Edmonton Restaurant Review: Grandin Fish ‘n’ Chips

The letter board menus on display at the entrance of the restaurant.

Grandin Fish ‘n’ Chips has been on my radar since they opened in early spring of this year. As the sister restaurant to The Common, located just next door, the concept couldn’t be more different from the older gastro-lounge in terms of style. Rather than elevated comfort food, the seafood laden sibling leans heavily on the idea of traditional London street fare served in a fast-casual setting.

When I went for dinner in mid-August, I noticed that the entrance of the shop places the customer right at the counter where the menu is laid out across three letter boards. My friend, who had been there before, thought we would have to order at the front. But, a sign indicated we could seat ourselves, and one of the servers came by with a couple of menus as soon as we had settled in at our table.

I quite like the space. The design incorporates an understated look with a lot of natural wood throughout, vintage lighting and nautical rope accents. Yet, the bold navy and white colour scheme does add some punch. I especially love the wallpaper, which was illustrated by local tattoo artist Heath Smith. His images really tie the ocean and prairie elements together in a unique and creative way (my personal favourites are: the half horse, half mermaid and the whale with the barn on its back).

Atmosphere aside, I have to say that narrowing down my choices on the menu was a difficult task. I really wanted to try as much as possible. While I did get to sample my dining companion’s Haddock & Chips ($14), I wasn’t able to split much more with her. Because of her shellfish allergies, the only thing I could share was my bowl of Fried Brussel Sprout Bubble & Squeak ($5). We didn’t want to chance her having a reaction to anything else. Therefore, when it came to eating my half order of the Seafood Chowder & Cheddar Biscuit ($8) and the Fried Escargots & Tartar Sauce ($9), I was on my own.

After we ordered our dishes, they arrived pretty quickly. I suppose there isn’t a whole lot of prep time required when the majority of the food served is fried in some form or another. However, I would like to note that there are three ways to enjoy the fish: classic, gluten free (still breaded), or pan-fried (the lighter of the trio).

The Haddock was cooked with a classic crisp batter. The filet itself was quite large, spanning the entirety of the plate it came on. It seems like Grandin Fish ‘n’ Chips doesn’t really offer the option to add extra pieces of fish, and I could see why. It isn’t necessary when the first portion is already so large. Accompanying the haddock was a bed of Kennebec chips, coleslaw, a small cup of tartar sauce and a lemon wedge. The meat refrained from being greasy; it was succulent, flaky and pulled apart easily with a fork. I always like the zest of citrus juice cutting through the fish, and the tartar sauce they provided gave it some savouriness. The chips (fresh cut fries) consisted of large, evenly cut strips of potato with a crunchy exterior and fluffy center. Even without any dip or seasoning applied, they were delicious. I found the coleslaw to be pretty good as well. The cabbage and carrots were lightly dressed, so the texture of the veggies weren’t hindered at all.

Half order of the Seafood Chowder & Cheddar Biscuit

With my trio of plates delivered at the same time, I had to assess what would be best to eat first. The obvious choice was the small bowl of Seafood Chowder as I didn’t want that to get too cold. A half size Cheddar Biscuit with a generous helping of butter was served on the side. The cheddar biscuit lost its warmth quickly and came across as a tad dry and salty. Because of the latter characteristic, I probably should have avoided dipping pieces in the soup and applying the butter, but both of those, at the very least, helped to moisten the baked good a bit. The chowder seemed to congeal rather quickly as well. Although, once I stirred it up, the subtle soup became thick and creamy. Also, for the size of the cup, there was a lot more seafood than I expected; about three or four mussels along with cuts of fish filled the bowl. They paired so well with the soup base.

I alternated between the rest of my food, taking an escargot here and a sprout there. The escargot was pretty lightly battered in tempura and, again, didn’t seem greasy despite being fried. They were tossed over the same tartar sauce as the fish & chips, giving my taste buds a kick. My one dislike when it comes to eating snails is that sometimes they can have a gritty, sandy texture. Out of the whole batch in this dish, there was only one that ended up falling into that category. The remaining dozen or so were ever so slightly chewy (as they are), but still tender. Mostly, I think the price is more than reasonable for the quantity. Additionally, they did not get at all soggy as they sat there throughout the meal. The Fried Brussel Sprout Bubble & Squeak is actually a combination of deep fried Brussels sprouts, potatoes, turnips and onions. They’re heavily flavoured and have a little crispness. Wonderfully tasty during the initial mouthfuls, both dishes resulted in salt overload by the time I was finished.

