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Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Cafe Coral de Cuba - Viva La Libertad!

I sampled Cuban food once in Fort Lauderdale years ago; up until several weeks ago, Cuban food was but a sweet and savoury memory that occasionally wandered through my subconscious. I practically did a double-take when I noticed a Cuban flag hanging in the window of Cafe Dabar's former digs. Cuban food is ridiculously difficult to find in most Canadian cities. If Cafe Coral's offerings were as good as what I remembered from Florida, I was in for a treat.

Cafe con Leche replete with tendrils of steam

I planned a trip with my steadfast bovine companion, Marlow Moo, and my Cuban friend Gabby. We ordered, upon Gabby's recommendation, Cafe con Leche. It isn't on the menu, but owners Nestora and Lidice will make one for you if you ask. It's similar to a latte, except it is made with Cuban espresso, which is sharper and more bitter than Italian espresso.

Pork and ham come from the same magical, mystical animal

We dive into a Cubano, Ropa Vieja, and Pollo Asado. A Cubano is a sandwich that is generously layered with ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, yellow mustard and dill pickles. It is a hearty meal unto itself and sings with juicy, savoury meat, saline pickles and mellow cheese. The sandwich I had in Florida pales in comparison to Cafe Coral's version.

Are you going to finish all that, Marlow?

Ropa Vieja literally translates as "old clothes." It is one of Cuba's national dishes and contains finely shredded flank steak dressed in a spicy tomato-based sauce. It is served with rice and beans; the summation of these ingredients is amenable to both tropical climes and as an antidote to bitter Canadian winters. We nibble on a side of piquant plantain chips. They are devilishly addictive.

Which came first, the pollo or the asado?

Pollo Asado is, essentially, chicken roasted in citrus juices and spices, namely, cumin and oregano. Here, an entire leg and thigh are drenched in juicy marinade. Rice and beans are the go-to side.

Say cheese...and guava...

We finish with guava jam and cheese. The jam is so thick and sticky that it is cut into slices and topped with mild, white cheese. Gabby remembers enjoying this snack on crackers. I concur that crackers would make this dish easier to eat. Nonetheless, the guava is demure and exotic and is a welcome change from more accessible fruits like strawberries and raspberries. Nothing against those ones, though...

What a treat to rediscover Cuban food in the frozen north. It is especially a treat that this food exceeds what I remember from Florida. Cafe Coral de Cuba just opened up - I hope the city welcomes them with open arms.

Cafe Coral de Cuba on Urbanspoon

Monday, 28 November 2011

4th and Vine - Red Red Wine

My sometimes covert, sometimes overt love affair with wine bars recently expanded to include 4th and Vine after I ran into (not literally) owner Duncan a few weeks prior. This narrow room is dressed in dark colours and occupies a prominent corner lot in Oliver Square.

A multitude of bottles adorn every shelf and alcove in 4th and Vine. Chalkboard menus - an entity whose popularity is on the upswing in town - proclaim the day's specials. Artwork is used sparingly around the room and an open kitchen gives diners a glimpse into the magical realm of culinary prestidigitation.

Supper commences with a malbec trio. This trifecta of tannins features vintages from Argentina, France and Australia. Argentina is the far and away favourite and sings with clear notes of plum and anise. The French variety lags behind its Argentinian and Australian counterparts and feels slightly immature and acidic.

We dine on a charcuterie plate that includes a row of decently crusty baguette, small rosettes of cold-smoked salmon (I hope it's Sgambaros certainly tastes like it), olives, venison chorizo, soppresata, smoked gouda, and two other types of cheese (whose names escape me). A bite of chorizo chased by a nip of smoked gouda handily combines the divine indulgences of fat and smoke. The buttery salmon goes down nicely on a slice of bread.

Dessert presents a martini glass (so 90s but don't worry, it's cool) of chocolate mousse and a judicious slice of cappuccino cheesecake. The mousse is velvet-smooth and irrepressibly rich. I'm forced to surrender after but a few spoonfuls. The cheesecake meets a similar fate - too rich to die and so it will live another day in the refrigerator until my furtive midnight munchies strike once more. I've checked another Edmonton wine bar off my bucket list. Of course, a repeat visit is in order to reaffirm my love of malbec and charcuterie.

4th & Vine on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Mirabelle Macarons - Sweet things in small packages

I forgot to bring a notepad with me when fellow cyberfoodies Marlow Moo, Beyond Umami, The Infinite Yums, and Food, Foodball & A Baby and I converged upon a south side coffee shop to meet Connie, the brains and brawn behind Mirabelle Macarons. I forgot my notepad and attempted to jot down the names of each macaron on the back of a crumpled receipt that was stuck in my jacket pocket. Nice.

A carrot cake pop...good for the eyesight as well as for the psyche.

