, travel lovers, professionals, tall men, etc.) and decided that we would wait to see if we could find a deal through a discount voucher site (another friend of mine had done that before). The usual cost of the majority of their events is $59.99, which is a hefty price when you’re not really sure that it’s going to lead to anything; if we could save some money, it would help to convince us it was a good idea. Plus, if we had a good time, the extra cash could be put towards going to another date night in the future. Eventually we lucked out and found ourselves a coupon through Groupon (my go to website). The stars were aligned; we were on our way to potentially meeting some new people, new guys.

The Venue - L1 Lounge at WEM. We took up the left side.

The Venue – L1 Lounge at WEM. We took up the left side.

Arriving a bit before the 7:30 pm start time, we entered L1 Lounge at West Edmonton Mall and had absolutely no idea what to do. The host for the evening hadn’t arrived, so we popped back out and waited a bit before returning. When we came back about 10 minutes later, the hostess was there and greeted us, letting us know where everyone would be seated later on and invited us to grab a drink at the bar to unwind until all participants showed up.

My friend and I were the first ones there, so we each ordered a beverage and perched ourselves on a couple stools, watching as various men and women trickled in. I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit we were sizing people up a little bit. After all, the girls were our competition and the guys were the reason why we were there.

The whole thing didn’t even begin until about eight o’clock, but it was a whirlwind of 12 mini dates. While it was a good time and it breezed by (before I knew it, it was over and it was already 10 pm), it was also a tad draining. Thankfully, though, it wasn’t like the movies tend to depict it.

I will say that some of the “dates” were great – conversation flowed well or I could feel an immediate connection – and others were a bit strained or awkward, feeling as if the eight minutes dragged. If you think about it, there is a lot riding on that first impression. Based on the experience of my friend and I, here are some tips for the guys: never talk about your ex, refrain from getting too touchy-feely, avoid rehearsing what you’re going to say to us, and don’t steer the whole conversation. The time we spend together, although short, should feel organic. Many of the guys were very nice, some a bit shy, a couple were somewhat arrogant, lots were engineers, all of them were just hoping, like we were, to meet someone great. If we liked them, we were supposed to check off their name on our cards. The host would go through them afterwards to figure out our matches and then notify us.

Ultimately, we ended up making a new girlfriend who is relatively new to the city, and, naturally, we invited her to join us for dessert after the event closed up shop and all the speed daters dispersed. We chatted about how it all went as girls are apt to do and came to the realization that there are plenty of us in the same boat. All of the ladies looked like great catches. We’re not sure why it’s so hard to find someone we can connect with, but we’re willing to take our time to find the right person. Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun in the meantime. One friend pondered why they didn’t make it larger where would we meet twenty people instead of a dozen, but my response to that was that it’s so overwhelming. We already had a hard enough time recalling all the conversations we had that night and differentiating the guys from one another after we left, let alone adding another eight people to the mix.

Our treat for the evening. The dessert trio at Moxie's!

Our treat for the evening. The dessert trio at Moxie’s!

However, I posed this question to my friends over our dessert: despite some complaints about some of the guys and the event itself, would you ever go speed dating again? At first it was a resounding “no” from both of my friends, but slowly one changed her mind. Initially, I said I might choose to take part once more, but after being told we would receive our mutual matches the following day and not actually hearing anything for three days, I thought the service could have been better.

In the end, I received two matches, but after such a delay to find out who they were, I think many of us already forgot who we had spoken to. The details melded together and it became a big blur, at least for me. The postponed notice of our matches took away from the momentum of the initial contact, and we started to think maybe we didn’t get any matches at all. I was the one who decided to reach out to my matches first (it’s time for the ladies to take charge), but I feel that with e-mail as the only point of contact, it becomes too easy for someone to disregard the matches and move on without attempting to see where an additional meeting could lead. In my case, one of my matches told me he doesn’t like to go out with more than one person at a time, and since he already had plans to meet someone else from the same event, he wasn’t planning to see me. I don’t know what you think about that, but my first thought was, “this is the first time you’re going out with this other person since the event. Based on an eight minute conversation, you’re putting all your eggs in one basket and missing out on other opportunities.” But, really, it’s his loss, not mine. I went into this without any major expectations, had a fun night, checked off guys that aren’t usually my “type” (not that I have one), but had good conversation with, and just left it at that. I figured the worst that could happen is that they didn’t feel the same. I had no attachments yet, so I wouldn’t be broken up over the outcome.

Would I recommend going to something like this with a friend or two? It’s a tough call. If you like the idea of having a friend there for support and to talk to about the whole ordeal afterwards, then, yes, I’d say bring someone along. But, if you can be the jealous type, I’d tell you that it might be best to go on your own. It would be terrible if you were excited about someone you met, but your friend was matched instead, or perhaps if you both received the same matches, but it didn’t work out for one of you. It’s really a judgement call. Although, no matter what, you have to take it all in stride. You can’t invest everything in this one instance because life doesn’t always go the way you expect it to. I enjoyed going with my friend as the discussion alone was worth it.

The index page of FastLife.ca

The index page of FastLife.ca

With regards to the event coordination, I would say that, for the regular cost of $60, not having a drink included is unfortunate; also nacho chips with no toppings and just sides of salsa and sour cream were included, but not placed out until the very end. They weren’t enticing enough to keep participants there. In fact, in my opinion, FastLife was a bit cheap considering the amount of money each person spent on the evening. Know that if you decide to attend one of these events, there might be extra costs associated. I may try this avenue again because I wouldn’t mind seeing what kind of guys show up at the other themed evenings. However, I would definitely seek out another deal or wait for FastLife to offer one (they do on occasion) as I think it’s too expensive to go for full price.

At the end of the day, dating nowadays seems like it’s a numbers game. You have to put yourself out there if you want to find someone you’re willing to start a relationship with. Some people are lucky to find their other half early in life and for others it takes a little more time. If anything, going to events like this, I might make a new circle of friends and I’m always up for that.

If you’re considering speed dating, remember that it’s all in good fun. You have to go in with an open mind and just be ready to take a chance. Hopefully, you’ll have a fun time, maybe make a friend or two and come out of it with some good stories to tell.