Edmonton Restaurant Review: vivo Ristorante (Windermere)

Bruschetta & Ricotta

I’m always looking to try new eateries, so I was super excited to hear that vivo Ristorante was opening a Windermere location, which is in my neck of the woods. In late spring, they welcomed patrons into the space previously occupied by Chili’s (layout remains the same). At first, the reviews seemed somewhat dire, so I was apprehensive to go right away; we waited until this month before we ventured over.

Now, to be fair, this iteration of vivo Ristorante is not the same as their two other restaurants in west Edmonton or Sherwood Park. Although I’ve never been to either of those (yet), they have a reputation for serving upscale Italian food. While the menu still leans towards Italian-style dishes in Windermere, the atmosphere is a lot more casual and they’re catering towards a clientele that wants to have an enjoyable meal out without breaking the bank.

Their menu is reasonably priced with the most expensive pizza/pasta/burger coming in at $18 and the majority of the mains in the mid-twenties range. Plus, they offer a daily happy hour that includes drink specials or food items such as arancini, meatballs, and bruschetta from 2:00pm to 6:00pm and again from 10:00pm to close for a steal.

Beer & Cocktails are on special during happy hour!

When we dropped by during the August long weekend, we found out that on Mondays they have all day happy hour, so even though it was past their usual time frame, we were able to take advantage of the deals. Kirk got a Snake Lake draught ($6 after a $3 discount) and I got a High Tea signature cocktail ($11 after $3 off). I found the beer to be pretty good; it was cloudier than expected, but it was smooth and didn’t leave a lingering bitterness at the end. The High Tea cocktail had two ounces of alcohol in a small glass, so it was initially quite potent; however, after some food, the flavour seemed to mellow and it was pleasant to sip throughout our meal.

To eat, we shared a few happy hour plates (all up to fifty per cent off) including four Meatballs ($0.97 each), four Sliders ($2.50 each), and Bruschetta ($5). Additionally, I wanted to try their Brussels Sprouts ($9), and Gnudi ($16) for some variety. The food was prepared quickly and, before we knew it, dishes were being presented at our table.

Sliders

I’ll start with the Sliders because we did have an issue with them. The patties in the first batch that came out actually had raw centers. We made our server aware of the problem, and she was quick to take them away and offered to either have the dish taken off of the bill or to have them remade. We still wanted to eat the miniature burgers, so we asked that the kitchen just make a second order for us. They turned out much better. Fully cooked all the way through, the all-beef patties were juicy on the inside with a nice char on the outside. The sweet pepper relish, provolone cheese, and vivo sauce hit the spot with a mix of salt and sweet. When we got the bill, I saw that they actually comped both the original plate and the replacement for us, which I thought was excellent on the part of their management and staff.

Continuing with the meats, vivo’s Meatballs are made with all-beef as well. They’re covered in a rich marinara sauce with a decent sprinkling of asiago cheese and focaccia crumbs. The balls were pretty succulent and they fell apart easily with a fork. Since you can order as many as you want from the happy hour menu, I recommend getting them as a side to one of their meatless pasta dishes.

I was surprised by the portions of the Bruschetta, which not only came with the diced compilation of sweet bell pepper, jalapeno, and roma tomato, but also included a generous bowl of herbed ricotta cheese with grape tomatoes, basil, and mint oil. Five or six large slices of crostini completed the dish. It was light and refreshing, and, despite having jalapeno in it, it was not spicy.

The wonderfully fried Brussels Sprouts were a different take on the veggie in that they were served in a spicy honey. The requisite crispy pancetta was there for the savouriness, but the heat and the sugar was unique. Most other restaurants avoid the sweet route with Brussels sprouts whereas vivo jumped right in. It totally works, especially when the tiny cabbages are fried so beautifully and the honey plays off the smokiness of the charred leaves.

Gnudi

My pasta dish came out a little later as a main course, but I snacked on the Gnudi between helpings of everything else that we were still working on. It also arrived with a rolled slice of crispy pancetta that I broke apart and stirred into the sauce. The meat provided hits of salt that cut through the otherwise bright and citrusy in-house lemon cream sauce. Green peas and pine nuts brought in texture that balanced out the pillowy pieces of fresh-made toasted ricotta and spinach gnocchi. A thick slice of garlic toast came with the dish, too. I was worried it might be overly crunchy, but it was actually perfect and soft in the middle, making it the ideal vessel for sopping up any leftover sauce.

