Love for the Locals: Zocalo

After another long hiatus, I am back! A lot of changes have happened over the past several months - after bouncing around between contract jobs, I eventually landed permanent position and moved into my own apartment, closer to Edmonton's great food scene, of course! I hope to update more often as my furnishing and decor becomes more complete.

Last weekend, P and I visited a cafe in Little Italy for breakfast called Zocalo (10826-95 Street). It's a quaint, little cafe situated inside a culinary-themed gift shop married with a greenhouse. You order in the shop, and can enjoy your sips and noms in the shop or the greenhouse!

Zocalo from the outside of the gift shop!
Zocalo from outside of the greenhouse! You can see the long wooden table and some bistro tables inside!
The cafe situated inside the gift shop!
Our breakfast spread! P's latte, my rooibos tea, a mocha almond tart, bagel with lox, and cranberry scone! It was a perfect balance, especially with the bite of dark chocolate for a finish :)
Despite the rain outside, the greenhouse was so bright and open, so that was where we sat to enjoy our breakfast. Not to mention, the light was great for photos, even with my phone!

Earlier on, I had said to P that I was feeling peckish, but not in the mood for a full-on breakfast complete with toast, eggs, and hashbrowns. Our choices at Zocalo just hit the spot. The tea was typical of the Mighty Leaf (which P said lost a good opportunity for a punny name, claiming that "the Mightea Leaf" would have been better), but smooth and enjoyable nonetheless. The bagel with lox, capers, and cream cheese offered the perfect savoury note for our meal, with just enough but not too much cream cheese, and a good amount of lox. The scone was a bit denser than I am used to, and seemed more like a cake in scone form to me, but the sweetness was well-balanced. The same goes for the mocha almond tart. Marzipan or almond paste tends to be rather sugary, but the mocha and dark chocolate were a great offset, not to mention it went great with my tea.

I have a pretty good feeling that we'll be back!

If you do decide to visit Zocalo, which you most definitely should, you also ought to visit the Spinelli Italian Centre Shop just a block away! I have to say that it has one of my preferred delicatessens in the city. I got some corned beef pastrami and a few slices of Gruyere Swiss to go with the loaf of fresh rye that P brought me - yum!


Zocalo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


What the Truck?! 2015

Yesterday was the kick-off event of What the Truck?! this year, where 25 food trucks lined Churchill Square for the evening, and P and I decided to check it out!

Both P and I felt that there may have been more people at this event than our annual Taste of Edmonton festival that takes place in the same location! Although, I like to use Taste of Edmonton as my chance to sample delicious things from the slightly pricier restaurants that I may not otherwise dine in for financial reasons.

Before heading out, P and I made sure to bring our own water, so that we could save our cash for the food items rather than the cans of pop and bottles of water that we could get elsewhere. It was extra handy that the map and menus for the event were made available as a PDF, which I downloaded to my phone. That way, we could use our waiting time in lines to decide on where to go next! We also took the bus downtown knowing that parking would be quite a feat to achieve.

