Edmonton Restaurant Review: Japonais Bistro Omakase Thursday Dinner

Seared Scallops

Around the beginning of December, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed when I came across a post from Japonais Bistro. It was advertising their new Omakase (a Japanese phrase that means “I’ll leave it up to you.”) Thursday Dinner for twenty per cent off with a code to be requested either by direct message or email.

I immediately jumped on the opportunity and, within the day, I had gotten a reply. They provided a code and a copy of the set menus for me to review. There are two options for the dinner. The first is an $80 six-course meal. The second is a $100 seven-course supper that includes an extra Amaebi (sweet shrimp) Sunomono salad and a different steak dish.

I made arrangements with my friend for a double date night in January. Between the choices, the less expensive made the most sense for us. It seemed like more than enough food and, after the discount, it would only be $64 per person, which is reasonable for the number of courses.

Japonais Bistro indicated that there would only be limited omakase spots available every Thursday, so it was recommended to book in advance. I arranged for our evening about six weeks ahead. While that kind of time frame may not be necessary, we were planning around my friend’s birthday. Still, call to reserve because even though they said Thursday is a weekday and it’s slower, the place — located at 11806 Jasper Avenue — was packed when we arrived at 7:45pm. Plus, they will need at least 48 hours notice, if you plan to dine with them for omakase.

Additionally, although the menu is preset and mentions that there are no substitutions, I was told that we could let them know of food allergies upon booking. My friend cannot eat shellfish or avocado, so I made them aware. When we had settled in, the staff already knew about the note and the kitchen arranged to have her scallop course replaced with cod. They were very thorough in ensuring that she would be okay.

Kamo Duck Salad

Beverages were an extra cost. Kirk and I opted to stick to water, but the others grabbed some beers to pair with their meals. Dinner started off with a Kamo Duck Salad. Rather than persimmon and plum, the former was replaced with blackberries. The sweetness of the fruit perfectly balanced with the savoury slices of duck. Atop all of the meat and fruit was a large helping of shungiku greens — these are the stems/leaves of the crown daisy — with mustard and miso-dashi dressing. Sort of prickly and crunchy in texture, the slight bitter taste was reduced by the umami flavour of the accompanying sauce. A very nice and light introduction to our culinary journey.

We received the Seared Scallops next. They were, admittedly, smaller than I expected. Nevertheless, the trio of mollusks were perfectly cooked and wonderfully seared. The meat was tender and could be cut apart with just a fork. These were laid upon a painterly streak of celeriac puree decorated with basil pesto, quinoa and micro greens. Around the rest of the plate were dustings of powdered sesame (excellent when eaten with the scallops). Unique in presentation and taste, it was probably one of my favourite items all night. Thankfully, we were given spoons with this dish so we could scoop up every morsel. My friend’s cod was pretty much served in the same way, just with a cut of cod instead of the scallops. It looked just as appetizing, although I’m glad I didn’t have to carefully pick out fish bones myself.

Chef Choice Fresh Fish Sushi

Following that, we were presented with the first of two sushi plates. This was the Chef Choice Fresh Fish. It came with five pieces, including eel, snapper, yellowtail, bluefin, and amberjack. The eel was quite good in terms of taste and texture. It did have some bones though, so I pricked my lip when bringing the piece to my mouth. I managed to pull out any larger bones and then just ate the rest in a single mouthful. I can usually take or leave snapper as I find it to be too chewy. This one wasn’t bad, but it’s still not something I’d order on my own. The same can be said of this particular amberjack. The yellowtail was a bit smoother and easier to eat. The best, hands down, was the beautiful jewel toned bluefin. I could have devoured a whole plate of that. Each piece of sushi did have a dollop of wasabi placed between the fish and the rice already. It’s the traditional way of serving sushi and I found it manageable, but that may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Bavette Steak

I suppose the Bavette Steak can be considered the entrée. This was a six ounce cut of sous vide flank steak rested on potato puree and surrounded by a pool of teriyaki demi-glace with dots of black garlic sauce. Even though we were offered utensils, we all insisted we could get away with eating everything using just our chopsticks. In the end, I managed to do it. However, I looked like a child playing with my food as I used the slices of steak to scoop up the creamy potatoes and sauce. Although there was a bit of tendon running through my meat (making it a little harder to bite off pieces at times), the steak was, overall, succulent and I loved how the exterior was crusted and seared. It held in all of the flavour despite being served to us already cut apart.

