Edmonton Restaurant Review: Little India Cuisine

Our table covered with traditional Indian cuisine.

Groupon struck again with a lunch voucher for Little India Cuisine (9250 34 Avenue). Knowing that it was valid towards the buffet ($14.99), which is available daily, I couldn’t pass it up.

My boyfriend and I decided to do a walk-in on a Sunday afternoon. When we stepped through the doors, on the right hand side, I noticed the decor with draped fabrics, hand-carved wooden doors, lantern lights hanging from the ceiling and traditional paintings. It looked stylish and classy from afar; it was a little run-down on closer inspection. On the left hand side was the payment counter and their sweets shop.

We didn’t have to wait for a table as they were able to seat us immediately. However, I did not appreciate where we were placed. We were taken to the back room where the bar is situated. They had modified the tables in that area to accommodate a large party of people who basically took it over and didn’t seem to understand the concept of personal space. It felt like I was sitting in a cafeteria, not a relaxing restaurant. I do realize that probably isn’t the norm there, but it really dampened my experience on this occasion. Had we managed to get a table out front instead, I think it would have been much quieter and more comfortable.

That aside, we helped ourselves to the buffet and it was superb. There was a decent amount of variety, including a salad bar, soups, rices, appetizers, mains, and a few desserts. I only managed to consume one large plate of food (I can’t eat as much as I used to) that was comprised of Aloo Gobi, Mutter Paneer, Lamb Curry, Tandoori Chicken, Butter Chicken, and Saffron Rice.

Papri Chaat and my plate from the lunch buffet.

Everything was marinated well with the flavours saturating and soaking into the veggies and meats. The Tandoori Chicken was actually succulent compared to some I’ve had at other places where it often ends up dry, especially when it can be sitting out for a long period. I love that they serve lamb as part of their lunch buffet because a lot of other Indian restaurants tend to save it for the dinner lineup. I managed to scoop up a few tender pieces of the lamb. It was all meat with very little fat or tendon to be found (although, the bowl had a lot of bones left behind). My absolute favourite thing at any Indian eatery is butter chicken, mainly for the sauce. This was a creamy, slightly spicy and incredibly tasty rendition. In fact, a small pot of the sauce was the only thing I went back to get a second helping of. I dipped our fresh naan bread into that dish and it was worth each and every additional calorie.

I was also surprised to find a plate of Papri Chaat sitting at our table when we first returned from gathering our food at the buffet. I can’t ever recall eating it anywhere else, so it was new to me. The recipe consists of crispy chips, potatoes, chickpeas, and yogurt chutney. Before we were able to ask one of the servers what it was, I took a chance and had a few bites. It was delicious! There are a lot of different textures and I liked the cooling sensation of the yogurt on the palate. Personally, I like it way more than the Papadam that is often offered as a starter.

Mango Custard

Usually, I skip dessert at Indian buffets. After all, I’ve never been a fan of Gulabjuman (milk balls in hot sweet syrup) as they’re way too sugary. Yet, this time, they presented a mango custard and I had to give it a try. It was, admittedly, a slight disappointment. The only reason I say that is due to the number of pieces of custard skin that ended up in my bowl. Those had a sort of unpleasant mouthfeel, like crumbly gelatin. I picked my way around them and ate the smoother custard on its own, and that turned out to be pretty good. Honestly, it could almost pass as a replacement for those wonderful lassi drinks.

When we were finished, we went up to the till to pay our bill. It took forever for the woman to assist us. She seemed more preoccupied with answering the phone than anything. But, her main issue was that she didn’t know where we were sitting and she was apparently trying to get the attention of the servers to ask them before she finally just inquired with us. The staff definitely came across as a bit disorganized. Otherwise, the service was alright while we were dining.

This visit left me with mixed feelings about Little India Cuisine. To go out for a meal is a treat (even if it’s something I do more than the average person). As a customer, I’m spending my hard-earned money by choosing to eat at your establishment. Therefore, it’s not just about filling my body with food. I want to be able to have an enjoyable lunch with my significant other without having some child run into our table, knocking over our stuff. I want to be able to pay my bill in a timely manner. I just want it to be a nice escape from my typical day. In this case, the ambience didn’t do the kitchen’s work any justice, and I couldn’t wait to leave.

Still, the meal was affordable and executed well enough that I’d be willing to give Little India Cuisine another shot. Hopefully what we went through that day was a one off and it’ll be better next time.

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Edmonton Restaurant Review: Mai Vietnamese Fusion

The exterior of Mai Vietnamese Fusion.

