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Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Under the High Wheel and On the Fence

It feels a bit heretical and uncomfortable to have a beef, pardon the pun, with an establishment that makes an impressive effort to use local and organic ingredients in their food. Such is my conundrum with Under The High Wheel, which occupies a veritable commune of wellness-related businesses on Whyte Ave. The food, insofar as I've experienced it, does right by its origins, but atmosphere and attitude are rather in need of an adjustment.

High Wheel's patio is in a bit of a predicament. Condo construction across the street translates into multiple hulking vehicles idling mere feet from diners' faces, so close that one can feel the heat pulsating out of the exhaust manifolds. The smell of diesel exhaust does little to whet one's appetite and, though I realize the construction is beyond High Wheel's control, these circumstances are exacerbated by fairly negligent servers. Many long minutes elapse before orders are taken and what seems like eons pass before Fruit Salad with Yogurt and Hemp Seeds appears. The dish itself is lovely and plum-stuffed with raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and the like. Hemp seeds add nutty texture to the voluptuous yogurt.

At least 45 minutes pass between the disappearance of the yogurt and appearance of a Vegan Crepe and Cherry Wood Smoked Chicken Salad. The salad features a scatter of edible blossoms atop several pieces of impressively juicy chicken, refreshingly unsalty feta, a few hidden black olives, and agreeable fried potatoes. The dish is more like chicken with salad, rather than chicken salad, but no matter. It's scrumptious.

A Vegan Crepe is half hidden under a salad of greens, carrots, sprouts and pepitas. The buckwheat crepe itself is a bit tasteless, but the roasted zucchini and squash inside veritably pop with the evocative essences of late summer and early autumn. A vivid red pepper sauce brings the different components together.

Long after our meals are finished, though, there is no sign of our server. We wait a good 15 minutes before bringing our own plates inside. Under the High Wheel, in a nutshell, creates some very tasty vittles, but this culinary competency is not matched by the level of service. Organic food is wonderful but cannot carry the entire dining experience on its own.

Under The High Wheel on Urbanspoon

Monday, 19 August 2013

Plowed Under at Plow & Harvest

I recently attended the soft opening of Plow & Harvest. This new west-end spot promises "the art of comfort food." The bright white and green room has an antique tractor right in the middle and some excellent photography of agrarian scenes, but the evening soon suggests that P&H has big shoes to fill.

I missed the first dish - roasted potato soup (though Moo tasted it and you can read his take on the evening here), due to traffic. The restaurant itself is a bit of a challenge to reach, as it is sandwiched between several one-way streets. I question the location: Mayfield Common is big box territory, far from any residential neighbourhoods, and hence one would expect very little foot traffic. Being forced to drive for locally-sourced food seems a bit of an oxymoron.

Plank Fries arrive in a whimsical cast-iron Dutch oven. The fries are floppy and cry out for seasoning. Cayenne, citrus, black pepper - anything. The accompanying ketchup tastes suspiciously like Heinz.

Pickled Vegetables include red onions, cukes, and jalapenos. The entire concoction is markedly sour and the jalapenos have significant bite. The cukes are missing a key element: crispiness. Instead, they are quite flaccid.

The Not-So-Sloppy Joe loses much of its filling when I pick it up. The beef inside is juicy, but surprisingly sweet. A good dose of spice is warranted to balance it out. Shredded cheddar inside has not yet melted. The bun is soft, but the exterior is as soft as the interior. It calls out for greater crust to better rein in the meat.

The Grilled Cheese Sandwich bears the opposite issue, namely, too much crustiness. The bread, though it looks gorgeous in all its multigrain glory, is hard and scratchy to the point of eliciting gum pain. The tomatoes inside are properly ripe and the bacon jam is pleasing, but it is difficult to detect the presence of the eponymous cheese.

Lastly, Mac and Cheese with Bacon Breadcrumbs has a pleasant, delicately cheesy flavour throughout. The crumbles on top are reminiscent of home-made mac and cheese variations, but here, the sauce is thin to the point is sliding right off the noodles. It ends up as a puddle in the bottom of the serving vessel and a spoon would be sorely welcome at this point.

By now, several hours have elapsed. Though we see the chef, PR staff, and what we presume to be the owners/investors visiting with each group of diners, no one bothers to stop by our table and inquire about our experience. Our server was excellent, but provided no napkins until much later in the evening, even though the dishes were nearly all finger food. I resorted to fetching paper towels from the bathroom. The meal felt incomplete without dessert - even a sample sized one. It would have been lovely to try the frozen custard-cookie sandwiches. I hope that Plow & Harvest matures into its ambitious credo, but I'm thinking that it will be a while before I make the long drive again to Mayfield Common.

Plow & Harvest on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Keep Calm and Knosh On

Part of me wishes that Knosh, another neophyte vittle-vehicle on Edmonton streets, was a right-hand drive. Why? Elementary, my dear; their food is British. British eats, apart from fish and chips, are woefully underrepresented in this city. That alone imparts a degree of the overseas-exotic to Knosh.

