Edmonton Restaurant Review: Rocky Mountain Icehouse (2017 Update)

What’s an Icehouse?

Midway through March, I received a note from Rocky Mountain Icehouse. They had noticed that my previous review was a couple of years old and they decided to extend an invitation to me and a few friends. The meal — consisting of several plates from their revamped menu ─ would be complimentary. In turn, I’m now providing an update on my thoughts of their food.

The first thing I’d like to note is that I’m not certain of when the menu was redone. I was simply told that it was new. Yet, I’d been there almost a year ago for a friend’s going away party and, from what I can recall, the options are pretty similar. Some identical selections were even discussed within my initial blog post back in 2014. Perhaps they’ve kept the most preferred and replaced the others with fresh picks. Although I’m not entirely positive of that, what I do think may have drastically changed are the recipes for a couple of the dishes I’ve either had or seen previously.

Kelsey was the staff member who organized this tasting event for us and she also acted as our server that afternoon. Once everyone was settled in with their drinks, Kelsey began to bring the plates over to our table. All items were selected by the chef, so we were constantly being surprised throughout our time there.

Spinach & Garlic Dip with Housemade Potato Chips

Our first offering was a Spinach and Garlic Dip with their house-made potato chips. I found this to be an interesting choice because the chip and dip combo seemed to be missing from the menu completely. The potato chips alone, however, are provided as a side to any of the sandwiches and they’re large, crisp and not overly greasy. Against the lighter dip, they held up well. I’m just not convinced they’d stay whole with a dip of a thicker consistency.

Mac & Cheese Hushpuppies

Next up was the Mac & Cheese Hushpuppies, which turned out to be a favourite among the group. This starter consisted of six fritters made using a mix of pasta, corn and peppers. Deep fried and golden brown in colour, these were then drizzled with chipotle aioli. Cheesy with a bit of heat (both in temperature and taste), it meant that each of us jostled to get our fair share before they all disappeared.

Steak Bites

An order of the Steak Bites continued our foray into their appetizers. This dish was comprised of eight skewers of tenderloin tips wrapped in bacon. According to the description on the menu, these steak bites were to be served with a lemon tarragon dip. Even though I couldn’t quite distinguish those exact flavours, I did enjoy these immensely. The meat was cooked to a medium rare and was tender enough. We especially loved the bacon. Still crispy, we guessed that the bacon strips must have been cooked separately from the steak to ensure that both meats were prepared properly. Balsamic vinegar added a touch of acidity and sweetness.

Signature Crab Cakes

The round of starters finished with their Signature Crab Cakes. These two generous patties of shredded Alaskan crab claws mixed with Boursin, feta and cream cheese came out batter and fried with a decent helping of garlic aioli on top. The menu made mention of a roasted tomato sauce that was to accompany the cakes; save for a few halved grape tomatoes, there seemed to be nothing of the sort. We ladies leaned towards this appetizer as we appreciated the quantity and the mix of cheese. It was particularly appetizing with a spritz of lemon. I also liked the texture as I could tell that real crab meat had been utilized. My boyfriend was on the fence. Granted, he’s from the east coast where seafood comes straight from the ocean and nothing in landlocked Edmonton can truly compare.

BBQ Pork Ribs

With barely any time to sit and digest, our first main dish showed up at the table. The BBQ Pork Ribs were a feast for the eyes and the belly. Just as described on the menu, this huge half rack of ribs was slow cooked until the meat fell right off the bone when touched. A knife wasn’t even necessary. The pork was succulent and the bourbon BBQ sauce was deliciously smoky and rich. Sides of garlic mashed potatoes, homemade baked beans and roasted seasonal vegetables ─ each delectable ─ were included as well. For less than $20, this was a superb value and something I’d definitely be sure to have on a return visit.