Had I not strolled by Mai Vietnamese Fusion along West Edmonton Mall’s Bourbon Street earlier this year, I never would have known of its existence. Intrigued, I searched for it online and found that the restaurant itself had no website or Facebook page. The only trace of it came through reviews left by patrons on Yelp and Zomato. Their only social media presence was on Instagram and even that hadn’t been updated since the summer of 2016.

Those reviews I’d seen weren’t very flattering either. Yet, a Groupon deal was all I needed to forgive any negatives and give Mai Vietnamese Fusion a try. I waited almost the full four months before I went to redeem that voucher on a Saturday night. When my boyfriend and I walked up to the host standing outside the front of the establishment, we indicated that we needed a table for two people. She seemed disorganized and asked us to wait while she ran inside to find an empty space (shouldn’t they have a seating chart at their disposal?). When she came back, we were told that there wasn’t anything available, but something would be ready within ten minutes or so.

The entrance into the restaurant.

As we waited, my eyes explored the room, and I have to say it was designed well. A giant Buddha greets patrons as they come in through the door. To the left hand side of the entrance is a whole wall of smaller figurines of the same in a variety of colours. On the main level, there are a couple of semi-private rooms for larger groups as well as some more intimate tables for couples. Up a few steps on the right hand side are a number of large velvet-lined booths overlooked by a handful of portrait paintings. Overall, the aesthetic was modern with just a touch of the traditional.

Condiments at the table along with fresh basil and bean sprouts.

Once we were seated, we reviewed the menu. Initially, I thought it was a bit expensive in comparison to other restaurants that serve the same type of food. However, I do understand that the cost of rent at WEM is much higher than it would be anywhere else, so I’m assuming that is reflected in their prices. Ultimately, my boyfriend opted for the large Pho with Steak ($15.70) and I went with the Grilled Beef & Spring Roll with Vermicelli ($16.20).

It didn’t take much time for them to prepare everything because, before we knew it, our bowls were brought out to us, along with a plate of fresh basil and bean sprouts. Then we went to work devouring it all.

Pho with Steak

The Pho with Steak was very generous in size. There were plenty of noodles in the bowl and enough steak that my boyfriend nearly failed to finish off the meat (unheard of). The soup wasn’t particularly hot, but it was warm enough. Fattiness was apparent in the broth with bubbles of oil at the top, yet it didn’t seem greasy when consumed. It was a nice, simple soup. I wish I could give a true sense of what it tasted like on its own though. Unfortunately, I only had some after my boyfriend added in a bunch Sriracha sauce to it. Arguably, that added a delightful heat that also elevated the flavour of the dish. Of course, I won’t know for sure how pure the soup is until I go back and try the pho again without that alteration. In any case, it was good enough for me to want to keep drinking the broth.

Grilled Beef & Spring Roll with Vermicelli

My portion of the Grilled Beef & Spring Roll with Vermicelli did not disappoint. Sure, it wasn’t as big as the pho, but it was all noodles, veggies and protein. I almost had a hard time stirring the components together for fear of anything jumping ship out of the side of the bowl. In the end, I managed to get the fish sauce mixed in well though. Again, they did not skimp on the noodles (as a cheap ingredient, they shouldn’t be). The ratio of vermicelli to beef was almost perfect. I especially enjoyed the meat as it was marinated really well; the lemongrass flavour definitely came through and there was a pleasant charring from the grill. The two spring rolls were deliciously crisp and filling, too.

Our only issue with the restaurant was the service. Each staff member that we encountered came across as friendly, and, as I mentioned before, our food was presented pretty quickly. Despite that, there was still a sense of mismanagement. With several people working that evening, two tables, including ours, never received our requested glasses of water. Both of us had to ask random employees for our drinks towards the end of our meals because we couldn’t find the person who was supposed to be our server.

Otherwise, it turned out to be a decent dinner out. I think I understand why the restaurant doesn’t necessarily have the greatest reviews out there. Nonetheless, if someone can see past possibly subpar service and they happen to be at West Edmonton Mall with a hankering for Vietnamese cuisine (and other Asian-style dishes), I would tell them to give Mai Vietnamese Fusion a chance.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Sir Winston’s Fish & Chips

Atlantic Haddock Full Meal Deal

At the end of October, shortly before leaving for our vacation, my boyfriend and I planned a last minute gathering with our friends. We were going to be tackling another escape room together, which meant we’d need some sustenance and some time to catch up before playing. So, we racked our brains trying to think of a nearby place that was new to all of us.

