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 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.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Kanu Cafe

My dinner consisted of Coconut Chai Latte, Creamy Mushroom Soup, and Spring Gnocchi.

With a menu inspired and conceptualized by plant-based American celebrity chef Matthew Kenney, Kanu (pronounced kuh noo’) Cafe opened in Edmonton this past fall. Taking over the space previously occupied by the short-lived Monument Coffee Bar on the southwest corner of Jasper Avenue and 108 Street (at the base of The Mayfair building), the interior has had a bit of a face lift. Otherwise, it’s fairly similar with its center counter and two walls of windows that offer plenty of natural light.

My friend and I had planned a catch up over dinner last month. When I arrived at around five o’clock that weeknight, it seemed that the reservation I had made on OpenTable was unnecessary. The place was so quiet. Less than a handful of tables were occupied and I wondered if it was always that way.

The service was good though. We were given info on their new happy hour specials (available Monday to Friday from 3pm to 6pm) and recent updates that had been made to the menu before we were left to make our decisions.

Our Coconut Chai Lattes

I contemplated ordering one of their signature cocktails, but it felt like more of a day for comfort food and beverages. In the end, both of us opted to try out the Coconut Chai Latte ($5.75). It arrived piping hot in a decently sized mug. A pretty plant-themed dusting of cinnamon decorated the foam. The tea had a lovely flavour that was well-spiced, a little creamy, and the coconut was actually quite prominent. It’s a bit expensive, but, honestly, most places are charging at least five bucks for a latte nowadays.

Creamy Mushroom Soup

For my supper, I chose to go with two smaller dishes. The first was the Creamy Mushroom Soup ($6.50). This was made with coconut cream, mixed mushrooms, wild rice, local herbs, and toasted kombu (kelp) oil, so it was both gluten and nut free. I’m a sucker when it comes to mushroom soup, as long as it’s actually thick and smooth. There’s nothing worse than a watery concoction. No need to worry about that here though. Kanu Cafe did a great job with their recipe. Although it wasn’t really hot enough, the base was pleasantly creamy. There were also plenty of mushroom varietals to provide a satisfying chew and ample texture. It probably could have stood as a light meal on its own.

Spring Gnocchi

My second plate was the shareable Spring Gnocchi ($13.25), which had just been added to the menu. While the dish cooled quite quickly, the overall taste was superb. The crispy yet pillowy pieces of potato pasta were served with peas, pea tendrils, pistachio, spinach and nettle cream, and sunflower Parmesan. It was deliciously savoury and, at the same time, a little bit earthy with the fresh greens shining through on the palate.

Key Lime Pie

As I’ve come to learn with my friend, she’d much rather eat dessert than anything else when dinnertime hits. This particular night was no different. In this instance, she picked the Key Lime Pie ($13.75) and snacked on it throughout our visit. No doubt about it, this raw, gluten free Kanu Cafe treat was beautiful to look at. The presentation was spot on with it’s deep green colour contrasted with what I believe were dried red flower petals, chunks of almond ginger crumble and citrus glass. To say the least, it was an interesting dessert. I didn’t have a chance to sample the crumble or citrus myself, but I had a couple of bites of the key lime filling (made with avocado) topped by lime gel with the pecan and coconut crust. I found the filling to be way too pudding-like as if it didn’t have the time it needed to be properly set. It also didn’t have enough of a lime flavour and it was rather grassy. Lastly, for the price, it was quite a petite portion. I suggest that the kitchen consider making these into smaller two-bite desserts at a lower cost to justify the existence of this dessert.

Coconut Cream Pie

In contrast, my serving of the raw and gluten free Coconut Cream Pie ($14) was huge. It was about the same width as the Key Lime Pie, but probably three times taller. The creaminess and density of the filling was perfect, too. The only downfall was a too thick macadamia crust along the edge. That, and, after a point, the coconut flavour got a little lost behind the more distinguished taste of banana.

For the most part, I enjoyed my meal at Kanu Cafe. I definitely think that the restaurant does a good job of making people forget that they’re eating a meal devoid of meat since the dishes are still rather gratifying. However, it’s not often that I walk into an eatery and find myself paying more for a dessert than for the rest of my food. Perhaps more work goes into making the desserts than I realize, but it’s an odd thing to see, especially when more restaurants cap the cost to around $10. That’s something that I think they should address. Regardless, I felt that Kanu Cafe offered a number of options within a reasonable price range alongside educated customer service in a comfortable atmosphere, and that may just do the trick in bringing this usually carnivorous girl back.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Haweli Indian Kitchen & Bar (South Common)

Butter Chicken

When the Hudsons at South Common closed less than a year ago, I was incredibly surprised by the news. Shortly after, I was maybe even more surprised to find out that Haweli Indian Kitchen & Bar was taking it’s place. It would be an Indian restaurant with a pub twist (and Indo-Chinese fusion).

The main space of the restaurant houses the large bar.

