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.

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Edmonton Restaurant Review: Blaze Pizza (Brewery District)

Worked my way through my White Top pizza.

On a whim, my boyfriend and I decided to pop over to the Brewery District last month. We were both hungry, so we opted to try Blaze Pizza for lunch. Similar to Edmonton’s own Urbano Pizza Co. or LOVEPIZZA, this Californian chain of franchises started infiltrating the city with their version of the build your own pizza process back in the spring of 2016 on the north side. Just a little over a year later, two more have risen. This location in the west end and another at South Common.

I’m going to assume that the three shops are relatively the same in terms of quality. From what I gathered on the Blaze Pizza website, franchisees are expected to sign on to develop a market area, so it’s very likely that all of the current spots in the city actually share the same ownership. Plus, with standardization across a chain, it should be expected that dining at one is equivalent to eating at another. In that case, I have to say that, going forward, my expectations will be relatively high.

When we arrived at Blaze Pizza, it wasn’t too busy (the line picked up five minutes later), so the first staff member we encountered was able to explain the whole process to us. Instead of creating our pies from scratch, we both chose to go with their signature pizzas ($11.65 each) — BBQ Chicken for him and White Top for me — supplementing our very own unlimited customizations as we saw fit.

I enjoyed watching them prep the balls of dough with a pressing machine that flattened them into a thin base. The dough was then transferred onto a wooden board that made its way down the assembly line. It begins with the sauces, then moves to the cheeses, followed by the meats, and then the final toppings. At that point, the board is handed over to the “pizzasmith” who slides the pie into the oven. The three minutes it takes to cook is when payment is processed. After that, either find a table and come back to grab the pizza, or wait by the prep area next to the oven for it to be done.

There seemed to be somewhat of a bottleneck during the baking of our pizzas because it took longer than 180 seconds for them to come out. When they’re fetched from the oven, they are placed onto a pan, sliced and then finished off with any last sauces or toppings. I had to ask for the pesto drizzle and I also had to remind the employee to put my arugula on before he handed it to me (I was informed earlier that those greens were placed on at the end to avoid wilting from the heat). My boyfriend’s pizza took another few minutes.

Initial impressions for me: 1) thin, foldable crust; 2) a tad too crispy on the bottom and edges, but still had a nice chew in the middle; 3) flavourful; and 4) plenty of different toppings. I never did sample the BBQ Chicken pizza, but the White Top was made with white cream sauce, mozzarella cheese, applewood bacon, chopped garlic, oregano, and arugula. Personally, on its own, I don’t think the toppings would have sufficed. The staff were kind of skimpy with those ingredients. Thankfully, I had garlic pesto sauce, grilled chicken, artichokes, zucchini, and goat cheese added to the mix, which helped to fill it out.

For the most part, our experience at Blaze Pizza turned out to be a good one. I’m not yet sure if it’s the best pie joint in the build your own pizza realm, but it’s certainly decent enough for the price.

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.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Brewsters

Tuna Burger with Tater Tots and the Blue Bison Burger in the background.

I regularly find myself scrolling through Instagram. As I work my way down the feed, I like and save posts that I want to remember. One such image showcased the featured ‘Worship the Burger’ menu that Brewsters offered until the end of September. Until then, I’d never dined at one of their restaurants nor had I planned to any time soon. Alas, photos of the Tuna Burger couldn’t be ignored. I made it a point of dragging my boyfriend to the Summerside location before it was too late.

The merchandise case had some fun branded products.

Walking into the doors, we were greeted by a wall of Brewsters merchandise and signage that indicated we could seat ourselves wherever we liked. We opted to sit in the lounge. There, we perched at a bar table by the windows that overlooked the patio. It’s pretty standard looking in terms of typical pub-like chains; roomy enough to get around the tables while still maintaining a variety of seating options to accommodate different sizes of groups. The bar is a good length with a few TVs in view as well.

Once we had settled in, our server came over to let us know of any specials before going to grab us some glasses of water. When she came back, we were ready to order. My boyfriend chose to go with the Blue Bison Burger ($17.99) and I stuck with my decision to try the Tuna Burger ($17.99).

