Edmonton Restaurant Review: Black Bull Kitchen & Bar

The interior of Black Bull Kitchen & Bar.

In mid-December, I took my boyfriend to Black Bull Kitchen & Bar (16642 109 Avenue) for dinner. It was our first visit and, again, it was all due to a Groupon I had on hand. We made our way there immediately after work, so we arrived pretty early at around 5:00 pm.

When we walked into the establishment, it was empty, save for someone hanging out at the bar. The single server greeted us right away though and let us choose our own table while she grabbed us some menus.

As soon as we were settled, I mentioned that I had the voucher that covered dinner for two people, and she took the time to explain how it worked. In our case, we were each able to order a virgin cocktail and an entrée valued at up to $32. The thing is, the majority of their dishes only cost about $13 to $25. Only one option would have maxed out the deal on its own: the 14 oz. T-Bone Steak. However, our server let us know that we could add upgrades to the plates until they totaled the full value, which was fantastic.

Virgin Pina Colada and Virgin Caesar

While my boyfriend sipped on his Caesar and I on my Pina Colada, we studied the menu. Ultimately, we both opted for the 10 oz. New York Striploin ($25). It comes with a side of veggies as well as a choice between garlic mash (the winner on that evening), home cut fries, or rice. He decided to order extra shrimp ($5) and I selected the lobster tail ($7).

The food was prepared in a decent amount of time. They weren’t plated super fancy, but the dishes had pretty pops of colour from the carrots, broccoli, shrimp and lobster. Atop the seafood was a big dollop of butter. Surprisingly, there was also a slice of garlic bread accompanying everything as well.

I’ll get the bad out of the way first. Although the lobster tasted fine, it was severely overcooked. It made it incredibly difficult to pull the meat from the shell and, when I did get any on my fork, it was relatively dry and rubbery. That was unfortunate. I probably should have mentioned it to the restaurant while we were there, but I didn’t do that.

On the other hand, my boyfriend told me that his shrimp were great (he ate them all so quickly that I didn’t have a chance to sample any). Our plates came out piping hot, too. The steaks were both prepared as requested — medium rare for me and medium well for him. They were succulent with very little gristle, meaning almost nothing was wasted. I especially liked the charring on the top and bottom of the steak that helped to sear in the juices, keeping the meat tender and flavourful.

I have to say that the vegetables were kind of pedestrian. They seemed to have been steamed and had little flavour. I doused them in the butter from my lobster to make them a bit tastier. I thought the bread was alright as it was a bit toasted and had enough garlic butter without being overpowering. The garlic mashed potatoes were excellent. They were creamy, the seasoning came through well and the herbs that had been mixed in just elevated them a little more.

In the end, I’d say that Black Bull Kitchen & Bar is a serviceable location. Nothing we had was out of this world good, and the chefs can certainly show some improvement when it comes to lobster. Otherwise, everything else was passable and the portions were generous. It’s comfortable, clean, bright, well-decorated and totally seems like the classic neighbourhood hang out. If anyone has a voucher, I’d definitely recommend giving this place a shot. If that’s not a possibility, still stop by and grab something more affordable than steak off of the menu. I’ve heard that their burgers and pizza are worth a visit.


Edmonton Restaurant Review: Sir Winston’s Fish & Chips

Atlantic Haddock Full Meal Deal

At the end of October, shortly before leaving for our vacation, my boyfriend and I planned a last minute gathering with our friends. We were going to be tackling another escape room together, which meant we’d need some sustenance and some time to catch up before playing. So, we racked our brains trying to think of a nearby place that was new to all of us.

Ultimately, we decided on Sir Winston’s Fish & Chips. Located at an unassuming strip mall in south Edmonton on 105 Street and 51 Avenue, it has apparently been family owned and operated for over twenty years.

The interior of Sir Winston’s Fish & Chips.

