Edmonton Mini Restaurant Review: Malt & Mortar

Malt & Mortar’s logo painted on their exposed brick wall.

My friends are moving to Vancouver this week (sadness). When they invited Kirk and me to join them for a going away gathering at Malt & Mortar earlier this month, we made sure to go. I’d never been to the Whyte Ave venue before, so I was excited to check it out.

We arrived a little late that Saturday night, and we found them hovering by the large center bar. The reservation made for a dozen people still wasn’t ready. Thankfully, it didn’t take too much longer before they had things set. We were led towards the back of the restaurant where there was a long raised table that could accommodate our group.

Malt & Mortar has a cool vibe. Slightly vintage with its exposed brick walls, wood plank ceiling and painted logo, while keeping things modern with more industrial black piping, venting, beams and lighting. The space was larger than I had realized as well. A variety of leather upholstered booths were available to fit parties of any size.

It was very loud though, making it difficult to hear past the few tablemates who surrounded me. I noticed that a handful of speakers were hanging directly above us and pretty much along the whole perimeter of the place. With numerous glass windows and hard brick, sound couldn’t be absorbed, so it just echoed all over. If you plan to go there and are hoping for a quieter visit, I’d suggest a weekday or later in the evenings. That, or try to get one of the smaller round booths along the back of the eatery. They kind of have a pergola over them and there are no speakers right nearby, so I suspect that it won’t be as noisy in those spots.

My other recommendation to Malt & Mortar is that they don’t have enough screens listing their beers on tap (I believe there are about 16 in rotation at one time). There was only one on our side of the restaurant and it was right over my head. I had to turn my body around and crane my neck just to read it, so I was surprised that they didn’t have another set up on the facing wall considering that there is plenty of space to put it.

Lastly, I understand putting bathrooms (really clean, by the way) in the basement, but I don’t quite believe that establishments where a lot of alcohol is consumed are the ideal businesses for bathrooms where stairs are involved. I thought the same thing of Craft Beer Market and I think the same thing here. There were many patrons later in the night who seemed like they wouldn’t make it down the stairs without falling. Otherwise, the design of the venue is pretty good.

Kirk had a few pints of beer and the Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich.

On to the drinks and food though! Similar to Beer Revolution, they update their rotating draughts on the TV screens with soon to be tapped kegs listed at the bottom. The selection was decent with a heavy emphasis on local breweries; most pints are priced at around $8.50 each. My personal preference for beer tends to be light, crisp, and fruity. Kirk leans more towards IPAs with hoppiness. That evening, I took a liking to the current sour from Situation Brewing. I also tried the Malt & Mortar Saturday special, a two-ounce Back Porch Tea ($10) made with gin, peach sweet tea, and house-made sour. Admittedly, it was a strong cocktail, but after a big squeeze of lemon juice, it settled and was relatively refreshing.

To eat, Kirk went for the Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich ($17), which was praised by one of our friends. Stacked with coleslaw, pickles, and two pieces of battered and fried chicken breast covered in a Gochujang glaze, it was juicy, savoury, a little bit sweet, and slightly spicy. The whole thing was a huge mess though. The bun fell apart less than half way through and Kirk finished it off using his utensils. For his side, he stuck to the standard fries, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper.

I tried out the Back Porch Tea and the West Coast Power Bowl with added Tuna Poke.

I decided to go a “healthier” route by ordering the West Coast Power Bowl ($17) with added Tuna Poke ($7). Honestly, the cost once you tack on a protein is kind of high, but the bowl was huge. It felt like I was barely making a dent in the dish, and at the end, I was sort of struggling to finish it. I didn’t have enough left to pack it home, yet it wasn’t a small enough portion to toss it out. I hate to waste food, so I persisted. Still, it was tasty minus the cilantro used in the poke. It’s not an ingredient listed anywhere on the menu when describing the tuna, so I didn’t bother asking if there would be any cilantro. Had I known, I would probably have asked them to mix the poke without the herb or selected a different meat. I’m not sure why cilantro is used in everything nowadays when it’s common knowledge that there are many people who don’t have the taste buds to appreciate it, so all I ask is that they give a warning about it in advance.

In any case, I sucked it up, picking out the cilantro where possible and just eating it when I couldn’t. On a positive note, the flavour was somewhat masked by the rest of the ingredients in the West Coast Power Bowl. The base was an organic quinoa tossed in a citrus vinaigrette and then combined with corn, black beans, avocado, cucumber, pea shoots, and pickled carrots. There was tons of texture going on and a jolt of heat on the palate from the delicious avocado wasabi crema. Not mentioned on the menu was the use of aburaage, which are thin slices of deep-fried tofu, usually used to make inari sushi. Those were cut into smaller pieces and added to the dish for sweetness. I really enjoyed having that in the mix.

