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Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Viphalay - Thai One On

Restaurants in old houses have a particular cache of "cool." There are a number of them in Edmonton, and I was rather surprised to discover that the venerable Viphalay is one of them. I frequented Viphalay's Norwood location, which held its own in a somewhat forlorn stripmall on the corner of 95 St and 107 Ave. I wouldn't have described this spot as "cool" - at least, not cool in the sense that character homes are steeped in intrigue and history - but the stellar food defied any mere physical location. How happy I am to discover Viphalay's second, downtown digs which, joy of joys, occupies a old house just south of Jasper Ave.

High ceilings and grand windows add a touch of grandeur to Viphalay's proudly unpretentious food. Shrimp and Pineapple Triangles are a happy duet of sweet crustaceans and vividly acidic pineapple enrobed in crisp batter. Cream Cheese and Crab Crispy Wontons contain a gentle seafood surprise beneath their crunchy exterior. Sweet chili sauce is a welcome condiment.

The unmistakable aroma of Ginger Lemon Chicken arrives at the table before the dish itself, which presents succulent portions of chicken caressed with sunny citrus and pleasantly pungent strips of ginger root. It's a deadly good combination. Mushrooms, scallions and onions are along for the ride, but I wish the chunks of onion were smaller.

Vegetable Stir-fry with Beef is a hearty jumble of peppers, broccoli, mushrooms, onions and tender beef. The veggies are properly tender-crisp, but the entire dish seems a bit underseasoned. Nonetheless, Viphalay is a welcome addition to downtown, and its statuesque home is fortunate to house such marvelous tastes and scents. Definitely cool.

Viphalay Laos and Thai Restaurant (Downtown) on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Social [Modern] Network

How gratifying that pub grub in Edmonton has evolved considerably beyond oil-soaked fish and chips, questionable burgers and morosely ubiquitous wings. Indeed, the profferings of a great many Edmonton pubs goes far beyond these lazy staples. Case in point: Social Modern Pub, which is tucked away behind Grant Mac university. Marlow Moo and I were invited there one night. To say that we went in blind would be an understatement and our first impression was that it was a rather noisy room crowded with (on this particular evening) singles on a speed-dating adventure.

Ian, the impressively enthusiastic owner and host, suggests that we begin with Bacon-Wrapped Bacon. This succulent appetizer is a veritable pig's worth of bacon. Bacon bacon is wrapped with rashers of side bacon, drizzled with maple syrup and caramelized until sticky and savoury. The flavour is ridiculously good, but I wish the pieces were smaller, so that the bacon exterior was crispier.

Sweet potato fries arrive with a sidecar of spicy aioli. Sweet potato fries, in the wrong hands, have a propensity to be squishy and soggy. Mercifully, these are not, and we can scarcely keep from emptying the plate.

I dive into a Chicken Italiano sandwich and am smitten with a studious combination of pesto, bocconcini, proscuitto and tender chicken. Each component plays nicely off each other and presents as complimentary, but not complicated.

Moo's platter of Fettucini Alfredo is crowned with a jumble of bourbon chicken. Though alfredo sauce and bourbon are not quite intuitive partners, here they happily share quarters. The fettucini noodles are nicely al dente, but the sauce could be amped up a bit with some wine or salt. Altogether, it is a satisfying meal that surprised us with its care of preparation. Quite clearly, one should toss all preconceived notions of how pub grub should be.

Social Modern Pub on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

On the Roed Again - A Night at Sloppy Hoggs

Edmonton finally has a proper barbecue joint. These stanchions of the American Deep South pride themselves with fall-off-the-bone, marvelously aromatic, tender, juicy, carnivore-dream-come-true meaty creations, and have long been absent from the City of Champions. Enter Sloppy Hoggs Roed Hus, brainchild of the creative souls behind Absolutely Edibles. Though a bit hard to access, given a mess of road construction, a trip to Sloppy Hoggs is stomach-expanding and mind-blowing experience.

We enter a small room craftily decorated with western accoutrements - saddles, cowhide and the like. Mercifully, the theme does not slap one in the face (much like the overdone themes at oh so many franchises). We start with Snakebites, i.e., cornmeal encrusted catfish morsels. They are mild and flaky, just like catfish should be. A tangy and creamy dip is a willing partner.

