Edmonton Restaurant Review: Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse

Pampa downtown Edmonton interior

For years, Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse sat on 99 Avenue and 109 Street as the lone location in Edmonton. However, more recently, they’ve grown to include two more spots in the city, one in Ellerslie and another in the west end. Although the premise of rodÍzio (unlimited meat carved at the table) always intrigued me, the price didn’t necessarily encourage me to go.

As my friends had mentioned before, it’s a great experience, but the cost — $52.99 per person for dinner — simply covered the main meal and buffet. Anything such as drinks and/or desserts (if you even have room left) were an addition, quickly racking up the bill. Therefore, it remained on my list of places to try, but it was never a priority.

Then, last year, a different restaurant with the same idea decided to open up along Saskatchewan Drive. A number of other local foodies were popping into Fumaca Brazilian Steakhouse to test run it, and I opted to check it out, too. Personally, I loved Fumaca’s meats (their buffet could use some improvement), and ever since then, I’d been wanting to get to Pampa to compare the two.

Downtown Dining Week menu

I strategically waited until Downtown Dining Week rolled around before booking an OpenTable reservation for our visit. The $45 menu on offer during that event was slightly smaller. It included the hot and cold buffet (over fifty items) as well as ten different meat skewers versus the usual fourteen at regular price. Was it enough of a difference to my wallet to skimp out on those four more meats? Probably not. On the other hand, I made a point of trying all ten cuts that were available to me, and I can safely say that I don’t think I could have eaten any more than what I did (not counting the dessert I tacked on at the end).

My plate of items from the hot and cold salad bar

To recap the overall meal, I’ll start with the buffet. It’s a pretty extensive spread ranging from pickles and veggies to hummus and cheese to potatoes and salads (greens and pastas) to soups and stews. It certainly seemed fresher than the one at Fumaca with more variety and larger portions set out. While I chose not to sample the soups, they did look deliciously creamy. Ultimately, I stuck with some of the house-made hummus (I’ve had better from a store bought container), sliced radishes, raddichio salad (kind of bitter and oddly textured), Brazilian cheese bread (too hard as if it’d sat out too long under heat), beef penne salad, marinated baby potatoes, Caesar salad, and a warm creamy chicken pasta to accompany my onslaught of meats.

Once we were back at our table, we left our cards flipped to the green side to signify that we were ready for the skewers to come; flip them to the red side to let the servers know you need a break.

Marinated Chicken Drumstick

First up was the marinated chicken drumstick. I found this to be simply seasoned and smoky with a very crisp exterior while still maintaining some moisture underneath the skin. Not my favourite, but tasty enough.

Pampa Pork Sausage

Next was the Pampa pork sausage. I have not learned to love cilantro (it has that soapy flavour) and I found that the herbaceousness of it came through too much for me. This sausage was also dry and I didn’t enjoy the full pieces of peppercorn that dotted the pork.

Beef Top Sirloin

I asked for a more medium-cooked slice of the beef top sirloin. Definitely a bit more fatty than some of the other cuts of beef, but this was tender, juicy and nicely crusted at the edges.

Bacon-Wrapped Chicken Thigh

The bacon-wrapped chicken thigh is likely the hottest piece of meat that we were served (everything else was lukewarm). This was probably due to bacon grease being trapped between the pork and the chicken. No question, it was a little oily, but the chicken was quite succulent underneath the bacon.

Parmesan Pork Loin

One of my top choices, more for the flavour than the texture (slightly tough), was the Parmesan pork loin. The meat had a hint of lemon to it and it was heavily rubbed with dry Parmesan cheese crumbs. Honestly, this was a genius combo.

Rosemary-Marinated Pork Shoulder

Before trying the rosemary-marinated pork shoulder, I wasn’t sure that I would like it. Pork shoulder isn’t a cut of the pig that I often have and I was concerned about the preparation of it. Turns out that it was the closest thing to pork belly (go figure) that I’d get to eat on that night. Sure, it didn’t have the same fattiness of pork belly, but the extremely crispy skin held all of the juices in and reminded me of the pork belly I’d had at Fumaca.