After a few hours hanging out, we called it a night. Considering the size of our group and the staff working that Saturday evening, I thought the service was alright. We all managed to get our beverages and food without much issue (we did get one wrong order of beer, but we also got an extra beer on the house), and we really liked the space, especially when it died down later so we could hear again. Overall, the food was well-made (corn dogs don’t smell better when they’re plated pretty though) and filling, just maybe a tad too pricey regarding the entrées. Other than that, we’ll definitely be back. It’s a fun spot with a casual, convivial atmosphere.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Seoul Fried Chicken

Seoul Fried Chicken box sets

Before his foray into finer dining at DOSC, owner/chef Jake Lee opened up the unassuming Seoul Fried Chicken a stone’s throw away from Old Strathcona. Situated in a strip mall on 104 Street between 79 Avenue and 80 Avenue, the Korean eatery, with its approximately 18 seats, is small and meant primarily for pickup orders.

Prior to my recent visit, I’d only ever tried their food twice. Once when my co-worker generously shared some of her lunch when she had a box delivered to the office (they now have their own delivery app) and again when I attended the annual Avenue Magazine Best Restaurant event. Both of those instances gave me a hint of just how awesome their chicken was, so I knew I needed to try it in its full glory some day.

The interior of Seoul Fried Chicken

After a particularly long morning around Whyte Ave two weeks ago, I decided to treat Kirk and myself to a pair of their 5 piece Chicken Sets ($11.40 each). The boxes are stuffed with your choice of flavoured fried chicken, half salad, and fries or a corn fritter. Plus, a non-alcoholic beverage is included in the price. Considering the cost nowadays of a meal at other generic fast food joints, this didn’t seem so bad. It was also enough to feed both of us twice (albeit a more petite portion when it came to the leftovers), so the value was definitely there.

Once we’d paid at the till, we grabbed our sodas from the cooler and then perched ourselves on a couple of seats to wait for our order to be called. It didn’t take long at all. I think we were there for a maximum of 15 minutes from waiting in line to walking out the door.

When we got home, the boxes were still warm, although sauce had escaped from one of them and was getting everywhere. Thankfully a quick wipe of the box stymied the leakage. On first inspection, everything looked amazing. The pieces of chicken looked plump and the colours were bright.

My hefty plate of lunch from Seoul Fried Chicken.

Speaking of the colours, I was slightly taken aback by the shade of green for the selected side of Mac n’ Cheese Pesto. It reminded me of the colour of prepackaged coleslaw sold at the Safeway deli. It didn’t look particularly natural, but damn, it was rich and delicious. Served cold, the salad was covered in the nutty, savoury, and herbaceous creamy asiago sunflower pesto. Just give me a whole vat of the stuff please!

The other side we chose was the Sesame Potato Slaw. It’s supposedly made with shredded potato, cabbage and yam. But, the overall texture was like a plain old coleslaw. I’m assuming that the potato and yam are prepared raw to give it that extra crunch, but I don’t know, it’s not what I was expecting. It still tasted yummy with the black sesame dressing, if maybe a little too sweet.

G.P Cheese chicken with a Corn Fritter and Mac n’ Cheese Pesto

In one box, we got the fried buttermilk Corn Fritter. It wasn’t as fluffy as I hoped it’d be. It was definitely more dense and doughy than I would have liked; however, I did love the taste of the sweetened milk on top, which played off of the corn kernels beautifully. In the other set, we opted for the thick House Cut Fries. These were a tad soggy from the condensation generated in the box on the way home, but still decent. A little crisp on the outside and soft in the middle with just a touch of saltiness. I could have eaten them without any ketchup.

The Seoul Fried Chicken website mentions that all of their chickens are cut into 20 pieces to allow for faster cooking and a better breading to meat ratio. While I do commend their ability to fry the chicken to a perfectly non-greasy crunch, I was somewhat disappointed to find that a few of the pieces we got consisted mostly of bone, cartilage, or skin so fatty that it was impossible to chew. I think that the restaurant is aware of that issue though, so they do make an effort to fix that situation by tossing in an extra piece or two (we had six per box).