Half Size Jambalaya

Entree number two was the half size of the Jambalaya (only $12 and a huge portion for the price). This also came with a couple of the Mac & Cheese Hushpuppies. I’m not sure they were really necessary. Nevertheless, I suppose it’s a bonus as they are tasty. Otherwise, the jambalaya was a combination of rice, onions, peppers, chicken and spicy sausage sautéed in a southern sauce. My friend’s husband couldn’t get enough of it and managed to polish off what remained towards the end of the meal. Personally, I found it to be okay. While I was pleased with the consistency of the sausage and there was a good amount spice, which provided a bit of a kick, I couldn’t imagine eating the full plate as a main on my own. Because everything is cooked in the same sauce, I think it eventually becomes too much of a singular flavour. Sharing this dish helps to sidestep this issue by allowing for a smaller sampling among a handful of other offerings.

Blackened Bison Burger

The finale to our mains was the Blackened Bison Burger. I was actually astonished to bite into meat that was juicy and not dry as the latter is often found to be the case with bison. Despite the burger being made using a prefab patty, this was still pretty satisfying on my part. The combination of jalapeno jelly and jalapeno havarti cheese won me over. Additionally, as expressed by one of my dining companions, the bun also held its own; it was soft yet strong enough to keep the layers of the burger intact.

Southern Gumbo

The kitchen’s single misstep during our entire lunch was the Southern Gumbo. It can be ordered as an individual cup or bowl of soup or as an upgraded side for $3. The cup came with our burger and, disregarding my fullness, I felt an obligation to try it. Now, in my first review of Rocky Mountain Icehouse, I quickly referred to the gumbo since my friend had eaten it when we dined there together. From what I recall, it looked like a hearty broth with plenty of fillings. On this occasion, the soup was incredibly thick with a gravy-like mouthfeel and slices of Italian chorizo sausage that felt oddly dry and off-putting. Maybe it was meant to be that way. Maybe not. Regardless, it’s safe to say that it’s doubtful we’d to give that one another go.

Bailey’s Chocolate Ganache Pie

Last was the dessert. Kelsey let us choose between the two options available. Warm apple crumble called to me, but after Kelsey mentioned that it was the sweeter one, I changed my mind and we went with the Bailey’s Chocolate Ganache Pie. I expected this to be quite dense, yet it turned out to be slightly lighter, albeit a bit sticky. Overall, it was still sugary. What made it seem less so was the balance of bitterness from the chocolate and a tinge of tartness from the raspberries infused into the ganache.

All in, this meal would have cost us approximately $110 plus tax and tip (drinks extra). That much food between five people is a total steal. Everyone left happy and no one left hungry. In fact, we ate as if we were royalty. Out of nine items, there was merely one that we disliked and those are decent statistics. As a local gathering place, Rocky Mountain Icehouse presents patrons with a great atmosphere and a casual menu that was created to please.

Edmonton Event Review: Culinary Lab 01 (Rostizado)

The menu card for Culinary Lab 01.

About a month ago, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when a sponsored post popped up before my eyes. Rostizado, one of our renowned local restaurants, would be partaking in Edmonton Economic Development Corporation’s (EEDC) Culinary Lab 01.

When I searched for more information through their Eventbrite link, I found out that this was going to be the first in a series of four events happening throughout 2017. Chef David Leeder, trained in some of the world’s top kitchens, would be returning home to Edmonton where he’d team up with a different chef for each dinner.

For the launch, which took place this past Sunday, Leeder’s Nordic cooking would be married with the Mexican stylings of chef Edgar Gutierrez. The kitchen would become their lab. Through six courses (all listed online prior to ticket purchase), Leeder and Gutierrez were to collaborate, innovate, and, hopefully, delight their guests.

The evening itself was extremely well organized. The earlier 6:00pm seating had cleared out by the time my friends and I arrived for the 8:30pm dinner. As the staff were quickly turning the room over for the next round, there was a bit of a wait, but it didn’t take long. Before we knew it, we were being led to our table.

All dishes served were included in the ticket price of $100 per person; however, any beverages were additional to that cost. There was the option of ordering directly off of Rostizado’s drink menu, or there was also a set menu that included an accompanying cocktail or beer  to go with four out of the six courses for an extra $50. Everyone in our party chose to order as we pleased.

