Edmonton Business Review: Square 1 Coffee

The ordering counter is situated at the back of the cafe.

Kirk and I randomly came across Square 1 Coffee in southwest Edmonton about year ago. It’s situated on 15 Fairway Drive just north of the Derrick Golf & Winter Club. We had ordered a pizza from Stone & Wheel next door, and we needed a place to kill time while we waited. As it turns out, both the pizzeria and the cafe share the same ownership. But, for whatever reason, the coffee shop is huge and the pizza place is not (strictly takeout).

As much as I loved the cinnamon knots at Square 1 Coffee and the spaciousness of the venue — a variety of seating including couches, tables, and even a small patio — I kind of forgot about it. That was until we happened across a second address inside the EIA outlet that opened in May. Tucked away towards the back end of a local business-oriented area of the mall, we found ourselves snacking on a sandwich and muffin to help energize us. By doing so, it helped to remind me of their original location.

A packed house and live music on a Thursday night.

Fast forward to this August when we had several meetings with photographers for our wedding next year, and Square 1 Coffee popped into mind as a great spot to meet. At least, it would have been perfect without live music going on. Their website is still not fully up and running, and none of their social media pages had indicated any events, so we showed up on a Thursday night to find a band playing. The place was packed with drop-in performers and friends of those artists there to support. It was actually really cool to see that community come together. However, it was not conducive to having a decent conversation. In that particular case, we ended up purchasing our drinks to go (a yummy chai latte for $5). All was not lost though. The three of us found a bench outside where we hung out and chatted for a couple of hours.

Wedding planning and matcha lattes go together well.

Another meeting that was planned in advance had us arrive to find it much quieter on a Tuesday evening, allowing us to sit at a table indoors while we enjoyed a scratch made pecan pie and a matcha latte ($5.50). The service was friendly and you could tell that this was clearly a place where regulars come in and out all the time (a la Friends).

Square 1 Coffee is certainly a cute cafe with decent beverages and food. I just think that they need to keep on top of their presence on social media or online. If they can finish revamping their website or post more regularly on Facebook and Instagram, patrons can make better informed decisions on whether or not the shop is the right place for them to be on any given day. If you do plan to go there for a study session or a meeting, I recommend phoning ahead to ask if they have any live events happening first. Otherwise, you may be in for a surprise.

SABOR Restaurant’s 3rd Annual Seafood Festival

Portuguese Surf & Turf

Portuguese Surf & Turf

After writing a profile about SABOR Restaurant for the Local Good, I was invited to attend the launch dinner for their 3rd Annual Seafood Festival. Taking place on Tuesday evening, I had the pleasure of experiencing just some of the offerings on this year’s menu.

Designed in a partnership between Chef Lino Oliveira of SABOR and Chef Jan Hansen of Hotel Arts in Calgary, the menu showcases a variety of dishes crafted using seafood approved by Ocean Wise. Served up family-style, guests sampled a range of plates including sardina escalivada, gambas al ajillo, scallop & limpet ceviche, heirloom tomato & queijo fresco montadito (the only one served without seafood was essentially a bruschetta on toasted bread) and amêijoas á bulhão pato.

The latter is a fancy name for clams steamed in white wine, garlic and cilantro. I usually can’t eat food cooked with cilantro as the herb is not a friend to my taste buds. Yet, somehow, I loved these. Maybe the broth helped to wash away the larger pieces of cilantro leaving me with the white wine and garlic reduction. All I know is that the ingredients were relatively simple, but the flavour truly popped.

The sardina escalivada surprised me. I don’t usually eat sardines as I find them to be too fishy and/or salty, but these were wonderfully seasoned and paired well with a bed of eggplant.

Gambas al Ajillo

Gambas al Ajillo

However, my favourite starter of the night had to be the gambas al ajillo, which are jumbo shrimp complete with shell and head prepared using wine and garlic. We hand peeled them open to reveal delicious meat and, as Lino instructed us, we sucked all of the juice out of those heads. Manners aside, everyone seated at the two long tables took to the scampi with gusto!

