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 But, before I knew it, the eatery had been replaced by a spot called Izakaya O-Tori.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 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.

YEG Guide: A Day on 124 Street

Mural by Jill Stanton

Edmonton is a city filled with small pockets of community. 124 Street is definitely one of those spots. If you were driving by on a regular day, it might not strike you immediately as the place to be. It doesn’t have the same historic vibe of Whyte Avenue and it’s not situated right in the downtown core like 104 Street, but it is long-established, bridging the neighbourhoods of Oliver and Westmount as well as Glenora to the west.

I grew up around here, and it’s still one of my favourite areas to visit. With businesses lining the road all the way from Jasper Avenue down to 111 Avenue before turning primarily residential, there’s something for everyone who stops by.

Here are my recommendations for a day on 124 Street:

 

Breakfast or Brunch

The frittata with multigrain toast.

Urban Diner (12427 102 Avenue)

This is a staple of High Street. It’s a go to spot for weekend brunch with the line sometimes out the door. But, it’s hearty food that will fill you right up.

The interior of Canteen…very modern and industrial.

Canteen (10522 124 Street)

To be fair, I’ve only ever been here for dinner, so I can’t necessarily speak to brunch. However, their evening menu is fantastic and I’ve heard nothing but good things about the weekend fare.

Snickerdoodle, Strawberry Cheesecake, Birthday Cake, All the Reese, Ode to Sunshine and Triple Play

Destination Doughnuts (10548 124 Street)

If you’re more the type to get a grab and go snack for breakfast at Timmies, this might be for you. It’s just a much more indulgent version of the yeasty treat. Flavours like the Triple Play (hickory sticks, ripple chips, and caramel on chocolate glaze), Strawberry Cheesecake, or Snickerdoodle will have you coming back for more in no time.

 

Shopping

Arturo Denim (10443 124 Street)

My fiancé and I happened upon this workshop at random while walking along 124 Street one day. Turns out that they make denim jeans locally right from this small space. Upon purchasing, they will provide free tailoring to ensure a perfect fit. I mentioned the business to a friend of mine and she swears by them. They also sell some other vintage clothing as well as fun pins and patches.

Henry’s Interiors (10247 124 Street)

This shop has been located around this neighbourhood for as long as I can remember. They provide interior design services alongside ample eclectic home decor to make your house a home. The styles on offer vary, allowing customers to mix and match to their own tastes.

Listen Records (10443a 124 Street)

This is a haven for LP lovers; the racks are stuffed with music from all genres. They sell both new and used items, and if you have anything you want to pass along, feel free to bring it by to see if they’ll buy it off of you.

Red Ribbon (12505 102 Avenue)

Open since 2002, founder and owner Rychelle has carefully curated her shop to include clothes, accessories, and gifts for women, men, and children. I have always loved poking around the underground store looking for a new treasure.

Salgado Fenwick (10842 124 Street)

Originally more of a market find, these small-batch silk-screened garment makers decided to open up a storefront about 4 years ago. Not only will you find limited edition printed tops and accessories, but you can also pop in for a coffee at Barking Buffalo Cafe, which shares the same space.

So Pretty Cara Cotter (10120 124 Street)

Previously, local jewelry designer Cara Cotter focused on growing her business internationally with by appointment only meetings available in her Edmonton studio. Yet, recently, she partnered with Pura Botanicals to open a joint flagship store. There, you’ll find beautifully crafted pieces made with semi-precious stones, solid 925 sterling silver, 18K gold, rose gold, and gunmetal vermeil (heavy plated over sterling silver).

The Prints and The Paper (10725 124 Street)

I love this shop! Looking for something unique for your home? This is the place to go. They showcase numbered limited edition silkscreen prints signed by the artist alongside vintage Edmonton imagery and maps. They can custom frame pieces for you, too. While you’re there, take a gander at their collection of books, travel guides, and cards. The center counter holds it all while allowing patrons to peruse at their leisure by providing stools along the perimeter for them to sit and flip through everything.

124 Grand Market

Located at 108 Avenue and 124 Street on Thursdays between 4pm and 8pm, this outdoor market runs from early-May to early-October. On Sundays from 11am to 3pm between June to September, the market moves to 102 Avenue and 124 Street. You’ll find a number of local makers setting up their tents every week. Everything from fresh floral bouquets to preserves and baked goods to clothes, there’s something to interest the whole family.

 

Midday Snacks & Treats

Key Lime Tart from Duchess Bake Shop

Duchess Bake Shop (10718 124 Street)

It’s impossible to make a list about 124 Street without including this world-renowned bakery. If you’re nearby, stop in to have a croissant sandwich for a light lunch, or pick up dessert. My personal favourite is the key lime tart, but their macarons and shortbread cookies are fantastic as well. On a hot day, pop over for a pint of their newly launched line of ice cream!

