Edmonton Restaurant Review: Soy & Pepper

Cheese Dongasu with Cabbage Salad

On a recent girls’ night out, my friends and I narrowed our choices down to several places near downtown Edmonton. After some back and forth, we eventually settled on Soy & Pepper, which touts itself as a modern Korean eatery. Located on 112 Street and Jasper Avenue, it actually took a group of us coming from the south side of the city longer to get there than we expected. Thankfully, one of my girlfriends arrived on time and was able to hold our reservation.

When we finally made our way there and found a parking spot (there is a free lot behind the building), I was surprised to see that the restaurant wasn’t that busy for a Saturday evening. There were just a few other occupied tables, and it didn’t change much as the night continued, so I do wonder how business is going for them.

I will say that the establishment is quite nice though. Everything is really clean, it’s roomy, and the furniture and decor are modern — sleek wooden tables, black Eiffel chairs, white stone accent walls. I estimate that the space can fit about forty patrons at a time. The single downfall was that it was slightly breezy inside. We were seated relatively close to the front door, and it’s possible that, despite the shelter built around the entrance to mitigate the issue, a draft was caused whenever it was opened. It wouldn’t be a problem during warmer months, but in the winter, it meant my friends bundling up in their scarves and jackets at one point or another.

Soy & Pepper’s food menu.

Once we all settled in, we inspected the menus. They have a minimal wine and beer list as well as several Korean wine or liquor options. For those who prefer non-alcoholic beverages, they have the usual sodas and tea or coffee. Unfortunately for me, they did not offer any cocktails, so I stuck with water.

Since we hadn’t gotten together in a long while, we weren’t in any rush. Therefore, we decided to go with some starters. I selected the Kimchi Potato Balls ($6), another ordered the Potstickers ($7.50), and a pair shared the Kimchi Pork Poutine ($16).


I did not sample the Potstickers myself, but judging by their appearance, they looked alright. There were four to a plate and they were very long with crispy shells. I’m hoping the dough to pork and veggie filling ratio was okay as I thought the skin seemed a tad thick. Otherwise, they were probably prepared with a quick fry in an oiled pan, then steamed with water, and then fried again to get the consistency I saw. That’s my favourite way to make them at home to ensure the middle is cooked through and the outside is golden brown.

Kimchi Pork Poutine

The Kimchi Pork Poutine was an interesting find. It’s that instance of fusion food that always finds a way onto the menus of local restaurants attempting to do authentic Asian cuisine. This item is available only during dinner at Soy & Pepper. In terms of portion size, it’s generously loaded with braised pork, onions, sautéed kimchi, house hot sauce, cheese, and cilantro. There’s a kick from the combination of hot sauce (mainly this) and kimchi, so if spicy is your thing, go for it. Best of all, the fries were delicious. They reminded me a lot of the ones sold at the Costco food court when I was younger; light, fluffy centers with bubbly outsides.

Kimchi Potato Balls

My Kimchi Potato Balls were served as a duo of mashed potatoes mixed with kimchi, cheese, and green beans, which were then breaded and fried until crisp. They were then placed on a bed of chipotle aioli sauce and then topped with dollops of sour cream and sprinkles of green onions. These had a hint of heat balanced out by the sour cream. I appreciated how smooth the potato was, too.

For our entrées, all four of my friends chose to go with the Bulgogi ($16). Two of them had Chili Pepper Seasoning ($1) added to the dish. A large bowl of House Kimchi ($5) was shared among the group. I went in another direction by picking the Cheese Dongasu ($20).

House Kimchi

I’ll start by discussing the House Kimchi. Admittedly, I thought I’d enjoy it more. However, out of all the kimchi I’ve ever tried, this was probably the most underwhelming. A staple of Korean cuisine, kimchi is a traditional side that is typically made with cabbage that has been salted and fermented. Personally, I think the pickled flavour wasn’t strong enough and the seasonings used didn’t produce enough spice. It was also a bit waterier than I prefer, but it was decent in plain rice.

