10/14/2017

Love for the Locals: An Chay

An Chay, a new vegetarian and vegan Vietnamese restaurant just opened last week where the very short-lived Pitaghetti used to be. This is an interesting addition to the block considering how Edmonton's first vegan pizzeria, Die Pie (where I also hope to try at some point) started operations not too long ago. Unlike most Vietnamese restaurants in the city, there is no fish sauce or meat in sight. The entire menu consists of vegetarian and vegan options. While it isn't as extensive as the menu of your typical pho shop, there's enough for some variety. The prices are also a little steeper, but I suspect part of that is because of the cost of rent on Jasper Ave. 

An Chay, Vietnamese Vegetarian (11203 Jasper Ave)

Located at the corner of 112 Street and Jasper Avenue, it was clear that the furniture (namely chairs and tables) was purchased together with the space, but they've made good use of both by simply rearranging things to feel cozier and more welcoming. Happy to give An Chay a try, we made a stop for lunch today. We were very promptly welcomed and seated at a table. A nice feature of the location is that 2 of the 4 walls are windows, letting in plenty of natural light. 

A new restaurant with familiar furniture to former patrons of Pitaghetti

I have a spring roll problem in that I have to order them when I'm planning to enjoy a bowl of pho or vermicelli. An Chay's spring rolls do not contain any pork or shrimp, or meat of any sort, but they do have a number of root vegetables including carrots, daikon, and taro. P and I felt that they were a little smaller than we're used to, but they were tasty. The sauce served with the spring rolls was good too, despite lacking the brininess you get from fish sauce.

An Chay's Vegetarian Spring Rolls

While traditional pho broth tends to be made with beef bones, onions, ginger, and star anise among other things, An Chay's vegetarian pho broth is primarily made with carrot, daikon, jicama, and star anise. In place of the more typical steak, flank, tripe, and meatballs, the vegetarian pho offers a plethora of vegetables including bok choy, carrot, black fungus, and king oyster mushrooms, as well as some tofu. The noodles are cooked to a perfect consistency and you are offered the usual side of beansprouts, basil, chili pepper, and lime. In addition, you are provided with a small sauce dish of hoisin and sriracha. It was more like a simple vegetable noodle soup to me, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It just wasn't the pho I am used to tasting. I feel like I could have given this bowl of vegetarian pho a fairer trial if I hadn't just come back from a morning workout at the gym.

An Chay's Vegetarian Pho

P opted for the Spicy Noodle Soup (a.k.a. An Chay's Bun Hue). He felt that it was a bit too sweet and not spicy enough, but it did taste good. However, to be totally fair about the spicy thing, P's threshold for heat is a lot higher than most. His bowl of noodles featured tofu in a variety of forms including a "vegan sausage", which was like thin slices of compact tofu. It also came with a side of beansprouts, basil, chili peppers, as well as some shredded red cabbage. 

An Chay's Bun Hue

Overall, the staff are very friendly and the food is good if your diet leans more towards plants or are looking for a refreshing change. I would not recommend doing what I did by coming here right after the gym, especially if you are an omnivore or a meatetarian, as I found my meal a tad too light to be completely satisfying. However, if you are looking for more of a light work lunch, it would be pretty fitting. I look forward to returning for some more spring rolls and to see what their vermicelli is like.

-M

3/24/2017

Downtown Dining Week: A Downtown Dining Day

This year's Downtown Dining Week spanned from March 10-19, 2017. Unfortunately, I was limited as to when I could taste my way through the core. So, I decided to grab both a Downtown Dining Week lunch and dinner on one sunny Friday.

For lunch, I opted for the Free Press Bistro (80, 10014-104 Street). The Free Press Bistro is a great lunch spot for a tasty sandwich and soup or salad sort of deal. It's almost next door to the Red Arrow downtown office - convenient for travelers who need a quick bite! There's a great selection of sandwiches that are pressed to perfection, which you can enjoy with a hearty and creamy tomato soup, light green salad, or home cut potato chips to boot for $15. The menu does delve outside of the sandwich spectrum, but their Downtown Dining Week lunch offerings showcased their pressed sandwiches and supplied home cut potato chips in addition to your choice of soup or salad for the same price of $15.

