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 But, before I knew it, the eatery had been replaced by a spot called Izakaya O-Tori.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

The queue during opening weekend was pretty long.

I’ve been following Made by Marcus on Instagram for at least a couple of years now. Originally based out of Calgary, this beloved local ice cream shop has now made its way north with a back alley store on Whyte Avenue and 104 Street. With infrequent visits south, I never had the opportunity to try Made by Marcus before, so I was happy to learn that the Edmonton location had finally rolled out the welcome mat at the end of June.

The lines were long during their first weekend in business, so I decided to wait a bit before going. Kirk and I actually bought tickets for a Secret Streetcar Show around mid-July, so it made perfect sense to go for a late night ice cream run after the concert. As we turned to enter the alley at 10:00pm in the evening, the bright pink shop at the end of the lane was like a beacon. Although there was a door to the side, no one really used it since the front of the shop was completely open. Surprisingly, it was still busy. The queue didn’t run down the whole alley, but it still snaked through the space and most of the indoor seating was occupied. A few benches were also placed outside to accommodate overflow.

The Made by Marcus menu.

Thankfully, it didn’t take too long before we made it to the counter. With three staff on hand to scoop and another to process payment, there seemed to be a decent rhythm. A kids scoop is $3, a “single” scoop of ice cream is $5 and can be split into two flavours, a “double” scoop is $7 and you can probably choose three flavours, and a flight is four scoops for $9. Waffle cones are an extra dollar each.

Waffle cone makers!

Kirk and I decided to share a flight without any added waffle cones. It took a while for us to pick four out of the dozen plus flavours (I think they usually have even more to choose from), but we eventually got it down to the Lemon Curd Blueberry, Tahini Cookie Dough (Vegan), Moonshine Brown Butter Pecan, and Bananas Foster & Rum Caramel.

The first thing I will say about Made by Marcus ice cream is that the quality is top notch. The flavours are strong and the small batches are extremely creamy and smooth, making for a very rich and decadent dessert. It felt like silk as there was not an ice crystal to be found.

Our ice cream flight includes four flavours for $9.

To be completely honest though, not all of the flavours we chose lived up to my expectations. I was really excited for the Lemon Curd Blueberry, which is a signature flavour. I thought it’d be citrusy, sweet, and refreshing. And, it was a first. The tongue was initially hit with a pop of zest from the lemon curd and sweetness from the cream and blueberry; however, what lingered at the end was an incredibly bitter aftertaste. I truly thought that the Lemon Curd Blueberry would be my favourite, but it ended up dead last.

The Tahini Cookie Dough is a vegan option, so it’s also lactose-intolerant friendly. If you don’t already know what it is, tahini is a spread made from toasted ground sesame seeds. It has a really nutty flavour to it, but it’s not as pronounced as a black sesame ice cream, for example. This was probably one of the more subtle tastes out of the four scoops we got. I didn’t mind the flavour, but I was hoping for more chunks of cookie dough throughout.

Clockwise from the top left: Tahini Cookie Dough, Lemon Curd Blueberry, Bananas Foster & Rum Caramel, and Moonshine Brown Butter Pecan.

Since Made by Marcus is known for their experimental flavours and collaborations with other local businesses, I’m going to assume that the Moonshine Brown Butter Pecan makes use of a moonshine alcohol in some way. If it was supposed to be there, I didn’t find that the flavour of the liquor came through much, but the brown butter did add to the nuttiness and amplified the taste of the pecan pieces.

Our top pick was most definitely the Bananas Foster & Rum Caramel. The flavour was spot on with the banana tasting natural and not artificial. There was a hint of the rum, but nothing overpowering, and the caramel brought in the perfect amount of sweetness. Kirk and I practically fought over this scoop because he kept eating it and touching nothing else.

A late night visit to Made by Marcus.

After trying Made by Marcus for the first time, I certainly understand the hype more than I used to. The standard of their ice cream is ridiculously high and they put a lot of effort into creating the unique flavours that they’ve come to be known for. Not every flavour is going to be a hit for everyone (Dill Pickle & Peanut Butter is an acquired taste, right?), but with the number of choices available, there’s bound to be something you’ll like amongst the signature, seasonal, and vegan options. While Edmontonians are warriors who will eat ice cream even in the dead of winter, make the most of your nice summer and pop into Made by Marcus for a cone or two!

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.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Cosmos Greek Kitchen

Calamari with Tzatziki

When I was planning a recent date night, I was looking to try someplace new. Cosmos Greek Kitchen popped up as a possibility. When I thought about it, Mediterranean cuisine seemed like just the thing to indulge in, so I made an OpenTable reservation for that evening and we head out to 124 Street between 108 and 109 Avenues for dinner.

Arriving at around 5:15pm on the Saturday, we noticed that the main door led to two separate sides. Cosmos Greek Kitchen was on the right with its sister lounge, Passport Restobar, on the left. Both share the same staff and kitchen (they were quite efficient), and they serve identical food items, but I believe the latter has more of a focus on cocktails.

The interior of Cosmos Greek Kitchen.

We went into Cosmos and found it to be rather quiet initially. However, we were early and, as we dined, the space filled up with more people, including a handful of families with small children. The host/server let us pick our own table while she went to grab menus. Once we settled in, it definitely felt like a comfortable spot for an enjoyable evening.

The two of us decided to go for the Super Combination Platter for two ($70) as it seemed to cover the gamut of menu favourites. Honestly, it did not disappoint in terms of the portions, selection and flavours.

