Edmonton Restaurant Review: Tavern 1903 (Closed)

My friend snapping pics of our meal.

My friend snapping pics of our meal.

Tavern 1903 (@Tavern1903), the brainchild of Hardware Grill (@HardwareGrill) owners, dropped into downtown Edmonton’s dining scene with a bang. Situated on the main floor of the restored Alberta Hotel – built in 1903 – it is located at 98 Street and Jasper Avenue, its front sidewalk made into a fairly large and welcoming patio space. The day that my friend and I decided to walk over during our lunch break, it was a sweltering 30 degrees outside (not so much now). I had made an OpenTable reservation ahead of time, requesting an outdoor table, if possible.

A hostess was standing at a podium just in front of the door waiting to greet us. She acknowledged my booking and directed us to a table in the corner of the patio; it was under one of their large umbrellas that shaded two of the four seats. She apologized there wasn’t more protection from the sun available, but we were happy to be taking advantage of the weather and thanked her.

Our server came over shortly after we sat down and presented the menus to us. Filtered still or sparkling Q Water is provided free of charge (most other restaurants seem to charge a small fee for unlimited filtered water), so we were given beautiful green glasses filled with thirst quenching liquid. After inspecting the tumblers more closely, I realized that they were sawed off wine bottles, the bottoms used for a new purpose. I like the idea that the establishment is trying to find different ways to be sustainable, and the brilliant emerald colour made me want my own set. Being that we had to return to the office in an hour, we opted to order a couple of non-alcoholic beverages including their regular and blueberry lemonades to further keep us hydrated. The blueberry lemonade was a gorgeous pink, nicely sweetened by the berries, but still slightly tart.

The pretty pink coloured blueberry lemonade.

The pretty pink coloured blueberry lemonade.

Having previously read reviews of the restaurant where praise was given for their Truffled ‘Mac N Cheese’ with Baby Lobster & Shiitakes, and also having recently eaten a similar dish at the Century Hospitality Group‘s (@CenturyHG) Lux Steakhouse & Bar (@LUXSteakhouse), I was inclined to give Tavern 1903’s version a shot. My friend did the same, except that she chose to go with the Smoked Ham Hock & Green Peas rather than the seafood.

Unlike Lux, the pasta didn’t arrive in an iron skillet. Instead, it came to the table in a massive bowl the size of my head. Shell shaped pasta was coated with white truffle oil and 3-year aged cheddar, a sauce that was much lighter than the heavyset competition. I actually very much liked it. The shiitake mushrooms added a meaty texture and woodsy flavour, and the lobster was well distributed in larger chunks with virtually no trace of the crustacean’s exoskeleton to be found (something I cannot say about Lux – I bit on a lot of shell there). I sampled the ham hock and green pea plate and thought it was quite tasty as well. However, the ham created a dish that was, overall, saltier. While I did finish off every bite of my bowl, it was a struggle on this particular occasion because the heat coming off the mac and cheese combined with the overpowering sunshine just about did the two of us in, so I recommend sitting out on the patio on milder days if you plan to eat anything that comes piping hot from the kitchen.

Needing to get back to work, we weren’t able to stay for dessert, so I will have to make a point of visiting again for that. But, my friend did order some corn bread with bacon butter to go. She absolutely loves fresh corn bread and, unfortunately, she told me she was disappointed with it.

Regardless, the patio is wonderful for when Edmonton is experiencing good weather, our entrees were delicious, the service excellent, and the interior of the restaurant holds a certain charm – reinstated to its past glory with intricate ceiling moldings, wall lamps, tiling and an original cash register, the look certainly screams traditional tavern with modern touches. It’s unique, historic and they serve good food and drinks, which is probably why it currently holds both the No. 2 and No. 21 spot on The Tomato‘s list of 100 best eats and drinks for 2014. So, if you find yourself downtown searching for another great place to indulge, look no further.

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Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Glass Monkey

Beets Salad

Beets Salad

It was a beautiful July evening when my friend and I got together for a needed catch up. After all, I hadn’t seen her in over a month, which is long by our standards. She had just gotten home from Europe, so not only did she have to share the details of her trip, but we also had to talk about things such as relationships, online dating, speed dating events and just the boring day-to-day things that we find interesting (although, others might not).

