Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Manor Bistro

My mom's salmon sandwich.

My mom’s salmon sandwich.

Serving patrons since 1993 – 22 years and counting – The Manor Bistro (@manorbistroYEG) has been a mainstay in the High Street area of Edmonton. I was only seven when it first opened, so I can see why it has become a neighbourhood institution over time. After all, I lived within a five minutes’ drive until I decided to move out and purchase my own condo in the south side of the city.

The new corner I call home is still in constant development and it’s only just beginning to gain some character and choice in the food department. Unfortunately, it really does take a long time to build the kind of community that is seen in Glenora and Oliver. The majority of choices in Terwillegar and Windermere are chains or franchises, so I now realize – more than ever – how lucky we were to have places like The Manor nearby when I was growing up.

It had been ages since I had dined there. However, my good friend’s bachelorette party was held at the establishment last August, and my mom was given a gift card for Chinese New Year this February, which she decided to use to treat my dad and I to lunch.

We happened to be there on a Saturday, Valentine’s Day no less, so it was fairly busy. A parking spot was found just to the side of the building, and of course, we had called ahead to make a reservation (or book through OpenTable, if you prefer), so we didn’t have any problems getting a table. The server/hostess was friendly as she greeted and seated us.

Looking at the restaurant menu, I’d call the current selection a cultural mix of comfort cuisine because there’s everything from nasi goreng (clocking in at No. 61 on the The Tomato‘s top 100 list for 2015; they also came in at No. 26 & No. 28 for their cocktails in 2013) to beef bourguignon to schnitzel. It’s actually quite a succinct list of items, but it does span the globe a bit in terms of flavours and techniques.

On this particular occasion, I waffled between a few items, yet ultimately, I decided to go with the king of comfort food: mac and cheese with added braised beef short rib. My dad ordered the schnitzel sandwich with a side of roast pepper chorizo soup, and my mom chose the salmon sandwich with fresh cut fries.

While we waited for our food to be prepared, we were treated to a basket of warm bread with herbed butter, which I really didn’t need to eat, but enjoyed nonetheless (sue me…I love my carbs). Our mains followed shortly after; we were actually surprised at how quickly everything was prepared.

The mac and cheese was served in an iron skillet, which kept the plate hot and the cheesy sauce creamy. It was a rich dish, so I wasn’t disappointed that this was portioned smaller. At $13 without the meat or $17 with, it really isn’t badly priced. The braised beef was wonderfully marinated and tender, the meat shredding easily with just a fork. An extra side of bread was included, and despite having eaten a couple of slices already, I proceeded to top the accompanying mini loaf with cheese and beef. It was excellent and my leftovers were just as good when reheated for dinner later that evening.

My dad's pork schnitzel sandwich.

My dad’s pork schnitzel sandwich.

I sampled my dad’s schnitzel sandwich, which consisted of breaded pork tenderloin, Dijon, tomato, lettuce and Swiss cheese. The schnitzel was evenly cooked and lightly breaded, so it wasn’t heavy, and the simple toppings made for a delectable, if not subtle winner. After half a sandwich and the bowl of soup, my dad packed up the remaining portion for later. The succulent salmon in my mom’s sandwich was fabulous. One of the worst atrocities in the kitchen is overcooking your meat or fish, but this was perfect. Topped with pickled onion, lettuce, tomato and beet-barley relish, it was a tasty combination of earthy and tangy flavours. The portion size of the salmon was generous as well. Again, leftovers were to be had.

Stuffed to the brim, we had no room for dessert. Although I will say that the tray being shown to the adjacent table was very tempting. We’ll just have to go back to The Manor another time to indulge.

This restaurant has obviously stood the test of time. It has evolved with the seasons, the times and its customers to remain a constant in an area that has seen plenty of change over the years. What I like about the eatery’s atmosphere is that it is at once classy, but also laid back. It’s not stuffy, and neither is the food.

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Edmonton Restaurant Review: Ampersand 27

A portion of the & 27 menu.

A portion of the & 27 menu.

Ampersand 27 (@ampersand27yeg), one of Whyte Avenue’s newest culinary adventures, opened at the end of 2014 under the watchful eye of Chef Nathin Bye. His work with restaurants such as Wildflower Grill already raised the bar for food in this city, so it was only natural that we come to expect even more from his own venture.

