Edmonton Restaurant Review: MISO Japanese Cuisine

Bento Box

This is a sort of a late review. Yet, I think it’s one worth writing. Approximately two months ago, my boyfriend and I decided to make use of an OpenTable dining cheque that I had redeemed using my earned points from the restaurant reservation site. I had $65 in my possession that I was told could be used at any OpenTable eatery. Therefore, I went ahead and made a booking through the app for dinner at MISO Japanese Cuisine. In the reservation notes, I even made sure to mention that I planned to use the cheque as part of payment.

When we arrived at MISO (located at 14917 Stony Plain Road), the staff had our table ready to go. We went about ordering our food, which we enjoyed. However, at the end of the meal, I pulled out my OpenTable cheque to cover the bill and when our server saw it she said she knew we had one, but they would not be able to accept it due to issues they had depositing another received from a previous diner.

I have to say that I was very unimpressed with the fact that she didn’t bother to mention that to us earlier in the evening. Had she taken the time to explain the situation to us, we would have gladly stayed to eat there. I just know that I would have been more sensible with the amount of food I ordered. Instead, we ended up having to pay an almost $90 bill fully out of our pockets, something we hadn’t expected to happen. The cheque was a perk that we were using to treat ourselves to a nice supper, and we ended up walking out with much lighter wallets. I feel as if the restaurant didn’t want to lose out on a big order, so that’s why they didn’t say anything to us when they knew we had that $65 cheque on hand. It was such a disappointing way to leave MISO.

That story aside, I will say that the service during our dinner was decent. Although, I could have used less staring from the server while I was eating because each time I looked out of the corner of my eye, I’d see her watching me like a hawk. It was awkward. Otherwise, the food was quickly prepared and drinks were provided and filled.

My boyfriend had the Dynamite Roll (4 pieces for $6.45) and the Beef Yaki Soba ($13.95). The Dynamite Roll was quite good. Tightly packed with tempura shrimp, avocado, and tobiko wrapped in nori and rice with sesame seeds. They held up well when picked up with the chopsticks and the fried shrimp was still warm. The Chicken Yaki Soba was so-so. Buckwheat noodles, flavoured with something like an oyster sauce, had a nice consistency. The main issue was the lack of meat in the dish. Its only saving grace was that it showed up on a sizzling plate that, at the very least, kept the plate hot for longer.

That night, I went all out by ordering a Bento Box ($21.95), Toro Sushi (2 pieces for $4.95), the Rainbow Roll (8 pieces for $9.45) and the Spider Roll (8 pieces for $13.95). I knew it was way too much food to consume in one sitting. I just figured that I could take any leftovers home with me. Everything was presented at about the same time, so I switched between items as I ate.

The Bento Box included my choice of any three items from a given list. I opted for the sushi, sashimi and tempura. The box also comes with a bowl of miso soup, green salad and some rice. The sushi was an assortment of tuna, salmon, Hotate (sea scallop) and Hokki-gai (surf clam). I’m not a big fan of the latter as I don’t like the texture of surf clam, but the others tasted fresh and tender. The sushi was a mix of salmon, tuna and a couple of pieces of the California Roll. The tempura had a bit more batter than I’d prefer. It wasn’t overly greasy though, so they were okay. For the price, there’s a lot of bang for the buck with a Bento Box, and I’d say it’s fairly equivalent to what it would cost at any other average sushi joint in the city.

That’s a piece of the thick cut Toro Sashimi off it’s pedestal of rice.

Honestly, I thought the Toro Sushi (fatty tuna) would have been better. The portion size of each piece was wonderful as the fish was thick cut. My qualm was with the quality. It was tougher than it should have been. Even a regular piece of tuna melted in my mouth more than the belly I was given.

I thought I’d leave the rolls to discuss last. What can I say? The Rainbow Roll — crunchy tempura crumbs and tobiko in the middle with a mix of fish on top — is a classic at most sushi restaurants nowadays. These mouthfuls had the best rice to filling/topping ratio of all the sushi I tried at MISO. It was exactly what I was hoping for even though it didn’t exceed my expectations.