Beef Garlic Steak

Can you ever have too much garlic? It’s a preference thing, I suppose. In the case of their beef garlic steak, I’d say that it’s a big maybe. Initially, I loved the abundance of garlic crusting the piece I was carved. Yet, it eventually became way too salty on my palate.

Chimichurri-Basted Beef Striploin

The only meat that wasn’t served from a skewer was the chimichurri-basted beef striploin. It was one of the last meats that I was presented with, so I asked for a smaller piece to make sure that I’d be able to finish it. If there was cilantro in the sauce (it’s a typical ingredient in many chimichurris), the flavour was thankfully masked; nevertheless, it was too greasy and salty despite the use of a tender steak as the base.

New Zealand Leg of Lamb

To change things up, they also offer a New Zealand leg of lamb. Much leaner than the other meats, it provided a decent chew and a lovely outer crust without the gamey flavour that many dislike about lamb (I don’t actually mind it myself).

Beef Rumpsteak

Last, but not least, was the beef rumpsteak. The slice I received was just a tad dry (shredding apart in the mouth) even though it looked to be cooked perfectly and had a nice colouring to it. It was also very minimally seasoned, making it kind of bland.

As a final bow on the evening, I went for their feature dessert. It was a coconut custard with boiled mango on top. The preparation of the fruit was interesting. It turned the mango into something like a chewy jelly, and the custard actually had flakes of coconut in it. Not the worst, but also off-putting since custards should really be creamy and smooth. This was unexpected.

All in, our meal came to $114 after tax and tip was accounted for. Aside from the one dessert, we refrained from extras like beverages, which made it more reasonable for two people. Nonetheless, with each small glimmer of greatness in the food, there were also many things that I found to be lackluster. I’m not likely to go back to Pampa anytime soon; however, if anyone is a fan of meat, meat, and more meat at a single sitting, then this is the place for you.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Town Square Brewing

The main floor of Town Square Brewing holds the bar and a larger group table.

Wanting to catch up, my friend and I recently made plans to meet. Both of us living on the south side of Edmonton, it isn’t always super easy to find local, independently owned restaurants to hang out at in our neck of the woods. But, I’d had my eye on Town Square Brewing for a while (located at 2919 Ellwood Drive), and that’s where we decided to go. Being a brewery, I brought Kirk along as well since I thought he’d enjoy the beer.

We showed up for lunch on a Sunday at noon. Turns out, we were the first customers for the day. It’s a bright and casual space. Very open concept with tall ceilings on the main floor and a staircase that takes guests up to a loft with several tables and a couple of cozy looking armchairs situated by a fireplace. Windows along the back wall look into the production area, so you can see the machinery at work.

A shared flight of beer with our selections from the current draughts on tap.

Told to seat ourselves wherever we liked, we chose a table that overlooked the entrance. A board on the wall indicated the current beers on tap. Kirk and I decided to share a flight ($10 for four 5 ounce glasses). I like some beers, but I’m not the connoisseur. The only one that I selected and drank was the Beets by Sinden Kettle Sour. I found it to be crisp, earthy, a little bit tart, smooth, and without any lingering bitterness. Perfect for me. It’s also the Alberta Beer Bronze Winner for 2018. At the time, they also had a Belgian-style beer on tap. That was Kirk’s favourite of the three he sampled. An additional pint was ordered to go with our food.

Town Square Brewing has a pretty compact menu with a focus on their pizzas. I should probably have listened to our server who mentioned that the pies are their most popular options. Instead, I went with the Parson’s Daughter Sandwich ($16) while Kirk chose their full-size Brewer’s Break pizza ($19).