Walterdale Pudding

That feeling was the perfect excuse to cleanse my palate with a dessert. I opted for the Walterdale pudding ($7), the latest offering on the menu. Served in a stemless wine glass, it’s supposed to be comprised of grapefruit, pistachio, marshmallow, and coconut ice cream. On this occasion, it was modified to include both orange and grapefruit slices. The two together helped to offset any potential bitterness from the latter. The rest of the ingredients were layered throughout. I’d note, too, contrary to how the ingredients may be read, the ice cream is not a combination of marshmallow and coconut flavouring. It is, in fact, fresh marshmallow pieces with dollops of coconut ice cream (an example of the importance of the oxford comma). I could have done with a few less marshmallows as they were quite sugary, and I would have preferred more ice cream instead. Regardless, each spoonful was different, and overall, it was a refreshing way to finish off a summer dinner.

Before we left, the server who put our payments through asked me about the photos I was taking. I was honest about being a blogger and planning to review the restaurant. She was very sweet and started talking about following more of the local writers on social media, and she wished us a good evening as we departed. I do believe that Grandin Fish ‘n’ Chips is filling a niche market in the city. Other than some eateries and Irish pubs that happen to serve fish & chips, there aren’t a whole lot of alternatives when it comes to seafood done casually. Admittedly, I wasn’t all that enthralled with my choices after realizing just how much of each dish I was working through. Over the duration of the meal, the flavours melded and turned one note. On the other hand, I do think that this is truly a place where sharing multiple plates with several people is the way to go. With a large variety and less of each item, every bite will pop that much more.

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Edmonton Restaurant Review: Urbano Pizza Co.

Portable pizza ovens that fast-fire pies in under 2 minutes!

The first time I tried Urbano Pizza Co. wasn’t at one of their storefronts. It was actually at last year’s Sturgeon County Bounty Culinary Cookout. As one of the participating partners at the event, Urbano was well prepared to serve the masses. They brought with them a couple of their portable pizza ovens (fast-fired in under two minutes) and were cooking up their meat (The Italian Stallion) and vegetarian pies as fast as they they could manage.

Urbano ended up being our favourite vendor of the night. Not only did they provide reasonable portions for the tickets redeemed, but their pizzas had a lovely thin crust and a mountain of toppings. In fact, my only complaint was that the toppings were so heavy that the crust couldn’t withstand the weight, making it tough to keep my slice together.

Fast forward a year later and I was contemplating where my co-workers and I could go for a quick lunch together. The light bulb in my head went off and I suggested Urbano Pizza Co.

The day we went, we arrived at the original downtown shop (at 102 Avenue and 103 Street) a little after 1 o’clock. It was quiet. There were a few staff members lingering behind the counter and one other customer perched on a stool in the seating area.

The menu displayed on a few screens.

We all took a few minutes to review the menu, which consisted of several Signature Pizzas and Pastas as well as the choice to build your own dish ($11.95 each; $7.95 without toppings). Although it was tempting to consider the latter option because I could pick whatever I wanted (similar to LOVEPIZZA and Blaze Pizza), I wasn’t in the mood to put a lot of thought into things. I ended up taking the lead by ordering The Vegetarian pizza.

I watched the staff as they put my pizza together from start to finish. When not in use, they always pull down the cover of the case to keep the toppings fresh. As they went along, I had the opportunity to let them know if I wanted anything excluded or switched out or added on. There are no extra charges for changes made, so it’s completely customizable.

A view of the prep counter from the seating area upstairs.

By the time I’d paid at the till, my pizza was already out of the oven and had been transferred to a wooden pizza board. I guess the staff members typically bring the food to the customer’s table, so the guy who had my pizza was a tad reluctant to hand it over to me at first. Yet, after checking with another person, he passed it over to me and I made my way up the stairs to grab a table.

The rest of my party followed and their pizzas showed up a few minutes later. I didn’t sample everyone else’s lunch. However, I was told throughout our meal that they all enjoyed what they had selected: The Piri Piri, To the Greek, and Pork & Pineapple.

The Vegetarian pizza with a bottle of Root Beer.

I loved my Vegetarian pizza. It’s a bit different from others as the base doesn’t consist of the usual tomato sauce. Instead, it’s replaced with a puree of eggplant curry. Then it’s topped with roasted cauliflower, grilled zucchini, mushrooms and roasted red peppers. Flavourful and filling despite the lack of protein, I’d be inclined to get this one again.

