Edmonton Event Preview: Vignettes Design Series 2018 & Nuit Blanche

Salvador Dali is hidden in one of the Vignettes rooms.

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to attend the 2018 Vignettes Design Series VIP Gala. It was held inside Edmonton City Centre in the old ATB Branch on the ground floor (next to the 101 Street West Entrance). When we arrived, we found a huge line already snaking across the mall. It seemed that we were in for a less than exclusive event.

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When we finally made it into the Vignettes space, we were each welcomed with a tiny disposable cocktail glass filled with a couple of sips of sangria. After that, all other food (aside from what was available in the Sanctuary room) and drinks required ticket purchases at an additional cost. Needless to say, for a $40 price tag per guest, I wasn’t too impressed with how this event was executed. It became much too packed way too quickly, making it extremely difficult to maneuver around (architecturally, the overall footprint is small).

Mostly, my hope of getting to mix and mingle in-person with the artists that had worked on the individual rooms was dashed. They were much too busy with the hoards of other guests that had also paid to get into this party. While I do understand that the money collected from ticket sales does go back into the creation of future Vignettes events, I would rather that the organizers made it a little more low key. Spend less money on getting a DJ (it’s so hard to talk or hear) and expensive catering and allow people who want a more in-depth experience to get just that.

Still, I don’t want to take away from the creativity of the work or the artists themselves. They did a phenomenal job transforming mundane offices, closets and walls into over a dozen fantastical or modern spaces. My favourites included a hidden bar, a rainforest (designed by a 4th grader and built by her father), a living space that utilized hydroponics (FRESCO Culinary provided snacks!), and The Grand Palastrio where time is questioned.

Thankfully, the Vignettes gallery will be open to the public every Thursday to Saturday for a month starting on Friday, September 28 and running until Saturday, October 27. While it won’t have the same crazy atmosphere of the VIP Gala (if that’s more your thing), tickets are only $15 per person and they will have timed entrances to help mitigate overcrowding. I expect that this setup will give visitors a chance to really engage with what’s in front of them without feeling rushed to move along. If you can fit this into your schedule before it’s gone, I do recommend taking the time to see this.

The Grand Palastrio

The launch of the public gallery for Vignettes also coincides with Nuit Blanche Edmonton 2018. The latter is a free late-night contemporary art party that takes place from 7pm on Saturday, September 29 to 7am on Sunday, September 30. Nuit Blanche is in its second full scale iteration (technically the third year in the city though), and this particular event happens for just the one evening throughout the downtown area. To find out what’s in store for this year’s programming, click here. Vignettes has been incorporated into Nuit Blanche and, based on the ticketing site, it appears as though they will not be charging for entry into that area during Nuit Blanche hours. However, you may want to check with Vignettes in advance just to be sure.

Nuit Blanche is an experience like no other with a lot of volunteers working behind the scenes to get the exhibits up and running (I was one in 2015). Although the weather forecast is looking chilly on Saturday night, venture out! Bundle up in a warm coat with a hat and gloves, and maybe bring a thermos with your favourite hot beverage. Participating works come from artists across the globe, and everyone who attends is bound to discover something that they fall in love with.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Fionn MacCool’s

The bar at Fionn MacCool’s in west Edmonton.

Fionn MacCool’s has been one of my go-to lunch places for the last few years. Working in Edmonton’s core, the downtown location at City Centre has become an easy choice. There have also been the occasional visits there prior to Paint Nite events. My boyfriend has enjoyed their affordable brunch selections, and I love their Chicken Fettuccini with its atypical, but tasty lemon-cream sauce. In the past, I also swore by their Beet Hummus and Tandoori Chicken Sandwich; however, the newest iterations of the menu have been pared down with several of my favourites now removed.

The dining room of the west end location of Fionn MacCool’s.

Therefore, when I received some coupons in the mail recently, I felt inclined to stop by once more. This time, my boyfriend and I opted to try out the west end venue. We arrived early in the afternoon where we seated ourselves in the dining room. It’s a clean space that’s decorated to look like every other Irish pub: dark woods, patterned upholstery, and vintage lighting. The plus is that this building has lots of windows, so it’s brightly lit during the daytime, unlike the dimness of the downtown Fionn MacCool’s.

Warm Spinach & Artichoke Dip

After spending some time reviewing the options, we decided on the Warm Spinach & Artichoke Dip ($12.50) as a shared appetizer. The notes on the menu indicated that the dip was freshly prepared in-house, and while that may be the case, it did remind me a lot of what I might buy from Costco. Also, it was surprisingly hot to the touch as it must have been baked with additional cheese on top. A tad greasy because of that, it was still good, yet it wasn’t necessarily special. The tortilla chips were fine, although maybe a bit oily as well. Regardless, we took the leftovers home to use the spread as a topping for our homemade turkey burgers, which turned out to be delicious.

Double-Stacked Cod-Wich

For his main, my boyfriend chose the Double-Stacked Cod-Wich ($15.95). The buttermilk-breaded fish was indeed crispy. That would be okay, but the exterior turned out to be too crunchy and the cod slightly overcooked. We also thought that the breading wasn’t quite right to go with the fish as the seasoning used was strong. It felt like it was meant to go with chicken instead of the more delicate nature of the white cod. On a positive note, the ACE Bakery bun used was the perfect density, and it held up well throughout. I also really enjoyed the thick cut fries that came with the sandwich; they were super fluffy on the inside and not completely crisp on the outside, and, personally, I don’t mind that.