My favourite out of everything I ordered had to be the Spider Roll. These were huge. Filled with large pieces of perfectly fried soft-shell crab, avocado, and tobiko, they absolutely hit the mark with this dish. The crab was crisp, juicy, and flavourful. Despite the fact that it doesn’t truly fill the gap of the soft-shell crab I tried in Singapore a couple of years ago, it’ll still do the trick when I want some variation of that type of crustacean.

For the most part, MISO Japanese Cuisine was alright. I still believe that they should have handled the whole dining cheque fiasco more professionally, but now I know not to bother trying to pay with something like that if I ever go there again. Regardless, they do sushi well, their prices are reasonably affordable, and the space is pretty comfortable for a quiet meal out. I probably won’t be back any time soon; however, I’ll certainly consider the possibility of returning down the road.

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Edmonton Restaurant Review: Chartier

Start with dessert first: Banana Phone on a vintage plate.

I follow a lot of Edmonton’s local and surrounding restaurants on social media. Included in the mix is Chartier, a French-Canadian eatery out of Beaumont. Known for their elevated take on rustic dishes, it wasn’t their regular menu that pulled me into their establishment. Instead, I was enticed by their weekly Tuesday night burgers, specifically the Fall menu from September 19 that was posted on Instagram.

Chartier has a great story. Starting with the name, owners Sylvia and Darren Cheverie dug into the history books to learn of a man named Father Morin who travelled to Ottawa from Alberta in 1895 to petition for a post office to be placed in the small French colony from which he came. In order to do so, he needed to present potential names for the community. Of the three possibilities, ‘Beaumont’ is the one that stuck. ‘Chartier’ went unused until the couple launched a Kickstarter as a way to fund their dream of opening a local eatery. It ended up becoming the most successful restaurant campaign in Alberta and Canada on the crowdfunding platform, raising over $107,000 in just two months.

Approximately one year after they had raised the money, the restaurant opened in March of 2016 to rave reviews of chef Steven Brochu’s offerings. Another year and a half later, Chartier was listed as one of 30 finalists vying to become Canada’s Best New Restaurant for 2017 by Air Canada. That accolade, along with a unique, limited-edition menu, spurred my first visit.

My boyfriend and I drove from south Edmonton to downtown Beaumont within 20 minutes. There were no problems finding free on-street parking right outside the building, so we made it there for our 6:00 pm reservation (booked online through Yelp) with a few minutes to spare.

Entering through their threshold, you’re welcomed by a cozy waiting area that houses a cabinet of their own pantry items and branded products. Immediately past that space, a large bar and dining room is to be found. On this evening, the majority of their vintage, colourfully painted mismatched chairs were already filled with happy people. We were seated at a table for two near the kitchen. There, I was able to take peeks at the chefs as they worked. I also took my time appreciating the design of the venue. With cinnamon-maple stained columns and beams as well as reclaimed wood paneled walls, and a large barn door, that country charm really came into play.

The Fall Burger Menu

To get the night started, my other half ordered one of the draught beers. It seems that they only have a few on tap. Therefore, the choices were minimal. But, it’s okay because he still found a new beverage to try. As he waited for his drink to come, the two of us paged through a handful of sheets printed with their menus. To be honest, I barely even glanced at their usual dinner selection. Although, I will have to make a point of coming back to sample it down the road. My mind was completely set on those burgers. Of the four options, we decided to split the Messy Bun and Uggs ($21) and the PSL ($20).

The Messy Bun and Uggs was described as a six ounce sheep burger stuffed with bacon and cheese. It was put onto a house made messy bun (basically a cheese bun) and topped with smoky BBQ sauce and caramelized onions. Overall, it was well-made; both of us appreciated the juiciness of the meat and the barbecue flavour. Yet, it felt as though something was missing. Ultimately, it came down to the taste of the patty. The meat lacked that gameyness that is so strongly associated with sheep or lamb, and while it’s not always a palate pleaser for some, that’s what we had expected and wanted out of the meal. As it turned out, the burger simply tasted like beef.

Our side for this main was the Salade de Chartier. Tossed arugula, spinach, kale, pickled Brussels sprouts, and red onions were combined with roasted root vegetables in a peach maple mustard vinaigrette and topped with finely grated Sylvan Star Grizzly Gouda and candied walnuts. It was certainly a hearty salad, but I thought it started to become too salty. Sure, there were plenty of flavour profiles throughout the dish — tangy dressing, sweet walnuts, bitterness from the greens — but they were all overtaken by that single note in the end.