Blue Bison Burger with Fries

As expected on a quiet afternoon, the wait for our food wasn’t too long. Although, the Blue Bison Burger showed up on a scalding hot plate, which was a sign that it had likely been sitting under a heat lamp to be kept warm. Still, the side of fries had a crispy exterior that gave way to a fluffy middle. They were quite delicious. The burger, on the other hand, was disappointingly made with a prefab bison patty. The free-range meat was packed too tightly to be considered remotely fresh. Despite that, it wasn’t completely dry after the cooking process. All too often, lean bison can lose it’s juiciness easily. This was surprisingly more succulent than I expected. Topped with smoked Gorgonzola, chipotle ketchup, mayo, caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato, and dill pickle, I thought it was quite flavourful. Smoky with some funk from the cheese, it was a decent balance of what could otherwise be strong or overwhelming profiles; however, my boyfriend would have preferred more of the Gorgonzola.

Sesame seed crusted seared Ahi tuna steak!

I’ve had my share of Ahi tuna burgers over the years. Many of them have been amazing, so it would take a lot to impress me here. Admittedly, the first thing that crossed my mind when I looked at Brewsters’ Tuna Burger was that it was too high to fit in my mouth. The slab of seared tuna was thick to begin with. Stacking it with four large wonton chips and a mound of green pea shoots made it even taller. For fear of having the roof of my mouth butchered by the corners of those crisps, I elected to remove them before I proceeded to eat. To be honest, the initial bites were a bit of a let down. The tuna seemed to be overcooked. My boyfriend sampled it and said it tasted like he was eating a salad in a bun as there were so many greens. Yet, as I kept at it, the rest of the sesame seed crusted Ahi tuna steak was found to be more than adequate; the fish was nicely seared on the edges as it remained raw in the middle. The flavours also improved, especially when I made sure to take mouthfuls of the tuna alongside the wasabi tartar sauce layered wonton crisps. Minimal amounts of the pickled green pea shoots helped, too. The chips were actually quite thin, so they were easy to break and less likely to scrape the insides of my mouth than I originally thought. In hind sight, it may have been fine to leave the wontons in my burger, but better safe than sorry. Overall, this was again a good balance. It veered towards being a healthier option than the other burgers on the ‘Worship’ menu. Well, healthy insofar as the tuna, lettuce, and shoots. Not so much when it came to the side of Cajun spiced tater tots drizzled in a hot sauce and sprinkled with green onion. As full as I was, I managed to polish the skillet of tater tots clean.

I kind of want this polka dot hat.

When it came down to it, I’d say that our experience was mixed. The Blue Bison Burger left something to be desired even though my meal turned out to be great. The service we received was friendly, if a tad slow when we wanted to pay our bill at the end. Brewsters certainly isn’t at the top of my list of places to revisit soon, but I’m not completely deterred either. Now that we know that their burgers aren’t hand-pressed using fresh ground meat, we can avoid those menu items and try something else next time. Live and learn, right?

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Chartier

Start with dessert first: Banana Phone on a vintage plate.

I follow a lot of Edmonton’s local and surrounding restaurants on social media. Included in the mix is Chartier, a French-Canadian eatery out of Beaumont. Known for their elevated take on rustic dishes, it wasn’t their regular menu that pulled me into their establishment. Instead, I was enticed by their weekly Tuesday night burgers, specifically the Fall menu from September 19 that was posted on Instagram.

Chartier has a great story. Starting with the name, owners Sylvia and Darren Cheverie dug into the history books to learn of a man named Father Morin who travelled to Ottawa from Alberta in 1895 to petition for a post office to be placed in the small French colony from which he came. In order to do so, he needed to present potential names for the community. Of the three possibilities, ‘Beaumont’ is the one that stuck. ‘Chartier’ went unused until the couple launched a Kickstarter as a way to fund their dream of opening a local eatery. It ended up becoming the most successful restaurant campaign in Alberta and Canada on the crowdfunding platform, raising over $107,000 in just two months.

Approximately one year after they had raised the money, the restaurant opened in March of 2016 to rave reviews of chef Steven Brochu’s offerings. Another year and a half later, Chartier was listed as one of 30 finalists vying to become Canada’s Best New Restaurant for 2017 by Air Canada. That accolade, along with a unique, limited-edition menu, spurred my first visit.

My boyfriend and I drove from south Edmonton to downtown Beaumont within 20 minutes. There were no problems finding free on-street parking right outside the building, so we made it there for our 6:00 pm reservation (booked online through Yelp) with a few minutes to spare.

