Edmonton Restaurant Review: Izakaya O-Tori

Izakaya & Ramen

Last year, Edmonton was abuzz with news of a new Korean-Japanese fusion restaurant called Jang located at 11212 Jasper Avenue. They were getting rave reviews from visitors, and I fully intended on trying it out. But, before I knew it, the eatery had been replaced by a spot called Izakaya O-Tori. Being a fan of Japanese ramen and sharing plates, I decided to drop by during a recent date night.

From what the server told us, it turns out that the business is still run by the same people who launched Jang. They simply opted to change their menu. Because of what is now served, they also chose to rebrand with a different name to better reflect the updated items. Now, Izakaya O-Tori holds more similarities to what you might find at their southside sister restaurant, Menjiro Ramen, just expanded.

Therefore, in addition to the ramen bowls — available with either beef (Gyukotsu; not typically the norm for ramen) or pork (Tonkotsu) broth — you can indulge in yakitori (meat skewers), a variety of waffle fries, a poke bowl, or pressed sushi. Kirk and I both went for some ramen; he ordered the Spicy Gyukotsu ($16) and I went with the Black Garlic Tonkotsu ($14). We also shared the Red Dragon Roll ($17).

Spicy Gyukotsu

I guess the first thing I’ll note is that the Spicy Gyukotsu is somewhat pricey considering the portion size. I don’t think that the bowls are quite as hefty as what you might get at local fave, Tokiwa Ramen, yet it’s more expensive. Kirk also wasn’t super keen on the roast beef that came with it and he thought the broth wasn’t hot enough. On the plus side, I sampled the soup and I found it to be incredibly creamy and rich in flavour with just the right amount of heat on the palate for me.

In comparison, the Black Garlic Tonkotsu broth was also smooth, but felt lighter overall. Packed with umami flavour, the springy noodles married very well with the soup and the huge slice of succulent pork belly. Joined by half of a seasoned egg, bean sprouts, green onion, fungus, and red onion, the bowl provided a landscape of textures that delighted and satisfied. I thought my broth was hot enough, too; however, I’ve never liked my food scalding, so to each their own in that respect.

Despite the tasty ramen, the star of the show really was the Red Dragon Roll, a large maki made with shrimp tempura, cucumber, spicy creamy cheese sauce, ahi tuna, and avocado. It was laid in front of us and then torched at the table until the tops of each piece had been delicately seared. Kirk is slowly coming around with more of the raw fish, so it helps when there’s even a slight bit of cooking applied to sushi. He absolutely loved this dish and told me that he would have been happy to eat the whole thing, if he didn’t have to save some for his better half. Admittedly, I felt the same way.

To finish off our meal, I selected the Matcha Crème Brûlée ($6). The sugar top was caramelized nicely and, once cracked, it gave way to a soft-set pudding-like custard. It was heavily flavoured with green tea, which was perfect. The worst thing is not having a strong enough taste, and thankfully, that wasn’t the case here.

The interior of Izakaya O-Tori

We enjoyed our meal at Izakaya O-Tori. It’s clean, the service is great, the decor is simple, and the food is comforting. The only thing we thought was odd was how empty it was for a Saturday night. Hopefully word gets out about this place. We can never have too many ramen shops in town!

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Situation Brewing

The interior of Situation Brewing.

Often times, when we’re driving by Whyte Avenue, we pass Situation Brewing along Gateway Boulevard and see patrons enjoying drinks and food behind their big glass windows or on their sidewalk patio. I’d only been once before, but it was at least a couple of years ago, so it’s been on my list to revisit for a while.

 

On the weekend, Kirk and I decided to make it our stop for date night. We arrived at around 6:30pm on the Saturday and found it to be surprisingly empty. There were other customers, yet it was by no means full, although it did get busier later into the evening. Still, with the few groups near us, it was noisy. The surrounding glass, flat walls, and open ceiling created a lot of echo. If you’re loud or with people who can project their voices, it’s fine; however, for anyone else who might be hard of hearing or who prefers not to have to yell across the table, you may want to seek out an alternative.

It took a few minutes for our server to greet us, but once he did, he was quite attentive, checking on us regularly without being intrusive. Kirk was trying to be good before the wedding, so he skipped on the beer, but I ordered a pint of the Salty Señorita Kettle Sour ($9). I always find that Situation Brewing does sours really well. There is the tartness that hits the tongue, but it doesn’t linger. It subsides fairly fast to reveal the other flavours in the beer at the back of the throat. This one was no different.

