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Monday, 22 April 2013

The Food Fighter - Parm'd, I'm Sure

How happily one finds oneself in the right place at the right time. Today is the opening day for The Food Fighter, a vivid orange and blue vehicle parked conspicuously at the corner of Jasper and 106. Food Fighter is no rookie in the world of victuals on wheels, and cut their metaphorical teeth in Calgary.

The Food Fighter is a specialist in all things parmigiana. Chicken, veal, eggplant, and more. One may customize each with any numbers of grilled toppings, including mushrooms and onions. Sandwiches are under $10 each and addition of a soft drink would ring one's meal in at around $12. On this sunny but horrendously windy day - summer in the light but winter in the shade, as Charles Dickens once said - a steady line-up awaits profferings of cheesy, saucy, fried glory in a bun.

An eggplant parm-wich is a commendable concoction of crusty-creamy fried eggplant lavished with robust tomato sauce and an ample blanket of melted a cheese. A softball-sized bun can scarcely contain its cargo; fragrant onions and savoury mushrooms veritably burst from their enclosure. The result? A damn find sandwich. Charmed, no: parm'd to meet you.

Food Fighter on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Blue Plate Diner - You Can Really Taste the Goat

Neighbourhood gentrification - case in point, the oft-referenced 104 Street downtown - invariably sweeps up eateries that broke ground in said locale before it was cool. The Blue Plate Diner, for example, fed people in the heart of the city before one could have an espresso just across the street, shop for cheese underground, pick up a few essentials at a nearby organic grocer, or peruse a palate-popping collection of olive oils and balsamic vinegars.

Blue Plate's boho-retro palette of red walls, lino-cut artwork, and shabby-chic tables that look like they came from your Aunt Velma's kitchen circa 1975 befit a crowd that covers everything from the suit and tie set to those who sport ironic sunglasses and skinny jeans. A lunch menu eschews the temptation to be all things to all people, though, and bespeaks the value of brevity.

Grilled cornbread presents two impressively hefty squares of maize and maple. Heady maple syrup is a smoky and seductive negligee that enrobes and enraptures each square. Although the menu identifies these treats as vegetarian-friendly, they evoke the essence of corn fritters fried in bacon fat. So wrong, and yet so right.

Mac and Cheese comprises a concoction of corkscrew pasta, cheese-laced bechamel sauce, and a garnish of chopped tomatoes. The noodles are nicely al dente, but a paucity of cheese sauce renders each cavatappi semi-nude. Moreover, although the menu purports the existence of cheddar, asiago and mozza, their distinctive voices are somehow muted. Chopped tomatoes are somewhat redundant; a seasoned crumb topping would better befit the Blue Plate's retro vibe and impart much-needed texture.

A Grilled Veggie Sandwich fares better. Two triangles of crusty bread sport a medley of grilled veg that includes mushrooms, red peppers, zucchini, tomatoes and arugula. A layer of provolone would welcome a quick trip through a toaster oven to melt it completely. Red pepper-tinged goat cheese is assertive and zesty, but the red pepper component could be omitted to allow the chevre's irrepressible zing to prevail unadulterated.

A line-up at the door bespeaks Blue Plate's enduring popularity, but I caution the Plate not to rest on its laurels. Lunch at Blue Plate hit some low notes in spite of high notes in the guise of cornbread. Mac and cheese should taste, at the very least, like cheese. At least with the sandwich, you could really taste the goat.

Blue Plate Diner on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The Renaissance Pig - Bistro Saisons

Pork, in the 1980s, had an image problem and public perception of this flesh derided it as fatty and unhealthy. A substantial image overhaul followed - think of "Pork: The Other White Meat," or "Put Pork on Your Fork," or the ever-popular, cheeky "Pork...The One You Love." This concoction of nutritional information, recipes and clever slogans worked and the venerable pig presently enjoys a high profile. Swine are, dare I say it, trendy. (The Italians and the Chinese knew it all along. I humbly purport that no other culinary traditions pay such homage to Sus scrofa and aforementioned homages encompass everything from porchetta to steamed pork buns.)