Parson’s Daughter Sandwich with the Soup of the Day

The sandwich wasn’t the worst thing, but it also wasn’t the best. I just felt that they put very little effort into it. The house made spent grain bread was sliced to a thickness that would hold up when held, but it was really bland and pretty dry. The bread was literally cut from the loaf with absolutely no other preparation like toasting, pressing or buttering at all. Filled with chicken breast, pear, mozzarella, cranberry aioli, spinach, and basil, it sounded quite promising; however, the clearly pre-cooked chicken (it was cold) and not melted cheese was a downer. The only plus were the spotty bites with cranberry aioli, which upped the flavour quotient ever so slightly. For the side, I opted for a bowl of the daily soup. It happened to be a tomato bisque, so I was expecting something creamier. This one was mealy like the texture of a tomato that has been refrigerated. Not great. At the very least, it was somewhat warm, and I liked the touch of crumbled cheese on top.

Definitely go here for the pizza though. Town Square Brewing makes theirs with a thin crust. It has a different consistency than what you might find at Famoso, for example, as it’s less chewy in the middle. The outside is a little crispier, yet the dough is still soft enough to fold. The toppings were decent, too. With Genoa salami, Lazuli Farms pulled pork, and prosciutto, this hit the spot for us two carnivores. Arugula, onions, tomatoes, and BBQ sauce took things a step further, balancing out any saltiness from all that meat with bitterness, sweetness, and tartness. On a side note, I really like the trays that the pizzas are served on. There’s a hole in one corner that fits a single tasting glass just right. I thought that was a fun touch.

I was originally tempted to stay a little longer in order to have some dessert. In the end I refrained from it. I’ll save that for the next visit because their Soul Food pizza is calling to me. If they can work on their sandwich, I’d appreciate it. For the price, it certainly didn’t seem worth it at all. As always, every place has room for improvement, and I’m going to say that this is it for Town Square Brewing. Otherwise, everything else was fairly satisfying.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Nomiya

Nomiya’s place setting.

I’d eaten sushi and ramen at Nomiya in the past, but I’ll admit that it’d been a long time since my last visit. The Ellerslie location just celebrated their fifth anniversary though, and that prompted me to go back.

I certainly don’t like how tiny this place is as it feels very cramped (their other shop on Calgary Trail is a lot more spacious), and I also thought that much of the serving staff was rather slow with everything (except for one who was working her butt off and should have been running the show).

At the very least, once our order was placed, all of the food was quickly prepared. It was especially fast sitting at the bar since the chefs could just hand the dishes right to us and we didn’t have to wait for someone to bring everything over.

Nomiya has a pretty extensive list of options that range from appetizers to noodles to sushi. Yet, Kirk and I stuck mostly with classic sushi menu items as those are the best to gauge the quality in comparison to similar restaurants.

Salmon Sashimi

I started with Salmon Sashimi (5 pieces for about $12…honestly, I can’t really recall the exact price). These looked and tasted fresh. They were thickly cut with a slightly fatty texture, and there was little to no tendon to be found either. The sashimi totally hit the spot for me and helped to quell my sushi craving a bit.

Next up was the California Roll ($9.45). Kirk always gets these. They seemed to be decent. Yet, I noticed that they stuck with imitation crab meat rather than real crab. The avocado was also small towards the ends of the rolls, so the kitchen isn’t super consistent when making maki. Kirk’s other pick was the Dynamite Roll ($12.95). These were actually delicious. What took them up a notch was the use of made-to-order shrimp tempura, meaning these were warm. The shrimp itself was still juicy, too.

Chop Chop Rolls ($11.95) are one of my go to dishes. With a good ratio of rice to filling, these ones didn’t disappoint. The avocado was prominent and I liked that the scallops were mixed with tobiko in Japanese mayo to give added texture. To change things up, for my second choice, I went with the more modern Spicy Phili Roll ($12.95). This one came wrapped in coloured rice paper and filled with cream cheese, avocado, cucumber, spicy sauce, and salmon. While I appreciated the contrast of flavours on the palate, I wasn’t too happy with the abundance of rice as there was away more of that than any other ingredient.

