Edmonton Restaurant Review: Sabor Restaurant

Smoked Duck Carpaccio

Smoked Duck Carpaccio

Known for a menu that weighs heavily towards seafood, Sabor Restaurant wasn’t necessarily ideal for my friend’s birthday dinner. With an allergy to most shellfish, it could have been a disaster waiting to happen. However, they do offer a number of small plates, vegetarian dishes and a variety of other meat oriented entrees.

After she previewed several menus from a narrowed selection of eateries, my friend decided that Sabor was the one where we’d celebrate. The available dishes outside of the seafood realm were enough to convince her. Not so secretly, I was ecstatic that she picked Sabor. It’d been more than a year since I’d eaten there. I knew that the restaurant had rebranded and rejigged their menu, so I was excited to finally go back.

Arriving for our reservation on a Thursday evening, we were seated promptly by the far wall at a table for two. My friend was able to have full view of the space, which does have a slightly rustic European vibe to it. The pianist was also within sight, and while we dined we were treated to the lovely sound of live music.

Our server was very personable and, upon hearing of my friend’s allergy, he thoughtfully suggested other items for us. He was also willing to answer any questions we had.

We took a few minutes to choose what would actually end up in our bellies. Carefully, we selected an assortment that would satisfy our appetite while covering our bases – fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy and grains. What we ended up with was the liver pate, smoked duck carpaccio, lamb gnocchi and grilled eggplant.

Liver Pate

Liver Pate

The liver pate was a last second add-on. It isn’t something I would usually order, but our server said it was good and I was intrigued because it was made from a blend of chicken and smoked duck. A pot of the pate arrived at our table with a few large pieces of crostini. The pate, served cold, was dense, smooth and full-flavoured. The portion size was decent, too, for a six dollar starter. Any remaining pate was spread on fresh slices of bread.

Smoked Duck Carpaccio with bread and butter

Smoked Duck Carpaccio with bread and butter

Carpaccio, as mentioned in my previous review of Normand’s Bistro, is one of my favourite dishes. Trying smoked duck prepared in the same fashion as beef or bison was something to check off. Surprisingly, no matter the type of red meat offered, carpaccio is served with truffle oil and arugula 99 per cent of the time. I have nothing against that though. It’s a classic combination for a reason. The smoked duck was thinly sliced, which helped up the tenderness of the meat even more. I didn’t even have a problem with the thick border of duck fat on each slice; it pretty much melted away. A mustard vinaigrette provided an extra flavour profile.

Once we polished off our appetizers, we nursed our drinks as we waited for our mains to come. I will say that the service became a lot slower at this point. More of the tables had been filled, and our server had his hands full. But, he really did grab our entrees as soon as the kitchen finished making them. It just took the chefs a while to get to them, I guess.

On a time crunch, as we had tickets to an event that evening, we ended up having to rush through our last two plates.

Grilled Eggplant

Grilled Eggplant

Making sure we got some servings of fruits and vegetables, we ordered the grilled eggplant. Long slices of the purple fruit were folded over like taco shells that held a mix of tomato, goat cheese and basil. Each one was then topped with pine nuts, and salad with balsamic was served on the side. The synthesis of textures was nice and the dish was light. The piquancy of the generous dollop of goat cheese was the highlight.

Lamb Gnocchi

Lamb Gnocchi

Dinner was completed by the hearty lamb gnocchi, cooked in a vegetable and tomato ragu. The balls of potato pasta were plump and the lamb was prepared well (I wish there was a bit more meat though). As for the ragu, it was generously seasoned and included plenty of veggies.

Had we more time, we would definitely have tried a dessert or two. Unfortunately, we had to quickly pay our bill and dash over to our next venue. I was more disappointed about that because it meant no birthday dessert for my friend. On the plus side, our lack of time for a sweet ending simply means we’ll have to revisit Sabor at a later date.

Despite the leisurely pace of service, the pleasant staff seemed to be educated on the menu, and willing to give recommendations. Every dish we sampled was delicious and expertly crafted, too. If I’m to be convinced to return, that’s one of the most important things for me. Therefore, I expect I’ll be back on an evening when I know I have nowhere else to be.

For a more in-depth look at this establishment, visit The Local Good to read my profile of Sabor Restaurant.

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Edmonton Restaurant Review: Normand’s Bistro

Bison Carpaccio

Bison Carpaccio

The list of eateries located right around the Winspear Centre in Edmonton isn’t extensive. Within a block, I can only think of about a handful. Although, you’ll find some great ones if you branch out a little further. One that I think is often overlooked is Normand’s Bistro. Tucked inside the Citadel Theatre building, it’s popular with theatre goers who are seeking some food prior to a show. Otherwise, I don’t expect that it’s a place people go out of their way to eat at.