PSL with Wedge Fries

Our favourite of the pair of entrées was the PSL burger. Short for Pumpkin Spice Latte, I felt that this was where the kitchen’s creativity really excelled. The PSL consisted of a six ounce beef patty covered with whipped pumpkin chèvre, cinnamon, truffle, onion relish, sautéed mushrooms, and roasted garlic. It was literally autumn in burger form. What amazed me most was the fact that none of the flavours overwhelmed the others. I was able to pick out every ingredient with each bite that I took; I thought it was superb. In particular, I loved the use of cinnamon. I learned long ago that cinnamon is an amazing spice that can be used in all sorts of recipes to give them that je ne sais quoi quality. Here, it helped Chartier raise the pedestal of what a burger could be while simultaneously remaining down-to-earth. The side of hand-cut wedge fries were also delicious. Crisp on the outside with plenty of fluffy potato on the inside, I couldn’t stop eating them.

Banana Phone

Having reviewed the desserts earlier in the day, I knew I couldn’t leave without ordering one. We elected to go with the Banana Phone ($11). As I suspected, we chose well (our server even agreed that it was her preferred plate). Toasted banana bread served with brûlée banana, banana cream, and a scoop of tonka bean and Tahitian vanilla ice cream, this was worth the extra calories. Being easy to come by, bananas, which are often eaten as a quick snack, aren’t usually given lofty goals. But, in this instance, they were everything. I will admit that the banana bread was initially drier than I would have liked; however, the ice cream and the banana cream sauce quickly mitigated that potential misstep. What I truly appreciated was the simplicity of the banana halves torched with a thin layer of crunchy caramelized sugar. The sweetness wasn’t overwhelming; it was just right.

Now that I’ve actually eaten there firsthand, I can say that the praise they’ve received is deserved. Not only is the food at Chartier top-notch, I’d say the service is as well. The staff is welcoming, friendly and team-oriented.

Before we even left, my boyfriend was already planning our next date night at Chartier. As such, it’s safe to say that we’ll be back. Perhaps I’ll even attempt to drop by on occasion to pick up some baked goods from their bread window. From what I understand, they open the window strictly on weekends from Friday to Sunday. Yet, lately, on Instagram, I’ve noticed photos and posts about their lineup during the week as well. Either way, they’re definitely doing a good job of drawing me in again.

Until next time, Chartier!

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Vaticano Cucina

A slice of the St. Francis Montanara pizza.

Whenever I’m making plans for an outing with friends, one of the first places I check for restaurant possibilities is the OpenTable app. I love that the ability to make a reservation is just a few clicks away. Sometimes it’ll even bring up a total gem.

During a recent search, I happened upon an eatery called Vaticano Cucina. New to Edmonton’s south side, it took over the space vacated by Koutouki Taverna on Gateway Boulevard and 45 Avenue.

As it turns out, the business opened their doors at the beginning of May. Only in operation for a few weeks before we visited, I had kept it in the back of my mind until I was planning an escape room event. Just four minutes away by car from the game venue, Vaticano Cucina was the perfect spot for our get together.

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, we headed over to the restaurant where we found a couple of our friends circling the building. A lack of signage and multiple doors threw them off, so they were looking for the main entrance (it’s the one facing the Travelodge). Once inside, we were greeted and led to our table. It was situated on a raised platform to the side, but it didn’t feel enclosed at all. It actually provided great vantage points of the kitchen and the expansive interior while allowing us to talk without any distractions. We also noted the fresco-like ceilings. Inspired by the Sistine Chapel, Vaticano Cucina had large scale canvas prints of classic Italian paintings made and wallpapered to raised portions of the ceiling throughout. This was a neat detail in an otherwise neutral, but stylish room.

A cup of coffee.

The atmosphere lends itself well to the idea of brunch, and I think it’s important to note that only those items are served until 2pm during the weekend. Afterwards, the regular menu takes effect. I was unaware of that before we arrived, so I wasn’t expecting to find a pared down list. Nevertheless, there was no problem finding something I wanted to eat.

