SABOR Restaurant’s 3rd Annual Seafood Festival

Portuguese Surf & Turf

Portuguese Surf & Turf

After writing a profile about SABOR Restaurant for the Local Good, I was invited to attend the launch dinner for their 3rd Annual Seafood Festival. Taking place on Tuesday evening, I had the pleasure of experiencing just some of the offerings on this year’s menu.

Designed in a partnership between Chef Lino Oliveira of SABOR and Chef Jan Hansen of Hotel Arts in Calgary, the menu showcases a variety of dishes crafted using seafood approved by Ocean Wise. Served up family-style, guests sampled a range of plates including sardina escalivada, gambas al ajillo, scallop & limpet ceviche, heirloom tomato & queijo fresco montadito (the only one served without seafood was essentially a bruschetta on toasted bread) and amêijoas á bulhão pato.

The latter is a fancy name for clams steamed in white wine, garlic and cilantro. I usually can’t eat food cooked with cilantro as the herb is not a friend to my taste buds. Yet, somehow, I loved these. Maybe the broth helped to wash away the larger pieces of cilantro leaving me with the white wine and garlic reduction. All I know is that the ingredients were relatively simple, but the flavour truly popped.

The sardina escalivada surprised me. I don’t usually eat sardines as I find them to be too fishy and/or salty, but these were wonderfully seasoned and paired well with a bed of eggplant.

Gambas al Ajillo

Gambas al Ajillo

However, my favourite starter of the night had to be the gambas al ajillo, which are jumbo shrimp complete with shell and head prepared using wine and garlic. We hand peeled them open to reveal delicious meat and, as Lino instructed us, we sucked all of the juice out of those heads. Manners aside, everyone seated at the two long tables took to the scampi with gusto!

Croquetas de Bacalao

Croquetas de Bacalao

Appetizers were followed by Jan’s croquetas de bacalao, a dish of lingcod potato fritters with a spicy hot piri piri aioli. Some thought that the spice was a bit strong, but I quite liked it. I found that the heat started strong to give the dish a kick, yet it dissipated quickly enough so as not to overwhelm my palate.

The stars of the evening were absolutely the two main courses though.

Our first was the caldeirada de peixe, consisting of thick cuts of supple sablefish with seared skin still on and full lobster tails bathed in a savoury saffron-lobster broth. I found that the skin of the sablefish wasn’t crisp enough for me to enjoy the texture, but the mouthfeel of the actual meat was great. It fell apart in perfect pieces and the fish really soaked up the broth. As for the lobster, it’s not often that I get to eat it, so it was a real delight to have some that was so perfectly prepared.

Somehow I plated my Portuguese surf and turf perfectly.

Somehow I plated my Portuguese surf and turf perfectly.

Our last entrée was Jan’s take on Portuguese surf and turf. Chorizo-stuffed Alberta lamb rump was matched with a smoked paprika charred octopus. Both were served over a bed of migas – black kale, pine nuts and white navy beans – that provided a light citrus taste. Personally, I would have preferred the black kale to be less wilted, but I will admit that the more I ate it, the more I enjoyed it. The lamb was so tender that it didn’t need to be cut with a knife, and the curled octopus tentacle was fantastically charred just enough to give it that smoky, spiced flavor without overpowering the meat.

Caramel flan for dessert.

Caramel flan for dessert.

Although SABOR was promoting their Seafood Festival, they did not find a way to incorporate seafood into dessert (is that even a possibility?). Instead, they offered up a light and creamy caramel flan with almonds, walnuts and fresh raspberries, which is quite fitting for a restaurant that is known for working with Iberian, Mediterranean and Portuguese cuisines.

Guests during the preview event were also dazzled by the musical stylings of co-owner Christian Mena, who showed off his strong pipes by serenading us with a couple of songs. Having heard that Christian used to be a member of local band Maracujah and that he once toured with Neil Patrick Harris in the Broadway musical Rent, it wasn’t necessarily a shock to hear how good he was. Rather, it was a real treat for everyone there.

Chef Jan Hansen of Hotel Arts and Chef Lino Oliveira of SABOR.

Chef Jan Hansen of Hotel Arts and Chef Lino Oliveira of SABOR.

SABOR’s Seafood Festival runs through the month of August, and I’d highly recommend it. This is the ideal place to unwind with friends and/or family. The restaurant has a warm and welcoming atmosphere and the food has always been superb. Plus, be sure to visit from Wednesday to Saturday when they have live music. Perhaps you’ll even catch Christian at the mike. No matter what, if you’re a seafood fan, you won’t be disappointed.