Bulgogi with Chili Pepper Seasoning

At first glance, the Bulgogi plates came across as small. Yet, once the accompanying rice was stirred in with the marinated and grilled Alberta AAA beef, onions, green onions, cabbage, and bean sprouts, there was plenty of food. The dish seemed to be well-seasoned and flavourful, especially the ones with the chili pepper seasoning. In fact, it may have been too much chili as my friend who loves spicy food reiterated a few times that it was very hot on her palate. I’d recommend ordering the Bulgogi and then sprinkling on the dry chili flakes provided at the table until it’s to one’s liking, and it won’t cost anything extra.

Cheese Dongasu with Cabbage Salad, Rice & Dongasu Sauce

I loved, loved, loved the Cheese Dongasu. This is basically a deep fried, breaded pork loin that is stuffed with cheese. On the side is a wonderful dongasu sauce — simplified versions are often made with Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, brown sugar, and Ketchup — for dipping, a bowl of white rice, and a cabbage salad in sesame dressing. I didn’t really need the rice that much, but it was good, not overcooked. I ended up packing that up (the remaining sesame dressing drizzled on top) with half of my humongous pork loin for leftovers. The cabbage salad was quite tasty as there was a good amount of dressing and the veggies were fresh and crunchy. The pork loin was the absolute star. There was so much cheese inside that when I pulled the pieces apart, the melted cheese just oozed out seductively.


The majority of the group opted for dessert: a scoop of vanilla ice cream ($2.25), a slice of carrot cake ($7), and the Ho-ddeok ($8.50). I can’t say a whole lot about the vanilla ice cream as there isn’t much to elaborate on, but the slice of carrot cake, though it appeared to be appetizing with nuts, raisins and cream cheese icing, was definitely not made in-house. It was brought to the table with plastic film still stuck to it, like when you go to the store and buy an individual piece of cake at the bakery. What was worth every penny was the Ho-ddeok. That is a warm, chewy dough pancake stuffed with sugar, honey, butter, mixed nuts, maple syrup, and cinnamon. It’s served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. My friend described it as being similar to an elephant ear with filling. I think that potentially undersells it. However, I would go back for this in a heartbeat. Between this and the Cheese Dongasu, it’s a total toss up for my favourite bite of the night. Either way, try both, if you can swing it.

The service was attentive and friendly, the food hit the mark for the most part, the portions received for the price are more than reasonable, and the place is easily accessible. It also has the perfect ambience for those who want to spend the night catching up. The staff member was never pushy, so we felt comfortable taking our time and staying for a while. Plus, even though there was music playing, it wasn’t overly loud. We were able to hear each other talk without having to shout. Accounting for everything, Soy & Pepper turned out to be a fantastic spot for a get together. I’m already looking forward to my next visit because I really want to explore more of the menu with my fiancé.


Edmonton Restaurant Review: Holt’s Cafe

Lunch at Holt's Cafe

Lunch at Holt’s Cafe

As a teenager, I used to bus downtown from school to see my mom at her gift shop. Sometimes I would stay and help her out at the store, and, other times, I would venture off through the pedway to walk around City Centre mall or poke through the merchandise at Holt Renfrew. I’d act all adult in this high end boutique (I call it that because, let’s face it, it’s nowhere near as good as the ones to be found across the rest of Canada), even though I was far from it.

When I graduated from university and I got my first real job as a young adult, I’d do the same thing. The only difference was I was now really more of a grown up. If I wanted to, I could save my earnings and spend it on that hot pink patent leather Louis Vuitton wallet embossed with their LV logo, or whatever was the “hot” item of the day. Of course, I was never one to splurge on big ticket purchases like that, so, alas, Holt Renfrew would need to make money off me some other way.

On my many trips to the store, I paid very little attention to the back corner on the top floor. It never really occurred to me that a restaurant existed there. But, over time, I started to notice that tables were tucked away there, and, eventually, Holt’s Cafe was added to my list of places to try. It has been several years since I started working downtown, and just before the new year is when my friend and I finally made a point of heading there for lunch.