In the end, two people opted for the Chicken Parmesan Panini with Chips, one selected the Italian Prosciutto & Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto (or Cubano Pork Traditional; I may have them confused) Eggs Benedict and the last of us chose the Strozzapretti Funghi.

Eggs Benedict

Off the bat, I’ll make it known that I didn’t try any of the Eggs Benedict ($15), but it looked wonderful and hearty. Focaccia bread was laid with large slices of Cubano pork, two soft poached eggs and covered in a brown butter Hollandaise sauce. Their version of hash browns was served on the side and was different than anticipated as they were prepared more like smashed potatoes. My friend reluctantly shared a bit with his wife before devouring the whole thing himself.

Chicken Parmesan Panini

I did get to try some of the Chicken Parmesan Panini since my boyfriend generously cut off a corner of his sandwich for me. It was better than I imagined it would be, too. The chicken was breaded and fried until succulent on the inside and crunchy on the outside. It was then placed between the slices of bread with the perfect amount of tomato sauce and melted cheese. In addition, the bread was incredibly buttered and sprinkled with herbs before being grilled. It was simple, but also rich and indulgent. The side of chips was prepared in-house and came with a refreshingly creamy dill dip.

Strozzapretti Funghi

My dish was the Strozzapretti Funghi. I’ll quickly note that their pasta is handmade, but it’s not freshly created at the restaurant. The dry pasta is actually imported from Italy. Taking that into consideration, it’s still very good. The noodles were cooked until perfectly al dente and stirred with cream sauce, spinach, Fontina cheese and a trio of mushrooms. The dish was garnished with some arugula to round out the flavour profile. I also sprinkled on some grated Parmesan cheese and chili flakes. Surprisingly, the dish refrained from being too dense. I polished it off without any issues and still had room for a snack.

Joe, who co-owns Vaticano Cucina with his brother and both of their wives, chatted with us while we dined. He happily shared some of his family’s Italian history with us while also taking the time to describe what a Montanara pizza is – flash deep-fried dough that is then baked in their wood burning oven – before fully convincing us to try one.

The full St. Francis Montanara Bianca Pizza.

We figured that it wouldn’t be a problem for five people to eat a whole pizza and we were correct. The most difficult part was deciding which one to order. There are over a dozen choices, and each one is creatively named after various saints. Ultimately, we went with the first one Joe suggested, St. Francis. Quite honestly, I couldn’t really decipher a change from the regular Neapolitan pizza preparation as the consistency of the baked and charred dough was so similar. But, I’ve heard that the main difference actually comes down to the taste, which is deeper in flavour with the Montanara. Regardless, the crust had just the right amount of chew and crispness. The toppings of fig, chevre (goat cheese), arugula, onion jam and balsamic glaze made for a light yet punchy pizza.

Thanks to the wonderful food, relaxed venue and friendly hospitality, we left Vaticano Cucina in a great mood and we felt more than ready to take on the day. We also unanimously agreed that each of us would be happy to go back. For such a newcomer to the Edmonton restaurant scene (especially in the south of the city), they’ve already proven themselves to be worthy of a second helping.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Crash Hotel Lobby Bar

The classic styling of the Crash Lobby Bar.

My last two posts were about my experiences during Downtown Dining Week (DTDW). This review will complete the trilogy by covering my meal at Crash Hotel Lobby Bar.

The restaurant, located on the main floor of Crash (previously known as the rundown Grand Hotel), is an unexpected gem in a revamped and refurbished building that has been brought back to its glory days. With heavy woods throughout and a bar wine rack disguised as vintage cubbies — likely to be found at the front check-in desks of older hotels — it’s a nod to the history of one of Edmonton’s long standing structures.

My table was all set to go upon arrival!

It’s not a large space by any means. Nevertheless, although it filled up as my friend and I hung out for the evening, it didn’t seem like anyone coming in had any issues finding a spot to perch on. To be fair, there was no hockey game going on at the nearby Rogers Place arena that night. I’d assume that it’d be much busier if that were the case. That’s why I’m glad to see that Crash offers reservations through the OpenTable system. When I arrived, they had my table all set to go. A card with my name and the time of my booking was sitting there waiting for me.

Our martini cocktails, which we sipped on.

