Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Workshop Eatery

Crispy Brussels Sprouts and Carpaccio started our meal.

Open for about three and a half years now, my first experience at The Workshop Eatery was about six months into their tenancy at the Mosaic Centre, which is located in southwest Edmonton at the entrance of the Summerside neighbourhood (2003 91 Street). My friend and I attended a Prairie On the Plate event, a special evening where a local restaurant whips up a multi-course menu utilizing ingredients from Taste Alberta‘s partners. I was impressed by the level of talent in the kitchen; chef Paul Shufelt had brought relatable yet elevated dishes to the far edges of the city.

Fast forward to present day. Despite the quality of the food that I ate at The Workshop Eatery back then, honestly, I didn’t go back. It crossed my mind every so often, but it was never at the top of my list. With so many other businesses launching throughout Edmonton, I was always just trying to keep up with the rest. Eventually, I made the decision to revisit this gem. On a recent weekend, I took Kirk out on a date.

I have to say that I made our reservation (using the YP Dine mobile app) somewhat last minute; I booked our table for a Saturday night on the same morning. Nevertheless, I was hoping for a better spot than what we received. Personally, I don’t think anyone should be subjected to sitting so close to the washroom. There’s only a single stall within the restaurant and it was situated a maximum of ten feet away from our table without any sort of barrier between us and the washroom door.

The dreaded table by the washroom…

Additionally, a small shelf was next to us with “clean” utensils laid out for the staff to easily grab upon having to reset the tables. It didn’t seem the most sanitary to have that within wafting distance of the washroom. It was busy, too. Over the hour and a half that we dined, guests came in and out of that washroom about once every four to five minutes. It was distracting and uncomfortable. I wanted to complain, but I didn’t want to ruin our night out by making a big deal about it. Also, looking around the space, I knew that there weren’t any other available tables that we could have been moved to without messing up their other reservations, so I kept quiet. In any case, that table made us feel like second class patrons. How they have not built some sort of wall to cordon the spaces off after all this time is beyond me. If they read this, I really hope that they take that suggestion into consideration.

Now that I have that off my chest, let’s get to the food and drinks. Firstly, the beer taps are few. They have focused on featuring draughts from Blindman Brewing. Kirk opted to try their IPA ($7.50). On the other hand, when it came to their mixed drinks and wines, they definitely offered a lot more options. As much as I wanted to try something (I had my eye on the Beets by JF cocktail), I chose to save a bit of money and stuck to the plates instead.

To share, Kirk and I started with the Crispy Brussels Sprouts ($10) and the Carpaccio ($18). For our mains, Kirk went with the Chicken Supreme ($33) and I selected the Duck Duck Couscous ($36).

Crispy Brussels Sprouts

I believe that the Brussels sprouts have been a staple of The Workshop Eatery for quite awhile. They were fried until every leaf of the vegetable is browned and crisp. I would have loved for there to have been more larger pieces of the sprouts, but the majority of the dish consisted of single leaves that had maybe soaked up a little too much oil as a few bites were slightly greasy. I did very much enjoy the Sriracha sour cream used as a condiment for the veggie though.

Carpaccio

For the most part, the Carpaccio served at The Workshop Eatery is a classic interpretation. The kitchen carefully placed thinly sliced Jeff Nonay Holstein beef as the foundation and then layered crispy capers, shaved pecorino cheese, flat leaf parsley, and anchovy vinaigrette atop the meat. On the side was a long house made cracker to be topped with each ingredient. What separated their version of carpaccio from others that I’ve had is their use of pickled shiitake mushrooms; they added savouriness, tang and extra bite to the overall marriage of textures within this plate. I ate the majority of this and I was completely satisfied.

