Edmonton Restaurant Review: Nomiya

Nomiya’s place setting.

I’d eaten sushi and ramen at Nomiya in the past, but I’ll admit that it’d been a long time since my last visit. The Ellerslie location just celebrated their fifth anniversary though, and that prompted me to go back.

I certainly don’t like how tiny this place is as it feels very cramped (their other shop on Calgary Trail is a lot more spacious), and I also thought that much of the serving staff was rather slow with everything (except for one who was working her butt off and should have been running the show).

At the very least, once our order was placed, all of the food was quickly prepared. It was especially fast sitting at the bar since the chefs could just hand the dishes right to us and we didn’t have to wait for someone to bring everything over.

Nomiya has a pretty extensive list of options that range from appetizers to noodles to sushi. Yet, Kirk and I stuck mostly with classic sushi menu items as those are the best to gauge the quality in comparison to similar restaurants.

Salmon Sashimi

I started with Salmon Sashimi (5 pieces for about $12…honestly, I can’t really recall the exact price). These looked and tasted fresh. They were thickly cut with a slightly fatty texture, and there was little to no tendon to be found either. The sashimi totally hit the spot for me and helped to quell my sushi craving a bit.

Next up was the California Roll ($9.45). Kirk always gets these. They seemed to be decent. Yet, I noticed that they stuck with imitation crab meat rather than real crab. The avocado was also small towards the ends of the rolls, so the kitchen isn’t super consistent when making maki. Kirk’s other pick was the Dynamite Roll ($12.95). These were actually delicious. What took them up a notch was the use of made-to-order shrimp tempura, meaning these were warm. The shrimp itself was still juicy, too.

Chop Chop Rolls ($11.95) are one of my go to dishes. With a good ratio of rice to filling, these ones didn’t disappoint. The avocado was prominent and I liked that the scallops were mixed with tobiko in Japanese mayo to give added texture. To change things up, for my second choice, I went with the more modern Spicy Phili Roll ($12.95). This one came wrapped in coloured rice paper and filled with cream cheese, avocado, cucumber, spicy sauce, and salmon. While I appreciated the contrast of flavours on the palate, I wasn’t too happy with the abundance of rice as there was away more of that than any other ingredient.

Daily Drink Specials

Nomiya managed to provide a passable sushi meal with hints of greatness on a very busy night. Nevertheless, for about $80 including tax and tip, I think that there are probably better choices out there. Granted, I’m not one to pass up happy hour deals, and they do seem to have an okay selection for that, so I’ll return to try items from that menu sooner than later.

Edmonton Business Review: Square 1 Coffee

The ordering counter is situated at the back of the cafe.

Kirk and I randomly came across Square 1 Coffee in southwest Edmonton about year ago. It’s situated on 15 Fairway Drive just north of the Derrick Golf & Winter Club. We had ordered a pizza from Stone & Wheel next door, and we needed a place to kill time while we waited. As it turns out, both the pizzeria and the cafe share the same ownership. But, for whatever reason, the coffee shop is huge and the pizza place is not (strictly takeout).

As much as I loved the cinnamon knots at Square 1 Coffee and the spaciousness of the venue — a variety of seating including couches, tables, and even a small patio — I kind of forgot about it. That was until we happened across a second address inside the EIA outlet that opened in May. Tucked away towards the back end of a local business-oriented area of the mall, we found ourselves snacking on a sandwich and muffin to help energize us. By doing so, it helped to remind me of their original location.

A packed house and live music on a Thursday night.

Fast forward to this August when we had several meetings with photographers for our wedding next year, and Square 1 Coffee popped into mind as a great spot to meet. At least, it would have been perfect without live music going on. Their website is still not fully up and running, and none of their social media pages had indicated any events, so we showed up on a Thursday night to find a band playing. The place was packed with drop-in performers and friends of those artists there to support. It was actually really cool to see that community come together. However, it was not conducive to having a decent conversation. In that particular case, we ended up purchasing our drinks to go (a yummy chai latte for $5). All was not lost though. The three of us found a bench outside where we hung out and chatted for a couple of hours.

Wedding planning and matcha lattes go together well.

Another meeting that was planned in advance had us arrive to find it much quieter on a Tuesday evening, allowing us to sit at a table indoors while we enjoyed a scratch made pecan pie and a matcha latte ($5.50). The service was friendly and you could tell that this was clearly a place where regulars come in and out all the time (a la Friends).

Square 1 Coffee is certainly a cute cafe with decent beverages and food. I just think that they need to keep on top of their presence on social media or online. If they can finish revamping their website or post more regularly on Facebook and Instagram, patrons can make better informed decisions on whether or not the shop is the right place for them to be on any given day. If you do plan to go there for a study session or a meeting, I recommend phoning ahead to ask if they have any live events happening first. Otherwise, you may be in for a surprise.