Croquetas de Bacalao

Croquetas de Bacalao

Appetizers were followed by Jan’s croquetas de bacalao, a dish of lingcod potato fritters with a spicy hot piri piri aioli. Some thought that the spice was a bit strong, but I quite liked it. I found that the heat started strong to give the dish a kick, yet it dissipated quickly enough so as not to overwhelm my palate.

The stars of the evening were absolutely the two main courses though.

Our first was the caldeirada de peixe, consisting of thick cuts of supple sablefish with seared skin still on and full lobster tails bathed in a savoury saffron-lobster broth. I found that the skin of the sablefish wasn’t crisp enough for me to enjoy the texture, but the mouthfeel of the actual meat was great. It fell apart in perfect pieces and the fish really soaked up the broth. As for the lobster, it’s not often that I get to eat it, so it was a real delight to have some that was so perfectly prepared.

Somehow I plated my Portuguese surf and turf perfectly.

Somehow I plated my Portuguese surf and turf perfectly.

Our last entrée was Jan’s take on Portuguese surf and turf. Chorizo-stuffed Alberta lamb rump was matched with a smoked paprika charred octopus. Both were served over a bed of migas – black kale, pine nuts and white navy beans – that provided a light citrus taste. Personally, I would have preferred the black kale to be less wilted, but I will admit that the more I ate it, the more I enjoyed it. The lamb was so tender that it didn’t need to be cut with a knife, and the curled octopus tentacle was fantastically charred just enough to give it that smoky, spiced flavor without overpowering the meat.

Caramel flan for dessert.

Caramel flan for dessert.

Although SABOR was promoting their Seafood Festival, they did not find a way to incorporate seafood into dessert (is that even a possibility?). Instead, they offered up a light and creamy caramel flan with almonds, walnuts and fresh raspberries, which is quite fitting for a restaurant that is known for working with Iberian, Mediterranean and Portuguese cuisines.

Guests during the preview event were also dazzled by the musical stylings of co-owner Christian Mena, who showed off his strong pipes by serenading us with a couple of songs. Having heard that Christian used to be a member of local band Maracujah and that he once toured with Neil Patrick Harris in the Broadway musical Rent, it wasn’t necessarily a shock to hear how good he was. Rather, it was a real treat for everyone there.

Chef Jan Hansen of Hotel Arts and Chef Lino Oliveira of SABOR.

Chef Jan Hansen of Hotel Arts and Chef Lino Oliveira of SABOR.

SABOR’s Seafood Festival runs through the month of August, and I’d highly recommend it. This is the ideal place to unwind with friends and/or family. The restaurant has a warm and welcoming atmosphere and the food has always been superb. Plus, be sure to visit from Wednesday to Saturday when they have live music. Perhaps you’ll even catch Christian at the mike. No matter what, if you’re a seafood fan, you won’t be disappointed.

Read more about SABOR in my original review

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Almanac

Drinks to start the night off right.

Drinks to start the night off right.

If I have a chance to, I like to give new eateries a try. The Almanac is one I had heard of because it was being touted as a much needed music venue following the loss of a handful of established locations within the last year or two.

Located in the heart of Old Strathcona, it opened in December, otherwise known as the dead of winter. I had all but forgotten about it until I came across a Groupon deal. For me, those are sometimes the best excuse to try a different place. My friend and I decided to go in early February (I know, this is quite delayed).

The restaurant has large Whyte Avenue facing windows, which are great for people watching should you manage to snag one of the long booths at the front of the house. We did have an OpenTable reservation, but we would have had no trouble the night we went, and were told we could choose any available table. Although there aren’t a whole lot of seats to fill, it was still relatively empty for a Thursday evening. I assume the restaurant’s infancy had something to do with it.

