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Monday, 24 September 2012

Sax and Violins - An Evening at Violino

There are a number of Edmonton restaurants that have taken up residence in grand old houses; most are in the vicinity of the ever-quirky 124 Street. Violino Gastronomia Italiana occupies a stately manor, and this venue provides an ideal setting for special meals - the sort where one does want to fuss with multiple sets of cutlery and peruse a multi-page wine list. A swinging jazz soundtrack punctuated by smooth saxophones meanders but never intrudes.

A slightly rotund bottle of Fontanafredda Barolo. This noble vintage bursts with dry and bold ruby-red fruits. An assertive presence.

Primi Piatti includes cherry tomatoes and onions lightly dressed in a fragrant olive oil and herb vinaigrette. Gargantuan fresh basil leaves add notes of earthy licorice, but I wish the tomatoes were riper.

I carefully incise Halibut alla Violino. Here, a dense yet flaky portion of milky white halibut rests upon a small stack of asparagus and a judicious hillock of chive mashed potatoes. The fish is crusted with decadent mushrooms and aromatic roasted garlic - an intuitive and very agreeable combination - but the potatoes are the meal's dark horse. I've never been a fan of mashed spuds, but Violino's version propels me to scrape up every last bit.

Costolette di Agnello is a fancier way of saying lamb chops. These tender morsels are cooked exactly medium rare and share quarters with arugula and fingerling potatoes. An apricot mustard rub plays off the lamb's inherent gentle gaminess.

Violino served a thoroughly delicious meal in a very classy setting. I would implore them, though, to reconsider the length of the menu. Violino's menu could easily be pared down to fit one page without losing anything. Don't change the soundtrack, though. Good jazz is timeless.

Violino Gastronomia Italiana on Urbanspoon

Monday, 17 September 2012

El Rancho - All in the Family

Dining at family-run eateries is a privilege. You know that the proprietors are not reading out of a manual and that recipes, more than likely, are derived from family traditions.

Moo enjoys a cold one - Salvadorean Kolashampan (champagne-flavoured cola)

Moo, Adventures of a SK Girl and I have heard much about El Rancho, which is a family-run El Salvadorean restaurant on 118 Avenue. The space is small and dressed in warm colours. Our server turns out to be one of the owners; she normally cooks with her mother in the back. She is incredibly knowledgeable about the menu, naturally; her suggestions for supper are spot-on. She even makes some menu changes for us, such as adding additional items into platters that normally contain two of each item, so that we all can sample everything.

Don't ever pooh-pooh the pupusas

Supper starts with a trio of pupusas. Each pupusa is a thick and tender tortilla made of white corn, stuffed with flavourful pork and cheese. A spicy tomato sauce and lightly-dressed coleslaw are along for the ride. Each bite is a sweetly granular burst of sunny corn that evolves into creamy cheese and subtle pork. Dribbles of tomato salsa elevate this dish to the realm of "absolutely addictive."

Enchiladas in the foreground, framed by flautas, tacos in the back right corner

We dive into a generous platter of flautas, tacos and enchiladas Salvadorenas. The flautas, while deep-fried, are not heavy and are bursting with juicy shredded chicken. The tacos are soft and, though I must confess that Tres Carnales sets the bar pretty high, are stuffed with a credible mixture of chicken, cilantro, tomatoes, and onions. Enchiladas are, so far, the evening's runaway hit. At first, they appear to be a precarious tower of cheese, chicken, tomatoes, cuke and radish that barely balances on a crispy tortilla shell. Amazingly, the shell remains intact until the last delicious bite. One wrong move and the entire works would end up on my clothes.

We are yet still hungry (and the last photo did not turn out, unfortunately), and continue to nosh on tamales. These are steaming bundles of cornmeal stuffed with tender chicken, potatoes and chickpeas. A dark green banana leaf wrapper keeps the ingredients in place. Winner of the evening is fried plantains. Creamy on the inside and wickedly caramelized on the outside, each bite begs for another. The plantains alone would be grounds for another visit to El Rancho. Knowing that the family behind the scenes is personally invested in each bite of food served is the best reason of all.

