Edmonton Restaurant Review: Kanu Cafe

My dinner consisted of Coconut Chai Latte, Creamy Mushroom Soup, and Spring Gnocchi.

With a menu inspired and conceptualized by plant-based American celebrity chef Matthew Kenney, Kanu (pronounced kuh noo’) Cafe opened in Edmonton this past fall. Taking over the space previously occupied by the short-lived Monument Coffee Bar on the southwest corner of Jasper Avenue and 108 Street (at the base of The Mayfair building), the interior has had a bit of a face lift. Otherwise, it’s fairly similar with its center counter and two walls of windows that offer plenty of natural light.

My friend and I had planned a catch up over dinner last month. When I arrived at around five o’clock that weeknight, it seemed that the reservation I had made on OpenTable was unnecessary. The place was so quiet. Less than a handful of tables were occupied and I wondered if it was always that way.

The service was good though. We were given info on their new happy hour specials (available Monday to Friday from 3pm to 6pm) and recent updates that had been made to the menu before we were left to make our decisions.

Our Coconut Chai Lattes

I contemplated ordering one of their signature cocktails, but it felt like more of a day for comfort food and beverages. In the end, both of us opted to try out the Coconut Chai Latte ($5.75). It arrived piping hot in a decently sized mug. A pretty plant-themed dusting of cinnamon decorated the foam. The tea had a lovely flavour that was well-spiced, a little creamy, and the coconut was actually quite prominent. It’s a bit expensive, but, honestly, most places are charging at least five bucks for a latte nowadays.

Creamy Mushroom Soup

For my supper, I chose to go with two smaller dishes. The first was the Creamy Mushroom Soup ($6.50). This was made with coconut cream, mixed mushrooms, wild rice, local herbs, and toasted kombu (kelp) oil, so it was both gluten and nut free. I’m a sucker when it comes to mushroom soup, as long as it’s actually thick and smooth. There’s nothing worse than a watery concoction. No need to worry about that here though. Kanu Cafe did a great job with their recipe. Although it wasn’t really hot enough, the base was pleasantly creamy. There were also plenty of mushroom varietals to provide a satisfying chew and ample texture. It probably could have stood as a light meal on its own.

Spring Gnocchi

My second plate was the shareable Spring Gnocchi ($13.25), which had just been added to the menu. While the dish cooled quite quickly, the overall taste was superb. The crispy yet pillowy pieces of potato pasta were served with peas, pea tendrils, pistachio, spinach and nettle cream, and sunflower Parmesan. It was deliciously savoury and, at the same time, a little bit earthy with the fresh greens shining through on the palate.

Key Lime Pie

As I’ve come to learn with my friend, she’d much rather eat dessert than anything else when dinnertime hits. This particular night was no different. In this instance, she picked the Key Lime Pie ($13.75) and snacked on it throughout our visit. No doubt about it, this raw, gluten free Kanu Cafe treat was beautiful to look at. The presentation was spot on with it’s deep green colour contrasted with what I believe were dried red flower petals, chunks of almond ginger crumble and citrus glass. To say the least, it was an interesting dessert. I didn’t have a chance to sample the crumble or citrus myself, but I had a couple of bites of the key lime filling (made with avocado) topped by lime gel with the pecan and coconut crust. I found the filling to be way too pudding-like as if it didn’t have the time it needed to be properly set. It also didn’t have enough of a lime flavour and it was rather grassy. Lastly, for the price, it was quite a petite portion. I suggest that the kitchen consider making these into smaller two-bite desserts at a lower cost to justify the existence of this dessert.

Coconut Cream Pie

In contrast, my serving of the raw and gluten free Coconut Cream Pie ($14) was huge. It was about the same width as the Key Lime Pie, but probably three times taller. The creaminess and density of the filling was perfect, too. The only downfall was a too thick macadamia crust along the edge. That, and, after a point, the coconut flavour got a little lost behind the more distinguished taste of banana.