We had arranged to meet there shortly after noon. I thought that we would be coinciding with the Sunday lunch rush, but when we arrived, the establishment was still empty (it did get slightly busier as we ate). Overall, it’s a fun venue with a strong English-style pub vibe.

However, there were two downsides on this occasion. First, the restaurant had no working bathrooms due to a plumbing issue that affected most businesses on that side of the mall. Second, upon ordering our food, we were told that their ovens weren’t running either, meaning their house made pies were out of the question and only deep fried dishes would be available.

Still, we were able to look past those issues. Our friends ordered the Vegetarian Samosas ($5), Calamari ($12) and the Atlantic Cod Full Meal Deal (~$17). I went with a one-piece Atlantic Cod with Chips ($12). My boyfriend opted for the Sunday lunch special of the Atlantic Haddock Full Meal Deal ($16). The two of us also shared a plate of the Coconut Shrimp ($12).

Vegetarian Samosas and Calamari

I did not sample the Vegetarian Samosas or the Calamari. Yet, my friend’s husband thoroughly enjoyed them. He especially loved the calamari, telling the server that it was probably the best he’s had in the city. From his experience, calamari is often overcooked and rubbery. The offerings here were made perfectly.

Coconut Shrimp

Our starter of Coconut Shrimp was quite pleasing, too. For all I know, it came frozen out of a box, but I wasn’t picky. The shrimp were relatively large, they were crisp and they were coated with plenty of coconut to give it that sweet flavour. Alongside the tangy cocktail sauce, I’d say this was a winner.

Atlantic Cod Fish & Chips

I personally found the batter on the fish to be a bit heavy-handed though. It didn’t stick to the fish very well, often falling off each time I cut a piece. Otherwise, I thought it was alright. The creamy tartar sauce provided a nice acidity to the moist, flaky cod. As for the side of chips, they failed to make enough for all of the dishes, so mine was brought out with a smaller amount of fries. The good thing is that the kitchen was already aware of the mistake and our server showed up with an extra side of chips soon after. The thick fries seemed to be fresh cut, soaking in all that delicious vinegar that I sprinkled on top.

If one goes for the Full Meal Deal, it includes one piece of fish, chips, coleslaw, and a non-alcoholic beverage. Prices vary depending on the type of fish selected. The Atlantic Cod is less dense, but also only four ounces in size. Whereas, the Atlantic Haddock is an additional two ounces and has a drier, firmer texture to the meat.

With plenty of time to spare, we decided to stay for dessert. Three of us went in on the Deep Fried Mars Bar ($5) and the Deep Fried Oreos ($5). Again, the batter was laid on thick, but unlike the fish, this was similar in texture to a crispy cake doughnut, so it worked in this case. Both were served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream to help combat the heat from the fryer. Arguably, these are very pedestrian desserts. Nevertheless, in this context, they felt highly rich and indulgent. I mean, how often does one eat sweets like these?

Admittedly, service slowed down as more patrons came in, and it was difficult to get our waters refilled towards the end. Despite that and the other shortcomings mentioned earlier, we had a decent time during this visit.

From the reviews I’d read online, I will say that I was expecting outstanding fish and chips. Although I cannot say that Sir Winston’s has the best, they’re okay. What I really am willing to go back for are those pies (Butter Chicken is calling my name). I just have to keep my fingers crossed that their ovens will be functioning next time!

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Almanac

Drinks to start the night off right.

Drinks to start the night off right.

If I have a chance to, I like to give new eateries a try. The Almanac is one I had heard of because it was being touted as a much needed music venue following the loss of a handful of established locations within the last year or two.

Located in the heart of Old Strathcona, it opened in December, otherwise known as the dead of winter. I had all but forgotten about it until I came across a Groupon deal. For me, those are sometimes the best excuse to try a different place. My friend and I decided to go in early February (I know, this is quite delayed).

