Edmonton Mini Restaurant Review: Malt & Mortar

Malt & Mortar’s logo painted on their exposed brick wall.

My friends are moving to Vancouver this week (sadness). When they invited Kirk and me to join them for a going away gathering at Malt & Mortar earlier this month, we made sure to go. I’d never been to the Whyte Ave venue before, so I was excited to check it out.

We arrived a little late that Saturday night, and we found them hovering by the large center bar. The reservation made for a dozen people still wasn’t ready. Thankfully, it didn’t take too much longer before they had things set. We were led towards the back of the restaurant where there was a long raised table that could accommodate our group.

Malt & Mortar has a cool vibe. Slightly vintage with its exposed brick walls, wood plank ceiling and painted logo, while keeping things modern with more industrial black piping, venting, beams and lighting. The space was larger than I had realized as well. A variety of leather upholstered booths were available to fit parties of any size.

It was very loud though, making it difficult to hear past the few tablemates who surrounded me. I noticed that a handful of speakers were hanging directly above us and pretty much along the whole perimeter of the place. With numerous glass windows and hard brick, sound couldn’t be absorbed, so it just echoed all over. If you plan to go there and are hoping for a quieter visit, I’d suggest a weekday or later in the evenings. That, or try to get one of the smaller round booths along the back of the eatery. They kind of have a pergola over them and there are no speakers right nearby, so I suspect that it won’t be as noisy in those spots.

My other recommendation to Malt & Mortar is that they don’t have enough screens listing their beers on tap (I believe there are about 16 in rotation at one time). There was only one on our side of the restaurant and it was right over my head. I had to turn my body around and crane my neck just to read it, so I was surprised that they didn’t have another set up on the facing wall considering that there is plenty of space to put it.

Lastly, I understand putting bathrooms (really clean, by the way) in the basement, but I don’t quite believe that establishments where a lot of alcohol is consumed are the ideal businesses for bathrooms where stairs are involved. I thought the same thing of Craft Beer Market and I think the same thing here. There were many patrons later in the night who seemed like they wouldn’t make it down the stairs without falling. Otherwise, the design of the venue is pretty good.

Kirk had a few pints of beer and the Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich.

On to the drinks and food though! Similar to Beer Revolution, they update their rotating draughts on the TV screens with soon to be tapped kegs listed at the bottom. The selection was decent with a heavy emphasis on local breweries; most pints are priced at around $8.50 each. My personal preference for beer tends to be light, crisp, and fruity. Kirk leans more towards IPAs with hoppiness. That evening, I took a liking to the current sour from Situation Brewing. I also tried the Malt & Mortar Saturday special, a two-ounce Back Porch Tea ($10) made with gin, peach sweet tea, and house-made sour. Admittedly, it was a strong cocktail, but after a big squeeze of lemon juice, it settled and was relatively refreshing.

To eat, Kirk went for the Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich ($17), which was praised by one of our friends. Stacked with coleslaw, pickles, and two pieces of battered and fried chicken breast covered in a Gochujang glaze, it was juicy, savoury, a little bit sweet, and slightly spicy. The whole thing was a huge mess though. The bun fell apart less than half way through and Kirk finished it off using his utensils. For his side, he stuck to the standard fries, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper.

I tried out the Back Porch Tea and the West Coast Power Bowl with added Tuna Poke.

I decided to go a “healthier” route by ordering the West Coast Power Bowl ($17) with added Tuna Poke ($7). Honestly, the cost once you tack on a protein is kind of high, but the bowl was huge. It felt like I was barely making a dent in the dish, and at the end, I was sort of struggling to finish it. I didn’t have enough left to pack it home, yet it wasn’t a small enough portion to toss it out. I hate to waste food, so I persisted. Still, it was tasty minus the cilantro used in the poke. It’s not an ingredient listed anywhere on the menu when describing the tuna, so I didn’t bother asking if there would be any cilantro. Had I known, I would probably have asked them to mix the poke without the herb or selected a different meat. I’m not sure why cilantro is used in everything nowadays when it’s common knowledge that there are many people who don’t have the taste buds to appreciate it, so all I ask is that they give a warning about it in advance.