Daily Drink Specials

Nomiya managed to provide a passable sushi meal with hints of greatness on a very busy night. Nevertheless, for about $80 including tax and tip, I think that there are probably better choices out there. Granted, I’m not one to pass up happy hour deals, and they do seem to have an okay selection for that, so I’ll return to try items from that menu sooner than later.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: London Local

Appetizers are sizeable and perfect for sharing.

Chef Lindsay Porter, of El Cortez, Have Mercy, and Woodwork fame, branched out in the fall of last year with her very own restaurant. London Local takes inspiration from her British heritage. Located in the Ellerslie area, the space has a decidedly pub-like feel, but with a slightly cleaner, more modern design aesthetic.

My friend and I arrived for our reservation, made through OpenTable, at 5:30pm on a Thursday evening to find the place relatively quiet. It made me question whether or not the business is doing okay as things didn’t seem to pick up even by the time we left three hours later. Still, to our benefit, the lower noise-level made it easy for us to carry on a conversation, which is something I truly appreciate.

Bottled Beer and House Brewed Iced Tea

Also, on the plus side, we made it in time for happy hour. While I chose not to partake, my friend was able to get a bottle of beer for half price. Most of their selection ranges from $7 to $8, so it’s a steal from 3pm to 6pm every Tuesday to Friday. If wine is preferred, bottles and glasses are also half off. NOTE: For those who like deals, London Local presents a 3-Course Roast Menu on Sundays for only $30 per person.

I opted to go with a non-alcoholic House Brewed Iced Tea, sweetened ($3). Rather than the bar mixing in the simple syrup on my behalf, they brought out a mini pitcher, so I could do it myself. It was alright, but I probably wouldn’t order it again. The tea was still quite bitter, but, being conscious of how much syrup I was using, I wasn’t too keen on asking for extra. The iced tea also doesn’t come with any refills.

For our meals, my newly minted Maid of Honor, selected the Bangers & Mash ($23), and I went with a couple of the appetizers: Steak Tartare ($16) and Asparagus & Cauliflower ($14). I figured it’d be best to sample more to get a better picture of what London Local has to offer.

Bangers & Mash

Come to think of it though, I didn’t have a chance to try any of the Bangers & Mash. All I can do is talk about how good it looked. The sausage was large and plump, surrounded by a pool of dark onion gravy. To the side was a huge dollop of smoked champ — chopped scallions, butter, milk, and cheese — mashed potatoes. It was then garnished with a beet and courgette (zucchini or squash) slaw. It came across as traditional pub food with a twist.

Asparagus & Cauliflower

I requested that the Steak Tartare and the Asparagus & Cauliflower be brought out together. Both were sizeable in portion. The latter was layered with a base of minted truffle cheese. Charred spears of asparagus and florets of cauliflower sat on top with a honey thyme glaze. This was absolutely delicious as the smoky veggies in their sweetly herbaceous coating and the mild soft cheese played very well together.

Steak Tartare

The diced beef tenderloin for the steak tartare was formed into a giant patty that additionally consisted of pickled beet, capers, and fried onions. It had a great depth of flavour. Devoid of any form of egg yolk that is so often found in steak tartare, this turned out to be a less dense version of what I’m used to, especially since it wasn’t minced. Combined with the toasted buttered cape seed bread, this was a real treat. My one complaint of the two dishes was that they were identically embellished with potato sticks, pickled onions and pea shoots. I would have expected a bit more creativity to be placed into each plate rather than the slapdash sense that I got. Show off the food, don’t cover it up.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Despite an already full stomach, I didn’t want to leave without dessert. The Sticky Toffee Pudding ($11) that my friend ordered was similar to what I’ve had elsewhere. This was made of moist cake, toffee sauce, salted crumb, and vanilla whipped cream. It refrained from being overly sweet, and is one of those desserts that easily satisfies when nothing else can.