In fact, the pizzas are quite large for the price. None of us were able to finish the whole thing. One of the employees passed by and came back carrying takeaway boxes without us even having to ask. The leftovers served as my lunch the next day.

Just this month, I went back to Urbano for dinner with a friend. We each ordered a pizza. I still didn’t opt to build my own, but I made sure to try something new. This time, I chose the Salmon. I opted to omit the red onions though. What remained of the toppings was Hollandaise sauce, white sauce, smoked salmon, capers and arugula. I will say that the salmon loses a bit of it’s appeal from an appearance standpoint since the fish turns more of a brown colour after being cooked in the oven. Nevertheless, it’s quite delicious. The smoked salmon still had a tenderness to it along with the salty flavour, and the creamy sauces worked well to balance out the slight bitterness from the greens. The one issue I did have, and maybe it’s due to the amount of sauce and the moisture from the salmon, is that over time, the crust can get a bit soggy as it sits. Still, I ate the whole thing.

My friend’s Pork & Pineapple pizza on the right.

I also had a bite of my friend’s Pork & Pineapple pizza. It’s not one that I’d usually go for, but it was decent. Made with tomato sauce, roasted pork loin, pineapple and Camembert cheese, it was certainly more traditional in flavour. Personally, I do think it was missing a little something; it needed an unexpected punch of flavour to add an element of surprise. Regardless, those who like Ham & Pineapple likely won’t be disappointed.

Urbano Pizza Co. is the sister to the upscale Sabor Restaurant. Owners Christian Mena and Chef Lino Oliveira took a sharp left turn when they decided to go the fast-casual route. Yet, it’s a concept that works. With others like it popping up all over the city, it’s obvious that they were on the right track. Perhaps it’s because I’m often going there before or after the lunch and dinner rushes, but I’ve experienced nothing but friendly faces, quick service and tasty food each time I’ve visited Urbano. Plus, it’s fairly affordable for a relatively healthy meal with fresh ingredients, many of which are made in-house.

They’ve also got a great deal on their Pizza of the Day. Ask for details when visiting!

Edmonton Restaurant Review: XO Bistro + Bar

Lunch time at XO Bistro + Bar.

XO Bistro + Bar opened in the Ice District late last year. Situated on the main floor of the new Ultima condo building on 103 Street and 102 Avenue, it’s not far from my downtown office.

Still in its infancy, I finally stopped by for lunch last month. When I showed up for my OpenTable reservation, my friend was already seated in one of the booths by the bar. The space isn’t all that big, but it’s modern in design and it looked like there were stairs by the doors that led up to a second level.

At one o’clock, it was pretty quiet. The lunch crowd must have already dissipated by that time of day. The server brought over some water and, after giving us a few minutes to check out the menu, she came back to take our orders.

The lunch menu is quite succinct with several appetizers and various iterations of Vietnamese pho, vermicelli and bowls as well as a handful of other options. The main difference between most simply came down to the toppings selected.

In our case, my friend chose the Combo 2 Rice Plate with Grilled Chicken and I decided on Combo 3 with Vermicelli, Grilled Beef and Grilled Chicken. Both dishes were served with a spring roll. The food was quickly prepared and we were able to eat without much delay.

Combo 2 with Rice, Grilled Chicken & Spring Roll

My friend’s plate looked nice with a dome-shaped portion of rice, two large pieces of grilled chicken and a side of julienned veggies. The server had dropped off a couple of sauce bottles along with our food, but neither was soy, so my dining companion had to track her down for that. Other than that minor hiccup, my friend enjoyed the meal.

I found my vermicelli to be very filling. There was actually a lot of food crammed into the bowl. I poured the entire amount of fish sauce provided into the noodles and attempted to mix everything together without losing anything over the sides of the dish. It was a bit difficult. However, I was happy with the overall portion size. Anything less and I may have been disappointed because it’s a bit pricier than other eateries that serve Vietnamese cuisine.

Combo 3 with Vermicelli, Grilled Beef, Grilled Chicken & Spring Roll

Here, a bowl with one choice of protein and a spring roll cost about $17 after tax and tip. Whereas, places like Pho Hoan Pasteur and Delicious Pho are about $2 less and include a variety of toppings like grilled pork, chicken, beef, meatballs, shrimp and the spring roll, so there’s more value with the others. Regardless, the grilled beef and chicken at XO Bistro was flavoured well with lemongrass and had that lovely charred taste to it. It meat was thinly sliced, so it cooked quickly to the perfect texture and chew. The spring roll was also crisp on the outside and not too greasy.