Cococo Chocolatier Bernard Callebaut (10103 124 Street)

Treat yourself to some Canadian-made chocolates and then sit down in their cafe over a beverage or a cup of gelato. It’s a relaxing spot with some free parking right in front.

Remedy Cafe (10310 124 Street)

One of Edmonton’s greatest success stories is this cafe. They’ve now expanded to 6 locations citywide, including their spot on 124 Street. Known for their chai lattes (I enjoy the lassis, too) and samosas, they also cater to those with food sensitivities and dietary restrictions by offering many gluten/dairy-free and vegan friendly Indian and Pakistani meals in addition to a variety of drinks and desserts.

 

Activities

Table Top Cafe 2.0 filled will customers on a Saturday evening.

Table Top Cafe (10235 124 Street)

Well-stocked with board games, this is the ideal spot to gather with friends and family for some old-fashioned fun away from electronics. For just $7 per person, you can stay and play for as long as you want. They even serve beverages (alcoholic included), snacks, and sandwiches to keep everyone energized. Plus, if you really love a game, they may have new packages in stock to take home.

Instagrammable Walls Walk

This area is home to a number of interesting and colourful murals. There’s one by artist Jill Stanton (10803 124 Street; see photo at the top of this post), another that maps the neighbourhood on the wall of Peter Robertson Gallery (104 Avenue and 124 Street), a third showcases the city skyline (108 avenue and 124 Street), and there’s also a geometric piece with animals tucked on the side of the building that houses Meuwly’s (10706 124 Street). You’ll discover many more photo ops in the vicinity. You just need to keep your eyes peeled for walls that can make good backdrops. They’re literally everywhere!

Gallery Tour

Sometimes 124 Street is called the Gallery District because, in the span of just a two-block radius between 103 and 104 Avenues, you’ll come across nine out of the ten located in this neighbourhood. Included are Bearclaw Gallery, Bugera Matheson Gallery, The Front Gallery, Lando Gallery, Lotus Cafe & Gallery, Peter Robertson Gallery, Scott Gallery, Udell Xhibitions, Wakina Gallery (10632 124 Street; may be by appointment only), and West End Gallery. Twice a year, seven of the businesses participate in an official Gallery Walk, opening their doors for a celebration of art. The next one is scheduled for Fall 2019 from September 21 to 22, but feel free to visit any other time during regular hours.

 

Dinner & Late Night

Dipping the Croque Mon’Soubise’ in sauce.

Partake (12431 102 Avenue)

Delectable rustic French cuisine in a cozy and inviting space. That’s how I’d describe Partake. It’s fairly new to the restaurant scene in Edmonton, but it was brought to life by the same owners of Urban Diner and the recently closed (lease was up) The Manor. They’ve got years of experience up their sleeves and the thought that they’ve put into this menu shows. Walk-ins only, so if you’re close, pop your head in and see if they have space to accommodate. You’ll certainly want to linger over the food and cocktails once you’re there.

Tagliatelle Florentine

Nuovo Bistro (10721 124 Street)

Want a hearty meal of Italian pasta? This is a great local spot. The dishes are flavourful and filling, and while the venue is small, it’s friendly. The place is also quiet enough to carry on a conversation while still being somewhat lively. They also have decent daily promotions such as half off appetizers on Sundays.

Super Combination Platter for Two

Cosmos Greek Kitchen (10812 124 Street)

Just get the Super Combination Platter. If there are three or four of you, go for the platter for two. It should be enough to feed everyone. Kirk and I ordered this for the pair of us and it fed both of us for almost three days!

Butter paneer (or chicken) is perfect during the winter months.

Nosh Cafe (10235 124 Street)

Right next to the aforementioned Table Top Cafe is this Indian restaurant. It’s my go to for a quick meal of butter chicken or palak paneer. They also have a daily wing and beer special that’s perfect for a midday snack.

The dining room of RGE RD.

RGE RD (10643 123 Street)

When you have time and money to spare, go here. Take the Road Trip, a multi-course meal that starts at $89 per person. The chef will take your palate on a journey from the east to west coasts of the country.

Arcadia Bar (10988 124 Street)

This is a very intimate bar with minimal seating. But, they stick to local brews and they’re open late Thursdays to Saturdays.

Edmonton Mini Restaurant Review: Malt & Mortar

Malt & Mortar’s logo painted on their exposed brick wall.

My friends are moving to Vancouver this week (sadness). When they invited Kirk and me to join them for a going away gathering at Malt & Mortar earlier this month, we made sure to go. I’d never been to the Whyte Ave venue before, so I was excited to check it out.

We arrived a little late that Saturday night, and we found them hovering by the large center bar. The reservation made for a dozen people still wasn’t ready. Thankfully, it didn’t take too much longer before they had things set. We were led towards the back of the restaurant where there was a long raised table that could accommodate our group.