Ultimately, we decided on Sir Winston’s Fish & Chips. Located at an unassuming strip mall in south Edmonton on 105 Street and 51 Avenue, it has apparently been family owned and operated for over twenty years.

The interior of Sir Winston’s Fish & Chips.

We had arranged to meet there shortly after noon. I thought that we would be coinciding with the Sunday lunch rush, but when we arrived, the establishment was still empty (it did get slightly busier as we ate). Overall, it’s a fun venue with a strong English-style pub vibe.

However, there were two downsides on this occasion. First, the restaurant had no working bathrooms due to a plumbing issue that affected most businesses on that side of the mall. Second, upon ordering our food, we were told that their ovens weren’t running either, meaning their house made pies were out of the question and only deep fried dishes would be available.

Still, we were able to look past those issues. Our friends ordered the Vegetarian Samosas ($5), Calamari ($12) and the Atlantic Cod Full Meal Deal (~$17). I went with a one-piece Atlantic Cod with Chips ($12). My boyfriend opted for the Sunday lunch special of the Atlantic Haddock Full Meal Deal ($16). The two of us also shared a plate of the Coconut Shrimp ($12).

Vegetarian Samosas and Calamari

I did not sample the Vegetarian Samosas or the Calamari. Yet, my friend’s husband thoroughly enjoyed them. He especially loved the calamari, telling the server that it was probably the best he’s had in the city. From his experience, calamari is often overcooked and rubbery. The offerings here were made perfectly.

Coconut Shrimp

Our starter of Coconut Shrimp was quite pleasing, too. For all I know, it came frozen out of a box, but I wasn’t picky. The shrimp were relatively large, they were crisp and they were coated with plenty of coconut to give it that sweet flavour. Alongside the tangy cocktail sauce, I’d say this was a winner.

Atlantic Cod Fish & Chips

I personally found the batter on the fish to be a bit heavy-handed though. It didn’t stick to the fish very well, often falling off each time I cut a piece. Otherwise, I thought it was alright. The creamy tartar sauce provided a nice acidity to the moist, flaky cod. As for the side of chips, they failed to make enough for all of the dishes, so mine was brought out with a smaller amount of fries. The good thing is that the kitchen was already aware of the mistake and our server showed up with an extra side of chips soon after. The thick fries seemed to be fresh cut, soaking in all that delicious vinegar that I sprinkled on top.

If one goes for the Full Meal Deal, it includes one piece of fish, chips, coleslaw, and a non-alcoholic beverage. Prices vary depending on the type of fish selected. The Atlantic Cod is less dense, but also only four ounces in size. Whereas, the Atlantic Haddock is an additional two ounces and has a drier, firmer texture to the meat.

With plenty of time to spare, we decided to stay for dessert. Three of us went in on the Deep Fried Mars Bar ($5) and the Deep Fried Oreos ($5). Again, the batter was laid on thick, but unlike the fish, this was similar in texture to a crispy cake doughnut, so it worked in this case. Both were served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream to help combat the heat from the fryer. Arguably, these are very pedestrian desserts. Nevertheless, in this context, they felt highly rich and indulgent. I mean, how often does one eat sweets like these?

Admittedly, service slowed down as more patrons came in, and it was difficult to get our waters refilled towards the end. Despite that and the other shortcomings mentioned earlier, we had a decent time during this visit.

From the reviews I’d read online, I will say that I was expecting outstanding fish and chips. Although I cannot say that Sir Winston’s has the best, they’re okay. What I really am willing to go back for are those pies (Butter Chicken is calling my name). I just have to keep my fingers crossed that their ovens will be functioning next time!

Edmonton Restaurant Review: MISO Japanese Cuisine

Bento Box

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Elm Cafe

The patio space outside Elm Cafe.

Recently, I’ve written pieces about two of Nate Box’s businesses: the established District Cafe at 10011 109 Street and the soon-to-open Salz at 10556 115 Street. He’s had a successful run with smaller eateries that focus on succinct menus made with locally sourced ingredients and products. Having already discussed half of Box’s ventures, this year seemed as good as any to work my way through all four. I still have to pay a visit to Little Brick, but now I can cross Elm Cafe off my list.

In all honesty, for at least two, maybe even three, years now, I’d been sitting on a gift certificate for Elm Cafe. Despite the incentive and my best intentions, I just always forgot to go. I knew that they made some delicious sandwiches though. After all, in the past, I had eaten some of their catering during a TEDx event held at the Citadel Theatre.

The tiny interior of the shop.

