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.

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.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Washoku Bistro

Lunch Sashimi and Roll Bento Box

When a friend of ours visited Edmonton last month, we originally had plans to go for sushi. However, the location for lunch was changed at the last minute. Because I didn’t get any when I thought I would, I craved a sushi fix the following weekend. Knowing that I had been disappointed, Kirk agreed that we could eat it every day over May long.

To try out somewhere new, I decided that our first stop would be Washoku Bistro on the northwest corner of 124 Street and 107 Avenue. We arrived around 1:30pm on a Saturday, which I would think is later than the typical lunch rush. I could see that there were tables available, but not cleaned. I’m not sure if staff were oblivious to us, but it was a good ten to fifteen minutes before they even acknowledged that we were there.

Thankfully, once we were seated in one of the booths, the service was faster. It only took a few minutes for them to bring us water and to take our orders. The food was also prepared quickly, so we were in and out of the restaurant within an hour.

The midday menu at Washoku Bistro consists of lunch roll combos and bento boxes. Kirk decided to go with the Dynamite Roll combo ($15.90), which comes with a salad and choice of side. The roll was cut into eight large pieces. Consisting of shrimp tempura, crab meat, cucumber, avocado, and tempura bits, it seemed to be made with a perfect rice to filling ratio. The avocado was bright green, so it was likely made fresh, too. For his side, Kirk selected the deep-fried pork gyoza (mini udon noodle soup, seaweed salad, or agedashi tofu were the other options). That was presented with three dumplings and dipping sauce. The salad was a mix of spinach with a light sesame-style dressing, baby tomatoes, and crispy wonton chips. A slight change from what might be provided at other Japanese establishments.

Complimentary Miso Soup

Both of us also had a cup of the complimentary miso soup to start. It arrived warm and I used my chopsticks to continuously stir the soup to keep the ingredients even in the bowl since we didn’t get any spoons or anything.

Both of our meals. The Bento Box is probably the better choice, if you’re really hungry.

For my lunch, I went with the Sashimi and Roll Bento ($17.90). It included seven pieces of sashimi, four pieces each of the spicy salmon and California rolls, three pieces of tempura, and a green salad. Now, I actually upgraded my salad to seaweed ($1 extra), but when my box was brought over, it was missing. Turns out that the server had dropped my box over at another table, and they didn’t realize it. The kitchen was really good about making another order of seaweed salad for me though, and I think I got a full order rather than a side as the portion was quite large.

Personally, I love the acidity and texture of seaweed salad and this one didn’t disappoint. It was crunchy and vibrant. The spicy salmon rolls had more heat than I expected, but I wasn’t a big fan of the way the salmon was minced. The California rolls were pretty decent. It’s hard to mess that classic up. Everything held together well without falling apart. The tempura received was shrimp, zucchini, and yam. They were nicely breaded without too thick of a coating and the dipping sauce refrained from being overly salty.

Assorted Sashimi in the Bento Box.

As for the sashimi, there was surf clam, octopus, two slices of tuna, and three slices of salmon. None of them were fishy in flavour and, if they had been previously frozen, they’d been thawed out well. I don’t usually eat surf clam or octopus sashimi, but both were alright. I probably still won’t get surf clam in the future unless it comes with a box. The tuna was nice though, and the salmon had a decent amount of fat, allowing it to melt in the mouth a little. The half carved orange was a pleasant touch as well. It was refreshing and helped to breakdown the salty soy sauce.

Overall, I thought lunch at Washoku Bistro was well-priced for what we received. They just need to work on their customer service. No one should have to wait at the door for as long as we did. At the very least they should have said hello first and then let us know that they needed to clean up a table for us or something. I was ready to walk back out the door, but I’m glad that we stayed. It ended up being an enjoyable meal.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Writer’s Room

The drink menu and interior of The Writer’s Room.

For a restaurant that pays homage to authors, it’s a bit ironic to see that, depending on where you look, the name of the establishment is written differently: Writers, Writer’s, and Writers’. Because I’ve found the second iteration used the most on the main page of their website, it shall be known as The Writer’s Room.