The two of us ventured to the cafe the week after Christmas, so, even though it was significantly quieter in the area, we still made a reservation. Upon arriving, I was surprised at how cute the space is. Decked with simple light-coloured wood grain chairs, tables covered in white cloths, white walls accented with rainbow striped wallpaper and a Christmas tree, it was minimalist chic. What I loved most about the look of the restaurant was the far wall, which consists of floor to ceiling windows that overlook the street-level atrium entrance to the Manulife building, allowing plenty of natural light to bathe the room as well as an opportunity for people watching.

Much of the menu was appealing, and, considering the venue, the prices weren’t as high as I would have expected. The two of us decided we would each order a main and we would split them both. We ended up selecting the pumpkin gnocchi and the squash risotto cakes.

Pumpkin Gnocchi

Pumpkin Gnocchi

The pumpkin gnocchi was a bit of a surprise in that the number of gnocchi provided for a $16 dish was fairly miniscule. I believe there were a total of 6 or 7 pieces. They were of a decent size, but, ultimately, the dish they came in was about the size of a my hand (and my hands are small). On the plus side, they were deliciously plump. The sage butter provided an additional layer of flavour and the side of greens made it a lighter dish than we anticipated.

Squash Risotto Cakes

Squash Risotto Cakes

Squash risotto cakes sounded like a nice change of pace from a bowl of regular risotto. The round patties were relatively large, sitting atop a huge bed of the same greens that came with the gnocchi. Nicely crisp on the outside, they tasted great having been garnished with a light tomato-based sauce. The salad that accompanied both plates was a good mix of lettuce, carrot and beet (?) peel, cranberries and a lovely smokey flavour from what I believe were thin slices of purple potato that had either been baked or pan fried.

Ginger Pear Amaretto Cake at the front and Pomegranate Gingerbread Cake at the back!

Ginger Pear Amaretto Cake at the front and Pomegranate Gingerbread Cake at the back!

Since we had the time, we also indulged in a couple of desserts. My friend ordered the pomegranate gingerbread cake with salted caramel sauce. I think it was the words “salted caramel” that got to her because she can’t pass up anything that has that ingredient. It was a sweet, rich dessert that at one or two bites was perfect, but I was told was a little too much as a whole. She also noted that she couldn’t really taste the pomegranate, and the ginger flavour wasn’t as prominent as in my choice, which was a ginger pear amaretto cake. While my cake was sugary as well, I would agree with her that it was more subtly so. The amaretto and ginger paired really well together, and the slices of pear that adorned the surface of the dessert added a much needed tartness.

There were only two people on staff at the restaurant that day (not that it was busy), and they both did a good job of attending to all the tables. Food was prepared in a timely fashion – where exactly they fit their kitchen, I don’t know – and we were in and out in just over an hour.

The daily specials board inside the store. Also look out for the easel in front of the store doors while walking through Manulife!

The daily specials board inside the store. Also look out for the easel in front of the store doors while walking through Manulife!

I quite enjoyed our meal. Although, I’d be inclined to try something different on my next visit. Some of their daily specials sounded great, so I’ll have to keep an eye out on those whenever I walk through the building, but most of the other options on the regular menu appealed to me, too.

Overall, Holt’s Cafe feels almost like a secret little oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the work day. Sometimes that’s exactly what’s needed; it’s a place to take a much deserved break and recharge yourself for what lies ahead.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: 97 Hot Pot

Boiling our pots of soup at 97 Hot Pot.

Boiling our pots of soup at 97 Hot Pot.

As a Chinese girl who was born and raised in Edmonton by my parents, far away from the rest of our immediate family, we would eat Chinese food when I was growing up, but I much preferred things like pizza, pasta and the like over traditional Asian fare. I’d happily go to Chinatown to eat sweets like pineapple buns, and, of course, to shop for all things Sailormoon. That was pretty much the extent of it.

It has always been that way for me. If I ever had the option to have anything other than Chinese food, I’d take it. Yet, that mentality has changed over the years. By all accounts, Chinese cuisine still isn’t my favourite; however, I do love a good Peking duck, or freshly made shumai and cocktail buns at what I like to call “Asian brunch” as we usually partake in dim sum late in the morning and on the weekend.

So, now that I’m older and more willing to try everything, when my parents suggested going for a hot pot lunch on a chilly December day, I thought I had better give it a go. I really should refrain from being picky nowadays.

