Edmonton Restaurant Review: Wilfred’s

Check-in to Wilfred’s upon arrival.

Wilfred’s is one of the newest restaurants to dot the Edmonton landscape. It’s situated within the popular Brewery District inside a fairly nondescript 100-year-old vintage brick building that used to belong to the old Molson Brewery. Completely refurbished, the heritage space is now unrecognizable. The interior is a wash of light woods, a mix of pink and white accents, dark metals, and whimsical art from Vanguard Works.

The Pink Blazer was the weekly Pink Drink sometime in October.

Even though Wilfred’s, a contemporary diner, had opened by the official start of summer 2018, Kirk and I held off on our visit. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago when we decided it was time to check it out. I’m not going to lie, it was their latest weekly featured Pink Drink ($13), The Pastel Blazer, that got me in the door. It was actually more bitter than I expected it to be, and the ingredients — vodka, Aperol, unsweetened coconut milk, lime juice, and egg white — had to be stirred regularly to avoid separation, but it was, overall, a smooth and refreshing beverage that lasted me through our dinner.

Everything about Wilfred’s is curated from the wallpaper to the menu.

To eat, the two of us split a couple of plates: Wilfred’s Burger ($18) with added white cheddar ($2) and soup ($3) subbed in for the usual fries, as well as the Fried Chicken & Prosciutto Cutlet ($25). Arguably the best thing about both dishes was the size as they were generously portioned. For the price, I’m glad to see that they didn’t skimp. However, I do feel that each one could use some improvement.

Beginning with the burger, this consisted of a hefty nine ounce patty of beef topped with bacon, lettuce, tomato and onion. It’s so thick that I found it rather difficult to unhinge my jaw to take a real bite out of the burger. The bun also didn’t fare too well as it slid around and fell apart as I ate. The meat itself was cooked to about a medium well, so it wasn’t completely colourless, but it also wasn’t as juicy as I hoped it would be. Thankfully, it was fresh though. It certainly didn’t seem to be a prefab patty, and, that, I’ll commend Wilfred’s for. Had it not been for the added cheese and the crispy bacon, the burger would have had relatively no flavour. I highly recommend that the restaurant creates a signature sauce to go with this menu item.

Cauliflower & Potato Soup with bacon and chives

The upgrade to their Cauliflower & Potato Soup was the saving grace to this dish. It was thick, creamy and smooth. When served hot, it makes for the perfect hearty soup to have during the onset of winter. The tiny bits of bacon and chives added a little fattiness and herbaceousness.

Fried Chicken & Prosciutto Cutlet

Our second plate of Fried Chicken & Prosciutto Cutlets was enormous. The two breasts or legs of meat had been pounded until evenly thin throughout. Layered with prosciutto and then breaded and fried, they were super crispy without tasting or feeling greasy. I could have used some more prosciutto as it was hard to discern its presence. Yet, upon careful inspection, I did see it there. If you try this, definitely squeeze some fresh lemon juice onto the chicken. The zest kicks the dish up a notch, and the acidity breaks down some of the salt. On the side was an arugula salad with tomatoes and Parmesan. This was a great accompaniment to the chicken. The sharp taste of the greens, the tartness of the tomatoes, and the pungency of the cheese paired very well with the meat.

Postcards designed by Vanguard Works are provided with the bill.

When all was said and done, our meal at Wilfred’s was a bit of a miss. Sure, the service was quite good, the atmosphere was pleasant (admittedly a tad cramped though), and they have an excellent bar program. Nevertheless, the food isn’t meeting it’s full potential. I understand that simplicity is key at times, but, in the case of Wilfred’s, the kitchen needs to do something to set themselves apart from the rest. Right now, they’re not. They should take a chance and be as playful with the menu as they are with the decor.

The interior of Wilfred’s is light and whimsical.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Nando’s (Brewery District)

The plate I put together for myself from everything we ordered with our Variety Platter.

Never one to pass up a good deal, I found it imperative to use a direct marketing coupon received for the new Nando’s location at the Brewery District. After all, thirty percent off of a meal doesn’t come up too often.

My boyfriend and I made our way to central Edmonton for dinner on a Saturday at around five o’clock. When we arrived, there were tables occupied; however, much of the eatery remained open for walk-in guests. I overheard one of the servers say to another set of diners that their busiest time usually occurs a couple of hours later in the evening at around 7:00pm.

The interior of the Nando’s Brewery District location.

