Carte Du Jourberta

Alberta - Land of opportunity, land of desolate winters, land of people thinking Earls is fine dining. Welcome to Carte Du Jourberta.

Sloppy Hoggs Roed Hus in Edmonton

Absolutely Edibles has long been an Edmonton-based catering company, but their new Nait-stationed BBQ restaurant- Sloppy Hoggs Roed Hus enters the Edmonton culinary market with some interesting twists.

Restaurant type: Barbecue, greasy, meat sweats, southern, many flavours, huge

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Honest flavour: 5/10 - I’m always game to check out new restaurants, and Sloppy Hoggs is right up my alley in that it’s new, fresh, and a little crazy. I had the beef brisket sandwich and the ‘give me the hogg slop’ to start. The portion size for the fries was huge, and though I was initially excited for such a huge combination of flavours, I found no ingredient really stood out as an explosion of flavour. The gravy mixed with the cheese and the waffle sauce (similar to donair sauce) all had the same consistency, and I couldn’t find a defining element in the dish. The fries were of the hollow, obviously frozen, completely tastless on their own variety, and I can understand why they decided to load them up with the entire kitchen. The pulled pork and bacon crumble was hardly detectable in the mess of flavours, and the whole plate tasted exactly how it looked - messy. The beef brisket was a step in the right direction; I opted for the mustard barbecue sauce by the recommendation of our server. I was pleasantly surprised with the sauce as it was sour and a little sweet; it complimented the beef nicely. The brisket itself was lean but retained a fair bit of it’s moisture and the flavours were right. I also sampled the underwhelming pulled pork which was somewhat dry and lacking any depth. I expect pulled pork to be melt in your mouth, salty, and saucy, and unfortunately this pulled pork didn’t fall into any of these categories.

Ingenuity of flavour: 6/10 - I’ll honestly give Sloppy Hoggs points for trying here, but there were some serious missteps in quality that I wasn’t expecting. It’s hard to keep flavours clearly defined and create a cohesive dish when everything is a little bland, and I think this is where Sloppy Hoggs really misses the mark. I’ll be the first to admit that I love an absolute cluster-fuck of flavours, but I get bored quickly when those flavours don’t shine through and invite me to take another bite and try and find something new to enjoy.

Restaurant Vibe: 7/10 - The restaurant itself was comfortable and quiet during my visit. The dark, pub atmosphere lends itself well to the food being served, and the entire restaurant was clean and organized. The service was slightly more attentive than I prefer, but our waiter was upbeat and actually had suggestions for us which I applaud.

Overall Value: 6/10 - At $9.00 for my sandwich, I was expect more in terms of both quality and quantity. The brisket was good but not great, and if I hadn’t opted for the starter, I would have surely been hungry. The hogg slop was big, but again, lacking the quality I was expecting. Had the flavours been more than just mediocre, maybe I would have been a little more excited for my money spent.

Final Thoughts: Meh. I can’t think of a better term to describe Sloppy Hoggs than meh.The bottom line is that I went in with high hopes, but the quality just didn’t deliver what I was expecting. I might come back to sample some of the ridiculous sandwiches towards the bottom of the menu, but I’ll save my pulled pork obsession for Dadeo’s when I feel like good food and bad service. More on that later…

Sloppy Hoggs Roed Hus

Sloppy Hoggs Roed Hus on Urbanspoon

Cafe Tiramisu in Edmonton, AB

With 124th street outlining what many consider Edmonton’s downtown, the fresh ingredients and upbeat atmosphere found at Cafe Tiramisu outline the community directive of Glenora. Whether you’re looking for a reasonably priced fresh lunch, or you just finished yoga at their studio, Cafe Tiramisu serves up sandwiches, pasta, pizza, and other light fare to satisfy your inner mediterranean spirit.

The Coup

Restaurant Type: Simple, mediterranean, coffee, pizza+pasta, busy, heavy, familiar

Honest Flavour: 8/10 - Cafe Tiramisu’s name might suggest that they only offer coffee, and light fare, but the menu is surprisingly thorough and easy to read. With most cafes offering only a single option for each dish, it was nice to see the variety of red and white pizzas, light and heavy salads, and an entire bruschetta section to the menu. I opted for the tasting platter and the gorgonzola pizza to share with my date. I was prepared for numerous combinations of flavours from the platter, but I was not expecting it to be so big! It’s obvious this item was designed to share at a table of 4 or even 6 guests, but my date and I still managed to make a significant dent. The platter’s components didn’t taste locally produced, but they were all extremely flavourful and rich. The chipotle goat cheese was spicy and tangy, while the bread was baked with olive oil. The clear winner on the platter was without a doubt the roasted pecans; sweet, earthy, and surprisingly spicy- a fabulous combination. The gorgonzola pizza was also larger than I expected, and it included walnuts and green apples. I appreciated how seasoned the pizza dough was; the salty sweet, melt in your mouth pizza was near perfect.

