Edmonton Restaurant Review: BAR 94 at LUX Steakhouse

“94” lights up the back wall of the bar.

Earlier on in my career, I could often be found with my colleagues sitting at a table inside the lounge of LUX Steakhouse. We all liked each other enough to spend extra time together after work over a drink or two. Back then, my favourite was Martoonie Tuesday (maybe it was Thursday). For two dollars plus change, I could have a full cocktail. They weren’t all that strong, but they also didn’t break the bank. It was a way to unwind on the cheap. As the years passed by, more and more friends left for other opportunities, or the circumstances of their home lives had changed, and those gatherings eventually subsided.

Every so often, I’d still frequent the restaurant for lunch or dinner. It wasn’t the same though. Flash forward to last month when I decided to revisit with one of my girlfriends. I’m always keeping tabs on Edmonton food deals (check out the page on my blog), and having seen their happy hour offerings, I felt inclined to go. The lounge, renamed BAR 94 in honour of one of the city’s favourite hockey players and current shareholder, Ryan Smyth, still looks relatively the same. Yet, the menu has gone through some updates.

Sparkling cocktails for just $3 every Tuesday from 4pm to 7pm.

The bar does serve the same dishes as are available in the restaurant; however, they also have their own distinct menu consisting of casual eats that include about a dozen share plates (varying in price from $7 to $17 each) and five handhelds. Every Monday to Thursday from 4:00pm to 7:00pm, all of those appetizers — minus the Team Platter — are available for just $10 per item, and premium well highballs, select draught sleeves, and house red or white wine are only $5 per glass. On Fridays, everything is another dollar less. Best of all, on Tuesday nights, there’s even the option ordering a sparkling cocktail or a six ounce glass of Prosecco for three dollars. Honestly, these prices are difficult to ignore.

I booked a table for us using the OpenTable app. In my request I asked to have them save us a spot in the lounge even though the system is really only meant for the restaurant. While it’s usually first come, first serve for BAR 94, they seem to be able to accommodate reservations whenever possible. In this case, it didn’t seem to be a problem. When I arrived, I found my friend already seated at the far end of the space.

Both of us started with some bubbly. She got a stem of Prosecco. I selected a sparkling cocktail of Prosecco and Chambord. Then we ordered a few plates to split: Mini Steak Sandwiches ($15), BAR 94 Dip ($14), Power Play Perogies ($14), and Truffle Lobster Mac & Cheese ($17).

Mini Steak Sandwiches

The Mini Steak Sandwiches came as five slices of baguettes with marinated AAA Alberta beef piled on top. These were garnished with plenty of crispy onions, roasted garlic aioli, and shaved Pecorino. When I first set eyes on them, I have to say that I didn’t find them incredibly appealing. They lacked pizazz, but one bite was all it took to change my mind. The meat was actually very succulent. The bread wasn’t overly toasted, so the edges didn’t scratch up my mouth. I found that the frizzled onions added some texture and paired well with the garlic aioli.

BAR 94 Dip

It’s hard to go wrong with dip and chips. The BAR 94 Dip was no exception. Theirs consisted of shaved brussels, roasted red pepper, cream cheese, and Parmesan in a skillet. The consistency was nice with a rich flavour, and it was easy to scoop up with the accompanying crispy tortillas. Although, I wouldn’t exactly call the chips crispy per say. They looked more like wonton chips as they had a puffy quality to them. Despite that, they lacked any crunch. I’m not complaining, however. I quite liked them that way. If I have them again, I’m not sure they’ll turn out the same. This could have been a one off situation for all I know.

Power Play Perogies

I was pleasantly surprised by the Power Play Perogies. I had pictured something more like what I could pick up at the grocery store with those thick shells and the pasty potato filling. These were a thousand times better. Think of pillowy pan-fried gnocchi pasta, except huge and filled with potato cheddar. They were then covered with sour cream, caramelized onions, and added bacon ($3). Super savoury and a great value for the money.

