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Monday, 31 December 2012

Stoking the Home Fires - Last Post of 2012

Friends, Gourmands, Gastrophiles.

What a year it's been. What a crazy and exhilarating rush through the Capital City's rapidly evolving culinary landscape. I could spend the entire day waxing poetic that this might have been, to date, the best year of my life. The people that populate this landscape make it so. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of you. You know who you are.

My big break was writing the Edmonton section for Macleans "Where to eat in Canada" guide, which was released earlier in the fall. My picks were Tres Carnales and Corso 32 for their continued blend of finesse, bold flavours, and unbridled joy and belief in their modus operandi.

And so, Dine & Write's final post for 2012. I can hardly wait to write in 2013.

Stoking The Home Fires

Hotel restaurants often have a shoddy reputation, and for good reason. I've seen the good (excellent prime rib), the bad (oh so average hamburgers), and the ugly (chicken cordon bleu that was clearly deep-fried from a frozen state and stayed frozen in the middle). There are those few gems, though, that buck these designations. Homefire Grill is one of my favourites.

Homefire is central to a number of hotels in the far west end, and features one of the loveliest (and underrated) dining rooms in the city. Its focal point is a stunning fireplace that gives off the aura of a campfire on pebbly ground. The menu is staunch Canadiana and meat-heavy. That isn't a bad thing either. House-made bannock is a requisite starter. The original chef was Aboriginal and this is his mother's recipe. It is feather light and served with maple butter.

Bison meatloaf is crowned with a tangy tumble of Saskatoon berry sauce. The tart sauce caresses the bison's natural sweetness. The sides are the meal's weak link - a quartet of veggies shares quarters with a mound of average mashed potatoes. Good gravy, though.

Pork loin scarcely requires a knife for cutting, much less teeth for chewing. Snowcaps of pesto and goat cheese are an assertive counterpoint to the pork's demure nature. Roasted spuds are affable, but the same pattern of veggies from the meatloaf makes another appearance.

Locally farmed duck breast is a treat. The meat is enrobed in a glorious layer of fat and is generously sprinkled with zippy peppercorns. See previous comments on mashed potatoes and veg. I wish the same amount of forethought went into the sides as went into the protein. Nonetheless, I continue to enjoy visiting Homefire and am pleased to sign off on the last post of 2012.

Home Fire Grill on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Highlevel Diner - Meet Me in the Middle

Eating at the Highlevel Diner seems to be a prerequisite for becoming an Edmontonian and, for those born and raised in Edmonton, the occasional meal there reaffirms citizenship. I lunched there once several years ago and enjoyed a lip-smacking sandwich stuffed with mortadella, capocollo and loads of other good things. It must have been a daily special, for I did not again spot it on their menu. I recently tried the Highlevel's supper menu, though it did not make as profound an impression on me as their supper of yore.

I nosh on a Smoked Salmon Quesedilla with capers, Monteray Jack cheese, jalapenos and a green salad. Smoked salmon rarely makes an appearance in quesedillas and the fish's smoky essence is apparent, nudged on by the salty capers. I detect no heat from jalapenos, though. A pepperjack cheese might better have suited this dish. An accompanying fruit salsa is an agreeable companion that would benefit from a livelier hit of citrus.  Green salad is fresh and unobtrusive.

My dinner companion's Jambalaya could use a lot more BAM! as Chef Emeril Lagasse might put it. Brown rice gives it a nutty touch and the chunks of sausage, chicken and shrimp are generous, but the entire unit could be saucier. Grilled cornbread is quite lovely on its own or with a scoop of jambalaya.

I wish I could have ordered that sandwich - the one that still resonates in my memory. Visiting the Highlevel does indeed make me feel a part of Edmonton's popular culture and collective memories, but the night's meal fell squarely in middle ground.

(By the way, "Meet Me in the Middle" is one of the most rad 80s Canadian rock songs ever.)

Highlevel Diner on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

If the world does end, these should go with it.

I highly doubt that the world is going to end on Friday. But if it does, here are a few things that I will not be sorry to see fall into the raging disco inferno.

Things I Hope Do Not Cross Over Into 2013

Bacon.  Ok, I said it. This whole "bacon makes everything better" mantra has been done to death. Bacon jam. Bacon marmalade. Bacon brownies. Bacon flavoured bacon. Such ennui I feel. Don't get me wrong; I do like bacon. I think the culinary world needs to give its head a shake, though, for infusing something with bacon does not confer to it magical properties.

Red Velvet Cake. What is this even supposed to taste like? It's a colour, and not a flavour. The colour comes from food colouring. Get thee back to the Deep South where you belong.