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Ingenuity of Flavour: 7/10 - Though Cafe Tiramisu doesn’t offer wild and crazy dishes, the restaurant does have a solid idea in place for their menu and their execution is flawless. The gorgonzola pizza was phenomenal. The bit of acid from the apples takes the edge off of the salty gorgonzola, and the buttery walnuts add texture and richness. Not having a traditional pan pizza in quite some time, I appreciated the doughiness of the crust, and the balance of textures and flavours. The platter included roasted pecans that were sweet and spicy- a perfect compliment to the salty goat cheese and toasted, oily bread. The entire meal was bursting with big, bright flavours, and it all had the heavy, satisfying result that I’d hoped for.

Restaurant Vibe: 7/10 - Cafe Tiramisu has a bright, fun atmosphere that’s synonymous with the fresh food they serve and the healthy body: healthy mind mentality they uphold. The cafe is clean and comfortable, and the service was friendly and prompt despite the hustle and bustle last Sunday. I appreciate that Cafe Tiramisu caters to a variety of crowds without losing their focus on quality ingredients, and a simple menu. The cafe also has a seperate room with couches to relax on or Ipads to entertain your kids with; an innovative concept.

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Overall Value: 10/10 - With a comfortable community atmosphere, a fresh menu, and humongous portion sizes, there’s not much more one can expect from a cafe. At $37.00 for the sharing platter, two coffees and a pizza, my date and I were bursting at the seams. Really, unparalleled value for your money.

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Final Thoughts: I honestly can’t think of a restaurant I’ve gotten more value at than Cafe Tiramisu. It’s not overly fancy or complex, but what they offer is great quality at an unbeatable price. Maybe not my absolute favorite cafe in Edmonton, but it’s weaseled it’s way into my top five.

Cafe Tiramisu
Cafe Tiramisu on Urbanspoon

Smokehouse BBQ in Edmonton, AB

The Coup

Smokehouse BBQ has long been a food truck in Leduc, but it’s only recently opened a new, permenant location on Edmonton’s booming 124st. Edmonton’s idea of barbecue has been centered around the recent Korean BBQ craze and the odd family-style chain restaurant such as Montana’s, but true American barbecue has been a somewhat untapped market in our province’s capital.

Restaurant type: Southern BBQ, saucy, simple, heavy, home-cooked, greasy, meat.

Honest flavour: 6/10 - Despite Smokehouse BBQ’s dismal reviews for it’s food truck, I decided to try my luck at what I hoped would be a rich, satisfying, unhealthy serving of freshly smoked protein. I had the killer rib combo, with pulled pork and beef brisket, and I opted for the baked mac & cheese and the cajun potato salad as my sides. My meal came on a large platter with a corn bread muffin in the center and pork rinds surrounding. I was expecting a large serving, but the potion size I received was absolutely ridiculous; I would have easily been satisfied with half of my plate. The mac & cheese was creamy and had plenty of sauce, though the cajun potato salad was somewhat tasteless. The portion of each side was small, but my honest interest leaned towards the handsome trio of animals that lay before me. I was least impressed with the pulled pork; it’s texture was dry and stringy, and lacked the heavy, dense, sauce-infused saturation that I was hoping for. The beef brisket was fatty as most brisket is, but it was full of flavour and it seemed to have all the qualities I would have expected from the other meats on my plate. It was rich, smoky, had the bold BBQ flavour I was craving and the texture was more appealing than the pulled pork. The brisket did have some pieces more dry than others; and conversely, some with an unnecessary amount of fat coating either end. The ribs had a pleasing texture, and though the flavour was good, they were also dry on their own without the copious helping of barbecue sauce on top.

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Ingenuity of flavour: 4/10 - There’s not much in the way of complex flavours or uncommon ingredients at Smokehouse BBQ, but I did enjoy a few of the more adventurous items on the menu. The cornbread muffin with jalapeno, bacon, and cheddar cheese was a nice compliment to my meal, and the flavours were well balanced and not overpowering. The array of barbecue sauces that accompanied the meal was fun to experiment with as well; I particularly enjoyed the chipotle raspberry BBQ sauce and the chipotle mayo sauce. That said, I was really hoping for some of the meats to be boiled with spices first or for some produce element to be encorperated more thoroughly. The overall feeling I got from the menu was it was a collection of uninspired flavours with no presentation, no interesting cooking methods, and nothing that stands out about any one dish.

