Edmonton Restaurant Review: Tokyo Noodle Shop (AYCE Location)

Sashimi

All you can eat (AYCE) sushi is fairly hard to come by in Edmonton, and when you find a place that offers a menu like that, it can cost a pretty penny. As such, it’s important that you get a decent value for what you’re paying. I recently found out that Tokyo Noodle Shop, a longtime tenant on Whyte Avenue (I do have a soft spot in my heart for that place because it’s where Kirk and I had one of our first dates), opened a second location on the south side of the city. Situated at 10430 61 Avenue, the owners took over the space vacated by the short-lived Takami Sushi. Here, they now provide patrons with a brand new AYCE option.

The Tokyo Noodle Shop website vaguely mentions that they have AYCE sushi under the location listings of their homepage with no other mention of it anywhere else. Therefore, I had to search online for more information. Other diners had posted the menu on review sites or on their blogs, so I had a general idea of the cost (expected to be around $34 per person) and the items that would be available.

My friend and I decided to head over there for an early supper — they open at 4:00 pm — on a Sunday afternoon before we had a scheduled Paint Nite event. Upon arriving, we found that the building provides free parking around the back, so the restaurant has both an entrance there as well as at the front. We walked into the former and found ourselves navigating a long hallway (filled with crowded booth seating along one wall) to make it towards the staff who asked if we had a reservation. Unfortunately, we did not, but they managed to accommodate us even though they were apparently fully booked for the evening. There were a couple of tables situated right by the front door waiting area (where we were seated), making for a slightly awkward placement. Thankfully, not many customers came in from there, so it didn’t get crowded or cold at all.

All You Can Eat Sushi Menu

The table had been laid out with drink menus, a pen, and two AYCE sushi sheets (already prepared for your second order). As we looked it over, I noticed that the pricing had been revised since I’d last found an online review from late-December with a copy of the menu included. Rather than one flat rate through the week, they had changed it to have one cost Monday to Thursday and then another Friday to Sunday and on statutory holidays. It makes sense though. They’ve essentially matched what you’ll find at Watari. In my opinion, that’s their biggest competition; therefore, if Tokyo Noodle Shop sees themselves as on par with what you can find at Watari, then they may as well act as if they deserve to charge the same. On the plus side, they’ve also mirrored the different pricing for children and seniors, so you can expect to save a bit there.

We quickly filled out our first sheet, focusing heavily on the sashimi and tataki with a few other selections from the sushi, maki and appetizer categories. At first, service was quite quick. Salad, beef sashimi, and appetizers didn’t take too long to come out from the kitchen and, next thing you knew, everything had been placed on the table.

Beef Sashimi and Bean Sprout Salad

Each of us ordered the Bean Sprout Salad. I found this to have less of a sesame flavour compared to other places with much more prominent amounts of ginger. Not my favourite, but it was crisp and fresh. The Beef Sashimi is limited to three plates per person and comes with about four to five slices per plate. The meat was deep red in colour, doused in a pleasantly acidic sauce and covered with onions. Very tender cuts owing to the thinly shaved beef and quality of the meat.

Appetizers

Our other appetizers consisted of the Agedashi Tofu, Crabmeat Puff, Deep Fried Scallop, and Cheese Wonton. The Crabmeat Puff was a fried wonton filled with shredded fake crab meat and maybe a little bit of Japanese mayo to hold it together. It was alright, but lacked major flavour. Initially, I thought that the Deep Fried Scallop was decent. It wasn’t greasy and the scallop flaked apart easily. However, they didn’t serve it with any sauce, which could have been a nice touch. I ended up ordering a second one on our follow-up sheet, but I didn’t like it as much that time. The scallop seemed mushier, so I suppose that’s a hit or miss.

The Agedashi Tofu was good. I’d just recommend that you don’t let it sit in the sauce for too long otherwise the fried exterior gets soggy. Also, allow the morsels to cool off a bit before eating (best to split them apart to let the heat out) to prevent burning your mouth. My favourite out of the appetizers was definitely the Cheese Wonton. Again, the consistency is not exactly there at Tokyo Noodle Shop. The first Cheese Wonton I had was literally filled with cream cheese by itself. But, in our next round, the cheese had been combined with yellow corn. Admittedly, both versions were good. This was like a meatless take on the crab and cream cheese wontons I’d come to love from Panda Hut Express without my friend having a potential allergic reaction from consuming the crustacean.