Once we sat down, the server very promptly came over with the menus. She let us know of the specials and then gave us a few minutes to look through all of the French-inspired options.

We started off with a couple of beverages: a pint of beer for my friend and the raspberry cocktail for me. The latter’s magenta hued liquid was nicely poured into a classic glass and garnished with a curl of lemon rind. Just a bit of sweetness came through as I sipped, but it was a smooth drink with a pleasant flavour and finish.

Caramelized Onion & Gruyere Tart

Caramelized Onion & Gruyere Tart

For dinner, the two of us opted to share the Caramelized Onion and Gruyere Tart for our appetizer. The pastry was flaky and the filling tasted good. Arugula and perhaps some sprouts made up the mixed green salad on top of the tart, providing a bit of bitterness to counter the sweetness of the onion and the savoury notes from the cheese. My one disappointment is that it seemed like the tart was made well in advance, so the Gruyere didn’t have that melted gooiness it would have if it was properly warmed. That was a bit of a stumble.

Mushroom Ragu with Truffle Gnocchi and Seasonal Vegetables

Mushroom Ragu with Truffle Gnocchi and Seasonal Vegetables

I had some trouble making a decision about my entrée, but my friend chose the Mushroom Ragu, which looked like a filling vegetarian dish. The kitchen certainly seemed to be generous with the mushrooms. I thought, as a whole, this selection was seasoned well. The truffled gnocchi that accompanied the ragu were plump and lightly browned, and the white beets (the seasonal vegetable at the time) were a lovely surprise.

The Almanac Burger with Soup

The Almanac Burger with Soup

In the end, I selected the Almanac Burger. I tend to cook very little meat at home, so when I go out, I often pick things I’m unlikely to make myself. The thick burger patty was a good size – I’d guesstimate that it was close to five ounces. It’s definitely not the largest burger and there was a tad too much bun, but I really enjoyed the bourbon caramelized onion, honey goat cheese (so much cheese!), tomato and arugula that were layered with the beef.

The burger also came with a side, so I went with the Chef’s daily soup. I was given a salad by accident when my plate first arrived, but a bowl of soup quickly replaced it. I swear the server had said that it was a chicken gnocchi soup. Yet, I was met with a chicken broth that had ample vegetable stock. There was no gnocchi in sight. It was slightly bland. Thankfully, it came with quite a bit of chicken, so no skimping there. Also, on the plus side, the soup was heated well.

I fully realize that dessert is not a requirement of every meal, but since I was at The Almanac and I wasn’t sure when I might be back, it made complete sense to sample something from nearly every part of the eatery’s menu.

The White Chocolate Pot de Crème with Fall Fruit Compote that my friend ordered was pretty decadent. The custard was actually quite light while maintaining a creamy texture. There was a lot of fruit to the side and atop the custard, too.

Dessert: Banana Cream Pie and White Chocolate Creme de Pot

Dessert: Banana Cream Pie and White Chocolate Pot de Crème

A new addition to the menu was the Banana Cream Pie with Chocolate Drizzle. It’s a small menu, and I knew I’d get a bite of my friend’s food, so, for variety, Banana Cream Pie it was. Definitely a dish for sharing, I would recommend it for two hungry people or even four people who want to finish the night with a small portion of dessert. The plate looked like it was attacked by Jackson Pollack – a bit messy, but still pleasing (because of the chocolate). I would have preferred something flakier for the crust, which was closer in texture to a firm shortbread cookie. However, the thinly sliced banana scorched with caramelized sugar was prepared well.

Being that The Almanac is fresh to Edmonton’s burgeoning food scene, it was a decent all-round experience. I wasn’t wowed though, and I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to revisit the place. We were also in and out within a couple of hours and, when we left, it wasn’t particularly late, so there wasn’t any entertainment going either (if that’s something that even happens on weekday evenings). If there’s ever a live show there that I’m interested in seeing or I’m free on a Sunday when they have board game day, I might pop by again sooner than later.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Tiramisu Bistro

The spacious interior of Tiramisu Bistro.

