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Thursday, 30 August 2012

...And The Quality of Mercer is Not Strained

I've lamented the slow and often painful deaths of Edmonton's historical buildings. These statuesque edifices have not deserved their fates of demolition and arson; such a pity that less of their grandeur graces downtown. And yet some have died and risen from the metaphorical ashes. Case in point: the Mercer Building.

Several businesses have taken up residence in the Mercer Building, including the likes of Roast Coffeehouse, and the Mercer Tavern. I cruise to the Mercer with Theinfiniteyums on a deplorably rainy evening that is punctuated with bathroom trips to line our shoes with paper towels. Ah, Edmonton. Your capricious weather never fails to bemuse me.

I dive into a Mint Julep; the assertive beverage arrives in a chilled metal vesicle that quickly gathers airborne moisture to form a protective coat of frost. A crown of ice sports a sprig of mint like a jaunty plume. An undertow of bourbon makes its oaky presence known.

We desire soft pretzels but are informed that the kitchen has just depleted their stock and, in addition, the pretzel-making process necessitates a significant wait time until the successive batch is ready. Instead, we dig into several plates of sliders - bison and turkey. The bison sliders are juicy, tender, and (mercifully) not overdone as burgers are wont to be done. The turkey sliders are texturally more interesting, as a crispy cap of slaw completes each tiny bite. The buns are somewhat of a weak link; though they are billed as brioche buns, their texture is insipid. A decent shot of fries accompanies each plate. They are hot and crispy, but would benefit from some creative spicing.

Grubwise, the Mercer Tavern is a safe bet for some tasty pub grub. The stunning warehouse interior is a bonus. Just don't go during a torrential rainstorm. 

Mercer Tavern on Urbanspoon

Friday, 24 August 2012

Culina Mill Creek - [Almost] Up the Creek

Brunch is, without a doubt, the best "in between" meal. (Much more so than lupper. Or smunch. Or deckfast.) It comprises a typically decadent realm of eggy, creamy, and toasty dishes that satisfy a deep yen for mid-morning satiety. I brunched at Culina Mill Creek with Marlow Moo on a scorching summer day and embarked on a brunch journey that meandered from delectable to...well....up the creek.

I commence with an nicely-pulled espresso. Though I do not know their bean of choice, this espresso is velvety rich and delicately sweet. No sugar is necessary (and shouldn't be, for a good espresso).

We progress to corn bread with Saskatoon berry butter and revel in the bread's pleasing, fragrant crumb and the spread's voluptuous interplay of butterfat and shreds of berry. Well played, Culina.

Moo's meal of Eggs Benedict stays on the correct end of the "richness" spectrum, with respect to the glamourously golden Hollandaise sauce. The eggs are properly runny and a crispy shot of spuds rides shotgun.

Things seem to be going swimmingly, but my Eggs on Toast take a sharp turn and speed up the creek in a manner most perplexing. Judging by appearance alone, the dish is attractive: two farm-raised eggs resting in a mantle of mushroom sauce. A quartet of sweet potato toast waits to be anointed with yolk and sauce. A knife's prod reveals, however, that the eggs are baked to the point of being rubbery. The yolks are rock hard. The mushroom sauce is reduced to a gluey consistency. The only way these eggs will end up on toast is if I chop them into little bits and pile them on with a fork. It's a sharp contrast to the previous components of this meal. Loved the espresso and revelled in the berries and cornbread. Pity that the eggs on toast were up the creek.

Culina Mill Creek on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Guru - Life in a Northern Town

My fondest memories of Indian food are a photo-finish between dining with The Tiffin Box's mastermind and indulging in home-cooked Indian food thrice daily with a dear friend from Bangalore who ended up in Fairbanks, Alaska. I have no clue as to why she wanted to go to grad school in Alaska. This decision, however, allowed me to indulge in two very different but bewilderingly wonderful balms to the soul: traipsing around the Alaskan countryside and being fed home-made Indian food for every meal of the day. I will never, ever forget it.

An early October morning in Fairbanks

I couldn't forget it, and memories of her culinary prowess have coloured every subsequent experience with Indian food. I have dined at a good handful of Indian eateries in Edmonton but - as with kitchen alchemy of all genres - nothing compares to that which is made in a friend's kitchen. Furthermore, the vast majority of Indian spots in YEGtown are buffets, but that is a rant for another post on another day.

(L-R) A berry smoothie, naan, Guru Malai Kofta, and a mango lassi

I have heard much about Guru and, longing for a good Subcontinental feed one summer evening, wound up at Guru's west end lodgings. Guru eschews the usual elephants and bhangra theme and focuses instead on a sleek interior dressed in dark hues. No buffet either - order a la carte or go hungry. Our ebullient waiter suggests a berry smoothie and a mango lassi to drink. Good choices. They are refreshing and fruity without being too sweet. We dive into a basket of piping hot naan; it revels in fluffy, pillowy ecstasy. Guru Malai Kofta are golf ball-sized dumplings comprised of potatoes and cottage cheese surrounded by a creamy cashew gravy that sings with cardamom. The texture and flavour are unique in their tender and toothsome properties.

Tomatoey, chickeny, buttery goodness

Next up - butter chicken. Guru's version is easily the best in the city. It is creamy and liberally laced with tomatoes and substantial chunks of juicy chicken. Shreds of naan gratefully soak up the dregs of sauce.

While nothing ever really compares to home cooking, Guru helped quell my rising nostalgia about my Alaska-Indian food experience. Next time, I'll order more, as I scarcely scratched the surface of their menu.


Look what I found in the Anchorage airport. Evidently there is a Big Mac that is available only in Alaska. The Mt. McKinley Mac. Bravo, America. You've done it again.

Oh, what the heck. Listen to "Life in a Northern Town" while you're at it.

Guru Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Flight of the Red Phoenix

Like many small town-raised Canucks, my initial experiences with Chinese cuisine were shaped by small town greasy spoons. In my Saskatchewan home town, said greasy spoon was called George's. It was, apart from the gas station and a dubious fried chicken joint, the only place in town to eat. George's offerings consisted of deep-fried everything paired with that shiny red sauce. What is that sauce, I would think. What the hell is it supposed to taste like?

Until I lived in larger, urban areas, the likes of George and his ilk comprised Chinese food in my world. I am still largely unfamiliar with where to procure authentic Chinese vittles in Edmonton - thank goodness that Marlow Moo pointed me to the Red Phoenix.

The Red Phoenix is plunked right in the middle of a parking lot near Kingsway. It is, unfortunately, dead on a Monday evening and we are the only customers. It feels palpably empty and I am certain that the presence of larger crowds changes the vibe entirely. The meal commences with tofu skin soup. Large wrinkles of tofu bath in a salty, mushroom-infused broth. Its moderate salinity wakens my sleepy appetite.

Chicken wings stuffed with sticky rice are, hands down, the winner of the evening. Each wing has been cleverly disassembled and then reassembled with a filling of sticky rice. I wish I had an entire plate of them to myself.

Green beans with XO sauce (I had to look up XO sauce to figure out exactly what it was....) are on the crisp end of the tender-crisp spectrum and feel like a delectable and decadent snack. Who knew that green beans could be so exciting?

Our concluding dish features fried fish with a creamy corn sauce. Aesthetically, it is a bit bland - yellow on white - but flavour-wise, it is a functional and tasty intersection of sweet, salty and crisp.

Red Phoenix wasn't our original destination that night. A sudden downpour flooded the kitchen of our original destination and we were forced to leave. A good 90 minutes of aimless driving followed as restaurant after restaurant was woefully closed on Mondays. But that's another story....

Red Phoenix Restaurant on Urbanspoon


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