Love for the Locals: Sushi Train

Sushi Train (10725-104 Avenue, Edmonton, AB), the only conveyor belt sushi restaurant in Edmonton opened for business last month in the MacEwan University area, next door to Happy Harbor Comics (another place worth visiting to satisfy a different kind of hunger)! I was super excited when the Edmonton food blogs started talking about it, and my friend Melissa made a visit. However, this apparently isn't the first time a restaurant of its sort has been in town. According to my parents, there used to be one in West Edmonton Mall called Sakura, but it closed a long time ago. Seeing as I had never been to a kaiten-zushi or "rotation sushi" place before, P and I gave it a try last week!

The way that kaiten-zushi works is the sushi chefs in the centre will make dishes, and place them on certain coloured plates to indicate pricing. A short list with a legend will be provided to customers at the tables. Most people will be seated around the elliptical sushi bar, and in this case, there were also some tables for groups on the sides. The dishes on the conveyor belt are self-serve, and it's essentially a la carte. For nigiri, you'll get 2 pieces, and servings of appetizers and maki will be half-orders. You also have the option of ordering from the menu directly if something you want isn't travelling on the belt. 

A big thank you to P for his awesome photos! The less than awesome photos were provided by yours truly...

Sushi Train!
Woo~ Conveyor belt!
Sushi chef at work!
The menu! They even have the pictures on the appropriately coloured plates for your reference. Pictures are helpful.
Their price list. P said that for kaiten-zushi, the prices are a bit steep, but yay for colour-coding!
Avocado - inside-out maki with cream cheese and crab flakes with avocado slices on top. Our first plate of the meal! This is actually the first time I've enjoyed maki with cream cheese inside! I usually pick it off and put the slab of cream cheese on P's piece, but I think it was just the right amount to give the roll a creamy taste and texture without the weird cow's milk aftertaste I usually get from cream cheese. Bravo!
Salmon! - nigiri with a slice of fresh salmon held together by a dab of wasabi. A staple in our sushi orders, so we got 2 plates of it. 
Red Dragon - inside-out maki with tempura shrimp and cucumber inside, topped with salmon, tobiko, and spicy mayo.  Not bad, but not spicy. We grabbed this one from the conveyor belt, so it was like a half-order. So actually, if you get two from the conveyor belt, it costs less than getting an order from the sushi bar.
Spicy Pork - This was the special of the day, and it was similarly cooked to "Sweet and Sour Pork", but seasoned with Korean gochujang instead. P and I were not really fans...it was interesting that they used gochujang instead of a Japanese marinade.
Chop Chop - maki with chopped fresh scallop with mayo and tobiko. My favourite thing to order when we go for sushi. I missed it so much since they didn't have this on any Japanese menu in Londontown. It wasn't showing up on the conveyor belt, so we ordered this one. Good ratio of chop chop to rice :)
Takoyaki - Balls of batter with pieces of octopus fried in a special takoyaki pan, topped with takoyaki sauce (like a thicker Worcestershire), mayo, green onion, and bonito flakes. This is a popular Japanese street food, and another one of my favourites (if done well, and this one was pretty decent).
Tai - nigiri with fresh snapper held together by a dab of wasabi. Not bad :) 
Dynamite - inside-out maki with tempura shrimp, mayo, avocado, crab flake, and cucumber inside, with spicy mayo drizzled over top. This is what I expected for a Dynamite roll. They always had one of this name on menus in London, but it was never spicy, and it's not because it wasn't spicy enough. There was actually no spice. This one was good though  :)
Toro - nigiri with fresh tuna held together with a dab of wasabi. Not bad, but not as fresh as most tuna we've had. P seemed a little bit sad. (Triple rhyme!)
Spicy Tuna - inside-out maki with fresh tuna, cucumber, and gochujang. Again with the gochujang...not what we were expecting taste-wise, and not one of our favourites. Poor P and his less than amazing tuna fix on this trip...
Our haul of 11 plates - 7 red, 2 green, 1 blue, and 1 black. We purposely didn't eat until we were full because the prices add up quite a bit, and we were going to play badminton anyways. This was about $55 worth. 
Overall, Sushi Train is not bad. I felt like it was more novelty than anything, especially because the prices were a bit higher than most kaiten-zushi. If we were looking for a more filling meal for a more reasonable price, we probably could have gone for AYCE. We could have also gone elsewhere for better quality sushi. However, given that the place is the only one of its kind in Edmonton, they can afford to be like that. Was the sushi spectacular? Mmm...not really. Even so, it was exciting and satisfying for my first experience with sushi coming to me on a conveyor belt. If you're a first-timer in that realm like me, then give it a shot! The service was very welcoming and pleasant, and if you're in the area, why not?