Newly hatched Edmonton eatery Bistro Saisons featured a family-style pork-centric dinner, aka "Swine and Dine." Saisons tidily occupies 4th & Vine's former digs and is clad in crisp linens and understated artwork. An open kitchen emits enticing scents and a descriptive menu acts as a veritable field guide to the incipient supper.

A many-hued salad pairs bittersweet greens with hard-cooked duck eggs and tomatoes. A crowning fistful of lardons and olives are happily caught in a smoky-salty tug-of-war with the sunny lettuce and arugula, though the tomatoes are brighter in colour than in flavour. An apple-dijon vinaigrette is either too meek or too scant, for its presence is difficult to detect.

Herbed crumbs are a riotous stratum atop a wondrously textured cassoulet. Unctuous pork belly and seductive shreds of shoulder canoodle with toothsome cannelini beans. Each forkful comprises a multifarious mind-warp trip to the south of France. The meal could end right here and all would be well with the world.

Whole roasted pork loin is carefully wrapped in a corset of bacon and apricot-cognac glaze that strays neither to the excessively boozy nor the unpleasantly fruity ends of this spectrum. The pale and mild meat underneath graciously sports its lavish overcoat, much like a model would wear a dress by Prada - each complements, but does not overshadow, the other. Sides of honey-roasted root veg and black beluga lentils could easily exist as stand-alone, vegetarian mains.

Chocolate espresso cake is coda to this protein-heavy feast. A chocolatey-chewy bacon crumble would provide better gustatory contrast were it crispier, but this pairing is more than welcome and cleverly perpetuates the evening's "Swine & Dine" modus operandi. A bold shot of PatrĂ³n chases each bite in a giddy, tequila-ridden swirl.

Bravo, Bistro Saisons. The Porcine Renaissance owes you a debt of gratitude.

Read about Marlow Moo's take on the evening here.

Bistro Saisons on Urbanspoon

Friday, 12 April 2013

Spelunking in The Cavern

The Cavern, which is neatly tucked away in a subterranean haunt on 104 Street, combines what may just be the holy trinity of edibles: cheese, espresso, and wine. For cheese comprises innumerable regional varieties that span continents, textures and thought-processes, espresso embodies the purest of coffee-based beverages, and noble vintages are the elixir - the juxtaposition - of fantasy and fact.

A few steps down from street level reveal a small selection of chairs, a glass cheese cooler, an espresso machine, a futuristic enomatic that seems to levitate wine bottles in suspended animation, and a Glen Miller-esque soundtrack, all framed by exposed duct work and other vestiges of this venerable brick building. It is yet early in the afternoon; wine will not be available until later, but much contemplation and introspection is to be found in the cheese cooler.

A judicious melange of many-hued cheeses bask in a cooler that would not look out of place in Jane Jetson's kitchen. Although whittling down a selection proves difficult, (pictured, from back to front) Appleby's Double Gloucester, Sardo, and Drunken Goat emerge as strong contenders for caseo-favouritism. Double Gloucester superficially resembles a cheddar, but differentiates itself from its better-known British countryman with a crumbly-buttery texture and a sunny, mellow, and slightly nutty flavour. Sardo hails from Argentina and, while its texture is rather rubbery, possesses a salty, beer-like essence that evolves on the tongue. Drunken Goat, or Queso Cabra al Vino, is a Spanish creation that marinates chalk-white cheese in red wine. The glorious result is a gustatory revolution that deftly treads between grape and goat.

The Cavern Grilled Cheese presses a fragrant assortment of fromage between two slices of sesame seed-studded bread, and arrives with a handful of salted crisps and a few pickled veg. The bread could be thicker and the entire presentation is a bit monochromatic, but this grilled sandwich outshines the margarine-washed, pan-fried, processed cheese-filled rectangles that pervaded the childhood meals of so many. For now, I am content to revel in the underground universe of cheese both melted and solid. Next time: wine and espresso.