Restaurant Vibe: 4/10 - I expected the typical new restaurant hangups, and Smokehouse BBQ had it’s fair share of them. The servers were obviously still learning the menu, as I didn’t actually receive the meal I had ordered. Only after reviewing the menu for this article did I notice that the meal I received was in fact the ‘smokehouse killer rib combo’ instead of the ‘big daddy’ combo, although I was charged $19.95- strange. The servers were typical diner-style waitresses, and I wouldn’t exactly consider them friendly; though they were attentive and did check up on how our meal was. The room is what I would expect for a barbecue restaurant, with the stereotypical barn atmosphere, checkered tablecloths, and lots of wood. For the most part it was a comfortable dining experience, but there’s really not much to be said about it aside from it being typical for the nature of the restaurant, and somewhat boring.

Overall Value: 8/10 - Smokehouse BBQ looks to excel in one place and one place only: value. For $20.00, my meal was absolutely enormous- unnecessarily so. The food has it’s hits and misses, but in the end, when I left I was full, satisfied, and deperately needing to fall asleep in front of an episode of The Magnificent Seven. I instead opted for a chai from Remedy Cafe (more to come on this little gem later) in an attempt to keep myself out of the food coma.

The Coup

Final Thoughts: If you’re looking for three meals worth of meat to put you to sleep, you’ll either nod off because of the unnecessary amount of food, or the relatively boring decor and uninspired flavours at Smokehouse BBQ. If I do return it will be because they’ve intorduced a new, innovative menu, or because I feel like having a second round of meat sweats.

Smokehouse BBQ
Smokehouse BBQ on Urbanspoon

K.N.’s Kitchen in St.Albert, AB

Ok, so I understand K.N.’s Kitchen is just my own kitchen with a kitschy name, but I’m still waiting on pictures from my latest restaurant adventure to share with you all, and this seemed like a fun update.

You might have guessed that in addition to eating good food, I also enjoy preparing it. Although I’m usually the first person to exclaim that I’ve struck genius, I usually feed my creations to my culinary mentor and partner, Millie.

And so; I give you my simple grilled cheese (please disregard my poor plating):

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Smoked Gouda + Muenster Grilled Cheese with Cinnamon Apples on Asparagus and Green Onions topped with a Balsamic Date, Cranberry, and Raisin Jam.

It’s a really nice balance of salty, smoky, sweet, sour, and savoury flavours; if you’re interested in my execution just let me know!

Glasshouse Bistro & Cafe in St.Albert, AB

St.Albert has been the place I’ve called home for many years, and though it’s population has grown considerably, only recently has it’s restaurant scene decided it’s time to catch up to the ever-growing feeling amongst St.Albertans for something bigger, better, and more extravagant. St.Albert might feel more calm than an episode of ‘Real Housewives of Orange County’, but the fact still remains that Kingswood needs to be fed, and finally they have a gluten-free-friendly restaurant to fill their culinary void.

Restaurant type: Canadian, brunch, gluten-free-friendly, vegetarian friendly, local, heavy

The Coup

Honest flavour: 8/10 - The Glasshouse Bistro focuses on locally produced ingredients and the menu offers a variety of classic dishes done right. I recently enjoyed their Sunday brunch; the most widely-known menu from the former Prairie Bistro. I had the farmer’s scramble: a bowl of herb infused, roasted root vegetables with peppers, scrambled egg, pork sausage, carrot bread, and a house-made ketchup. The vegetables were well seasoned and tender, and the sausage was peppery, lean, and full of flavour. The house-made ketchup was sweet and tangy, and it complemented the entire dish well. The carrot toast, albeit very crunchy, was full of flavour and a nice textural contrast. My date’s fench toast with smoked gouda, and an apple pumpkin compote was absolutely delicious. The toast was cut an inch and a half thick, but seemed to retain it’s texture and remained un-mushy. Her dish also included the same pork sausage that I had in my farmer’s bowl; the piquant sausage would be a nice contrast to the sweet and salty french toast. I’ll admit, I wish I had ordered the french toast after tasting it, but I left feeling very satisfied nonetheless.

Ingenuity of flavour: 6/10 - Where the Glasshouse Bistro seems to fall short is in it’s inability to incorporate those intriguing aspects of a dish that keep me coming back, and wanting to try everything on the menu. That said- there are certainly some items on the menu that stand out as being more compelling than the rest, but the majority seem a bit run of the mill for a restaurant with such an elaborate location and decor. The braised short ribs with red wine jus, roasted mushrooms & winter vegetables seems too simple, too easy, and somewhat underwhelming when you expect the menu to be as bright and interesting as the restaurant looks. The Glasshouse Bistro’s menu does include a few ‘outside the box’ selections such as the ricotta and goat cheese crepes with arugula pesto and artichokes, and the confit duck leg, which includes brussel sprouts and a savory honey, herb, and apple cider gastrique. I can only hope that the restaurant’s new ownership will promote a more forward-thinking menu; if I wanted meat with a wine sauce and vegetables I’d go to The Keg like the majority of Alberta.