Once we got to Churchill Square, people were lined up everywhere! I wish I could have gotten a better picture of exactly how many people were on the Square, but alas, I am a bit vertically-challenged.
Our first choice was also the first business that P took photos for in his magazine shoot - One Cool Cookie! I was thinking along the lines of "dessert before dinner". I crossed my fingers while waiting, wishing and hoping that they wouldn't run out of ice cream before we got to the order window! Once we placed our order, we were advised that it was going to be a 40 minute wait, so rather than waste time standing around for 40 minutes, we took the chance to browse around at other trucks.
We decided to join the queue for Jimmy Poblano's after noticing that their line was a bit shorter, and seeing some great-looking chimichangas pass by. Unfortunately, by the time we got to place an order, they had run out of everything aside from cheesecake, lemonade, and water. That's what we get for coming to the event so late! We will have to wait until next time!
Another shorter and quicker line was spotted at the Spice Rickshaw, so we decided to go for it!
We were glad we did, because it resulted in some tasty food! P and I opted for the Chaat Papdi or "Indian Nachos". There were peas, green onions, cilantro, chili powder, yogurt, and whole bunch of other flavours going on and it was nice to have on a hot day like yesterday!
When we returned to One Cool Cookie, we got a pretty stuffed ice-cream sandwich! Our choice was the Skor-bacon cookie with salted caramel ice cream, and it was absolutely delicious! The cookie was perfectly chewy, and the ice cream - well, how can you go wrong with Pinocchio ice cream?
When we went to What the Truck?!, I was expecting there to be a lot of people, especially because we came around 6:00 (i.e. the dinner rush time), so waiting in line wasn't too troubling to me, although I know that there were other people who felt otherwise. A downside to all of the hype of a food truck event was that so many people attended the event, and the orders ended up being quite backed up, but honestly, it shouldn't be too unexpected. Sometimes, people don't realize that if they *really* didn't want to wait in line for their food, they didn't have to. They could have chosen not to attend the event, and eaten at a sit-down restaurant or eaten at home, but they chose to come. The What the Truck?! organizers even put together a helpful "tips and tricks" webpage for non-frequent food truck diners, which some people in the lines with us obviously didn't read over. It's worthwhile to appreciate all the effort that these 2-6 person teams inside those food trucks have to put in for the thousands of attendees. You can't exactly fit too many more people inside of a truck that's stocked with ingredients and kitchen appliances, so patience really is a virtue :)

A great, big kudos to the organizers and food truck vendors who worked to make this event a success! It was really something to see so many people excited about great food, while taking advantage of the giant checkers and chess games in Churchill Square, and dancing to the DJ's music! 

Even at 8:00pm, the scheduled closing time of the event, lineups were still going pretty strong!
I'm looking forward to see all of the photos that P took during What the Truck?! :) They should be featured on his website and/or Twitter in the near future, so be sure to check those out!

I'm also pretty excited about the vegetables and fruits available in the markets now! I hope to try a few new things out this summer!



Downtown Dining Week: A Hit and A Miss

How was everyone's Downtown Dining Week? I always look forward to this food festival in Edmonton, but I don't always get to take advantage of it, so I made sure to do so this time around.

On Thursday, I was on my own for dinner, and decided to grab dinner at Pazzo Pazzo Italian Cuisine (10016-103 Avenue). It was my first time to the place, and I actually had an expired Groupon that I needed to use up. Unfortunately, because Downtown Dining Week is already a promotion, I wasn't able to use my Groupon, but from the quality of food and service I received, I don't mind coming back at all!
Pazzo Pazzo is tucked into one of the small streets across from Churchill Square, so if you weren't actively looking for it, it'd be easy to miss.
Pazzo Pazzo is a fine dining restaurant just a couple of blocks away from the Edmonton City Centre, . The interior had your typical fine dining ambiance with slightly dimmed lighting and various areas for seating. I had my dinner a bit earlier that night, so there weren't too many people dining at the same time as me, but it was kind of nice how quiet it was.
Even though I was dining alone, I got my own mini loaf of bread, and it was delicious. I only had a couple of slices before my other courses started arriving, and I'm glad.
The first course was a salad, and you had a choice between a Caesar salad or Mista. I opted for the Mista, and the dish is quite deceiving. The portion of salad could probably have been the size of 2 starter salads, but I quite enjoy my veggies, so I didn't mind. The salad had Romaine lettuce, Roma tomato, celery, onion, and cucumber, topped with a Mista vinaigrette dressing and some shaved Parmesan. The only thing I didn't like was that there was probably an entire Roma tomato in it, but it's more of a personal preference thing. It was light, refreshing, and delicious.
For the entree, you had a choice between Penne Pazzo (chicken, broccoli, tomato cream sauce) or Stuffed Pasta Shells (ricotta, spinach, "Gigi" sauce - I don't know what Gigi sauce is though). I opted for the Penne Pazzo, and this dish is even more deceiving than the salad. There was enough pasta to serve 3 people, I swear. The thing is that while there was a lot, it was consistently good throughout - the pasta was cooked perfectly (al dente), the broccoli and chicken were cooked perfectly, and the tomato cream sauce was divine. The chili flakes and black pepper that you see on top is all my doing. While it tasted delicious, I have a hard time tasting the same thing over and over when there is a lot of food to be had, so I had those added for later on.
The service was excellent - it was neither overly or under attentive. My server was just attentive enough to meet my needs, without interrupting my meal too much. The food was great too, although the portion was quite large. I feel like I had read something about that in a review somewhere, but took it too lightly. The third course of the meal is a dessert, which for Downtown Dining Week was tiramisu. Unfortunately, seeing as I was so full from the bread, salad, and maybe 1/3 of my pasta entree, I couldn't even make it to the dessert. My server kindly offered to pack my tiramisu in a box, as well as the remaining 2/3 of my main dish, and even the bread!
When I came back from my dinner, it looked practically like I had gotten take-out!
A few hours after I had digested my dinner, I was able to share the tiramisu with P. The whipped cream deflated in the fridge over time, but it tasted pretty good. The additions of strawberries and rolled up chocolate were a nice touch.
This is how much was leftover from my dinner - 2 whole lunch tupperware containers stuffed to the brims with pasta! P and I enjoyed our lunches of pasta and bread the next day. 
Needless to say, my overall experience at Pazzo Pazzo was excellent! I will definitely go back, especially if I want to have a really good lunch for work the next day ;)

