Edmonton Restaurant Review: Cosmos Greek Kitchen

Calamari with Tzatziki

When I was planning a recent date night, I was looking to try someplace new. Cosmos Greek Kitchen popped up as a possibility. When I thought about it, Mediterranean cuisine seemed like just the thing to indulge in, so I made an OpenTable reservation for that evening and we head out to 124 Street between 108 and 109 Avenues for dinner.

Arriving at around 5:15pm on the Saturday, we noticed that the main door led to two separate sides. Cosmos Greek Kitchen was on the right with its sister lounge, Passport Restobar, on the left. Both share the same staff and kitchen (they were quite efficient), and they serve identical food items, but I believe the latter has more of a focus on cocktails.

The interior of Cosmos Greek Kitchen.

We went into Cosmos and found it to be rather quiet initially. However, we were early and, as we dined, the space filled up with more people, including a handful of families with small children. The host/server let us pick our own table while she went to grab menus. Once we settled in, it definitely felt like a comfortable spot for an enjoyable evening.

The two of us decided to go for the Super Combination Platter for two ($70) as it seemed to cover the gamut of menu favourites. Honestly, it did not disappoint in terms of the portions, selection and flavours.

Horiatiki (Greek Salad)

To start, we were served a bowl of Horiatiki (Greek Salad), which consisted of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, red onions, crumbled feta, and olives in extra virgin olive oil with dried oregano and maybe a little bit of red wine vinegar for added acidity. Traditionally, Greek salad is made without lettuce, adds green peppers and uses a large slice or chunks of feta cheese. I don’t recall seeing any pieces of pepper in ours and Kirk was hoping for more hefty pieces of feta rather than the crumble. Otherwise, it was still very tasty, light, and refreshing.

Calamari needs a squeeze of lemon juice!

At the same time as the salad was served, we were also presented with a large plate of Calamari. The deep-fried rings and pieces of baby squid were beautifully breaded to a nice crisp. The chef managed to keep the meat quite tender, avoiding the sometimes disastrous overcooked chewiness found at other establishments. A squeeze of lemon gave it a brightness on the palate and the house made tzatziki was the perfect accompaniment.

After indicating that we were ready to proceed with the rest of the platter, a huge silver tray was brought over with all of the remaining items for our meal. I will quickly mention that another portion of tzatziki is provided with the combo, but we both felt that it was unnecessary since we still had plenty left from the Calamari dish. Instead of a second helping of that, it would be really nice for them to swap that out with hummus. I didn’t think to ask if that was doable that night, but they might accommodate the request considering that the items are priced the same on the menu. It’s food for thought next time around. Also, it should be noted that pita bread isn’t part of the platter, so you may want to ask about adding that on as an extra.

Dolmathes in the round dish with Chicken & Lamb Souvlaki on the right.

It was difficult to decide where to start with the feast in front of us. I decided to sample the Dolmathes first. Those are vine leaves stuffed with rice and ground meat. They’re then covered in a lemony sauce. I vaguely remember going to a Greek restaurant (probably Koutouki) when I was a late teen and trying these. I think I attempted to unwrap the leaves because I didn’t think I was supposed to eat them. As a Chinese person, I was used to seeing sticky rice cooked in large leaves that weren’t meant to be edible. Knowing better now, I ate the whole thing and it was delicious. I actually didn’t expect it to have any meat inside, but it was a pleasant surprise to find that savouriness offset by the acidity of the creamy sauce on top.

Next up was the Keftedes, spicy Greek meatballs. These aren’t actually spicy in so much as having a kick of heat on the palate. They’re just seasoned with different herbs and spices to give it plenty of deep flavour. The finely ground meat was evenly textured for a nice mouthfeel. These are typically eaten with tzatziki, but that isn’t really needed. They’re good all by themselves.

Keftedes sort of hidden under all those diced tomatoes and red onions with the Spanakopita next to them and big pieces of yellow Greek lemon potatoes.