In the end, I didn’t have anything to worry about with vivo Ristorante. The service was attentive and caring; they went out of their way to make things right. Sure, they have some poor reviews online. Yet, I think most of them were from patrons of their other locations who expected the same sort of menu and upscale quality they were used to. They didn’t realize that the new vivo Ristorante Windermere was aiming to be more relaxed with a very unpretentious menu. It’s not five-star dining by any means, but the food is affordable and satisfying nonetheless.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Situation Brewing

The interior of Situation Brewing.

Often times, when we’re driving by Whyte Avenue, we pass Situation Brewing along Gateway Boulevard and see patrons enjoying drinks and food behind their big glass windows or on their sidewalk patio. I’d only been once before, but it was at least a couple of years ago, so it’s been on my list to revisit for a while.

 

On the weekend, Kirk and I decided to make it our stop for date night. We arrived at around 6:30pm on the Saturday and found it to be surprisingly empty. There were other customers, yet it was by no means full, although it did get busier later into the evening. Still, with the few groups near us, it was noisy. The surrounding glass, flat walls, and open ceiling created a lot of echo. If you’re loud or with people who can project their voices, it’s fine; however, for anyone else who might be hard of hearing or who prefers not to have to yell across the table, you may want to seek out an alternative.

It took a few minutes for our server to greet us, but once he did, he was quite attentive, checking on us regularly without being intrusive. Kirk was trying to be good before the wedding, so he skipped on the beer, but I ordered a pint of the Salty Señorita Kettle Sour ($9). I always find that Situation Brewing does sours really well. There is the tartness that hits the tongue, but it doesn’t linger. It subsides fairly fast to reveal the other flavours in the beer at the back of the throat. This one was no different.

For our food, we shared an order of the Brussels Sprouts & Cauliflower ($15). A mix of the veggies were sauteed in garlic butter and topped with shaved Parmesan. Personally, I thought that the level of garlic was perfect as it added the right amount of spice. The cheese brought in some extra salt and nuttiness. We would have liked for the sprouts and florets to have more char though; they weren’t exactly crispy enough, otherwise. I also found that the price was rather high considering the size of the dish. With only about five pieces of cauliflower and four whole sprouts, it didn’t feel worth the cost.

Our handheld entrees fared better with both Kirk’s The Big Stitch ($18) and my Lamb Burger ($17) satisfying our appetites. Both of us opted to stick with the house-cut fries as our accompanying side. Those were prepared to a beautiful golden yellow colour with a nice crunchy exterior giving way to a soft center. They were also lightly seasoned with spice that provided a hint of heat on the palate.

The Big Stitch is a burger that consists of a seven ounce patty of beef and boar topped with thick cut bacon, grainy dijon mustard, fig ketchup, lettuce, tomato, and cheddar between a brioche bun. The bun held together well until the last bite (it’s the worst when your bun falls apart). I had a couple mouthfuls of Kirk’s meal and it was tasty even though the patty was drier than both of us would have liked. Cooked until well done, the meat was more of a brown-grey than reddish brown in colour. The flavour from the char was good though and the fixings were appropriate. It’s also a hefty burger that fills you up.

I thought that my six ounce Lamb Burger could have used some extra feta cheese and the cucumber, mint, and pickled onion relish, but I really enjoyed the taste. It was refreshing and light, which is perfect for a summer meal. The bursts of juice from the cucumber gave the meat some succulence. The patty was also charred well and the combination of lamb and boar provided a decent ratio of lean to fat while also cutting the gaminess of the lamb that some people (excluding me) don’t like.

We were too full to grab dessert on this occasion, but we’ll certainly be back to try more at Situation Brewing, including happy hour. Next time, we’ll probably attempt to visit at a quieter time of day and also ask to be seated away from the larger tables, so it won’t be as noisy and we can converse more easily. Otherwise, Situation is an awesome pub with a satisfactory menu and a great selection of their own house brews.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: MEAT

Our shared platter of food at MEAT.

I’ll be the first to admit that, with all of the restaurant offerings in Edmonton, it often takes me a while before I revisit places. Even if I absolutely loved it, I’m more prone to try something new (that’s how I keep this blog going) rather than returning to the same spot over and over again, especially when I have to watch my spending.