Unfortunately, my second Downtown Dining Week experience was quite far from being as enjoyable as the first. P and I spent the last day of Downtown Dining Week at Chop Steakhouse & Bar (10235-101 Street) for lunch. I had skimmed through the Downtown Dining Week menus beforehand, and Chop had the most options for entrees, 6, in fact, and I also had two amazing experiences at the location in Ellerslie with my parents.
Chop Steakhouse & Bar is located on the main and second levels of Sutton Place Hotel. This is the upstairs entrance.
We decided to sit in the lounge area, because most other customers were sitting there and the place is huge.
P and I waited 20 minutes before being provided with menus after being seated. While I understand that restaurants may be lower on staff for Sunday lunches, there were maybe 3-4 other tables of customers in the restaurant, yet another 15 minutes after ordering, we finally received our glasses of water. At the same time that we were served the water, our server indicated that she had forgotten what P ordered, and had also forgotten to place our order. As a result, a table of customers who arrived a while after we did, got their meals first. From what we noticed, the bartender frequently needed to leave the bar to run up to the kitchen and serve orders that were ready.
The first course was Watermelon and Feta Spring Salad - the salad was actually quite tasty. It wasn't overdressed, there was a nice play of flavours between the greens and fennel, and the watermelon and feta. However, half of the bowl's underside felt kind of crusty, and P mentioned that his case was the same.
Of the 6 sandwich options, P picked the Beef Short Rib. It looked quite good. P said that the bun was nicely toasted, and levels of flavour and moisture in the sandwich's filling were good, however, it wasn't very hot, temperature-wise. I stole a couple of bites, and agreed with his comments.
Seeing as the name is Chop Steakhouse & Bar, I opted for the Steak Sandwich. Unfortunately, it was quite disappointing. I asked to have my steak prepared medium-rare, but the steak was more or less between being medium and well-done. There were only a couple of bites of steak where the red/pink was actually visible. Even so, a well-done steak can still be moist, but mine was not. It was difficult for me to get through the steak, so distracting my palette with the fries and a couple bites of P's sandwich certainly helped. The fries were actually quite good, and P thought so too. They were nice and crispy on the outside, and soft and fluffy on the inside, which is how I believe fries ought to be. It made up for the fact that they had run out of mashed potatoes, hence the fries. 
Overall, the food was decent, but my dry and overcooked steak demoted my rating quite a bit. The service, however, was rather dreadful. I normally feel much more reluctant to mention my disappointments, but I feel as though this was an exception to that feeling. I regret not consulting Urbanspoon, and solely relying on my previous experiences at another location, as most of the reviews reveal that service has been consistently unimpressive. I think that if I do want to go to Chop Steakhouse & Bar, I will steer clear of the downtown location, and re-visit the one in Ellerslie where they seemed more familiar with the concept of proper customer service.