In any case, I sucked it up, picking out the cilantro where possible and just eating it when I couldn’t. On a positive note, the flavour was somewhat masked by the rest of the ingredients in the West Coast Power Bowl. The base was an organic quinoa tossed in a citrus vinaigrette and then combined with corn, black beans, avocado, cucumber, pea shoots, and pickled carrots. There was tons of texture going on and a jolt of heat on the palate from the delicious avocado wasabi crema. Not mentioned on the menu was the use of aburaage, which are thin slices of deep-fried tofu, usually used to make inari sushi. Those were cut into smaller pieces and added to the dish for sweetness. I really enjoyed having that in the mix.

After a few hours hanging out, we called it a night. Considering the size of our group and the staff working that Saturday evening, I thought the service was alright. We all managed to get our beverages and food without much issue (we did get one wrong order of beer, but we also got an extra beer on the house), and we really liked the space, especially when it died down later so we could hear again. Overall, the food was well-made (corn dogs don’t smell better when they’re plated pretty though) and filling, just maybe a tad too pricey regarding the entrées. Other than that, we’ll definitely be back. It’s a fun spot with a casual, convivial atmosphere.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Seoul Fried Chicken

Seoul Fried Chicken box sets

Before his foray into finer dining at DOSC, owner/chef Jake Lee opened up the unassuming Seoul Fried Chicken a stone’s throw away from Old Strathcona. Situated in a strip mall on 104 Street between 79 Avenue and 80 Avenue, the Korean eatery, with its approximately 18 seats, is small and meant primarily for pickup orders.

Prior to my recent visit, I’d only ever tried their food twice. Once when my co-worker generously shared some of her lunch when she had a box delivered to the office (they now have their own delivery app) and again when I attended the annual Avenue Magazine Best Restaurant event. Both of those instances gave me a hint of just how awesome their chicken was, so I knew I needed to try it in its full glory some day.

The interior of Seoul Fried Chicken

After a particularly long morning around Whyte Ave two weeks ago, I decided to treat Kirk and myself to a pair of their 5 piece Chicken Sets ($11.40 each). The boxes are stuffed with your choice of flavoured fried chicken, half salad, and fries or a corn fritter. Plus, a non-alcoholic beverage is included in the price. Considering the cost nowadays of a meal at other generic fast food joints, this didn’t seem so bad. It was also enough to feed both of us twice (albeit a more petite portion when it came to the leftovers), so the value was definitely there.

Once we’d paid at the till, we grabbed our sodas from the cooler and then perched ourselves on a couple of seats to wait for our order to be called. It didn’t take long at all. I think we were there for a maximum of 15 minutes from waiting in line to walking out the door.

When we got home, the boxes were still warm, although sauce had escaped from one of them and was getting everywhere. Thankfully a quick wipe of the box stymied the leakage. On first inspection, everything looked amazing. The pieces of chicken looked plump and the colours were bright.

My hefty plate of lunch from Seoul Fried Chicken.

Speaking of the colours, I was slightly taken aback by the shade of green for the selected side of Mac n’ Cheese Pesto. It reminded me of the colour of prepackaged coleslaw sold at the Safeway deli. It didn’t look particularly natural, but damn, it was rich and delicious. Served cold, the salad was covered in the nutty, savoury, and herbaceous creamy asiago sunflower pesto. Just give me a whole vat of the stuff please!

The other side we chose was the Sesame Potato Slaw. It’s supposedly made with shredded potato, cabbage and yam. But, the overall texture was like a plain old coleslaw. I’m assuming that the potato and yam are prepared raw to give it that extra crunch, but I don’t know, it’s not what I was expecting. It still tasted yummy with the black sesame dressing, if maybe a little too sweet.

G.P Cheese chicken with a Corn Fritter and Mac n’ Cheese Pesto

In one box, we got the fried buttermilk Corn Fritter. It wasn’t as fluffy as I hoped it’d be. It was definitely more dense and doughy than I would have liked; however, I did love the taste of the sweetened milk on top, which played off of the corn kernels beautifully. In the other set, we opted for the thick House Cut Fries. These were a tad soggy from the condensation generated in the box on the way home, but still decent. A little crisp on the outside and soft in the middle with just a touch of saltiness. I could have eaten them without any ketchup.