A Caesar salad may seem like a simple matter, but there is such a bad thing as a poorly executed one. This, however, was not! The pieces of Romaine lettuce were light and crisp, the croutons added a great crunch, there was a solid salad to dressing ratio, and just the right touch of Parmesan to finish it off.
For my second course, I opted for The Club. The sandwich was a generous size, with a great filling to toasted bread ratio. Perfect crunch on the outside to be met with juicy, saucy goodness on the inside, bacon included! That aioli was delish too! I obliterated the pile of home cut potato chips. Can't stop, won't stop.

For dinner, I went out with a friend to Cocoa's (10222-102 Street) in the Delta Hotel at Edmonton City Centre. Cocoa's is a charming little place, located on the top floor of Edmonton City Centre's west side, right by the movie theatre. It's got a slightly older feel to it, which is comforting in that you can enjoy some finer food without an uptight feel in the air around you. For $28, Cocoa's Downtown Dining Week menu offered a 3-course dinner featuring a baby kale salad, a choice of surf or turf, and a custard for dessert.



The first course salad was a good, light start to the meal and while the dressing was served on the side, the salad itself was a little bit dry for my taste - perhaps there just needed to be a little bit more dressing. The vinaigrette was simple and not overpowering, so that you could still taste all the nuances in the variety of vegetables on the plate. Given the amount of salad served, I found it interesting that it was presented on a rectangular plate, necessitating that you take your time eating it so the baby kale wouldn't end up falling onto the table.


For the second course, I opted for the Cajun Flat Iron. The portion was perfect for the 3-course dinner - generous, yet not so generous that you'd feel guilty for not being able to finish it. I always order my steak at a medium-rare, and it was a little closer to medium, but the Cajun rub was great and the steak itself was wonderfully juicy and full of flavour. The Boursin mashed potatoes and demi-sauvignon sauce were amazing, and the fried onion scattered on top were a great touch!
The third course was a lovely finish. I was anticipating the temperature, texture, and viscosity to be something more like a creme brulee, but the custard was a little thicker, topped with the peach and apricot compote, and chilled. Nonetheless, it was delicious and not too far on the sweet side. The fresh cream and fresh berries were great choices to cut the richness. Bravo!

In comparison to my Downtown Dining Week experience last year, this one certainly blew it out of the water - steak included. I always appreciate this festival for highlighting some of the great eateries in Edmonton's downtown core. Looking forward to Downtown Dining Week 2018!

1/29/2017

Love for the Locals: SPUD Edmonton

Yesterday, SPUD Edmonton (7039-68 Avenue) opened up its warehouse doors to the public in a free "Meet Your Farmers" event.
SPUD Edmonton's "Meet the Farmers" event!
Admittedly, neither P nor I knew what SPUD was all about before going to the open house. I honestly anticipated meeting some potato farmers, since spuds are sometimes synonymous with potatoes, and well, I love potatoes. Granted, I didn't read up on SPUD Edmonton more than just what was on their Facebook event.

Screenshot from SPUD.CA, an online grocery shopping service for organic, GMO-free, and locally-sourced goods.
For those of you who are as clueless as I was, SPUD stands for Sustainable Produce Urban Delivery. Essentially, it's an online grocery shopping service where all products offered are sourced locally, organic, and non-GMO. SPUD currently offers its services to Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, and Victoria. SPUD Edmonton caters to those in Edmonton and surrounding areas including St. Albert, Spruce Grove, Sherwood Park, Fort Saskatchewan, Beaumont, and Leduc.

At the "Meet Your Farmers" event, regular and prospective customers were able to self-tour the facility, snack on free samples from from local vendors, and even shop off of the shelves in the warehouse.