The Chef Choice Aburi Sushi was definitely where it was at. Give me all of it! Honestly, I was busier taking photos as soon they dropped my plate in front of me and I didn’t listen to what each fish was. However, a few pieces looked to be some sort of torched salmon. Two of them were the Osaka-style pressed sushi. One had a slice of jalapeno and the other had a miso dressing. The three pieces on the other half of the dish were presented more normally, yet with a twist. One was simply seared (unknown fish), the salmon sandwiched in the middle came with silvers of daikon, and the fish in the center of the plate was citrusy with the use of grated yuzu. All of them were excellent examples of the technique utilized by sushi chefs. It doesn’t take a lot to alter what is familiar, but it needs to be done the right way. At Japonais Bistro they know what they’re doing.

Roasted Rice Panna Cotta (Green Tea?)

Completing our meal was the Green Tea and Roasted Rice Panna Cotta. Not totally sure, but they may have changed the flavour of the panna cotta because it wasn’t green and it didn’t have that distinct full-bodied bittersweet taste. I found the amaretto syrup to be quite strong, but it was quickly eaten in the initial bites and after that, I didn’t have enough for the rest. The consistency was also more firm than I prefer and reminded me of a dense tofu. It was alright, but it certainly didn’t live up to their Matcha Crème Brûlée dessert as, quite frankly, nothing else there ever will.

If this post has convinced you to check out Omakase Thursday Dinner at Japonais Bistro, please note that it is required to have a minimum of two orders for the kitchen to even serve this. It won’t be available to a single diner, so definitely gather up a family member, friend or co-worker to go. They’ll be running this menu until the end of February, so there are six more chances to take advantage of this promo. Don’t forget to reach out to them by email or direct message on Instagram for your discount code. For the service as well as the price, amount, and quality of the food, it’s certainly worth it.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: JOEY Restaurant Revamped Happy Hour (2019)

Tuna Poke Bowl

This weekend, Kirk and I ventured out to the JOEY Restaurant at Bell Tower. Located a couple of blocks from Rogers Place, it’s in the heart of the Ice District and it’s an ideal venue for pre-game gatherings.

While it’s incredibly dim inside, the design of the venue is beautiful. The two of us especially admired the indoor patio with it’s ball light fixtures, fireplace, rolling windows (closed during winter), and floor-to-ceiling wine cooler. Despite our love of that room, we ended up seated in the lounge alongside the brick wall, which has large hidden projector screens that are lowered when sports are on. The illumination emanating from those helpfully brightened my photos in the otherwise dark space.

Full disclosure before I continue, we were invited through my YEG Food Deals Instagram page to try JOEY’s revamped happy hour menu. It was launched right at the beginning of 2019, and it’s been heavily revised from their previous offerings in order to compete with the other two big players in the casual fine dining sphere, Earls Kitchen + Bar and Cactus Club Cafe. Both of those chains have been serving rather extensive happy hours for at least the better part of the past year, if not longer. JOEY Restaurant, on the other hand, had a very scant menu in comparison (a mere four or five drinks and maybe three food options).

Real Peach Bellini

On this occasion, JOEY Bell Tower took care of our first round of drinks. Everything else was ordered at our own discretion. As such, to start, Kirk ordered the JOEY Genuine Draft ($3.50) and I got the Real Peach Bellini ($4.50). The Bellini is a longtime staple, and a great cocktail that is cold, refreshing, sweet, and a touch tart. Kirk found the JOEY Genuine Draft to be a decent standard lager. To follow-up, Kirk tried the Parallel 49 Wobbly Pop Pale Ale ($4.50). Although the amber-coloured beer was hoppier, something that Kirk typically enjoys, it wasn’t for him as he found the flavour to be too soapy.

The majority of the items on the daily happy hour menu are discounted anywhere between $3 to $6 each from the regular prices, meaning the savings can be significant. If you’re okay to eat there during the hours of 3:00pm to 6:00pm or 9:00pm to close, then it’s well worth planning around those times. We considered this to be a fun night out for the week. Therefore, we decided to go to town with our meal.

We know no limits when it comes to happy hour.

Sharing is caring, so we split the Rosemary Garlic Fries ($4), Sliders Royal Duo ($8), Pesto Shrimp Flatbread ($10), California Chicken Club ($13) with fries substituted for a New Cobb Salad ($2), Seared Salmon Sushi ($13), and the Tuna Poke Bowl ($16). Technically, the last one was for me, but I offered some of the non-raw portion to Kirk (he declined).

