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.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse

Pampa downtown Edmonton interior

For years, Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse sat on 99 Avenue and 109 Street as the lone location in Edmonton. However, more recently, they’ve grown to include two more spots in the city, one in Ellerslie and another in the west end. Although the premise of rodÍzio (unlimited meat carved at the table) always intrigued me, the price didn’t necessarily encourage me to go.

As my friends had mentioned before, it’s a great experience, but the cost — $52.99 per person for dinner — simply covered the main meal and buffet. Anything such as drinks and/or desserts (if you even have room left) were an addition, quickly racking up the bill. Therefore, it remained on my list of places to try, but it was never a priority.

Then, last year, a different restaurant with the same idea decided to open up along Saskatchewan Drive. A number of other local foodies were popping into Fumaca Brazilian Steakhouse to test run it, and I opted to check it out, too. Personally, I loved Fumaca’s meats (their buffet could use some improvement), and ever since then, I’d been wanting to get to Pampa to compare the two.

Downtown Dining Week menu

I strategically waited until Downtown Dining Week rolled around before booking an OpenTable reservation for our visit. The $45 menu on offer during that event was slightly smaller. It included the hot and cold buffet (over fifty items) as well as ten different meat skewers versus the usual fourteen at regular price. Was it enough of a difference to my wallet to skimp out on those four more meats? Probably not. On the other hand, I made a point of trying all ten cuts that were available to me, and I can safely say that I don’t think I could have eaten any more than what I did (not counting the dessert I tacked on at the end).

My plate of items from the hot and cold salad bar

To recap the overall meal, I’ll start with the buffet. It’s a pretty extensive spread ranging from pickles and veggies to hummus and cheese to potatoes and salads (greens and pastas) to soups and stews. It certainly seemed fresher than the one at Fumaca with more variety and larger portions set out. While I chose not to sample the soups, they did look deliciously creamy. Ultimately, I stuck with some of the house-made hummus (I’ve had better from a store bought container), sliced radishes, raddichio salad (kind of bitter and oddly textured), Brazilian cheese bread (too hard as if it’d sat out too long under heat), beef penne salad, marinated baby potatoes, Caesar salad, and a warm creamy chicken pasta to accompany my onslaught of meats.

Once we were back at our table, we left our cards flipped to the green side to signify that we were ready for the skewers to come; flip them to the red side to let the servers know you need a break.

Marinated Chicken Drumstick

First up was the marinated chicken drumstick. I found this to be simply seasoned and smoky with a very crisp exterior while still maintaining some moisture underneath the skin. Not my favourite, but tasty enough.

Pampa Pork Sausage

Next was the Pampa pork sausage. I have not learned to love cilantro (it has that soapy flavour) and I found that the herbaceousness of it came through too much for me. This sausage was also dry and I didn’t enjoy the full pieces of peppercorn that dotted the pork.

Beef Top Sirloin

I asked for a more medium-cooked slice of the beef top sirloin. Definitely a bit more fatty than some of the other cuts of beef, but this was tender, juicy and nicely crusted at the edges.

Bacon-Wrapped Chicken Thigh

The bacon-wrapped chicken thigh is likely the hottest piece of meat that we were served (everything else was lukewarm). This was probably due to bacon grease being trapped between the pork and the chicken. No question, it was a little oily, but the chicken was quite succulent underneath the bacon.

Parmesan Pork Loin

One of my top choices, more for the flavour than the texture (slightly tough), was the Parmesan pork loin. The meat had a hint of lemon to it and it was heavily rubbed with dry Parmesan cheese crumbs. Honestly, this was a genius combo.

Rosemary-Marinated Pork Shoulder

Before trying the rosemary-marinated pork shoulder, I wasn’t sure that I would like it. Pork shoulder isn’t a cut of the pig that I often have and I was concerned about the preparation of it. Turns out that it was the closest thing to pork belly (go figure) that I’d get to eat on that night. Sure, it didn’t have the same fattiness of pork belly, but the extremely crispy skin held all of the juices in and reminded me of the pork belly I’d had at Fumaca.

Beef Garlic Steak

Can you ever have too much garlic? It’s a preference thing, I suppose. In the case of their beef garlic steak, I’d say that it’s a big maybe. Initially, I loved the abundance of garlic crusting the piece I was carved. Yet, it eventually became way too salty on my palate.

Chimichurri-Basted Beef Striploin

The only meat that wasn’t served from a skewer was the chimichurri-basted beef striploin. It was one of the last meats that I was presented with, so I asked for a smaller piece to make sure that I’d be able to finish it. If there was cilantro in the sauce (it’s a typical ingredient in many chimichurris), the flavour was thankfully masked; nevertheless, it was too greasy and salty despite the use of a tender steak as the base.

New Zealand Leg of Lamb

To change things up, they also offer a New Zealand leg of lamb. Much leaner than the other meats, it provided a decent chew and a lovely outer crust without the gamey flavour that many dislike about lamb (I don’t actually mind it myself).

Beef Rumpsteak

Last, but not least, was the beef rumpsteak. The slice I received was just a tad dry (shredding apart in the mouth) even though it looked to be cooked perfectly and had a nice colouring to it. It was also very minimally seasoned, making it kind of bland.

As a final bow on the evening, I went for their feature dessert. It was a coconut custard with boiled mango on top. The preparation of the fruit was interesting. It turned the mango into something like a chewy jelly, and the custard actually had flakes of coconut in it. Not the worst, but also off-putting since custards should really be creamy and smooth. This was unexpected.

All in, our meal came to $114 after tax and tip was accounted for. Aside from the one dessert, we refrained from extras like beverages, which made it more reasonable for two people. Nonetheless, with each small glimmer of greatness in the food, there were also many things that I found to be lackluster. I’m not likely to go back to Pampa anytime soon; however, if anyone is a fan of meat, meat, and more meat at a single sitting, then this is the place for you.

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.