Spicy Tuna and Shrimp Avocado Maki with Inari and Chop Chop Scallop Sushi

I wasn’t overly impressed with the maki, which came in orders of six pieces each. The two of us shared the Spicy Tuna. I found that to be okay in terms of flavour as there was definitely a kick of heat, but there was very little filling. Same goes for the Shrimp Avocado Maki as those barely seemed to have anything other than rice. The Chop Chop Scallop sushi was also average at best. While the nori wrap was crisp, I found that the scallop was diced much smaller than I’m used to and the seafood was tossed with way too much mayo, making it the only thing I could really taste. The Inari sushi was alright. I love the sweet sheets of bean curd and these were fine. I do suggest eating the whole piece in one mouthful as they do not bite apart easily and, if you try to split it with your teeth, you’ll end up with a mess.

Hidden under the Cones category, you’ll notice Tuna and Salmon Tataki on the menu. I have to say that the Tuna Tataki wasn’t my favourite. It was served with ponzu sauce and crispy fried onions, which were delicious; however, I didn’t like the texture after the tuna was seared on the edges. It was like it’d been overcooked and the sides were dry and scratchy in the mouth. The Salmon Tataki was fantastic though. Some have complained that the yuzu black pepper sauce is too peppery, but I thought it was perfect when I tried it. The salmon was especially good and soaked up the zesty sauce nicely.

Look at all of the sashimi!

At Tokyo Noodle Shop, the price of the AYCE menu accounts for up to 30 pieces of sashimi per person at the table. In all, we were able to order 60 pieces between us and we maxed it out. My friend stuck to the standard Salmon and Tuna sashimi. I split my selection between those and the Butter Fish. This was most definitely the highlight of our meal. Every single piece was accounted for and the portions were generous, especially with the salmon. Although I did think that the butter fish and tuna could have been thawed out a bit more (they were colder and icier towards the middle of the cut of each fish), they were still fairly fresh and of a decent quality. The meat was smooth — no discernible tendons — and had a light bite to the fish. The salmon sashimi was spectacular. The pieces we received had an excellent ratio of flesh to fat, making them incredibly succulent. The salmon almost melted in our mouths. Next time I’m at Tokyo Noodle Shop, there’s no doubt that I’ll stick to more of the salmon for the best experience.

My friend ordered more of the Inari Sushi

From our first sheet, only one item was missed. It was the Sunny Roll under the House Specials. It comes with eight huge pieces (we saw another table get something similar) and we chose to forego checking it off on our second submission as we didn’t want to end up being too full to finish everything. We just repeated a few of our favourites like the beef sashimi, agedashi tofu, and cheese wontons. All super snackable portions that we knew we could manage after devouring so much sashimi.

Green Tea Ice Cream

One thing I really do like at Tokyo Noodle Shop is that they include dessert in the price. It’s just a simple scoop of Green Tea Ice Cream, but that was enough to make me happy. Honestly, it was a little bit icy, but it tasted great. I’m a sucker for green tea desserts and this hit the spot.

I absolutely believe that this AYCE sushi option presented by Tokyo Noodle Shop is a fantastic addition to a city that is truly lacking in this realm. Sure, the service towards the end wasn’t the best (we kept putting our second order sheet towards the edge of the table and they skipped over us a number of times; I had to wave someone down to get it placed in the end), but overall, we were treated well. The space is clean, the staff are friendly, there’s a variety of items, food came out fast, 99 per cent of our order was correct, and we never felt rushed. Since it’s similarly priced to others in Edmonton and it’s on the south side, there’s a good chance that I’ll be back here more frequently.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: State & Main

State & Main Windermere

Prior to State & Main Jasper Avenue opening, this restaurant was not a regular haunt for me. The Southgate Mall location was a place I visited only when I needed a relatively accessible spot to catch up with friends, and, being right along an LRT line, it fit the bill.