Read more about SABOR in my original review

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Lazia (Downtown Closed – Visit North Location)

The Hula Hula Chicken & Firecracker Prawns

The Hula Hula Chicken & Firecracker Prawns

Over the past 15 years, the menu at Lazia has shifted, moving away from their origins as an Asian fusion restaurant. However, the new menu, introduced this summer, is a realignment to the type of cuisine they started with. There are still a few items meant to appease those who just want a straight up steak and potato dish, and there are about a handful that present a more Mediterranean leaning. Yet, the majority of the dishes have hints of Chinese, Thai and Malaysian influences (owner Richard Lim is Chinese by way of Malaysia) that are combined with flavours found across the globe.

Having had the opportunity to profile Richard’s other restaurant, Wildflower Grill, for The Local Good last year, I was pleasantly surprised to hear from his daughter, Tamara, who reached out to me through Twitter in August. Lazia’s menu had been updated for the fall season, and Richard wanted to invite me out for a one-on-one tasting session (myself and two guests). Being that I’m a fairly frequent patron of the restaurant since I work rather close by and I cannot pass up the offer of food, I wholeheartedly accepted the chance to gain more in-depth knowledge of their dishes and to meet Richard in-person.

Although I would recognize the bartender or the managers any day, funnily enough, I cannot recall ever seeing Richard prior to this past week. He told me that he’s always there, but he prefers to be in the background, making sure that things are running smoothly in the kitchen.

Things seemed to go very well on the quiet Wednesday evening that we dined. Richard and our server, Dave (who is usually a supervisor, but was attending to our every need this particular night), were incredible hosts. To start things off, they suggested a few beverages from their drink menu – a golden margarita, the grand phoenix martini and a lavender blueberry collins – of which we each sampled one. While we waited for our cocktails to be prepared, Richard took the time to go through the menu items that he thought we should sample. Then he left us to ponder. In the end, we decided to just go with the suggestions that were put forth. After all, Richard should know best.

Let me start by talking about those drinks.

The golden margarita was a more traditional blend of tequila, Grand Marnier, lime juice and agave nectar with the glass rimmed in salt. This is a cocktail that my friend would not typically order because of the tendency to be more sweet, but this one leaned towards a slightly bitter and tart flavour instead. It actually went down quite smoothly.

My mom also joined us, and she chose the grand phoenix because she liked the name. This one was a blend of vanilla vodka, pomegranate liqueur, orange juice and Grand Marnier. For an added dose of fun and decadence, the drink was lit on fire and then topped off with blood orange gel capsules (they used molecular gastronomy to prepare the natural acids from the juice in a certain way, creating these balls that, when popped, gave an extra shot of flavour), which floated in the liquid.

I had opted to go with the lavender blueberry collins. This one consisted of elderflower liqueur, gin, fresh lemon, lavender and blueberries. I missed the note in the menu about it being “in a fog,” so I was in awe to see that it arrived at the table in a capped bottle that once opened released a heavy dose of vapour like a potion in a witch’s cauldron. It was awesome! So great, in fact, that I simply watched that happen instead of pulling out my camera to capture it.

Now that we were happily imbibing, we had to start preparing ourselves for the meal at hand.

To begin, the kitchen created their daily amuse bouche. It’s a chance for the chefs to experiment with flavours and ingredients that they may not otherwise get to use. This is something that I notice Lazia has started to incorporate into their experience, borrowing from what you’d find at the arguably higher end Wildflower Grill.

Afterwards, Richard started us off with three small plates to share: Mediterranean pork belly, Moroccan lamb meatballs and Japanese barbecue pork.

The Moroccan lamb meatballs were skewered with a whole cherry tomato, avocado, jalapeno mousse and a thick slice of cucumber atop a bed of barbecue sauce. The 15 spices used within the meat really brought in a lot of flavour. This is a good choice if you want a starter that isn’t too heavy.

The Japanese barbecue pork really moves away from the traditional BBQ pork that you might find at a Chinese restaurant with the thick accompanying sauce. The pork is cooked with an orange, miso glaze and served in a ginger, sweet soy, Shaoxing wine vinaigrette. The tanginess and lightness of the sauce paired very well with the meat.

