Edmonton Restaurant Review: Izakaya O-Tori

Izakaya & Ramen

Last year, Edmonton was abuzz with news of a new Korean-Japanese fusion restaurant called Jang located at 11212 Jasper Avenue. They were getting rave reviews from visitors, and I fully intended on trying it out. But, before I knew it, the eatery had been replaced by a spot called Izakaya O-Tori. Being a fan of Japanese ramen and sharing plates, I decided to drop by during a recent date night.

From what the server told us, it turns out that the business is still run by the same people who launched Jang. They simply opted to change their menu. Because of what is now served, they also chose to rebrand with a different name to better reflect the updated items. Now, Izakaya O-Tori holds more similarities to what you might find at their southside sister restaurant, Menjiro Ramen, just expanded.

Therefore, in addition to the ramen bowls — available with either beef (Gyukotsu; not typically the norm for ramen) or pork (Tonkotsu) broth — you can indulge in yakitori (meat skewers), a variety of waffle fries, a poke bowl, or pressed sushi. Kirk and I both went for some ramen; he ordered the Spicy Gyukotsu ($16) and I went with the Black Garlic Tonkotsu ($14). We also shared the Red Dragon Roll ($17).

Spicy Gyukotsu

I guess the first thing I’ll note is that the Spicy Gyukotsu is somewhat pricey considering the portion size. I don’t think that the bowls are quite as hefty as what you might get at local fave, Tokiwa Ramen, yet it’s more expensive. Kirk also wasn’t super keen on the roast beef that came with it and he thought the broth wasn’t hot enough. On the plus side, I sampled the soup and I found it to be incredibly creamy and rich in flavour with just the right amount of heat on the palate for me.

In comparison, the Black Garlic Tonkotsu broth was also smooth, but felt lighter overall. Packed with umami flavour, the springy noodles married very well with the soup and the huge slice of succulent pork belly. Joined by half of a seasoned egg, bean sprouts, green onion, fungus, and red onion, the bowl provided a landscape of textures that delighted and satisfied. I thought my broth was hot enough, too; however, I’ve never liked my food scalding, so to each their own in that respect.

Despite the tasty ramen, the star of the show really was the Red Dragon Roll, a large maki made with shrimp tempura, cucumber, spicy creamy cheese sauce, ahi tuna, and avocado. It was laid in front of us and then torched at the table until the tops of each piece had been delicately seared. Kirk is slowly coming around with more of the raw fish, so it helps when there’s even a slight bit of cooking applied to sushi. He absolutely loved this dish and told me that he would have been happy to eat the whole thing, if he didn’t have to save some for his better half. Admittedly, I felt the same way.

To finish off our meal, I selected the Matcha Crème Brûlée ($6). The sugar top was caramelized nicely and, once cracked, it gave way to a soft-set pudding-like custard. It was heavily flavoured with green tea, which was perfect. The worst thing is not having a strong enough taste, and thankfully, that wasn’t the case here.

The interior of Izakaya O-Tori

We enjoyed our meal at Izakaya O-Tori. It’s clean, the service is great, the decor is simple, and the food is comforting. The only thing we thought was odd was how empty it was for a Saturday night. Hopefully word gets out about this place. We can never have too many ramen shops in town!

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 Business Review: Made by Marcus

The queue during opening weekend was pretty long.

I’ve been following Made by Marcus on Instagram for at least a couple of years now. Originally based out of Calgary, this beloved local ice cream shop has now made its way north with a back alley store on Whyte Avenue and 104 Street. With infrequent visits south, I never had the opportunity to try Made by Marcus before, so I was happy to learn that the Edmonton location had finally rolled out the welcome mat at the end of June.

The lines were long during their first weekend in business, so I decided to wait a bit before going. Kirk and I actually bought tickets for a Secret Streetcar Show around mid-July, so it made perfect sense to go for a late night ice cream run after the concert. As we turned to enter the alley at 10:00pm in the evening, the bright pink shop at the end of the lane was like a beacon. Although there was a door to the side, no one really used it since the front of the shop was completely open. Surprisingly, it was still busy. The queue didn’t run down the whole alley, but it still snaked through the space and most of the indoor seating was occupied. A few benches were also placed outside to accommodate overflow.

The Made by Marcus menu.

Thankfully, it didn’t take too long before we made it to the counter. With three staff on hand to scoop and another to process payment, there seemed to be a decent rhythm. A kids scoop is $3, a “single” scoop of ice cream is $5 and can be split into two flavours, a “double” scoop is $7 and you can probably choose three flavours, and a flight is four scoops for $9. Waffle cones are an extra dollar each.

Waffle cone makers!

Kirk and I decided to share a flight without any added waffle cones. It took a while for us to pick four out of the dozen plus flavours (I think they usually have even more to choose from), but we eventually got it down to the Lemon Curd Blueberry, Tahini Cookie Dough (Vegan), Moonshine Brown Butter Pecan, and Bananas Foster & Rum Caramel.

The first thing I will say about Made by Marcus ice cream is that the quality is top notch. The flavours are strong and the small batches are extremely creamy and smooth, making for a very rich and decadent dessert. It felt like silk as there was not an ice crystal to be found.

Our ice cream flight includes four flavours for $9.

To be completely honest though, not all of the flavours we chose lived up to my expectations. I was really excited for the Lemon Curd Blueberry, which is a signature flavour. I thought it’d be citrusy, sweet, and refreshing. And, it was a first. The tongue was initially hit with a pop of zest from the lemon curd and sweetness from the cream and blueberry; however, what lingered at the end was an incredibly bitter aftertaste. I truly thought that the Lemon Curd Blueberry would be my favourite, but it ended up dead last.

The Tahini Cookie Dough is a vegan option, so it’s also lactose-intolerant friendly. If you don’t already know what it is, tahini is a spread made from toasted ground sesame seeds. It has a really nutty flavour to it, but it’s not as pronounced as a black sesame ice cream, for example. This was probably one of the more subtle tastes out of the four scoops we got. I didn’t mind the flavour, but I was hoping for more chunks of cookie dough throughout.

Clockwise from the top left: Tahini Cookie Dough, Lemon Curd Blueberry, Bananas Foster & Rum Caramel, and Moonshine Brown Butter Pecan.

Since Made by Marcus is known for their experimental flavours and collaborations with other local businesses, I’m going to assume that the Moonshine Brown Butter Pecan makes use of a moonshine alcohol in some way. If it was supposed to be there, I didn’t find that the flavour of the liquor came through much, but the brown butter did add to the nuttiness and amplified the taste of the pecan pieces.

Our top pick was most definitely the Bananas Foster & Rum Caramel. The flavour was spot on with the banana tasting natural and not artificial. There was a hint of the rum, but nothing overpowering, and the caramel brought in the perfect amount of sweetness. Kirk and I practically fought over this scoop because he kept eating it and touching nothing else.

A late night visit to Made by Marcus.

After trying Made by Marcus for the first time, I certainly understand the hype more than I used to. The standard of their ice cream is ridiculously high and they put a lot of effort into creating the unique flavours that they’ve come to be known for. Not every flavour is going to be a hit for everyone (Dill Pickle & Peanut Butter is an acquired taste, right?), but with the number of choices available, there’s bound to be something you’ll like amongst the signature, seasonal, and vegan options. While Edmontonians are warriors who will eat ice cream even in the dead of winter, make the most of your nice summer and pop into Made by Marcus for a cone or two!

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.