Kirk’s Chicken Supreme entrée was surprisingly delicious. We cook chicken regularly at home, so it’s not a meat that I tend to lean towards when I’m going out for an indulgent meal. However, Kirk didn’t seem to mind ordering it. On this occasion, I think he made a really good decision. The maple-mustard brushed free run Morinville Colony chicken breast and thigh was incredibly tender and juicy with the flavour soaked right in and a slightly crispy skin. The puree of roasted squash beneath the chicken brought in some creaminess that worked as a “sauce” for the meat and the pillows of gnocchi, while the sweetness of the squash played well with the fresh corn and salty bacon. I was lucky to have snuck in a few bites of this before Kirk devoured the entire thing.

My Duck Duck Couscous was so good. With duck prepared two ways — Four Whistle Farm breast and duck & blueberry sausage — my taste buds got to switch things up throughout my main. Both were cooked perfectly. The duck breast was succulent and still beautifully pink inside. The sausage was thick and divided in two using a diagonal cut to show off the interior mix of ground duck and blueberries. Well-seasoned and moist, the hints of fruit paired excellently with the rich, somewhat smoky duck. To offset the meat, the duck was served with a hearty herb-raisin and almond couscous, smooth vanilla parsnip puree, and pops of pickled sour cherries for a world of textures and flavours that enlivened my palate.

Sadly, there was no room for dessert, but I’ll leave that to next time. I’m certain that, down the road, we’ll be back again (maybe for happy hour or brunch). I’ll just make sure to ask for a table that’s further away from the washroom. Other than that, we had a wonderful meal at The Workshop Eatery with mostly superb food and great service.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Hanjan

Japchae

During a full-day bridesmaid dress excursion across Edmonton, my ladies and I decided to stop for lunch in the afternoon. Hanjan was our final choice for sustenance, so we all made our way over to the south side (3735 99 Street). Although the space was a tad chilly, it’s super spacious inside with both an expansive main floor and additional seating upstairs, too. The style is sort of modern industrial with a touch of the rustic. They’ve also emulated a dreamy outdoor patio vibe inside. It’s definitely like nothing else in the city.

The main floor of Hanjan.

With only two front of house staff on hand for such a large venue, the service wasn’t bad either. What really helps at Hanjan is that each table has a “bell” installed. Press it, and your group number pops up on a waiting list that hangs behind the counter. They can see who needs them and they’ll come over as soon as they can. It’s really quite efficient and it helps to avoid those sometimes inconvenient popovers where your mouth is clearly full, but the staff still have to ask if everything is going okay. We’ll just ring you, if we need you. I love it.

Anyway, once we’d all gathered, we got our orders in. Two of my bridesmaids went for the classic Bibimbap ($15 each), another went for the Fried Rice Bokkum Bap ($15), and I went for the Japchae ($16). We also shared an order of the Bulgogi Fries ($10), and I grabbed a Matcha Latte ($5).

Banchan

To start, we were given complimentary banchan that included kimchi, bean sprout salad, fish cakes, and mashed potatoes. All of them were quite delicious. I found the mashed potatoes to be an interesting choice for banchan though. I’d never seen that presented before at other Korean restaurants. Usually banchan encompasses more pickled or fermented veggies, so this was a change. My favourite was probably the small slices of fish cake though. Easy to tell what it was with the flavour, but not too overwhelmingly fishy. The texture was pleasant and it had a nice chew to it.

Bulgogi Fries

Shortly after, we received our Bulgogi Fries. The thin cut potatoes were perfectly crispy and then topped with small pieces of bulgogi beef, tomatoes, scallions, and their house sauce. Our whole group raved about them. We even tried to find out what the house sauce was made of, but our server told us that it’s a secret that he wasn’t even privy to. That’s fair. I didn’t think they’d actually tell us. My only constructive piece of criticism with this dish is that it’d be ideal if they layered the ingredients more between the fries. I found that, once we got down to the bottom of the bowl, there wasn’t much left of the toppings other than plain fries.

My friends’ plates actually all took a little longer to come out from the kitchen than mine. I also didn’t really sample them myself, so it’s hard for me to judge. However, everyone seemed to enjoy their selections.