Always a pub of some sort over the years, this Garneau (11113 87 Avenue) eatery is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the University of Alberta. As such, upon my visit, I noticed that many of the patrons looked to be either students or professors. The menu, created by chef David George Husereau, takes that into account by elevating things like Kraft Dinner and Doritos into much finer fare. The prices are reasonable, too. Items range from $5 for snacks to $20 for a full main, making this place very accessible for the student crowd or those who just want an affordable night out.

The Grand Fizz Cocktail melted.

Additionally, The Writer’s Room offers daily happy hour from 3pm to 6pm and 9pm to close on a handful of beverages (they’ve also recently introduced nightly food specials). Although it wasn’t the best deal out of the bunch, I opted to try their Grand Fizz Cocktail (about $10.50). Honestly, it wasn’t what I was expecting. It came in a wine glass with icy slush that had clumped together into a larger chunk. I allowed it to melt, which meant the drink was rather watered down in the end. Perusing the drink menu further, there are definitely others that sounded better, but I selected this one on a whim.

Cup of Broccoli Cheddar Soup

To start, my friend and I both ordered the cup of Broccoli Cheddar Soup ($5). With a description of “natural ingredients” (what else would be used?) on the menu, it was decent. Not as creamy as I hoped it’d be, but relatively flavourful. It was topped with what appeared to be Melba toast and grated cheddar cheese like one might do at home.

Tater Tots

Everything else we selected, the two of us shared. First up were the Tater Tots ($7). Honestly, these were too expensive. They arrived in a cup the same size as the soup, so there weren’t a lot. These were covered in jalapeno nacho cheese sauce, chipotle sour cream, and green onions. I liked the sauce and sour cream; however, there wasn’t enough of it to coat all of the tater tots at the bottom of the dish. Without the toppings, they became rather bland.

Hoisin BBQ Chicken Tenders

Next were the Hoisin BBQ Chicken Tenders ($10). I pictured these being battered and crispy, but these were more like satay or kabobs with the chicken presented on skewers. It was uniquely plated though, I’ll give them that. The tray they came on had a reservoir for sauce in which ample spicy peanut sambal was provided for dipping along with sesame seeds and green onion. The meat was pretty tender and the sambal amped up the heat on the palate a tad.

The “Loco Moco” ($12) was fairly easy to split between two people as it came with two beef patties and two fried eggs atop nori and sticky rice with plenty of rich brown gravy. This is a contemporary Hawaiian dish, so it’s a bit of a surprise to find it on the menu. Aside from a poke bowl, there’s nothing else that screams Hawaiian sensibilities. Still, this simple recipe actually hit the spot. The fried eggs had beautifully runny yolks and the nori added an umami taste.

Crunchy Brussels Sprouts

Last, but not least, were the Crunchy Brussels Sprouts ($12). I get this veggie a lot when I go out. There’s just something about them that I can’t pass up. In the case of The Writer’s Room, I think they may have mastered the miniature cabbages. Cooked in brown butter and served with crisp pancetta, goat cheese, garlic, lemon, and mint, I was blown away by how good this was. A little bit of salt from the pork, slightly tart from the cheese, freshness from the mint, acidity from the lemon, and spice from the garlic married with the char from the sprouts themselves, these were to die for.

Shortbread

Dessert changes often. On this particular occasion, they had made Shortbread ($7). Layered in a jar, it felt more like a cheesecake with a shortbread crust to me. It didn’t have that buttery, melt-in-your-mouth cookie texture though. That was unexpected. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it. A pleasant finish to my meal without being overly sweet.

For the most part, The Writer’s Room is an excellent player in this area of the city. The ambiance was convivial while still allowing for easy conversation between tablemates. I found the service to be fantastic as well. The staff were friendly, checking on us regularly, but not too often as to constantly be interrupting. Sure, a few of the food items can use a bit of tweaking to really take things up a notch. Nevertheless, when you order the right dish here, you won’t be disappointed.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Melting Pot

Our spread of food for our main dishes.

A visit to The Melting Pot (2920 Calgary Trail) has been a long time coming. Like the French version of Asian hot pot, I was bound to like it. So, for my anniversary with Kirk, I made a date night reservation (through OpenTable; they also accept dining cheques) to mark our three years and counting together.

Our own private nook for two.