The restaurant has large Whyte Avenue facing windows, which are great for people watching should you manage to snag one of the long booths at the front of the house. We did have an OpenTable reservation, but we would have had no trouble the night we went, and were told we could choose any available table. Although there aren’t a whole lot of seats to fill, it was still relatively empty for a Thursday evening. I assume the restaurant’s infancy had something to do with it.

Once we sat down, the server very promptly came over with the menus. She let us know of the specials and then gave us a few minutes to look through all of the French-inspired options.

We started off with a couple of beverages: a pint of beer for my friend and the raspberry cocktail for me. The latter’s magenta hued liquid was nicely poured into a classic glass and garnished with a curl of lemon rind. Just a bit of sweetness came through as I sipped, but it was a smooth drink with a pleasant flavour and finish.

Caramelized Onion & Gruyere Tart

Caramelized Onion & Gruyere Tart

For dinner, the two of us opted to share the Caramelized Onion and Gruyere Tart for our appetizer. The pastry was flaky and the filling tasted good. Arugula and perhaps some sprouts made up the mixed green salad on top of the tart, providing a bit of bitterness to counter the sweetness of the onion and the savoury notes from the cheese. My one disappointment is that it seemed like the tart was made well in advance, so the Gruyere didn’t have that melted gooiness it would have if it was properly warmed. That was a bit of a stumble.

Mushroom Ragu with Truffle Gnocchi and Seasonal Vegetables

Mushroom Ragu with Truffle Gnocchi and Seasonal Vegetables

I had some trouble making a decision about my entrée, but my friend chose the Mushroom Ragu, which looked like a filling vegetarian dish. The kitchen certainly seemed to be generous with the mushrooms. I thought, as a whole, this selection was seasoned well. The truffled gnocchi that accompanied the ragu were plump and lightly browned, and the white beets (the seasonal vegetable at the time) were a lovely surprise.

The Almanac Burger with Soup

The Almanac Burger with Soup

In the end, I selected the Almanac Burger. I tend to cook very little meat at home, so when I go out, I often pick things I’m unlikely to make myself. The thick burger patty was a good size – I’d guesstimate that it was close to five ounces. It’s definitely not the largest burger and there was a tad too much bun, but I really enjoyed the bourbon caramelized onion, honey goat cheese (so much cheese!), tomato and arugula that were layered with the beef.

The burger also came with a side, so I went with the Chef’s daily soup. I was given a salad by accident when my plate first arrived, but a bowl of soup quickly replaced it. I swear the server had said that it was a chicken gnocchi soup. Yet, I was met with a chicken broth that had ample vegetable stock. There was no gnocchi in sight. It was slightly bland. Thankfully, it came with quite a bit of chicken, so no skimping there. Also, on the plus side, the soup was heated well.

I fully realize that dessert is not a requirement of every meal, but since I was at The Almanac and I wasn’t sure when I might be back, it made complete sense to sample something from nearly every part of the eatery’s menu.

The White Chocolate Pot de Crème with Fall Fruit Compote that my friend ordered was pretty decadent. The custard was actually quite light while maintaining a creamy texture. There was a lot of fruit to the side and atop the custard, too.

Dessert: Banana Cream Pie and White Chocolate Creme de Pot

Dessert: Banana Cream Pie and White Chocolate Pot de Crème

A new addition to the menu was the Banana Cream Pie with Chocolate Drizzle. It’s a small menu, and I knew I’d get a bite of my friend’s food, so, for variety, Banana Cream Pie it was. Definitely a dish for sharing, I would recommend it for two hungry people or even four people who want to finish the night with a small portion of dessert. The plate looked like it was attacked by Jackson Pollack – a bit messy, but still pleasing (because of the chocolate). I would have preferred something flakier for the crust, which was closer in texture to a firm shortbread cookie. However, the thinly sliced banana scorched with caramelized sugar was prepared well.