Banoffee Pie

As a fan of the movie Love Actually, I’ll probably never forget Keira Knightley’s character’s fondness for Banoffee Pie ($11). Therefore, when I saw it on the menu, I had to try it. This iteration of the dessert is not at all conventional as it foregoes the typical solid or crumbled buttery biscuit base and replaces it with rum cake doused in banana pudding and caramel sauce. Some whipped cream and toffee bits finished it off. I mean, it wasn’t really a pie. In fact, it was most likely the sticky toffee pudding in disguise. However, I do understand where this recipe is coming from and the flavours are spot on.

London Local certainly has a decent vision of where they want to take their menu. It’s pub food elevated. What we had was great, and the service was, too. Nevertheless, there are improvements that can be made. Chef Lindsay is known for her flair in the kitchen where she turns classics on their head. I believe that tweaking dishes, like those appetizers, so that they each feel entirely different and special is what will take this establishment up another notch.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Wing Chicx

Sizzling Spicy Pork

Continuing with our exploration of Korean cuisine in Edmonton, my friends and I recently met up for lunch at Wing Chicx before attending an escape game in the Ellerslie area. Tucked away in a strip mall, it’s a compact restaurant with about a dozen tables.

Although the ambiance is nothing to write home about, it is clean, comfortable and the décor is bright and colourful.

As we snacked on the complimentary starters, the four of us took some time to review the options on the menu and once we were ready, the server came over to take our order. A few of us opted for dishes that were marked as spicy on the menu and when we asked just how hot the dishes would be, the server told us they were on the higher end and she suggested we go more mild. Before we did, we inquired as to whether or not extra spice could be added after the fact and she seemed to indicate that it wasn’t possible.

My boyfriend and his skillet of spicy chicken.

My boyfriend decided to go for the spicy option on his sizzling spicy chicken dish. The thinly sliced meat was marinated in hot sauce and served on a bed of cabbage with green onions sprinkled on top. It looked really good, but he didn’t think it was fiery enough. It’s a fair assessment coming from someone who puts sriracha sauce on almost everything.

For my girlfriend’s plate of spicy pork, she took the server’s recommendation and had the heat toned down, which she did regret (if she had her way, the spice would have been taken up a notch as well). The dish itself was prepared in the same fashion as the chicken, so there wasn’t any difference in terms of presentation. I sampled a piece of the pork and I enjoyed the flavours, but it certainly lacked any kick and it was a little bit greasy.

Chicken Tangsuyook

Her husband went for the large order of the chicken tangsuyook, where the meat comes battered, deep fried and smothered in a sweet and sour sauce. The chicken was mixed with a colourful array of veggies and fruit including carrots, pineapple, onions as well as red and green bell peppers. The meat was tender and lightly battered.

Spicy Beef Stew

I decided to be different by going for a bowl of the beef stew. I requested that they keep it spicy and I think this one delivered in that department. Unlike the other dishes, there was a lingering heat to the soup. It tasted good and I appreciated the sweet potato noodles and the sliced mushrooms; however, it didn’t seem to have as much meat and I spent a lot of time swirling the soup around trying to find more of the ingredients. This was the least expensive item out of everything we ordered. Maybe that’s the reason why they skimped on the soup. If that is the case, I’d rather they charge a dollar or two more to make the soup heartier.

All of the dishes were served with a bowl of rice on the side. Excluding the soup, I’d say that the rest of the plates were well-portioned for the price. Also, if you like piping hot food, the soup was still boiling when it arrived at our table and those sizzling skillets were spitting grease and sauce all over when they were settled in front of my friends.

Personally, I’m not sure I’d visit Wing Chicx again of my own accord, but I wouldn’t say no if someone else wanted to go there. The food was decent enough that I’d be okay eating there on another occasion. It simply wouldn’t be my first choice. Perhaps if I had taken into account the online reviews raving about the fried chicken and gone with that instead, I’d feel differently. Yet, based on my experience, I can really take it or leave it at this point.