For our food, we shared an order of the Brussels Sprouts & Cauliflower ($15). A mix of the veggies were sauteed in garlic butter and topped with shaved Parmesan. Personally, I thought that the level of garlic was perfect as it added the right amount of spice. The cheese brought in some extra salt and nuttiness. We would have liked for the sprouts and florets to have more char though; they weren’t exactly crispy enough, otherwise. I also found that the price was rather high considering the size of the dish. With only about five pieces of cauliflower and four whole sprouts, it didn’t feel worth the cost.

Our handheld entrees fared better with both Kirk’s The Big Stitch ($18) and my Lamb Burger ($17) satisfying our appetites. Both of us opted to stick with the house-cut fries as our accompanying side. Those were prepared to a beautiful golden yellow colour with a nice crunchy exterior giving way to a soft center. They were also lightly seasoned with spice that provided a hint of heat on the palate.

The Big Stitch is a burger that consists of a seven ounce patty of beef and boar topped with thick cut bacon, grainy dijon mustard, fig ketchup, lettuce, tomato, and cheddar between a brioche bun. The bun held together well until the last bite (it’s the worst when your bun falls apart). I had a couple mouthfuls of Kirk’s meal and it was tasty even though the patty was drier than both of us would have liked. Cooked until well done, the meat was more of a brown-grey than reddish brown in colour. The flavour from the char was good though and the fixings were appropriate. It’s also a hefty burger that fills you up.

I thought that my six ounce Lamb Burger could have used some extra feta cheese and the cucumber, mint, and pickled onion relish, but I really enjoyed the taste. It was refreshing and light, which is perfect for a summer meal. The bursts of juice from the cucumber gave the meat some succulence. The patty was also charred well and the combination of lamb and boar provided a decent ratio of lean to fat while also cutting the gaminess of the lamb that some people (excluding me) don’t like.

We were too full to grab dessert on this occasion, but we’ll certainly be back to try more at Situation Brewing, including happy hour. Next time, we’ll probably attempt to visit at a quieter time of day and also ask to be seated away from the larger tables, so it won’t be as noisy and we can converse more easily. Otherwise, Situation is an awesome pub with a satisfactory menu and a great selection of their own house brews.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Seoul Fried Chicken

Seoul Fried Chicken box sets

Before his foray into finer dining at DOSC, owner/chef Jake Lee opened up the unassuming Seoul Fried Chicken a stone’s throw away from Old Strathcona. Situated in a strip mall on 104 Street between 79 Avenue and 80 Avenue, the Korean eatery, with its approximately 18 seats, is small and meant primarily for pickup orders.

Prior to my recent visit, I’d only ever tried their food twice. Once when my co-worker generously shared some of her lunch when she had a box delivered to the office (they now have their own delivery app) and again when I attended the annual Avenue Magazine Best Restaurant event. Both of those instances gave me a hint of just how awesome their chicken was, so I knew I needed to try it in its full glory some day.

The interior of Seoul Fried Chicken

After a particularly long morning around Whyte Ave two weeks ago, I decided to treat Kirk and myself to a pair of their 5 piece Chicken Sets ($11.40 each). The boxes are stuffed with your choice of flavoured fried chicken, half salad, and fries or a corn fritter. Plus, a non-alcoholic beverage is included in the price. Considering the cost nowadays of a meal at other generic fast food joints, this didn’t seem so bad. It was also enough to feed both of us twice (albeit a more petite portion when it came to the leftovers), so the value was definitely there.

Once we’d paid at the till, we grabbed our sodas from the cooler and then perched ourselves on a couple of seats to wait for our order to be called. It didn’t take long at all. I think we were there for a maximum of 15 minutes from waiting in line to walking out the door.

When we got home, the boxes were still warm, although sauce had escaped from one of them and was getting everywhere. Thankfully a quick wipe of the box stymied the leakage. On first inspection, everything looked amazing. The pieces of chicken looked plump and the colours were bright.

My hefty plate of lunch from Seoul Fried Chicken.

Speaking of the colours, I was slightly taken aback by the shade of green for the selected side of Mac n’ Cheese Pesto. It reminded me of the colour of prepackaged coleslaw sold at the Safeway deli. It didn’t look particularly natural, but damn, it was rich and delicious. Served cold, the salad was covered in the nutty, savoury, and herbaceous creamy asiago sunflower pesto. Just give me a whole vat of the stuff please!