The Fried Rice Bokkum Bap was carefully cooked to ensure that none of the egg was raw as was requested by my very pregnant friend. She paired the pork, veggies, and rice with some of the kimchi banchan to amp up the overall flavour. The Bibimbap bowls looked hearty and well-balanced with a variety of veggies and a decent helping of beef. A beautifully fried egg was placed on top to finish it off. On the side was a dish of gochujang sauce (red chili paste) to be stirred in until mixed to your liking. A little bit sweet, savoury, and spicy, it was pleasant and not overly hot on the palate, which was great for my one friend who isn’t particularly keen on extremely spicy foods.

Japchae: glass noodles in soy sauce with beef and veggies

For my lunch, the Japchae hit the spot. I don’t know why, but I’m obsessed with glass noodles, especially of late. How are they made to be clear? This dish was presented still steaming with the al dente stir fried noodles evenly coated in soy sauce and tossed with beef, veggies and roasted sesame seeds. I polished off the entire plate without hesitation.

Matcha Latte

Towards the end of our meal is when my Matcha Latte finally showed up. I’ll caveat this note by saying that I was warned it would take our server a while to make my beverage and that he was also not good at latte art, so he set it up to keep my expectations low. Interestingly, it wasn’t even piping hot when I got it. But, that was actually okay for me. It was warm enough to enjoy, but cool enough that I was able to drink it quickly to ensure we were done at Hanjan in time to make our next dress appointment.

When we were ready to pay, we were asked to make our way over to the counter. Their electronic system allowed for our bills to be easily split. The transactions were quick and we were off in no time. Overall, Hanjan is a friendly place with both traditional and fusion Korean dishes available. The atmosphere (minus the too cold air conditioning that day) was wonderful, and the food was satisfying. I’ll definitely be back to try some more of their offerings soon.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse

Pampa downtown Edmonton interior

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

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

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

Downtown Dining Week menu

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

My plate of items from the hot and cold salad bar

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

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

Marinated Chicken Drumstick

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

Pampa Pork Sausage

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

Beef Top Sirloin

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

Bacon-Wrapped Chicken Thigh

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

Parmesan Pork Loin

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

Rosemary-Marinated Pork Shoulder

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

Beef Garlic Steak

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

Chimichurri-Basted Beef Striploin

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

New Zealand Leg of Lamb

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

Beef Rumpsteak

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

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

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

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Gregg Mediterranean (Sherwood Park)

Lebanese Coffee with Baklava

While working on my YEG Food Deals project, I’ve made a number of connections with Edmonton and area businesses. One in particular caught my eye when they tagged my @yegfooddeals Instagram page in a post about their $10 lunch deals.

The share came from Gregg Mediterranean located in Sherwood Park (25 Sioux Road). I decided to reach out to them to discuss a possible collaboration. They replied, but I didn’t hear much after our initial conversation.

A week or two passed and I received a new message from the business asking us to come in and try their menu. Kirk and I welcomed the invitation, heading out one Sunday evening during that run of bitter cold weather caused by the polar vortex.

When we arrived, it was quiet; only one other table was occupied. The owner, Tamara, greeted and seated us right away. She gave us a few minutes to look over the menu and then came back to ask if we had any questions. Of course, I wanted to know what the most popular items were to help with my decision. To that, she replied, “would you like us to select the dishes for you?” Both Kirk and I are always up for an adventure, so we gave her an enthusiastic thumbs up.

Pickled Veggies

The first thing we received was a plate of pickled vegetables. These were likely complimentary because I do not recall seeing them as an option on the menu. Kirk seemed to enjoy them as he ate the majority. I sampled what I think was a radish, which I didn’t mind. It was very acidic and had an interesting texture from soaking in the brine. Definitely not crispy. The carrot was harder and didn’t take in the brine as much, so it still held some of it’s density and tasted less pickled overall. I guess, for me, they were a little too wet. I like drier pickled veggies like the carrots, daikon and cucumber on a Vietnamese sub or the diced pickled turnips we found on other dishes here.