When State & Main was first introduced to the city, it was, for the most part, a duplicate of it’s older sibling, Original Joe’s. In fact, much of the menu was exactly the same. Many of the sandwiches could be found on either one, and it made me wonder what the point of having two chains under different names was. I suppose it could be argued that State & Main has a slightly trendier feel to it than the casual Original Joe’s, but it needed something more than that.

For me, that used to be the brunch. It’s been a while since I’ve taken the time to go to State & Main for that, but I definitely have a fondness for their Banana Bread French Toast ($13.50). I think it was the first place I’d ever come across that served a dish like it. Add a side of bacon and I got the best of both worlds when it came to satiating my early morning salty and sweet cravings.

At one point, I was even a huge fan of their veggie burger. Although, I’m by no means a connoisseur of vegetarian patties, I thought theirs had a great consistency with a beef-like texture, juiciness and a lot of flavour. It used to be topped with some sort of guacamole and halved grape tomatoes. Served with it would have been my choice of two of their extensive sides. However, more recently, I noticed that they changed the description of The Veggie ($15.50) on their menu. A friend of mine opted to go for a “healthier” lunch one day and gave it a go. She was severely disappointed. Visually, the burger didn’t look appetizing, so I can’t imagine it was much better eating it. I just don’t understand. They had a good recipe already, so why change a good thing?

Jalapeno Mac & Cheese with Bacon

Nowadays, State & Main downtown has become our scene for workplace gatherings (usually when another co-worker has abandoned the rest of us for something better). Within the past few months, we’ve probably been at least four or five times. My typical order is the Jalapeno Mac & Cheese ($11) with added Bacon ($2) off of their Start & Share listings. It’s affordable and it’s the perfect amount of food for the lunch hour. Sometimes it can get a little greasy, but overall, it’s got a nice creamy sauce. I enjoy the cavatappi noodles (spiral tubes) and the spice from the jalapenos is just right. It’s best when they put on a lot of panko bread crumb to get that baked crust on top, too. The bacon is usually good as I prefer it crispy. Aside from the last time, when I’m certain they forgot to put the bacon in (don’t worry, I got them to bring me a side of it), I always leave satisfied with this item.

I have tried to change things up every once in a while by selecting different dishes. Sometimes it has worked out (Spicy Tuna Poke Bowl), other times not so much (The Grilled Cheese Burger). Still, after frequenting State & Main so many times over the years, it’s a bit surprising that I hadn’t reviewed them before. Therefore, with a generous gift card in hand, Kirk and I decided to pop into the newest Windermere location for an early happy hour supper on a recent weekend.

Available from 3pm to 6pm every day and 9pm to close from Sunday to Thursday, I love taking advantage of happy hour deals. It can be an ideal way to have date night while getting to sample several things and save money. On this particular occasion, Kirk stuck to the Amber/Red SM Draught ($4). It tasted fine to me; fairly smooth and not overly hoppy. My preference is for cocktails, so I chose to go with the Saturday special of White Sangria ($7). Made with Absolut vodka, lemon juice, stone fruit syrup, white cranberry juice, Sauvignon blanc, raspberries, peaches and topped with State slush, it certainly made for easy drinking. Nothing too out there, and it was neither bitter or overly sweet. I could actually have done without the State slush though. It’s like a poor man’s version of a Slurpee with ice that is harshly crushed and quickly clumps up into a solid ball.

To eat, we shared a handful of items, including the State Slider ($3 each), Truffle Parm Crisps ($4), Lamb Tacos ($5 each or regularly $15.75 for two and a side), Short Ribs ($7), and Korean Fried Chicken ($7 or regularly $13.50). I have a theory that the restaurant takes longer to cook things up during happy hour, so patrons don’t have a chance to order a second round of food before 6pm. What other reason could there be for such a delay? It wasn’t even all that busy. For a competent kitchen to get an order out, it should never be a 40 minute wait.

Lamb Tacos

Our patience paid off in the end. Everything was delivered to our table at once. I’ll begin with the worst item: lamb taco. I was kind of excited to try this one because I’d been eyeing it on the menu for a long time. Having been forewarned about the disastrous fish tacos at State & Main, I was hoping that the lamb tacos with no cilantro in sight would be the better option. Unfortunately, the lamb did not come across as fresh. It had a gamey flavour, but not in the way that I was used to. It was almost too prominent despite there being very little meat at all. The majority of the taco was comprised of the shredded lettuce and pickled pink turnip. A sad drizzle of tahini could be seen on top. Thankfully the side of harissa was there to amp up the taste a bit. Otherwise, this would have been awful.