On this occasion we chose to visit The Glass Monkey (@GlassMonkeyYEG), which is on the south side of the city in the Lendrum strip mall. The restaurant took over the space left vacated by Jack’s Grill. Opening in December 2013, it took me a while to get there. A group of us had planned to do a birthday dinner there at one point; however, life got in the way and we failed to get that figured out again. So, this time I suggested to my friend that we try it and, of course, she was completely game. Readers of The Tomato named the establishment as one of the places in Edmonton with the best eats and drinks, landing high on the 2014 list at No. 10 because of their charcuterie plates and roasted broccoli, so we suspected we couldn’t go wrong.

Venturing there on a Wednesday, I wasn’t sure how busy it would be, so I made a 5:45 reservation through OpenTable. I thought it best to give ourselves a bit of a buffer because you never know how bad traffic can be during rush hour. Surprisingly, we arrived fifteen minutes early. Walking through the doors, there were plenty of available tables since it was well before most peoples’ dinner time, meaning there were no issues getting us seated when I indicated to the host that we were more than prompt. The interior is mostly wood surfaces mixed with wood and aluminum seating, creating both a homey and modern feel.

The Glass Monkey's patio space.

The Glass Monkey’s patio space.

Yet, since it was such lovely weather, the two of us opted to sit out on their patio, which is situated to the side of the restaurant and fenced off to save you from a view into the parking lot. The patio sets were nice with comfy chairs that were good to lounge on for a few hours. Trees provided a bit of shading in some spots and hanging flower pots and small bushes provided a bit of decoration.

Both of us ordered a bottle of Yukon Deadman Creek Cranberry Wheat Ale for refreshment in addition to the unlimited filtered Q Water. They actually have a decent selection of bottled beers at prices that seem fairly equivalent to other restaurants I’ve been to this year. Wines, on the other hand, are quite costly, something that other reviewers have mentioned as well. There are a few choices that seem to be reasonably priced for a 6 oz. glass. The problem is that there are very few of them and it seems that they decided to have much more expensive bottles available by the glass – between $17 to $25 each; a bit too much to swallow because they’ll really cause your total bill to jump up quickly. Needless to say, that’s one of the reasons we steered clear of the wine.

For dinner, their menu is fairly extensive; perhaps not that adventurous though. Put together by chef Darcy Radies (@DarcyRadies), previously of the much loved Blue Pear, the dishes were a mix of Jack’s Grill favourites and plates that covered everything from salads to pastas to pizzas and mains that included meat, fish, chicken and veggies. There’s enough variety to ensure that everyone can find at least one thing they want to eat.

My dining companion chose the Home Made Pappardelle while I decided to sample two items – Beets Salad and the Jack’s Grill Beef Carpaccio – in order to get a better idea of their offerings. I had a fork full of the pappardelle and it was savoury. The pasta was fresh and not too thick, and it was covered with a wonderful pile of tender slow roasted pork shoulder marinating in its own juices as well as wild mushrooms. I asked for both of my dishes to come at the same time. The salad was made with roasted red and yellow beets, goat cheese, balsamic glaze, pine nuts and arugula. The sweetness of the beets with the creamy, slightly tangy goat cheese and balsamic dressing, the earthy pine nuts and the bitterness of the arugula was a great combination. I was unsure of what to expect with the beef carpaccio. Every restaurant seems to prepare the dish differently – not hugely so, but enough that you notice – and The Glass Monkey was no exception. Unlike other establishments, the beef carpaccio came without any sort of starch or greens. Instead, the thinly shaved beef was the star of the show, served with grainy mustard, olive oil, and shaved Parmesan cheese. On its own, the beef was deliciously light and the flavours really popped. Being me though, I did marry some slices of the beef with my salad and I was entirely satisfied by the last bite.

Jack's Grill Bread Pudding

Jack’s Grill Bread Pudding

To top off our meal, we shared the Jack’s Grill Bread Pudding – another migratory dish – so as to ensure that we still had room for a stop at Tutti Frutti on the way home. The bread pudding was a good sized slab that was covered with torched sugar and sat in a bath of caramalized rum sauce with a large dollop of whipped cream on the side. A very toothsome dessert, it was extremely sweet. I actually think a smaller portion (maybe a quarter the size of what I ate) would have been perfect. More than that was overkill. It was good though, just too much for me.

What I really liked about The Glass Monkey was the casual atmosphere, the service and the fact that the server didn’t rush us out after we finished our dinner and had already paid. He even brought us fresh filtered water before we left, showing me that they want you to settle in and have a good time. When we finally did leave, the tables inside the restaurant were about full. There were couples and large parties having what looked like a great time. Judging from my one experience there as well as what I saw others enjoying, I would highly recommend that people try this new Edmonton eatery on their next outing.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Rosso Pizzeria

Their specials board!

