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Tuesday, 26 February 2013

I'll Stop the World and Melt With You

Have you ever read "Asterix in Switzerland"? This instalment of the Gaulish protagonist's adventures sees Asterix and Obelix traipsing through Helvetia in search of a flower with magical powers with which to cure a gravely ill comrade. At one point in the story, a Roman governor hosts a fondue.

Though I doubt the historical veracity of this practice, the governor announces that whoever thrice loses a piece of bread in the cheese will be tossed into Lake Geneva with weights on his/her feet.

Historically accurate or not, this surely would have been an entertaining spectacle. An equally entertaining spectacle involving melted cheese is found right here in Edmonton at The Melting Pot. Perpetually packed, one is well advised to make reservations far in advance. Marlow Moo and I are lucky to get in on a cancellation. (Read about Marlow's experience here.)

We charge forward with the Four-Course Experience, which is comprised of a cheese fondue, a salad, an entree fondue, and a dessert fondue. Our Traditional cheese fondue is a vibrantly fragrant brew of Gruyere and Emmentaler cheeses, spiked with white wine and Kirschwasser. A whisper of nutmeg and and a discrete squeeze of lemon create a bountiful goo that magnificently caresses each bread cube. Apple slices and assorted veggies are also offered for dipping, but the veg and cheese are a bit incongruent, in that the former is so watery that the latter slides right off.

A Wisconsin Wedge salad is a plate of retro fun. Here, a crispy wedge of iceberg lettuce shares its bunk with a trio of mercifully ripe tomato slices, a snowball of bleu cheese, and a swizzle of creamy dressing sprinkled with bacon. It neither offends nor pleases, and the strongest components are the tomato and bleu.

The "Classic" entree features a wolf's ransom of meat: teriyaki sirloin, white shrimp, BBQ pork, herb-crusted chicken, and seasoned choice sirloin. A bowl of spuds, mushrooms and broccoli balances out this protein-heavy platter. One may dunk their choice of meat/veg in a bubbling cauldron of Burgundy wine tickled with spices, herbs and sliced mushrooms. The mushrooms veritable drink in their surroundings for a sumptuous snack, while the teriyaki sirloin is marvelously flavoured with soy and ginger. The amount of food is staggering and it seems as though we barely make a dent in it.

Dessert is a campfire at our table. This nostalgic treat is a heady synthesis of milk chocolate and marshmallow creme, all flambeed for good measure. Marshmallows and pieces of banana and strawberry are obvious dipping vessels. Showmanship was apparent throughout each course; the staff consummately know the finer points of fondue. Though my incapacious gastranomic rapacity prohibits regular visits, I cannot imagine staying away from the Melting Pot for too long. And, in case you were wondering, neither Marlow nor I lost any bread in the melted cheese.

The Melting Pot Edmonton on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Nhon Hoa Sequitur

The Vietnamese sandwich, or banh mi, is a remarkable culinary portmanteau. Vestiges of French colonialism - baguettes and mayo - find company and favour with Vietnamese pickled carrots, splashy cilantro, and spiced meats. Though Edmonton is, in terms of everything from climate to architecture, about as far from southeast Asian as one can get, there is not a paucity of good banh mi.

Though most such sandwich outposts are within, or within a few blocks of, Chinatown, several have opened second locations on Whyte Avenue. Nhon Hoa Sandwich Bar holds its own in a sparse and somewhat seedy room. The relative lack of seating is compensated for by studious and masterfully efficient service. A Saté Chicken Sub is at least a foot long and the baguette is fresh and flaky to the point that one must make a concerted effort to eat over the tray provided. Pickled carrots are frolicsome and tangy, though the cilantro would do well to be removed from its stems. Otherwise, one bite removes the entire strand from the 'wich. A smear of zesty mayo would work as easily in Paris as it would in Hanoi. Morsels of chicken burst with their own juices and are clearly not the hyper-uniform chicken slices presented in so many franchised sub sandwiches. Though I cannot comment firsthand on co-diner's spring rolls and Teriyaki chicken sub; both looked quite delicious. Indeed, from humble surrounds, and from east-meets-west culinary traditions, comes a mighty fine sandwich. Sandwich non sequitur.

Nhon Hoa Sandwich Bar on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Hola, Sunshine - Cafe Del Sol

Cafe Del Sol received a less than favourable review this past summer. What restaurant hasn't, particularly when said restaurant is the new kid in town. One cannot be all things to all people and carving out a respectable place in a large, urban centre is daunting even for the boldest of hearts. I heard little of Cafe Del Sol throughout the autumn and winter, and worried about their long-term persistence. What a welcome sight to heave open that strip-mall door and encounter the liveliest scene imaginable.