The other side we chose was the Sesame Potato Slaw. It’s supposedly made with shredded potato, cabbage and yam. But, the overall texture was like a plain old coleslaw. I’m assuming that the potato and yam are prepared raw to give it that extra crunch, but I don’t know, it’s not what I was expecting. It still tasted yummy with the black sesame dressing, if maybe a little too sweet.

G.P Cheese chicken with a Corn Fritter and Mac n’ Cheese Pesto

In one box, we got the fried buttermilk Corn Fritter. It wasn’t as fluffy as I hoped it’d be. It was definitely more dense and doughy than I would have liked; however, I did love the taste of the sweetened milk on top, which played off of the corn kernels beautifully. In the other set, we opted for the thick House Cut Fries. These were a tad soggy from the condensation generated in the box on the way home, but still decent. A little crisp on the outside and soft in the middle with just a touch of saltiness. I could have eaten them without any ketchup.

The Seoul Fried Chicken website mentions that all of their chickens are cut into 20 pieces to allow for faster cooking and a better breading to meat ratio. While I do commend their ability to fry the chicken to a perfectly non-greasy crunch, I was somewhat disappointed to find that a few of the pieces we got consisted mostly of bone, cartilage, or skin so fatty that it was impossible to chew. I think that the restaurant is aware of that issue though, so they do make an effort to fix that situation by tossing in an extra piece or two (we had six per box).

Golden Kari chicken with Sesame Potato Slaw and House Cut Fries

For the most part, the chicken was fantastic. The breading even held up later in the day; I didn’t have to reheat it in the oven to crisp it up again. Yet, in all honesty, what makes Seoul Fried Chicken addictive is their seasoning and sauces. We picked the G.P Cheese and Golden Kari. Both were great in their own way. The former is doused in a sauce made with grated Grana Padano cheese and a hint of zest and parsley. Let me tell you, you’ll want every millimetre of the meat covered in it. It’s messy and literally finger licking good.

As for the latter flavour, you may want to avoid eating it with your hands because the yellow Japanese curry powder that the chicken is battered in will most definitely colour your nails. Still, I really enjoyed the dry seasoning (don’t breathe it in, if you want to avoid a coughing fit) on that one. It’s flavourful, but not spicy hot.

There’s a reason why Seoul Fried Chicken has maintained its popularity and become a favourite in Edmonton. They’re doing Korean fast food super well. Sure, there is still a little bit of room for improvement (there always is), but with quick service, value, and flavours that can’t be beat, it’s absolutely worth a repeat visit.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Cosmos Greek Kitchen

Calamari with Tzatziki

When I was planning a recent date night, I was looking to try someplace new. Cosmos Greek Kitchen popped up as a possibility. When I thought about it, Mediterranean cuisine seemed like just the thing to indulge in, so I made an OpenTable reservation for that evening and we head out to 124 Street between 108 and 109 Avenues for dinner.

Arriving at around 5:15pm on the Saturday, we noticed that the main door led to two separate sides. Cosmos Greek Kitchen was on the right with its sister lounge, Passport Restobar, on the left. Both share the same staff and kitchen (they were quite efficient), and they serve identical food items, but I believe the latter has more of a focus on cocktails.

The interior of Cosmos Greek Kitchen.

We went into Cosmos and found it to be rather quiet initially. However, we were early and, as we dined, the space filled up with more people, including a handful of families with small children. The host/server let us pick our own table while she went to grab menus. Once we settled in, it definitely felt like a comfortable spot for an enjoyable evening.

The two of us decided to go for the Super Combination Platter for two ($70) as it seemed to cover the gamut of menu favourites. Honestly, it did not disappoint in terms of the portions, selection and flavours.

Horiatiki (Greek Salad)

To start, we were served a bowl of Horiatiki (Greek Salad), which consisted of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, red onions, crumbled feta, and olives in extra virgin olive oil with dried oregano and maybe a little bit of red wine vinegar for added acidity. Traditionally, Greek salad is made without lettuce, adds green peppers and uses a large slice or chunks of feta cheese. I don’t recall seeing any pieces of pepper in ours and Kirk was hoping for more hefty pieces of feta rather than the crumble. Otherwise, it was still very tasty, light, and refreshing.

Calamari needs a squeeze of lemon juice!

At the same time as the salad was served, we were also presented with a large plate of Calamari. The deep-fried rings and pieces of baby squid were beautifully breaded to a nice crisp. The chef managed to keep the meat quite tender, avoiding the sometimes disastrous overcooked chewiness found at other establishments. A squeeze of lemon gave it a brightness on the palate and the house made tzatziki was the perfect accompaniment.