The Mediterranean pork belly was by far my favourite appetizer of the evening. Pork belly is becoming a rather common dish on menus across the city, but not everyone does it justice. Lazia’s dish was near perfection for me (don’t hold it against me if you go and you don’t agree). The pieces of pork belly were crisped so well on the outside, making that fatty layer disappear, all the while leaving the meat quite tender on the inside. I’m also so glad that Richard brought us an extra side of the duck fat cherry aioli for dipping because that sauce was so delicious with the pork belly or placed on the side of wonton chips dusted with black sesame powder that came with the dish.

The colourful and beautifully plated Roasted Beet Salad.

The colourful and beautifully plated Roasted Beet Salad.

Next up was the roasted beet salad, which had been made on a more miniature scale for the evening, allowing us to see the true colours and composition of the dish. It’s a beautiful course and one that the entire table would highly recommend. The plate is first covered with a layer of the lemon, miso vinaigrette dressing and then each ingredient is carefully placed on top. A mix of organic carrots, carrot leaves, frisee, strawberries, orange, rainbow cauliflower, red and yellow beets, feta, sponge cake and chia seeds, this would make for a wonderfully healthy and tasty lunch or dinner.

Good thing I wore some forgiving clothes because what followed were three entrees that were shared between me and my guests. Laid out before us was the hula hula chicken & firecracker prawns, the pacific wild salmon and the teppanyaki New York steak.

The prawns were large and had a good amount of heat from the seasoning and the chicken breast was cooked until tender, not overdone at all. Paired with a cilantro gremolata, it was the herbs that took me by surprise. Most people who know me are aware that I am not a fan of cilantro. I have one of those palates that believes that cilantro tastes like soap. But, I didn’t even realize that’s what I was eating in this dish. My friend once said that, supposedly, if cilantro is crushed, the molecule that creates that unbecoming flavour is destroyed. Perhaps that’s the reason why I found it to be pleasant. Crispy polenta formed a base for the chicken and the prawns, along with a zucchini and carrot pave – thinly sliced and layered like scalloped potatoes – and a pineapple, Malibu rum sauce. The sauce tasted a bit too sweet on its own, but it was great to offset the spice from the prawns.

As explained by Richard, the BC sockeye salmon served with skin was seared on both sides and then poached in olive oil to create the crisp outer texture while keeping the juices in the center. A painterly swipe of carrot emulsion graced the plate, which was topped with sauteed broccolini, confit tomatoes and a lovely combination of chorizo and black lentils. The latter provided a smoky flavor, contrasting well with bites of the mandarin orange chutney topped fish.

I left the steak as the last to discuss because this one had an interesting back story. Had Richard not told us, I never would have guessed that this dish was a mix of Japanese (easy to see) and Mexican (not so evident at first) influences. The steak itself is prepared using a yakitori glaze; it is plated with pickled ginger and togarashi on top and a bed of chile hollandaise. A miso, sesame dressing sat on the side with flash fried cauliflower and fingerling potatoes. All the elements were done well, even that Mexican inspired chile hollandaise. As it turns out, Richard loves Mexican food, and one of his favourite restaurants is in Phoenix, AZ. There they can cook with hatch chile peppers, which have a fairly low spicy heat rating on the Scoville scale, but give off enough of a fresh, earthy pungency to make a manageable impact. Unfortunately, hatch chile peppers are not available in Alberta, so Richard worked with his chefs to find a mixture of peppers that can be purchased locally that, when combined, closely emulates the taste of the hatch chile.

If you don’t already feel full reading about all of the food we had eaten so far, you will be after learning that we also split two desserts: the raspberry white chocolate cheesecake and the dark chocolate raspberry bomb. Little works of art, the sweet endings were nicely plated. Both had a bit of weight to them, but the cheesecake came off as less dense, which was welcome. They’re actually great for sharing, especially after a large meal.

Overall, I would say that the menu, in its various incarnations, has had its ups and downs, but what we sampled last week was fantastic. The experimentation and playfulness that has been shown with the options that they’ve decided to put on their latest menu is a testament to the talent in their kitchen. Everything we tried was thoughtfully prepared, and I was impressed, not just with the taste and texture, but also the presentation. It was almost as if the Wildflower chefs had taken over. The level of craftsmanship from the bar to the kitchen was close to on par with Richard’s more upscale offering, but at a slightly better price point.