We were seated at the far end of the restaurant, providing me with a full view of the interior, which was well-designed, modern, spacious, comfortable, clean, and efficiently organized. As we settled in, the staff member quickly gave us the rundown of how it worked at Nando’s. Ultimately, it’s similar to a number of fast-casual establishments that restaurant-goers are likely familiar with (i.e. Famoso or Via Cibo). First, spend a bit of time leisurely perusing the menu at the table. When ready, get up and head over to the till where someone will take the order and process payment. Before sitting back down, grab water, napkins, utensils, and extra sauces or dressings from the center station. Then, build up an appetite while waiting for a server to bring the dishes over.

I have to say that, prior to visiting, I had no clue what exactly PERi-PERi was. As it turns out, it’s a specific Portuguese marinade, baste, or sauce with origins that come out of Africa, specifically Mozambique. The base is the hot African Bird’s Eye Chilli (a.k.a. piri-piri). Mixed with lemon, garlic and salt, it becomes PERi-PERi. Nando’s has stuck by the belief that simple is best, keeping artificial colours or flavours and any preservatives out of their recipes. The company has also refused to outsource their supply of chillies, and instead, they work with small-scale farmers in Southern Africa to grow them specifically for their use. They’ve created a business that has not only gone global, but also made a wonderful impact on a more local level with initiatives such as these. That’s certainly worth a commendation on its own.

The Variety Platter: Half Chicken, 5 Wings & 2 Skewers

Our food didn’t take too long to arrive. The pair of us opted to share a Variety Platter ($32.95) intended for two to three people. It included a half chicken, five whole wings, two skewers, and two regular sides. On their menu is a scale called the PERi-ometer. It’s to be used to decide on the amount of heat appropriate for one’s taste buds. There were several choices, starting on the low end with Plain…ish to the high end of Xtra Hot. Although we’re quite comfortable with spice, I still wasn’t sure what to expect of Nando’s, so we opted for Medium on the half chicken and the wings. For the skewers, we chose Mango & Lime.

According to the Nando’s website, their chicken is marinated for at least twenty-four hours to allow the seasonings to soak in and to fully tenderize the meat before being cooked over a flame grill. While I cannot attest to that statement, I will say that my overall impression of the chicken and its preparation was that it was superb. Every single bite packed a wallop without burning the mouth. It wasn’t even necessary to utilize any of the additional sauces available (unless more heat was required). The meat was incredibly tender as well. Shreds of chicken pulled right off the bone without much effort. Yet, I think, out of all the options we tried that day, my favourite had to be the Mango & Lime skewers. They were just so flavourful with an intense natural mango taste.

For our sides, we went with the Garlic Mashed Potatoes and the Spiced Rice. The garlic mashed potatoes were warm, smooth and garlicky with skins and herbs still clearly visible. It seemed as though the mashed potatoes were freshly made. I really enjoyed the spiced rice, too. Bright yellow in colour, it had been seasoned with several herbs, spices and peppers. Both were excellent accompaniments to the chicken because they complimented the meat without overpowering it.

Their traditional Portuguese custard tart.

Before we left, I insisted on getting a Pasteis de Natas ($2.50). This is otherwise known as a traditional Portuguese custard tart. I love eating Chinese egg tarts at dim sum and these are somewhat similar. Flaky crusts provide the foundation to hold the filling, but the difference comes down to what’s in the middle. The Chinese version is made with more egg and less cream, so it finishes with a brighter, glassier and smoother consistency. The Portuguese tart is closer to a sugary crème brûlée with a caramelized top. I enjoy either iteration of this type of dessert. Regardless, I was rather disappointed with the one at Nando’s. While its aroma was intoxicating, the custard itself was slightly gummy as if it’d been sitting out too long and the top looked as though it was a tad over-burnt. Therefore, I don’t think I’d be very inclined to order that again.

I have yet to go back after this first visit. Nevertheless, I’m going to call myself a fan. I’ve often thought of their chicken since, and I find myself craving it at times. Even better, I just found out that their food is now available to be delivered through SkipTheDishes, and I will surely be taking advantage of that. Whatever Nando’s is doing, they’re doing it right!

This is one happily satisfied customer!

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Manor Bistro

My mom's salmon sandwich.

My mom’s salmon sandwich.

Serving patrons since 1993 – 22 years and counting – The Manor Bistro (@manorbistroYEG) has been a mainstay in the High Street area of Edmonton. I was only seven when it first opened, so I can see why it has become a neighbourhood institution over time. After all, I lived within a five minutes’ drive until I decided to move out and purchase my own condo in the south side of the city.