The spacious interior of Tiramisu Bistro.

The 124 Street district is one of my favourite places in Edmonton. It’s home to numerous independent shops and restaurants, including Tiramisu Bistro. I keep saying this lately, and it sounds ridiculous since I’m known for reviewing eateries, but until this year, I didn’t know this place was here.

I guess I have tended to relegate myself to certain blocks within this area and Tiramisu Bistro fell outside of that usual boundary. Granted, it’s only a few doors down from Duchess Bake Shop, and I’ve made a point of going there. In fact, it’s because of my attempt to go to Duchess that I ended up at Tiramisu Bistro at all.

On a free evening at the start of the summer, my mom and I decided we should stop somewhere for a snack, so I suggested Duchess. She’d never tried their desserts and I was more than excited to be the one to introduce their key lime pie to her. Unfortunately, as we drove by looking for a spot, I noticed that the store was closed for the night (I forgot they shutter early). That’s when I spied Tiramisu Bistro.

We figured that it was our best bet, and we easily found parking around the corner from the door. Prior to this, I’d heard about Tiramisu Bistro in passing. Yet, I failed to place its location. Now, I knew.

As we walked into the door, I found myself surprised to see how large the establishment is. The room is spacious with a coffee bar and numerous tables. A server came over to greet us and said that we could choose any seat. My mom thought we should have selected a smaller table, but the server said that it was already late and she didn’t expect to see any large parties coming through before the evening was out, so we stayed put.

I sat and looked at the menu even though we weren’t there for dinner. The selection appeared to be appetizing and I made a mental note to come back another time. On this occasion, we each had a smoothie and we shared a key lime pie.

Smoothies and key lime pie

Smoothies and key lime pie

The smoothies were packed full of pureed fruit, so I was happy with the value there. Although, my mom’s Happy Heart smoothie was rather sour due to the cranberries. I fared much better with the Brain Boost smoothie, which was a mix of strawberry, blueberry and raspberry. Having gone back to Tiramisu Bistro, it’s worth noting that they now list all of the ingredients next to the names of smoothies (they didn’t months ago) and the names no longer match what we had. The Cran-tastic is now what my mom drank, and the Passion Berry Bliss matches mine.

As for the key lime pie, it was just okay. Key lime pie is sort of the dessert du jour lately. Any and every restaurant has added it to their menu. I’ve gotten used to the lovely key lime infused custard-type filling that has become the norm. The one served here is similar in texture to a gel with a meringue topping and toasted coconut sprinkles. It was unique, but not what I was hoping for.

Evening specials

Evening specials

My second visit came a couple of months later when I met some friends for book club. It happened to be a Tuesday night, which is Tiramisu Bistro’s pizza B.O.G.O. (half off the second) evening special. My friend was game, so we shared two pizzas between us. Our selections included the Baked Brie & Duck Confit and the Salmone.

The duck pizza was a mix of duck meat, figs, roasted garlic, caramelized onions, brie and honey drizzled on top. I enjoyed this one. However, it could have used a little more duck on it and it would serve them well to spread the toppings out a little more towards the edges of the crust. The crust itself was pretty good. Although, it didn’t have the same consistency of a traditional thin-crust Italian pizza baked in a wood-fired oven, which I would have preferred. From what I remember, it lacked that slight chewiness.

Our Salmone pizza was excellent. The crust was the same, but came off better with these toppings: asiago cheese sauce, pears, capers, arugula and smoked salmon (plus a few pieces of onion). Maybe the juice from the fish and the pears changed the texture of the dough a bit. I’m not entirely sure. In any case, the toppings also made it closer to the edge and each slice could be covered by a full piece of smoked salmon, ensuring you got every flavour in each bite. If I were to go back for their pizza, this is the one I would have again.