The Coup

Restaurant Vibe: 9/10 - The Glasshouse hasn’t changed it’s ambiance, it’s staff, or it’s apparent focus since it’s recent managerial change, and I am thankful for that. I have always received excellent service and a very comfortable dining experience at The Prairie Bistro, and The Glasshouse has retained that completely. The big, open greenhouse feeling and bright colors in the dinging room lend itself to the fresh, modern feeling associated with The Enjoy Center in St.Albert. Chef Shaun Hicks obviously puts a fair amount of emphasis on the plating of his dishes; we eat with our eyes first, and he has a knack for making even a simple dish look absolutely beautiful. My overall experience at The Glasshouse, even after it’s recent changeover has remained steadily exemplary.

Overall Value: 7/10 - The Prairie Bistro is a great choice for those looking for a well prepared, well portioned meal without the price of some of Edmonton’s fine dining restaurants. The food is fresh, familiar, and accurate to the menu from my experience, and at $80 for a typical dinner, you can expect to get your money’s worth. The brunch menu does seem pricey ($18.00 for french toast) but the quality of ingredients and portion size certainly seem to follow some of the more expensive items on the menu.

Final Thoughts: I’ve enjoyed my fair share of meals at The Prairie Bistro, but it’s recent change in name and ownership doesn’t seem to have affected their quality of food, and I can say with certainty that my recent dining experience won’t be my last. I do wish the dinner menu was more compelling, but the bright, modern feeling, and the beautifully plated, downright flavourful menu that The Glasshouse has to offer will bring me back- specifically for that french toast. Finally St.Albert can refrain from considering Montana’s Cookhouse and East Side Mario’s as it’s only choices for a meal out.

Glasshouse Bistro & Cafe
Glasshouse Bistro & Cafe on Urbanspoon

deVille Luxury Coffee & Pastries in Calgary, AB


As it was recently voted one of the top 25 coffee shops in Canada by Sharp Magazine, deVille Luxury Coffee & Pastries offers coffee, sandwiches, and other light fare to Calgary’s downtown caffeine connoisseurs.


The Coup

Restaurant type: Coffee, sandwiches, light fare, local, organic, modern

Honest flavour: 5/10 - After a night of heavy intoxication, my friends and I decided to check out deVille’s fashion district location for some lunch and much needed coffee. Having been to a handful of the other cafes mentioned on the list published by Sharp Magazine, I had a certain expectation as to the quality of coffee and the menu offerings. My americano was somewhat flavourless, but thankfully not burnt or too dark tasting. I appreciated that it was balanced and retained some of it’s complexity, though I would hardly describe it as creamy or rich; and the idea of a ‘luxury’ coffeehouse might hint at a more full, flavourful coffee than what I experienced. The menu at deVille looks to change regularly, as the menu is written on a chalk board. I opted for the rosemary ham sandwich with pineapple, prosciutto and smoked Canadian cheddar. It came as toasted on a panini grill, though my ham and cheese were still cold in the center of the sandwich. The rosemary was subtle in flavour, but it did add a pleasant aroma to my plate. I specifically enjoy sweet and savory combinations, and though I enjoyed the pineapple, the ham in this sandwich just seemed to lack flavour. The bread was overly dry and seemed to soak up any moisture from the pineapple, giving a chewy, dusty, unappealing texture to the whole sandwich. The rosemary ham sandwich looked promising, but it lacked good texture and didn’t have the intense flavour I was expecting from the ingredients.

The Coup

Ingenuity of flavour: 5/10 - Though many of the menu items look to have big, bold flavours- deVille seems to miss the mark on some of the more simple aspects of a good meal. The sandwich I ate with rosemary ham, prosciutto, smoked canadian cheddar, and roasted pineapple was missing the salt I would expect from the prosciutto. Despite supposedly being a cafe that gets it’s ingredients locally, my sandwich was lacking the freshness that I would associate with organic food. I’m all for interesting flavour combinations and intense, saturated ingredients like aged white cheddar, but when it’s served lukewarm on bread that has obviously been sitting around drying out- I have to ask if the emphasis is in the right place. The ‘all show, no go’ menu was unfortunate, but at the very least I am still interested in trying deVille again simply because some of the menu items are intriguing. Though I doubt I’ll find my new favorite dish at deVille, it is worth noting that I like the idea of a small menu, especially at a cafe. Hopefully the quality of food I expect from one of Canada’s 25 best cafe’s will follow if I do decide to return.

Restaurant Vibe: 6/10 - DeVille’s fashion central location seems to follow it’s menu with regards to the overall ambiance. When I first walked in, I was impressed with the high ceilings, modern decor, friendly staff, and urban style associated with the entirety of the Fashion Central building, which includes a collection of shops focusing on art through contemporary fashion. At closer inspection though, deVille’s vibe falls short with unprofessionalism and it’s unsightly run down state of affairs. Many of the tables were uncleared, seats were missing buttons, and the coffee condiment table was messy. The entire restaurant felt somewhat unkept, despite it not being overly busy on a sunday afternoon. Our food came out one sandwich at a time, the last of which took close to 15 minutes- an uncomfortable waiting period for a sandwich that was premade and warmed up just prior to service. On the whole it was an underwhelming dining experience, and I hope the decor and service can some day finally be worth of it’s name as a ‘Luxury’ cafe.