Edmonton Bakery Review: Ohana Donuterie

A custom sign in their space.

I’ve been aware of Ohana Donuterie for a long time. Their business started with a food truck, and, while I enjoy those, I’m simply not that keen on tracking them down. Therefore, when I heard that they had opened a permanent location in the spring of this year, I knew I had to go. It took a few months, but come summertime when I was around Old Strathcona for the Fringe Festival, it seemed the perfect time to visit.

Kirk and I made our way over from Whyte Avenue to the door of Ohana Donuterie. It’s tucked to the side of a strip mall on 103 Street and 80 Avenue with its entrance facing a back alley that overlooks a McD’s. In other words, it’s unassuming and easy to miss unless you’re really looking for it.

On the plus side, as soon as you step indoors, you’re welcomed by a bright, spacious interior full of beachy colours. There are plenty of tables and seats, and there are even racks for people to hang their longboards and bikes. A chalkboard gives a glimpse of exciting flavours to come, yet, in reality, there were only a few specialty donuts available that day. Although those seemed enticing, I was more interested in trying their classics.

This window provides a glimpse into the making of a malasada donut.

If you don’t already know, the owners of Ohana Donuterie were inspired on a trip to Hawaii to bring malasada donuts to Edmonton. These are made with hand-rolled double-raised yeast dough. Every single one is made to order, so they’re incredibly fresh. There’s even a window that looks right into the kitchen, so you can watch them make your treats right then and there.

Kirk and I split three donuts (it pretty much ended up being our dinner that night): Original — Cinnamon Sugar — with Coconut Cream, Chocolate Dip with Vanilla Custard, and Vanilla Dip with Chocolate Custard. Since these were all filled, they were $2.75 a piece. Specialty donuts are $3.25 and unfilled donuts are $2.25 each. To drink, I opted for a House Lemonade ($2.75), which can be left as lemon or flavoured with blueberry or mango. I asked the employee what he recommended and he gladly told me blueberry coconut. It’s not an option that is listed, but it was his personal favourite and I said okay. Kirk went for a medium cup of plain old brewed coffee ($2.65).

Our trio of donuts.

Before paying, I was asked if I’d like to sign up for their rewards program. For every dollar spent, a point is earned. Once you’ve collected 75 points, you’ll get a credit of $5 to use on your next purchase. They also make note of your birthday, which I’m assuming leads to something special to celebrate. I kind of doubt I’ll be there often enough to earn points quickly; however, I figured it didn’t hurt to join.

I’d estimate that it took about five to ten minutes for our donuts to come out. They were still warm and the fillings were spilling back out onto the plates. As a reminder, if you plan to take the donuts home, it’s recommended not to order the cream fillings. They tend to melt inside the warm dough and may disappear before you’ve had a chance to eat them. The custards are much thicker and will last even if packed to go.

Chocolate Dip with Vanilla Custard in the front with the Vanilla Dip in the back.

I’ll start with my least favourite of the donuts, the Vanilla Dip. The consistency of the yeast donut itself was nice. Fluffy, yet still dense enough to hold up against the heavier filling. The abundant chocolate custard was delicious, almost reminding me of a creamy pudding. What I didn’t like was that the vanilla glaze kept cracking and falling off the donut onto the table, so I lost a lot of that flavour in the end.

The Chocolate Dip fared much better. I don’t know what the difference is in the glaze used to make the chocolate versus vanilla. All I can say is that the chocolate never cracked. It was smoother and not as dry, so it stayed together with each bite. The vanilla custard inside the donut had the same texture as the chocolate version, just with a less intense flavour profile. Chocolate and vanilla are a classic combo and it works well here.

Original with Coconut Cream

Nevertheless, our top choice turned out to be the Original. If Kirk had his way he wouldn’t even have bothered with a filling. But, I argue that the coconut cream was an ideal pairing with the cinnamon sugar. Overall, not too sweet, the cream was light and airy, and the little bit of crunch from the granular sugar tied it all together. I could have eaten a half dozen of those on my own, if we hadn’t already had a large brunch earlier in the day.

Blueberry Coconut House Lemonade

As for the drinks, I can never comment much about the coffee anywhere since I don’t drink it. I did enjoy the Blueberry Coconut House Lemonade though. It felt like such a summery beverage and it quenched my thirst on what would be the last weekend of the summer.