Horiatiki (Greek Salad)

To start, we were served a bowl of Horiatiki (Greek Salad), which consisted of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, red onions, crumbled feta, and olives in extra virgin olive oil with dried oregano and maybe a little bit of red wine vinegar for added acidity. Traditionally, Greek salad is made without lettuce, adds green peppers and uses a large slice or chunks of feta cheese. I don’t recall seeing any pieces of pepper in ours and Kirk was hoping for more hefty pieces of feta rather than the crumble. Otherwise, it was still very tasty, light, and refreshing.

Calamari needs a squeeze of lemon juice!

At the same time as the salad was served, we were also presented with a large plate of Calamari. The deep-fried rings and pieces of baby squid were beautifully breaded to a nice crisp. The chef managed to keep the meat quite tender, avoiding the sometimes disastrous overcooked chewiness found at other establishments. A squeeze of lemon gave it a brightness on the palate and the house made tzatziki was the perfect accompaniment.

After indicating that we were ready to proceed with the rest of the platter, a huge silver tray was brought over with all of the remaining items for our meal. I will quickly mention that another portion of tzatziki is provided with the combo, but we both felt that it was unnecessary since we still had plenty left from the Calamari dish. Instead of a second helping of that, it would be really nice for them to swap that out with hummus. I didn’t think to ask if that was doable that night, but they might accommodate the request considering that the items are priced the same on the menu. It’s food for thought next time around. Also, it should be noted that pita bread isn’t part of the platter, so you may want to ask about adding that on as an extra.

Dolmathes in the round dish with Chicken & Lamb Souvlaki on the right.

It was difficult to decide where to start with the feast in front of us. I decided to sample the Dolmathes first. Those are vine leaves stuffed with rice and ground meat. They’re then covered in a lemony sauce. I vaguely remember going to a Greek restaurant (probably Koutouki) when I was a late teen and trying these. I think I attempted to unwrap the leaves because I didn’t think I was supposed to eat them. As a Chinese person, I was used to seeing sticky rice cooked in large leaves that weren’t meant to be edible. Knowing better now, I ate the whole thing and it was delicious. I actually didn’t expect it to have any meat inside, but it was a pleasant surprise to find that savouriness offset by the acidity of the creamy sauce on top.

Next up was the Keftedes, spicy Greek meatballs. These aren’t actually spicy in so much as having a kick of heat on the palate. They’re just seasoned with different herbs and spices to give it plenty of deep flavour. The finely ground meat was evenly textured for a nice mouthfeel. These are typically eaten with tzatziki, but that isn’t really needed. They’re good all by themselves.

Keftedes sort of hidden under all those diced tomatoes and red onions with the Spanakopita next to them and big pieces of yellow Greek lemon potatoes.

Spanakopita is one of my all-time favourite Greek snacks. Filo pastry stuffed with spinach and feta is simple, but delicious. This was a recipe I even took the time to make when I was young because I liked it so much. The filo pastry here was golden brown and incredibly flaky. My only issue with it was one end of the pie was all pastry with barely any filling. It was probably due to the folding of the filo to keep everything held inside the pocket. So, it was a big mouthful of thick pastry and none of the spinach or cheese. If they can find a way to make sure the filling is more evenly distributed into every bite, it would be even better.

Chicken and Lamb Souvlaki came with the platter. Often times most people don’t like lamb because of the wildness of the meat. It has a distinct gaminess to it, and when it came to the souvlaki, I found that it was relatively prominent. Nothing that bothered me too much since I often enjoy lamb. But, it was more pronounced and certainly not masked by the herbs used to season the meat. A couple of the pieces of lamb were a bit chewy as well as there was tendon running through. Otherwise, it was fine. In my opinion, the chicken was preferable. Well-seasoned and succulent, these felt like the lighter option when it came to protein.

The Souvlaki with slices of Lamb Souvla stacked underneath.

If you do want to try lamb at Cosmos Greek Kitchen, I highly recommend going with the Lamb Souvla over the souvlaki. A big portion of sliced roasted lamb laid beneath the skewers and it was wonderful. The wildness of the meat didn’t taste as strong and it was super juicy and tender with a fantastic zestiness coming from the marinade. A sprinkle of lemon and a dip of tzatziki made this a delectable treat.

Kirk and I loved the Moussaka, a layered casserole of potato, eggplant, and ground beef topped with béchamel sauce. It’s a really rich and filling dish, but it’s worth the calories. We especially appreciated the use of cinnamon (my go to spice) for the sweet-spicy combo that came through with flying colours. It elevates the dish into something special.

Moussaka

The final item on the platter was the Greek lemon potatoes. Kirk said he thought they were boiled and then roasted to get them as tender as they were. Either way, these were amazing. The potatoes were saturated all the way through with lemon and herbs. The flavour was in every single bite and I couldn’t get enough of them. It was literally the last thing I chose to eat from our main meal because I wanted to remember that taste.

“Coconut Cream Pie” dessert

Having sampled a little of everything in our combo, we finally called it and asked the staff to pack up what remained for leftovers (we had enough for another lunch and dinner for two). However, I wasn’t done. Since I was already there, I decided to go for dessert. Although my stomach had little room, I managed to pack away the majority of what I think is something like a Kadaif (I missed the name when the server was listing out the options). It was sold to me by being described as similar to coconut cream pie. Turns out that it was layered with a crust, finely shredded filo pastry, and whipped cream. A sweet syrup covered the plate. Not quite what I pictured, but it was still pretty good. I probably wouldn’t get it again as I wasn’t a fan of the overall texture. Yet, I’m glad that I opted to try something else other than the typical Baklava.

Super Combination Platter for Two

If you’re looking for a friendly Greek restaurant with, for the most part, authentic dishes, check out Cosmos Greek Kitchen. Don’t hesitate to order that super combo platter. The portions are worth the price and you’ll be basking in Mediterranean heaven for at least a couple of days, maybe more.