I’ve found myself there on just two occasions since it opened.

My first visit was during Downtown Dining Week in 2014. Over a quick lunchtime catch up with friends, I selected the pan seared salmon. I remember it being nicely plated with the perfectly cooked fish and vegetables sitting atop a pool of delicious sauce. At $15 for two courses, it was a steal during the annual showcase. I’m pretty sure that dish is still on offer today as an entrée on the restaurant’s menu, albeit, for an increased price.

Despite the good impression Normand’s Bistro left on me, I didn’t make a point of going back for nearly two years.Without a reason to be there, I ventured off to other eateries instead.

Recently, however, I had tickets for a show at the Winspear, which is right across the street from the Citadel building. My dad and I were trying to decide where we should go to grab a bite before the concert. I suggested Normand’s Bistro because of the proximity.

Since the Citadel had a play scheduled that night, I made sure to book a table at the restaurant ahead of time. I’m glad I did as Normand’s Bistro was packed that evening. Most of the seats were occupied, but there was no wait with our reservation, which means we were promptly shown to our table.

I had already studied the menu ahead of time, so I had an idea of what I wanted to try. We decided to share a few plates: Candied Lamb Sliders, Bison Carpaccio and Double Bacon Pizza (I had hoped to get the Prosciutto, Mushroom Pizza, but it didn’t seem to be offered any longer).

It may have been best to ask that our pizza come out after the appetizers. Instead, we said everything could arrive at the same time, and it led to food sitting out and getting cold before we were able to get to it. Also, not really realizing at the time, we made the mistake of ordering more carbs than intended.

Candied Lamb Sliders

Candied Lamb Sliders

The Candied Lamb Sliders are a decent size and the meat is well-seasoned (garlic, brown sugar with pear and onion compote). I liked it so much that I saved my last half of the third “slider” as my final bite before dessert. The only issue with waiting until the end of the meal to eat the lamb is that the meat firms up as it cools down. Ideally, it’s better to have that one as soon as it’s delivered from the kitchen. One minor qualm with the appetizer that I want to mention is that it isn’t a true slider. Without both the bottom and top of a bun, I’d consider this to be a crostini dish. Don’t assume you’re going to be given a plate of mini burgers.

I was interested in sampling the Bison Carpaccio as I’m a big fan of beef carpaccio, and I thought it would be neat to taste a different type of meat prepared in this fashion. I enjoyed this iteration of the dish. The bison has a heartier texture than the beef usually used for carpaccio. I’m sure that’s an outcome of the meat itself as well as the length of time the meat is cured for. Otherwise, it was a basic carpaccio dish with the bison accompanied by white truffle oil and reduced balsamic. Some slices of rye crostini were served, too.

Double Bacon Pizza

Double Bacon Pizza

Pizza is one of the more affordable options on the Normand’s Bistro menu. At under $20, the restaurant doesn’t skimp on the toppings. Our Double Bacon Pizza was generously loaded with cheese, wild boar back bacon, double smoked bacon and tomato basil pesto as its base. The only downfall is that the thin pizza crust didn’t hold up that well. I alternated between the various dishes we ordered and I noticed that the pizza crust sort of got soggy quickly and didn’t have the bite or chew of a traditional Italian pizza. The smoky flavour of the bacon was delicious though.

Those three shared plates left us comfortably full, but I’d heard that the dessert was worth getting. In particular, the Bananas Flambé. At first glance, it looks like you’re given a huge portion size, but the slices of banana that have been set ablaze in maple syrup and dark rum aren’t all that filling. Presented with pecans, a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a few berries, it’s a relatively light dessert, especially when split with a dining companion. For the simple fact that it becomes a very sweet dish after a handful of bites, divvying it up between a couple of people is something I would recommend anyway.

Bananas Flambé

Bananas Flambé

Normand’s Bistro isn’t the place to go if you’re hoping for exciting, experimental dishes. Like its sister eatery, Normand’s Restaurant, the food falls under more traditional fare. The offerings are passable and the service is decent (they seem to be aware that their customers have a short time frame to eat before heading out to a show or event nearby). Should one be in need of some sustenance in the general vicinity, this is an okay choice.

Downtown Dining Week, Why Not YEG Restaurant Week?

The Downtown Business Association (DBA) is celebrating the end of, what I suspect was, another successful run of Downtown Dining Week (DTDW) in Edmonton, Alberta. For the eleventh year in a row, they have brought diners out to try menus from 30 different restaurants located in the city’s core. Over a period of ten days, people were able to sample a variety of menus that included $15 lunches as well as $25 or $50 dinners.

An ad for Downtown Dining Week that I pulled from the Edmonton Journal website.