The new corner I call home is still in constant development and it’s only just beginning to gain some character and choice in the food department. Unfortunately, it really does take a long time to build the kind of community that is seen in Glenora and Oliver. The majority of choices in Terwillegar and Windermere are chains or franchises, so I now realize – more than ever – how lucky we were to have places like The Manor nearby when I was growing up.

It had been ages since I had dined there. However, my good friend’s bachelorette party was held at the establishment last August, and my mom was given a gift card for Chinese New Year this February, which she decided to use to treat my dad and I to lunch.

We happened to be there on a Saturday, Valentine’s Day no less, so it was fairly busy. A parking spot was found just to the side of the building, and of course, we had called ahead to make a reservation (or book through OpenTable, if you prefer), so we didn’t have any problems getting a table. The server/hostess was friendly as she greeted and seated us.

Looking at the restaurant menu, I’d call the current selection a cultural mix of comfort cuisine because there’s everything from nasi goreng (clocking in at No. 61 on the The Tomato‘s top 100 list for 2015; they also came in at No. 26 & No. 28 for their cocktails in 2013) to beef bourguignon to schnitzel. It’s actually quite a succinct list of items, but it does span the globe a bit in terms of flavours and techniques.

On this particular occasion, I waffled between a few items, yet ultimately, I decided to go with the king of comfort food: mac and cheese with added braised beef short rib. My dad ordered the schnitzel sandwich with a side of roast pepper chorizo soup, and my mom chose the salmon sandwich with fresh cut fries.

While we waited for our food to be prepared, we were treated to a basket of warm bread with herbed butter, which I really didn’t need to eat, but enjoyed nonetheless (sue me…I love my carbs). Our mains followed shortly after; we were actually surprised at how quickly everything was prepared.

The mac and cheese was served in an iron skillet, which kept the plate hot and the cheesy sauce creamy. It was a rich dish, so I wasn’t disappointed that this was portioned smaller. At $13 without the meat or $17 with, it really isn’t badly priced. The braised beef was wonderfully marinated and tender, the meat shredding easily with just a fork. An extra side of bread was included, and despite having eaten a couple of slices already, I proceeded to top the accompanying mini loaf with cheese and beef. It was excellent and my leftovers were just as good when reheated for dinner later that evening.

My dad's pork schnitzel sandwich.

My dad’s pork schnitzel sandwich.

I sampled my dad’s schnitzel sandwich, which consisted of breaded pork tenderloin, Dijon, tomato, lettuce and Swiss cheese. The schnitzel was evenly cooked and lightly breaded, so it wasn’t heavy, and the simple toppings made for a delectable, if not subtle winner. After half a sandwich and the bowl of soup, my dad packed up the remaining portion for later. The succulent salmon in my mom’s sandwich was fabulous. One of the worst atrocities in the kitchen is overcooking your meat or fish, but this was perfect. Topped with pickled onion, lettuce, tomato and beet-barley relish, it was a tasty combination of earthy and tangy flavours. The portion size of the salmon was generous as well. Again, leftovers were to be had.

Stuffed to the brim, we had no room for dessert. Although I will say that the tray being shown to the adjacent table was very tempting. We’ll just have to go back to The Manor another time to indulge.

This restaurant has obviously stood the test of time. It has evolved with the seasons, the times and its customers to remain a constant in an area that has seen plenty of change over the years. What I like about the eatery’s atmosphere is that it is at once classy, but also laid back. It’s not stuffy, and neither is the food.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Cibo Bistro

Mezzaluna pasta

Mezzaluna pasta

I think it was still summertime when my friend and I first attempted to visit Cibo Bistro (@cibobistroedm), only to find that they were closed on Mondays. Since we had to postpone our meal there, it took us quite a bit of time to circle back around to the idea. It wasn’t until mid-November when we finally made a point of going to the restaurant again.