State Slider

The State Slider was okay. It’s most likely a miniature version of The Main Burger, which stacks a small patty of Canadian beef with American cheese, ketchup, pickle and State sauce. They’re known for their dill dip and the State sauce is similar. Maybe a tad stronger on the palate. I had a single bite and left the rest for Kirk.

Truffle Parm Crisps

I’d definitely order the Truffle Parm Crisps again. As far as I can tell, they’re house-made potato chips garnished with grated and flaked Parmesan cheese. There were a few chips that had gotten soggy by the time we made our way down to the bottom of the bowl. Otherwise, they were thick and crunchy with plenty of cheesiness and a decent creamy dip to go with it.

Short Ribs with Tzatziki

Considering that the Short Ribs were fried, they refrained from being overly oily. The outside was crisped well and they were simply seasoned with salt and pepper. There tends to be more bone than meat with these ribs though, so that’s the one downside. Regardless, what does take them up a notch is the side of tzatziki sauce.

Korean Fried Chicken

Probably my favourite dish from our afternoon out was the Korean Fried Chicken. Turns out I’d had it before during a previous work lunch. It’s prepared with a mix of lightly battered pieces of chicken and cauliflower in a spiced gochujang glaze and sprinkled with sesame seeds and chopped green onions. These taste awesome. My only issue with the dish is that the cauliflower is definitely a way of masking how little chicken they actually give you. The majority of the plate was made up of the white florets in disguise. While I’m a fan of the veggie, I would have appreciated more meat, especially if I had paid full price.

All things taken into consideration, State & Main is alright. Mostly, it comes down to timing. It doesn’t matter the location, service has always a bit shoddy no matter which one. The food is also hit or miss. But, find something that is relatively pleasing and stick with it because, if anything, they’re at least consistent in their mediocrity.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Station on Jasper

PB&J Firebread Sandwich

Closing amid allegations against one of the previous owners, the space once occupied by The Needle Vinyl Tavern (10524 Jasper Avenue) sat unused since November 2017. Then, on June 25, I received an email from Station on Jasper. They were a new business and they had inherited the Needle’s existing email list upon purchasing the restaurant/music venue. With the introduction came an offer for $12 off during dinner when dining in July.

I held onto the coupon and with one weekend left before it expired, I dragged my fiancé, Kirk, with me. I thought it’d be a good excuse to try it out. From what I could tell, the menu had been revamped since the Needle’s time. Back then, the food was pretty subpar. Now, the listings looked to be promising.

We arrived at around 7:00pm on a Saturday night. It was empty inside, although their patio was definitely being utilized. We seated ourselves indoors just shy of the patio to get the fresh air without the crazy heat. Our server came over with menus and started talking about happy hour before realizing that it was actually too late for us to order any specials. Still, I asked her what they usually offer during that time, so I could make note of it for my YEG Food Deals pages. She admitted that they didn’t actually have anything solid in place yet.

The interior of Station on Jasper has a kind of indoor-outdoor feel with the lights.

It turns out that when the business transferred over to the new owners, they literally hired all staff within a two week period, set a date and opened their doors. As I soaked in my surroundings, I could see that the design of the bar and restaurant was largely unchanged. The exact same tables, chairs and setup as before were being used. As I mentioned, the menu was visibly different, but the drink selection was fairly scant with them sticking only to classic cocktails.

Personally, I found the pricing for the dinner mains to be a bit high. Instead, I focused on the rest of the comfort food by way of the south menu created by executive chef Michael Darby. With a variety of sandwiches and pizzas at relatively affordable prices, they were the more reasonable option. Kirk got a local beer on tap ($6.19) and the Station Burger ($14). I opted for the PB&J Firebread Sandwich ($12).