Plenty of sampling from local vendors including Honest Dumplings, Noorish, Traditional Hutterite...
Prairie Mills Bread Co., NKD, and Glow Juicery.
The interior of SPUD Edmonton's warehouse is about the size of a smaller grocery store.
Lambtastic lamb shanks from Lambtastic Farms
Reclaim Urban Farm's various microgreens and sprouts
We even got a quick tour of the facility that walked us through the process of filling a grocery order. This was in the walk-in fridge with the dairy and produce.
They use these sturdy boxes to package and deliver their orders, and then collect them to be reused for future orders.
These foil bags are used for the perishable goods and are also cleaned and reused for future orders. Frozen goods are packed with dry ice, and others are packed with gel packs so that everything stays fresh for up to 12 hours.
SPUD is certainly an interesting concept for urbanites who are busy balancing work and home life, and at times, unable to do a full grocery run while also making healthy choices. It takes convenience to another level by having someone else look after gathering your groceries and dropping them off right at your door. Even better, is the sustainability piece where their packaging materials are recycled and reused. Everyone we met at the warehouse was incredibly friendly and knowledgeable, which is key for great customer service. I was introduced to some local vendors I was unfamiliar with, which I loved, and went home with some ginger beer and fresh sorrel sprouts.

However, SPUD is definitely targeted more towards the middle and upper class. One must recognize that a service like SPUD is not made to cater to students (especially those with loans and/or other debt), marginalized communities, and other individuals and families with potentially lower income. I'll be even more impressed when SPUD is made more accessible to a broader range of households. I am all for teaching our society to eat healthier and support local businesses, however, I recognize that as things are, indulging in SPUD and the like comes with a fair amount of privilege.

-M

1/21/2017

Love for the Locals: Vi's for Pies

Hey there! It's been...a while. My desire to tell you of my food-filled life in the form of a blog entry has been revitalized thanks to my love for pie and consumption of such!

I finally made it out to the locally-infamous, Vi's for Pies (13408 Stony Plain Rd NW). I had made 2 other attempts to dine at this fine establishment, and both failed attempts were completely my own fault. The first time, I tried coming on a Sunday without checking their hours first - rookie mistake, living in the Internet age and all. The second time, I forgot that they were closed on Sundays, and tried coming on a Sunday. But you know...you live and learn.

That brings us to today. P and I were planning to visit a couple of thrift/antique shops along Stony Plain Road (i.e. Bibles For Missions Thrift Store and Blue Jar Antique Mall), and decided to have breakfast at Vi's for Pies since it too, is along Stony Plain Road.  The original plan was to have breakfast, and then go thrift shopping. However, we were unaware that savouries were not available until 11:00 when Vi's for Pies starts serving lunch on Saturdays. Since savouries are integral to how I start my Saturdays and the third time had to be the charm after my two failed attempts, we vowed to return for lunch. So return for lunch, we did.

Vi's for Pies is open! That's because it's not Sunday!

The interior is such a cute, little thing. It's not a huge space, but it's bigger than you anticipate when you walk in. There's also a patio to enjoy in the summer, with some prickly pear iced tea, I imagine. Vi's for Pies is very much a friendly neighbourhood cafe with a homey feel.
You know what's amazing? When they bring you the menu, it's in the form of a chalkboard on an easel. P and I were caught a bit off-guard by this, but it was kind of amazing. P admitted that he thought a couple at another table were discussing an art piece when we walked in. In a way they were, because the menu is great.

P opted for the Beef Brisket, which is barely in the photo, but I was very hungry and eager to dig into my lunch. I snagged a bite, and it was wonderfully moist and tender. P opted for the Spicy Cajun Dirty Rice and Coleslaw for sides. The biscuit had a good amount of bonus cheese in addition to the gooey cheese cavern on its interior.