Last month, I couldn’t wait any longer. I was adamant about stopping by the shop to pick up some lunch for my family. My boyfriend and I dropped by on a Sunday before noon. It was easy enough to find free street parking on the block. When we walked up to the patio, I noticed a few outdoor tables spaced out nicely. Those spots provide the majority of what seats they have available. In the winter, only a couple of bar stools are to be found inside the cafe for in-house dining. It’s a tiny 200 square foot space with a counter, a kitchen and three staff that have their moves and duties coordinated down to a tee, so as not to stumble over one another.

The day’s menu changes regularly.

Thankfully, there wasn’t anyone waiting behind me to order, so I was able to take a bit of time to decide on what I wanted. The downside to their menu is that it’s regularly updated depending on what’s in stock, so the pizza and sandwiches change daily. I knew ahead of time that they offered early sandwiches (they open early at 7:30am to catch the worker bees in the mornings), lunch sandwiches, soup, salad, muffins, scones, cookies, and an assortment of beverages; however, the specifics were to be a surprise.

As I laid eyes on the menu, I took note of the fact that the day’s pizza and one of the lunch sandwiches had already been crossed off the board. Food sells out quickly here, so the best bet for the most choice is to stop in bright and early. Still, there were some good options. I ended up selecting the following to go: Early 1 ($8), Early 2 ($8), Livin la Sous Vide a Loca ($9), a raspberry white chocolate scone ($4), and a salted caramel ($1). The full package added up $30, which was exactly the amount I had to spend.

My order packaged and ready to take home.

Our food took slightly longer than expected as there was a mistake made with my order; however, it was quickly rectified. While the final sandwich was being prepared, I perused the items on the counter. They’ve sourced a handful of products made in Edmonton (teas, cordials and caramels) as well as craft roasted coffee from Victoria. Eventually, the wait paid off. My goods were bagged up and we were on our way to my parents for lunchtime.

As soon as we got to their house, I unpacked everything and plated the sandwiches. First off, I’ll just say that they did not make for the most photogenic dish; they looked like all bun and no filling. But, hopefully, the images here do them some justice. We split the three sandwiches into quarters for us to share. In spite of their large size, I’m not sure that was truly enough to feed four grown adults. The bread also wasn’t our favourite due to the texture. Regardless, they were decent, especially when it came to overall flavour.

Early 2: cauliflower, egg, crispy onions, greens, chili mayo, and cheese sauce.

I’ll begin with the Early 2. This was a cauliflower and egg sandwich with chili mayo, cheese sauce, crispy onions, and greens. I would have liked more egg for extra protein and for the cauliflower to be more prominent. Yet, this was a much tastier option than I would have expected. The slight bitterness from the arugula was offset by the combo of mayo and cheese, and those crispy onions added texture and saltiness.

Livin la Sou Vide a Loca

Livin la Sous Vide a Loca consisted of turkey, brie, cucumber, pickled onion, arugula, apple jelly, and herb aioli. What a fantastic combination of flavours in this one. This bun was a tad firmer and more toasted than the Early sandwiches, but it worked. The turkey was succulent, there was just a bit of sourness from the pickled onion, and the apple jelly brought in a hint of sweetness. Everything balanced with the creamy brie and the pungent aioli.

Early 1: chicken, egg, roast peppers, lemon, charred green onion, Gouda, and lemon aioli.

My personal favourite turned out to be the Early 1. A chicken sandwich with egg, roast peppers, charred green onion, greens, Gouda, and lemon aioli, this one packed a punch. Savoury with the meat, a little smoky due to the onion’s preparation, and zesty from the lemon, it was somewhat of a revelation. We all enjoyed this one.

Raspberry White Chocolate Scone

To finish off our meal, we split the moist raspberry white chocolate scone. It defied expectations by avoiding the dry quality of some of its counterparts. Even with a crunchy sugar topping, it refrained from being overly sweet. My only suggestion is that they try to spread out the raspberries and chocolate when they lay out the dough to bake because the distribution was quite uneven. I shared my salted caramel with my mom as our final dessert. I’m pretty sure that these are made by Erica Vliegenthart, the head baker at District Cafe, who sells her pies and caramels under the Red Balloon Pie Company name. The caramel was super soft and fresh. I would have happily eaten a dozen on the spot.

Salted Caramels

A meal from Elm Cafe was a long time coming. I’m glad that I finally tried it out. Although we thought there could be minor improvements made to the food, the important thing is it brought my family together for a lovely afternoon. Nate Box’s venues are grounded in the idea of community, and I think that he and his team are definitely succeeding in that respect.