The Coup

Overall Value: 6/10 - Pricing was typical at $9.00 for my underseasoned, dry sandwich, which I would now consider steep knowing the quality I received. My coffee was typical market price, but I certainly expected a bolder, more refined americano given deVille’s recent press. My portion was thankfully large enough to keep me satisfied for a short while, though if I were really hungry, the sandwich probably wouldn’t cut it.

Final Thoughts: Flat out- I’ve had better coffee, sandwiches and atmosphere at a handful of other Calgarian spots. The experience just didn’t seem to add up in the end- a room with great potential and a menu with great potential that just seemed to miss the mark in all categories. I’ll think about trying deVille again, but I’ll opt for the arts central location if I do make it back- hopefully there is a greater strive for ‘Luxury’ there.

deVille

deVille Luxury Coffee & Pastries on Urbanspoon

Tubby Dog in Calgary, AB

The Coup

Tubby Dog has been a staple in my 403 diet for almost a decade. It’s remained a tried, tested and true culinary hot spot for the hipster, lush, or plain old ridiculous self-indulgence that resides in many of us ‘foodies’. You can already tell that I like this restaurant- now I’ll tell you why.

Restaurant type: Greasebucket, Over-the-top, Pub grub, Hot dogs, Vegetarian-friendly

The Coup

Honest flavour: 8/10 - Though I’ve eaten at tubby dog many times, my most recent adventure brought me the classic A-bomb, and the Cap’ns Dog made with a Not-dog (Vegetarian). The simple truth is that when you combine bacon, cheese, chips, ketchup, mayo, mustard, and a hot dog together, it tastes good. The A-bomb; much like all of Tubby Dog’s offerings, comes absolutely loaded, and is only properly eaten with a knife and fork. It’s a tricky process to get each component of the hot dog in your mouth at once, but practice makes perfect and I’ve had alot of practice. The A-bomb is a bit of a safe bet, it’s been the same each and every time I’ve been to Tubby Dog, and it always impresses me. It’s salty and savoury, and the cheese sauce takes some of the crunch away from the chips to create a warm, pleasing texture. I also shared a Cap’ns dog, this time with the vegetarian weenie. I will say I much preferred the regular hot dog in the Cap’ns dog, just because it was much saltier than it’s vegetarian counterpart. All in all, it’s hard to leave tubby dog unsatisfied; the food is rich, comfortable, and delicious.

Ingenuity of flavour: 8/10 - Do you like junk food? This is a rhetorical question because I already know the answer, and your answer is yes. Tubby Dog’s menu is perhaps best described as ‘modern junk food’ as it includes a variety of classic flavour combinations, all done on hot dogs. The often overlooked element about Tubby Dog is that the food offered is surprisingly complex, and properly executed. The Cap’ns Dog is just one example of how compelling ingredients can come together to form a balanced, flavourful dish. The salty dog, sweet jam, and earthy flavour from the peanut butter is surprisingly cohesive, and the captain crunch adds a new texture element that I enjoyed immensely. It looks like a joke on the menu, and you might wonder why it’s still there after years of eating at Tubby Dog, never having tried it, but the Cap’ns Dog is a truly delicious, well thought out dish on the menu. If you’re still not sure how jam and a hot dog might work together, I suggest thinking about a classic sweet and savoury combination like turkey and cranberry sauce. Tubby Dog also offers monthly and weekly specials with such flavours as a ceaser salad inspired dog, a taco inside a hot dog, and the cheesebus: a 1/3 lb. dog on a bed of Cheese Whiz, topped with mustard, ketchup, cheddar cheese, space cheese and mini Ritz crackers! Insane.

The Coup

Restaurant Vibe: 9/10 - Tubby Dog has a unique, vintage vibe and a busy atmosphere. I appreciate the open kitchen; especially at a fast food restaurant, as it ties the whole room together. There are people playing pinball, watching old movies on the projector screen, drinking beer, and reading the old food boxes and tins set up for decoration, but the reason everyone comes is for the food. It’s a fun, conversational room with lots of character, and everyone who I’ve shared Tubby Dog with has enjoyed it just as much as I do.

Overall Value: 8/10 - At $7.00 for a breathtakingly satisfying hot dog, you can be sure you’re getting your money’s worth. As if the hot dog’s not enough to hold your interest, the upbeat atmosphere, old movies, and the remainder of the compelling menu will probably convince you to return and try something even more out of the ordinary than the last time.