Being that The Almanac is fresh to Edmonton’s burgeoning food scene, it was a decent all-round experience. I wasn’t wowed though, and I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to revisit the place. We were also in and out within a couple of hours and, when we left, it wasn’t particularly late, so there wasn’t any entertainment going either (if that’s something that even happens on weekday evenings). If there’s ever a live show there that I’m interested in seeing or I’m free on a Sunday when they have board game day, I might pop by again sooner than later.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Rocky Mountain Icehouse

One of the walls when you enter the restaurant.

One of the walls when you enter the restaurant.

Housed in the Jasper Block, built in 1909, and located on 105 Street and Jasper Avenue, Rocky Mountain Icehouse took the place of what used to be Fantasia Noodle House before that restaurant had to move in order to accommodate building renovations. Having ventured out on a walk during our coffee break on a sunny summer day, my co-workers and I stumbled upon the new eatery, and I made note that I would have to go back another time.

In September, on a particularly gorgeous afternoon, I grabbed a friend for lunch and the two of us started wandering with no idea of where to go until the memory of Rocky Mountain Icehouse popped into my head. They have a small sidewalk patio situated just outside the doors, but we opted to sit inside by the front windows, so we’d get the sunshine as well as some air conditioning. I have to admit, I was a little skeptical of the establishment. For the longest time they didn’t even have a working website despite having been open for a couple of months (rest assured, they have one now and it’s quite nice), so it didn’t seem like the owners were all that organized. Regardless, I was willing to give it a try.

The space is quite a bit larger than I expected. There’s even a large, private room called The Ski Lodge that can be used for smaller events or functions of up to 90 people. We were there for a later lunch, so I shouldn’t have been too surprised to see that only a few other tables were occupied. There was only one server on staff who indicated that we could seat ourselves wherever we wanted. She dropped off a couple of menus at our table and let us mull over the options. It’s a fairly succinct list of appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, dips, mains and dessert.

The two of us opted to share an order of the Cajun Chicken Three Cheese Dip to start. My friend decided on a bowl of the Southern Gumbo as her entree and I went with the Crab Cakes.

A plate of dip and warm pita bread arrived soon after we ordered. My first thought was that it tasted delicious, my second was that it wasn’t very spicy and my third was that I was impressed with how they managed to get something that was supposed to have chicken in it to such a smooth consistency. That’s when I thought I should check the photo I took of the menu, and we realized that we were given the wrong dip. Instead of the one we chose, our server brought us the Cream Cheese Tapenade – a blend of olives and cream cheese with a hint of spinach. Honestly, I was surprised at how much I was enjoying that dip before we figured out their mistake. I usually dislike olives with a passion (olive oil doesn’t count though), but I could barely taste them in this dip. I would have eaten the whole thing, but it wasn’t what we had wanted, so as soon as our server came back, I let her know, and she took it back to the kitchen and had a batch of the Cajun Chicken dip whipped up for us. Our second go round with dip was also tasty. This time, it was much chunkier with pieces of chicken breast, peppers, onions and jalapeno coming together with the cheese to pleasantly top off our soft slices of pita. Between the two dips, I’m not sure which I’d be more likely to eat again. I might actually be leaning more towards the tapenade, which is a slightly lighter dip. The cajun chicken dip can almost pass for a meal with the meat, cheese, veggies and starch…almost.

Southern Gumbo

Southern Gumbo

Unfortunately, I did not sample the Southern Gumbo as my friend was battling a cold, but she was raving about it. The portion size looked quite large and was filled with chicken, chorizo sausage, peppers, onions, corn and rice. In particular, the sausage looked like it was housemade because, rather than the sliced cylinders of sausage often found in dishes, it was more irregular in shape, which made my friend think it wasn’t pre-prepared. If that truly is the case, I would be impressed.

My order of crab cakes with aioli.

My order of crab cakes with aioli.