Chicharrón with Mussels and Foie Gras

Our initial dish turned out to be very different from what was expected. The menu had indicated uni to be a main ingredient, but as we were informed upon service, uni wasn’t in season and they didn’t want the prospect of feeding us anything subpar. Instead, the same base of chicharrón was prepared with a creamy mussel emulsion, fresh whole mussels, caviar, foie gras and fennel fronds. The fried pig skin was bubbly in texture and crispy when bitten, holding its own against the handful of toppings. I’d worry slightly that this dish could come across as overly salty, yet each component worked well together.

Grilled Octopus

The second plate stayed right on course with the printed menu. Rounds of grilled octopus were placed on the dish like an attempted barrier to keep the roasted kelp sauce in place. I thought the sauce was subtle like a broth with just a hint of salinity. The potato puree added a thicker consistency. Most of the flavours came from the charring on the octopus as well as the ramps and endive. Apparently, there was also some Asian pear hiding in there somewhere, but I don’t think it came across.

Mole Verde

As with any meal, it’s important to get your greens. In the case of this iteration of the Culinary Lab, our veggies came in the form of the mole verde. Pureed rutabaga and tomatilla were the foundation of this plate in which each ingredient had been prepared in a distinct way ─ asparagus was raw, rapini was steamed, cauliflower was roasted, kale was deep fried and onion was preserved (confit) ─ to showcase each at their best. Personally, I was impressed with this plate. At home, I’m a roasted veggie type of woman, and this certainly opened my mind up to a myriad of other possibilities when it comes to vegetarian feasts.

Cochinillo y Tortillas

All three of the previous dishes led to the star of the night, Cochinillo y Tortillas. This included a large wooden platter laid out with three choices of tortilla shells (ancho chili, cilantro and plain), two skillets filled with slow roasted suckling pig, earthy mushrooms and cabbage along with a pile of charred ramps and cabbage. On the side were two sauces: Nordic mole and sesame. The tortillas were soft and the meat succulent. What took this main over the top were those sauces. We guessed at what the Nordic mole was made from, and we weren’t even close (we thought of parsnips). Turns out it was a simple mixture of onions (that explained the sweetness) with cream, butter, vinegar and leek oil. The orange sauce was made from sesame seed and chili, so it had some kick to it. Nothing overwhelming though. The two paired together with the tortilla filling was superb.

Raspado

So far, so good. Unfortunately, while the fifth course was tasty, I’m not sure it should have truly counted as a dish that I was paying for. It was a bowl of Raspado, which is essentially flavoured shaved ice. I did like that the ice was prepared two ways. I also enjoyed the floral fruity combination between the elderflower and the tepache (fermented pineapple that tasted a lot like lychee). Sure, it was refreshing, but let’s be honest, this was kind of a cop out. Even the chefs called it a palate cleanser. At most fine dining restaurants, a palate cleanser is a small bite offered in between plates at no extra charge. Here, this course was costing me about $17 and that seemed wrong.

Tres Leches

Dinner was redeemed with the final dessert course. Tres Leches, traditionally a sponge cake soaked in milk, was the inspiration for this dish. Sort of like four desserts in one, this plate consisted of dulce de leche, burnt milk candy, lime and avocado mousse and grapefruit mezcal sorbet served atop a bed of milk crumble. The bitterness from the mezcal and the acidity of the lime played off of the sugariness in the dulce de leche and burnt milk candy. My favourite part though? I’d say it was the milk crumble. It had this crushed cookie texture that was a bit crunchy and delicately flavoured, adding dimension and toning down the stronger tastes.

For the most part, my crew and I left satiated and satisfied. I’d even be open to attending another one of these Culinary Lab events in the future. My only qualm is that the value has to be there throughout all aspects of the menu. After this meal, I couldn’t quite justify the $100 per person for what we received.

I’m not sure when and where the next events will take place, but there are supposed to be three more to come this year (keep an eye out for news on the EEDC Twitter and Facebook pages). What I do know is, regardless of the cost, this will be a unique experience and a Sunday dinner that you’re likely never to have again. These menus are served only once (twice during the evening) and that’s it. Therefore, if you’re a big fan of food and you have a chance to, I’d recommend you give the Culinary Lab a shot.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Tzin Wine and Tapas

Sweet endings at Tzin Wine and Tapas.