After indicating that we were ready to proceed with the rest of the platter, a huge silver tray was brought over with all of the remaining items for our meal. I will quickly mention that another portion of tzatziki is provided with the combo, but we both felt that it was unnecessary since we still had plenty left from the Calamari dish. Instead of a second helping of that, it would be really nice for them to swap that out with hummus. I didn’t think to ask if that was doable that night, but they might accommodate the request considering that the items are priced the same on the menu. It’s food for thought next time around. Also, it should be noted that pita bread isn’t part of the platter, so you may want to ask about adding that on as an extra.

Dolmathes in the round dish with Chicken & Lamb Souvlaki on the right.

It was difficult to decide where to start with the feast in front of us. I decided to sample the Dolmathes first. Those are vine leaves stuffed with rice and ground meat. They’re then covered in a lemony sauce. I vaguely remember going to a Greek restaurant (probably Koutouki) when I was a late teen and trying these. I think I attempted to unwrap the leaves because I didn’t think I was supposed to eat them. As a Chinese person, I was used to seeing sticky rice cooked in large leaves that weren’t meant to be edible. Knowing better now, I ate the whole thing and it was delicious. I actually didn’t expect it to have any meat inside, but it was a pleasant surprise to find that savouriness offset by the acidity of the creamy sauce on top.

Next up was the Keftedes, spicy Greek meatballs. These aren’t actually spicy in so much as having a kick of heat on the palate. They’re just seasoned with different herbs and spices to give it plenty of deep flavour. The finely ground meat was evenly textured for a nice mouthfeel. These are typically eaten with tzatziki, but that isn’t really needed. They’re good all by themselves.

Keftedes sort of hidden under all those diced tomatoes and red onions with the Spanakopita next to them and big pieces of yellow Greek lemon potatoes.

Spanakopita is one of my all-time favourite Greek snacks. Filo pastry stuffed with spinach and feta is simple, but delicious. This was a recipe I even took the time to make when I was young because I liked it so much. The filo pastry here was golden brown and incredibly flaky. My only issue with it was one end of the pie was all pastry with barely any filling. It was probably due to the folding of the filo to keep everything held inside the pocket. So, it was a big mouthful of thick pastry and none of the spinach or cheese. If they can find a way to make sure the filling is more evenly distributed into every bite, it would be even better.

Chicken and Lamb Souvlaki came with the platter. Often times most people don’t like lamb because of the wildness of the meat. It has a distinct gaminess to it, and when it came to the souvlaki, I found that it was relatively prominent. Nothing that bothered me too much since I often enjoy lamb. But, it was more pronounced and certainly not masked by the herbs used to season the meat. A couple of the pieces of lamb were a bit chewy as well as there was tendon running through. Otherwise, it was fine. In my opinion, the chicken was preferable. Well-seasoned and succulent, these felt like the lighter option when it came to protein.

The Souvlaki with slices of Lamb Souvla stacked underneath.

If you do want to try lamb at Cosmos Greek Kitchen, I highly recommend going with the Lamb Souvla over the souvlaki. A big portion of sliced roasted lamb laid beneath the skewers and it was wonderful. The wildness of the meat didn’t taste as strong and it was super juicy and tender with a fantastic zestiness coming from the marinade. A sprinkle of lemon and a dip of tzatziki made this a delectable treat.

Kirk and I loved the Moussaka, a layered casserole of potato, eggplant, and ground beef topped with béchamel sauce. It’s a really rich and filling dish, but it’s worth the calories. We especially appreciated the use of cinnamon (my go to spice) for the sweet-spicy combo that came through with flying colours. It elevates the dish into something special.

Moussaka

The final item on the platter was the Greek lemon potatoes. Kirk said he thought they were boiled and then roasted to get them as tender as they were. Either way, these were amazing. The potatoes were saturated all the way through with lemon and herbs. The flavour was in every single bite and I couldn’t get enough of them. It was literally the last thing I chose to eat from our main meal because I wanted to remember that taste.