Golden Kari chicken with Sesame Potato Slaw and House Cut Fries

For the most part, the chicken was fantastic. The breading even held up later in the day; I didn’t have to reheat it in the oven to crisp it up again. Yet, in all honesty, what makes Seoul Fried Chicken addictive is their seasoning and sauces. We picked the G.P Cheese and Golden Kari. Both were great in their own way. The former is doused in a sauce made with grated Grana Padano cheese and a hint of zest and parsley. Let me tell you, you’ll want every millimetre of the meat covered in it. It’s messy and literally finger licking good.

As for the latter flavour, you may want to avoid eating it with your hands because the yellow Japanese curry powder that the chicken is battered in will most definitely colour your nails. Still, I really enjoyed the dry seasoning (don’t breathe it in, if you want to avoid a coughing fit) on that one. It’s flavourful, but not spicy hot.

There’s a reason why Seoul Fried Chicken has maintained its popularity and become a favourite in Edmonton. They’re doing Korean fast food super well. Sure, there is still a little bit of room for improvement (there always is), but with quick service, value, and flavours that can’t be beat, it’s absolutely worth a repeat visit.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Writer’s Room

The drink menu and interior of The Writer’s Room.

For a restaurant that pays homage to authors, it’s a bit ironic to see that, depending on where you look, the name of the establishment is written differently: Writers, Writer’s, and Writers’. Because I’ve found the second iteration used the most on the main page of their website, it shall be known as The Writer’s Room.

Always a pub of some sort over the years, this Garneau (11113 87 Avenue) eatery is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the University of Alberta. As such, upon my visit, I noticed that many of the patrons looked to be either students or professors. The menu, created by chef David George Husereau, takes that into account by elevating things like Kraft Dinner and Doritos into much finer fare. The prices are reasonable, too. Items range from $5 for snacks to $20 for a full main, making this place very accessible for the student crowd or those who just want an affordable night out.

The Grand Fizz Cocktail melted.

Additionally, The Writer’s Room offers daily happy hour from 3pm to 6pm and 9pm to close on a handful of beverages (they’ve also recently introduced nightly food specials). Although it wasn’t the best deal out of the bunch, I opted to try their Grand Fizz Cocktail (about $10.50). Honestly, it wasn’t what I was expecting. It came in a wine glass with icy slush that had clumped together into a larger chunk. I allowed it to melt, which meant the drink was rather watered down in the end. Perusing the drink menu further, there are definitely others that sounded better, but I selected this one on a whim.

Cup of Broccoli Cheddar Soup

To start, my friend and I both ordered the cup of Broccoli Cheddar Soup ($5). With a description of “natural ingredients” (what else would be used?) on the menu, it was decent. Not as creamy as I hoped it’d be, but relatively flavourful. It was topped with what appeared to be Melba toast and grated cheddar cheese like one might do at home.

Tater Tots

Everything else we selected, the two of us shared. First up were the Tater Tots ($7). Honestly, these were too expensive. They arrived in a cup the same size as the soup, so there weren’t a lot. These were covered in jalapeno nacho cheese sauce, chipotle sour cream, and green onions. I liked the sauce and sour cream; however, there wasn’t enough of it to coat all of the tater tots at the bottom of the dish. Without the toppings, they became rather bland.

Hoisin BBQ Chicken Tenders

Next were the Hoisin BBQ Chicken Tenders ($10). I pictured these being battered and crispy, but these were more like satay or kabobs with the chicken presented on skewers. It was uniquely plated though, I’ll give them that. The tray they came on had a reservoir for sauce in which ample spicy peanut sambal was provided for dipping along with sesame seeds and green onion. The meat was pretty tender and the sambal amped up the heat on the palate a tad.

The “Loco Moco” ($12) was fairly easy to split between two people as it came with two beef patties and two fried eggs atop nori and sticky rice with plenty of rich brown gravy. This is a contemporary Hawaiian dish, so it’s a bit of a surprise to find it on the menu. Aside from a poke bowl, there’s nothing else that screams Hawaiian sensibilities. Still, this simple recipe actually hit the spot. The fried eggs had beautifully runny yolks and the nori added an umami taste.

Crunchy Brussels Sprouts

Last, but not least, were the Crunchy Brussels Sprouts ($12). I get this veggie a lot when I go out. There’s just something about them that I can’t pass up. In the case of The Writer’s Room, I think they may have mastered the miniature cabbages. Cooked in brown butter and served with crisp pancetta, goat cheese, garlic, lemon, and mint, I was blown away by how good this was. A little bit of salt from the pork, slightly tart from the cheese, freshness from the mint, acidity from the lemon, and spice from the garlic married with the char from the sprouts themselves, these were to die for.