Station Burger

Johnny Lee, one of their bar managers, spoke with us and he said that the Station Burger was probably the most simple thing on the menu and suggested Kirk order the Po’ Boy next time. Johnny wasn’t wrong. The burger had been changed from being topped with candied bacon, caramelized onion, smoked Gruyere and Station Sauce to cheese, mixed greens, sauce and a few grape tomato halves. There was still a decent flavour to the meat. Nevertheless, it wasn’t what we had hoped for. Having stated that the patty is made of hand-formed Alberta beef, we thought it’d be freshly pressed. While it wasn’t necessarily a mass produced frozen burger, it clearly didn’t meet our expectations and could have used more charring. On the side, the blanched fries were decent. These are supposedly hand-cut and that seemed to be the case.

PB&J Firebread Sandwich

Their PB&J Firebread Sandwich fared better overall. The long toasted bun was laid with arugula, seven spice blend pork belly, a sunny side up egg, grilled peaches and some sort of aioli. I tend to shy away from toasty bread because I often scrape my mouth with the sharper edges. This was alright though. It held the components of the sandwich together well. To avoid a huge mess with the egg, I broke the yolk first and then cut the whole thing in half, spreading it out across the length of the bread. Then, I clamped it shut. This item has a lot of potential. Sure, I felt the pork belly was a tad too fatty in spots, but it was seared nicely and the saltiness was balanced out by the bitter greens and sweet peaches. My one big criticism to the kitchen was that the grilled peaches were too chunky. They fell out when I took bites, so I suggested that they create a peach chutney instead. It’d allow for the flavour to come through in every bite rather than sporadically.

After we finished our meal, Johnny came back to chat about the dishes and their quick opening. He then took the time to show us the music stages, including the main venue tucked in a side room towards the back. It’s a neat tiered space. Between that area and the back of the main dining room, they can apparently accommodate up to 400 guests per show. Johnny also excitedly told us about their plans for a hidden speakeasy, which I’m interested to visit when it gets up and running.

When it was announced Station on Jasper would be opening at the end of June, there was speculation that the previous owners were still involved with the new business . However, that has since been refuted. Mark Chisholm, their other bar manager, also introduced himself while we were there. Both Johnny and Mark are a hundred per cent invested in seeing Station on Jasper succeed. They especially want everyone who works there and who comes through their doors to feel protected. All of their staff have to go through regular mandatory training through their partnership with the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton (SACE), so staff are not just aware of their own actions, but are also knowledgeable enough to spot situations that may arise with patrons. It was great to hear that they’re taking the steps to ensure that their business remains a safe place for everyone.

Station on Jasper was also able to sign on a number of big name Canadian artists like Serena Ryder and Lights for their launch, and they have a roster of other performers coming through the venue later this year. If they were in any way connected to the tarred reputation of the Needle, I’m pretty certain that information would have come out by now and they wouldn’t have been able to successfully book the shows that they have.

Walking out that night, Kirk and I felt that Station on Jasper was on the right track. They’re beginning to solidify their space in the community by booking as much local talent as possible. They’re working with neighbouring businesses to help highlight musicians in any way they can. Most of all, they want to be there to nourish Edmontonians through their stomachs and their musical souls. We wish them the best of luck!

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Silk Bar Kitchen

The exterior of Silk Bar Kitchen includes an inviting patio.

Edmonton has welcomed a number of new restaurants this year. One of them is Silk Bar Kitchen on 105 Street and 103 Avenue. Owners Cory Allen and Stephan Zaiffdeen, along with chef Earl Briones, were inspired by the historical Silk Road, a trade route connecting Asia to the Mediterranean.

The elongated interior of Silk Bar Kitchen.

Stepping into the space for an early Friday night dinner with a friend, it was empty. We were the first guests that evening, and we were told we could sit anywhere we liked. It’s a tad dark inside, but once my eyes adjusted, I was able to appreciate the design. Rather elongated, they’ve put booth seating on a raised platform to the left of the door, taller tables alongside a glass partition, a few standard tables at floor-level, and the usual chairs along the bar.

The style is a mix of vintage (lighting), modern (exposed ceilings) and extravagant (mirrors galore). They also place a spotlight on art, including a huge lacquered mural towards the washrooms and interesting wooden panels running along the upper back wall that depict the city and the North Saskatchewan River down the middle. Not everything made sense side-by-side, but I could tell that there was definitely a lot of thought put into the overall look.