Each year, when March rolls around, I’m always excited to see what Downtown Dining Week (DTDW) has to offer. In 2017, I almost forgot about the annual event. There seemed to be very little advertising, and I was only reminded, at the beginning of the month, when I overheard a co-worker chatting about it in the office.

With it on my mind, I immediately decided to check the website to see if the menus from the participating restaurants had been posted. Sure enough, most of them were there. To my disappointment, the list was noticeably shorter than in previous years. Yet, after perusing all of them, I had narrowed my choices down to a few places that I had been meaning to try.

The first that my friend and I decided to visit was Tzin Wine and Tapas. Located on the 104 Street Promenade at 101 Avenue, it’s easy to overlook. The standout feature when passing by would be the bright orange door and the small window that may give you a peek at the chefs cooking away in the tiny kitchen at the front of the establishment.

The interior of the restaurant. This photo was taken just inside the entrance.

From what I had already read about Tzin, I knew that it was a small venue, but I still found myself slightly taken aback when I stepped foot into the restaurant. With only about six tables and maybe a handful of bar seating, it’s easy to understand how it fills up so quickly.

When we arrived, there was only a single table left by the door, and it was ours. Thankfully, there were only two of us dining together. A third, as the table was set for, would have made for a tight squeeze and possibly an uncomfortable dinner with people coming and going right next to us all evening.

The sole hostess/server was very personable and polite. She grabbed us a bottle of tap water, as requested, while we reviewed the regular menu and the DTDW selections. We opted for the latter as $45 per person for an executive three-course meal is typically a good deal at some of these more upscale eateries.

Cod with Risotto and Chimichurri

To start, we were presented with a filet of cod about the size of a small palm. It was laid on a bed of black garlic risotto and served with white balsamic chimichurri on top. I was quite keen on the risotto as the consistency was creamy and the rice a little al dente. For me, chimichurri is hit or miss. If made in the traditional way with parsley, I’m a fan. In this instance, I’m fairly certain that the parsley was substituted for cilantro, which is not a friend to my taste buds. Even so, that’s something I can work past. What I cannot forgive is how the cod was prepared. The white fish was overcooked to the point of it being almost rubbery. A knife was necessary to cut the cod apart and it was relatively chewy.

Heritage Angus Beef Brisket Sausage

I felt that the kitchen fared better with the second course: a skillet of heritage Angus beef brisket sausage in a red wine and herbed bean salad. Although the sausage was a bit dry, I thought that the flavours were nice and savoury. The beans were prepared well, refraining from becoming mush. Furthermore, I liked the fresh sprouts, which brought colour and crunch to the dish. Other than infusing more juice into the sausage, my one suggestion is that the dish be served hot. Either it wasn’t warm to begin with or it cooled off too quickly.

Alberta Bison Ranch Meatballs

My favourite was our final plate. This included Alberta bison ranch meatballs in sage cream and pecorino cheese. Honestly, the meat was somewhat parched; however, that isn’t entirely surprising with a leaner meat such as bison. The rich cheese sauce helped to counteract that dryness though. I especially enjoyed the sage leaves as they conveyed a bittersweet, piney flavour and crispy texture. As much as I appreciated this dish, I, nevertheless, had a couple of qualms. Most astonishing was the portion size. There were simply two meatballs that were hardly larger than the Swedish variety found at IKEA. My other issue was that there were no accompaniments in the form of either a veggie or a starch. That would have delivered added appeal and sustenance. Therefore, as the last course of the DTDW dinner, I expected it to be more filling.

By the time we worked our way through the evening’s menu, I wasn’t full, so I considered the desserts. The bourbon and butter cake called to me. My friend caved and ordered the flourless chocolate torte. I’d say that these two sweet endings were the stars of the night when compared to the rest of our meal.