Final Thoughts: Tubby Dog- as I said, a staple in my Calgarian culinary adventures, and with good reason. It’s unique food and fun atmosphere bring me back time and time again, and I presume it will continue to be one of my all time favorite post-bar, or in the mood to over indulge spots. Classic.

Tubby Dog
Tubby Dog on Urbanspoon

Characters in Edmonton, AB

Highlands

Characters Fine Dining has been a staple in downtown’s restaurant circuit for over 13 years. Shonn seems to get mixed reviews depending on who’s working the kitchen that night, but I figured I’d decide for myself what Characters is all about with a positive review from one of my co-workers.

Restaurant type: Canadian, complex flavours, heavy, dinner oriented, shirt+tie, mature audience

Highlands


Honest flavour: 6/10 - Characters is like many restaurants in Edmonton in that it seems to offer one dish for each protein component. To my surprise, we were immediately graced with a dish of french fries as opposed to the typical bread. This was strange to me, specifically because they were served cold, and were obviously out of a freezer bag. Crispy in the a la KFC sort of way, and served with a side of ketchup and a salty, asian inspired mayo type sauce- not my idea of ‘Fine Dining’ as the name suggests. After looking at the menu, and not being one to let an opportunity slip by, I ordered the Iberico Ham for my appetizer despite it being more expensive than my main dish. The ham was nicely cured, and was accompanied by cantaloupe, pine nuts, artichoke hearts, bread, and other pairings to mix and match with. I am a fan of this type of dish because I enjoy seeing eactly what flavours I am about to enjoy; this group of pairings was perfect, and I appreciated the simplicity. Unfortunately, the appetizer was not a preview for things to come with the chicken kiev. The chicken itself was tasteless and under seasoned, even the breaded outside seemed to only taste like oil. The herb sauce inside the chicken was also lacking any sort of kick, and the pool of carrot puree only made the lifeless dish feel soggy. The lemon sauce atop my chicken was bright and surprisingly tangy, it would have done better being the focal point of my plate. The overall feeling about the true flavour was unanimous- somewhat boring and uninspired, though my appetizer stands out as a real winner.

Ingenuity of flavour: 3/10 - Every chef has his/her go to methods, ingredients and flavour combinations. Have you ever been to a restaurant and tasted a continuous theme of flavours throughout your meal, regardless of the dish? If you pay attention to what you eat (and I assume if you’re reading this- you do) chances are good you’ll notice this natural flow simply because the chef has their own unique way of cooking. When you take the flow out of a meal, but keep the same ingredients and methods, you end up withThis simple truth has been made painfully apparent to me at Characters Fine Dining- my main course looked almost exactly like my date’s! The Chicken Kiev came in a dollop of carrot puree, three pieces on a long plate with a lemon sauce on top of each piece, and greens laying atop each chicken slice, and around as garnish. The ‘Kind of vegetarian dish’ came almost the exact same way - pieces of potato and gnocchi laying in the same carrot puree, this time on a square plate with a very small amount of spatzle sprinkled across the plate, and polenta smeared in a similar fashion to the carrot puree. To top it off, the vegetarian dish had the same greens as my plate scattered throughout. Two totally different dishes, chicken kiev and a vegetarian plate both with the same orange sauce, the same yellow/fried component in the puree, and the same greens for garnish- really unfortunate. Though I’ve already commented on how my dishes actually tasted, the true misstep for me was how each component didn’t seem to add to my chicken kiev. The lemon sauce was fantastic on it’s own- but with the bland chicken, the simple carrot puree, and the flavorless herb sauce inside the chicken, the acidity didn’t seem to balance in any way. Perhaps if the carrot puree was sweeter, the acidity would be a nice component, but I’m still not sure it fits the dish despite it being the only interesting item on the plate. The greens on the plate were cut with long stems- so long that thy were actually difficult to eat without breaking each stem off. On the whole my main was disjointed, boring, uncomfortable to eat, and looked exactly like the plate across the table from me. I did, however, appreciate the fact that Characters offered a great tasting plate for my appetizer; the thought that went into the ingredients is obvious. Still, in a restaurant of this calibre, I would expect the same thought put into every dish on the menu.

Restaurant Vibe: 2/10 - Characters has some interesting ingredients that seem to be put together in uninteresting ways, but the real disappointment came from the service and overall atmosphere in the restaurant. I appreciate knowledgeable, friendly staff, and a comfortable experience- neither of which I found at Characters Fine Dining. The room is big and open, much like a typical Canadian chain such as  Perhaps Characters is just ‘too fine’ for me; immediately the Maitre d’ gave that look of ‘I’m not sure you belong here’ as my date and I walked in the door. He sat us quickly, and our waiter, who also seemed completely devoid of personality was equally as snooty and unprofessional. When I ordered wine for my date and I, he responded with, ‘We’re out of that shiraz, but we have a different bottle. It’s new. It’s better.’ I wasn’t aware that one bottle of wine could be better than another, he obviously had no idea what it tasted like, and the cookie-cutter, uninformed answer seemed to match his persona for the duration of the evening. Another thing that struck me as odd was that a different, female server took our orders, brought our appetizers out to us, and then our original server returned to bring our mains. It’s really a shame, because she was friendly, and presented herself as being genuinely interested in my questions about the menu, and gave honest answers.