Truffle Lobster Mac & Cheese

One of my go-to plates at LUX has always been the Truffle Lobster Mac & Cheese. It’s one of their signature items and for good reason. They’ve elevated a comfort dish to a new level by combining the everyman’s pasta with Atlantic lobster, shaved truffle and plenty of Parmesan. Admittedly, I ordered this more for myself. My friend is allergic to lobster, so I knew I was going to be the only one eating it, and I intended to take the leftovers home for my boyfriend to enjoy. This appetizer is worth every penny in my books.

For dessert, my friend chose the Home Made Pie (blackberry). The price changes based on the market price of the filling used. It was good. Not overly sweet. Yet, I would liken it to a tart since it was much thinner than a typical pie. I went with the Carrot Cake. The huge slice of spiced cake sat in a pool of delicious Maker’s Mark bourbon caramel and was topped with cream cheese icing and candied pecans. This was delectable, but I was only able to have a small portion before going into a sugar coma. I’d recommend finding someone to split this one with.

Not to be outdone by this meal, I ended up at BAR 94 for the second time in a month. This time I was there with a couple of my more currently beloved co-workers. It happened to be a Thursday (handcrafted two ounce cocktails for $8), so I chose what I believe was called a Hartley’s Lemonade. I didn’t love it. It came across as a bit acrid after each sip. Nevertheless, my second cocktail, the Tropical Sangria, completely made up for it.

That night, we opted for the ‘Bucket of Bones’ ($15) and two servings of the Steakhouse Nachos ($16). If we’re talking about bang for the buck, I’d argue that the ‘Bucket of Bones’ (a.k.a. crispy rib tips) is a best bet. They were well-breaded and tastily seasoned with maple, cider vinegar, and fresh thyme. Regardless, it was those Steakhouse nachos that we relished. The fresh cut russet potato chips were individually layered with shredded beef short rib, shaved aged cheddar, jalapenos, and house made salsa. Each piece had exactly the right amount of toppings, and the ranch dip was a perfect way to cool down any heat from the pepper. There just weren’t enough of them in a single order. Hence, the need to have a second helping. At regular price, it wouldn’t the most practical way to spend one’s hard-earned money. On the other hand, when shared during happy hour, it’s somewhat justifiable.

Needless to say, I’m on the BAR 94 bandwagon once again. With food that rarely disappoints and specials that are easy on the wallet, it’s going to remain one of my top picks for downtown happy hour.

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Edmonton Restaurant Review: Rocky Mountain Icehouse (2017 Update)

What’s an Icehouse?

Midway through March, I received a note from Rocky Mountain Icehouse. They had noticed that my previous review was a couple of years old and they decided to extend an invitation to me and a few friends. The meal — consisting of several plates from their revamped menu ─ would be complimentary. In turn, I’m now providing an update on my thoughts of their food.

The first thing I’d like to note is that I’m not certain of when the menu was redone. I was simply told that it was new. Yet, I’d been there almost a year ago for a friend’s going away party and, from what I can recall, the options are pretty similar. Some identical selections were even discussed within my initial blog post back in 2014. Perhaps they’ve kept the most preferred and replaced the others with fresh picks. Although I’m not entirely positive of that, what I do think may have drastically changed are the recipes for a couple of the dishes I’ve either had or seen previously.

Kelsey was the staff member who organized this tasting event for us and she also acted as our server that afternoon. Once everyone was settled in with their drinks, Kelsey began to bring the plates over to our table. All items were selected by the chef, so we were constantly being surprised throughout our time there.

Spinach & Garlic Dip with Housemade Potato Chips

Our first offering was a Spinach and Garlic Dip with their house-made potato chips. I found this to be an interesting choice because the chip and dip combo seemed to be missing from the menu completely. The potato chips alone, however, are provided as a side to any of the sandwiches and they’re large, crisp and not overly greasy. Against the lighter dip, they held up well. I’m just not convinced they’d stay whole with a dip of a thicker consistency.

Mac & Cheese Hushpuppies

Next up was the Mac & Cheese Hushpuppies, which turned out to be a favourite among the group. This starter consisted of six fritters made using a mix of pasta, corn and peppers. Deep fried and golden brown in colour, these were then drizzled with chipotle aioli. Cheesy with a bit of heat (both in temperature and taste), it meant that each of us jostled to get our fair share before they all disappeared.