Flourless Chocolate Torte

The torte was actually lighter than I anticipated and the taste of fresh raspberry appeared to be folded into the chocolate with dots of fruit puree and balsamic reduction decorating the plate. There were also pieces of almond brittle that amplified the sweetness of the dessert.

Bourbon and Butter Cake

As for the bourbon and butter cake, it looked to be on the heavier side, but it was moist and the bourbon caramel wasn’t sticky at all. There was a streak of pomegranate molasses to the side of the cake that provided a delightful tartness. It elevated the dish by giving it some dimension where the dollop of lavender whipped cream failed.

DTDW is meant to be a showcase for downtown restaurants. If they’re able to wow patrons, the hope is that they’ll return. Based on my experience of Tzin, I’m highly unlikely to make a point of going back. Sure, the service was excellent and attentive. Moreover, I was thoroughly impressed with how well the chefs were able to function in such a small kitchen space. Perhaps the regular menu would have proven to be more satisfying as well.

Nonetheless, it’s difficult to discount the shortcomings I saw on this occasion, and even harder for me to be convinced that this is a place worth opening up my wallet for. When it comes to similar food at a great value, I’d much rather stop by Tapavino, situated on Jasper Avenue and 110 Street.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Tapavino

The interior of Tapavino including the impressive bar.

The interior of Tapavino including the impressive bar.

Previous plans to visit Tapavino had been thwarted, but I decided, when I found a deal on Groupon, that I would make more of an effort to try it out. After all, I’d already spent my money to buy the voucher, and with an expiry a year down the road, I had plenty of time to make sure I used it.

I usually procrastinate until the very end. However, I’m proud of myself. Just seven and a half months after purchasing the deal, I invited my friend to join me for dinner.

We were the first to arrive on a Tuesday evening earlier this fall. When we walked in, the solo server working the front of house checked my OpenTable reservation and allowed us to seat ourselves wherever we liked. It’s a pretty cozy, rustic looking eatery with about 25 seats or so (about a third of them at the bar). Since it was still sunny out, we decided to sit by the window in the corner booth.

The server was very attentive. As we got settled, he brought us some water and menus. Both of us opted to drink tea with dinner. When we asked what kind of tea was available, we were brought a whole box of a variety of tea bags to look through. Some may think that’s kind of casual. Yet, I think it was nice of our server to let us take our time and select something we really wanted.

A close-up of the Patatas Bravas.

A close-up of the Patatas Bravas.

Moving along to the food, it made sense at a tapas restaurant to share a handful of dishes. Being that my friend has allergies to shellfish, a number of the options were omitted off the bat. But, we were still able to select a good mix of dishes, which included: hot artichoke dip, patatas bravas, spinach pies, spicy chorizo sausage and Spanish meat balls.

Our server did his due diligence by asking if we wanted to add any pasta and garlic bread to our feast (according to their site it’s free on Tuesdays when you purchase an a la carte item; although, I don’t believe that particular daily special applies when you’re using a Groupon). It seemed like we were ordering a lot of food, so we asked if what we picked would be enough for the two of us. Because he quickly told us that it would be plenty, we skipped the extras.

The three “sharing” vegetarian plates came out to our table first, but the two meat dishes followed soon after. It was a large spread that made it a little bit difficult to maneuver around the table as a few things were just a tad out of reach for me without having to pass the dishes back and forth. Really, if you think about it, it’s a testament to the portion sizes provided. The eatery did not skimp on any of the items we went with. I also liked that everything was essentially served to us at the same time because it allowed for us to make our own combinations of meat and sides as we ate.

What was left of the Spinach Pies when I remembered to take a photo.

What was left of the Spinach Pies when I remembered to take a photo.

To start, the hot artichoke dip wasn’t necessarily anything special when compared to what you might eat at other restaurants. However, the dip was creamy, thick and it paired well with the crisp pita chips. It hit the spot considering I hadn’t had a dip like that in quite a while.

Patatas Bravas is a native Spanish dish. We’ll call it a fancier version of hash browns. This particular rendition consisted of pan fried potatoes cooked in a spicy tomato sauce and drizzled with garlic aioli. It did have a bit of a kick to it that worked with the meat balls and chorizo.