P says that there's a real sushi train place somewhere in Banff, so I'm super looking forward to that!


Sushi Train on Urbanspoon

Things You Must Try: London, ON

Time has just whizzed by, and I am now back in Edmonton! To sum up my foodtastic life over the past year, I am going to recommend things that you should eat for happy tastebuds in Londontown!

In no particular order, let me begin...

Bag Daddy's Big Stack from The Bag Lady:
This beautiful work of art is only made available at The Bag Lady Deli and Variety, and you need to have it. It's offered as long as The Bag Lady is open, so that die-hards can have it first thing in the morning, or it can be enjoyed in the early afternoon for the less-than-early risers. For $11.95, this glorious sandwich made of sourdough french toast, maple bacon, honey ham, fried egg, spinach, avocado, and tomato, topped with Hollandaise sauce can be yours! Dooo it! (I've also written about The Bag Lady on my blog before! For a refresher, you can read it here!)
Burek from Hot Oven at the Covent Garden Market:
The Hot Oven's bureks are made constantly throughout the day, everyday. I have yet to find anything like these in terms of the combined taste and texture. For $3.99, you can get a savoury burek like the one pictured above with spinach and cheese, cheese, or meat filling, or 2 dessert bureks with apple and cinnamon filling inside freshly-baked phyllo pastry. The savoury pastries come with a side of sour cream, and any other fixings you need are offered at the counter! It's an easy lunch/snack to pick up while you browse the Covent Garden Market, which you should be visiting anyways. (Thank you to Doris for checking the prices for me!)
Pierogi Lunch from Cafe Bourgeois at the Western Fair District Farmer's Market:
The pierogi lunch from Cafe Bourgeois at the Western Fair District Farmer's Market is a must! For $7, you get to choose 3 freshly made pierogi with some very unique fillings. For instance, when I went with my friend, Doris, we had pulled pork, jalapeno and cheese, and bacon and onion. My photo really doesn't do them justice, because they are actually massive! You can have them heated or fried up, but either way, they are pretty well guaranteed to be delicious! The drink pictured was a Cranberry Compote - cranberries simmered in strawberry tea and rose buds. I feel like it's different every week :) Find out more about Cafe Bourgeois and other vendors of the Western Fair District Farmer's Market here!
Vegetable Tempura from Zen Gardens:
I maintain that the Vegetable Tempura from Zen Gardens is the best tempura I've had. It isn't made with traditional panko, but there is something about their batter that is so wonderfully magical. I haven't enjoyed tempura as much as I've enjoyed theirs. It's a good mix of vegetables that they have on hand - enoki mushrooms being one of the unique additions. For $9.99, you, too can enjoy this fantasmical plate of deepfried veggie goodness! Read more about my love affair with Zen Gardens' Vegetable Tempura here!
Surely, there are other amazing eats in London, Ontario that I just have yet to discover, but my tastebuds were most definitely sent to heavenly places when I had the above food items.