Entering through their threshold, you’re welcomed by a cozy waiting area that houses a cabinet of their own pantry items and branded products. Immediately past that space, a large bar and dining room is to be found. On this evening, the majority of their vintage, colourfully painted mismatched chairs were already filled with happy people. We were seated at a table for two near the kitchen. There, I was able to take peeks at the chefs as they worked. I also took my time appreciating the design of the venue. With cinnamon-maple stained columns and beams as well as reclaimed wood paneled walls, and a large barn door, that country charm really came into play.

The Fall Burger Menu

To get the night started, my other half ordered one of the draught beers. It seems that they only have a few on tap. Therefore, the choices were minimal. But, it’s okay because he still found a new beverage to try. As he waited for his drink to come, the two of us paged through a handful of sheets printed with their menus. To be honest, I barely even glanced at their usual dinner selection. Although, I will have to make a point of coming back to sample it down the road. My mind was completely set on those burgers. Of the four options, we decided to split the Messy Bun and Uggs ($21) and the PSL ($20).

The Messy Bun and Uggs was described as a six ounce sheep burger stuffed with bacon and cheese. It was put onto a house made messy bun (basically a cheese bun) and topped with smoky BBQ sauce and caramelized onions. Overall, it was well-made; both of us appreciated the juiciness of the meat and the barbecue flavour. Yet, it felt as though something was missing. Ultimately, it came down to the taste of the patty. The meat lacked that gameyness that is so strongly associated with sheep or lamb, and while it’s not always a palate pleaser for some, that’s what we had expected and wanted out of the meal. As it turned out, the burger simply tasted like beef.

Our side for this main was the Salade de Chartier. Tossed arugula, spinach, kale, pickled Brussels sprouts, and red onions were combined with roasted root vegetables in a peach maple mustard vinaigrette and topped with finely grated Sylvan Star Grizzly Gouda and candied walnuts. It was certainly a hearty salad, but I thought it started to become too salty. Sure, there were plenty of flavour profiles throughout the dish — tangy dressing, sweet walnuts, bitterness from the greens — but they were all overtaken by that single note in the end.

PSL with Wedge Fries

Our favourite of the pair of entrées was the PSL burger. Short for Pumpkin Spice Latte, I felt that this was where the kitchen’s creativity really excelled. The PSL consisted of a six ounce beef patty covered with whipped pumpkin chèvre, cinnamon, truffle, onion relish, sautéed mushrooms, and roasted garlic. It was literally autumn in burger form. What amazed me most was the fact that none of the flavours overwhelmed the others. I was able to pick out every ingredient with each bite that I took; I thought it was superb. In particular, I loved the use of cinnamon. I learned long ago that cinnamon is an amazing spice that can be used in all sorts of recipes to give them that je ne sais quoi quality. Here, it helped Chartier raise the pedestal of what a burger could be while simultaneously remaining down-to-earth. The side of hand-cut wedge fries were also delicious. Crisp on the outside with plenty of fluffy potato on the inside, I couldn’t stop eating them.

Banana Phone

Having reviewed the desserts earlier in the day, I knew I couldn’t leave without ordering one. We elected to go with the Banana Phone ($11). As I suspected, we chose well (our server even agreed that it was her preferred plate). Toasted banana bread served with brûlée banana, banana cream, and a scoop of tonka bean and Tahitian vanilla ice cream, this was worth the extra calories. Being easy to come by, bananas, which are often eaten as a quick snack, aren’t usually given lofty goals. But, in this instance, they were everything. I will admit that the banana bread was initially drier than I would have liked; however, the ice cream and the banana cream sauce quickly mitigated that potential misstep. What I truly appreciated was the simplicity of the banana halves torched with a thin layer of crunchy caramelized sugar. The sweetness wasn’t overwhelming; it was just right.

Now that I’ve actually eaten there firsthand, I can say that the praise they’ve received is deserved. Not only is the food at Chartier top-notch, I’d say the service is as well. The staff is welcoming, friendly and team-oriented.

Before we even left, my boyfriend was already planning our next date night at Chartier. As such, it’s safe to say that we’ll be back. Perhaps I’ll even attempt to drop by on occasion to pick up some baked goods from their bread window. From what I understand, they open the window strictly on weekends from Friday to Sunday. Yet, lately, on Instagram, I’ve noticed photos and posts about their lineup during the week as well. Either way, they’re definitely doing a good job of drawing me in again.

Until next time, Chartier!