Taking over the spot previously occupied by Murrieta’s, the space has been transformed into something more open, inviting and adventurous. Filled with curved lines, warm colours and the bask of glow from hundreds of twinkling lights, the eatery looks beautifully modern and high class while maintaining a casual sense of atmosphere.

Having made a reservation through OpenTable, we were guided to our table right after we were greeted at the door. Seated in a quiet corner of the dining room I was able to observe the rest of the room. Two long tables sandwiched by bench seating (not really the most comfortable) were surrounded by numerous tables for four, which are perfect for reconfiguring for additional large groups. Next to our table there were doors, which I assume lead into a more private space for special occasions. I’m unsure as to why I felt this way, but there’s something that seems special about this place.

As I took it all in, I started to work my way through the menu. Drinks first, I noticed that they have a well-rounded list of cocktails, beers and wine. In fact, the number of beverages available likely surpasses the food choices. But, I’m okay with that. I often find that restaurants that have more focused menus tend to do a better job with their dishes.

The majority of the food items available for dinner are meant to be split with your dining companions. Broken down into share plates, build-your-own charcuterie boards, larger provisions and flatbreads, many of the options sound tasty. It comes across as a natural decision to divide the dishes amongst the group rather than hoard something to yourself because doing so means getting to sample a variety of things, which is what I often prefer to do since it allows for better and truer reviews.

On this particular evening, we chose three dishes: seared albacore tuna, maple butter pork belly and the forest floor flatbread.

Seared Albacore Tuna

Seared Albacore Tuna

I usually find it hard to pass up seared fresh tuna and I’m glad that we didn’t here. The fish was cooked perfectly with just the outer edges having been seared and the middle still a gorgeous pink colour. The dish was pleasantly light and healthy by plating the tuna with pickled hearts of palm, citrus, seaweed and cashew puree. The hearts of palm reminded me of artichoke with a bit more crunch, the citrus created a refreshing balance, the seaweed provided additional texture and salt, and the cashew puree gave it an subtly nutty quality. Essentially, this was the perfect start to our meal, one that would leave room for what was to come.

Maple Butter Pork Belly

Maple Butter Pork Belly

Personally, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with pork belly. The gummy mouthfeel of the thick layer of fat that so often accompanies this meat has always put me off, but I do enjoy a well made pork dish, so I was willing to chance it. Thankfully, the maple butter pork belly was excellent. Arriving at the table like a work of art, the maple glazed pork belly was just right. Sitting atop a bed of southwestern mesquite corn, baked beans, green peas and fritters like a crown, the fat from the meat acted like butter, simply melting away when eaten.

The Forest Floor Flatbread

The Forest Floor Flatbread

Our last selection for the base of our meal was the forest floor flatbread, which is essentially a thin crust pizza. While the dough was too crisp for my taste, the foraged mushrooms, house made ricotta, truffle and arugula combined to make a delightfully earthy dish that is vegetarian friendly. I particularly loved the cheese.

It appears that no dinner outing is complete without dessert and because they have their own pastry chef (Tim Androschuk), we each opted for our own (sampling the other, of course). My friend’s doughnut was decidedly smaller than expected, but it was quite dense and rich, so it seemed like enough to satisfy the dessert craving. A cocoa orange cake doughnut with Grand Marnier glaze topped with walnuts and served with a side jar of cranberry preserve, it had many layers of flavour. I went for the red velvet. Deconstructed and artfully plated to include pieces of red velvet sponge cake (much airier), strawberry textures (meringues, strawberry pieces, fruit leather), rhubarb rose puree and whipped cream cheese, this was like my idea of dessert heaven. There were so many different things happening, but I could see that it was one cohesive dish where everything was fantastic on its own, but also came together in a wonderful marriage.

Other than the stellar food, one of my favourite things about the restaurant was the professional and knowledgeable service. The staff all seemed to know their stuff when it came to the menu. They were attentive throughout the night, and often times the chef or management would do a round to make sure every guest had their needs met.