Seeing as how Silk Bar Kitchen offers happy hour from 5:00pm to 8:00pm every Tuesday to Friday (also Saturday & Sunday from 12:00pm to 5:00pm), it was an excellent opportunity to take advantage of the specials. At discounted prices, we figured we’d be able to sample several items to get an idea of what they were about.

Ryojito

Available only during happy hour are their Ryojitos ($12). This is their bar’s take on the mojito. A mix of Havana Club, rosé, coconut sencha syrup, bitters, and fresh lime and mint, it was, visually, a gorgeously layered beverage. When they were dropped off, we were told to ensure we stirred them up well to get the proper flavour throughout. My friend seemed to really like it. Personally, I felt it left too much of a bitter taste in the back of my mouth. Letting the ice water it down a bit as it melted helped. Next time, I may go for one of their other cocktails (I’ve got my eye on the Two-Way Street), which are also $2 off between those hours.

Mini Masala Flatbread

When it came to the food, my friend opted to try the Mini Masala Flatbread ($7). I wasn’t sure what to expect when they put the word “mini” in the name. I mean, I’ve been to Earls and ordered their 8-inch margherita pizza from their happy hour menu before. Needless to say, it was nowhere near the size listed. We were lucky if it actually measured five inches in diameter. In the case of Silk Bar Kitchen, they fared much better. The thin-crusted flatbread was sliced into several pieces and laid on a long rectangular plate. There was no meat on it, so this is a decent option for vegetarians. While I don’t enjoy cilantro, the rest of the toppings — onions, masala spiced Spanish spread paneer, and golden turmeric glaze mango chutney — popped on the palate, especially with the strong, saturated sauces.

Bacon Croquettes Duo

The two of us also shared the Bacon Croquettes Duo ($7). These are balls of mashed buttered Kennebec potatoes combined with bacon and parmesan. They are then lightly breaded and fried before being served with onion jam. I could have done with more bacon as I don’t think that component shone through enough. Still, these were quite tasty. Yet, I do wonder how much money we saved by selecting them off of the happy hour menu. Regularly, the dish is $13, and I would hope that would come with more than a pair of croquettes. Otherwise, the value isn’t really there.

Garlic Parmesan Fries

We also split a small basket of the Garlic Parmesan Fries ($4). These were pretty standard. The fries were nice and crisp having been cooked with garlic infused oil. They were lightly dusted with herbs and then doused with grated Parmesan. For dipping, a side of lemon garlic aioli was presented. This is a great choice as a light snack.

I also decided to try both of the sliders: Char Siu and Meatball ($4 each). The same type of sesame roll sandwiched the meat in each one. The shredded pork in the Char Siu slider was almost black in colour. While it tasted fine with the sweet soy aioli and the coconut lime slaw, I would have preferred a more significant amount of meat like a slice or two of pork and an infused barbecue flavour. Between the two, I found the Meatball Slider to be better. The angus beef had a nice sear to it and it was simply stacked with arugula and crispy onions. What took it up a notch was the garlic oregano aioli and the tomato relish, giving it a touch of sweetness to balance out some of the bitterness.

Matcha Cheesecake

Dessert was already on my mind prior to dinner. I had it set on their Matcha Cheesecake ($9), which I’d seen pictures of on their Instagram feed. While it was good for a general cheesecake, I think it needs work to truly be considered a matcha dessert. My initial reaction was that it didn’t look like what they had shown me online. The white chocolate ganache was scant and it didn’t actually come with any ice cream. The cheesecake was barely green and the matcha could barely be discerned. The rest — berry coulis, sugared berries, honeycomb, and cornflake crust — was all there though. The crust was different and worked well with the cake, and the berries were delicious. However, the berries on top of the honeycomb kind of made the latter soggy pretty quickly. Honestly, this could be an amazing finish to dinner with a few minor tweaks.

After sampling these items, I think that Silk Bar Kitchen certainly has potential. The choices here are at least equal to other elevated bar fare found around downtown Edmonton. There are also inklings of inspiration when it comes to the flavour profiles of certain dishes. My interest has been piqued enough to make me want to revisit. Based on the menu descriptions, their larger plates definitely sound promising. I just hope that business picks up for dinner (before the DJ starts spinning later in the evenings), so that they’ll be around long enough for me to go back.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Panini’s Italian Cucina

Pasta comes piping hot in foil pans.