Butter Chicken Boxty with Caesar Salad

When it came to my own entrée, I selected something new for me: the Butter Chicken Boxty ($15.50). This dish consists of a large, rolled potato pancake filled with chicken and onions in a thick curry sauce. Mildly spicy, it packed a lot of flavour. The sauteed onions were tender and the chicken was supple. For my side, I went with the Caesar salad. This was nothing out of the ordinary. It was just a really decent version with a good amount dressing to coat the lettuce.

The more I go there, the more I learn what to stick to and what I should probably avoid. Despite improvements that can be made, I have found that Fionn MacCool’s is usually pretty dependable for a standard pub meal. As such, I’ll continue to dine there. If not for the food and friendly service, definitely for the convenience.

Edmonton Bakery Review: The Art of Cake

One of the displays at The Art of Cake shop.

One of the displays at The Art of Cake shop.

As I’ve grown, my appreciation of food has, too. I can cook and bake well enough, but I don’t really have that touch. Not yet, anyway. Some people learn from a really young age, some are just naturally good at nurturing and cooking, but not everyone has what it takes to venture out on their own and make a living from it. Gloria Bednarz and Guenter Hess, pastry chefs and owners of The Art of Cake, took the leap and have made a nice niche for themselves in Edmonton over the last few years.

I first learned about The Art of Cake about five years ago when my friend Alexis announced she was getting married. Gloria, being her aunt, was going to be making her cake, so I was lucky enough to try a few of them at both Alexis’ engagement party and her wedding. Unfortunately, I don’t recall the flavours that they opted for, but I do remember that the cake itself was absolutely delectable, moist, dense and not overly sweet. Most memorable was the look of the 4 or 5 tier cake, which had been covered in a white chocolate fondant that had been rolled and applied to look like the petals of a flower – delicate and beautiful – with the final touches being fresh gerbera daisies.

Alexis and Ryan's beautiful wedding cake!

Alexis and Ryan’s beautiful wedding cake!

Their independent business has built up a good reputation since it was established. Named to Avenue Edmonton‘s list of 25 Best Things to Eat 2012 and The Tomato‘s list of the top 100 best things to eat and drink in Edmonton for 2013, it’s obvious that they have a big fan base here. So, lo and behold my excitement when I walked through City Centre mall during my coffee break back in July and found their new shop in the basement level by the food court (next to Caffè Sorrentino). I was so excited that I could finally try some of their touted old-fashioned coconut macaroons – the item that kept getting mentioned in all these articles – without going out of my way.

The shop, for the most part, retains the layout created by the previous tenant, Big City Cupcakes. Simple and sleek, the store keeps a largely white palette, allowing the desserts, wedding cakes, tiers of mini cupcakes and large canvas imagery to steal the show. The Art of Cake’s tagline is “Nostalgic Artisan Baking” and it’s easy to see that they’ve made the choice to keep things to the basics. Everything is wonderfully presented with a vintage feel that fits the classic offerings, but nothing is overdone.

On our first visit, my break companion and I were happily greeted by Dawn who keeps watch of the store. Even though I walked in fully ready to purchase a Friday snack, she plied us with samples of blueberry cake and fluffy cruellers. I tried each one and both were delicious, but the blueberry cake would be my choice between the two. In the end, I opted for a carrot cupcake. Having been recommended by Alexis and also one of my favourite cakes, there was no question about it. The cake was soft, but it didn’t fall apart when eaten and the flavours were good as they refrained from using too many spices. The icing was unexpectedly subtle as well. It still had a bit of a cream cheese taste to it, but instead of being heavy, it was closer to a buttercream frosting, making it smooth and much lighter. I could tell that it was made fresh that day and everything tasted natural.

Our second trip was my chance to try their coconut macaroons. I forgot to buy them the first time around, but that’s okay because it was an excuse for me to go back. Plus, I think it’s better to spread out all these indulgent desserts. Packaged in groups of 6, the macaroons were larger than I thought they would be, and the bottoms of each macaroon were lightly spread with dark chocolate. The outside was nicely browned on the edges, providing that slight crunch when first bitten into, but breaking away into a moist and chewy center. My friend walked away with a couple “Elvis” peanut butter bacon cupcakes, which she tells me were very yummy.

The third time around I bought myself a shortbread cookie and a slice of banana cake. The shortbread was super buttery and melt-in-your-mouth with a small dollop of raspberry jam on top. It was delicious. Honestly, sometimes a good shortbread cookie is all you need. I found the banana cake to be heavier than the blueberry cake. It’s covered with a thick layer of brown sugar icing that I could have used a little less of, but doesn’t take away from it overall. Thankfully, their cakes seem to have little excess grease and this particular one was filled with the perfect proportion of semi-sweet chocolate chips making for a lip-smacking, albeit, sweet lunch substitute.

A lemon poppyseed cupcake with raspberry icing - the September feature - bought for my friend's birthday.

A lemon poppyseed cupcake with raspberry icing – the September feature – bought for my friend’s birthday.

I’ve stopped by to check out the dessert cases a couple more times since. In addition to everything I’ve mentioned so far, they seem to have muffins, cookie packs, cake pops and housemade jube jubes (covered in white chocolate and shredded coconut) readily available. Cupcakes come in an assortment of flavours and are offered in both regular and mini sizes, and you can also order single tier cakes through the shop.

If you’re looking for a bakery that can cater to your wedding needs, a special event, or cravings for your sweet tooth during the work week doldrums, I highly recommend you stop by The Art of Cake. Although, at this point in my life, I’m not expecting to get married any time soon, I’ll continue to keep them in mind for when I do…one day. In the meantime, they’ll be one of my go to places for when I need a pick-me-up.

Consider The Art of Cake for your wedding, special event or just because!

Consider The Art of Cake for your wedding, special event or just because!

For a more in-depth look at this establishment, visit The Local Good to read my profile of The Art of Cake