These days, Knosh is parked a hop, skip and jump south of Jasper, part of the ever-growing crowd of downtown food trucks. Stately elm trees, a quasi-cobblestone sidewalk and a few nearby park benches are fortunate companions. The menu includes daily specials as well as roster of items that changes less frequently. All are nods to across the pond.

Steak and Kidney Pie comes in its own foil container and is capped by a lusciously flaky puff pastry crust. The insides are meaty, saucy, and ample. Though the flavour is predominantly steaky, morsels of toothsome kidney shine through. In lifetimes past, I've had an aversion to organ meats - a product of lamentably poor preparation on the part of many establishments and a few too many childhood meals of leather-tough fried liver. Knosh's kidneys, though, deserve the spotlight just as much as steak.

A Ploughman's Sandwich - Knosh's take on the traditional British meal of the same name - is sizable. Indeed, half will become tomorrow's lunch. This version is stuffed with hunks of chicken, tangy onion chutney (oh how I wish there was more), hard boiled eggs, and tomato slices. Though the bun is a bit of a weak link, the filling is hearty and savoury.

Rhubarb Crumble is a tart-sweet paradox with a proper filling:topping ratio. Fuchsia rhubarb tidbits are just waiting to be discovered under their crispy blanket. A light and eggy custard sauce caps off the deal.

A late afternoon fluffy scone is a bonus. It's a wonder it doesn't just float away on the breeze. Paired with a cup of tea, raspberry preserves and butter, one might imagine London Bridge off in the distance. In the mean time, keep calm and Knosh on.

Knosh on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Muy Caliente at Casa Doce

Food trucks in Edmonton, food trucks in St. Albert, and food trucks in Sherwood Park, oh my! Casa Doce is a very spiffy addition to the latter. Although the Canadian Tire parking lot isn't quite Playa Del Carmen, Casa Doce's tacos and huaraches are pretty darn tasty.

Casa Doce's decked-out wheels are a feast for the eyes. A vibrant map of Mexico leaps with colour and cool tunes pump out from within. A Mayan pyramid and a tempting display of home-made hot sauces complete their aesthetic.

Onto the food: Tacos Carne Asada are piled high with sizzling grilled beef liberally laced with onions, cilantro and lime. A few drizzles of smoky chipotle sauce add an additional strata of flavour. The corn tortillas underneath are warm and starchy, just like they should be.

Huarache Pollo Adobado start with a fried corn case that acts as a vessel for spicy chicken, avocadoes, onions, tomatoes, lettuce and crumbled cheese. 'Tis quite unlike any other creation. A subtle layer of refried beans holds the myriad of toppings to the corn base. It is a riot of textures that begs for another bite, and then another.

I hope that Casa Doce will consider a few forays into the great Edmonton beyond...

Casa Doce on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Home on the Rge Rd

Rge Rd, after a wait tinged with bated breath, is open. This dream-like space is a re-imagined farmhouse: somewhere where antique pulleys hang from the ceiling, copper pipes snake to and fro, mismatch chairs simply belong together, and a kitchen window peers over jam jars and into a brick oven. Yes, this urban farmstead of Blair Lebsack and Caitlin Fulton is, in their words, "at the intersection of farm, food, and friends."

A black cherry-rich bottle of Gamay Noir - gamays are too oft overlooked - sets things off on the right course. Gull Valley Tomato Salad's visual simplicity belies its gustatory complexity. Multi-hued tomatoes dance with basil and edible flowers and bespeak vibrant flavours too often absent from other tomatoes in this city.

Apple-Fennel Salad with Sausage is a riot of textures, the ratio of which changes with each successive bite. Sweet surprises of apple and licorice-laced fennel are interspersed with crickly-crackly morsels of cracklin'. The sausages on their own are juicy and delicate; addition of the aforementioned ingredients elevates them to another level entirely.

Lake-caught walleye (it is billed as "pickerel" on the menu, but from an icthyological perspective, walleye and pickerel are not the same species - they are not even in the same family of fish...but I digress...). Semantics and trivia aside, these perciform beauties loll under a sprinkle of ricotta and a vivid spoonful of green pea puree. The perfectly buttery fish flesh falls apart at the merest fork's touch. A few rotolo orbs rest underneath and are a dense, earthy contrast to the fish's airy essence.

Maple Verrine presents a bottom stratum of rum jelly topped with maple cream and finished with crisp hazelnut struesel. A fragile tuille is along for the ride. Pity that it's over so soon - so much flavour is packed into one tiny mason jar. Toasty-nutty struesel, velvet maple mantle, and understated rum core.

Indeed, this intersection of farm, food and friends more than exceeds the atmosphere of yearning anticipation that preceded its opening. Better yet, the menu is poised to change on a whim, and is shaped to the ingredients available, rather than vice versa. Isn't that how it should be in the first place?

Rge Rd on Urbanspoon


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