For the most part, I enjoyed my meal at Kanu Cafe. I definitely think that the restaurant does a good job of making people forget that they’re eating a meal devoid of meat since the dishes are still rather gratifying. However, it’s not often that I walk into an eatery and find myself paying more for a dessert than for the rest of my food. Perhaps more work goes into making the desserts than I realize, but it’s an odd thing to see, especially when more restaurants cap the cost to around $10. That’s something that I think they should address. Regardless, I felt that Kanu Cafe offered a number of options within a reasonable price range alongside educated customer service in a comfortable atmosphere, and that may just do the trick in bringing this usually carnivorous girl back.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: DIE PIE

Die Pie Vegan Pizzeria

DIE PIE (11215 Jasper Avenue) entered the Edmonton food scene back in the fall of 2017 as the first plant-based pizzeria in Alberta. I was intrigued by the notion of a vegan restaurant attempting to circumvent the average Albertan’s love of meat, meat and more meat on what is a beloved meal for most. Don’t get me wrong, a well-made vegetarian pizza can be quite satisfying, but I’m not going to lie, 95 per cent of the time, any pizza I order is going to have chicken, bacon, sausage, beef, or prosciutto on it. It’s just a fact.

Yet, the time had come for me to delve into the offerings at DIE PIE. After a late afternoon bridal event, my friends and I were looking for a spot to eat downtown. This place came to mind as it’d been on my evergrowing list of eateries to try for a while. When we arrived, it was prime dinnertime on a Friday night, so we were told that it would probably be at least a 30 minute wait. We opted to put our name down on their list. In the meantime, we planned to find a table at another nearby restaurant to grab some drinks or snacks. However, as luck would have it, a few customers departed as we were about to leave and we managed to snag three bar seats.

The bar at Die Pie

The space itself is small and simply decorated; they’ve kept things minimal, mural wall notwithstanding. The service at the bar was decent as we were given menus and water quickly, and our questions were answered informatively. Our orders were also put through relatively fast once we had made our decisions. Eventually, a table opened up and we were given the choice to move, which we happily accepted for ease of conversation among the three of us.

Where I think I started to get frustrated was with the wait for our food. It took close to 40 minutes before our items finally made it out from the kitchen. Is that normal for DIE PIE? Is it because vegan food takes that much longer to prepare? Do they make the pizza dough from scratch as soon as your order is placed? I have no clue. Either way, if you ask me, it was just too long. Thankfully, I was in good company, so I didn’t dwell on the time all that much. Still, it’s something that DIE PIE should be more cognizant of.

In the end, was the wait worth it? Honestly, I don’t think it really was.

Mac & Cheese

One of my friends ordered the Mac & Cheese ($19). It’s described as a combination of cheddar sauce, pickled baby jem tomato salad, shallots, “bacon” breadcrumbs, and aged cashew parmesan. Maybe it was creamier as soon as it was dropped off at the table, but when I sampled it, I didn’t find it had a great texture on the pasta and I didn’t think it was cheesy enough. The “bacon” breadcrumbs were a nice addition though. I also made sure to try a pickled baby jem tomato. It was plump and juicy, but surprisingly spicy. For a second, I thought maybe it was a chili pepper disguised as a tomato. My guess is that they pickled it in spiced brine as that’s the only explanation for the heat. Anyway, it was an interesting take on mac and cheese that I’m not super keen to go back for.

Pierogi Pizza

My other friend settled on the Pierogi Pizza ($20) with the regular crust — gluten-free is an option for $2 more — as it’s one of her favourites at Boston Pizza. Now, if I’ve had BP’s version before, it’s been years, if not decades (did they even have it on the menu decades ago?) since I would have eaten it. Therefore, I really didn’t have a standard to compare this to. I thought it was good though. The crust of the Neopolitan-style pizza is very thin, crisp along the edges, and chewy in the middle. So, plus one for DIE PIE in that respect. The toppings of cheddar sauce, shaved potato, feta, sour cream, green onions, and “bacon” parmesan worked here. It very much tasted like pierogi fillings without being too heavy.

Black Garlic & Truffle Pizza

I’m always a sucker when it comes to menu items that mention truffle, so I had my heart set on the Black Garlic & Truffle pizza ($22). It consisted of hemp havarti, wild mushrooms, and mustard greens (more like a spring mix). I didn’t particularly like the texture of the vegan cheese and most of the pizza was made up of undressed salad. The wild mushrooms, few as there were, were probably the best part in terms of heartiness and texture. For flavour, it came down to the black garlic and truffle, which was good, but not enough to save this creation. In my opinion, it certainly doesn’t warrant the highest price tag on the pizza menu.

While I found the staff to be friendly and attentive, at least when it came to filling our water glasses, overall, DIE PIE isn’t a restaurant that would pull the carnivorous me back. Perhaps I don’t appreciate what they’re doing because I’m not an actual vegan. Yet, I’m all for veggie dishes when they’re done well. Based on the regular menu items that we selected this time, I can’t say that I was wowed at all. I really wanted to like the food, but personally, I won’t return to DIE PIE to spend my hard earned money there again.