I hate to end Downtown Dining Week on such a sour note, but I am definitely looking forward to more food festivals coming up this summer in Edmonton!


Pazzo Pazzo on Urbanspoon Chop Steakhouse & Bar on Urbanspoon


Love for the Locals: YEG Coffee Week

Hello readers (if you're still out there)! It's been too long! But, I had to come back for Pi Day, obviously. I've been quite busy lately because life happens, but things have hopefully settled down for the next little while. I hope to put out new posts at least on a monthly basis from this point on :)

As many of you know, YEG Coffee Week has been all the craze! The mission of YEG Coffee Week is as follows:
"Yeg Coffee works to connect and build a vibrant community, that works to motivate, educate and support both coffee professionals and enthusiasts as well as our local community."
Basically, between March 7-15, anyone can grab a coffee stamp card, and get $1 off their coffee at any of 25 participating local cafes in Edmonton, 1 in St. Albert, and 1 in Sherwood Park.
The participants of YEG Coffee Week!
Even though I'm strictly a tea drinker, I tagged along with P who has been having too much fun with YEG Coffee Week. You'll see what I mean if you check out his tweets over the course of the week. As a result, I managed to drink tea and have some nibbles at 3 local cafes I hadn't been to before, which is awesome.

Since it was Pi Day, I wanted to have a tart or pie of some sort, and what better place to look than the quaint little French Quarter in Edmonton? P and I made our way over to Cafe Bicyclette (004 - La Cité Francophone, 8627 rue Marie-Anne-Gaboury/91 St. NW), right by Campus Sainte-Jean for brunch. The cafe is in a building called "La Cite Francophone", which is a cultural centre that houses some studios, offices, and shops, as well as a farmer's market on Sundays. It really is a cute place, and I decided upon walking in that I would be back again. I also wanted to go there because in addition to being a part of YEG Coffee Week, Cafe Bicyclette is a participant in the mini festival dubbed the "Farewell to Winter Patio Party", and so, out on the patio, we sat.

I don't know what's gotten into Edmonton this year, but it was a absolutely gorgeous day.
The sign for Cafe Bicyclette.
The patio!
I have a thing for blackboard menus. I really do.
A slice of banana cream pie and my chai latte with soy milk. Both delicious and wonderfully textured. The tea was so smooth, and you know that it's good foam when it stays around until you get to the bottom of your cup. The pie was beautifully balanced with a perfect ratio of pastry to banana cream filling, while not being too sweet.
P opted for a classic latte. Oh, and the dark chocolate croissant. The thing I love about French patisserie is that they're decadent, but still light, and the sweetness is always more on the milder side. The croissant itself was just how it should be - golden, crispy, and flaky on the outside, and fluffy, moist, and soft on the inside. And imho, dark chocolate is the only way chocolate should be.
We also shared this lovely little crepe with a Saskatoon berry-cream cheese filling, lightly drizzled with maple syrup. The great thing was that there wasn't too much cream cheese, so not only did it play well with the Saskatoon berries, but I didn't have to worry as much about my lactose intolerance. Comfort is nice.
Overall, a lovely little place! As I said before, I knew when I walked in that I would want to come back. The food and service were wonderful, and they're open every day of the week! I would love to come back and try more of their savouries the next time around <3