Unfortunately, not all things can be peachy, and I feel the need to advise you on some less than wonderful experiences. That being said, I'm also going to sheepishly list things that aren't really worth it (sorry ._.):

2 for 1 Cake Slices at Symposium Cafe:
As magical as it sounds, the 2 for 1 cake deal on Sundays at Symposium Cafe is not actually that great. While the selection and portions of cake are impressive, both the service and product are subpar. It took more than 15 minutes for the servers/hosts to acknowledge my friends and I, and a server had to be flagged down in order to tend to our table. I can appreciate that only 1 server was assigned to our large group, however, the job wasn't taken very seriously at all. There were 12 varieties of cake to choose from, but of the 3 that I sampled, none had more flavour than sweet, and this was a tooth-aching, sugary sort of sweet. Perhaps it may appeal to some, but not to me. On the bright side, the half price bottles of Owner Cellar wine also offered on Sundays are quite good according to my friends, Cat and Laura.
Bibimbap at Gangnam Style BBQ Restaurant:
I completely visited this place out of novelty for its name, Gangnam Style. I am sad to report that mediocre was the word to describe the food I tried at Gangnam Style when I went with my dad including the Bibimbap, which is one of the most basic Korean dishes. Something was off about the seasoning of...well, everything. The saddest part for me was that I was craving beansprouts, and theirs just didn't give me the refreshing taste and crunch I was looking for. While its menu featured very entertaining names including the "Hey Sexy Lady Combo", the product just didn't measure up. I have to say that I have not tried the Korean BBQ here, so I'm not sure what that is like, but the disappointment with 4 dishes makes me reluctant enough to avoid giving it a try when I can go elsewhere instead.
Bubble Tea and Crepes at Cafe Sentral:
It was my first birthday in London, so I decided to celebrate by going for bubble tea and crepes with friends at Cafe Sentral. While impressive that the entire place was operated by one person, the products did not seem to make the wait particularly worthwhile. I opted for Strawberry Bubble Tea with tapioca pearls. The bubble tea tasted like a mix of artificially-flavoured juice and syrup, while the tapioca pearls were overcooked and a bit on the soggy side. The crepe was acceptable, but the fillings were quite average and overcooked as well. A couple of my friends had spoiled fruits in their sweet crepes, which tells me that this one fellow running the place doesn't check the condition of his produce. I regretfully beg to differ with their 82% rating on Urbanspoon.
I'd like to leave this post with more good things rather than bad, so there you have it - some must-try items and the minimal extent of my negative reviews :)

Look forward to my next write-up on delicious eateries from my recent re-location back to Edmonton!



Love for the Locals: Budapest

I'm down to my last week and a half in London, ON and I'm trying to visit all the local eateries I possibly can before I take off, between completing my final assignments and applying for jobs.

Today, two of my classmates, Laura and Doris joined me in visiting Budapest Restaurant, a local Hungarian restaurant that has been around for over 55 years. A few weeks ago, one of my professors told us a story about how he went to this restaurant, Marika, who has been running the show this whole time, told him and his friends to help themselves in the kitchen as she was too busy to serve them. He said that it was one of the best meals he's ever had, and when I saw that it was right next to Zen Gardens, which I dined at last week, I knew I just had to try it.

I unlocked 3 achievements with this visit:
1) Visit a Londonlicious restaurant
London has a food festival called Londonlicious, which is similar to Downtown Dining Week in Edmonton where you can get fixed 3-course lunch for $15 or dinner for $25 at some of the nicer restaurants in the city.

2) Visit a new, local restaurant I hadn't been to yet
After hearing from my professor and a number of my friends about this place, I just had to try it. I have an affinity for local restaurants that have been around for a long time and managed to sustain a reputation. And potatoes. They had a lot of potato things. 

3) Eat perogies
The perogies thing started earlier in May when Laura, Doris, and I went in search of perogies in London, and "Perogies Place" was supposed to be the best place for perogies in Londontown. Unfortunately, the Internet lied, and "Perogies Place" was replaced by a steak sandwich shop that isn't half bad, but we did not get the perogies we desired. But today, we were victorious.

Budapest Restaurant (348 Dundas Street, London, ON) is a medium-sized restaurant with a patio in the front, and two dining halls. Our server invited us to sit in the smaller dining hall where no one else was. We missed out on some of the amazing decor until we were leaving, but we did have a nice amount of privacy to enjoy our meals.