This was a ton of food for a pair of people, so don’t order this much unless you genuinely want or need leftovers. In my case, I had half of a sandwich and two slices of flatbread for lunches this week. I also saved the majority of the rice, veggies, and wonton chips from the poke bowl to go with one of my at home dinners.

Rosemary Garlic Fries

I’ll begin reviewing based on our least favourite dishes to the ones we enjoyed most. Sadly, the Rosemary Garlic Fries were a miss for us. On the plus side, I found that the taste was amazing. The herb was heavily infused into the potato and the garlic wasn’t overpowering. The grainy mustard aioli provided for dipping was particularly delicious. What I didn’t like, and never really have at JOEY Restaurant, is the skinny cut fries. I’m not sure why they continue to insist on making these. They’re similar to McDonald’s fries, but, dare I say, worse. They always seem so dry, and they’re completely bland without the accompaniments.

The California Chicken Club is usually one of Kirk’s top picks at JOEY. However, it seemed as though the recipe had been changed slightly. The well-seasoned breast of chicken was still stacked with aged cheddar, smoky bacon, and spicy mayo. It contained some greens, too. We think it was spinach. Yet, the sandwich was missing the basil leaves that used to be included, which meant the pepperiness and hint of anise/mint was now gone. The aged cheddar wasn’t melted either. I would have preferred it to be heated and gooey rather than cold and speckled with condensation when it arrived at our table.

Side of New Cobb Salad

We replaced the side of fries to our club with the New Cobb Salad (actually, we had asked for Caesar salad, but this is what we received). I appreciated the combo of romaine and shredded kale and the Grana Padano dressing. I thought that the crispy bits inside the salad were croutons, but they may have been chunks of double smoked bacon (the taste wasn’t all that salty though…). There was also no egg, so that’s why I honestly assumed we were having a Caesar salad as requested until I saw our bill at the end of the evening.

As you may have gathered above, Kirk is not really into raw fish. While he did take a chance here and ate a whole piece of the Seared Salmon Sushi, he opted not to have anymore. I finished off the rest of the dish by myself. In Kirk’s opinion, it tasted too fishy as if the salmon wasn’t fresh enough. I begged to differ. From past experience, I know that different types of salmon have very distinct flavours. To me, this did have a stronger fishy flavour, but not in a way that tasted off and inedible. It was still good. The torched umami sauce on top gave the fish a creamier consistency, and the shaved slice of serrano pepper atop each piece of sushi added a touch of spice on the palate without being overwhelming.

Sliders Royale Duo

The Sliders Royale Duo is a super basic pair of miniature burgers. Other than a thinly sliced pickle, there were no other groceries. Admittedly, I took out the pickle when I realized it was there. I’d already bitten into it, so I can say that it wasn’t as strongly flavoured as others often used on burgers. I probably could have gotten away with eating this one and refrained from disgust. More often than not, I find pickles ruin the flavour of everything else because it’s the only thing you can taste after. With that removed, just a bit of American cheese and a dollop of secret sauce was left behind. The beef patty wasn’t that thick, but the meat was juicy and wonderfully seared. Simple and satisfying.

Tuna Poke Bowl

On my part, I thought that the Tuna Poke Bowl was great. It’d definitely be a filling dish should one choose to have this as their main. It’s created with a mix of brown rice, green papaya slaw, crispy wontons, edamame, tomatoes, radishes, cucumber, avocado, and diced sashimi grade ahi tuna. Drizzled with miso dressing, it’s potentially one of the “healthiest” items you’ll find at JOEY Restaurant.

Pesto Shrimp Flatbread

Both of us agreed that the Pesto Shrimp Flatbread was the best item we sampled. At first glance, I was worried that the dough had been overcooked as it looked past golden brown. Nevertheless, upon my initial bite, I was met with a pleasantly crisp exterior and fluffy middle. Laid with whole milk mozzarella, sun dried tomatoes, plump shrimp, chipotle aioli, and ribbons of basil, it was like a flavour explosion in every mouthful. For the price during happy hour, it’s perfect for a light late lunch or early supper.