Our server was quite attentive. She provided a couple of suggestions for drinks based on our palate preferences. I took one of her recommendations and tried the namesake martini, which was a mix of muddled ginger with marmalade, grapefruit vodka and lemon. It satisfied my penchant for slightly sweet yet sour cocktails. My companion went with the other, known as The Donald. A combination of vodka, lychee and grapefruit juice, this came off a little bit sweeter, but was still pleasing, especially with that kick of lychee fruit.

My friend’s old fashioned cocktail.

Unlike some of the other DTDW participants that create special dishes for the week, Crash opted to showcase their standard menu by allowing diners to choose any item for both the starter as well as the entree of their $28 three-course dinner. My friend and I decided we’d each go for the DTDW dinner and we’d split four dishes, which would allow us to sample more of the offerings.

I was actually very excited to visit Crash as I had heard that chef Nathin Bye had created the menu. Bye brought Ampersand 27 to life, so I could only imagine where he’d take these pub style plates. What I hadn’t realized was that Bye had completely left Ampersand 27 behind. Crash is his new full-time position and that’s interesting. A hotel restaurant doesn’t usually come to mind as the cool, hip place to hang out, and working in an environment where the goal is to gratify the masses can often be limiting. On the other hand, it’s not unfathomable that Bye would choose to take on the challenge of attempting to change that notion.

We selected the Roasted Beet & Greek Yogurt salad, Alberta Beef Short Rib, Brussels ‘n Bacon and the Crash Burger. The majority of the dishes are made to be shared among the group, tapas style. The latter is most ideal for an individual meal, but it’s easy enough to divide that into halves (I’m not sure it’s the best if it needs to be allocated between more than two people). It’s important to note that plates are brought out as they’re ready. That means nothing is sitting for too long in the kitchen; it certainly makes for a compelling argument to share the food, ensuring no one at the table feels left out while others may already be eating.

Brussels ‘n Bacon

The Brussels ‘n Bacon were presented to us first. My initial thought was that the size was generous and that it could serve as a whole meal. Regularly just $9 for an order, it’s a great value, too. Prepared with Moroccan spices and sweet chili, the balance of flavours was excellent. The bacon was crisp and smoky; the taste melding with the rest of the spices. Fried chickpeas completed the dish. They were an unexpected accompaniment that provided an extra layer of texture and raised the Brussels ‘n Bacon to star status. It became my favourite dish of the night.

Alberta Beef Short Rib

A plate of the Alberta Beef Short Rib showed up next. There were two pieces of beef, each about four ounces in size, along with hickory sticks and broccoli. The menu indicated that there were supposed to be pickled mushrooms. I don’t recollect eating any of those. Nonetheless, I was happy with the dish as the meat was succulent. I still used a knife to cut it, but it was quite tender. Aside from what looked to be a bed of broccoli puree, the meat was cooked in an Asian inspired sauce, sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and topped with hickory sticks (house made versions of the snack chip), which added dimension and made me forget about the lackluster broccoli florets, which were cooked fine, just nothing special.

Crash Burger

Our third dish was the Crash Burger. Admittedly, this was a bit disappointing. The brioche kaiser bun was, in my opinion, over toasted. The ingredients listed on the menu include braised short rib. I couldn’t tell if there was any in the burger. There was also supposed to be an onion ring, but I don’t recall that either. If it was there, it wasn’t memorable. The patty was decent though; it was well-seasoned and the meat was fresh. There was also plenty of aged cheddar and I enjoyed the fried egg. This burger comes with a side of fries (salad is an alternative) and a deep fried pickle. I’m not usually a fan of the second, but I had a bite of the pickle and it was good. The fries were fine. No dips were served with them though, and I could have used some ketchup or aioli.

Roasted Beet & Greek Yogurt

Of all the dishes, we would have thought that the cold salad would have been the quickest to prepare, but it turned out to be the last to show up. Was this on purpose à la the mindset of the French and Italians where it’s believed that salad at the end of a meal helps to improve digestion? We don’t really know, but it’s a thought. I will say that the Roasted Beet & Greek Yogurt salad was quite a refreshing way to finish off our mains. I would have liked to see more beets and the Greek yogurt was a deceiving replacement for the typical goat cheese. Greens, squash and burnt Mediterranean honey ensured we got our fix of vegetables in a delightfully tasty way.