For that reason, I hadn’t been back to MEAT for a few years. Yet, when a friend of Kirk’s was in town last week and he had this on his list, I jumped at the chance to go there. I’m a big fan of barbecue and it turns out he was, too. Although, I’d go so far as to say that he’s a connoisseur and I am not.

The interior of MEAT.

When we arrived on the Wednesday night, the eatery was jam packed with people, and even with rain storms brewing, patrons were willing to take tables on the (covered) outdoor patio. The wait was probably about thirty minutes, but it went by pretty quickly.

My Beets by Sinden Sour from Town Square Brewing.

Upon being seated at one of the longer communal tables, one of the managers actually came over to inform us that our server was a bit behind with the crowd that evening, so he offered to grab our drinks himself. We appreciated that all hands were on deck with their staff to ensure that service was still smooth and as prompt as possible. The guys each ordered pints of Blindman IPA ($8) and I opted for a can of the Beets by Sinden Sour from Town Square Brewing ($9.50).

The MEAT menus.

For our food, we shared several items between us: one pound of Beef Brisket ($26), a full rack of pork BBQ Ribs ($18), their featured Beef Ribs ($20), small Garlic Fries ($6), large Brussels Sprouts ($12), small Mac & Cheese ($7), and a Pickle ($1). Sadly, we were told that the Cornbread Skillet was sold out when we put in our order; however, later in the evening, we saw that they did have them available once the kitchen was able to make more.

Brussels Sprouts

I’m really not a traditional pickle person, so I didn’t eat it myself. Nevertheless, the guys seemed to enjoy it a lot. The pickle was also quite massive considering it was just a dollar, so that was a decent value. Our other veggie dish of Brussels Sprouts was alright. Personally, I love the miniature cabbage-like greens, but I find that they’re best when pan-fried or roasted to get that crunchy outer char. Here at MEAT, they shred the Brussels sprouts to turn it into more of a slaw and it has a sort of buttery flavour. It kind of became a bit one note after a few mouthfuls.

Garlic Fries

The Mac & Cheese was good though. The spiral cavatappi noodles were well-coated in a creamy, mild cheese sauce. I only wish that we had gone with the large over the small because the latter is pretty tiny, at least when splitting between a trio. Hands down the best side we tried ended up being the Garlic Fries. These were awesomely crispy and every bite was infused with the pungent herb. I rued the fact that we only ordered a small for that as well.

When it came to the meat, there was certainly no shortage. Our server nodded feverishly when we asked if the amount of protein we’d selected would be enough for the three of us, and she was right.

Beginning with the Beef Ribs, these were my least favourite. The meat itself was cooked to a nice medium finish and was relatively tender while retaining a delicate balance with a simple seasoning of salt, but there was fat that hadn’t fully rendered and not enough meat on the bone. It also didn’t have much burn or char on the edges to give it that smoky taste that you hope for with barbecued beef.

The larger Beef Ribs on top.

The smaller pork BBQ Ribs fared much better. I still didn’t think there was enough meat on them either, but there were certainly no large pieces of fat remaining. Every bone could be polished off clean and the char was superb. I probably could have eaten two whole racks of just the BBQ ribs. Messy, but worth it.

Slices of Beef Brisket hidden beneath all the ribs.

If you want straight up meat, the Beef Brisket is the way to go. The pink smoke ring on the outer edge of the brisket wasn’t extremely deep, but it was very even all the way through and the beef was succulent. Flavourwise, the smokiness wasn’t as pronounced as we would have expected, but that’s what their sauces are for. The guys particularly liked the spicy and bourbon sauces. I went for the mustard and cherry ones, which added some heat and sweetness.

Pecan Pie

To finish off our meal, we shared the Pecan Pie ($10) for dessert. It tasted freshly baked with crunchy pecans and a smooth, buttery filling. I really would have preferred a cold scoop of maple ice cream to go with it instead the lighter whipped cream. But, overall, this was a pleasant way to complete our time at MEAT.

The venue gets rather loud when it’s full, yet with a number of gluten-free options for diners and excellent service, it’s a prime spot for group gatherings. There’s such a communal spirit at MEAT. Everyone there seemed to be having a fantastic time catching up with friends and family, and there’s nothing better than convening over good food.