Overall Value: 4/10 - I like good food, and I don’t mind paying for it. I’ll gladly pay for a chef’s knowledge in how to pair ingredients, the ability to utilize cooking methods to their fullest, and the art of creating a menu that makes me want to come back. Maybe I’d be inclined to give Characters another shot if the meal across the table from me didn’t look exactly like mine, and at $34 for my chicken, I certainly wouldn’t be ordering it again. My appetizer (which was probably designed to share) was an astounding $35- certainly the most expensive appie I’ve ever ordered, but I’d wager it was actually bordering on being worth it. When it was all said an done, out bill was arund the $180 mark including wine- and at that price, I would expect exemplary service, and really fantastic food. Characters definitely missed the mark in the value category.

Highlands

Final Thoughts: All in all, Characters seemed to hold up to it’s Urbanspoon reviews as being snooty, with mediocre food, and a high price tag. Definitely not on my list of places to return to, but maybe I’ll give it a second chance one day once they’ve ironed out some of their unpleasant staff and Shonn has decided to offer some new things on the menu. Hopefully I won’t find any carrot puree or cold french fries if I do make it back.

Characters
Characters on Urbanspoon

Highlands Kitchen in Edmonton, AB

Highlands

The Highlands Kitchen (formerly Culina Highlands, and now unfortunately closed!) was a bit of a hidden gem in Edmonton. Tucked away just north of the beautiful Ada Blvd, they offer the older neighborhoods of east Edmonton classic Canadian cuisine with the heavy, stick-to-your-ribs type dishes that you make at home, though they never seem taste this good.

Restaurant type: Country cooking, local, cafe/brunch, heavy, rich and satisfying, simple, Canadian


Honest flavour: 9/10 - The Highlands Kitchen may not offer extravagant pieces to their culinary puzzle, but they don’t need to. The majority of the menu consists of Canadian dishes done right, without that unnecessary random ingredient that adds to the mystique and not to the flavour. I’ll be the first to admit- it’s hard to mess up breakfast, but my Highlands Platter was outstanding. The ham and sauerkraut complimented each other in both portion size and flavour, the biscuit was soft, fresh, and buttery, and my eggs and potato hash were moist and full of flavour. For being such a large, rich breakfast, I was expecting to feel greasy and tired, but I left feeling comfortable and completely satisfied.

Ingenuity of flavour: 7/10 - Though you won’t find many foreign ingredients, you may find some new flavour and texture combinations you hadn’t thought of at the Highlands Kitchen. The ingenuity found at the Highlands Kitchen is mostly apparent in the simplicity of their dishes and in their central focus that they execute perfectly in every dish: Umami. The menu is a textbook example of how a savory kitchen should present it’s offerings, with an array of different meats and cheeses, each with it’s own blank carbohydrate slate to help present the dish’s focus. Some of the more inventive offerings include the breakfast poutine with pulled pork and a fried egg, the pork crepe with saskatoon berry BBQ sauce, and the bacon-wrapped dates. It’s these few plates that stray from the more staple Canadian dishes that keep the Highlands Kitchen interesting and fun.

Restaurant Vibe: 7/10 -The room is small and intimate, but bright, airy, and fresh feeling with that country kitchen ambiance. Wooden chairs, white walls, and the typical Canadian accessories such as antlers and mason jars complete the vintage, hip feeling, and we felt comfortable just being able to relax and talk about our weekend. Though nothing about the restaurant’s dining room or overall atmosphere stands out as being groundbreaking, the laid back feeling seemed to match the mood for our Sunday brunch perfectly.

Overall Value: 8/10 - I understand that $40+ for two people to enjoy brunch may seem excessive, but the simple truth is that the quality of food we received was worth every penny. Our service was on par with what I might expect from a restaurant of this caliber- helpful though not exceptional, but on the whole I was satisfied with the portion size and value of our meal.

Final Thoughts: There’s a reason why Food Network’s ‘You Gotta Eat Here!’ has showcased an episode on the Highlands Kitchen- it just plain tastes good. I appreciate a menu as simple and upfront about it’s flavours as the one found at the Highlands Kitchen. The plate I received was exactly what the menu suggested, though the rich, deep flavour I found was a surprise, and it will keep me coming back for cooking I simply don’t have the ability to do at home.