Ohana Donuterie isn’t going crazy outside the box of what we’re familiar with when it comes to donuts in this city. After all, it’s still a yeast-based concoction. What I think changes the game is that every donut is made to order, so you’re never going to get one that’s been sitting around in a showcase all day long. It’s freshly fried, filled, and glazed or sugar coated on the spot, and that is what makes all the difference when it comes to overall quality.

Edmonton Things To Do: Art Gallery of Alberta Adult Drop-In Studio

Tons of Ideas by Vera Gartley

Earlier this summer, I was making plans with a friend of mine. Due to scheduling conflicts, it was somewhat difficult to find a time that worked for both of us to get together. Futhermore, I didn’t want to do our typical thing of just going for dinner or doing a Paint Nite event. So, I started to scour the internet for ideas of what else we could do in Edmonton.

Honestly, I don’t even know how I eventually ended up on the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA) website, but I did. What I found is that they actually offer a weekly Adult Drop-In Studio every Wednesday night. While that particular day of the week didn’t work for her, I was intrigued and I wanted to check out a few of those sessions for myself. I gathered other friends of mine and I made it to three different classes over the span of September.

The first one I went to, I phoned ahead to reserve spaces for me and my friends because I wasn’t sure what kind of attendance to expect (there is a maximum of 20 spaces). You are able to hold spots the day of the drop-in, but you do have to provide payment info at that time. You can phone it in and pick up the tickets at guest services upon arrival at the gallery, or you can walk-in and pay in person.

Tickets are $18 plus tax per person and that includes all of the materials that you’ll be using. The price point is stellar for a two hour activity, especially when compared to the majority of other creative events running throughout the city.

As it turns out, reservations weren’t really necessary. Only half a dozen people showed up for printmaking the first night. Initially, there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of direction. The website had indicated that we would be doing lino carving with a theme of cityscapes. Yet, it pretty much turned into a freestyle situation in that we weren’t at all limited. Everyone was allowed to design whatever they wanted, and guidance only came into play once we started doing more of the printmaking itself.

In fact, I loved printmaking so much that I made my way to Delta Art & Drafting Supply that weekend in order to pick up all of the materials needed to do the same thing at home (I have a couple of special projects planned). Thankfully, there was a sale going on.

The following week, my colleague and I ventured out into the cold to make it to the AGA for their Floral Studies drop-in. We arrived a little bit late, but, once we paid, we managed to catch the group of about ten people as they were heading up to the galleries. The instructor for the night wanted us to take inspiration from an exhibit called Vanitas by artist Samantha Walrod. She turned the RBC Work Room (a studio-like residence space) from an empty gallery into several pieces of finished art that explored the idea of life and loss using floral imagery and the passing of time. Her work utilizes layering through multiple mediums like collage, ink and paint.

I was kind of hoping that we would be doing something similar to what we’d seen. Instead, the focus was more on learning to work with chalk pastels and acrylic paints together. Not quite what I expected. Still, I managed to learn some new ways of applying colour and paint to paper, as well as creating my own colours using pigments from the chalk pastels and mixing it with the acrylics.

Finished Japanese stab bounded books.

The final session that I made it to was about book binding. I failed to take photos during this one, but I do have a picture of the finished products. We were taught how to put our own travel journals together using just paper, a couple of binder clips, a push pin, a needle and some thread. We used a simple Japanese stab process, which is easily searchable on Google or YouTube. After we each completed two books, we took them up to the James Wilson Morris gallery where we practiced our sketching techniques (i.e. shading, blind contour, gesture, etc.).

All of these turned out to be fun in their own unique ways. I’ve got my eye on a silk screening class in early-November, but in the meantime, they have a variety of other drop-ins like plaster casting or slow stitch through October. Additionally, if you show up to the gallery early, you can take advantage of the All Access Evenings. Those happen every Tuesday and Wednesday from 5pm to 8pm and it grants all patrons entrance to the exhibits for free.

The Art Gallery of Alberta is definitely making an effort to increase the accessibility and affordability of art and art-related activities. Don’t miss out. Sure, not every workshop is going to call to you, but in the scope of a year, there’s bound to be something that will get your creative juices flowing. Keep an eye on the AGA calendar and carve out some time at this local gem of an institution.

Versus: Edmonton Food Delivery Services

The four current food delivery platforms in Edmonton.

Admittedly, I wasn’t the first to jump on the food delivery band wagon. For a while, I was aware of Just Eat or Nomme, but I never made the foray into using their services until players like SkipTheDishes, Uber Eats, DoorDash and Foodora joined the game in Edmonton. I dabbled with them just a little bit starting in 2015, and slowly increased my usage over the past few years.