“Coconut Cream Pie” dessert

Having sampled a little of everything in our combo, we finally called it and asked the staff to pack up what remained for leftovers (we had enough for another lunch and dinner for two). However, I wasn’t done. Since I was already there, I decided to go for dessert. Although my stomach had little room, I managed to pack away the majority of what I think is something like a Kadaif (I missed the name when the server was listing out the options). It was sold to me by being described as similar to coconut cream pie. Turns out that it was layered with a crust, finely shredded filo pastry, and whipped cream. A sweet syrup covered the plate. Not quite what I pictured, but it was still pretty good. I probably wouldn’t get it again as I wasn’t a fan of the overall texture. Yet, I’m glad that I opted to try something else other than the typical Baklava.

Super Combination Platter for Two

If you’re looking for a friendly Greek restaurant with, for the most part, authentic dishes, check out Cosmos Greek Kitchen. Don’t hesitate to order that super combo platter. The portions are worth the price and you’ll be basking in Mediterranean heaven for at least a couple of days, maybe more.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Washoku Bistro

Lunch Sashimi and Roll Bento Box

When a friend of ours visited Edmonton last month, we originally had plans to go for sushi. However, the location for lunch was changed at the last minute. Because I didn’t get any when I thought I would, I craved a sushi fix the following weekend. Knowing that I had been disappointed, Kirk agreed that we could eat it every day over May long.

To try out somewhere new, I decided that our first stop would be Washoku Bistro on the northwest corner of 124 Street and 107 Avenue. We arrived around 1:30pm on a Saturday, which I would think is later than the typical lunch rush. I could see that there were tables available, but not cleaned. I’m not sure if staff were oblivious to us, but it was a good ten to fifteen minutes before they even acknowledged that we were there.

Thankfully, once we were seated in one of the booths, the service was faster. It only took a few minutes for them to bring us water and to take our orders. The food was also prepared quickly, so we were in and out of the restaurant within an hour.

The midday menu at Washoku Bistro consists of lunch roll combos and bento boxes. Kirk decided to go with the Dynamite Roll combo ($15.90), which comes with a salad and choice of side. The roll was cut into eight large pieces. Consisting of shrimp tempura, crab meat, cucumber, avocado, and tempura bits, it seemed to be made with a perfect rice to filling ratio. The avocado was bright green, so it was likely made fresh, too. For his side, Kirk selected the deep-fried pork gyoza (mini udon noodle soup, seaweed salad, or agedashi tofu were the other options). That was presented with three dumplings and dipping sauce. The salad was a mix of spinach with a light sesame-style dressing, baby tomatoes, and crispy wonton chips. A slight change from what might be provided at other Japanese establishments.

Complimentary Miso Soup

Both of us also had a cup of the complimentary miso soup to start. It arrived warm and I used my chopsticks to continuously stir the soup to keep the ingredients even in the bowl since we didn’t get any spoons or anything.

Both of our meals. The Bento Box is probably the better choice, if you’re really hungry.

For my lunch, I went with the Sashimi and Roll Bento ($17.90). It included seven pieces of sashimi, four pieces each of the spicy salmon and California rolls, three pieces of tempura, and a green salad. Now, I actually upgraded my salad to seaweed ($1 extra), but when my box was brought over, it was missing. Turns out that the server had dropped my box over at another table, and they didn’t realize it. The kitchen was really good about making another order of seaweed salad for me though, and I think I got a full order rather than a side as the portion was quite large.

Personally, I love the acidity and texture of seaweed salad and this one didn’t disappoint. It was crunchy and vibrant. The spicy salmon rolls had more heat than I expected, but I wasn’t a big fan of the way the salmon was minced. The California rolls were pretty decent. It’s hard to mess that classic up. Everything held together well without falling apart. The tempura received was shrimp, zucchini, and yam. They were nicely breaded without too thick of a coating and the dipping sauce refrained from being overly salty.

Assorted Sashimi in the Bento Box.

As for the sashimi, there was surf clam, octopus, two slices of tuna, and three slices of salmon. None of them were fishy in flavour and, if they had been previously frozen, they’d been thawed out well. I don’t usually eat surf clam or octopus sashimi, but both were alright. I probably still won’t get surf clam in the future unless it comes with a box. The tuna was nice though, and the salmon had a decent amount of fat, allowing it to melt in the mouth a little. The half carved orange was a pleasant touch as well. It was refreshing and helped to breakdown the salty soy sauce.

Overall, I thought lunch at Washoku Bistro was well-priced for what we received. They just need to work on their customer service. No one should have to wait at the door for as long as we did. At the very least they should have said hello first and then let us know that they needed to clean up a table for us or something. I was ready to walk back out the door, but I’m glad that we stayed. It ended up being an enjoyable meal.