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Thursday, 2 October 2014

Close to Home at Rostizado

Food and language are entities of the same genetic stock. Both are capable of the most sublime expressions and nuances and, under optimal circumstances, present as vibrant layers. Presently, I am writing this in Milan's central train station, where multiple strata of languages are slow-smoked spices, undulating and reverberating with life. Despite the din, it all somehow makes sense.


If these layers could somehow be transmuted into scents, they then might come close to capturing the olfactory aura of Edmonton's Rostizado. Rostizado is the second-born sibling to vivacious Tres Carnales, but don't you dare compare the two. Rostizado is to Tres what wood-scented afterglow is to sun-warmed sand. What Billie Holiday is to Tito Puente.


Recently extinct Roast Coffee House's bones are long gone, and the broad timbre of Rostizado fills the antediluvian room with zest, camp, and laughter that veritably bounces off the warehouse ceiling.


The wait is long tonight, as one must gamble against the clock - pitting the timing of one's hunger against that of another. Fortunately, a stridently strong El Emperador seizes one's attention with velvety low notes of vanilla, herbaceous interjections of amaro and tequila, and an overt agenda of basil.


Smoked Salmon Sopes arrive not a moment too soon. Toothsome cornmeal discs cradle a worthy cargo of russet, cured salmon that whispers, rather than shrieks, captivating tales of mesquite and tequila.


Frijoles Charros are almost a meal unto themselves. How such hearty fare could spring fully-formed from the brow of a tropical country is paradoxical yet fortunate. Meaty beans and zippy cilantro chase away any evening chills, and little nubs of queso fresco are curiously reminiscent of squeaky curds that one would find in proper poutine.


The finale: Rosti-Pollo and Rosti Puerco (i.e., chicken and pork). Perhaps hours of flame, smoke and spice have caressed and coaxed each cut to a succulent coda. Piquant pickled onions and crisp pickled carrots impart colour and crunch. Each bite of tender flesh at once evokes layer upon layer of nuance, inflection, and luscious subtext - no different than the crust, mantle, and core of multifarious languages that are present so many thousands of kilometres away at the train station.
Good food, like language, captivates, challenges, and convinces one that there are certain universal truths. That Rostizado has their culinary priorities straight is doubtless one of them.


Rostizado - By Tres Carnales on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Velvet Revolution at Whimsical Cake Studio

Second chances are important. Chefs change. Recipe change. Owners change. Good thing too; an unfortunate by-product of the food industry is that everyone - quite literally - wants a piece of the pie. Or wants to make the pie, no matter how good or bad it may be. Channels like the Food Network and the exponential proliferation of celebrity chefs have glamorized this world to the point of glossing over the every real blood, swears, screams and red-faced rending of garments that so often courses through commercial kitchens like some sort of supercharged life-blood.

And so, everyone wants to make that pie. Such was the case with cupcakes earlier this decade, when everyone and their dog was opening a cupcake bakery. This perplexing obsession with small sweets defied logic and held on for an impressive tenure. Marlow Moo and I even sought out the best cupcakes in the city, and found that the competition was woefully deficient. Garneau-based Whimsical Cake Studio fell somewhere in the middle of the pack. Forgettable at best.


There was little reason to return until baker extraordinaire Darcy Scott assumed the reins this past winter. Those unfamiliar with her handiwork would do well to visit her shop quickly; this is not the work of the bakery's previous owners. Case in point: cringe-worthy Red Velvet has been usurped by Vanilla Velvet. This version eschews the namesake food colouring (that imparts little other than a crimson hue to the batter) and allows the full spectrum of heady, fragrant vanilla to shine.


This is an enviable cupcake. Moist crumb, slightly chewy cap, judicious crown of ever-smooth cream cheese icing that actually tastes of cream cheese, rather than some murky and not-quite-identifiable edible oil product. God forbid. Nearly microscopic flecks of vanilla bean are speckled throughout. Each bite balances the correct ratio of cake to icing. Really, this cupcake alone is reason to revisit Whimsical.



Whimsical Cake Studio on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Suddenly Last Summer at Jimmy Poblano's Southwest Cantina

Oh, how summer is racing by. Racing like the scads of white cloud that hurry across the sky as if chased by some invisible force. Racing away like the fleeting days of summer that, perhaps a month from now, will have given way to frost-tinged nights and orange leaves.