Before a recent appointment for my bridesmaids at David’s Bridal, my mom and I popped by Haweli for dinner (reservations can be made through OpenTable). The space still retains that pub feel with a large central bar and dozens of taps. But, overall, they’ve done a great job of transforming the venue into something that is large enough to accommodate groups of all sizes while still retaining a more intimate feel. The woods are dark, the colours are warm and there are hints of South Asian design peppered throughout.

We lucked out by arriving before the end of happy hour (available daily from 3pm to 6pm). Plus, it was Wing Wednesday, so we got to take full advantage of all of their deals. NOTE: When they say it’s $0.39 per wing, that’s not actually true. Both of the orders we got only totaled eight wings each, but they charged us $3.90 per basket. It’s still a decent price, but just note that they prepare it based on weight versus actual numbers.

Speaking of the wings, we sampled the Tandoori and Lemon Pepper flavours. The former were great, but much stickier on the hands as they were a little saucy. It also meant they didn’t have much crispness to them. The taste and texture was very similar to actual Tandoori chicken, so it’s a much cheaper alternative to getting the main dish. As for the latter dry rubbed wings, I loved them. These were battered and crisp on the outside with the perfect amount of citrus to balance out the spice.

Moscow Mule

To drink, I opted to grab a Moscow Mule (regularly $9, on special for $6). This was presented in an actual copper mug, which I appreciated. It kept my beverage chilled the entire time we were there. The ginger beer used had a strong ginger flavour to it, perfect since I enjoy the spiciness in this particular type of cocktail.

Crispy Cauliflower

Continuing with the food, we also opted to try their Crispy Cauliflower (usually $11.50, but $7 during Happy Hour). The portion size was much larger than I expected it would be. These were also quite saucy with the battered and fried florets doused in an ample amount of a sweet and sour plum-style glaze. For the most part, these were quite good. I just recommend that you eat the dish when freshly made as the outer shell becomes too soggy when it sits for long.

Next up was the Coconut Shrimp (normally $15, available for $10). These were a little reminiscent of the kind I could buy frozen in a box from the grocery store. Still, I’m not particularly picky and they were more than decent. The prawns had a tender consistency making for a delicate chew. I also thought that there was enough coconut to bring sweetness to each bite. At the lower price during Happy Hour, it seemed worth it.

Butter Chicken with Naan Bread

No doubt though, the best item we had was the Butter Chicken with Naan (listed as $23.50 normally and $16 on special). I don’t necessarily believe that it’s the most traditional butter chicken in town; it’s probably made to appeal more to the North American masses. However, I loved the super creamy and thick tomato-based sauce with it’s light heat. Some pieces of the chicken were a bit overcooked. Otherwise, the thigh meat was relatively tender and completely soaked in the flavours. The sauce was plentiful, too, making for the perfect pairing to the delectable slices of naan bread.

Another room to the side provides additional seating in a more South Asian styled space.

The ambiance in the restaurant was pleasant as it was quiet enough to allow for conversation. I just found the service to be alright though. Everyone was friendly enough, but it did take some waves and “excuse mes” to get the attention of the staff at times. When it came to the food, our eyes were definitely bigger than our stomachs during this meal. At least a third of the food was packed to go (Kirk was the happy beneficiary). It’s not to say that anything really missed the mark because it didn’t. We were pleased with the quality of what we ate and the price was right. I’ll definitely be back to Haweli Indian Kitchen & Bar in South Common as this location is a welcome change of pace from the typical chain options in the area.

Calgary Restaurant Review: Vin Room Mission

A petite serving of Hummus and flatbread.

On our recent road trip to Calgary, I opted to try out restaurants that offered Happy Hour menus. Our meals were planned around the mid- to late-afternoon hours or well into the evening to take advantage of the deals. During our first night there, we ended up at Vin Room Mission (2310 4 Street). We were seated on the main floor in a narrower space past the lounge and right near the kitchen. It was cute and cozy as Kirk and I sat side by side.

As we reviewed the options, I was quite tempted by a list of features that they had for the evening. But, we stuck to my plan, and ordered only from the Happy Hour items: Bartender’s Choice Beer Pour ($6), Hummus ($5), Weekly Tacos ($5 each), Spaghetti Pomodoro ($5), and Grilled Chicken Skewers ($2 each).

Bartender’s Choice Beer Pour

For the beer, we were hoping for something on tap and more local. It turned out to be a bottle of Steam Whistle, so nothing all that special and kind of expensive for the price. On the plus side, to start, they provided complimentary popcorn with the beer.

The Hummus was presented in a tiny dish with four triangles of grilled flatbread brushed with olive oil. It was nice that the flatbread was actually warm and still soft. The hummus was garlicky and flavourful. It was so small though. It took just a few minutes for us to crush that plate.

Weekly Tacos

Kirk is the one who chose to have two of the Weekly Tacos. I sampled a bite of it, and I wasn’t impressed. I already tend to dislike pico de gallo because of the frequent inclusion of cilantro, but, on top of that, the corn tortilla was super dry, tasting like thin cardboard. Otherwise, the Valentina hot sauce and chicken was fine.