Raw chicken and pork slices, bean curd, dumplings and sauce.

Raw chicken and pork slices, bean curd, dumplings and sauce.

Years since I had had that type of meal – essentially you get boiling hot soup and you cook raw veggies and meat at the table yourself (it actually sounds a lot like The Melting Pot from what I’ve been told) – I figured it was time to open myself up to my heritage. After all, hot pot is the Chinese equivalent of bringing family together.

We ended up at 97 Hot Pot, a somewhat newer establishment in the heart of Chinatown. The location used to be home to a small grocery store, but has been renovated into a spacious, bright and clean restaurant. Tables have individual hot pot plates built into them, so each diner can pick a soup base of their choice. The temperature settings of the heating plates can be changed (on a scale from 1 to 3), allowing patrons to adjust them as needed.

The interior of 97 Hot Pot.

The interior of 97 Hot Pot.

They offer an all-you-can-eat option at 97 Hot Pot, but the lunch menu is more than enough for each person. At around $13 each, there’s plenty of food to ensure you don’t leave hungry. Using the paper menus, we checked off what we wanted, which includes one type of broth along with five entree items. All of us selected different things, but I went with the Szechuan Spicy Chicken soup, sliced sirloin beef, pork wontons, pork & vegetable dumplings, beef balls and vermicelli noodles. Another bowl of fresh veggies (lettuce, tomato, corn on the cob, enoki mushrooms, white button mushrooms and broccoli is provided as part of the price.

First off, let me say that the Szechuan Spicy Chicken soup is SPICY! I love food with a good amount of heat, but, for me, this was more than I expected. On the one hand, I didn’t have to use any additional sauces to flavour my soup and food. On the other, it was spicy enough to take away some of my ability to taste anything else. This soup is made with a number of ingredients, many of which I couldn’t quite pick out, but can be seen in the pot. One flavour in particular was hard for me to pinpoint, but I’m sure it came from some sort of re-hydrated veggie or bean, which is often used in Asian soup bases, and not one I’m that fond of. Nevertheless, it was still yummy, and, if you have a penchant for extremely spicy food, this might be for you.

I liked that they didn’t skimp on the extra bowl of vegetables because it could be a meal in itself. Regardless, I’m glad to have the additional entree items. The sirloin beef slices were fresh, the beef balls had a nice spring to them once cooked, the dumplings were plump and juicy, and the vermicelli, which soaked up just the right amount of flavour from the soup, helped to fill my belly. The only misstep of my meal was the tiny wontons. Although several were provided and they were tasty, they were much smaller than regular wontons that are to be had anywhere else. Also, if I had a do over of my lunch, I would maybe have gone with the rice noodles instead. Thick, clear and kind of gelatin looking, I sampled one from my mom’s plate, and they were delicious.

My mom's selection of rice noodles, sliced sirloin beef, shrimp, squid and fish.

My mom’s selection of rice noodles, sliced sirloin beef, shrimp, squid and fish.

With regards to the service, it was busy that day and they don’t have many people on staff, so I would say that they could improve in that aspect. Both my mom and I still had some food to cook, but our soup had boiled down until there was very little left in the pot and you could smell a bit of the food burning. We had to wave a staff member down to get them to add water to our pots before we could continue with our meal.

All-in-all, I enjoyed the food and the outing. It’s a fun, communal type of meal that is as traditional Chinese as one can get.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Wild Tangerine (CLOSED)

The restaurant's tag line.

The restaurant’s tag line.

I had been to Wild Tangerine (@goWildTangerine) years ago, visiting after hearing many excellent reviews. While the experience at the time was great, for some reason, even though I kept telling myself to go back, I never did. Fast forward to the beginning of this month and I came across a Twitter post or perhaps a quick news snippet announcing the impending closure of the restaurant on June 21. I was shocked to hear that such a successful and loved establishment was deciding to shutter their business after 10 years, especially when siblings Judy and Wilson Wu’s passion for food has continued to shine so brightly (voted by readers into the No. 19 spot on The Tomato‘s list of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton in 2014 and No. 22 in 2013).