My crab cakes were fairly run-of-the-mill. However, it’s not to say there was anything wrong with them. On the contrary, they were what I expected. Nicely breaded and crisp on the outside, there was a good crunch to them that gave way to a mixture of crab claw meat, boursin, feta and cream cheese. The crab cakes were then drizzled with roast tomato and garlic aioli, which helped to finish off the flavour profile of the dish. Come to think of it, I really should have squeezed some lemon juice on them to give it a better balance. I’m not sure why I didn’t do that.

In any case, I did enjoy our meal there. It’s a great space with a welcoming atmosphere that, at least during a late lunch hour, is a quiet place to sit and chat. The food is sort of what you can find in any general pub, but they do an okay job with it (other reviews I’ve read have been mixed as well), and I hope that with time, as the restaurant builds on its identity, that it’ll continue to improve.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Next Act

My PB & J burger - it was awesome!

My PB & J burger – it was awesome!

The Next Act (@NextActPub) had been on my radar for a while. I had been told by a friend that they make the best mac and cheese in the city, and the restaurant had also made The Tomato‘s list of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton in both 2013 (No. 61 & 62) and 2014 (No. 49). Needless to say, it was a must try. However, it kept getting pushed back until I could find the perfect opportunity to go to Old Strathcona (I don’t go there often).

As it happened, my favourite Edmonton festival, The Fringe, rolled around in August. During a full day of shows the first weekend of the festival, we had plenty of time to kill between two of them, so we planned to go to The Next Act for lunch. Issues ensued with our first show of the day and, despite running around all morning, we missed it, so we trudged our way to the restaurant earlier than intended. Since it was hot out and we were sweating bullets, we opted to skip the patio and sit indoors where there was air conditioning.

The interior of The Next Act.

The interior of The Next Act.

Looking very much like a traditional diner with a bar added in, it’s lined with booth tables along the walls and has raised tables and bar stools all situated in the middle. The decor is a little dated, but everything is kept clean and in good condition. We grabbed the last small booth available and our server greeted us with a big smile on her face as she laid out menus on the table. Honestly, I was so beat that I couldn’t even peruse the items right away. Instead, we sat there fanning ourselves with the menus for several minutes, trying our best to cool off.

Eventually, we relaxed and started eyeing all the possibilities. They are touted for their Director and Critic burgers as well as their grilled cheese sandwich, but neither of us went for those. My friend ordered the Cornmeal Crusted Halibut sandwich and I selected the PB & J burger (the only one without a showbiz related name), both accompanied by a side of the House Salad. Water and beer – I was so excited to see that they had Crabbie’s Ginger Beer – were also imbibed.

The House Salad is a great mix of greens, pea shoots, almonds, grapes and strawberries with housemade white balsamic honey vinaigrette. The vegetarian side was a nice balance of bitter, sweet and tart. I did not sample my friend’s halibut sandwich, but crusted with cornmeal and layered with sundried tomato salsa, arugula pesto, mixed greens and mayo, I was told it was delicious. Afterwards, I mentioned to people that I ate the PB & J burger here and I was met with looks that bordered on disgust, but, if you think about it, it’s just the whole idea of a savoury and sweet pairing. A thick, juicy burger patty topped with crunchy peanut butter, bacon jam made in-house and cheddar cheese, it was awesome! I will probably try to replicate as best I can at home because I want to eat it regularly.

On a quick note, we loved the art work on the walls. I can’t really remember the artist’s name, maybe CJ, but I do recall our server saying it was the work of one of the other staff in the restaurant. A mix of modern silver framed photographs and circular painted canvases, the pieces were sort of otherworldly and real, and surprisingly more affordable than I would have thought. The colour helped to liven the decor up, too. My guess is that the artwork is rotated regularly.

It took forever for me to give The Next Act a shot, but I finally did, and I’m certain that whenever I find myself on Whyte Avenue in the future, it will now be one of my go to choices. The stellar food and service with a smile left me beaming by the time we left.

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 The Next Act.