The Seoul Fried Chicken website mentions that all of their chickens are cut into 20 pieces to allow for faster cooking and a better breading to meat ratio. While I do commend their ability to fry the chicken to a perfectly non-greasy crunch, I was somewhat disappointed to find that a few of the pieces we got consisted mostly of bone, cartilage, or skin so fatty that it was impossible to chew. I think that the restaurant is aware of that issue though, so they do make an effort to fix that situation by tossing in an extra piece or two (we had six per box).

Golden Kari chicken with Sesame Potato Slaw and House Cut Fries

For the most part, the chicken was fantastic. The breading even held up later in the day; I didn’t have to reheat it in the oven to crisp it up again. Yet, in all honesty, what makes Seoul Fried Chicken addictive is their seasoning and sauces. We picked the G.P Cheese and Golden Kari. Both were great in their own way. The former is doused in a sauce made with grated Grana Padano cheese and a hint of zest and parsley. Let me tell you, you’ll want every millimetre of the meat covered in it. It’s messy and literally finger licking good.

As for the latter flavour, you may want to avoid eating it with your hands because the yellow Japanese curry powder that the chicken is battered in will most definitely colour your nails. Still, I really enjoyed the dry seasoning (don’t breathe it in, if you want to avoid a coughing fit) on that one. It’s flavourful, but not spicy hot.

There’s a reason why Seoul Fried Chicken has maintained its popularity and become a favourite in Edmonton. They’re doing Korean fast food super well. Sure, there is still a little bit of room for improvement (there always is), but with quick service, value, and flavours that can’t be beat, it’s absolutely worth a repeat visit.

Edmonton Event Review: Share the Flair Pin & Patch Show

My Share the Flair haul!

This past Saturday, Edmonton’s first show devoted to pins and patches was held. Called Share the Flair, organizers Julie Morrison of Majesty and Friends, Jenny Chan of Hop & Flop, Emilia Housch of Light of the Moon Pins, and Courtenay McKay of JOJO & GUN put together the one-day event to showcase this revitalized form of miniature art. I remember collecting pins as a child, so this was pretty nostalgic for me.

In essence, each piece of metal or fabric purchased supports the creators’ ideas and allows the buyer to express a bit of their personality. At Acacia Masonic Hall just off of Whyte Avenue and 104 Street, it seemed that locals were more than excited and ready for something like this.

Waiting in line to get through those doors. Even this point, it was another 20 to 30 minutes.

Many, including myself, lined up down the block for well over an hour just to get in the doors. Apparently, some enthusiasts were even waiting outside by 7:30am, two and a half hours before the show was to launch. I arrived just 15 minutes before the ten o’clock start and was impressed at the turn out for an inaugural event. They estimated that 500-600 people would come by, but I’m guessing that they probably surpassed that.

Finally made it close to the entrance!

By the time I got to the table to pay my entrance fee of $4, all of the one hundred swag bags had already been handed out. I’m not entirely sure what was in each of them, but the Instagram posts on the Share the Flair page indicated that there was plenty of fun stuff that had been provided for those early birds. During the wait, volunteers also gave away complimentary cotton candy as a treat.

My bingo card and a volunteer making cotton candy.

On the plus side, everyone who made it through the doors got to earn a little something extra with their ingenious idea of bingo cards. For every purchase made from the twenty or so vendors, a stamp was placed on the card. If you got a full row, column or diagonal line, you got to spin the wheel at a table that was filled with freebies from sponsors and participating merchants.

Freebie pins from the table at the entrance.

There was plenty of creative talent there, all of them based out of Edmonton and surrounding areas. As much as I wanted to buy something from every single one of them, I had to stick to a budget. So, I sadly missed out on the anatomical heart from Majesty and Friends as well as the crows and teacup owl from Sabtastic (I’ll pick those up down the road) and the gorgeous hand-sawn copper pieces from Smithstine (more expensive than the average manufactured pin because of the nature of how they’re made), which were added to Kristine MacDonald’s line specifically for Share the Flair.

Still, with most pieces ranging from $8 to $15 each, I walked away with a treasure trove of new pins from the aforementioned Hop & Flop and JOJO & GUN, my good friend Lea St John who is known as La Petite Watson for her work (and “Experience Explorista” travel blog), Paws the Cat Cafe, and artists Crystal Driedger, Jess from Daymare, and Jacinda Cote from Story Wild Studios. Additionally, I indulged in a couple sweet treats from Caramunchies (they had branded pins for sale).