I loved the spinach pies. A decadent version of spanakopita, the pastries were warm and the crust was super flaky. The spinach filling was especially good with a heavier hit of lemon that was made even more delicious with the accompanying yogurt dip. I think the last bite I ate during the meal was of the spinach pie as I always like to finish off with my favourite thing.

The Spicy Chorizo Sausage and the Hot Artichoke Dip.

The Spicy Chorizo Sausage and the Hot Artichoke Dip.

For our “mains,” the spicy chorizo sausage was cooked in a red wine tomato sauce and served with a few large pieces of crostini. Overall, it was a thinner sauce. Personally, a thicker sauce would have been more preferable with the crostini bread. It did help, though, that the sausage was served with a variety of sautéed veggies, providing the dish with different textures that otherwise may have been lacking.

Regarding the Spanish meat balls, they were large and succulent. These would probably have been fabulous with some of that pasta and garlic bread (I’ll be keeping this in mind for another visit). The balsamic marinara sauce provided a nice acidity to the meat, creating a great balance of flavour.

Their delicious Spanish Meat Balls in a balsamic marinara sauce.

Their delicious Spanish Meat Balls in a balsamic marinara sauce.

As much as we would have liked to, we weren’t able to fit anything in for dessert. It just wasn’t possible after polishing off all five plates.

The Groupon we had was valued at $50, and, all in, the food we ordered came to $55 before taxes and tip. If we had been less indulgent, this meal could have easily fed a third (maybe even a fourth) person.

Tapavino certainly makes it possible to have a nice time out on the town without breaking the bank. I’m looking forward to going back to try some of those seafood dishes and, perhaps, a dessert in the near future.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: MRKT

My plate of tomato butter prawns.

My plate of tomato butter prawns.

I love MRKT‘s idea that they’re filling the niche of the modern indoor picnic. It’s a fun idea even if the restaurant’s space and food doesn’t really scream outdoorsy dining.

For several years, MRKT has occupied the upper-level space above Red Star and The Bower, but despite having been to the two latter places, I hadn’t been to MRKT. There were things I had heard about the eatery; it looks like you’re underneath a flipped canoe, I’d read or been told.

I can finally attest to the fact that it does sort of give you this sense of being inside a giant upside-down wooden boat. That’s probably as rustic and nature/camp-like it gets. The rest of the interior is all dark tiled floors, heavy wood-topped tables and a few other salvaged wood-type touches. Otherwise, it’s very minimal in design and it’s pretty unassuming. I have a feeling the atmosphere warms up when the space isn’t all lit up by harsh daylight.

The interior of MRKT.

The interior of MRKT.

My friend and I arrived after work on a quiet night. There were only one or two other tables occupied. Our server found our reservation and sat us down quickly. She was the only one taking care of the front of house that evening.

Since we had book club after dinner, we didn’t have a lot of time to try out much of the menu, so we opted to stick with an entree each. After a bit of deliberation and assistance from our server, my friend decided to go with the boneless beef short rib, and I decided on the tomato butter prawns.

It wasn’t too long of a wait for the food. When it arrived to our table, it looked so good.

My friend's boneless beef short rib dish.

My friend’s boneless beef short rib dish.

It’s kind of difficult to make a brown slab of short rib seem pretty, but the colours from the accompanying risotto and slaw popped on the plate. The short rib pulled apart easily and my friend said it was delicious and tender.

My tomato butter prawns were wonderful. It’s likely one of the somewhat lighter dishes out of the mains available. It consists of six seared tiger prawns finished with white wine and tomato butter, placed atop sweet potato mash and covered in miso-chimichurri. The prawns were cooked perfectly and the sauce was to die for. All of the flavours worked together so well.

Another look at my tomato butter prawns. So tasty!

Another look at my tomato butter prawns. So tasty!

For my first visit to MRKT, it certainly left a lasting impression and I’m eager to go back to try some of their other offerings. Based on what I’ve eaten so far, this is a local restaurant that I would definitely recommend to everyone.