Edmonton Business Review: Cafe Lavi

Cafe Lavi has a cute little outdoor patio.

It’s all too easy to frequent coffee shop conglomerates like Starbucks. They’re practically on every corner and, when you can’t think of anywhere else to go, it becomes the fallback choice. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s important to remember that there are many locally owned businesses that have similar offerings without giant corporations behind them. Those are the ones that we should be supporting.

This weekend, we knew we’d be downtown for an event, so it made sense to double up on the fun by making additional plans with a friend. It’d been a while since we’d had a chance to meet; a casual get together over caffeine seemed ideal. My relaxed go to spot for a latte is usually DOSC, but this time, I wanted to try somewhere new. When I did a search, I was reminded about Cafe Lavi.

Located at 103 Street and 100 Avenue, it’s actually ridiculously close to my office. Yet, I’d never been there before. Reviews were high on Google, so I deemed it the perfect pick. The cafe itself is housed in the lower level of an older brick facade building, which may make you think that it’d be dark and secluded; however, that’s far from the case. They’ve got a lovely little gated outdoor patio, and inside, the wall of windows actually brings in plenty of natural light. It’s a fairly large space, too, with seating for about 30 people, including a cozy nook with a couch and a couple of armchairs.

The drink menu is pretty succinct and they have a few pastries on offer.

When we arrived mid-afternoon, it was quiet. Only one other customer was hanging out at the coffee bar chatting with the staff member who greeted us as we walked up to the counter. Cafe Lavi sticks to a small menu with more basic drinks: espresso, macchiato, americano, cappucino, flat white, latte, mocha, and cold brew. For tea-based beverages, they offer chai latte, london fog, and matcha latte. Drinks start at $3.25 and go up to $6.50, although I should note that the listed prices already include tax. Almond, coconut, and soy milk substitutes are available for an extra charge of 50 cents. They also had a few baked goods that looked quite delicious, but I wasn’t a fan of the fact that they were left uncovered at all times.

Ultimately, I opted for a large Chai Latte ($5.25). It was served in a to go cup because their to stay mugs are all one size, closer to the small. The latte was fine, but it wasn’t anything special. Literally a tea bag steeped into water and milk. I really was hoping for something more homemade from a neighbourhood cafe.

On the other hand, Kirk decided to cool off with a large Cold Brew ($4.75). It was recommended by the barista over a regular iced coffee for the greater intensity of flavour. A little room was left in the to go cup for Kirk to add in milk. What I liked about this beverage was the option for water ice cubes or coffee ice cubes. I’ve never gone to a coffee shop and been asked that question, so it was a first and really genius. Coffee ice cubes will melt, adding to the overall coffee taste as opposed to the other, which would water the drink down. I definitely think more cafes should start doing this.

Sadly, our time at Cafe Lavi was cut short — we continued on at Board N Brew just a block away — as they closed an hour earlier than normal (Saturdays they are usually open until 5:00pm) to accommodate a private party (it’s honestly an adorable space for an event). Still, I’d happily go back here. While the drinks didn’t wow me as much as I would have liked, the space, ambiance, and friendly service make it worth the visit. And, next time, I’ll have to try a Matcha Latte instead. Who knows? That might be where they excel.

Edmonton Mini Restaurant Review: Malt & Mortar

Malt & Mortar’s logo painted on their exposed brick wall.

My friends are moving to Vancouver this week (sadness). When they invited Kirk and me to join them for a going away gathering at Malt & Mortar earlier this month, we made sure to go. I’d never been to the Whyte Ave venue before, so I was excited to check it out.

We arrived a little late that Saturday night, and we found them hovering by the large center bar. The reservation made for a dozen people still wasn’t ready. Thankfully, it didn’t take too much longer before they had things set. We were led towards the back of the restaurant where there was a long raised table that could accommodate our group.

Malt & Mortar has a cool vibe. Slightly vintage with its exposed brick walls, wood plank ceiling and painted logo, while keeping things modern with more industrial black piping, venting, beams and lighting. The space was larger than I had realized as well. A variety of leather upholstered booths were available to fit parties of any size.