I’m not sure yet when the second Share the Flair show will be, but give them a follow or like on social media to keep in the loop. My hope for the next event is that they’ll have an expanded venue (with some air conditioning), so that they can accommodate more vendors and a larger capacity of people at once to reduce the overall wait time. It’s not often that I’ll stand in a line for more than an hour and a half. I just really wanted to support my friend and the community on this initial go round.

Congrats to everyone who organized, sponsored and volunteered for Share the Flair. You did a phenomenal job with planning and executing this event. I think it’s going to be a mainstay of the annual Edmonton arts scene going forward!

Edmonton Restaurant & Event Review: Beercade & Speed Puzzle Challenge

Beercade’s interror is made up of long tables for groups, a huge bar, and arcade games.

I’ve always loved doing jigsaw puzzles. There’s a joy in finding the piece that fits just right. They’re also incredibly engrossing in a way that’s so much more relaxing than staring at whatever I find on my phone. Consider them part of the slow living movement. The last time I could really remember putting one together, until recently, was at least several years ago. My co-worker would lend me puzzles that she’d already completed to feed my obsession. Sadly, my free time slowly waned to the point where I wasn’t really able to concentrate on them much.

Nowadays, as I often do, I found myself on Eventbrite scrolling through endless local happenings when I came across a listing from Beercade about their Speed Puzzle Challenge ($5 per person and the team gets to keep the puzzle). I wasn’t able to attend the next date; however, I always reminded myself to check back in the future. It was a while before I saw another. Yet, Table Top Cafe started running something similar about every two weeks earlier this year (alternating between both locations). My friends and I went to a single event there and I was hooked. I really enjoyed the competitive aspect of it, but, more than anything, I remembered just how fun puzzles can be. I’m currently working my way through nearly twenty that I’ve purchased over the past few months.

Welcome, Puzzle Players!

When the chance came up to check out Beercade’s version, I gathered a small team of four people (up to six are allowed) to attend. From what I understood, the organizers had previously gone with puzzles that had as few as 200 pieces and they had been incrementally increasing the difficulty ever since to find the sweet spot of something enjoyable yet challenging. On this occasion they decided to test out 450 piece puzzles instead. They also had someone from each group draw a number, which determined the puzzle received. Honestly, I thought that having different puzzles put certain teams at a disadvantage because some are definitely more difficult than others. Based on the groups who won the three prizes for finishing first, it was obvious that their specific Peanuts themed puzzle was a benefit.

Still, the four of us had a blast. I’d also never worked on a family-style jigsaw before. I probably wouldn’t choose to do those as an adult putting a puzzle together on my own. Nevertheless, the mix of large and small pieces for parents and children to work on as a family bonding experience is pretty great.

 

When we finished our jigsaw at Beercade, the staff dropped off ten tokens at our table, so we could play some of their arcade games. I’m terrible at those shooting ones, but I can appreciate a lit up pinball machine or the best air hockey table I’ve ever seen (Pac Man!).

Aside from the event and venue (decent atmosphere, lots of space, kind of dim), we also opted to eat dinner there. Being a Wednesday night, I had to try a burger because it’s hard to pass up a half price discount. Surprisingly, the Bacon Cheeseburger (regularly $9.75) was good. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the cost, but their kitchen makes a legit hand smashed patty topped with crispy bacon and they include all of the fixings. Sides are an extra cost though, so that’s where they can recoup some of their costs. At $4 for a basket of yam fries with dip, I thought that was a little expensive. On the other hand, they do give a big portion, so you’ll definitely leave full.

Full meal with a burger, yam fries, and a sleeve of Fruli.

To keep me hydrated, I ordered a glass of Früli, completely forgetting to tell the server (by the way, service is not prompt here) what size I wanted. I’m assuming I received a sleeve, not a pint. I also expected to pay at least $6.75 for that beverage. All in though, my bill was $15 after tax and tip. When I looked it over again at home, I realized that my beer was also on special, having only been charged a whopping $3.81. Stellar deal!

I’ve heard that Beercade is usually a chill spot to hang out until about nine o’clock. After that, it can turn into a bit of a zoo (assuming this applies more from Thursday to Saturday). If you want to avoid rambunctious crowds, I recommend visiting earlier in the evening. From this first experience of mine at Beercade, I’m absolutely feeling inclined to return, especially for another Speed Puzzle Challenge and a burger.

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.