Steak Bites

An order of the Steak Bites continued our foray into their appetizers. This dish was comprised of eight skewers of tenderloin tips wrapped in bacon. According to the description on the menu, these steak bites were to be served with a lemon tarragon dip. Even though I couldn’t quite distinguish those exact flavours, I did enjoy these immensely. The meat was cooked to a medium rare and was tender enough. We especially loved the bacon. Still crispy, we guessed that the bacon strips must have been cooked separately from the steak to ensure that both meats were prepared properly. Balsamic vinegar added a touch of acidity and sweetness.

Signature Crab Cakes

The round of starters finished with their Signature Crab Cakes. These two generous patties of shredded Alaskan crab claws mixed with Boursin, feta and cream cheese came out batter and fried with a decent helping of garlic aioli on top. The menu made mention of a roasted tomato sauce that was to accompany the cakes; save for a few halved grape tomatoes, there seemed to be nothing of the sort. We ladies leaned towards this appetizer as we appreciated the quantity and the mix of cheese. It was particularly appetizing with a spritz of lemon. I also liked the texture as I could tell that real crab meat had been utilized. My boyfriend was on the fence. Granted, he’s from the east coast where seafood comes straight from the ocean and nothing in landlocked Edmonton can truly compare.

BBQ Pork Ribs

With barely any time to sit and digest, our first main dish showed up at the table. The BBQ Pork Ribs were a feast for the eyes and the belly. Just as described on the menu, this huge half rack of ribs was slow cooked until the meat fell right off the bone when touched. A knife wasn’t even necessary. The pork was succulent and the bourbon BBQ sauce was deliciously smoky and rich. Sides of garlic mashed potatoes, homemade baked beans and roasted seasonal vegetables ─ each delectable ─ were included as well. For less than $20, this was a superb value and something I’d definitely be sure to have on a return visit.

Half Size Jambalaya

Entree number two was the half size of the Jambalaya (only $12 and a huge portion for the price). This also came with a couple of the Mac & Cheese Hushpuppies. I’m not sure they were really necessary. Nevertheless, I suppose it’s a bonus as they are tasty. Otherwise, the jambalaya was a combination of rice, onions, peppers, chicken and spicy sausage sautéed in a southern sauce. My friend’s husband couldn’t get enough of it and managed to polish off what remained towards the end of the meal. Personally, I found it to be okay. While I was pleased with the consistency of the sausage and there was a good amount spice, which provided a bit of a kick, I couldn’t imagine eating the full plate as a main on my own. Because everything is cooked in the same sauce, I think it eventually becomes too much of a singular flavour. Sharing this dish helps to sidestep this issue by allowing for a smaller sampling among a handful of other offerings.

Blackened Bison Burger

The finale to our mains was the Blackened Bison Burger. I was actually astonished to bite into meat that was juicy and not dry as the latter is often found to be the case with bison. Despite the burger being made using a prefab patty, this was still pretty satisfying on my part. The combination of jalapeno jelly and jalapeno havarti cheese won me over. Additionally, as expressed by one of my dining companions, the bun also held its own; it was soft yet strong enough to keep the layers of the burger intact.

Southern Gumbo

The kitchen’s single misstep during our entire lunch was the Southern Gumbo. It can be ordered as an individual cup or bowl of soup or as an upgraded side for $3. The cup came with our burger and, disregarding my fullness, I felt an obligation to try it. Now, in my first review of Rocky Mountain Icehouse, I quickly referred to the gumbo since my friend had eaten it when we dined there together. From what I recall, it looked like a hearty broth with plenty of fillings. On this occasion, the soup was incredibly thick with a gravy-like mouthfeel and slices of Italian chorizo sausage that felt oddly dry and off-putting. Maybe it was meant to be that way. Maybe not. Regardless, it’s safe to say that it’s doubtful we’d to give that one another go.