Shortbread

Dessert changes often. On this particular occasion, they had made Shortbread ($7). Layered in a jar, it felt more like a cheesecake with a shortbread crust to me. It didn’t have that buttery, melt-in-your-mouth cookie texture though. That was unexpected. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it. A pleasant finish to my meal without being overly sweet.

For the most part, The Writer’s Room is an excellent player in this area of the city. The ambiance was convivial while still allowing for easy conversation between tablemates. I found the service to be fantastic as well. The staff were friendly, checking on us regularly, but not too often as to constantly be interrupting. Sure, a few of the food items can use a bit of tweaking to really take things up a notch. Nevertheless, when you order the right dish here, you won’t be disappointed.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Melting Pot

Our spread of food for our main dishes.

A visit to The Melting Pot (2920 Calgary Trail) has been a long time coming. Like the French version of Asian hot pot, I was bound to like it. So, for my anniversary with Kirk, I made a date night reservation (through OpenTable; they also accept dining cheques) to mark our three years and counting together.

Our own private nook for two.

Our table was booked for 6:30pm. Yet, when we arrived, we still had to wait for at least 15 minutes after checking in before we were taken into the restaurant. I found that to be somewhat frustrating. While we stood by, I looked around at the lounge area. It has an open concept like most other restaurants. But, the middle of the tables held built-in hot plates to heat the food. Much to my surprise, when we were finally seated, we were taken past the wall of wine to the more private dining area. We went through what felt like a maze of little nooks until we were directed into a very intimate booth for two. Once we settled in, it felt very cozy. No one else was in sight and it was quiet.

Sassy Senorita Cocktail

We went through the drink menu. They didn’t seem to have a whole lot of beer options, so Kirk went for a couple pints of Big Rock Grasshopper ale ($8 each). I always tend to go the cocktail route, so I tried the Sassy Senorita ($11.50). It was light and refreshing with a berry finish.

The knowledgeable server gave us the details on how their menu works. You can order a la carte, or purchase an entrée that comes with a cheese fondue, salad, and dessert alongside the price of the main for a full four-course experience. We opted for the latter.

 

Although the Spinach Artichoke cheese fondue is their most popular, I was hoping for something where the cheese would be more prominent. We ended up going for the Quattro Formaggio. We watched as our server created the fondue right before our eyes (I never knew that wine was used as the base). He mixed and melted the ingredients all together until it was silky smooth. Flavoured with traditional pesto and sun dried tomato pesto, it was decadent. The cheese paired well with the apple, veggies, and bread provided, and, upon dipping, the cheese held on well to everything. We didn’t have to be concerned about any dripping off onto the table or our plates.

The salads that came after — Caesar for Kirk and Chevre Citrus for me — were rather petite. Considering the size, I felt like there was way too much of the dressing on mine. I did like the goat cheese and the dried berries though. Kirk’s Caesar salad was actually quite good with it’s use of pine nuts for texture.

Onto the main courses. Kirk selected the Alberta ($49.25), which consisted of Mushroom Ravioli, Memphis-Style Dry Rub Pork, Teriyaki-Marinated Sirloin, and Herb-Crusted Chicken. I chose the Steak Lovers ($59.25) entrée as it was all meat: Premium Filet Mignon, Teriyaki-Marinated Sirloin, and Garlic Pepper Sirloin. Taking into account that mine was a whole ten dollars more than Kirk’s, I think that I got my value out of it as the portion of beef was relatively generous. On the side was an extra helping of veggies (mushrooms, broccoli, and potatoes) for us to share.

The Court Bouillon broth being brought to the table.

With our emptied bowl of cheese now replaced with a pot of their standard Court Bouillon (seasoned vegetable broth), we got down to cooking. We were told to let the meats cook for around two minutes per piece; however, I know I let mine sit in the broth for longer at times. No food poisoning happening on my watch! Still, everything came out decently with the beef staying pretty tender. I also wasn’t sure how the rubs and marinades would fare in the broth, but the flavours remained prominent. For added variety, there were six different sauces provided. My fave were the sesame and curry. The goddess (with a cream cheese base) was great for stuffing the mushroom caps, too.

 

After polishing off our mains, all that was left was dessert. A pot of chocolate was dropped off at our table with a dish of fruit and sweets. We just started going for it without thinking. Turns out that our Flaming Turtle chocolate fondue wasn’t even complete. Our server returned to do the flambé and add in the caramel and nuts (supposed to be candied pecans, but they were out, so we took walnuts instead). I wasn’t a huge fan of the marshmallows or rice krispies. Nevertheless, the pound cake and fruit — bananas, strawberries, and pineapple — were delicious with the oozy chocolate. We also asked for seconds (free refills on the accompaniments are included) of the blondies.