Honestly, I’m not sure that the downtown lunch crowd is who they’re catering to. They seem to be more of a late night venue with a fun cocktail menu and bar bites, so I’d be inclined to come back to check that out another time.

Granted, that’s not to say it wouldn’t be worth trying XO Bistro + Bar on any other occasion. On the contrary. It was wonderful to be there when it was quieter and not too busy. Their service is decent. Plus, the food is tasty, albeit nothing that really differentiates it from other Vietnamese restaurants.

All-in-all, I think it comes down to convenience and preference. If I’m looking for somewhere stylish to eat this type of food in the downtown area, XO Bistro + Bar will probably be one of the first places to come to my mind. It’s also an ideal location for anyone popping by Rogers Place for any shows or games as it’s literally minutes away by foot.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Needle Vinyl Tavern

The open bar and stage at The Needle Vinyl Tavern.

Since The Needle Vinyl Tavern opened about a year and a half ago, I’ve frequented the place a few times. It’s located right on Jasper Avenue and 105 Street. When the business was first announced, it was a welcome addition to the city as it wasn’t simply another bar, but a small live music venue as well. On the cusp of the loss of several others like it in the span of a year or two, Edmontonians were happy to know there was something coming in to fill that void.

The wall opens up to allow for an expanded patio space.

Although I haven’t gone to any of the shows (they do have some great artists coming through), I have been for food and drinks. The first time was last summer when my friends and I decided to walk a few blocks from the office for our lunch break. It was a beautifully sunny day and we managed to snag a table out on the extended sidewalk patio, one of the few spaces like it in the downtown core. Personally, I think it’s a great spot to catch some rays and grab a bite. The only thing is I prefer sitting a little further in from where the pedestrians are constantly passing by.

The original vinyl drink menu is no longer used, but was a great touch.

On that occasion, I was really impressed with the details that went into The Needle. The overall menu had a decent mix of options and the dishes were promising. What we ate tasted good and the service was prompt. I especially loved that, to go with the theme, they had their list of drinks printed on actual vinyl discs. It was a fun feature. However, over time, those intricacies have disappeared and been replaced with what I would say are watered down versions of their previous offerings.

The last time I visited, my friend and I popped in for lunch. Instead of sitting out on the patio, we ate at a booth inside. While I enjoyed getting to view the bar and the stage, I found the service to be extremely slow even though there were a lot of staff on hand (chatting to each other) and not many people dining in.

Eventually, a server came over to take our order. I opted to make a meal of two of the appetizers: Mac N’ Cheese Bites ($9) and Cauliflower 78 ($13). My friend chose the Taco Supremo House Pizza ($17).

Taco Supremo House Pizza

I have to say that the slice of taco pizza was the best thing out of the trio. Yet, I don’t think that’s saying much. Sure, the flavours were okay, but I felt that the crust was bland and lacked in texture. I also disliked the fact that it was difficult to see past all of the lettuce and tomato that topped the pizza. It was like the kitchen was trying to hide what was underneath. The red sauce was basic and there was not enough beef.

The Mac N’ Cheese Bites with Ketchup

Still, the pizza was better than both of my starters. The Mac N’ Cheese Bites were passable. The thing is, it seemed as though they literally took a box of Kraft Dinner and made the pasta into nugget shapes before breading and frying them. The ten greasy pieces were served with a side of ketchup for dipping. They may have added some extra cheese as the interior of the bites were creamier than I expected. Regardless, the execution was poor. If you’re going to serve something like this, take a page from the many other restaurants that serve similar items. Jazz it up with a ketchup that’s made in-house or incorporate some spice or seasoning.

Cauliflower 78 with Sweet & Spicy Dip

The worst of the bunch was definitely the Cauliflower 78. These tiny florets were over-breaded (somehow not that crispy) and the portion was way too small for the price. They came in a bowl the size of a cup of soup. The side of sweet chili dip was probably store bought as well. This was absolutely nothing special and such a disappointment.

My takeaway from the whole experience is that The Needle Vinyl Tavern is mainly there for the music and maybe the drinks (my co-worker said the selection of beer is lacking). I’ve been told the brunch menu is a winner, but I have yet to try it. In the meantime, I believe that food is no longer their forte. They have the potential to make it a strong suit because I saw it in the beginning. I just think that they’ve veered off of that path for the time being. Hopefully they can get back on track eventually.

The bar is a cool feature of the venue and it’s pretty spacious to fit a standing crowd during shows.