Before I delve into the universe of small, colourful cookies, I will touch upon the subject of cake pops. Please refer to a recent blog post by The Infinite Yums about said pops; I propose that lollypops, popsicles, or any other stick-based sweet will never compare to these treats that please in both the aesthetic and gustatory sense.

A treasure chest of macarons

So what on earth is a macaron? It isn't anything like the coconut macaroons with which most are familiar. To quote Connie, it is an "almond cookie characterized by smooth shells with ruffled 'feet,' and a flavoured filling in urge to eat another one will likely follow." I concur.

A salted caramel macaron. Never before have salt and sugar so happily coexisted.

I'm trying to read my chicken scratch handwriting on the back of the rumpled receipt that, after somehow making it home, went missing in my office for several weeks. My magical mystery tour of macarons ranged from the subtle, like green tea and rose, to the assertive, like salted caramel and hazelnut chocolate, to the exotic and enigmatic, like chai and black currant. Each easily balanced a divinely crisp interior with a chewy interior that cradled gorgeous and not at all phony flavours. I'm struggling to pick a favourite - a testament to Connie's mastery of the art of macarons.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Bistro Praha - Kickin' It Old World

I clearly remember Bistro Praha's previous location, which was the ground floor of a spectacular brick heritage building, the Ramsey Block. I dined in their stately dining room, noshed on solid Mitteleuropa, and enjoyed the complete paucity of vehicular traffic outside. Sadly, arson destroyed this gorgeous spot and sent Bistro Praha (plus its neighbour, Co Co Di) packing. Bistro Praha eventually reopened in the former digs of Moon Garden, just a few steps north of Jasper.

 Bistro Praha's new digs are decidedly Old World, replete with large oil paintings and no-fuss, heavy wooden tables. The meat-driven menu presents multiple versions of schnitzels, a smattering of pastas, and a concise selection of cured and roasted meats.

Dining commences with a tomato and onion salad. I appreciate the tart and acidic presence of vinegar, but the tomatoes are woefully underripe and contribute little of the sunny juiciness these crimson treasures should possess.

Roast goose is next up. It is served with fluffy bread dumplings that act as edible sponges for rich meat drippings. A juicy tangle of bacon-studded sauerkraut rides shotgun; its fermented essence nicely offsets the delightfully fatty goose. The goose is sizable (and I ordered the half portion - be forewarned that portion sizes are substantial) and thoroughly satiates.

Smoked pork hocks come with sauerkraut and bread dumplings and features several rosy portions of smoky Schweinefleisch. Think ham raised to the power of ten and you approach the cured and smoked personality of this dish. Yellow mustard is a decent, if not overly imaginative, condiment.

Weinerschnitzel is one of Bistro Praha's claims to enduring, city-wide fame. A squeeze of lemon adds a leap of citrus to golden, buttery bread crumbs and tender veal. A small scoop of creamy potato salad and a curl of cucumber add swatches of white and green.

The summation of a meal at Bistro Praha is an old school, Old World feed of meat and starch. Don't expect anything fussy - thank goodness. I do miss their original location, though. Their new spot has dreadful acoustics and the room is so narrow that serves must weave among the chairs on tiptoe. Never mind; Bistro Praha still kicks it Old World.

Bistro Praha on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Big City Sandwich - Pop Goes the World

Pop-up kitchens, wherein an outside chef assumes the reins in a restaurant for a brief period of time, are just beginning to - forgive the painful turn of phrase - pop up in Edmonton. Big City Sandwich is, to my knowledge, the first to do so. Big City Sandwich will join the ranks of the Capital Region's food trucks next summer and, until then, will preview its sandwiches monthly. October's pop-up witnessed a hub of activity at Packrat Louie. Big City Sandwich is actively searching for their next pop-up location.

I missed their September debut, but eagerly tucked into a smoked beef brisket sandwich with bacon jam on October 23rd. Here, tender shreds of sultry, smoky beef lounged with tangy bacon jam that whispered of maple and onions. The bun itself needs a bit of work - perhaps something a bit crustier? A cheese-stuffed jalapeno pepper added a flash of heat. Sides, which included fries and baked beans, were perfect partners. I'm not even a fan of baked beans, but these were toothsome and spicy. I thought I was full and intended to save the fries for later. I must confess that they did not survive the drive home. They were well-textured and delicious, even ice cold.

Dessert presented a pumpkin ginger whoopie pie from the well-crafted kitchen of Bluebird Cakes. Whoopie pies superficially resemble oversized oreo cookies, but the similarities end there. There is simply no comparison between a homemade, lofty, creamy creation and a rock-hard, preservative-laden store-bought slab of flour and shortening. This whoopie pie handily captured the autumnal flavours of pumpkin and warm spices, and carried a smooth but not overly rich cream cheese filling. I would get out of bed at 3 a.m. for those things. I eagerly await the next pop-up kitchen. Dare I say that I shall pop in?


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