Edmonton Bakery Review: Cinnaholic

What’s inside the box?

Cinnaholic is an American-based franchise that introduced their first Alberta location in Edmonton this past spring. Opening to much fanfare in the downtown core (the Mayfair on Jasper building at 10075 109 Street), the promo of $1 cinnamon buns for the first half of their launch day had patrons lined up all the way down and around the block. Even though my co-worker and I had plans to take advantage of the deal, there was no way we would get away with staying in line for what would likely be a few hours. We turned right back around, leaving empty-handed.

Cinnaholic’s menu is quite extensive when building your own bun.

Fast forward to early fall, and a few of us decided we’d treat ourselves to a lunchtime dessert. We walked over to Cinnaholic once more. This time, it was a normal business day for them and it was a lot quieter. The most difficult part of the process when ordering your cinnamon bun is choosing from the 18 icing options and 24 topping selections. However, the cost is no joke either. The Classic Old Skool Roll with Vanilla Frosting is $5.50. Modification to the icing is going to be an additional 50 cents per flavour. Additionally, every single topping chosen is another 75 cents each.

Their showcase has a number of suggested buns.

My friends went all out with theirs. I kept mine fairly simple by swapping out the vanilla frosting for what I think should always be the regular accompaniment to a cinnamon bun, cream cheese frosting. To top it off, I picked a cookie dough topping. All in all, I expected that this would total about $6.75 plus tax. However, it was a little less, ringing in at only $6.25 as though the switch to the icing was free.

They can get quite elaborate.

As a bonus, I do recommend signing up for Cinnaholic’s rewards card. For every dollar spent, you’ll earn points, and those points can be redeemed for discounts. You’ll also get periodic offers for free toppings, etc. Best of all, with my first purchase, I was able to save $3 off of my bill, making this treat significantly more affordable that day.

Once our orders were placed, it didn’t take the staff long to prepare our buns. They carefully packed them up in paper bags, so we could take them to go. As soon as we returned to the office, I opened up my box to take a look. Honestly, the dessert looked a little worse for wear. I guess the heat from the cinnamon bun had melted the cream cheese icing and caused the cookie dough to slide off. It certainly wasn’t as pretty as what I’d seen of other purchases on social media. Still, the biggest test came with a tasting.

I was the last to try my Cinnaholic bun out of my friends since I decided to eat my real meal first. From their desks I heard them say that theirs were good, but super sweet, so I got a little bit apprehensive. When I finally began to take bites of mine, it was no longer as warm (I was too lazy to walk to the microwave to heat it quickly). And, although the bun itself felt fresh, because Cinnaholic uses all vegan recipes that are dairy, lactose, egg and cholesterol-free, the dough was somewhat dense. It, unfortunately, doesn’t become as airy and fluffy once baked as one might be used to.

In terms of the frosting, it was sugary to the point of the granules being evident, and, while I do believe that cream cheese icing is better than vanilla, I’m not sure it was immediately discernible that what I was tasting was supposed to be cream cheese flavoured. The cookie dough topping may have been the best part of the cinnamon bun. It was malleable and I scooped up dough to spread onto each piece of bun as I ate.

Cinnaholic’s interior is bright.

Personally, Cinnaholic wasn’t my favourite. I’d much rather get my usual cinnamon bun from Cinnzeo. Those are tried and true and they never disappoint. Still, I do feel that Cinnaholic serves a niche market for those who may have food intolerances. That’s the clientele that they were created for, and it’s nice that customers have this option. It’s just not going to be my top pick, and I likely won’t continue to go out of my way to visit Cinnaholic often.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Cafe Mosaics

The previous Burger menu at Cafe Mosaics. I think they've refined this as well.

The previous Burger menu at Cafe Mosaics. I think they’ve refined this as well.

I am by no means a vegetarian, let alone a vegan. Yet, when a meatless meal is made well, I could care less if there’s any steak/chicken/fish in it.

There aren’t many restaurants in Edmonton that serve strictly vegetarian or vegan menus. In fact, I only knew of Padmanadi and Noorish until this summer when my friend suggested that we go to Cafe Mosaics on Whyte Avenue for our book club meeting.