Our table was booked for 6:30pm. Yet, when we arrived, we still had to wait for at least 15 minutes after checking in before we were taken into the restaurant. I found that to be somewhat frustrating. While we stood by, I looked around at the lounge area. It has an open concept like most other restaurants. But, the middle of the tables held built-in hot plates to heat the food. Much to my surprise, when we were finally seated, we were taken past the wall of wine to the more private dining area. We went through what felt like a maze of little nooks until we were directed into a very intimate booth for two. Once we settled in, it felt very cozy. No one else was in sight and it was quiet.

Sassy Senorita Cocktail

We went through the drink menu. They didn’t seem to have a whole lot of beer options, so Kirk went for a couple pints of Big Rock Grasshopper ale ($8 each). I always tend to go the cocktail route, so I tried the Sassy Senorita ($11.50). It was light and refreshing with a berry finish.

The knowledgeable server gave us the details on how their menu works. You can order a la carte, or purchase an entrée that comes with a cheese fondue, salad, and dessert alongside the price of the main for a full four-course experience. We opted for the latter.

 

Although the Spinach Artichoke cheese fondue is their most popular, I was hoping for something where the cheese would be more prominent. We ended up going for the Quattro Formaggio. We watched as our server created the fondue right before our eyes (I never knew that wine was used as the base). He mixed and melted the ingredients all together until it was silky smooth. Flavoured with traditional pesto and sun dried tomato pesto, it was decadent. The cheese paired well with the apple, veggies, and bread provided, and, upon dipping, the cheese held on well to everything. We didn’t have to be concerned about any dripping off onto the table or our plates.

The salads that came after — Caesar for Kirk and Chevre Citrus for me — were rather petite. Considering the size, I felt like there was way too much of the dressing on mine. I did like the goat cheese and the dried berries though. Kirk’s Caesar salad was actually quite good with it’s use of pine nuts for texture.

Onto the main courses. Kirk selected the Alberta ($49.25), which consisted of Mushroom Ravioli, Memphis-Style Dry Rub Pork, Teriyaki-Marinated Sirloin, and Herb-Crusted Chicken. I chose the Steak Lovers ($59.25) entrée as it was all meat: Premium Filet Mignon, Teriyaki-Marinated Sirloin, and Garlic Pepper Sirloin. Taking into account that mine was a whole ten dollars more than Kirk’s, I think that I got my value out of it as the portion of beef was relatively generous. On the side was an extra helping of veggies (mushrooms, broccoli, and potatoes) for us to share.

The Court Bouillon broth being brought to the table.

With our emptied bowl of cheese now replaced with a pot of their standard Court Bouillon (seasoned vegetable broth), we got down to cooking. We were told to let the meats cook for around two minutes per piece; however, I know I let mine sit in the broth for longer at times. No food poisoning happening on my watch! Still, everything came out decently with the beef staying pretty tender. I also wasn’t sure how the rubs and marinades would fare in the broth, but the flavours remained prominent. For added variety, there were six different sauces provided. My fave were the sesame and curry. The goddess (with a cream cheese base) was great for stuffing the mushroom caps, too.

 

After polishing off our mains, all that was left was dessert. A pot of chocolate was dropped off at our table with a dish of fruit and sweets. We just started going for it without thinking. Turns out that our Flaming Turtle chocolate fondue wasn’t even complete. Our server returned to do the flambé and add in the caramel and nuts (supposed to be candied pecans, but they were out, so we took walnuts instead). I wasn’t a huge fan of the marshmallows or rice krispies. Nevertheless, the pound cake and fruit — bananas, strawberries, and pineapple — were delicious with the oozy chocolate. We also asked for seconds (free refills on the accompaniments are included) of the blondies.

Since it was our anniversary, the staff helped us to commemorate the occasion by offering us complimentary glasses of sparkling wine, which we had with our dessert. It certainly made for a memorable evening out to be wined and dined in this fashion. For a few hours we really got to focus on each other without any other distractions. While this isn’t necessarily a place to drop in for a quick, casual bite, The Melting Pot should definitely be in the running when there’s cause for celebration.

The Melting Pot offers a Crave Combo Menu for $29.95 before 5pm and after 9pm.