It’s that attention to detail in all that they do that will continue to make Ampersand 27 feel like a special place to dine.

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 Ampersand 27.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Belgravia Hub

The food menu at Belgravia Hub.

The food menu at Belgravia Hub.

Every single weekday for the last few years, I’ve ridden the LRT from the south side of the city to downtown in the morning and then back again after work. Ten stops along the way, most of which have some sort of association with them. The only one that held no significance to me was McKernan/Belgravia station. From what I could see through the windows as we rolled on by was a largely residential neighbourhood with a school across the street. I would never have suspected that a fantastic restaurant lay in the area’s midst.

I started hearing raves about a place called Belgravia Hub (@BelgraviaHub) from a few of my university classmates when we met for a catch up. Naturally, I Googled the restaurant to see where it was located and, despite seeing it on the map, I still couldn’t quite place where exactly it would be should I step off the train at that stop and proceed to make my way there. I’m terrible with directions though, so it didn’t necessarily surprise me. I continued to think that if I looked hard enough down the street as we continued down the track, I’d spot it, but I never could. It turns out it’s tucked in a little too far for that. Then, the second annual list of Edmonton’s best eats was published by The Tomato in March of 2014 and the eatery debuted at No. 45. I became more determined to try this place out. Of course, other plans and life got in the way last year and it never happened.

The bar of the restaurant.

The bar of the restaurant.

I did eventually make my way there with a friend (by car) this January. Starving as we circled the block, the lights from the unassuming building were like a beacon calling us in. Located in a tiny strip at 76 Avenue and 115 Street there are a decent amount of parking spots in their lot as well as on the street to match the number of diners that they can accommodate at any one time. With less than a dozen tables and about eight bar seats, it’s quite a small establishment. Yet, it has a sleek and simultaneously homey feel that really makes you feel welcome.

Since we had made a reservation ahead of time, we were directed to a table immediately. It was fairly early, so it was rather quiet, but business did pick up later in the evening. The server was very friendly and made a few recommendations for drinks. We opted for lemonade over beer or wine this time, and we also decided to start with an order of their corn fritters.

Corn fritters to share and glasses of lemonade.

Corn fritters to share and glasses of lemonade.

The fritters arrived at our table piled high in a silver bucket. Looking plump, they were accompanied by sides of smoked ketchup and strawberry jam. Dense enough, so the fritter stayed together when cut open, they were warm and soft with a nice crisp shell. Slathered with the smoked ketchup, they were a savoury treat that seemed to have a bit of a kick to it. On the other hand, when spread with strawberry jam, we ended up with that delectable combo of salty and sweet flavours. Honestly, I couldn’t decide which I preferred. Both combinations were excellent and, if there wasn’t more food on the way, I would have been happy to eat those corn fritters all night.

Nevertheless, we continued on with our meal. My friend selected the sweet pea gnocchi while I couldn’t say no to the braised beef shortrib. Generously portioned, the giant pieces of handmade gnocchi dumplings were swimming in a creamy dill sauce, which was topped with a beet salsa. The sauce was a good consistency with the scent of the herb coming through nicely. It tasted and felt rich without being overly heavy. The beet salsa provided a needed sweet and earthy flavour as well as additional texture. The shortrib was just spectacular. The meat from the two decent sized pieces of shortrib on the bone were really enough for two meals (I took half of my food home). Succulent from marinating in its juices, the meat just fell apart. Paired with the an apple cabbage slaw that provided crunch, bitterness and tang to the dish and a warm dill potato salad that came off like more of a Dijon with the use of mustard seeds, this was, to me, home-style cooking at its finest.

As full as we were, to finish off our dinner as we discussed our upcoming vacation, we had to sample a couple of their desserts. Because my friend polished off her plate of gnocchi, she went with that day’s choice of sorbet – green apple – and I chose the chocolate beet cake. The sorbet was smoother than I expected it would be and sweeter, too. Not too sugary though, so it was a great palate cleanser. While the initial bites of the chocolate beet cake were good, it was almost like the density of the cake made it seem drier than it should have been. Covered with a layer of ganache instead of the usual frosting and just a little bit of caramel on the plate, I liked the flavour, but the texture could have been improved upon.