Spaghetti Pomodoro

The Spaghetti Pomodoro comes meatless with a simple mix of tomato sauce, basil pesto, and shaved Grana Padano. The sauce was light, but tasty. I appreciated the amount of cheese, considering the ratio of the topping to the noodles. I was beginning to understand that Vin Room was able to have such a cheap happy hour by altering the portion sizes significantly. It’s a good thing we weren’t particularly hungry and these “snacks” were enough.

Grilled Chicken Skewers

Probably my favourite choice of the night were the Grilled Chicken Skewers. I’m pretty certain that the same chicken was used in the tacos (and I doubt they switch up the type of taco every week). Still, the pieces of chicken were plump and tender. I also enjoyed the honey-lemon glaze and fresh herbs. We even ate the petite green salad on the side.

Carrot Cake

We decided to indulge in dessert before we left. It was the Carrot Cake ($9) that caught our eyes. With a Wensleydale cheese frosting, carrot-pineapple jam, and vanilla creme anglaise, it was quite decadent. Our only complaint was that it was clearly prepared in advance and refrigerated as it was chilly on the tongue. It would have been more pleasing to, at least, have it served at room temperature. Regardless, it was a highlight of our meal at Vin Room.

I wouldn’t necessarily go back to Vin Room for happy hour alone. But, the service was attentive, so I’d be interested in checking them out again for their regular menu just to see what the quality is like in comparison to what you get for happy hour. There was certainly a bit of promise with a couple of the items and the place was busy, so it can’t be all that bad, right?

Calgary Restaurant Review: Calcutta Cricket Club

Calcutta Cricket Club

From the second you spot the mint-hued building, you know you’re in for a treat at Calcutta Cricket Club in Calgary. Located on 17 Avenue, this restaurant, designed by local artist Maya Gohill, is described by her as a “1960’s Indian social club meets The Golden Girls.”

Stepping into the space, I totally understand the latter idea. It’s got that sort of gaudy quality reminiscent of the crazy, colourful clothing the women on that show used to wear and there’s a very ’80s to ’90s vibe (à la Miami Vice). Sunny pinks and blues are offset by a large-scale checkered floor, wicker bar stools, and a prominent leaping jaguar behind the bar.

A reservation had been made in advance using OpenTable, and, upon arriving for brunch (available Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm), we were promptly seated by a friendly server at a table for two.

Mango Lassi

We took a few minutes to review the menu. It’s not extensive, but there are several options, including a Slow Brunch consisting of three courses for $25 per person. While it looked wonderful, both of us decided to select individual dishes. Kirk went with his usual standard-style English-ish Breakfast ($15) with a side of Bacon ($5). I chose the Tandoori Fried Chicken ($18), and, because I had to have it, I also ordered a Single Chai-Ovaltine Pancake ($6.50) as well as a Mango Lassi ($4.50) to drink.

The Mimosa Cart

The Mango Lassi was served in a short glass, but, due to the thicker, creamy consistency, it was sufficient enough to go with my meal. Made with yogurt, mango, and cardamom, the slightly spicy and fruity mix was sweet without being cloying as the yogurt mitigated the natural sugars. It’s the perfect non-alcoholic beverage to pair with Indian cuisine. On a side note, I saw the mimosa cart go by a few times while we dined and it was super tempting. They use fresh squeezed juice — grapefruit, orange, or spiced pineapple — to make their cocktails ($8 each), which makes all the difference.

English-ish Breakfast

Kirk’s English-ish Breakfast came with Empire Provisions spiced sausage, sunny-side eggs, tomato, masala potatoes, and sourdough. Visually, at first glance, it was a little boring. However, digging in, the seasoned potatoes were delicious and the curry over the eggs added a new dimension. The additional bacon was generous and crispy. The star of the plate was certainly those spiced sausages though. They packed a ton of flavour and some heat on the palate. Not overwhelmingly spicy by any means, but enough to be warm, comforting, and a change from the norm.

When my Tandoori Fried Chicken was placed in front of me, I was shocked at the size of the dish. The two pieces of deep-fried yogurt marinated chicken were huge! I commented on that, and the server who had dropped our plates off stated that many guests even opt to add extra chicken. After taking an initial bite, I could see why. The meat was succulent and tasty — nutty, zesty, spicy, pungent — with a crisp breaded exterior and a balance of sugar from the coconut and honey. Laid beneath was a large slab of cornbread (maybe a tad dry) and a refreshing green salad. Since I still had “dessert” to work through, I ate only half the food, packing up the rest to go.

Single Chai-Ovaltine Pancake

I’m so glad that I didn’t miss out on the Chai-Ovaltine Pancake either. It was incredible. The single portion was perfect for me and it’s still prepared the same way as a full-size order, meaning it is presented with the daily fruit compote, saffron chantilly, and garam spiced granola. You get the best of everything without the possibility of overeating. I loved all of the textures from the thick, fluffy pancake to the crunchy granola and the floral-infused chantilly cream.

As our final meal during our short visit to Calgary, this was definitely a memorable one. It’s sad to think that Calcutta Cricket Club is hours away from home and it’ll be a while before I can go back. Then again, it just gives me something else to look forward to (like maybe happy hour next time) whenever I have a chance to return to Calgary.