Edmonton Restaurant Review: Hoang Long Casual Fare

My vermicelli bowl from lunch. This is the only photo I took. I don't know why I didn't take more pictures that day...

My vermicelli bowl from lunch. This is the only photo I took. I don’t know why I didn’t take more pictures that day…

Hoang Long has had many incarnations in Edmonton over the years. One was the massive, can’t miss, bright yellow flagship restaurant that was situated along 170 Street and 100 Avenue. I’d only been there once before they closed that location, but it certainly had a more traditional Asian feel to it with the rattan chairs and the bamboo decor. Their other establishment, Hoang Long Noodle House, opened in West Edmonton Mall right next to the interior doors to T&T Supermarket. Catering to the many customers that find themselves hungry after a long day of shopping, it’s meant for a quick meal. The newest addition to the Hoang Long family takes fast to a new level. Created with an almost cafeteria-like idea in mind, it was nothing like I imagined it was going to be.

I, in no way, am disappointed with what I saw though. I’m just surprised that this is the way they decided to go. However, their decision makes sense when you take into account where Hoang Long Casual Fare (@HoangLongcf) is situated as well as the restaurant’s full name. Located in one of the commercial spaces at the bottom of the Mayfair Village building on 109 Street south of Jasper Avenue, the establishment is a looker that caters to the business crowd. With high ceilings, modern furniture and light, airy colours, aesthetically, it’s quite pleasing to the eye. It’s comfortable, clean and convenient, too. They have an open kitchen where they’ll make your meals for you as soon as you order and they also have prepackaged foods such as salad rolls. The concept is that you order and pay at the till and then receive one of those notifiers that buzz when your food is ready, letting you know it’s time to pick up from the counter. You have the option to stay and eat there or take your food to go.

The vermicelli bowl lunch menu.

The vermicelli bowl lunch menu.

My friends and I made our way there from work over lunch hour about a couple months ago. Craving vermicelli bowls, I was excited to try out their new venue. We went later in the afternoon, so it wasn’t that busy. After deciding what each of us wanted, our food was ready within minutes. Delighting in the fact that it was a relatively warm day, we found ourselves a spot on their small patio (Yeah! They have one!). While the view isn’t of anything spectacular and it was slightly overcast that day, it’s still good to know that there’s the option to soak in some sun there. If the weather isn’t cooperating, the large windows let plenty of light into the interior, so don’t fret.

The vermicelli bowls were really tasty. The grilled beef that accompanied my noodles was delicious. Cooked in soy sauce, lemongrass, garlic and sugar, it had that unmistakable flavour. I also very much liked the texture of the beef as it had some bite, but was still pretty tender. They also give you an ample serving of fish sauce for the noodles – important so that everything is well coated and adds to the overall profile of the dish. The spring rolls, which I chose as my second topping were fried perfectly, so that the outside stayed nicely crisp even until the end of my meal. My bowl completely satisfied my craving for their Vietnamese and Thai food.

While I didn’t have one, they also had an enticing dessert case filled with individual cakes and macarons that are made in-house. My friend took a piece of chocolate mousse cake to go and she said it was alright. I’ll have to see for myself sometime as I know taste can be selective and dependent on the person, but I’m glad for the additional opinion.

Regardless, I would certainly recommend Hoang Long for their classic menu items and so do the readers of The Tomato. The establishment was voted into the No. 46 spot on the magazine’s list of 100 best eats and drinks in the city for 2014 and they rarely, if ever, steer people wrong when it comes to food! Cited on the list as a favourite is the restaurant’s lamb curry dish, so next time I’m there I’ll have to give that a go. And, being that it’s so close to the office, I can see this becoming a regular hangout either for lunch or even after work.

One quick thing to note is that, although Hoang Long Casual Fare is similar to a fast food joint during the day, they do offer full service dining during supper hours. If it’s anything like their original restaurant, I’m sure they’ll offer a great dinner experience for their patrons.