After we finished, P and I decided to grab another cup of coffee (and tea for me), but thought we'd try another place on the list. P chose Credo, the acclaimed #1 place for coffee in the city. It has shown up in numerous foodie posts, and I was curious to see it for myself as well! Credo currently has 2 locations in the city, strategically placed on 2 particularly artsy/trendy streets - one on 124 Street (10350-124 Street) and one on the (10)4th Street Promenade (10134-104 Street).
Inside Credo. (Outside of Credo, we/I got distracted by this adorable golden retriever named "Blue", who sat on my right shoe to be petted.)
(Look at P's coffee card! All of the little coffee cup icons on there are stamps. That's how many places he visited for coffee this week, and YEG Coffee Week still has one more day!) P's Finca Takesi Typica - apparently it's from the highest coffee farm in the world??
P's coffee after he added cream, and my London Fog Rooibos with soy milk. Yes, London Fog Rooibos. At Credo, you can choose between having the classic Earl Grey or Rooibos in your London Fog! For the sake of having something a little bit different, I opted for the latter. It was a bit of an acquired taste on the first sip, but by the second, it was pretty good!
The foam was perfect. The bubbles were incredibly fine, and this spoonful sat there without diminishing at all while P took this photo. Yum.
I have somehow become a hand model for P, but I don't think my career is particularly promising since I still bite my nails...
It was definitely worth the visit to Credo! I know that I'm not much of a judge since I'm not a fan of coffee - not even good coffee (for shame, I know) - but P said that it was very good. I feel that I will be back, even if just for the foam...

Last Sunday, closer to the start of YEG Coffee Week, P and I stopped by Farrow (8422-109 Street), a hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop that's open every day of the week except Tuesday, but only for lunch time. The guys running the place give off a very chill, laidback vibe, while offering great service and delicious food. Farrow is actually run by the same people behind Three Boars Eatery, but that's a story for another day, when I manage to visit them as well.
In front of Farrow. The area with the wooden wall is already the start of the patio for the Three Boars Eatery. Farrow is tiny!
What you see in the picture is essentially the size of the place, but somehow, it doesn't feel crammed inside. 
There was a cactus in the corner with a toque and sunglasses like a G, so I asked P to take its picture.
P's pour-over coffee getting poured over. In the afternoon that day, Farrow actually held a little session on pour-over coffee.
Farrow's kitchen busy at work, constantly putting out sandwiches. These guys are sandwich machines!
Our sandwiches and P's pour-over coffee! I love that they wrap the sandwiches in meat-packing paper. And their stickers. It's all just awesome. From the looks of it, they have 3-4 sandwiches every day, all cleverly named - 1 is brekkie-inspired, 1-2 are for meat-eaters, and 1 is veggie-friendly. On that note, the veggie one for last Sunday was "Romaine Calm". Yup.
My sandwich, the "Grick Middle". It had thick-cut bacon, a fried egg, smoked cheddar, arugula, tomato jam, and rosemary aioli, all on a soft, but toasty bun. It was just right. The savoury overpowered the sweet but in a really good way.
Hole-in-the-walls have these crazy magnetic forces on me, so I will be back. I can't get over how they pass orders to each other on a clothes line. I also need more Grick Middle in my belly!

All 3 of these stops for YEG Coffee Week were absolutely worthwhile. I recommend visiting all of them - not necessarily all 3 in one day, but maybe...

Thanks again to P for his amazing photography! Please check out his website for more of his work!

Café Bicyclette on Urbanspoon Credo Coffee on Urbanspoon Farrow Sandwiches on Urbanspoon


Love for the Locals: Ampersand 27

For my pre-birthday birthday dinner, P and I finally got around to trying out one of the newer additions to Whyte Ave -- Ampersand 27, and it was definitely the perfect choice for the occasion.

(My birthday present to myself was a brand new phone, so rather than the mediocre pictures you've seen from my Samsung Galaxy SII, these photos are coming to you from a fancy schmancy Nexus 5.)

Ampersand 27, or &27 is certainly "crafted to be different". Something like a fine-dining tapas-style restaurant, it is located on Whyte Ave at 10612-82 Avenue, where Murrietta's used to be. As you sit and enjoy your meal, and look around at, well...everything, you can't help but feel how well the food and space complement one another, courtesy of Chef Patron and Owner, Nathin Bye.