Cookies & Cream Cheesecake

Dessert was our third and final course. This consisted of a thin slice of tall Cookies & Cream Cheesecake served with a liberal dollop of raspberry jelly or puree. The cake was smooth and silky with layers of chocolate cookie crumble and what tasted like a caramel center. It wasn’t overly dense and, since the slice wasn’t thick, it came across as the perfect portion.

After getting this opportunity to taste a handful of Bye’s creations, I think he made the right move. It’s a chance for Bye to broaden his foodie fan base by showing us how well pub food can be done. The location is accessible and the menu is affordable. Every single dish has an element of surprise – from fried chickpeas to hickory sticks — that elevates each one from something ordinary to something superb (or nearing that, anyway).

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Zinc

Dinner begins with our appetizers.

As quickly as it arrived, the Downtown Business Association’s Dining Week (DTDW) disappeared. The dust has settled and here are my thoughts on the second of my three outings (Tzin was the preceding review).

Zinc, attached to the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA), is a place that I’ve dined at on only a couple of occasions previous to this. I’ve also had the pleasure of enjoying food catered by the restaurant during one or two events held at the AGA. Yet, I had never taken the opportunity to write about my experiences. This time seems as good as any to do that.

On a chilly early evening, my friend and I showed up to our reservation (booked through OpenTable) right on time. It took a few minutes, but one of the servers greeted us and promptly showed us to our table. Architecturally, the venue is beautiful. With tall floor to ceiling windows, a mix of modern décor and glossy washes of deep, bright royal blue, the space feels relaxing and tranquil even on a dreary day.

To keep things moving along, the manager took our drink orders. Both of us opted to stick with water for the night. He also put through our meal selections once we had decided between the choices available to us on the $45 DTDW executive dinner menu.

For my starter, I elected to try the fried oyster basket – cheese stuffed bologna or turkey pot pie were the other picks – which was presented in a relatively deconstructed and artistic way. The mini fry basket had been tossed on its side with the oysters scattered on the plate. Next to the basket was a skinny shot glass of sauce and closest to me were a few circular lemon slices. When it was set down before me, the server indicated that the accompanying sauce was of roasted red pepper. This was different from the description on the menu where I had read it was to come with a maple cocktail sauce. Honestly, I think the maple may have been a better flavour to go with the brininess of the oysters. That sense of sweetness and salt. The red pepper cocktail sauce was still good, but it was quite acidic and dilly. I could have done with a little less of the herb. On the other hand, basic lemon juice squeezed atop the non-greasy, crisp oysters was a treat on its own.

Braised Beef Cheeks with roasted root vegetables.

Rather than going with the duck cassoulet or the veal bolognaise, my entrée consisted of the braised beef cheeks. The meat, cooked in a red wine demi-glace, and the garlic smashed potatoes weren’t anything spectacular. They were just decent. I had actually expected the beef to be more succulent than it was. No, the absolute stars of the dish were the roasted root vegetables. A pile of sliced carrots and, my best guess is diced parsnips, sang in my mouth. Smoky from the slight charring and a little bit fragrant, I could have easily gone for another helping.

Butternut Squash Cheesecake

The final course was a butternut squash cheesecake. At first consideration, the squash appeared to be an odd component to a dessert, but that’s merely because it’s not the typical pumpkin. The butternut squash is subtly sweet and nutty compared to its relative. Most of the sugariness in this dish came from the white chocolate curls sprinkled over the cake as well as the peach and pear salsa and pieces of fruit that were there as complements. On the other hand, the minuscule grains of Tonka bean really stood out on my palate. Known to be fruity and spicy, these tiny shavings produced a bitterness that didn’t necessarily overwhelm my taste buds; however, the flavour couldn’t be ignored either. This was an enjoyable dessert, simply because every bite provided something surprising.

Zinc’s website is keen to point out that the menu puts a focus on fresh Alberta ingredients and food products with inspiration for seasonal changes being taken from the rotating featured art exhibits. I have no clue as to what is currently being showcased at the gallery. All I know is that the dishes we tried were delicious and, even though the plates weren’t necessarily inventive, it’s an interesting notion – one that I believe to be true – that food and art are really one in the same.