But for now, the night is soft and sultry, touched only by heat and haze, and characterized by delirious, delicious darkness that deigns to allow the existence of anthropogenic light.


These are the nights to walk the city streets, just to see what happens. On one such night, I discovered Jimmy Poblano's Southwest Cantina, right next to the Le Marchand Mansion (which is wrapped in the throes of cosmetic surgery). Here, passers-by trickle in and out, and a garland of chili-shaped lights adds a cheeky touch of whimsy.


Prickly Pear Lemonade eases through the evening's heat with a zesty chill and perky hint of subtle rose-hued fruits. Indeed, this quenching bevvy may well set the bar for pink lemonade and its various permutations.


A taco trio features one each of (right to left) Chicken Adovado, Chile Verde Pork, and Machaca Beef. Chicken seduces with tender meat and lascivious undertones of red chilies and citrus. Chile Verde Pork showcases its eponymous spice with aplomb; hints of beer and a touch of sweetness seal the deal. Finally, Machaca beef sings and sighs with a mole-reminiscent bouquet of coffee and caramelized spices. A nifty tomato salsa and a mealy glob of refried beans complete this picture.


The poignant impermanence of summer nights all but sharpens one's appreciation of late-hours street food. It behooves one to enjoy it now before suddenly, last summer.

Jimmy Poblano's Southwest Cantina on Urbanspoon

Monday, 4 August 2014

Fly Me to Halo Bar & Bistro

Airports are an endless source of entertainment. Indeed, the passing parade of harried humanity proffers many small truths about how one's fundamental human nature bubbles to the surface when pressed through a strainer of arrivals and departures. Good food, however, is generally absent, as airports constitute a "captive audience" scenario wherein patrons are obliged to eat what is in front of them, quality notwithstanding.



Halo Bar & Bistro happens to be a restaurant within an airport. It would be easier to lump this eatery into the catch-all category of "captive audience feedbags. Easier - but not at all accurate. No; Halo would be right at home downtown, or on some other smart street within reach of the mobile and the hungry. Though an immediate, all-encompassing descriptor for the menu does not readily spring to mind, think of thinks like soft tacos, but with rainbow trout. A donair, but with bison meat. A green salad (pictured above) is just singing with candied pecans, little snowy bits of goat cheese, and dried cranberries. Assorted greens with lavender honey dressing is a treat all by itself.


A Wild Mushroom Panino is more mushroom than bread. Just look - this is an irrefutably good ratio of mushroom to bread. A light dab of mayo and a melty stratum of Fontina allow their fungiform counterpoints to shine. Toasty slices of bread with proper ridges and valleys are an enviable vector.


Across the table, the House-Smoked Salmon Salad with Sorrel looked absolutely fabulous. Alas, by the time I worked up the gumption to ask for a nibble, it was gone. All the more reason to pop in next time. For if mushroom panini are a litmus test for the rest of the menu, then I would dare say that Halo deserves a drive out, even if one does not have a flight to catch.


Halo Bar & Bistro on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 24 July 2014

A Fine Kettle of Fish at Maritime Concession

Good seafood requires no embellishment.

Indeed, memories of Victoria's Red Fish Blue Fish run as clear as a tidal pool in full sunshine, resplendent with colourful fauna that dart in and out of the shadows faster than the thoughts that chase them. Queuing on a dock to purchase fish and chips from a converted sea can just adds to the fun. Alas, there are no docks or sea cans in Edmonton. There is, however, a bare-bones trailer with an unapologetically plywood awning that dishes seaworthy fish (and shellfish) and chips, parked way the hell and gone in a west-end industrial park.


Accurately-named Maritime Concession maintains a straightforward menu of fish and chips; iterations on this theme include haddock, scallops, and clams. Burgers and hotdogs are along for the ride as well.Single-serve packets of tartar sauce and vinegar are intuitive additions.


Haddock and chips take a few minutes to appear out the window; sizzles and scents from within confirm that each filet was fried on demand. Upon arrival, crispy and veritably greaseless batter presents an enviable envelope for the haddock's flaky, pale flesh. A bed of fries tends toward the squishy end of the French fry spectrum, but no matter. The fish is Maritime's focal point.