Another friend in our party opted for a pasta dish, which may have been the special that day as his was made with short rib, and I can’t find it listed on their regular menu. The dish was nicely presented, but not particularly large. The fourth in our group chose either the Lift Me Up or Quinoa salad with added salmon skewers. Her dinner looked delectable. On sight, the veggies seemed to be fresh with a mix of greens, red bell peppers, grape tomatoes and cheese. The pieces of salmon were sizable, cooked well and seasoned nicely.

Seeing as we took their table for at least a few hours, the restaurant was accommodating. They never once rushed us even when it did get busier (there was never a line up though). I’d certainly go back for their food, especially on nights when they have specials or live music on Friday evenings. Mostly, I like the ambiance. It’s quiet enough to talk to whoever you’re with and they have a great patio during the warm season. Plus, the huge windows let in a lot of light when it’s bright out.

In essence, it’s a great community establishment that makes you feel right at home.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Hat

The long and narrow layout of The Hat.

The long and narrow layout of The Hat.

The Hat (@TheHatYEG) calls itself the oldest public house in downtown Edmonton – having opened a little over 100 years ago – and the venue seems to hold a lot of memories. I know that over the last several years, for a variety of reasons, I’ve had plenty of wonderful get-togethers with family, friends and colleagues in the venue. If only its walls could talk. I’m sure that they’ve seen and heard more than I can imagine.

Reservations are accepted through OpenTable. Pretty much all tables accommodate four people with space for larger parties at the back. It’s a narrow room, but they’ve made good use of it. The bar takes up about three-fifths of the one side, and gives singles (or duos when the place is full) a spot to dine. The TVs that line the walls often have some sort of sporting event or movie showing just in case you need something to look at when everyone at your table is too busy eating to hold a conversation.

It can get noisy when the resto pub is packed, but usually after work hours on a weeknight, it’s not so bad. Dim lighting, neon signs, wood and brick walls, padded black booths and stools, and an intricate tin tiled ceiling gives the establishment a sense of nostalgia and creates a comfortable atmosphere to chat and sit with a drink for a while.

Rosemary Chicken Sandwich with Fries

Rosemary Chicken Sandwich with Fries

If you’re hungry, there are a number of dishes that will satisfy. My recommendations include: Mac and Cheese, Californian Chicken Burger, Funky Crunchy Chicken Sandwich, Perogy Nachos, Wings ($4 on Wednesday) or Chicken Morsels (if you’d rather not deal with bones) and the Spinach Salad. I’d also suggest that you upgrade to sweet potato fries if you decide to go with a sandwich or burger. The portion sizes are definitely generous. If you’re just a little peckish, you can probably split most of the plates between two people.

The Shawarma Wrap - a signature item - with Sweet Potato Fries

The Shawarma Wrap – a signature item – with Sweet Potato Fries

My favourite dish is certainly the Mac and Cheese, which is made maki roll style. Presented as four large flat cylinders of KD sized macaroni that is shaped, stuffed with cream cheese, garlic, jalapenos, roasted red peppers, then panko breaded and served with sides of wasabi and sweet & sour chili dip, it was the first time I had seen mac and cheese prepared this way. It’s more than enough to share (although, you might not want to), especially if you order an appetizer of chicken morsels to go with it.

The Mac & Cheese

The Mac & Cheese

One day I would also like to try one of their desserts. In particular, I think the Cheesecakechanga sounds awesome, but I never have room for it. Perhaps I’ll have to go just for a sweet treat sometime or maybe I should work backwards and start with dessert instead.

The restaurant is pretty much an institution. Having had its ups and downs and its facelifts throughout the century, it still stands alongside places like the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald and longtime businesses like the Edmonton Journal, which have been around about the same amount of time. I hope the establishment will be there long after I’m gone, so that more people can continue to build their own personal experiences there. The Hat certainly holds a spot in my heart.