El Rancho Spanish Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, 10 September 2012

Noorish Conscious Eatery - Give Peas a Chance

Oh John Lennon. You were so cool. I even wore round glasses for a time as a nod to your iconic eyewear. We all have our dirty little fashion secrets.

When I was younger, "Give Peace a Chance" sounded a lot like "Give Peas a Chance." That tidbit ran through my mind as I enjoyed a late lunch at Noorish Conscious Eatery and Superfood Bar. A step through the front door of Noorish leads to an ornate, quasi-Indian room that flows with cool tunes and ample sunlight. The eatery's name is cumbersome, but never mind.

Lunch commences with a seasonal appetizer that features a trio of watermelon dishes. Though melons have, over time, proved to me an acquired taste for me, Noorish's take on this colourful fruit presents an intriguing triad of flavours. Watermelon gazpacho is a deep crimson puddle of refreshing melon and scallions that would befit the warmest summer's day. Melon salad with avocado and butter lettuce lags behind its plated siblings but is still a toothsome cohesion of crisp botanic notes. Watermelon salsa is smoky and subtly spicy. There aren't enough corn-hemp chips to go around - pity.

The Kassamwich features the same corn-hemp chip base with a layer of unctuous and sumptuous avocado, properly ripe tomatoes, and an insanely addictive walnut-basil pesto. It's a damn good combination. The pesto steals the show; later, I will fantasize about said pesto enveloping fresh pasta. Fattoush salad is along for the ride, but a heavy hand of parsley and a relative absence of the promised pomegranate seeds renders it a bit redundant.

Mystic Mandala Pizza features even more veggie toppings than the Kassamwich, but somehow their flavours run together in a blurry manner and the verisimilitude of its corn-hemp cracker base overwhelms the toppings.

Noorish has a yoga studio downstairs and, with our bill, came a voucher for one free drop-in yoga session. The service was remarkably slow, considering the cafe was less than half-full when we dine. I could quibble about the service and I wasn't taken with the pizza, but I admire that Noorish has a well-defined set of principles and clearly operates strictly within them. Give peas a chance.

Noorish Conscious Eatery and Superfood Elixir Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Absolutely Edibles - That 90's Show

I was never a fan of the quintessentially 90's sitcom "Friends," but I do vaguely recall a penchant for overstuffed furniture and oversized plates at "Central Perk." I do not think the 90's were a particularly cool decade - I'll take Duran Duran over the Backstreet Boys any day - but something about that decade's decor resonates within Absolutely Edibles, a compact boite on 118 Ave. (Let me add - that is not a bad thing either)

We stride in for brunch and are greeting by a dark room dominated by cultured stone, overstuffed couch-style benches, and oversized plates. We order two double espressos, but are informed that the kitchen makes them using a Tassimo machine. I'm jonesing for my java, so I decide to give them a try. Comparing a Tassimo-made espresso to the real deal would be akin to strapping an antler on a mixed-breed dog and calling it a reindeer. In other words, no comparison. I found the espresso watered-down and insipid. One doesn't have to be a barista to make a good espresso using a stove-top Bialetti contraption.

Nonetheless, we progress to plates of brunchable food. I dig into Peach Pecan Waffles. They come with affable sides of home fries and fruit. The waffles themselves are tender-crisp, but are smothered by a chokehold of maple pecan creme.  While pleasing to the eye, the creme is so rich that I must scrape most of it off to enjoy the underlying waffles.

Sweet redemption arrives as "Heaven in a Bowl." This generous platter showcases a bed of home fries topped with scrambled eggs, oodles of cheese, savoury breakfast sausage crumbles, and a crown of corn-chipotle-black bean salsa. I cannot help but steal multiple forkfuls of this creation. The interplay of flavours and textures is remarkable.  We leave, feeling quite overstuffed ourselves, with the strange urge to go and watch "Seinfeld."

Absolutely Edibles the Real Food Fusion & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon


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