Budapest - A Taste of Hungary!

They had a lovely gentleman playing jazz music on the piano - as we entered, I'm pretty sure it was "Georgia on My Mind". Beautiful :)

The view from our table out into the main hall.
The view of our "private" dining hall.
The main dining hall as seen near the entrance to the restaurant. Check out all of those flags!

The reverse of their take-out menus had an article from the London Free Press picturing Marika on the restaurant's 50th anniversary.
The Londonlicious Lunch Menu - a choice of soup or salad, various platters of German and Hungarian food, and a dessert all for $15.

Green salad with house dressing. The vegetables were very fresh, and the dressing was light. Perfect to start the meal!

Long awaited perogies. These were not on the Londonlicious menu, so I had to order them separately. Until today, I never had perogies that weren't boiled before, so this was a different experience. They were absolutely delicious. The outsides were a bit crisp, but you could taste the homemade dough just past that, which invited you into fluffy mashed potatoes flavoured with cottage cheese and dill, topped with sour cream, fresh dill, and bits of bacon. So worth the wait.

Laura got the Chicken Paprikash. Doris told us that "paprikash" usually involved a mixture of peppers with some paprika. I stole a bite from it, and the chicken was very tender, and the sauce wasn't too overpowering. It came with a chicken drumstick and a thigh!
Doris got the Budapest Platter - it had Hungarian goulash, wiener schnitzel, and a cabbage roll. Doris gave me most of her cabbage roll because she's not a huge fan, but she did say she liked this one. Rather than the pitiful imitations found in mall food courts, this cabbage roll had a thin layer of cabbage wrapped around a dense mixture of rice and meat. Still, it was tender, juicy, and very flavourful.

With the promise of Doris' cabbage roll, I opted for the Wiener Schnitzel. It came with 2 pieces of schnitzel and homefries, and as with the other plates, homemade spaetzle and cabbage salad. The spaetzle was perfectly cooked, with just the right amount of sauce so that it wasn't drowning in soup or soggy. The wedge of lemon provided just what was needed to accompany the crisp outside and tender inside of the schnitzel. The homefries were amazing. The outsides were heavenly crisp, with fluffy hot insides that I definitely burnt my mouth on, but it was worthwhile. The cabbage salad was interesting - it was slightly cooked so that the cabbage was wilted, but shredded very finely and seasoned with a tangy sort of dressing.
There were 2 choices for dessert; a poppyseed roll and cottage cheese tart. I picked the poppyseed roll. It was a very interesting taste. The pastry was swirled around a mixture of hundreds of poppyseeds and shredded coconut. While interesting, I learned that I don't actually like poppyseeds that much, and was unfortunately unable to finish it. Laura and Doris were also well into food comatose states, and couldn't offer their assistance.
Both Laura and Doris chose the cottage cheese tart. I should have asked a bit more about what it was - my fear was that it was something like a custard tart, which generally has a lot of cream content. That plus cottage cheese sounded like bad news for me. It was actually like a pastry cake of some sort with cottage cheese embedded in the cake to make it moist, with cherry filling. I feel like I missed out...
The tea, although simple, was a lovely conclusion to the meal. I have a feeling that dinner will be later today. (There was a definite sign that I require more sleep. As I began to pour my tea, I realized that I had yet to put the tea bag in the tea pot. Sigh.)
Budapest was the first Hungarian restaurant that I've been to. Although some of the food overlaps with German cuisine, it was quite the experience. It makes me yearn more for a trip to Europe someday I can afford it... The staff were all so friendly. Marika must be working some real magic back in the kitchen because everything was so delicious. The poppyseed roll was an exception, but moreso due to personal tastes than anything else. I would definitely go back if I had the chance.

I urge you to try Budapest while Londonlicious is still on because it is a great deal, and there are only 3 days left! Be sure to check out the other restaurants participating in this festival too :)


Budapest Restaurant on Urbanspoon