Fried scallops are juicy yet firm bundles enveloped by crispy crust. Close one's eyes, and one might imagine the roar of surf, rather than traffic, just beyond the Concession's bounds. It's not that far-fetched, and Maritime Concession does an admirable job of bringing coastal treats inland. Here is a fine kettle of fish.


Maritime Concession on Urbanspoon

Monday, 7 July 2014

I Love Lusitania - An evening at A Taverna

Nature abhors a vacuum.

Indeed, good restaurant real estate is a limiting factor in most cities. When Cafe Amore - a treasured Italian eatery - vacated its Delton digs, another Italian cafe rushed in to fill the void. Alas, it was not to be. Several months thereafter, A Taverna assumed this cozy nook, a half-block off an elm tree-lined street that is just far away enough from downtown's din to be considered cozy and intimate.


A Taverna might be as close as one might get to Portugal without actually hopping on a plane. Indeed, little to no English will be heard on any given night (though don't, by any means, let that dissuade you from going), and the menu makes no excuses for North American palates. A sampler plate of "Petiscos" - the nearest recognizable analogue being tapas - is a crash course in all things Lusitanian. For example, a simple stew of chicken gizzards rumbles with tomatoes and unobtrusive spices. Superfluous garlic toast wouldn't be missed, but the toothsome flesh rouses even the most stubborn of appetites.


Velvety, unctuous tuna pate (pictured at front) lends itself nicely to crunchy rounds of bread. Cured pigs' ears (pictured at rear) are more texture than flavour; a soft outer stratum reminiscent of pork belly gives way to a chewy, yet crunchy, interior not dissimilar to tripe, and are not for the faint of heart.


Flagship Bacalhao is salty and satisfying. Myomeres of pale codflesh fall away at a fork's touch. Tumbles of caramelized onions and discs of fried spud (think scalloped potatoes minus the scalloping) are happy, savoury companions.


White Pudding sends the evening out in style, shining over the surrounding symphony of animated chatter and soccer news. Somewhere between jello and creme brulee in texture, this berry-crowned creation beguiles with simple notes of milk and vanilla.

Comparisons between Cafe Amore and A Taverna would be futile and specious. The sizzles and sounds of life emanate from this Delton corner and, really, if Portuguese is the primary language spoken within, this can only mean good things.



A Taverna on Urbanspoon

Monday, 23 June 2014

Meat for Dinner and dinner the next day and the day after

By the third day, I was feeling like this cat below.

Leopard (Panthera pardus) feeding off a cached kill (photo from Wikipedia)

Indeed, multiple visits to the oversized take-out box in the refrigerator produced successive meals of meat that lasted for nearly a week after a visit to Old Strathcona's neophyte meatery, Meat For Dinner.


Meat's space is wide open and somewhat institutional; the din and the long communal tables evoke jarringly fresh memories of university cafeterias. The room's smoky aroma, however, elicits a contradictory serenity that helps to block out the surrounding uproar of feasting and drinking.

The menu reads more like a dare than a bill of fare. Protein, the likes of which include pulled pork, chicken, sausage and brisket are sold by the pound and half-pound. A lone, meatless sandwich almost feels like a token nod to the vegetarian crowd. Pickles, inexplicably, are a dollar each. Food and labour costs are indeed no trifling matter in this economy, but thusly pricing these pickled gourds raises more than a few eyebrows.

(from front to back) Chicken, pulled pork, and beef brisket
 Nonetheless, a sturdy tray sporting at least three pounds of flesh appears in short order and veritably sighs with acrid wisps that bespeak a recent voyage through the smoker. Apple-glazed smoked chicken tastes more of smoke than of apple, but the delicate bird-flesh underneath is lightly sweet and woodsy. Pulled pork is drier than one might like and benefits from the addition of house-made cherry barbecue sauce. Fortunately, redemption arrives in bovine form: smoked brisket boasts enviable ribbons of luscious fat and commendable dimensions of savoury and sweet.

(front) Baked beans and (rear) creamed corn

Side dishes are not meant to hog the spotlight (pardon the pun), but every last scrap of creamed corn - with a delightful hint of dill - is scraped from the bottom of the bowl. Baked beans are spicy, mealy, and satisfying unto themselves.

In spite of a valiant effort, most of the meat ends up divided between two take-home containers and five days later, my inner leopard is still scavenging from the kill. That's not a bad thing either...


Meat on Urbanspoon

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