For a more in-depth look at the establishment’s involvement in the community and its efforts towards sustainability visit The Local Good to read my profile of Hoang Long Casual Fare.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Hardware Grill

Our view into the kitchen of the Hardware Grill

Our view into the kitchen of the Hardware Grill

Every year I look forward to the Downtown Business Association‘s Downtown Dining Week (DTDW). Why? Well, I get ten days to visit a variety of restaurants in the core of the city that may not always make it to the top of my list for one reason or another. It’s certainly not because of the food. On the contrary! More than likely it is due to the fact that I probably can’t shell out a hundred dollars for a meal on a regular basis. In jumps this event to save the day. This March was no different.

The very first establishment my friend and I decided to visit this time around was Hardware Grill (@HardwareGrill). A mainstay of the Edmonton food scene since 1996, the restaurant has continued to rack up accolades both locally and nationally, including making The Tomato‘s list of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton two years in a row now (No. 19 in 2013 and No. 30 in 2014). Considered to be the pinnacle of fine dining in this city, we walked over to the brick building with the striped awnings on 96 Street and Jasper Avenue for a relaxing dinner after a busy Monday at the office.

Upon walking into the doors, we were promptly greeted by the hostess who acknowledged our reservation, hung up our coats and showed us to our table. On a previous visit I had sat at the front of the restaurant, which provided a view of the street, but this time we were seated by large glass windows that gave us a view of the chefs working in the kitchen. We could literally watch our meals being made in front of us. That was a nice surprise and a fun touch of whimsy to be able to peer behind the scenes.

The Hardware Grill's cocktail list

The Hardware Grill’s cocktail list

Our wonderful server, Luis, came over to explain the drink (a nice list of custom cocktails that can also be found at their sister location, Tavern 1903) and wine (extensive) menus as well as the DTDW selections. Both my friend and I opted to go with the three-course dining week dinner. We really couldn’t go wrong. Between the two of us we were saving about $50 on our meals – compared to a regular evening there – and we could use some of that money towards beverages (we each had a glass of wine). It was definitely the best option for us.

To start, we were brought a bowl filled with a variety of soft bread slices and a dish of earthy extra virgin olive oil, which was paired with sea salt for dipping. I’ve been told that you can tell just what you’re in for at a restaurant based off of the bread, so this was already a great sign of things to come.

For our appetizers, we decided to each order something different, so we could sample a larger number of dishes. Since my friend loves gnocchi, as do I, we shared a plate of the venison ragu and potato pasta with shaved parmesan. The freshly made gnocchi was nicely browned and crisp on the outside (the way it should be) and the venison added some extra bite and texture to the dish. It’s sad to point this out, but this appetizer is not to be found on their regular menu, so if you’re hoping to try it, you are probably out of luck. However, I will note that we each ate only half and I have to say that if either of us had eaten the entire plate, it could have served as an entree in and of itself. Thankfully, we had room for more! The first course that I went with was a much lighter on the palate and a variation of it can be found there on a usual basis. This was the fresh burrata mozzarella with pepperonata, crostini, fennel marmalade and fig balsamic. The portion size of the mozzarella was huge and paired with the extras it was a star and a great balance to the heavier, but equally delicious gnocchi.

As I’m unlikely to buy and make myself a veal chop at home, I thought that this was an opportune time to sample their grain fed version for my main course. My friend followed suit for most of the same reasons, but also because the fennel salad that accompanied the potato crusted cedar plank salmon had crab in it, which she’s allergic to. Neither of us were disappointed in our decision though. The massive veal chop, covered with maple bacon, mushrooms and Cipollini onions, was plated on top of a creamy polenta, tomato confit and it’s own natural reduction. The dish was as good as it sounds, but not to the point where we could both polish off the entire thing. The portion size was so large that the two of us each left half of the food on our plates, making Luis worry that we didn’t enjoy it. We reassured him that wasn’t the case – we expected to take the other half home for later. Room needed to be saved for dessert!

Again, we both chose the same dessert. Really, that’s kind of the one part of the meal that’s the hardest to share. While I’m sure their marble brownie would be amazing, we went with the liquid cheese cake parfait – layered salted shortbread crumble, rhubarb-Saskatoon compote and creamy, almost like a greek yogurt consistency, cheese cake that was to die for. I would have eaten this for all three courses.