Blue Hawaiian Cocktail

As we snacked on the veggies, we also sipped on our drinks. Tamara had suggested a Lebanese beer called Almaza ($6 to $7) for Kirk. It’s a basic pilsner that is light, ever so slightly bitter at the end, but otherwise smooth and easy to drink. I chose the Blue Hawaiian cocktail ($9). Presented in a tall glass, this blue drink was deceivingly strong. Granted, I drank it pretty fast at first, but the pineapple juice masks a lot of the alcohol, so don’t go too crazy on these.

Shish Combo with Rice and Garlic Sauce

Not long after, we were given our first main plate. This was the Shish Combo ($24) — a skewer each of the chicken, beef, and kafta — served on a pita with a parsley tomato mix and a side of rice. It’s a sizable amount of food that’s perfect for sharing, especially when you want to try a few different meats. The beef skewer wasn’t the most tender; however, it was nicely seasoned. My favourites were the chicken (charred and juicy) and the kafta. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the kafta, but the seasoned, minced beef was incredibly flavourful on its own. I tossed some of the homemade garlic sauce into the rice and I was in heaven. Some garlic sauces I’ve had in the past have been potent. Gregg Mediterranean has found a good balance with theirs. It’s creamy and tasty without being overwhelming. As far as I know, my body didn’t smell like garlic the next day.

As we were working on the skewers, Tamara came back with a Half Mezza platter ($24) that included four appetizers of Sujuk over Hummus, Falafel, Grilled Halloume Cheese, and Chicken Wings. I’m not sure if Chicken Wings are a regular Mediterranean dish. Either way, these were delicious. The zesty glaze was slightly sticky, but not heavy. The sauce kept the meat succulent and, even though there was cilantro on it, I didn’t even notice that the herb was there. I’ve seen halloume cheese more and more, but I’ve never really eaten it. It reminded me of the texture of Indian paneer, just grilled. I should have eaten it when it was warm. Although it was still good cold, I think it lost any elasticity it may have had as it sat out. Regardless, I sandwiched the cheese in between pieces of pita and smeared some hummus on it. The satisfying hummus was super smooth and creamy with a hint of spice from the beef sausage tossed on top. Falafel was not exactly Kirk’s cup of tea, but I quite liked the balls of chickpeas, fava beans, parsley, cilantro, and onion. They remind me of fritters, perfect for dipping in more hummus or garlic sauce.

Fattoush Salad

To accompany everything else, we also received a bowl of their Fattoush Salad ($10). A combination of fresh lettuce, cucumber, tomato, peppers, parsley, onion, and red cabbage tossed in a vinaigrette dressing and topped with pita bread chips, this was simple yet tasty. In particular, I was a fan of the crunch from the salt and pepper seasoned chips as they added extra texture and flavour.

Our meal was completed with a Lebanese Coffee ($3) for Kirk and two styles of Baklava ($5) for us to split. I don’t drink coffee, so I can’t say much about it. It smelled concentrated and was served in a small cup like an espresso. Kirk found it quite strong and didn’t need much of it. The desserts came as Asabeh, a finger-like pastry, and a more traditional Baklawa that’s layered. In the latter, the sheets of filo were wonderfully flaky before hitting a base of chopped nuts soaked in sugar syrup or honey. I tend to find this particular kind of baklava to be too sweet. I loved the Asabeh though. Here, the filo is stuffed with the chopped nuts and a bit of the syrup or honey and then rolled into a tube. There’s a lot less liquid and more of the pastry, so it’s well-balanced and less saccharine.