Spanakopita is one of my all-time favourite Greek snacks. Filo pastry stuffed with spinach and feta is simple, but delicious. This was a recipe I even took the time to make when I was young because I liked it so much. The filo pastry here was golden brown and incredibly flaky. My only issue with it was one end of the pie was all pastry with barely any filling. It was probably due to the folding of the filo to keep everything held inside the pocket. So, it was a big mouthful of thick pastry and none of the spinach or cheese. If they can find a way to make sure the filling is more evenly distributed into every bite, it would be even better.

Chicken and Lamb Souvlaki came with the platter. Often times most people don’t like lamb because of the wildness of the meat. It has a distinct gaminess to it, and when it came to the souvlaki, I found that it was relatively prominent. Nothing that bothered me too much since I often enjoy lamb. But, it was more pronounced and certainly not masked by the herbs used to season the meat. A couple of the pieces of lamb were a bit chewy as well as there was tendon running through. Otherwise, it was fine. In my opinion, the chicken was preferable. Well-seasoned and succulent, these felt like the lighter option when it came to protein.

The Souvlaki with slices of Lamb Souvla stacked underneath.

If you do want to try lamb at Cosmos Greek Kitchen, I highly recommend going with the Lamb Souvla over the souvlaki. A big portion of sliced roasted lamb laid beneath the skewers and it was wonderful. The wildness of the meat didn’t taste as strong and it was super juicy and tender with a fantastic zestiness coming from the marinade. A sprinkle of lemon and a dip of tzatziki made this a delectable treat.

Kirk and I loved the Moussaka, a layered casserole of potato, eggplant, and ground beef topped with béchamel sauce. It’s a really rich and filling dish, but it’s worth the calories. We especially appreciated the use of cinnamon (my go to spice) for the sweet-spicy combo that came through with flying colours. It elevates the dish into something special.

Moussaka

The final item on the platter was the Greek lemon potatoes. Kirk said he thought they were boiled and then roasted to get them as tender as they were. Either way, these were amazing. The potatoes were saturated all the way through with lemon and herbs. The flavour was in every single bite and I couldn’t get enough of them. It was literally the last thing I chose to eat from our main meal because I wanted to remember that taste.

“Coconut Cream Pie” dessert

Having sampled a little of everything in our combo, we finally called it and asked the staff to pack up what remained for leftovers (we had enough for another lunch and dinner for two). However, I wasn’t done. Since I was already there, I decided to go for dessert. Although my stomach had little room, I managed to pack away the majority of what I think is something like a Kadaif (I missed the name when the server was listing out the options). It was sold to me by being described as similar to coconut cream pie. Turns out that it was layered with a crust, finely shredded filo pastry, and whipped cream. A sweet syrup covered the plate. Not quite what I pictured, but it was still pretty good. I probably wouldn’t get it again as I wasn’t a fan of the overall texture. Yet, I’m glad that I opted to try something else other than the typical Baklava.

Super Combination Platter for Two

If you’re looking for a friendly Greek restaurant with, for the most part, authentic dishes, check out Cosmos Greek Kitchen. Don’t hesitate to order that super combo platter. The portions are worth the price and you’ll be basking in Mediterranean heaven for at least a couple of days, maybe more.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Washoku Bistro

Lunch Sashimi and Roll Bento Box

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

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

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

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

Complimentary Miso Soup

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

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

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

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

Assorted Sashimi in the Bento Box.

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

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

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Writer’s Room

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

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

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

The Grand Fizz Cocktail melted.

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

Cup of Broccoli Cheddar Soup

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

Tater Tots

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

Hoisin BBQ Chicken Tenders

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

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

Crunchy Brussels Sprouts

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

Shortbread

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

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

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The 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: The Cave Paleo Beastro

The interior of The Cave Paleo Beastro.

Having been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, my friend has had to transform her diet over the last few years. For the most part, she’s stuck with eating gluten free and paleo. Therefore, when it came time to celebrate her birthday this year, she selected The Cave Paleo Beastro (6104 104 Street) for a group dinner.

It’s a relatively new restaurant that just opened mid-summer late-fall 2018, so at the time of our visit, it’d been in business for a little over eight months. We had a large party of about twelve people and our reservation had been shifted from a later dining time to an earlier meal at around 5:30 PM.