I’ve never once set foot into the physical space of Panini’s Italian Cucina. However, I’ve now ordered their food through SkipTheDishes enough that I feel I can justify writing this review.

My co-workers were interested in having lunch delivered one day, so we started to peruse the options on the app. I decided to search based on current restaurant ratings and fees. Panini’s Italian Cucina came right to the very top of the list. Not only do they offer free delivery with purchases of $20 or more, they also had a Skip rating of 9.9 out of 10. It was either going to be them or the Italian Centre Shop. What really pushed Panini’s over the edge was the extent of their options.

That initial order included a Prosciutto Bocconcini Panini ($12) for me, and a Deluxe Calzone ($16), Ciambella Doughnut Balls ($6), and a Build Your Own Pasta ($4.75) for my friends.

Pastas are packaged in large round foil pans. The Build Your Own pasta is simply a base of either spaghetti, fettuccine or penne with their signature tomato sauce. There were no additional toppings or upgrades, hence the low cost. Supposedly, it’s meant to feed one person, yet the portions are quite sizeable. The Deluxe Calzone was also big, but still devoured by my co-worker in one sitting. Since she didn’t have room for dessert, she shared her doughnuts with me. At first, when I picked up a ball, I thought the outside was a bit too firm. Nevertheless, it gave way to a soft, springy center, and it was delicious when dipped into the container of Nutella that came on the side.

Prosciutto Bocconcini Panini

The original version of the sandwich I chose comes stacked with prosciutto, bocconcini, artichokes, spinach, and tomatoes. What I love about Panini’s is that there’s an opportunity to customize for free, so I opted to swap out the latter two toppings for arugula and sun-dried tomatoes. I even added roasted red peppers as up to four veggies can be selected. Condiments of pesto mayo and lemon garlic mayo were bonuses. All of this was pressed between a hearty whole wheat bread. The sandwiches are actually perfect to be split into two separate light lunches. I too finished off my panini, eating the whole thing in one go. They don’t skimp on the ingredients. Everything was fresh, and the bread was buttered and toasted to perfection, giving it a good bite.

Subsequent deliveries have yielded us more pastas and sandwiches: Spaghetti & Meatballs ($13.25), Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo ($11.50), Penne Alla Boscaiola ($12.75), and Montreal Smoked Beef Panini ($12).

Penne Alla Boscaiola

As my friend noted, the Spaghetti & Meatballs — signature tomato sauce with two large beef and pork balls — was able to provide her with sustenance for three days straight, making their dishes a fantastic value. Even my Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo was hefty and split into a few meals. The sauce was creamy and all of the pasta was well-coated. The grilled chicken had ample flavour. This only thing is this option is not the healthiest by any means. It’s not as noticeable if eaten immediately after it’s made, but, rewarmed, the paper plate I had put my pasta on was just drenched in an abundance of oil that soaked through. Yikes! The latest pasta I tried was the Penne Alla Boscaiola. It consists of a rosé sauce. Basically this is the best of both worlds since it marries a traditional tomato sauce with white cream sauce, and I found this to be lighter than the alfredo. Copious thin slices of spicy Italian sausage had been placed into the pasta with mushrooms and peas dotting the pan as well. Again, there was plenty to spread this out over a few lunches.

Montreal Smoked Beef Panini

As far as Montreal Smoked Beef sandwiches go, this one hits the spot. It’s not outrageously stuffed with meat like the ones sold at true Montreal delis, but there’s just the right amount of beef. This one is supposed to be served with mozzarella, arugula, pickled eggplant, spicy pepper mayo, and mustard. I pretty much keep it as is. The only things I add are artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes. The smokiness of the meat plays off the acidity and bitterness of the veggies while the sauces bring in a savoury-sweet combo and a little spice.

What I like most is that it never seems to take too long to get our food from Panini’s Italian Cucina. Despite the lunch rushes, we’ve received better service from them being fifteen blocks away on Jasper Avenue than from a restaurant that was literally a few blocks down the road. Everything I’ve had the chance to try from Panini’s has been better than expected, and I often find myself thinking about my next Panini’s lunch. When a single dish has the ability to cover multiple meals at such an affordable price, it’s a winner in my books.