When we finished eating, Tamara sat with us and we chatted. Gregg Mediterranean has been in business for over four years. Sunday nights are slower for them, but that’s supplemented by deliveries through SkipTheDishes. Additionally, on weekends, they do a lot of catering. The whole thing is family-run with Tamara handling the front of house and her husband, Rakan, taking care of everything in the kitchen (he’s keen to keep the family recipes to himself for now). Their young daughter spends her time in the restaurant, too, giggling and having fun behind the counter.

As more and more chains come into Sherwood Park, they’re noticing an effect on the smaller local eateries, which is unfortunate to hear. Kirk and I honestly cannot wait to go back to Gregg Mediterranean. The hospitality that Tamara and Rakan showed to us is rarely matched elsewhere. For the value and quality of the food, Gregg Mediterranean far surpasses anything you’ll find at a big box business. I count myself fortunate to have learned about this restaurant and I will recommend them to anyone.

Calgary Restaurant Review: Vin Room Mission

A petite serving of Hummus and flatbread.

On our recent road trip to Calgary, I opted to try out restaurants that offered Happy Hour menus. Our meals were planned around the mid- to late-afternoon hours or well into the evening to take advantage of the deals. During our first night there, we ended up at Vin Room Mission (2310 4 Street). We were seated on the main floor in a narrower space past the lounge and right near the kitchen. It was cute and cozy as Kirk and I sat side by side.

As we reviewed the options, I was quite tempted by a list of features that they had for the evening. But, we stuck to my plan, and ordered only from the Happy Hour items: Bartender’s Choice Beer Pour ($6), Hummus ($5), Weekly Tacos ($5 each), Spaghetti Pomodoro ($5), and Grilled Chicken Skewers ($2 each).

Bartender’s Choice Beer Pour

For the beer, we were hoping for something on tap and more local. It turned out to be a bottle of Steam Whistle, so nothing all that special and kind of expensive for the price. On the plus side, to start, they provided complimentary popcorn with the beer.

The Hummus was presented in a tiny dish with four triangles of grilled flatbread brushed with olive oil. It was nice that the flatbread was actually warm and still soft. The hummus was garlicky and flavourful. It was so small though. It took just a few minutes for us to crush that plate.

Weekly Tacos

Kirk is the one who chose to have two of the Weekly Tacos. I sampled a bite of it, and I wasn’t impressed. I already tend to dislike pico de gallo because of the frequent inclusion of cilantro, but, on top of that, the corn tortilla was super dry, tasting like thin cardboard. Otherwise, the Valentina hot sauce and chicken was fine.

Spaghetti Pomodoro

The Spaghetti Pomodoro comes meatless with a simple mix of tomato sauce, basil pesto, and shaved Grana Padano. The sauce was light, but tasty. I appreciated the amount of cheese, considering the ratio of the topping to the noodles. I was beginning to understand that Vin Room was able to have such a cheap happy hour by altering the portion sizes significantly. It’s a good thing we weren’t particularly hungry and these “snacks” were enough.

Grilled Chicken Skewers

Probably my favourite choice of the night were the Grilled Chicken Skewers. I’m pretty certain that the same chicken was used in the tacos (and I doubt they switch up the type of taco every week). Still, the pieces of chicken were plump and tender. I also enjoyed the honey-lemon glaze and fresh herbs. We even ate the petite green salad on the side.

Carrot Cake

We decided to indulge in dessert before we left. It was the Carrot Cake ($9) that caught our eyes. With a Wensleydale cheese frosting, carrot-pineapple jam, and vanilla creme anglaise, it was quite decadent. Our only complaint was that it was clearly prepared in advance and refrigerated as it was chilly on the tongue. It would have been more pleasing to, at least, have it served at room temperature. Regardless, it was a highlight of our meal at Vin Room.

I wouldn’t necessarily go back to Vin Room for happy hour alone. But, the service was attentive, so I’d be interested in checking them out again for their regular menu just to see what the quality is like in comparison to what you get for happy hour. There was certainly a bit of promise with a couple of the items and the place was busy, so it can’t be all that bad, right?