It was very loud though, making it difficult to hear past the few tablemates who surrounded me. I noticed that a handful of speakers were hanging directly above us and pretty much along the whole perimeter of the place. With numerous glass windows and hard brick, sound couldn’t be absorbed, so it just echoed all over. If you plan to go there and are hoping for a quieter visit, I’d suggest a weekday or later in the evenings. That, or try to get one of the smaller round booths along the back of the eatery. They kind of have a pergola over them and there are no speakers right nearby, so I suspect that it won’t be as noisy in those spots.

My other recommendation to Malt & Mortar is that they don’t have enough screens listing their beers on tap (I believe there are about 16 in rotation at one time). There was only one on our side of the restaurant and it was right over my head. I had to turn my body around and crane my neck just to read it, so I was surprised that they didn’t have another set up on the facing wall considering that there is plenty of space to put it.

Lastly, I understand putting bathrooms (really clean, by the way) in the basement, but I don’t quite believe that establishments where a lot of alcohol is consumed are the ideal businesses for bathrooms where stairs are involved. I thought the same thing of Craft Beer Market and I think the same thing here. There were many patrons later in the night who seemed like they wouldn’t make it down the stairs without falling. Otherwise, the design of the venue is pretty good.

Kirk had a few pints of beer and the Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich.

On to the drinks and food though! Similar to Beer Revolution, they update their rotating draughts on the TV screens with soon to be tapped kegs listed at the bottom. The selection was decent with a heavy emphasis on local breweries; most pints are priced at around $8.50 each. My personal preference for beer tends to be light, crisp, and fruity. Kirk leans more towards IPAs with hoppiness. That evening, I took a liking to the current sour from Situation Brewing. I also tried the Malt & Mortar Saturday special, a two-ounce Back Porch Tea ($10) made with gin, peach sweet tea, and house-made sour. Admittedly, it was a strong cocktail, but after a big squeeze of lemon juice, it settled and was relatively refreshing.

To eat, Kirk went for the Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich ($17), which was praised by one of our friends. Stacked with coleslaw, pickles, and two pieces of battered and fried chicken breast covered in a Gochujang glaze, it was juicy, savoury, a little bit sweet, and slightly spicy. The whole thing was a huge mess though. The bun fell apart less than half way through and Kirk finished it off using his utensils. For his side, he stuck to the standard fries, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper.

I tried out the Back Porch Tea and the West Coast Power Bowl with added Tuna Poke.

I decided to go a “healthier” route by ordering the West Coast Power Bowl ($17) with added Tuna Poke ($7). Honestly, the cost once you tack on a protein is kind of high, but the bowl was huge. It felt like I was barely making a dent in the dish, and at the end, I was sort of struggling to finish it. I didn’t have enough left to pack it home, yet it wasn’t a small enough portion to toss it out. I hate to waste food, so I persisted. Still, it was tasty minus the cilantro used in the poke. It’s not an ingredient listed anywhere on the menu when describing the tuna, so I didn’t bother asking if there would be any cilantro. Had I known, I would probably have asked them to mix the poke without the herb or selected a different meat. I’m not sure why cilantro is used in everything nowadays when it’s common knowledge that there are many people who don’t have the taste buds to appreciate it, so all I ask is that they give a warning about it in advance.

In any case, I sucked it up, picking out the cilantro where possible and just eating it when I couldn’t. On a positive note, the flavour was somewhat masked by the rest of the ingredients in the West Coast Power Bowl. The base was an organic quinoa tossed in a citrus vinaigrette and then combined with corn, black beans, avocado, cucumber, pea shoots, and pickled carrots. There was tons of texture going on and a jolt of heat on the palate from the delicious avocado wasabi crema. Not mentioned on the menu was the use of aburaage, which are thin slices of deep-fried tofu, usually used to make inari sushi. Those were cut into smaller pieces and added to the dish for sweetness. I really enjoyed having that in the mix.

After a few hours hanging out, we called it a night. Considering the size of our group and the staff working that Saturday evening, I thought the service was alright. We all managed to get our beverages and food without much issue (we did get one wrong order of beer, but we also got an extra beer on the house), and we really liked the space, especially when it died down later so we could hear again. Overall, the food was well-made (corn dogs don’t smell better when they’re plated pretty though) and filling, just maybe a tad too pricey regarding the entrées. Other than that, we’ll definitely be back. It’s a fun spot with a casual, convivial atmosphere.