I have to say that the service at this particular JOEY Restaurant is not ideal. We had multiple staff stop by to check on us, but it was hard to attract the attention of our own server when needed and it took three asks for water before we finally got some. Still, when it comes to the updated happy hour menu, it’s much improved from their earlier iteration. With an increased number of choices available (a dozen beverages and over 20 food items), there truly is something for everyone now.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Aarde

Our table of food on our first visit.

Around for less than two months, Aarde, headed by Chef Guru Singh, is located near the Ice District at 10184 104 Street right in the heart of downtown Edmonton. The menu is inspired by his travels across Europe with regionally influenced cuisine being presented using locally sourced ingredients.

My first visit to the restaurant was a spur-of-the-moment decision. After my friend and I were done perusing the pieces at an art show, we were hungry, so we opted to check out Aarde. It had opened about ten days prior. Even without a reservation, it didn’t seem to be a problem to get a table. Granted, it wasn’t the ideal table. With seats situated immediately to the right of the entrance, we were greeted by a breeze every single time someone went through the door. Our food quickly cooled because of that.

Still, we enjoyed our meal. Although they look to have a great cocktail program (based on images I’ve seen on Instagram), I chose to go with water that evening. Instead, I focused on the food. As suggested by the server, we shared a few dishes, including the Crispy Cauliflower ($11), Mushroom and Artichoke Tartine ($11), Duck and Cornbread Skillet ($15), and Chorizo Sausage ($13).

Crispy Cauliflower

As far as Crispy Cauliflower goes, I’ve had similar before. I felt the deep fried batter may have been a tad heavy-handed, and I’m not sure why cauliflower dust (I’m assuming this is dehydrated veggie) is necessary. Perhaps it brings out the essence of the flavour better? What it has going for it is the maple and mustard glaze for that sweet and savoury balance. The chili flakes provided a little bit of heat as well.

Mushroom and Artichoke Tartine

I could have had several slices of the Mushroom and Artichoke Tartine. This was arguably the best dish of the evening. The wild mushroom fricassee was wonderfully creamy and rich, marrying well with the wine poached artichokes, and creamed spinach. The house baked grilled sourdough bread was perfectly dense enough to hold all of the toppings and keep its texture while being soft enough to eat without scraping the roof of my mouth.

On paper, the Duck and Cornbread Skillet sounded super appealing. Shredded confit duck leg? Check. Coffee jus? Check. Apple mostarda (candied fruit and mustard-flavoured syrup)? Check. Meuwly’s mustard? Check. Fresh cornbread? Check. I love duck and I love cornbread. It tasted fine. I just thought the amount of meat was lacking for an item listed under the meat section of the menu. I also found the cornbread to be kind of heavier in consistency than expected. It was like the middle held too much moisture and wasn’t able to rise enough.

Chorizo Sausage

I really appreciate eateries that make everything from scratch. With that being said, Aarde did not disappoint when it came to their Chorizo Sausage. Lightly grilled with perfect seared lines, the sausage was laid whole across a bed of kale and potato mash. Served to the side was bright pickled red cabbage. Herb oil finished it off. When cut apart, the meat held together well. It wasn’t too tightly packed, making for even cooking and heat distribution. Not overly salty, well-seasoned, and a great mix of textures on the palate.

As we finished up our meal, the chef approached the table next to ours and seemed to dote on them. They ate a single dessert between them, and, for whatever reason, the restaurant was keen to know what they thought and provided them with complimentary beverages. I’m not one to ever ask for special treatment as I’ve always gone in anonymously to try restaurants to be as honest as possible. But, for a new business, I thought it was odd that they weren’t taking the time to ask for feedback from all of their patrons. Aside from that, service seemed to lack as soon as we finished our food. Our server didn’t really ask if we wanted dessert or anything else, and it took forever to flag her down again to get our bill when we were ready to leave.

Despite the end to our night at Aarde, I chalked it all up to growing pains. Therefore, in December, I suggested it as a spot for dinner. A good friend of mine was back in town for Christmas and I wanted her to sample something new.

This time, I made a reservation in advance. I actually used their online form, which is powered by Wix Restaurants. I received an email shortly after submitting saying my request was being processed and that I would get an email or text message to confirm. That never showed up, so I ended up phoning on December 26 to ask. Turns out they had it listed in their books, but obviously hadn’t followed up on processing it through the system. I’m going to assume that this was missed because I input my reservation request on Christmas Eve. Hopefully it’s more reliable the rest of the year.