Located on 104 Avenue in Oliver Village between Safeway and MacEwan Residences, it’s slightly tucked away from the hustle and bustle of one of downtown Edmonton’s main arteries. I had made a reservation through OpenTable about a week or two in advance, but, as my friend was running late at the office, I called to have our booking pushed back. The hostess that I spoke to said it wasn’t an issue as there weren’t any conflicting reservations within that time frame. The two of us eventually made it there at about 6:15pm, and I was surprised to see, as the server led us to our table, that the place was still empty, save for the semi-private room near the back (although, it was pretty much full by the time we left an hour and a half later). With maybe just over a dozen tables in the space, it’s not large by any means, but still likely seats more than the city’s other lauded Italian restaurant, Corso 32 (read my review). Unlike Corso, however, the dimly lit space of Cibo Bistro looks a little more traditional with earth tones, leather upholstered chairs, cobble-like tiled floors, stone tiled walls and paintings of Italy.

As we perused the menu, I couldn’t help but notice the similarity between its layout and the offerings of Corso 32. That means I was apt to do a comparison by sampling a few items, so I could truly see the difference. Both have made The Tomato‘s top 100 list for two years in a row. Corso has been No. 1 each time with Cibo trailing just a few spots behind (No. 6 in 2013 and No. 4 in 2014).

Arancini is one of my friend and I’s favourite Italian dishes. Since we had eaten that at Corso, it was a no-brainer to use that as a starting point for our showdown. That, along with the Salumi, served as our appetizers.

As far as arancini go, they are considered an indulgent antipasti because they can be quite heavy and filling. It’s essentially risotto that has been battered and fried until a crisp outer shell is formed. The filling at Cibo is mixed with roasted cauliflower and Fontina cheese and, once cooked, is generously sprinkled with freshly grated Pecorino Romano. I’m not exactly sure why, but I think that, even with all the rice and cheese, there was a lightness to these arancini that the ones I ate at Corso didn’t have. The bowl we received had 6 to 7 arancini, which we shared. The breading was perfectly fried whereas Corso’s were a little overdone, making the shell harder to break. The cauliflower added a little more texture to the risotto, so it wasn’t all just mush, and the cheese was nicely melted inside. I also believe that these ones were a lot less salty.

The salumi platter that evening was a steak tartar with shaved truffle served with a side of crostini. This was probably the best dish of the evening, no doubt about it. They say the meats are cured in-house, and the tartar was prepared so well that it literally melted in your mouth. Paired with the shaved truffle, this was a completely decadent starter. I would have gladly eaten that has my main meal. The board came with 6 pieces of crostini and there was enough tartar provided that we weren’t sparingly spreading it on the bread. In fact, I was piling the tartar on thick, so I have to say that this selection was worth it.

For our entrees, we had a harder time deciding. Our server was excellent and, to help, she described, in detail, each of the pasta dishes on the menu, including that evening’s special. We finally made our choices – I ordered the Mezzaluna and my friend chose the Pappardelle.

The food menu.

The food menu.

The Mezzaluna was ravioli stuffed with braised beef that is cooked until tender and then pureed, so it can be stuffed inside fresh, made from scratch pasta. The pasta shells were thin and prepared al dente. The sauce was a burro bianco (white butter) with Balsamico Vecchio (aged balsamic) and Crotonese Calabrese cheese, which was flavourful, but felt delicate. I particularly loved the used of the balsamic as a dressing, something that I hadn’t had in a long time. The sauce and the beef played off one another really well, so much so that I wanted more as soon as I polished off my plate.

The Pappardelle consists of fat ribbons of fresh pasta bathed in tomato sauce and served with braised lamb, mint and Pecorino Romano cheese. I had just one mouthful of the dish and the pasta had just the right amount of bite. The lamb was succulent and the sauce was subtle.

Pappardelle pasta

Pappardelle pasta

Unfortunately, we did not have room for dessert on this occasion. Plus, we were in a bit of a rush to make it to book club, but I will say that after our trip to Las Vegas and our meals at Giada in that city, had I been able to manage some sweets, I would have gone for the Zeppole (Limoncello and Mascarpone doughnuts dusted with powdered sugar). They’re certainly on my list for next time!

In the end, and I’ve given this a lot of thought over the last month, I’m inclined to say that, while Corso was excellent, I honestly think that my meal at Cibo was a tad better. And, I feel like that says a lot. The pair of restaurants has a lot going for them – fantastic food, fresh, housemade dishes, wonderfully knowledgeable staff – yet they’re also hindered (arguably by some) by small spaces that make them seem exclusive when, in fact, they’re not. They’re friendly, intimate atmospheres that are very welcoming, so perhaps it comes down to preference which one you would prefer. Based on my singular visits to Cibo and Corso, I found them both to be great hangouts. They’re equally quiet in terms of ambiance, making it easy to converse with your dining companions, which is a big pro nowadays in a world where dance music seems to be pumping everywhere else.