Bailey’s Chocolate Ganache Pie

Last was the dessert. Kelsey let us choose between the two options available. Warm apple crumble called to me, but after Kelsey mentioned that it was the sweeter one, I changed my mind and we went with the Bailey’s Chocolate Ganache Pie. I expected this to be quite dense, yet it turned out to be slightly lighter, albeit a bit sticky. Overall, it was still sugary. What made it seem less so was the balance of bitterness from the chocolate and a tinge of tartness from the raspberries infused into the ganache.

All in, this meal would have cost us approximately $110 plus tax and tip (drinks extra). That much food between five people is a total steal. Everyone left happy and no one left hungry. In fact, we ate as if we were royalty. Out of nine items, there was merely one that we disliked and those are decent statistics. As a local gathering place, Rocky Mountain Icehouse presents patrons with a great atmosphere and a casual menu that was created to please.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Underground Tap & Grill

Green Onion Cake Sandwich

Green Onion Cake Sandwich

Every time I set foot into Underground Tap & Grill for lunch, I’m surprised to see how quiet it is. I guess it isn’t a destination of choice for most of Edmonton’s downtown workers, but it is one of mine. Over the last year, I’ve eaten there several times. The quality of the food is consistent, even if the friendly service received doesn’t necessarily meet my expectations.

Underground has become one of my go to restaurants, in part, because of proximity to my workplace, but also for the delicious pub food that is, on occasion, made with a slight twist.

Although I haven’t tried everything on the menu, I have enjoyed the chicken fingers with caesar salad, the green onion cake sandwich, the loaded nachos, the blackened tidbits and the tinga chicken quesadilla.

Looking at that selection, it’s easy to scoff and say that it’s pretty hard to screw up chicken fingers or nachos. However, I beg to differ.

Chicken Fingers & Caesar Salad

Chicken Fingers & Caesar Salad

Breaded chicken fingers can easily become overcooked, yet the ones at Underground are always crisp on the outside and piping hot, tender and juicy on the inside. The caesar salad that accompanies the strips is nicely coated with dressing, too, so they definitely don’t skimp there.

As for the nachos, I had those the very first time I stopped into Underground. I added the Asian pulled pork to my order just to round out the meal, ensuring I had something from every food group. I was met with a huge basket that I eagerly tried to share with the rest of my group. What I like is that they put plenty of cheese into the mix and they use fresh jalapenos. Plus, they provide sides of guacamole, salsa and sour cream.

On the other hand, during my last visit, my friends and I shared an order of the loaded nachos, which were on special for just $7 on a Thursday night (meat not included), and I was a bit disappointed at the serving size. The first basket was gone in a flash and we ended up ordering a second to go around. While I don’t blame the eatery for trying to balance portion for profit, the nachos didn’t really seem worth it that evening.

The latest version of their menu.

The latest version of their menu.

The blackened tidbits are a great appetizer to share though. The top sirloin pieces are wonderfully seasoned and served with a spicy chipotle sauce and shreds of sweet potato. The steak might not be the tenderest cut, but I’ve never seen them overcooked.

A quesadilla is simple yet delicious. It’s easy to split among a few people, but it also makes for a filling meal for one. Underground stuffs theirs with chipotle tinga chicken, corn truffle, sweet peppers and mozzarella and it’s served with the same sides as the nachos. Most places would charge extra for the guacamole and the salsa, so it’s nice that those are included here.

I’ve had the green onion cake sandwich once before. It’s maybe one of the more creative items on the menu, and it’s my friend’s favourite (she gets it each time we’re there). Underground’s homemade green onion cake is stuffed with Asian BBQ pulled pork, suey choy, tomatoes and more green onions. I think it’s appetizing, but it’s certainly a heavier sandwich. Also, if the green onion cake is even a little too crisp, it takes away from the dish as a whole.

In the evenings, Underground seems to liven up with the majority of the tables occupied. The downside is that service slows immensely when it’s busy. However, nightly deals – including a 7 oz. steak with all-you-can-eat sides for $12.50 on Mondays – make it an affordable place. The food caters to the masses, so there’s likely something for everyone.