The main course is meat. Superbly done meat at that. We divide our attention between the Roed Hus Roed Kill and a full rack of ribs. The Roed Kill is an eye-popping belt-popping tower of every manner of smoked meat imaginable. Beef brisket, smoked pork, smoked chicken, smoked cheddar, berry BBQ sauce - to name a few. A giant steak knife holds this leaning tower of protein together. The interplay of flavours is divine. A side of fries and baked beans is a bit superfluous but is tasty on its own.

The ribs are the best I've ever tasted. They sing of the smokehouse and serenade me with the tenderness that only smoke-kissed meat can provide. I can barely touch the fries, beans and cornbread and will have enough leftovers for several subsequent evenings. Sloppy Hoggs has clearly hit the ground running and I am anxious to visit again. My only advice? Come hungry. Come very hungry or the portions will defeat you.

Sloppy Hoggs Roed Hus on Urbanspoon

Monday, 8 October 2012

Nigist Ethiopian Restaurant - Wondering Where the Lions Are

My first experience with Ethiopian food was in Toronto at Queen of Sheba. How I'd pour over my Toronto Life food guides and fantasize about which restaurant I'd visit on my next excursion from idyllic Peterborough to fiercely metropolitan T.O. How delighted I was to discover Edmonton was home to several Ethiopian eateries. Nigist, hidden away on 118 Ave west of 124 St, is one of my favourites.

I've been there a few times and am always bemused by the decor. There used to be a painting of a tiger on the wall. A bit of an eyebrow-raiser, given that tigers are not at all part of African megafauna.

I don't go there for zoological enlightenment - I go for the food. The owner is immensely knowledgeable and glad to cast insight into exotically-named dishes. We end up ordering a large platter of various dishes (and there are plenty of vegetarian options for those who eschew meat). We work our way, counterclockwise, around the injera-lined platter. Several firey dishes of red lentils have a cumulative but well-rounded bite. Morsels of tomato salad, picked up with prerequisite injera, tame the fires. Split green and yellow peas are toothsome and luscious; their creamy texture is entirely welcome and admirable. Beef tibs (in the centre of the photo) is a hallmark Ethiopian dish, and features beautifully tender morsels kissed with hot peppers. The beef is sweet at first but crescendos into an impressive but not unmanageable fire.

Be aware that a meal at Nigist will take quite a while - expect at least a 45 minute wait until your food arrives. Some things, like the nuances of spices, simply cannot be rushed. And if you're looking for the tiger painting, it's gone. Pity. I wish they'd replaced it a lion painting. I'm wondering where the lions are.

Nigist on Urbanspoon

Monday, 1 October 2012

Pasta Pantry - In the Name of the Nonna

I can't even pretend I'm Italian (I divulged Slavic roots in a previous post, but am a good 50% Danish as well). Not even close, unless I imagine the Vikings pillaged the coast of Italy centuries ago. My mom, however, makes the best lasagna I've ever had. The story goes something like this. My uncle - her older brother - had a Croatian girlfriend in university. She, in turn, had an Italian grandma. My mom ended up at their house a few times for supper. Here, she was served the most remarkable lasagna ever. She begged for the recipe, but nonna held her ground. At last, one day, the grandmother gave my mother the recipe. I can understand why she guarded it so carefully. It is incredible.

The point of my meandering story is that one need not be Italian to appreciate the country's diverse and universally appealing cuisine. One evening I found my way to Pasta Pantry in Sherwood Park, having heard rumours of long-standing deliciousness.

The line seems daunting at first, but it moves quickly. The formula is this. Select the shape of pasta you desire. Pick a sauce (or two). Add chicken or sausage. Add salad and a bun, if desired. Finito. We chow down on penne with alfredo sauce. Not bad, not bad. The sauce could use a bit more pizzazz, perhaps in the guise of garlic or white wine, but the pasta is perfectly al dente. A green salad is deliciously dressed with an Italian vinaigrette, but I am wishing some cherry tomatoes had joined the carrots for a vegetable party.

My pappardelle with four cheese sauce is anointed with a swirl of house-made pesto. The combination of basil, pine nuts and the riot of cheese is utterly fabulous and I quickly clean my plate. A spicy sausage bathed in tomato sauce is a meaty counterpoint.  I leave stuffed and happy; the owners even stopped by our table for a chat. I don't get to eat my mom's lasagna very ofter. Good thing Pasta Pantry is around next time I need a pasta fix.

Pasta Pantry & Trattoria on Urbanspoon


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