Based on what I had the pleasure of tasting, their effort to step back and reassess what they do best is working for them. Now, they just need you to remember that they’re an option when you’re in the downtown area. And, should you be worried about parking, don’t fret. While nearby construction is taking its toll, Lazia offers free secure, heated underground parking in the West Preferred Parkade by the Bay at City Centre Mall every weekday evening after 5:30pm and all day on weekends.

Lazia is definitely worth a visit, or a revisit if you haven’t been in quite some time.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Burg (Closed)

Napkin Ratings: As their menu says, "it can't be good if you aren't wearing at least some of it".

Napkin Ratings: As their menu says, “it can’t be good if you aren’t wearing at least some of it”.

Burgers are one of the simplest meals someone can make – they can be dressed up or down and they can be made with almost any meat (or veggie) available – but they are also one of the easiest to screw up. Over the years I’ve eaten a few that literally blew my mind, many that were great and settled cravings and, some that were subpar, often because they were dry and bland. Being a fan of the build-your-own-burger (BYOB) idea, I’d tried Soda Jerks a few times and thought they did a decent job of fulfilling that niche. That is until The Burg (@TheBurg4St) opened on the 4th Street Promenade in downtown Edmonton. Situated in the old Ric’s Grill/Ric’s 104 St. Grill location inside the Historic Metals Limited Building at 102 Avenue, they’ve now been operating for about a year.

While I had intended to visit much earlier, I didn’t make a point of going until the beginning of June. Throughout the last twelve months I had heard mixed reviews about the food, so even though I was really gung-ho about visiting when the restaurant introduced itself, that feeling eventually waned. Leave it to Groupon to give me that much needed nudge. Having to use my voucher, I asked my friend to join me there for lunch.

The revamped restaurant interior - a lot more rustic than before.

The revamped restaurant interior – a lot more rustic than before.

Since I had dined at the previous establishments many times before, seeing the space’s new incarnation as The Burg was a little shocking. The structure was virtually untouched, but it had been made to look a lot more spacious by knocking down some of the partitions that previously provided added privacy for the business clientele that used to be catered to. This place is now about being inviting. Meant to be a casual and social setting, it’s all wood floors, metal, rustic beams and open bulb light fixtures. The design gives it a welcoming atmosphere, and the tables can be rearranged to meet the needs of different sized groups or parties. I’m not sure about dinner, but for lunch you can seat yourself as menus are already at the table (like at Famoso), and a server will come by to check on you and take your order.

I didn’t peruse the offerings prior to getting there, so I was surprised to see the selection of feature burgers in their seasonal menu. Those are in addition to the BYOB option and the Burger of the Month. Having read that the cost of a burger there was a bit exorbitant, especially when you take into account that the price doesn’t even include a side, I was happy to see that they at least give you the option of a Burger Combo lunch special that includes a basic burger and your choice of side for only $11. Our table neighbours went with that and it looked great.

Instead, my friend and I opted to share an order of the Mac ‘N’ Cheese Balls (or rather squares) to start. Cubes of elbow pasta covered in sharp cheddar, white cheddar and cream cheese sauce and then crusted with panko, fried and served with jalapeno queso dip, they were very good. I particularly liked the texture as the panko breading gave them a good amount of crunch that gave way to its cheesy center. These were actually quite similar to the version that I had back in May at The Phork. The Burg takes a less upscale approach by forgoing the truffle oil, and comparatively the spicy chili Ketchup at The Phork trumps the dip here because it packs a bigger punch with the taste. Still, I wouldn’t pass these up.

For her main, my friend ate the Southern Fried Chicken Burger. I didn’t sample it, but she said it was delicious. The burger consists of a corn flake crusted thyme and onion scented ground chicken patty that is deep fried and finished with white BBQ sauce, leaf lettuce and tomato sandwiched between a toasted potato scallion roll. My love of lamb won out, so I ordered the Lamb Provencal (not available on the current menu), which is a lean ground lamb patty scented with Herb de Provence and mint, topped with grilled zucchini, roast red peppers, roasted garlic aioli and arugula in a toasted ciabatta roll. All I can say is that it was a flavour explosion. The meat was really juicy and the veggies were cooked until tender. Both burgers were given a ‘4 Napkin’ rating (extremely handy, especially if you’re on a date!) on the menu, meaning they’re some of the messiest available at the restaurant, and I will attest that my friend and I had sauce dripping down our hands as we dug into our meals. Being that we had also devoured the appetizer, neither of us managed to finish our burgers, so we each packed up the last half for dinner that evening.