Nowadays, UK-based Just Eat has actually bought out SkipTheDishes, originally a Winnipeg-born enterprise, in order to expand their territory. However, instead of shifting business over to Just Eat, they’ve kept the SkipTheDishes brand, continuing to offer delivery under that umbrella. Nomme, on the other hand, has joined forces with food ordering platform DoorDash, headquartered out of San Francisco. Users of Nomme are now redirected to the DoorDash site.

That recently left me with four apps to test. You may ask why I decided I needed to do a compare and contrast between them. The answer is that exceedingly worse service and one bad experience in particular with SkipTheDishes made me wonder if the others were also declining.

Here’s the background. At work on a Thursday (when we got our first official snowfall of the season), I convinced our manager to order our team pizza. He told us to arrange it and we could expense our lunch. Instead of getting the typical Pizza 73 or Panago, we decided to try Famoso Jasper Ave (just a 6 minute drive away). They deliver exclusively through SkipTheDishes, so I input our selections and submitted our order by 11:24am. The tracking information updated and provided a very standard expected delivery time of 30 to 40 minutes. Great.

About 30 minutes later, I received an automated message from SkipTheDishes informing me that there was high demand for delivery that day and a delay was expected. Fine. Next thing I know, another 5 to 10 minutes go by and I get a phone call from Famoso. Their culinary supervisor wanted to inform me that our food was prepared 20 minutes ago, but no courier had shown up. I let him know that we did get a notification from SkipTheDishes, so I was aware, and we were willing to wait it out. After all, how much longer could it take?

Really? Almost an hour into our wait and still another 75 minutes to go…at least?

Well, I pulled up the tracking information at 12:10pm. It showed a new delivery time of 75 minutes and it was stuck at “Famoso is preparing your order.” I knew that was a lie. I had spoken to someone at Famoso and they clearly had our food ready to go, which meant the problem didn’t lie with them. What’s most interesting is that I’d been watching the courier name change over and over again over the past 50 minutes. At least a dozen or more drivers had been assigned at this point. I was thinking, what gives?

Most emails sent to businesses typically aren’t responded to for at least 24 hours. So, I figured that my best bet was to try to reach out to SkipTheDishes for help through their app chat function. The problem with using chat is that it takes you out of the tracker and eventually, if you exit the chat function for too long, it boots you back out and the message you typed disappears. Should you attempt to begin another chat, you go to the back of the queue once more. On this particular day, there were around 160 people ahead of me all three times I tried to contact someone that way. This went on until about 12:50pm. That’s when I decided a phone call might be best. I ended up on hold for over 30 minutes. If you’re counting, we were pretty much at the 2 hour mark.

In the meantime, I had phoned Famoso’s culinary supervisor back. He let me know that there was no courier in sight and he felt terrible about sending off cold food to us by the time a driver would be available. I asked if there was any way to cancel the order with SkipTheDishes. He was a bit apprehensive at first because a cancellation placed on my end meant they’d still get charged by SkipTheDishes on their end. I didn’t want that to happen. It wasn’t Famoso’s fault and they shouldn’t have to take a hit because SkipTheDishes couldn’t meet the demand. Ultimately, Famoso phoned in the cancellation for me. I was grateful that they managed to get through to the restaurant customer service line much quicker than I could get a hold of anyone.

I was eventually phoned by a SkipTheDishes agent (at the same time someone finally picked up that 30 minute call I was on). My order was stricken and a refund would be issued to my credit card. Okay. No food yet, but I was going to get my money back. Famoso was nice enough to remake our order on the spot. We ended up sending a team member to pick up our pizzas from the restaurant and we paid them directly. The last I had seen on the SkipTheDishes tracker before everything was cancelled was that it would be at least another 40 to 50 minutes. If that was the case, we probably wouldn’t have had our food for another hour or more.

Speaking to the SkipTheDishes agent, they really had no explanation for why this happened. All I can chalk it up to is that they’re expanding much too quickly without the necessary structure in place. Colleagues and friends that I’ve discussed this with have also noted more frequent delays with the service at SkipTheDishes, so I don’t think it’s uncommon. Is it always as awful as this incident? I certainly hope no one else has had to deal with this.

I followed up with SkipTheDishes by email the next day, and didn’t receive an answer from them until a week later. That was only after I prompted them a second time. It was then that I realized they never issued a refund to my credit card, but they actually only provided me with a Skip Credit for the Famoso order. It took approximately another week for them to reply and rectify that. There was no way I was going to have my hard earned money tethered to SkipTheDishes when they hadn’t done anything to deserve it. The way that this was handled, I can’t say I’m likely to utilize SkipTheDishes anymore. Not soon, anyway. My confidence in them is shattered, which is unfortunate.