For this particular visit, because of my previous experience, I requested a table away from the door thinking it’d be better and warmer. That was not the case. I’m not sure if they just don’t believe in indoor heating or what, but it was freezing in there again even though we were tucked away behind a wall in a nook. Oh well. I tried.

To eat, Kirk and I split four items between us: Vandaag Soep ($7), Roasted Butternut Squash ($9), as well as two of the larger plates, Duck Breast ($20) and Beef Ribs ($24). Kirk additionally ordered one of the rotational draught beers (20 oz. for $9) to quench his thirst.

Potato Leek Soup from Aarde

Dishes were spaced out decently, so everything wasn’t delivered all at the same time. The first to arrive from the kitchen was the Vandaag Soep (a.k.a. daily artisan soup). On this day, it was a luscious potato leek dressed with twirls and drops of flavoured oils. Incredibly smooth with a slightly peppery finish, it was truly delicious and comforting on a chilly day.

The Roasted Butternut Squash was surprisingly one of my favourites. Thick pieces of the gourd were prepared with pistachios, beet souffle, gremolata (an herb condiment typically made using lemon zest, garlic, and parsley), crispy leeks, lemon garlic leek oil, and pickled onions. It looked simple, but I think that it was probably more deceiving that I thought. There were a number of components and each required careful preparation. Extremely flavourful and satisfying without being overwhelming.

Beef Ribs

Between the two mains, I’d definitely say that the Duck Breast was better. While the Beef Ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender, I thought that the meat had more chunks of gloppy fat and grizzle than I’d prefer. I wasn’t a huge fan of the celery root puree either, which I thought watered down the overall taste of the food. I did like the charred cabbage more than I thought I would though.

On the other hand, the Duck Breast was fantastic. The seared duck breast was ever so slightly pink and really succulent. Sure, there was some fat between the meat and the skin, but it wasn’t to the point of taking away from the rest of the dish. A mushroom fricassee similar to that of the Mushroom and Artichoke Tartine and a handful of lentil fritters accompanied the meat. Very on point. We’d both recommend this duck to others.

London Fog Crème Brûlée on the right

Being the holidays, we also indulged in dessert. The sizeable London Fog Crème Brûlée ($10) was made with organic earl grey tea infused into the custard. On the side were a couple of biscotti cookies. I only had a small bite of the custard and sugar crackle. It was strongly flavoured, which I find to be of importance when it comes to sweets. It doesn’t have to be saccharine, but you should be able to taste what it strives to emulate.

Dutch Almond Cake

Kirk and I divided the Dutch Almond Cake ($10). It was scrumptious! Somewhat dense and a tad chewy, it was still moist and delicate in flavour. The outer edges and top were crusty, and the sliced nuts added minor bitterness. The scoop of avocado gelato was oddly gelatinous while being crumbly. It actually did have a creamy mouthfeel though, and it was refreshing, but otherwise didn’t act like a typical relative of ice cream.

Aarde has some kinks to iron out in terms of the atmosphere, hospitality, and certain dishes. However, there’s a lot of promise, too. If the team works to hone their craft, this could be one of the next success stories in the Edmonton restaurant scene.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Mexico Lindo Tacos & Grill (Sherwood Park)

Our feast was enough to feed double the people!

I’d had my eyes on Mexico Lindo Tacos & Grill for a while now. The online reviews have been stellar. So, when I noticed that Groupon was, again, offering discounts on a meal for two, I decided to snap up a voucher. Kirk and I redeemed our deal in Sherwood Park on a Sunday night.

It’s a well-designed venue with a spacious, open layout. When Kirk and I walked in, I will say that I received a lot of extended stares from other patrons. I got the sense that they don’t typically see a lot of Asians dining there regularly. It felt a little awkward at first, but the staff were friendly (it’s clearly a family run business). In the vein of knowing a Chinese or South Asian restaurant is authentic when you see others of that ethnicity happily spending their hard-earned cash there, it was the same at Mexico Lindo Tacos.

Complimentary chips with dips while we perused their menu.

Once we settled in, we perused the menu. Although the beverages we saw at other tables looked wonderful, we opted to stick with water for the evening. Instead, we split a few dishes between the two of us, including the Queso Fundido ($16.50), Quesadilla de Tres Quesos ($8.50) with Al Pastor Meat ($4), and Tacos Dorados ($12.99).