So, upon learning of the countdown to the restaurant’s final day, I immediately texted my friend and asked if she wanted to join me there for supper the following week. When she agreed that we should definitely make a point of going before it was too late, I reserved us a table and we were off to the races.

The interior of Wild Tangerine

The interior of Wild Tangerine

Walking into the brightly lit and colourful space, it hadn’t changed much since my first meal there, but I could see that everything was well taken care of and had been kept in great condition. We were seated at a booth by the windows at the front, giving me a view of the entire room. Arriving a little before the dinner hour, there were only a handful of other occupied tables. However, as we dined, the restaurant was eventually filled to capacity with patrons both showing their love and wanting to indulge in one last meal that usually consisted of at least one order of their known shrimp lollipops.

Enticing as that appetizer sounded, my friend decided to go with Chef Judy’s famous Thai Green Curry with Prawns & Tortiglioni minus the seafood as she is allergic, making it a vegetarian dish. I opted to go with the Cha-Siu Organic Pembina Pork Tenderloin with Spicy Tangerine Glaze as well as a side of Gnocchi with Coconut Cream. What I love about their food is that they always serve everything with fresh seasonal vegetables, so you know you’re getting the best that producers have to offer and that the meat products are one hundred percent Alberta grain or vegetable fed in addition to being antibiotic and growth stimulant free.

My order of pork tenderloin and gnocchi with coconut cream.

My order of pork tenderloin and gnocchi with coconut cream.

I tasted a bit of my friend’s Thai Green Curry dish and the flavours were fantastic. It wasn’t overly spicy and was filled to the brim with green beans, zucchini, red peppers and eggplant. And, as we found out at the end of our supper, they were really fair in that they lowered the cost of my friend’s meal since she had asked for no prawns. They could have charged the regular price of the dish without resistance from us, but they went ahead and altered the cost in a way that was pleasantly surprising. It showed me that this is an independent business that really knows how to take care of their customers.

The Pork Tenderloin that I ordered was very good, too. The meat was, well, tender. Pork is often easily overcooked, but it was perfection here. The tangerine glaze was a nice balance to the saltiness of meat and the bok choy was another little nod to their Asian roots. Paired with the coconut cream covered gnocchi, I was easily satisfied. Of course, I still saved room for dessert, and, am I ever glad that I did!

The warm gingered bread pudding with black sesame ice cream. To die for!

The warm gingered bread pudding with black sesame ice cream. To die for!

When Wilson brought the dessert menu over to the table he made a quick disclaimer about the warm gingered bread pudding, saying they were now out of the typical banana ice cream and that they had replaced the usual with a black sesame seed version instead. That really didn’t matter to me. I was sold as soon as I saw bread pudding there and, truth be told, I love black sesame, so that is indeed what I went with. When the plate was placed on our table, it looked almost too good to eat. The ice cream was in this perfect little cube next to a round cylinder of the bread pudding that was encrusted with a thin layer of torched sugar like a crème brûlée. It was served with a side of blueberries and small cubes of watermelon. The whole dish was wonderful and really the best cap to my meal. The slightly gritty texture of the ice cream was a great compliment to the smoothness of the bread pudding and the fruit provided an excellent palate cleanser.

I would say that I can’t wait to go back again, but, alas, that is not to be the case this time around. Now, it’s more like I’m kicking myself for not having gone more often in the past. I don’t think I’m the only one who feels that way either. I overheard a table of ladies tell Wilson that they were sad to see the restaurant go, and although Wilson appreciated the sentiment, he wasn’t down about the idea, telling them it was just time for them to move on.

The good news is that Wild Tangerine will still remain in some form after June 21. Judy and Wilson will continue to manage their prepared foods business part-time, serving up items such as soups, snacks and bagged cuisine meals at the new Mother’s Market, a downtown farmers’ market that is located indoors and open year round on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 102 Avenue and 109 Street.

With that, I wish the Wild Tangerine a fond farewell. It will truly be missed by Edmonton foodies. However, the show must go on, and I give three cheers to Judy and Wilson as they take their next steps! All the best!