That’s when I decided to test run the other players in the city. Next up was DoorDash. I placed my order on another particularly wet and miserable day. It went in at 12:10pm at the peak of lunch service. I had selected Joey Restaurant Bell Tower to order food from, which is actually much closer than Famoso to our office (just 2 minutes by car), so I took that into account. Nevertheless, it didn’t matter. Everything was prepared and delivered to my door within 30 minutes. DoorDash had no problem assigning a courier to bring my food to me. It was quick and simple. Their app is designed to keep you up-to-date through the whole process using text messages.

DoorDash is probably the next largest service available in Edmonton. For quite a time, they were the only one to offer delivery from Splash Poke. Although, recently Splash Poke decided to join SkipTheDishes, too, due to overwhelming demand from customers. Thankfully, for now, they are sticking with both platforms. Had they opted to leave DoorDash, I would have been utterly heartbroken. Not just because they’re one of my favourites, but because DoorDash has a more reasonable delivery fee of $1.99 versus $3.45 between my office and their 109 Street location. The only downside to DoorDash is that they don’t have as many restaurants available in the southwest corner of the city, so my options are kind of limited when I’m home. But, downtown workers and residents have a lot to choose from.

Foodora’s app is similar to the rest. Unlike SkipTheDishes, they made it in about 30 minutes.

Foodora was test case number three. This is a business based out of Berlin. They expanded into Edmonton last year, basically taking over the social media pages of local influencers. Couriers carry bright pink delivery packs and can arrive either by car or bike. Their branding was definitely on point. But, I’ve noticed that they haven’t grown as quickly as the other delivery services. Regardless, they have some decent options for the downtown area (don’t bother if you’re far south as they don’t do delivery there; the only choice is to pre-order for pick up).

My order from Nosh Cafe on 124 Street was placed at 11:30am. This was, thus far, the furthest location from my office with an estimated 9 minute drive. Again, distance didn’t seem to matter. My lunch showed up at our office doors by noon and I was eating butter chicken at my desk five minutes later. No issues with the food or the courier.

A few days later, I put Uber Eats up to the challenge. I will state that I had fully intended to order my lunch from Let’s Grill Sushi & Izakaya (107 Street and Jasper Avenue); however, come time to order, their business sat greyed out and listed as “unavailable” in the app. I thought it was odd since it had previously listed an opening of 11:30am (so I waited), but I let it go when it didn’t work and I found an alternative. My second choice was Parlour Italian Kitchen (108 Street and 103 Avenue), which had a drive time of 4 to 5 minutes through Google Maps. Holding true to what I expected, Uber Eats followed suit with DoorDash and Foodora by delivering my Veal Parmigiana at 12:07pm. A total of 27 minutes, 10 minutes less than the initial estimate.

My only complaint was that the item the restaurant prepared was incorrect. Parlour had made a similar, but different dish off of the menu. Additionally, the veal was so tough that I found it to be entirely inedible and had to throw the whole piece away. I noted these issues with the food in the app. By the next day, I had received responses from their help desk, including an apology and a notice that the order had been refunded in full directly to my credit card. I didn’t have to fight them about it, they simply did it. The customer service from Uber Eats far exceeded my experience with SkipTheDishes the week prior.

I should also mention that Uber Eats doesn’t ask for a courier tip on top of the standard delivery fees prior to arrival. It’s optional to add one after your food has arrived, but it’s not mandatory. I suspect they get paid pretty well from their cut of the delivery fees alone since the driver said he was happy to have so many orders coming through that day and I hadn’t even tipped him yet. Also, on occasion, Uber Eats offers some great promos. You just have to keep an eye out for them. The following week, I happened to be looking on the app in the morning when I noticed that they were advertising free burgers from McDonald’s. I managed to snag one of the limited codes and I got to try the Creamy Black Pepper Angus burger for just $2.09 after fees. It made for a decent, inexpensive lunch that day, so it can certainly pay off to keep the Uber Eats platform as well.

I know that this was a very lengthy post, but I felt like it had to be written. I’m no newspaper, and I’m well aware that I didn’t test all of the platforms multiple times in a short span to see if service with each is consistent to what I mentioned above (sorry, I’m not rich enough to order delivery every day). But, I’ve used all of them long enough to realize that service through SkipTheDishes has been steadily diminishing. I’ve heard horror stories of orders having to be made and remade by restaurants because it sits too long while they’re waiting for a courier to come. So, what are your thoughts? Have any of you experienced the same thing as me? Or, do I have bad luck? So many people seem to be on the SkipTheDishes bandwagon (as seen in a poll published on Splash Poke’s Instagram stories last week), but they put me through the ringer and I just can’t support them like I used to.