I love a stretchy cheese pull, and the Queso Fundido with Mushrooms did not disappoint. I swear the layer of Oaxaca cheese was about an inch thick. The cheese combined with the sautéed mushrooms and homemade Mexican chorizo was deliciously satisfying, and plenty, if you want to make it a meal in itself. I do recommend that you eat this first and quickly. Once the hot skillet cools down, it’s not as good because the cheese will no longer be stringy enough to scoop out easily. I’d also suggest ordering extra flour tortillas because the three that come with the dish aren’t quite enough to go with the abundance of stuffing in the pan.

Quesadillas stuffed with cheese and Al Pastor pork.

You definitely get a decent value for your money at Mexico Lindo as the Quesadilla de Tres Quesos with Al Pastor Meat was huge. I was expecting smaller flour tortilla shells as I’ve had at other eateries around Edmonton, but the plate we received held two large 8 to 10 inch wide tortillas filled with a three cheese mixture and a generous amount of shaved Al Pastor meat. The vertical spit-roasted pork was super juicy and a little bit crispy on the edges. Served with in-house guacamole and crema, this was fantastic and perfect for sharing. With the two items that we’d tried so far, there was already enough food to feed about three people.

Tacos Dorados

To finish off our meal, we had the Tacos Dorados. Unlike the other dishes we had sampled, this was prepared differently. The corn tortillas were stuffed with chicken and rolled into tubes before being fried until a crunchy shell was created. The four tortillas were then covered with shredded lettuce, crema, and queso fresco (soft, smooth, mild unaged white cheese). I have to say that the chicken tasted a tad bland inside the tortillas, but was much improved as long as it was eaten with all of the toppings.

Fresh tortilla chips with salsa

Additional to the plates we chose, Mexico Lindo Tacos also provided complimentary tortilla chips with salsa and dips to start. The salsa was refreshing on the palate and the dips featured varying degrees of heat. All of them were excellent accompaniments to the rest of our items.

 

We enjoyed ourselves and the atmosphere (FYI, they also have live music on Saturday nights). Perhaps another outing is required to take advantage of happy hour on weekdays between 2pm to 4pm, or their many daily deals, which are always so tempting when they come up on my social media news feeds. This is a restaurant that I’d certainly be inclined to revisit as the food and service exceeded our expectations.

YEG Local Holiday Gift Guide 2018

What’s going to end up under our tree this year?

Christmas is only a month away now. I’m guessing a lot of you are like me, and you probably didn’t plan far in advance on this year’s presents. With just 30 days left to shop, it’s getting down to the wire. If you have family and friends similar to mine, you may be having a difficult time narrowing things down. Personally, I prefer to gift them with something that’s both fun and useful. But, the older I get, I realize that there isn’t a whole lot that I need anymore, and, whatever I really want, I tend to buy. The same goes for those I know.

What I think works well, though, are products that come from businesses in our own community. Supporting and showcasing your favourite local shops and makers is a great way to spread the word and help these entrepreneurs grow economically while simultaneously sharing what you enjoy with people you love.

In no particular order, I thought I’d highlight several of my top picks here. A number of them were selected for inclusion in the 2018 Edmonton Made Gifted Catalog, and most can be found around the city at various markets, stockists, and their own storefronts or even online.

Evoolution

I recently wrote a blog post about Evoolution’s fantastic tasting events. Those are held monthly at both their downtown Edmonton and St. Albert locations. Tickets to upcoming evenings are available through Eventbrite ($35 per person + tax). With an educational component as well as a full 3-course meal, they’re an excellent value. Alternatively, you can pick up full-size or miniature bottles of their delicious olive oils and balsamic vinegars as a gift for the cooks in your life. The quality is incomparable and anyone who enjoys spending time in the kitchen will appreciate these fine products.

On a side note, we are currently running a contest on our YEG Food Deals Facebook and Instagram pages. Head to both sites where you can enter to win a pair of tickets to the next Evoolution tasting event happening at the 104 Street shop on Tuesday, December 4. The giveaway is open until 11:59pm MT on Wednesday, November 28.

Complimentary mini bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar were given to each guest.