Their specials board!

Pizza places are abound in Edmonton nowadays. Add to the growing list Rosso Pizzeria (@RossoYeg), which opened in the Garneau area a little over a year ago. Taking over the old Da Capo location along 109 Street, you’ll spot it to your right as you exit on the south side of the Highlevel Bridge. Seeing as how my visits to the University/Whyte Avenue area are sporadic at best, I had no idea that it was there. It was only after I happened upon a deal from Travelzoo that I learned of its whereabouts, and then I came across their standing as the No. 70 best place to eat and drink in Edmonton as voted by readers of The Tomato in 2014.

The voucher I had purchased was valid for two people, including your choice of an appetizer or salad to share and two small pizzas. Since it could only be used on a Monday to Friday during their lunch hours of 11am to 3pm, I took the opportunity to visit with my mother during my staycation in June. The restaurant being slightly out of the way, I wasn’t realistically able to get there during a usual work day, so this panned out well for me.

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High tables to the right of the entrance.

Seeming like a quiet Wednesday, we were the first table to arrive. There were three servers on hand, one of which indicated that we could seat ourselves wherever we wanted. Personally, I like how the space is broken up. To the right of the entrance is a raised nook that gives you a view of the kitchen including the giant red bell oven. The large bar in the center takes up a huge portion of the square footage, but as you walk in it showcases all of the boutique beers as well as the baked goods, desserts and gelato that they have to offer, and the one side provides additional bar seating. The other half of the restaurant consisted mostly of regular height tables that can be rearranged for different group configurations and a tall raised bar, too. For those sunny, warm days and nights, you also have the option of sitting out on the patio at the front (watching a large truck backing out of a parking spot in the lot next to the patio, coming just inches from the barrier, made me think twice about that though).

We tucked ourselves into a booth as the server brought over menus and explained how our voucher worked. The menu is fairly extensive with several starters, salads, pizza rossas (red) and pizza biancas (white) to pick from, so it took us a while to make a decision. As we eyed the options before us, we sipped on filtered water from their Q Water system (they don’t charge extra for that here, it’s just par for the course). Ultimately, we ordered the Piatto di Formaggi Misto for our first course and the Rucola E Bresaola and the Pesto E Pollo pies for our mains. Truthfully, it didn’t matter if the dishes came together or not because we alternated between the three plates throughout our lunch.

The assorted cheese board.

The assorted cheese board.

The Piatto di Formaggi Misto is the Italian fancy name for an assorted cheese board, something that I have an increasing fondness for as of late. This arrived on a wooden board decked out with what I’m pretty sure were four semi-firm or firm varieties. The differences in texture and taste between each of the cheeses was subtle, but I could distinguish between them. I probably would have preferred if they had changed it up and included a goat cheese or a brie for a greater mixture. However, I was still very happy with this appetizer that came with slices of crostini, a combination of dried fruit (cranberries, apricots and figs), housemade marmalade and a pot of honey. As a side note, I will say that you certainly get your money’s worth with this dish as the portions given are generous.

Moving onto the pizzas, the Pesto E Pollo is a white pizza that uses almond pesto as the base and is then topped with roasted tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and marinated local organic chicken. The crust was crisp on the outside with the soft, chewy texture that is to be expected of traditional Neapolitan pizza. The flavours were a little more subtle than I expected, so it came across as a lighter selection. The Rucola E Bresaola, another pizza bianca, was packed with layers to savour. A combination of beef bresaola, organic baby arugula, mozzarella fior di latte, parmigiano scallions and amorosa tomatoes, I think that the saltiness of the extremely tender, thinly sliced cured beef (dare I say better than what I ate at The Cavern) with the sweetness of the tomatoes and the bitterness of the arugula was such an excellent blend.

Way too full to even think about dessert that afternoon, I did go back to try some in-house made pistachio gelato on another visit just shortly after. The gelato was wonderfully creamy and the medium size that I opted for was perfect to satisfy my sweet tooth.

Personally, I really like the unique touches such as the table tops that were made out of recycled wood from old wine casks. The food was great, the service friendly (maybe a little slow at times, but much better the second time around) and the atmosphere laid back. Perfect for gatherings with family and/or friends, they’re now on my list of go to local restaurants. If you plan to go, they are open daily, and it’s well worth a try. I almost guarantee you’ll want to go back again!

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