An ad for Downtown Dining Week that I pulled from the Edmonton Journal website.

Being that I work in the area, I took every chance I had to eat at as many places as I could over the 10-day period. It only amounted to five meals for me, but, personally, I couldn’t imagine having such rich meals for both lunch and supper every day in such a short amount of time anyway. I especially savoured the opportunity to visit restaurants that have a reputation for great food, but that I may not typically go to on a whim because of the prices, which meant I ventured over to the Hardware Grill, Madison’s Grill, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Sorrentino’s Downtown and Normand’s Bistro. All of them did an excellent job of helping us to watch our wallets while delivering top-notch food, even when the dish was as simple as a pulled pork sandwich.

Although, in my opinion, a few establishments should have worked a bit harder to entice people; they could have ventured away from their regular dishes to experiment with something new, or refrained from picking the least expensive plates from their usual selection of fare (if it costs the same to dine with them during DTDW as it does on any other night, it means it isn’t really “specialty-priced” as per the description on the DBA site) as part of the attraction of the event is that it provides deals where they aren’t typically found, making it a lot more affordable. Regardless, the majority of the DTDW menus had variety, giving you the choice of more than one item per course that ranged from salads and sandwiches to hearty pork and steak dishes or fish to pastas. Every lunch consisted of two courses and each dinner had at least three (appetizer, entrée and dessert).

The Downtown Dining Week menu at Madison's Grill, along with their regular menu.

The Downtown Dining Week menu at Madison’s Grill, along with their regular menu.

Now, my qualm with DTDW is that it continues to remain the same size. The food festival, if you will, hasn’t really expanded year after year. In fact, it may have even shrunk slightly in terms of the number of restaurants participating. Some of the same restaurants come back annually, others are replaced with new ones (the Confederation Lounge, Tavern 1903, Normand’s Bistro, The Burg, De Dutch (see previous review) and Fionn MacCool’s are the latest additions). I like that there are repeats because, if I didn’t have a chance to go to one the previous year, maybe I’ll be able to visit the next time. However, I would love it if the list of new places partaking got bigger every March.

To me, Edmonton is a city with a burgeoning food scene that deserves to be showcased. More and more chefs and entrepreneurs seem to be taking the leap and succeeding at making Alberta’s capital first-rate in terms of the availability and assortment of quality places to dine out. In my mind, DTDW should be growing, not just sustaining. I picture it being at least as large as Calgary’s The Big Taste, which is citywide and has more than 70 “Revolutioneateries” getting involved over ten days. Ideally, it would become similar to NYC Restaurant Week, lasting about three weeks (sometimes extended) and runs both in the winter and summer seasons.

Of course, this might be wishful thinking on my part. I can only speculate as to the difficulty of putting something like this together. I’m sure the DBA has attempted to increase the number of establishments taking part in DTDW. I asked my friend who works for the urban planning office with the City of Edmonton what streets constitute the downtown area and while she wasn’t able to answer me right away, I did Wikipedia it. According to the information logged on the wiki, downtown Edmonton is bounded by 109 Street, 105 Avenue, 97 Street and 97 Avenue. If that’s the case, the DBA has stuck within the appropriate grid. Yet, some consider surrounding communities like Oliver to the west to also be part of downtown. That would include everything from 109 Street up to 124 Street from Jasper Avenue to 105 Avenue. Can you visualize how amazing DTDW would be for all you foodies out there if that area were included?

More delicious food like this dish from Hardware Grill - Fresh Burrata Mozzarella!

More delicious food like this dish from Hardware Grill – Fresh Burrata Mozzarella!

Dishcrawl, an online community of culinary enthusiasts, with a branch in Edmonton has organized events focused around various parts of the city, 124th Street being one of them. I attended a crawl where we walked door-to-door between eight establishments tasting samples and drinks, but not full-out meals. I think that those restaurants, having participated in Dishcrawl’s Neighbourfood event, would be highly interested in adding their names to a dining week list (I could be wrong; I don’t know how it ultimately affects the costs and revenues for the restaurants, but the publicity that may lead to repeat business is a big positive for them, I would think).

Would that mean the DBA would still be the sole host of Dining Week in that type of incarnation? Maybe not. It would likely mean several separate dining weeks spread out throughout the year, or more hands in the pot with a joint event put on by the DBA and the 124 Street Business Association (really, any number of other groups that are willing to take part) to make this something that brings the Edmonton restaurant community and food lovers together.

It’s all about providing extra exposure to those that participate, no matter where they are located, and expanding the dining week (or month!) theme so that Edmontonians can truly appreciate the diversity of amazing food that exists in this city while, hopefully, finding some new favourites. That’s the goal I see!