Ochre Lea

I first came across this designer at the Made Local shop on 101 Avenue and 122 Street (I believe this is now closed). I love the whimsical designs that are carefully screen printed on beautifully tanned pieces of leather and then crafted into mason jar holders. The workmanship is impeccable, and they look as though they can withstand quite a bit. Best of all, sustainability has been kept in mind. Everything can be taken apart, which means the metal and glass jar of the mason is recyclable, and the leather is also compostable once the rivets are removed. The 16 ounce size is $35 and a 24 ounce option rings in at $40. Ochre Lea also makes some fantastic letterpress stationary, too. Find these products at the Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair from November 30-December 2 and December 7-9.

Leather Travel Masons by Ochre Lea

Marc Nipp Illustration & Design

I found Marc Nipp’s (a.k.a. El Designo) table at the Edmonton Made show earlier this fall, and I had to go back to get a print of his City of Edmonton Pinball Poster ($25). It’s just a playful representation of our home. Some things are a cheeky take on what we hate about this place, but most of the highlights are pretty great. He’ll be representing at the Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair from December 7-9, or some of Marc’s artwork is also for sale at the Alberta Branded store inside the Edmonton Federal Building. You can also purchase items online through his Zazzle and Etsy shops.

My purchased City of Edmonton Pinball Poster.

Smithstine Copper

Kristine MacDonald is the artist behind the gorgeous copper jewelry and accessories (ranging from $30 to $200), which often have an Edmonton or Albertan theme. She’s recently branched out by mixing other metals in with her usual medium of copper to make distinctive and timeless pieces that will likely be passed down for generations. Additionally, Kristine has started working with enamels, bringing in vibrant shots of colour to some of her hand sawn work. While it may be too late to have something custom made by Christmas (consider that for another time though), you’ll find a variety of pre-made samples at the Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair from November 30-December 2 and December 7-9 as well as on her online shop.

These brass money clips are simple, but meaningful.

Bro Brick

Bro Brick marketed themselves as soap for men with scents to match. Don’t get me wrong though, they do smell great. Rum & Coke and Wasabi & Beer are my choices ($10.50 per bar). They also have shaving soap, moustache wax, and hair/beard balms. All of their products are handmade using plant based oils, so they’re vegan friendly. They’ve now branched out with smaller Chick Bricks for the ladies ($8.50 each). Find them at the Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair from November 30-December 2 or at the Hand2Hand Christmas Market on December 1. Items can also be purchased online directly through their website.

My Sunshine Creations

I don’t currently have any children, but I have a lot of friends with kids. My Sunshine Creations makes some of the most adorable clothing, including unisex cardigans (with matching ones for moms) and comfy looking bum pants. But, what gives me cuteness overload are the baby mocs ($22) and water mocs ($25-$29). There’s just something about tiny shoes for little feet that make me melt. They come in a bevy of colourful designs, so there’s going to be a pair to suit every little boy or girl out there. Order online through the link above.

Baby mocs galore!

Justine Ma

With sassy enameled pins, baby onesies, cake toppers, ornaments, mugs, and cards, Justine Ma won me over. There are products that are pretty and PG13 as well, but it’s the ones that get a little colourful with the language that I love the most. Shop online at the link above, or visit the stores listed here. Justine will also be at the Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair from December 7-9.

Escape City

Even after playing close to two dozen escape rooms across Edmonton, I never get tired of them. There are still a bunch that I have left to tackle, including Escape City’s newest game, Frank’s Revenge. This business does a wonderful job with all of their adventures. Every single room is challenging and immersive. It’s definitely in my top three when it comes to this type of activity. If you know of someone who would rather have a unique experience over something material, this might be perfect for them. Pick up a gift card from Escape City during their regular hours.

We excelled at Neurological!

Brickbubble

I’ve been following Brickbubble on social media for a long time. Run by Diane and Mike who are graphic artists, they’ve utilized their talents to create a number of handmade items ranging from ornaments to jewelry and cutting boards to decor. They specialize in custom work that is often laser cut and engraved, but they also have a lot of ready to go pieces that are perfect for the holidays and speak to the Canadian in us.

Hansen Distillery

I’ve been backing Hansen Distillery since I attended a tour of their facilities and a tasting session back in February. After four generations of moonshiners in their family, Shayna Hansen and Kris Sustrik went legit and opened Hansen Distillery about two years ago. They’ve quickly amassed popularity with their cream liqueurs and cherry rye, and for good reason. They’re delicious to sip on their own and just as great for use in cocktails. Treat a connoisseur of spirits to a tour and tasting ($10.50 per person), or grab a bottle or two of their best sellers to put under the tree.