Keep in mind that, during happy hour (3pm to 6pm, Monday to Friday), they have select Alberta beers available for just $5, but there’s a high chance they’ll be out of 4 of the 5 choices. Good thing they have 72 micro-brewed beers on tap at any given time, not to mention the cocktail or beer cocktail menu, so there’s no shortage of other options. The other choices might not be as inexpensive, but at least there’s plenty to choose from.

All-in-all, Underground is a fun, slightly noisy place to meet up with friends for a low key gathering over above average pub food and a few smooth drinks.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Parlour Italian Kitchen & Bar

The living room-like entrance to The Parlour.

The living room-like entrance to The Parlour.

Century Hospitality Group‘s (@centuryhg) latest offering, The Parlour Italian Kitchen & Bar (@TheParlourEdm), has been open for a little over 10 months now. My first visit was with a friend prior to attending the Arcade Fire concert in August. We met up at her office and walked over to the restaurant through a blistering heat wave. Situated behind the Denny’s on 104 Avenue, it’s in a distinctive brick block that may have been an old warehouse, although its facade looks newer. A large vintage looking sign with lights along the border indicated we were in the right place.

The entrance to the building is to the side through the patio, which is fenced in to save diners from a view of the street or the parking lot. It’s spacious with tables set far enough apart to give a greater sense of privacy and enough umbrellas or shade to keep it a bit cooler during sweltering weather. As lovely as it would have been to sit outdoors, it was too hot for the both of us, so we decided to venture inside. As you walk in, you’re greeted by a welcoming mantle place that makes you feel at home. Obviously, we were still at a restaurant, but it is meant to seem casual, relaxed, comfortable and retro despite the patina of sleekness over the whole atmosphere. I loved it. The server took us to a booth in the far corner, giving us a view of the bar and the pizza oven as well as the vast expanse of the layout, which includes a second floor that has many larger booths that are good for groups.

Since it was a Monday, we chose to go with their all day happy hour special ($10 on any of their specialty pizzas and $5 for all wines or beers on tap). We each selected a pizza – my friend went with the Short Rib and I ordered the Truffle – and got a couple pints of beer.

As soon as the pizza was dropped off at our table, we immediately dug in, meaning I forgot to take photos right away. But, no matter! The pizza looked and smelled wonderful and upon taking our first bites, we were sold on the place. A friend told me that she thought the crust was too soft, but I didn’t think it was. The crust is perfect for folding. The truffle pizza was absolutely decadent. Topped with truffle salami, fior di latte, Parmesan, fresh thyme and shaved truffles, I was in heaven. While I wouldn’t pay the usual $25 price of the pie, I would gladly go back on a Monday or during happy hour to get it for more than half off, and I’ll bring people with me! The short rib pizza didn’t disappoint either. Coming with braised Alberta Beef short rib, fire-roasted Serrano peppers, shaved pecorino and EVOO, it had a good amount of heat coming through, great for those who appreciate some spice without losing their ability to taste anything else.

To finish off, we capped our dinner with a couple of desserts. My companion selected the Chocolate Torta, which I expected to be more like a layered cake, but it actually seemed akin to a slab of brownie. It was rich, dense and presented with berry coulis, strawberries and salted caramel gelato. The Banana Panna Cotta called my name and it was also different than what I had pictured in my mind. Most other panna cottas I have tried have been closer to custards, but this had a slightly more gelatin-like texture to it. The banana flavour was subtle and paired excellently with the salted Nutella ganache, candied hazelnuts and fresh berries. Particularly, I was glad that it was a lighter dish.

The staff were commendable – friendly and attentive – during our entire meal. I’ve heard mixed reviews from friends about the establishment, and I think it might get a bad rap for being a Century Hospitality Group restaurant, but I really enjoyed my food and my time there on this occasion, especially at these prices. I look forward to going back with friends and family. It’s just a nice, laid-back place to catch up with people and I like that I never felt rushed. Plus, I like the way they think there. The backs of our drink coasters said, “Age, like glasses of wine, should never be counted.” As I sat there chatting with my friend of 17 years, I certainly felt younger than 28!

The back of one of the drink coasters. It's a cute touch.

The back of one of the drink coasters. It’s a cute touch.