Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Common

I remember when The Common (@TheCommonYEG) used to be on 124 Street in the tiny location that is now The Bothy. Even though I had heard good things about it, I never went. Then they moved to their current spot on 109 Street and 99 Avenue, building up a reputation as the hang out for Edmonton hipsters galore and I still never made a point of going there. That is until about a month ago. My friends and I had been discussing places where there would be the potential of meeting some decent single guys around our age and this gastro-lounge with a vintage yet modern vibe came up as a possibility.

The wall of vinyl records and vintage finds at The Common.

The wall of vinyl records and vintage finds at The Common.

In addition, The Common had made it onto The Tomato‘s annual list of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton for two years back-to-back (No. 33 in 2013 and No. 41 in 2014), and as we are diligently making our way through said lists, it became clear that this would be the destination for our next outing. Known for their small, but eclectic menu with the stars being dishes such as the poutine, pork belly lettuce wraps, roasted mackerel, and the chicken and waffles, we knew our evening there had to include dinner as well as dancing.

Since my friend had been in the past, she suggested we meet there at 6:3o, so we could grab a table for the night. It seemed a little early considering we were planning on staying to dance, too, but I’m glad we arrived when we did. The bar area by the entrance wasn’t full by any means, but most of the seats in the other two rooms were already taken. We lucked out with a booth right by the dance floor and settled in for a long evening of food and drinks. While we waited for our third to show, the two of us ordered beverages. She had an Alley Kat Main Squeeze and, I, a Foundry Cider, both of which were nice and refreshing. I took in the surroundings. Comfortable, but also cool, the place uses a mixture of clean lines, geometric patterns and odd finds for the decor.

Our first round of drinks for the evening!

Our first round of drinks for the evening!

When our girlfriend joined us, we looked through the selection of seasonal dishes and each opted for something different, so we could sample several things. For those who require gluten-free options, they had quite a few items on the menu that fulfilled that criteria. What surprised me most was, despite there being just a few servers that I could see and it being a full house, the service was excellent. Our food was ready relatively quickly and our server came by to check on us and our drinks regularly, ensuring that we could get refills when we needed them.

The food came to our tables looking wonderfully presented – colorful and appetizing – and in portions that were just the right size. Not too much and not too little. I was also pleased with the prices for all the items. Considering the quality of the food, everything was nicely affordable.

Between the three of us, we ordered the Jackson Steak Salad, the Duck Confit, and the Short Rib and Risotto, all of which were delicious. I typically am not a huge fan of blue cheese, but as part of the Jackson Steak Salad, it paired very well with the perfectly cooked meat, artichokes and mustard dressing. The Duck Confit was interesting because rather than showing up on the plate as a full duck leg as per a traditional dish, the shredded duck meat was incorporated into a cylinder that consisted of baby potatoes, shitake mushrooms, edamame and spiny lettuce with sides of orange slices and green beans. The layered flavours and textures in that dish – salty meat and tangy fruit – made me wish I had ordered that for myself. Of course, that thought didn’t last for long. I’m a sucker for braised beef and the short ribs were nothing short of fantastic. The spinach risotto, pine nuts, chanterelle mushrooms and carrot puree came together very well. It was definitely the heaviest entrée we tried, but it was perfect for a full night out.

Once we finished our meals, we continued to imbibe a variety of beers until our friend was ready for round two of food. Having only ordered the salad, she was adamant that she wanted more to eat, and the chicken and waffles were calling her name (we also told her to order it because we’d seen so many people eating it that we were really curious about that entrée). It’s definitely a hearty dish with the fried chicken strips and the waffles, but I could certainly see why they were so popular. The tender chicken with the crunchy breading combined with the crispy on the outside and soft on the inside buttery bacon waffles, goat cheese and a sweet yet spicy blackberry and chile sauce was pretty incredible. Our friend had no issues polishing off her plate.

We were done dining just in time for the music to start. That night it was a mix of funkified sounds that brought in some old school Jackson 5 type songs to get people up and moving. While we would have been up on the dance floor much sooner, it took the staff a bit of time to clear away a couple of the tables that were in the space, and, as there’s little room until they’re moved, we happily talked with some of the other patrons while we waited. Everyone there was extremely personable, making for a fun time.

Me and my girls!

Me and my girls!

Verging on almost thirty years of age (at least for a couple of us), we called it a night at around 11pm. Perhaps if we started our evening a little later, we may have lasted longer into the wee hours of the morning, but, alas, we were all sleepy from the carb coma and also needed to make our way home before public transit became scarce. Prior to leaving though, we still made sure to bust a few nerdy moves, satisfying our goal of dinner and dancing after all.

As we wove our way through the crowded rooms towards the door, I could see that the lounge was packed to the brim, every seat filled with people having a great time. And, that’s The Common’s goal: elevating the way we think about and approach spending an evening with those we love – through good food (I must try some of the appetizers and desserts next time), drinks, conversation and music.

I can’t wait pay this place another visit tomorrow!

The new dinner menu - May 2014! Looking forward to trying something different!

The new dinner menu – May 2014! Looking forward to trying something different!

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Tres Carnales

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

The mural by @CurlyBlackBeret

The mural by @CurlyBlackBeret

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mexican souvenirs

Mexican souvenirs decorating the east wall

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

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