Since I’m always happy to try somewhere new, I was completely on board, especially because I’d been hearing about Cafe Mosaics in increasing frequency right around that time. Apparently the establishment has called Old Strathcona home for around 20 years. But, I had no clue that it was there; not until a renovation that took place last year doubled the size of the restaurant. That’s when I noticed it in passing.

The newly renovated interior of the restaurant.

The newly renovated interior of the restaurant.

The best thing going for the eatery is the bright and airy atmosphere and the open storefront, a result of the modifications made to the space. In the summertime, the large windows slide to the side to let in fresh air, helping to create a seamless extension to the seats on their sidewalk patio in the process. Honestly, it is much preferable to snag a table closer to the doors and windows. Tables by the kitchen can get warm and stuffy when it’s hot out.

Of course, you can beat the heat by grabbing one of their ice blends. While we waited for everyone else to arrive, my friend and I each sipped on one. I had selected the Tsunami Wave and she got the Mango Hemp. We sampled each other’s drinks and we both preferred the one we didn’t order. The Tsunami Wave wasn’t as thick and a little too citrusy for my liking. The Mango Hemp had an earthier flavor (I enjoyed that) and had a consistency closer to a smoothie. Looking at their current food and drink menus online, it looks like they’ve revamped a lot of their offerings. They kept the Tsunami Wave though, and they still serve a mix of beverages including: coffee, lattes, teas, fresh juices, cocktails, wine and beer.

Creamy Vegan Portabello Pasta

Creamy Vegan Portabello Pasta

For dinner, two of us ordered the gluten-free Creamy Vegan Portabello Pasta (my friend sans the avocado toast due to an allergy). The server was accommodating and offered her some garlic toast instead. Made with portabello mushroom, tomato, onion and organic black bean noodles tossed in a coconut vegan cream sauce, the dish was rich. At first I quite liked the flavours, but I found that the saltiness started to overwhelm me about halfway through my meal. It was also a heavier dish than I expected, so I ended up packing the leftovers home. I was really pleased with the side of avocado toast, which is something that I can also easily make at home.

Tofu Stir-Fry

Tofu Stir-Fry

One of the guys in our group tried the Secret Burrito, which he found to be lacking. The burrito itself was filled to the brim, so they didn’t necessarily skimp, but everything in it was drowned by some sort of teriyaki-like sauce that wasn’t a good fit. Our other friend opted for the tofu stir-fry, which she finished, but also quickly dismissed as being subpar, stating that she has had better at other restaurants.

On a side note, the tables felt kind of sticky and had a film on them (it might be time to sand them down and refinish the tops) and the utensils supplied weren’t the cleanest. Those are simple fixes for the restaurant to work on. I should mention, too, that they only accept debit and cash for payment. On a positive note, the service was decent.

The place was busy that evening. I suspect that Cafe Mosaics has their regular clientele. However, based on the one visit, I don’t think I’d be inclined to go back soon. Of course, that’s not to say that they won’t ever be able to change my mind.

I want there to be more vegan and vegetarian options in this city. This month’s refinement of their menu is probably a good start in the right direction. Everything that we ate is actually no longer, so that does provide me with a reason to give them another try. Perhaps what remains will win me over.

The small plants on the tables were a cute touch.

The small plants on the tables were a cute touch.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Narayanni’s

The pistachio chai is amazing! I used the roti in the background to dip.

The pistachio chai is amazing! I used the roti in the background to dip.

Earlier this year after brunch at Under the High Wheel (read my review), my friend and I decided to take a walk around the surrounding block, poking our heads into Blush Lane Organic Market, peeking into the windows of Cally’s Teas and spotting a place called Narayanni’s with its stark white front, big blue lettering and red double doors. The latter is the one that intrigued me the most. I had never heard of Narayanni’s before that day. As soon as I got home, I Googled the restaurant. Their website told me that their cuisine is gourmet South African Indian and that they only serve it buffet style Tuesday through Sunday evenings with Tuesday being vegan night. I decided that I would definitely make a point of going there before the year was over, and I made sure to sign up for their e-newsletter.

Months later, with my birthday coming up, I received an email from Narayanni’s offering me $10 off my meal to celebrate getting another year older. The fine print allowed me a full month to use the voucher, so I called up my friend and told her that was where I wanted to go for dinner. On the Friday after the giant snowfall we received at the end of November, the two of us met and drove over to Old Strathcona, parking about a block away from the restaurant to avoid any high snow banks. The chilly winter air made the warmth of the restaurant that much better.