All-in-all, I loved Belgravia Hub. The service slowed as the night progressed as there was only one server working and it got busier the later we were there. Thankfully, we weren’t in any sort of rush, so we didn’t necessarily mind that. Most importantly, the food surprised me. I’d heard it was good, but most everything I tried surpassed my expectations, so I’m excited to return and eat something different off the menu. The restaurant, open for about two years now, still comes across as a hidden treasure. In a way, I hope it stays like that, but I also wish the establishment the very best because this is a treasure that you want to keep for a long time to come.

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 Belgravia Hub.

Edmonton Bakery Review: Duchess Bake Shop

One of the dessert cases at Duchess.

One of the dessert cases at Duchess.

Where have I been all this time? Duchess Bake Shop (@duchessbakeshop) opened up along 124 Street in the fall of 2009 when I still lived at home and was about a five minute drive away. Yet, it took five whole years and me moving all the way across the city before I ever set foot in the shop.

As far as I know, I had never had anything from Duchess before. Perhaps they had catered events I had attended in the past, but I couldn’t be sure, so I count my summer date with some potential guy I met online as my first time eating something from the bakery. Meeting there for tea and dessert seemed like a great idea. It was an area I knew well and it was a public place, so win-win. We split some of the dainty little macarons while we chatted before we had to vacate the premises as they were closing for the day (I do wish they stayed open a little bit later every day). I walked away thinking the macarons were delightful and even unique (the rose flavour is unlike any pastry I’ve ever had before). I also very much enjoyed the European feel of the shop. I even thought well of the guy for a short time. Although the date didn’t really pan out in the end, I found a not so secret new hang out.

Fast forward a few months and after dinner down the street, my friend and I popped into Duchess for some sweets to finish off our evening. Wanting to write about this bakery that was voted onto The Tomato‘s list of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton for two consecutive years now (No. 14 in 2013 and No. 16 in 2014), this was the perfect opportunity for me to try several items.

I decided to order a key lime tart to stay, as well as a few other items to take home with me. The tart was superb. You could tell that it had been made fresh that day. The graham cracker crust was tightly packed, so the crumbs didn’t fall apart with each bite, but they were still dry enough to provide a bit of a crunch. That subtle sweetness from the crust as well as the texture contrasted really well with the rich and creamy filling of the tart, which you could see was generously infused with key lime zest. The overall tanginess that came from the freshly squeezed lime juice really made this a home run. As full as I already was from dinner, I savoured each and every bite until my plate was empty, and I can honestly say that I still wanted another one (I’ll put this into perspective; each 4 inch tart provides 1 to 2 servings).

The desserts that I opted to pack up with me included a pumpkin pie macaron, a coconut meringue and one each of the three flavours of shortbread cookie available – regular, chocolate pearl and earl grey. Those were all devoured within a day. The coconut meringue is large, raised nice and tall, gorgeously shaped with ruffled sides and a hollow center. A crisp outer layer melts away at the touch of your tongue. The inside is fluffy, moist and a little chewy with some shredded coconut. It was really tasty, but the sheer size means that it becomes surprisingly sweet by the last piece. Duchess sells bags of the smaller meringues, and I think the more petite versions would be the perfect amount for a snack.

Being that it was fall, I couldn’t pass up trying the pumpkin pie macaron. The cookie portion, made up of two meringue wafers, actually doesn’t provide much flavour. The taste comes from the buttercream-like filling. It was delicious though. I would have loved to have left the shop with a macaron gift box; the rainbow coloured cookies are a pretty treat that anyone would appreciate.

Shortbread is one of my favourite kinds of cookies, so I had to sample the ones they offered at Duchess. I was a little bit surprised because, while they are buttery, the shortbread leaned towards a salty profile rather than a sweet one. The cookies were actually more dense than I expected, too, meaning there was more bite and they didn’t dissolve in my mouth like some other shortbread cookies are apt to do. There was nothing wrong with that though. They were different, but worth eating. I also liked that the chocolate pearl one used a semi-sweet chocolate, so it wasn’t overly sugary, and the earl grey cookie had a nice mild citrus flavour.