I felt that for the sake of its name, it was very important that I had pie upon my first visit to Vi's for Pies. I opted for Shepherd's Pie, which conveniently satisfied a week-long craving, with a simple garden salad and creamy dill dressing. It was everything I had hoped for in a Shepherd's Pie, and that creamy dill dressing was just the icing on the cake! Yum.

On my way out, I caught a glimpse of the Banana Cream Pie, which is my favourite dessert pie in the world. Oddly enough, I am not particularly fond of bananas. But banana cream pie? Hand it over.

Given that I just devoured a healthy portion of Shepherd's Pie for lunch, I was pretty full, so I grabbed my Banana Cream Pie to go. I mean, just look at that slice of banana cream heaven. I will definitely provide an update once I have tasted it, and I am really looking forward to that moment in my life.

Long story short, this well-anticipated visit was very worthwhile! I've heard that the soup at Vi's for Pies is also to die for, so I'll have to come back to give that a try. I do love me a good soup!

-M


8/14/2016

Love for the Locals: Alberta Mycological Society

Today, P and I visited the "City of Champignons" Wild Mushroom Exposition hosted by the Alberta Mycological Society at the Devonian Botanic Garden. (For those of you who are not Edmontonians, "City of Champions" became the city's slogan after the tornado of 1987.)

Many who know me well, know how much I love mushrooms. 

Things I learned today about mushrooms (courtesy of the Alberta Mycological Society):
- You won't be harmed by touching or smelling toxic mushrooms - only if you ingest them.
- There are 3 main types of mushrooms: edible, medicinal, and toxic.
- Some mushrooms look very similar, but have characteristics like stains or smells that distinguish them. Some differ almost only just by where they are found.
- There is a mushroom that will literally make you laugh to death. 
- Fairy ring mushrooms, commonly found on your lawn are actually edible!
- It's actually better to cook mushrooms before eating them, even if they're from the grocery stores. They contain natural carcinogens, which can be broken down by being cooked.
- While mushrooms in their younger stages can sometimes be identified by being sliced in half, if they are too young, some distinct characteristics may not have developed yet and make "buttons" difficult to identify.
- There are at least 20 common varieties of mushrooms that can be found in Alberta!

A fabulous spread of mushrooms that the Alberta Mycological Society gathered yesterday!
One of the mycology enthusiasts picked up the big white one and said, "this one is edible, but it tastes like wet newspaper".
My favourite table for identifying mushrooms - the edible ones!
They even had a cooking station set up where you could sample two dishes by donation, or pay to order an item on their menu, which offered strawberry enoki soup, mushroom veloute, and corn on the cob smothered in mushroom butter. Having just come from lunch, we opted for the samples, but will definitely consider coming for lunch at next year's expo!
Mushrooms on toast. A lot of garlicky, buttery mushrooms on toast. 
Mushroom risotto topped with a mixture of wild mushrooms and some parmesan!
AMS Director-at-Large, Robert Simpson was our guide on the Mushroom Walk in the Garden, and taught us how to examine and identify different mushrooms found in the Devonian Botanic Garden, particularly the edibles, which I was definitely a fan of! Unfortunately, P and I had to duck out a little early because I was getting eaten alive by mosquitoes in the woods...
I did leave with this beautiful Shaggy Parasol mushroom cap, which I cooked for my dinner tonight! It was bigger than my hand!
Shaggy parasols are very fragile when mature, so you need to take care when washing and preparing it, but it will probably crumble at least a bit anyways.
The mushroom actually shrinks down quite a bit, but the flavour is quite intense. I sauteed the mushrooms in some olive oil with chopped garlic and dried thyme, and later tossed it together with some parsley, parmesan, and fusilli. Simple, but delicious!
It was my first time cooking with a mushroom from a foraging trip (also my first foraging trip, period), and it was probably the freshest mushroom I've ever eaten! I will be sure to keep an eye out for edibles upon future walks, so that I can indulge in more of this earthy goodness! :)

-M