Kirk and I were the first to arrive and made mention of the booking. The staff pointed out a long table that was set up in the middle of the space, so the two of us seated ourselves. However, after a few minutes, we were asked if we were too early for our seven o’clock dinner. Turns out they had misplaced an email confirming that our reservation had been altered. The good thing is that the restaurant wasn’t busy, so it’s not like they double booked another group in.

We were honestly hanging out at The Cave for probably close to an hour (waiting for one or two latecomers) before we finally ordered our food. Drinks among the table included a lot of raw and biodynamic wines, both by the glass ($9 to $12 each) and bottled ($50 to $82).

Vegetable Tempura

The only appetizer we tried was the Vegetable Tempura ($14) because our guest of honour was nice enough to share her order. It was one of the only things actually served warm the entire night. The mix of veggies included lightly battered and crisp broccolini, carrots, mushrooms, and yam. On the side was a gingery ponzu sauce for dipping. Overall, it was a pretty satisfying snack and all of us that sampled it seemed to enjoy it.

Yet, when it came to the main dishes, the wait was really long (I don’t think we ate until 7:30 PM). The Cave kitchen is open, so we could see that there were only one or two people working. I guarantee that they waited until pretty much everything was ready — one friend was served well after the rest — before bringing our meals out. That meant our food was probably sitting (in a fairly chilly venue) and that’s why, at best, each plate was lukewarm. Additionally, a few of my dining companions complained of small portion sizes, overcooked beef and duck (I still believe that my friends should have said something while we were there; the staff can’t fix things, if they don’t know about the issue), as well as a flavourless Scallop Crudo ($18).

Strip Loin

When it came to presentation though, I thought that the chefs did a nice job. The veggies were always used to provide a pop or contrast of colour. The fondant potato wedges on one of the Strip Loin ($42) plates alone was beautifully arranged in the shape of a flower. Despite those types of details, everyone I ate with couldn’t look past the shortcomings listed above.

I, on the other hand, thought it was a bit better compared to the group consensus (I rated the place a 6.5 out of 10). I only got a couple bites of Kirk’s Beef Rib ($32). While it wasn’t hot and more meat would have been nice, I found the beef to be succulent, well-seasoned, and tastily charred. Out of the whole dozen people at our table, I was the only person who ordered the Lamb ($29). I think I got the most bang for my buck because I was served three thick rounds of perfectly prepared roasted lamb atop rutabaga and seasonal veggies (squash and carrots). The lamb had zatar spice rubbed on the exterior, which slightly saturated the meat while still allowing the natural flavours to come through. Perhaps Kirk and I just lucked out with what we ordered at The Cave versus everyone else, but I thought the meal was decent other than the temperature of the dishes.

Dessert also seemed to be hit or miss at the table. The Lemon Betty ($10) was comprised of lemon curd, almond crumble and meringue layered in a jar. It was described as very tart and fishy as if those Omega-3 eggs had been used. Others who tasted the dessert didn’t seem to be able to pick out that particular flavour, but my friend was adamant that it was there. I’ll chalk it up to her really sensitive taste buds and the fact that she knows that Omega-3 eggs taste that way (I’ve never had them before).

Chocolate Brownie

Regardless, I can say with confidence that the restaurant makes a great Chocolate Brownie ($10), which actually came out sort of hot! It’s a shareable size, good for a couple, with that slightly chewy edge and soft middle. A light caramel sauce decorated the plate and a scoop of refreshing lemon gelato accompanied the rich chocolate to create a nice balance.

I’m not completely writing off The Cave Paleo Beastro based on this single experience. For all I know, returning for dinner as a duo might change things entirely. From what I could tell, on a Saturday night, this south Edmonton eatery wasn’t busy, and that’s probably part of their problem. The kitchen and the staff likely aren’t used to catering to larger groups during regular service. If they want to stick around and make a better impression in the future, that’s something they’ll have to improve upon.

I’d like for The Cave to be a place people want to hang their hat.