Highlands Kitchen
Highlands Kitchen on Urbanspoon

The Coup + Meet in Calgary, AB

The Coup

The Coup (+Meet) in Calgary is one of the more unique restaurant/lounges I’ve encountered across Alberta. I wish I could categorize it’s cuisine to Central American, Mediterranean, or Asian-fusion, but The Coup seems to take influence from all over to create a comfortable, calm atmosphere, and an intriguing menu.

Restaurant type: Fresh/local, Vegetarian+Organic friendly, Modern+Complex, Tapas, Drinks

Honest flavour: 7/10 - The Coup serves a variety of well thought out flavours, and most of what my party and I ordered we were impressed with. We started with a variety of appetizers on the Meet side of the restaurant, and then moved to the Coup side for dinner. The yam fries were cut large and were seasoned nicely, but I found the miso sauce to be overly salty for my tastes. We also had fun with the charCOUPterie, their cheese and preserves plate which offered many enjoyable combinations. My favorite dish of the evening was the mushroom faux gras cigars- melt in your mouth phyllo pastries filled with a whipped mushroom & thyme. Though I don’t consider myself a mixed drink expert, my mojito was extremely flavourful with fresh lime and mint rolling around my glass. Being a huge reuben fan, I ordered the Grazer burger as my main. I was fascinated by such critical changes to a classic with tempeh, and a spicy horseradish tomato sauce, though I wasn’t as impressed with the result as I had hoped. With such a variety of flavours from the appetizer menu, I was expecting a whirlwind of complexity from the sandwich that just didn’t seem to happen. I can’t say it was bad- it just didn’t seem to have the same pop that many of the other dishes we had already enjoyed seemed to offer.

Ingenuity of flavour: 8/10 - The Coup doesn’t necessarily fit it’s menu into one specific world cuisine, yet it still offers a sense of continuity and focus. The ideas of fresh, local, and organic are apparent in each of the menu offerings, and the flavours and textures found in each dish are interesting, complex, and atypical to similar dishes I’ve enjoyed from other restaurants. The mushroom faux gras cigars were exceptionally light with a smooth texture, and completely devoid of the heavy, overly pungent taste that truffle oil sometimes masks a dish with. Perfect. The Coup seems to incorporate irregular ingredients and innovative combinations of flavours into many of their dishes, such as kamut noodles with coconut tomato sauce, or spicy cashew pesto with mint and basil. These are the combinations I look for in a new hip restaurant like The Coup, and I’m glad they’re bold enough to offer them. Perhaps even more consuming than the tapas and dinner menus is the extensive drink menu with an array of fun, exciting flavours to sample. With cocktails like the dark and stormy masala with Jamaican ginger beer, black rum, lemon-lime, garam masala spice & angostura bitters, or one of their fresh-pressed drinks like the snoop dogg: fresh juiced celery with apple fennel & celery bitters and bull dog gin- I can promise you you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy a drink like you’ve never had before.

Restaurant Vibe: 10/10 - The Coup + Meet has interesting food, and an astounding drink selection, but where it really shines is in the atmosphere of the room. Being that it’s essentially two rooms and a patio, The Coup + Meet offers options that seemed to allow our evening to progress in a way that just wouldn’t be possible at a restaurant without these different moods. We started with drinks+tapas in the Meet lounge: the darker, more seductive, more adult room. There was a live DJ who was spinning downtempo, jazz, trip hop, and chillout who offered the perfect canvas for conversation; and with Meet’s low tables, dim lighting, and relaxing ambiance, I was in heaven. The Yang to this dark, lounge area is Coup’s main dining area- a lighter, more refreshing vibe that plays well with their lighter dinner menu. The Coup’s brighter room also opens to the small patio area in front of the restaurant, bringing the street sounds and a more urban, busy vibe to this side of the restaurant. This concept of Yin and Yang is obviously thought out, and very apparent in the differences in menus and in atmospheres between the Meet and Coup sides of this remarkable space.

The Coup

Overall Value: 8/10 - With only one item on the menu over the $20 mark, it’s hard to say anything at The Coup is overpriced. Though some of the appetizers we shared were small, the flavours were primarily bold and exciting, and I typically don’t want a huge portion when the flavours are so potent. Two can dine comfortably with appetizers, dinner and drinks for under $100, and I feel this is on par for a restaurant of this type. The service was comfortable and upbeat, and I appreciated our server’s willingness to answer our questions about the menu.

Final Thoughts: All in all I was much more impressed with The Coup’s subtleties than the main course I received, but all these subtleties seem to make up for the few smaller ‘misses’ this restaurant had. The room certainly has a feeling to it, and that feeling along with the willingness to offer exciting new flavours takes The Coup from a typical tapas and light fare restaurant to an evening spot I will definitely return to.

The Coup + Meet
The Coup
The Coup on UrbanspoonMeet Lounge on Urbanspoon