Pulled Pork. One the one hand, this was a good thing. Pulled pork is pretty damn delicious. But you know when the fast food chains jump on the bandwagon that it has "jumped the shark." Harvey's has a pulled pork burger. Subway has a pulled pork sub. And I rest my case. Time for this one exit stage left. BBQ brisket, anyone?

Cupcakes. I think I called them "the Paris Hilton of the dessert world." Famous merely for being famous. I do not have an inherent dislike for these small sweets; to the contrary, I rather enjoy them. The problem is, though, that too many bakeries have tried to capitalize on this trend and the results have been woefully inadequate.

Ahi Tuna. It seems as though this one has been on the menu for too many years. I will be the first to concede that it is very delicious. And the name is cool too. But so many commercial fisheries are far from sustainable and my biologist side is more than a little worried. For that matter, I wish that only sustainably fished piscine species graced restaurant menus.

I am sure that there are other things too.... It is tempting to traipse down the road of rants, but I will keep this succinct. Let's hope that 2013 brings us more food trucks, more small locally-owned restaurants like Corso and Tres Carnales, and some exciting new food trends.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Ousia - Octopodes and Lingua Franca

I've been rolling around the word "Ousia," trying to figure out how on earth to pronounce it. Oo-sea-ah? Oo-sha? The restaurant's signage didn't help either; the u looks a lot like a v. I've given up on trying to pronounce it and, instead, am reveling in memories of a well-composed foray into Mediterranean cuisine.

Ousia's narrow space is clad in dark hues. Under most circumstances, dark colours make a small room seem smaller, but here they add a metropolitan vibe that somehow reminds me long-ago nights in Toronto. Ousia's menu has the advantage of small plates, where one may compose a meal out of a smattering of small dishes. We begin with Grilled Octopus. This dish is a welcome change from the done-to-death calamari that besmirches most menus. Ousia's cephalopod creation pairs tender tentacles with an alien-looking fennel chip, a wheel of citrus, and a salty Kalamata olive puree. It is, to be certain, an assertive and memorable combination of flavours. (Oh, and the correct plural of octopus is octopodes, not octopi)

Pickled Beef Tongue graces three small chickpea tortillas and is crowned with a hat of radish and a cilantro-scented salsa verde. The tortillas are a bit tough, but the tongue veritably melts on impact. How grateful I am that this city is slowly overcoming with its fear of "unusual" cuts of meat. Surely, this underappreciated body part should become part of our lingua franca.

Croquettes of the day are delightful potato pillows laced with tangy asiago cheese. They are hot, crunchy, and over too quickly.

Feta Phyllo Parcels are admittedly tasty, but are a bit cumbersome for my liking. Their robe of clover honey is a bit cloying, and a larger dose of pomegranate is needed to offset the sweetness. These would do well as smaller parcels with a more parsimonious balance of tart and sweet.

Dessert is a gorgeous duet of Apple Sorbet with Goat's Milk creme and a judicious bowl of Butternut Squash Rice Pudding. This study in contrasts satiates with alternating hits of icy autumn mornings and roaring fire winter's nights. After all of that, I am no closer to pronouncing Ousia's name correctly, but one need not be linguistically adept to enjoy good food.

Ousia on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Which place? T.H.I.S. Place.

I sense a "Who's on First" joke here.

To which place am I referring? (Never end a sentence with a preposition. Oops. That was my inside voice slipping out.)

T.H.I.S. Place. It is the brainchild of the creative and insightful family behind Lan's Asian Grill, which may very well be my favourite Asian spot in the City of Champions. Their new endeavour, however, is an urban-industrial-meets-serene-oasis boite that boasts gourmet tea, coffee and - thank heavens - hot chocolate...the likes of which Edmonton has never before seen.

T.H.I.S (To be Happy Is Simple) Place is a quick jaunt around the corner from MacEwan University and should indubitably be one's go-to spot for hot chocolate. Canadians are woefully accustomed to drinking hot chocolate that is little more than reconstituted powder. European-style hot chocolate, by comparison, is much thicker and richer and is sometimes referred to as "drinking chocolate." One should expect the latter at T.H.I.S Place. The welcome paucity of powders means that each hot chocolate is a liquified concoction of real chocolate, milk and spices.

Marlow Moo and I drop in for the grand opening of T.H.I.S. Place and dive into two hefty, steaming mugs of hot chocolate. Moo's is grandly bittersweet dark chocolate and reminds me of a gorgeous bar of deep, dark chocolate that has magically changed state from solid to liquid. My gingerbread hot chocolate is a subtle and satisfying brew of warm spices that languidly share quarters with rich chocolate and gentle dairy. I receive a generous square of spicy chocolate replete with instructions for how to brew this beverage at home. Sadly, the square doesn't survive the night. I will simply have to return to T.H.I.S. Place to try spicy hot chocolate in its proper liquid state.

T.H.I.S. Place on Urbanspoon


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