Since it was our anniversary, the staff helped us to commemorate the occasion by offering us complimentary glasses of sparkling wine, which we had with our dessert. It certainly made for a memorable evening out to be wined and dined in this fashion. For a few hours we really got to focus on each other without any other distractions. While this isn’t necessarily a place to drop in for a quick, casual bite, The Melting Pot should definitely be in the running when there’s cause for celebration.

The Melting Pot offers a Crave Combo Menu for $29.95 before 5pm and after 9pm.

Edmonton Restaurant & Event Review: Beercade & Speed Puzzle Challenge

Beercade’s interror is made up of long tables for groups, a huge bar, and arcade games.

I’ve always loved doing jigsaw puzzles. There’s a joy in finding the piece that fits just right. They’re also incredibly engrossing in a way that’s so much more relaxing than staring at whatever I find on my phone. Consider them part of the slow living movement. The last time I could really remember putting one together, until recently, was at least several years ago. My co-worker would lend me puzzles that she’d already completed to feed my obsession. Sadly, my free time slowly waned to the point where I wasn’t really able to concentrate on them much.

Nowadays, as I often do, I found myself on Eventbrite scrolling through endless local happenings when I came across a listing from Beercade about their Speed Puzzle Challenge ($5 per person and the team gets to keep the puzzle). I wasn’t able to attend the next date; however, I always reminded myself to check back in the future. It was a while before I saw another. Yet, Table Top Cafe started running something similar about every two weeks earlier this year (alternating between both locations). My friends and I went to a single event there and I was hooked. I really enjoyed the competitive aspect of it, but, more than anything, I remembered just how fun puzzles can be. I’m currently working my way through nearly twenty that I’ve purchased over the past few months.

Welcome, Puzzle Players!

When the chance came up to check out Beercade’s version, I gathered a small team of four people (up to six are allowed) to attend. From what I understood, the organizers had previously gone with puzzles that had as few as 200 pieces and they had been incrementally increasing the difficulty ever since to find the sweet spot of something enjoyable yet challenging. On this occasion they decided to test out 450 piece puzzles instead. They also had someone from each group draw a number, which determined the puzzle received. Honestly, I thought that having different puzzles put certain teams at a disadvantage because some are definitely more difficult than others. Based on the groups who won the three prizes for finishing first, it was obvious that their specific Peanuts themed puzzle was a benefit.

Still, the four of us had a blast. I’d also never worked on a family-style jigsaw before. I probably wouldn’t choose to do those as an adult putting a puzzle together on my own. Nevertheless, the mix of large and small pieces for parents and children to work on as a family bonding experience is pretty great.

 

When we finished our jigsaw at Beercade, the staff dropped off ten tokens at our table, so we could play some of their arcade games. I’m terrible at those shooting ones, but I can appreciate a lit up pinball machine or the best air hockey table I’ve ever seen (Pac Man!).

Aside from the event and venue (decent atmosphere, lots of space, kind of dim), we also opted to eat dinner there. Being a Wednesday night, I had to try a burger because it’s hard to pass up a half price discount. Surprisingly, the Bacon Cheeseburger (regularly $9.75) was good. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the cost, but their kitchen makes a legit hand smashed patty topped with crispy bacon and they include all of the fixings. Sides are an extra cost though, so that’s where they can recoup some of their costs. At $4 for a basket of yam fries with dip, I thought that was a little expensive. On the other hand, they do give a big portion, so you’ll definitely leave full.

Full meal with a burger, yam fries, and a sleeve of Fruli.

To keep me hydrated, I ordered a glass of Früli, completely forgetting to tell the server (by the way, service is not prompt here) what size I wanted. I’m assuming I received a sleeve, not a pint. I also expected to pay at least $6.75 for that beverage. All in though, my bill was $15 after tax and tip. When I looked it over again at home, I realized that my beer was also on special, having only been charged a whopping $3.81. Stellar deal!

I’ve heard that Beercade is usually a chill spot to hang out until about nine o’clock. After that, it can turn into a bit of a zoo (assuming this applies more from Thursday to Saturday). If you want to avoid rambunctious crowds, I recommend visiting earlier in the evening. From this first experience of mine at Beercade, I’m absolutely feeling inclined to return, especially for another Speed Puzzle Challenge and a burger.