Malt & Mortar has a cool vibe. Slightly vintage with its exposed brick walls, wood plank ceiling and painted logo, while keeping things modern with more industrial black piping, venting, beams and lighting. The space was larger than I had realized as well. A variety of leather upholstered booths were available to fit parties of any size.

It was very loud though, making it difficult to hear past the few tablemates who surrounded me. I noticed that a handful of speakers were hanging directly above us and pretty much along the whole perimeter of the place. With numerous glass windows and hard brick, sound couldn’t be absorbed, so it just echoed all over. If you plan to go there and are hoping for a quieter visit, I’d suggest a weekday or later in the evenings. That, or try to get one of the smaller round booths along the back of the eatery. They kind of have a pergola over them and there are no speakers right nearby, so I suspect that it won’t be as noisy in those spots.

My other recommendation to Malt & Mortar is that they don’t have enough screens listing their beers on tap (I believe there are about 16 in rotation at one time). There was only one on our side of the restaurant and it was right over my head. I had to turn my body around and crane my neck just to read it, so I was surprised that they didn’t have another set up on the facing wall considering that there is plenty of space to put it.

Lastly, I understand putting bathrooms (really clean, by the way) in the basement, but I don’t quite believe that establishments where a lot of alcohol is consumed are the ideal businesses for bathrooms where stairs are involved. I thought the same thing of Craft Beer Market and I think the same thing here. There were many patrons later in the night who seemed like they wouldn’t make it down the stairs without falling. Otherwise, the design of the venue is pretty good.

Kirk had a few pints of beer and the Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich.

On to the drinks and food though! Similar to Beer Revolution, they update their rotating draughts on the TV screens with soon to be tapped kegs listed at the bottom. The selection was decent with a heavy emphasis on local breweries; most pints are priced at around $8.50 each. My personal preference for beer tends to be light, crisp, and fruity. Kirk leans more towards IPAs with hoppiness. That evening, I took a liking to the current sour from Situation Brewing. I also tried the Malt & Mortar Saturday special, a two-ounce Back Porch Tea ($10) made with gin, peach sweet tea, and house-made sour. Admittedly, it was a strong cocktail, but after a big squeeze of lemon juice, it settled and was relatively refreshing.

To eat, Kirk went for the Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich ($17), which was praised by one of our friends. Stacked with coleslaw, pickles, and two pieces of battered and fried chicken breast covered in a Gochujang glaze, it was juicy, savoury, a little bit sweet, and slightly spicy. The whole thing was a huge mess though. The bun fell apart less than half way through and Kirk finished it off using his utensils. For his side, he stuck to the standard fries, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper.

I tried out the Back Porch Tea and the West Coast Power Bowl with added Tuna Poke.

I decided to go a “healthier” route by ordering the West Coast Power Bowl ($17) with added Tuna Poke ($7). Honestly, the cost once you tack on a protein is kind of high, but the bowl was huge. It felt like I was barely making a dent in the dish, and at the end, I was sort of struggling to finish it. I didn’t have enough left to pack it home, yet it wasn’t a small enough portion to toss it out. I hate to waste food, so I persisted. Still, it was tasty minus the cilantro used in the poke. It’s not an ingredient listed anywhere on the menu when describing the tuna, so I didn’t bother asking if there would be any cilantro. Had I known, I would probably have asked them to mix the poke without the herb or selected a different meat. I’m not sure why cilantro is used in everything nowadays when it’s common knowledge that there are many people who don’t have the taste buds to appreciate it, so all I ask is that they give a warning about it in advance.

In any case, I sucked it up, picking out the cilantro where possible and just eating it when I couldn’t. On a positive note, the flavour was somewhat masked by the rest of the ingredients in the West Coast Power Bowl. The base was an organic quinoa tossed in a citrus vinaigrette and then combined with corn, black beans, avocado, cucumber, pea shoots, and pickled carrots. There was tons of texture going on and a jolt of heat on the palate from the delicious avocado wasabi crema. Not mentioned on the menu was the use of aburaage, which are thin slices of deep-fried tofu, usually used to make inari sushi. Those were cut into smaller pieces and added to the dish for sweetness. I really enjoyed having that in the mix.

After a few hours hanging out, we called it a night. Considering the size of our group and the staff working that Saturday evening, I thought the service was alright. We all managed to get our beverages and food without much issue (we did get one wrong order of beer, but we also got an extra beer on the house), and we really liked the space, especially when it died down later so we could hear again. Overall, the food was well-made (corn dogs don’t smell better when they’re plated pretty though) and filling, just maybe a tad too pricey regarding the entrées. Other than that, we’ll definitely be back. It’s a fun spot with a casual, convivial atmosphere.