If anything, that dessert describes the Hardware Grill and the food they serve – textures and flavours that are rich, vibrant and layered to build depth. Their consistency and attention to detail in the kitchen parlays into the rest of the restaurant. The service we experienced was exceptional from the moment we walked in to when we left. Luis made it feel like we were old friends and the hostess gave us a fond farewell for the evening.

For a special occasion or just a quiet night out with a friend, this classy restaurant fits the bill.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Tres Carnales

Aspiring to bring the traditional, authentic recipes of the various regions of Mexico to life in a fresh and bold way, Tres Carnales burst onto the Edmonton food scene back in 2011 and hasn’t looked back. Number 25 on The Tomato‘s top 100 eats and drinks in the city, it certainly has left a footprint in the downtown core. The restaurant is dedicated to the close food movement, farm to table, sustainability and community, which is felt as soon as you walk in the door and sit down for a bit to eat. You also get a glimpse of their support of local artists with the mural painted by @CurlyBlackBeret (Trevor Peters) on the south wall and the paintings by Justina Smith on the opposite side of the room.

The mural by @CurlyBlackBeret

The mural by @CurlyBlackBeret

Chris Sills and Dani Braun, owners who watch over the place with a passion and sometimes man the tills, love to walk around the restaurant to say hi to diners and ask their opinion on the food. They create a friendly atmosphere with their personable attitudes, making it a joyous place to be. The servers are the same and seem genuinely happy to be working there. They aim to please. And, in my experience, if you Tweet them enough (@TresCarnales), they might go out of their way to make sure your cravings are satisfied (the duck tacos were to die for).

I’ve been there many a time and I can say, without a doubt, that my favourite dishes are as follows: Pato Tacos (duck), Al Pastor Tacos or Quesadillas (slow roasted, marinated pork), Pescado Tacos (lightly battered and fried fresh Pacific red snapper), and the Guacamole Y Totopos (housemade guac and chips). Unfortunately, the cost to bring in fresh duck meat has relegated the Pato Tacos to an occasional featured menu item, but, should you ever have a chance to try them, do not pass them up. My friend did, and, to this day, she still regrets it. To quench your thirst, I recommend you give one of their agua frescas (“fresh waters”) a shot. I especially like the Agua de Jamaica, which is made using hibiscus flowers. On occasion I’ll go for the Agua de Horchata, which Chris once told me was like Christmas in a glass. I think it takes a little getting used to, but I quite like it and it’s refreshing.

Al Pastor Quesadillas and a view of the restaurant's large shared table and @CurlyBlackBeret's previous mural.

Al Pastor Quesadillas and a view of the restaurant’s large shared table and @CurlyBlackBeret’s previous mural.

Ultimately, I would say the food is absolutely addictive. When I take a break and don’t go for a while, I’m okay, and I can show some restraint, but, as soon as I eat there once, it’s dangerous and I’ll probably be back several times within a short span because it’s hard to get the flavours off your mind once you’ve had a taste.

A single order is a good portion size for one person. You’ll feel full, but not overly stuffed. Want to try a few things? The plates are great for sharing with your companions. It’s also a fantastic lunch place for those who work downtown because the service is always quick and you’ll usually have no problem getting in and out within an hour-long break.

If you have yet to dine there, here are some additional things to know: it works as first come, first serve with the tables, it’s similar to restaurants like Famoso (see my previous review) where you order at the counter and then they bring your food to you, you typically order at the till before you grab a table (they will sometimes let you sit first and start a tab), sometimes you may need to share a table with strangers, the tarot card they give you once you’ve placed your order is how they know who to bring the food to, gluten-free items are available, they have two tills – one for those eating in and one for those getting take out – to help speed up the ordering process, and they are closed Sundays and holidays.

Come summertime, I hope that their patio will be open again as it increases the number of available seats and allows patrons to enjoy the few months of warmth we get in Edmonton.

Mexican souvenirs

Mexican souvenirs decorating the east wall

This is my top pick for Mexican street food in the city. I always look forward to going there with friends and co-workers and, every so often, on my own because it’s a place where I feel we are always welcome. Tres Carnales represents the young, entrepreneurial spirit that is so present in Edmonton nowadays and I expect that they will be here for the long haul.

For a more in-depth look at the establishment’s involvement in the community and its efforts towards sustainability visit The Local Good to read my profile of Tres Carnales.