Unfortunately, I’m not able to argue with what others have said about The Burg in the past. Every person has their own unique experience and opinion. This was my first of two visits and, so far, from my observations of the service received – our server was really attentive and came back when she said she would (as opposed to 20 minutes later) as we weren’t able to make up our minds when we initially sat down – and the quality of the food we had the pleasure of consuming on this particular occasion, I can say that I’ve now forgotten about those dated reviews that I had come across. Based on my own knowledge of The Burg, I would definitely recommend this as a hangout to my friends if they’re looking for a centrally located and satisfying burger joint.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Under the High Wheel

The exterior of Under the High Wheel.

The exterior of Under the High Wheel.

I wasn’t aware of Under the High Wheel‘s (@thehighwheel) existence until I came across The Tomato‘s lists of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton. In 2013, readers voted the noshery into the No. 86 spot touting all of their breakfast items as worthy. Then, again, this past March it made the list once more, shooting up to the No. 48 position. So, after seeing that it has been getting high marks, I suggested to my friend that we stop there for brunch on a nice, warm, sunny day over the May long weekend.

Located inside the Roots on Whyte building at 102 Street and 81 Avenue, there is ample street parking in the vicinity in case you were at all worried. We parked directly across from the patio and headed towards the restaurant. There are two entrances, one through the DaCapo Caffe and another through the automatic sliding doors next to the Blush Lane Organic Market. Not realizing that DaCapo and Under the High Wheel actually share the same space, we got a little confused and thought we had to enter through the other door. Eventually, we made our way inside and were promptly greeted and seated outside at the last available patio table.

Most of the patio is shaded, so you won’t be blinded by the sunshine if it’s a particularly bright day. However, the table we got was at the far end of the space and wasn’t covered at all. While it was great for soaking in some vitamin D, it’s also good to know that, if you’re sensitive to the sun, you may want to avoid that location because without a pair of sunglasses you’ll be squinting throughout your entire meal.

The feature menu.

The feature menu.

The menu was actually quite thorough. It included their usual brunch dishes, encompassing soup, salads, breakfast items as well as a variety of sandwiches and burgers. In addition, a small selection of featured plates were tacked on for good measure. Seeing as how I think it’s important to try an establishment’s tried and true offerings, I opted to go with the Savoury Belgian Waffles with smoked salmon. On the other hand, my friend decided to go with one of the specials, which ended up being the Hand Rolled Gnocchi because I have almost never seen her pass up the chance to eat potato pasta.

Our server was really pleasant and friendly. She made a point of asking us if we were in a rush that day. I’m guessing if we were they would have tried to get to our order more quickly, but we stated that we had time and were there to relax. As we waited for our food, we both drank mugs of chai latte. I thought the tea was good, but it lacked the amount of spice that I typically like. At over five dollars I would have expected a little better, but it was nice to sip anyway.

My savoury Belgian waffle with smoked salmon.

My savoury Belgian waffle with smoked salmon.

The brightly coloured meals did eventually make their way to us. When they landed on our table, the server pointed out that I was lucky to have gotten my order in when I did as they had just run out of waffle batter for the day. With the breakfast gods on my side, I dug into my waffles with smoked salmon and it was delicious! Like a glorified plate of eggs benedict, the waffles, if I do say so myself, are an excellent and preferred replacement for English muffins, giving a slightly sweet taste to the otherwise savoury dish. The smoked salmon was fresh and the poached eggs were cooked perfectly, providing just the right amount of runniness when the yolk was broken. The side of greens was a great palate cleanser that brought an earthy quality, especially with the pumpkin (I’m assuming that’s what they were) seeds mixed in.

My friend’s gnocchi was generously portioned and was covered with amazing, fresh hazelnut pesto and pea and mint sauce. She shared some with me and I have to say it was one of the best I’ve had in the city. Different from pan seared gnocchi, which I usually prefer, it was the sauce that really made it a solid competitor.

Completely full after cleaning off our plates, we didn’t have room for dessert, so I can’t comment on what they have to offer there. But, if they put as much effort into them as they do their mains, I’m sure they’re equally as delectable.

I’m glad that we tried Under the High Wheel and that my eyes were opened up to a new food destination. The interior of the restaurant is really quite cute with an antique look that seems comfy and cozy for those days when all you want to do is sit and chat with those closest to you. I’ll definitely be back to sample some more food soon!