The semi-private room at the back. A great place for a small group to have fantastic conversation.

The semi-private room at the back. A great place for a small group to have fantastic conversation.

After a few weeks of contemplation, my companion critic for that night and I agreed. Until I have a chance to revisit each, I cannot say with absolute certainty which will come out on top a year or two from now. Only time will tell. One of my friends who had dinner with me at Corso said that our meal there was one of the best she’s ever had. I’d be curious to see her thoughts of Cibo and her comparisons to Corso.

Nonetheless, examining my own experience of the food, which, of course, is the foundation of a stellar restaurant, I believe that Cibo has won my heart and my stomach. That is not to say I won’t be eating at Corso again, because I will, but contrary to what every other review or person has told me, Cibo is going to be my personal number one for now.

For a more in-depth look at this establishment’s involvement in the local community and its efforts towards sustainability visit The Local Good to read my profile of Cibo Bistro.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Japonais Bistro

The delectable matcha crème brûlée!

The delectable matcha crème brûlée!

Oh, Japonais Bistro (@japonaisbistro)! I have eaten there a handful of times now and it’s pretty stellar. When you walk in the door, if the staff isn’t busy with something else, they greet you by yelling out “good afternoon” or “good evening” in Japanese and they’re usually fairly prompt with seating, especially if you have a reservation, which can now be made through OpenTable. The restaurant is laid out with two sides – the one closest to the door is raised a couple of steps and consists of bench booths and chairs while the other side is taken up predominantly by the sushi bar and a few larger group booths.

My most memorable visit to the restaurant was back in November 2013. I had eaten there just a couple weeks earlier and I picked up a card advertising a couple of all-you-can-eat evenings. They were launching their Kaiten Sushi Catering (plates distributed by mobile conveyor belt) business, and to show it off they were taking reservations for two November weeknights. I immediately texted my friend to see if she would join me and I called to make a reservation as soon as she agreed.

The conveyor was set up next to the sushi bar within arm’s reach from our booth. We ate everything that was offered to us including a variety of salads, tatakis, maki rolls and dessert. We probably ate between 50 to 75 plates that evening, the gluttons that we were (no regrets). Each item was delectable and worth having seconds. There were even new dishes that were being tested for possible menu additions, which we were tasked with rating. The absolute star of the restaurant though? Hands down, the matcha crème brûlée (Japonais Bistro took the No. 42 spot on The Tomato‘s list of 100 best eats in Edmonton this year for this dessert alone)! It is divine. I’m a sucker for green tea flavoured anything, so I was already inclined to enjoy it, but it was beyond what I expected and the two of us snatched those babies up as soon as they hit the belt. They’re too good to pass up. Unfortunately, despite a comment from our server that kaiten sushi nights could become a regular occurrence due to the popularity of these special events, I haven’t seen it there since.

Alas, all-you-can-eat meals there are not currently meant to be, but the food is too tasty not to go again. We ventured there this summer for dinner, making our way through the pouring rain where we dashed for the door as soon as we stepped out of the car. My friend, still full from an Indian buffet at lunch, ordered the new Pow Pow Roll and some salmon maki. I, on the other hand, was famished and went with the Traditional Bento Box.

Stuffed with tuna, cream cheese and jalapeno, wrapped with soy bean paper and drizzled with tobiko, sweet soy and hot sauce, the Pow Pow Roll was nicely plated and surprisingly battered on the outside. The menu did say “deep fried tuna,” so we knew something would be deep fried, we simply didn’t realize it was going to be the outside of the roll and not the fish. No matter though. It was superb.

The Traditional Bento Box is really an all-in-one box. It includes a bowl of miso soup, salad, three pieces of sushi, six pieces of sashimi, California rolls, salmon maki, and shrimp and veggie tempura. I got a little bit of everything I love, so it was perfect. The soup was not overly salty and was piping hot, the fish was really fresh, the tempura was lightly coated in batter and the rolls had a good ratio of filling to rice.

I would also say that I believe that the service has improved over time. I remember sitting there on another occasion waiting forever for our server to come back to process our payment. In the end, we left our table and walked up to the bar to pay, which still took several minutes because they needed our server to put it through. This time, it was a lot better. Our food was prepared quickly and we were checked on periodically, so I felt well attended to.

Sushi is always at the top of my list of favourite cuisines, and Japonais Bistro continues to fit the bill when I’m craving some in the middle of the prairies.