I absolutely love the desserts that are prepared at Duchess, and I cannot wait to go back. Perhaps I’ll go for lunch one day, so I can try their soups, sandwiches or quiches (I hear those are all great) followed by a pastry.

If you’re a baker, you may also want to drop by Provisions by Duchess. Located next door to the bakery, the shop sells everything you need to make confections just like theirs. In fact, starting mid-November, Duchess released their own cookbook, which opens up almost all of their recipes to the public. Try your hand at making the desserts they have perfected. And, if it doesn’t turn out just right, rest easy knowing that the experts are still there to back you up. I know I would love a copy for Christmas. I’m sure that you or a baker close to your heart would appreciate a beautifully bound book as well! That, along with a few choice pastries from the shop itself, would make for a thoughtful gift.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Canteen

A close-up photo of the seared duck...beautiful.

A close-up photo of the seared duck…beautiful.

Within the past year, I have made it to Canteen (@Canteenyeg) on 124 Street just two times, the second of which was about 11 months after the first. Taking such a long break between visits was not due to the quality of the food. On the contrary, the first meal I had was delicious. I’ll chalk up the delay to Edmonton bursting at the seams with great restaurants that are kicking ass and taking names while keeping me from going back to previously tried eateries.

However, Canteen (sister establishment to the beloved Red Ox Inn) did warrant another tasting, especially since it has made The Tomatos list of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton for two years in a row now (No. 8 in 2013 and No. 40 in 2014). My initial dinner at the establishment happened well before my friend and I decided to tackle the 2013 restaurants. As such, I felt that we needed a more recent evening sampling their menu before I could give Canteen an actual review.

During our original meal we had chickpea fries to share as our appetizer. Then my friend followed that up with an entree of white fish (likely halibut, tilapia or cod) as well as the bread pudding for dessert. For my main, I selected the lamb, and to finish off my meal, I had the chocolate ganache. Supper was incredibly filling, but completely satisfying.

This last dinner in October was no different. Arriving probably 15 to 20 minutes earlier than our booked OpenTable reservation, we were greeted warmly by the hostess who took us right to our table.

The interior of Canteen...very modern and industrial.

The interior of Canteen…very modern and industrial.

Our server came by to say hello, so we each chose a beverage off of the menu – a cider for myself and a cocktail for my friend – and we decided to split an order of the corn fritters with smoky maple syrup to start. I noticed that, while the selection of items changes regularly at Canteen, a number of the dishes remained the same as previous. That’s not a bad thing though. It kind of ensures that what you’re eating is likely what has remained popular with patrons and that, if you loved that plate, you’ll probably be able to get it when you return. The corn fritters were very tasty. Nice and fluffy, but crisp on the outside like little beignets, they were savoury and just a tad spicy. Once dipped in the smoky maple syrup that came with them, the sweetness from the sauce created this excellent contrast.

An order of the sweet and spicy corn fritters to share on our second visit!

An order of the sweet and spicy corn fritters to share on our second visit!

When duck is available in any form, both of us have a hard time passing it up, so we didn’t. We each ordered the seared duck breast for our entree. Beautifully plated, the dish looked like a work of art – slightly pink meat with seared brown skin, bright green snap peas, dark beluga lentils, magenta and white butter radishes, deep burgundy cherry mostarda and dollops of green garlic. Yet, it wasn’t so gorgeous as to stop us from polishing everything away. The duck breast was the most tender I have ever eaten. You could literally almost cut the meat apart with only a fork. The meat was juicy and the skin and fat gave it some bite as well as amped up the flavour without being overly salted. All of the other additions to the plate created a fantastic balance of textures.

The two of us opted to move along to another location for dessert, but before we did, I asked to have a look at the menu. Their amazing bread pudding, which I happily had a bite of when my friend ate it the first time, is not currently being offered. A different variation of the chocolate ganache I had eaten graces the list, as does a lemon crema and a poppyseed cake. I’m certain that no matter what is consumed here, it’ll be scrumptious.

Canteen's dessert menu on our last visit in October.

Canteen’s dessert menu on our last visit in October.

Canteen is just one of many wonderful establishments that has popped up in the last few years, and I can definitely say that it is one worth trying.

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 Canteen (and Red Ox Inn).