When we stepped through those huge wooden doors, we saw that, what was once a blacksmith shop and then a machine shop, was now a large yet cozy restaurant with a unique high ceiling, numerous tables – including some booths that can comfortably seat about six people – a fireplace near the back, welcoming yellow walls, and a buffet that sits at the center.

Since we arrived quite early at about 5:30pm, we were able to grab one of the booths. After we stripped off our bags and all of our cold weather gear, we perused the drink menu and each ordered a pistachio latte. While our drinks were being prepared, we ambled up to the buffet and started filling our plates. Their full menu is extensive with all of their recipes having to be spread out over the week, so extra visits are likely necessary if you plan to try everything that is listed on their website. If I remember correctly, I believe there were about a dozen different hot items on offer that evening including a few vegetarian dishes such as butternut squash and braised kale and cabbage, Halal certified lamb curry, fish curry and grilled masala chicken to name a few. Appetizers of potato samosas, fried eggplant and papadum were also available along with a vegetarian soup. There were also three different cold salads – Greek, Tabouli and mixed greens.

The buffet is situated in the center of the space.

The buffet is situated in the center of the space.

I always try to sample a little bit of everything that is available, so I scooped up a small portion of each selection and placed it on my plate. Once I made it around the bar, my dish was piled high. There wasn’t even room for any of the cold salads, so I grabbed a small plate and spooned a bit of the Greek and Tabouli salads onto it. By the time I made my way back to our table, our lattes were sitting there. I attempted to take a sip right away, but the drink was piping hot, so I let it cool for a while.

In the meantime, we started digging through our food. Right off the bat, you can see and taste the difference between Narayanni’s South African Indian cuisine and Punjabi cuisine. While both kinds are flavourful and delicious, the food at Narayanni’s comes off as being a bit healthier because they adhere to non-cream based sauces. In addition, they are adamant about cooking without MSGs, preservatives and artificial flavourings or colourings. There is an emphasis on natural spices and they do not refrain from serving up food with heat as a number of the dishes were spicier than the milder counterparts I’ve had at other traditional Indian restaurants.

The Greek and Tabouli salads.

The Greek and Tabouli salads.

Everything I sampled was fantastic. Of the two salads, the Greek won me over because they chopped all the veggies and cheese into large enough chunks and they did not skimp on the feta, which was fresh and not overly salty. The potato samosas were a good size with the right ratio of pastry to filling and a perfectly crispy outer shell. The grilled masala chicken was juicy and tender. The butternut squash was cooked until just slightly soft and was refreshing on the palate, while the braised kale and cabbage added a layer of texture to my plate. Those were my favourites that evening. As much as I wanted to go back for seconds, I could barely budge out of my seat after clearing off what I thought was my first round.

My plate filled with all of that evenings offerings.

My plate filled with all of that evenings offerings.

There were a handful of desserts on that Friday evening: bumble berry bread pudding, homemade custard, cinnamon infused rice pudding, coconut macaroons and pecan butter tarts. Full as we both were, my friend and I did manage to share a small bowl of the bread pudding with a dollop of the homemade custard placed on top. It was absolutely wonderful, so I’m glad we didn’t skip out. The berries gave the bread pudding a slightly tangy flavour that helped to balance off any sweetness, and the cake pretty much soaked up the custard, which had a really nice, smooth consistency.

Hands down the best thing of the evening? That pistachio latte. I’m pretty sure it uses a chai latte base, and, by far, it is the best chai latte I have ever had in my life. I even dipped pieces of roti into the latte, creating my own dessert. I could not stop raving about this beverage. In fact, I still think about it regularly, and I find myself tempted to drop into Narayanni’s just for drinks, if they’d have me.

Daya and Selva Naidoo have a history of opening successful Edmonton eateries, their first being Block 1912, located just a short distance away from Narayanni’s. Although I did not speak with Daya and Selva, I had the pleasure of meeting one of their daughters that night. She actually sells some of her own jewelry at the front of the restaurant as well as pieces made by a friend of hers, so after we paid, she took us up to the display case to show us the designs. With a variety of prices and some fun and pretty options, it’s not a bad idea to keep the restaurant in mind for last minute gifts. On occasion, the establishment even plays host to jewelry sales.

What I really love about Narayanni’s is the family’s friendly nature, combined with their scrumptious food and a great atmosphere. These are the things that will bring me back in due time.