We started off the meal with our drinks, which they charmingly referred to as "Causes, Cures, & Remedies". P opted for a glass of Merlot, while I indulged in a virgin rendition of one of their cocktails - Hot Days. The regular Hot Days includes a concoction of Appleton Rum, Giffard Apricot, Pomegranate Honey Reduction, Almond Milk, and Earl Grey Ice. While the regular cost for one of their cocktails averaged at about $11.50, they only charged me $4 for a virgin one. It was a great deal, but I'm sure I was missing some extra notes by passing on the rum and brandy. Perhaps there will come a day when I choose a boozy drink with the actual booze in it :)

Ampersand 27 also serves Q water in its still or sparkling form, for which they charge $1. There has been some criticism due to the fact that they charge for water, but part of the proceeds from the water sales goes to the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation.

The dinner menu, for the most part, is a collection of share-able items, which means that you can try multiple inventions of theirs at the same time. P and I decided on the Seared Albacore Tuna from "Share & Share Alike", creating our own "Charcuterie" board, and the Seafood Paella from "Larger Provisions".

To really top off the experience, Executive Chef, Greg Myshynuik came around to greet customers at their tables including ours. He asked us if we had just ordered charcuterie, and before we could say "Seared Albacore Tuna", he recited the rest of our meal from the top of his head. He also said that he would check to make sure our food was coming out in a timely manner, and that it did.

Charcuterie - There was a full page of items for you to put together your own charcuterie board. We chose the Chorizo ($3.90/50g), Britannia 5 Year Aged Cheddar ($6.82/50g), Rustic Marble Rye ($3.50/6 half slices), Smoked Rainbow Trout ($3.94/50g), peanut fries ($5.00/elliptical bowl the length of P's forearm). As tempting as things like fresh boccocini can be, I'm glad that they have options like aged cheeses, as one with a sometimes disagreeable stomach. There isn't much more to say than that it was all very delicious. Of course, my favourite part was definitely the peanut fries. They are your standard shoestring potato fries, but are fried in peanut oil, and then topped with a touch of salt and what they called "chipotle honey dust". I'm pretty sure that just means it's some form of magical fairy dust that's edible to mortals. These things are crazy addictive, and now, P and I have somewhere to go for some really good fries at night!
Seared Albacore Tuna - Pickled Hearts of Palm, Citrus, Seaweed, Cashew Puree. It felt almost as if the dish was situated on the ocean floor. I wasn't a huge fan of the "hearts of palm", but it was likely because they were pickled, and I'm just not a fan of pickled things. Really, I just wanted the tuna, and it was amazing.
Seafood Paella ($28) - The seafood paella changes daily, so the price will vary by market price. Ours had mussels, clams, and chorizo. The rice had a divinely smooth texture with so much flavour, yet not too much. Yum.

Homemade saltwater taffy accompanied the check - one was root beer, and the other was cucumber-gin. I've found that out of all of the boozy things I've taken a sip of, I've enjoyed gin and tonic the most. P says it's because it tastes more herbal rather than old things and wood. That said, I opted for the cucumber-gin taffy.

My favourite part of the restaurant. Apparently it was meant to emulate a forest scene with mountains and a river with a starry night sky, and I love it.

I'm not sure how it's possible, but while everything at Ampersand 27 looked beautiful, it also tasted beautiful. It felt as if each morsel had been cared for individually...Bravo.

P and I were so full after indulging in our savoury dishes, that we had to opt out from ordering dessert. But don't you worry - we will be back.

If you're in a mood for indulging your eyes and tastebuds simultaneously, but don't necessarily have a huge budget, I'd recommend a visit to Ampersand 27. And please try the peanut fries for me :)


P.S. Check out the winter issue of Fine Lifestyles Magazine for a featured article on Ampersand 27, and more amazing photography by P!

Ampersand 27 on Urbanspoon