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: DIE PIE

Die Pie Vegan Pizzeria

DIE PIE (11215 Jasper Avenue) entered the Edmonton food scene back in the fall of 2017 as the first plant-based pizzeria in Alberta. I was intrigued by the notion of a vegan restaurant attempting to circumvent the average Albertan’s love of meat, meat and more meat on what is a beloved meal for most. Don’t get me wrong, a well-made vegetarian pizza can be quite satisfying, but I’m not going to lie, 95 per cent of the time, any pizza I order is going to have chicken, bacon, sausage, beef, or prosciutto on it. It’s just a fact.

Yet, the time had come for me to delve into the offerings at DIE PIE. After a late afternoon bridal event, my friends and I were looking for a spot to eat downtown. This place came to mind as it’d been on my evergrowing list of eateries to try for a while. When we arrived, it was prime dinnertime on a Friday night, so we were told that it would probably be at least a 30 minute wait. We opted to put our name down on their list. In the meantime, we planned to find a table at another nearby restaurant to grab some drinks or snacks. However, as luck would have it, a few customers departed as we were about to leave and we managed to snag three bar seats.

The bar at Die Pie

The space itself is small and simply decorated; they’ve kept things minimal, mural wall notwithstanding. The service at the bar was decent as we were given menus and water quickly, and our questions were answered informatively. Our orders were also put through relatively fast once we had made our decisions. Eventually, a table opened up and we were given the choice to move, which we happily accepted for ease of conversation among the three of us.

Where I think I started to get frustrated was with the wait for our food. It took close to 40 minutes before our items finally made it out from the kitchen. Is that normal for DIE PIE? Is it because vegan food takes that much longer to prepare? Do they make the pizza dough from scratch as soon as your order is placed? I have no clue. Either way, if you ask me, it was just too long. Thankfully, I was in good company, so I didn’t dwell on the time all that much. Still, it’s something that DIE PIE should be more cognizant of.

In the end, was the wait worth it? Honestly, I don’t think it really was.

Mac & Cheese

One of my friends ordered the Mac & Cheese ($19). It’s described as a combination of cheddar sauce, pickled baby jem tomato salad, shallots, “bacon” breadcrumbs, and aged cashew parmesan. Maybe it was creamier as soon as it was dropped off at the table, but when I sampled it, I didn’t find it had a great texture on the pasta and I didn’t think it was cheesy enough. The “bacon” breadcrumbs were a nice addition though. I also made sure to try a pickled baby jem tomato. It was plump and juicy, but surprisingly spicy. For a second, I thought maybe it was a chili pepper disguised as a tomato. My guess is that they pickled it in spiced brine as that’s the only explanation for the heat. Anyway, it was an interesting take on mac and cheese that I’m not super keen to go back for.

Pierogi Pizza

My other friend settled on the Pierogi Pizza ($20) with the regular crust — gluten-free is an option for $2 more — as it’s one of her favourites at Boston Pizza. Now, if I’ve had BP’s version before, it’s been years, if not decades (did they even have it on the menu decades ago?) since I would have eaten it. Therefore, I really didn’t have a standard to compare this to. I thought it was good though. The crust of the Neopolitan-style pizza is very thin, crisp along the edges, and chewy in the middle. So, plus one for DIE PIE in that respect. The toppings of cheddar sauce, shaved potato, feta, sour cream, green onions, and “bacon” parmesan worked here. It very much tasted like pierogi fillings without being too heavy.

Black Garlic & Truffle Pizza

I’m always a sucker when it comes to menu items that mention truffle, so I had my heart set on the Black Garlic & Truffle pizza ($22). It consisted of hemp havarti, wild mushrooms, and mustard greens (more like a spring mix). I didn’t particularly like the texture of the vegan cheese and most of the pizza was made up of undressed salad. The wild mushrooms, few as there were, were probably the best part in terms of heartiness and texture. For flavour, it came down to the black garlic and truffle, which was good, but not enough to save this creation. In my opinion, it certainly doesn’t warrant the highest price tag on the pizza menu.

While I found the staff to be friendly and attentive, at least when it came to filling our water glasses, overall, DIE PIE isn’t a restaurant that would pull the carnivorous me back. Perhaps I don’t appreciate what they’re doing because I’m not an actual vegan. Yet, I’m all for veggie dishes when they’re done well. Based on the regular menu items that we selected this time, I can’t say that I was wowed at all. I really wanted to like the food, but personally, I won’t return to DIE PIE to spend my hard earned money there again.