Cavern on Urbanspoon

Afternote: I nearly didn't get to eat my sandwich. Mookie tried to sneak in a bite during the photo shoot.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

New Menu on the Block at Roast Coffee House

If only Edmonton's warehouse district had more warehouses. Something about these venerable structures just lives and breathes history. Indeed, these brick and mortar sentinels of days past have run the gamut from being utilitarian repositories of all things animal, vegetable and mineral, to forgotten mausoleums relegated to deterioration and demolition or, for the lucky few, resurrection and reincorporation into the city's urbanesque landscape.

The latter fate, fortunately, befell the downtown Mercer Warehouse. This impressive edifice is home to the Mercer Tavern and Roast Coffeehouse, as well as other non-food-related entities.  Roast recently launched a new menu in conjunction with Chef Andrew Parker. This new carte features a thoughtful and concise roster of nibbles intended to accompany one of many vintages present on Roast's wine list, or a salted caramel latte, if one so desires.

A salad of watermelon, feta and basil leaves joyously vacillates between the watery, summery crunch of melon and the relaxed, salty whispers of cheese. Toasted pine nuts comprise crispy interjections, while precise strips of basil impart notes of licorice and earth. A balsamic drizzle neither drowns nor besmirches this dish but, rather, serves as an elegant foil to the abundance of fruit and dairy.

Tuna tartare is a curious juxtaposition of fish and chips. The tartare itself is a toothsome mash of minced tuna and seductively unctuous avocado with just a wee hint of wasabi, but a sidecar of tortilla chips seems contradictory. Would not some artisan - and I am loathe to use this horrendously overused and abused word - crackers, rice crisps or even toasted slices of baguette better perform in this role? 

This new menu on the block, based on a mere sample size of two, bodes well for Roast's departure from the cookies and muffins (not that there is anything wrong with those) typically flogged by coffee shops. Perhaps future additions to this menu might include retro-chic nods to the Mercer Building's proletarian warehouse past? Devils on horseback, perchance?

Roast Coffeehouse + Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Creole Envie - Goin' Back to New Orleans

How remarkable, but not surprising, that concepts like "alley burger" have gained such striking momentum and popularity. This back-alley-dining juggernaut has a certain clandestine feel about it, but concurrently hearkens to days when dining out of doors was the rule, rather than the exception. Dining in a back alley is a salacious mixture of hush-hush entry gained to a secret clubhouse, but said clubhouse is far from secret, given the inevitable flurry of social media activity that accompanies such an evening.

Creole Envie molded this au naturel dining experience to feature Po'Boy Sandwiches, which are as creole as listening to a Dr. John album in the bayou. On this particular evening, the early spring air is still and the restaurant's interior is quiet, lit passively by the late afternoon sun. The action is out back by Envie's small, covered porch. Tire ruts, mud and massive windrows of languishing snow are scarcely barriers for those seeking sustenance.

Tonight's alley po'boy is a foot-long meal in a bun. Twelve inch po'boys are standard in New Orleans; anything smaller is known as a "shorty." Here, a sizable baguette cradles sweet and pudgy prawns and thick slices of tender andouille sausage. Sliced tomatoes, mixed greens and a generous smear of spicy mayo balance out the protein-heavy fillings without diverting attention from these quintessentially Louisianan victuals. Indeed, prawns and andouille are such intuitive bunkmates: the ocean's yin to the earth's yang, ethereal fins to no-nonsense hooves, or sultry Norah Jones to boisterous Luciano Pavarotti. This is a sandwich to be reckoned with, whether consumed indoors or out. The latter, however, just might be that much better when one is privy to a back alley, open air, top secret dining club.

Creole Envie on Urbanspoon


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