An appropriately sunny room is lovingly adorned with south-of-the-border paraphernalia that presents as cheerful, but never contrived. Attentive service begins with a bowl of gratis chips and bold tomato salsa. A quick read over the two-sided menu quickly leads to a steaming bowl of Sopa Azteca. Cilantro-scented broth is liberally tangled with crisp tortilla strips and tender chicken. The soup is bewitchingly aromatic and deceptively filling.

Tacos Pollo Tinga are a quartet of circular corn tortillas topped with chipotle-scented chicken, finely minced purple onions, and tangy cilantro greens. A squeeze of lime nudges out additional citrusy flavour that plays off the smoky chipotle in a symbiotic tango. I am less enamoured of the refried beans, which seem murky. A swig of Pacifico rounds out each bite and all is forgiven.

Chicken Enchiladas with Salsa Verde is cloaked in a devilishly gooey blanket of melted cheese. The salsa verde is a bit lost under this stratum, but its less-assertive demeanor gradually makes itself known. It takes some excavating to find the chicken underneath, but each juicy piece is a more-than-welcome find. The surrounding aural blend of lively Spanish and boppin' Mexican pop music is dessert enough for the whole evening. Cafe Del Sol isn't the only place in the city where one may nosh on tacos and Pacifico, but the family living room vibe truly sets it apart. And that is a welcome niche in any city.

Cafe Del Sol on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Domo Arigato, Izakaya Tomo

There is something inherently serene about Japanese cuisine. It compels one to slow down, to savour, and not to wolf and gobble (unless one is supremely adept with chopsticks). I think of koto music and cranes flying silently over a montane vista.

No, wait. That is but one side of Japanese cuisine. Turn this trope on its head, and one reveals the izakaya - the loud and cheerful, after work drinking establishment. Edmonton is finally home to one: Izakaya Tomo.

Squared away in a south-side strip mall, Izakaya Tomo is a boisterous and well-crafted evening out. Start with a Sake Sampler, where one may pick three from a roster of five sake offerings. Gokujo and Yoshinogawa are adept choices; the former is fruity and sharp while the latter is smoky and smooth.

Nama-Harumaki are a Japanese take on salad rolls, and trump this standard nibble by upping the ante with avocado, carrots, cukes, and smoked salmon. A tangy soy-mayo dressing caresses each bite.

Tempura Shrimp Rolls present spirals of tender rice, vivid nori, toothsome avocado, and the eponymous crunchy crustacean. A dab of wasabi allows one to doctor the soy sauce to taste.

Tako Yaki arrive covered in a blanket of shaved bonito. At first, the shavings appear to be moving as if alive. This illusion is a product of heat wafting off the freshly fried dumplings. Tender octopus morsels hide within these spheres, which are anointed with lashings of spicy mayo.

Unagi Don are a welcome coda. A delightful haystack of nori gives shelter to smoky and unctuous strips of barbecue eel. A peculiar, gelatinous layer blankets the underlying sticky rice. Its texture is a bit off-putting and, from the menu, I gather that this substance is mountain potato. A hearty shot of plum wine, giddy and resplendent with potent fruits, crowns this experience, which indeed captures the livelier and oft-ignored side of the Japanese culinary experience.

Izakaya Tomo on Urbanspoon

Friday, 8 February 2013

Ticket Giveaway for Edmonton Winefest 2013

The tickets have been snagged! Thanks to everyone who emailed.

Do you like wine? Do you wish to attend the 2013 Edmonton Wine Festival? I have two all-inclusive tickets to give away for this awesome afternoon

The first person to email me (please check the "About Dine & Write" page for contact info) before noon on Thursday, February 14th, will win two tix to this fun event.

The tickets include entry and unlimited sampling of vino and goodies from 2 - 5 pm on Saturday, February 16th, at the Shaw Conference Centre. Look for wineries like G7 from Chile, Perseus from the Okanagan, and Ciumai from Moldova. Dive into amazing nibbles from The Cheesiry, Terra International, and Cococo Chocolatiers, to name a few.

These tickets are there for the taking...just sayin'.....

Thursday, 7 February 2013

It's not easy being cheesy - An evening at Select

Cheese is, indubitably, the most perfect of food groups. I could give up anything - even meat, even dessert - but not cheese. I caught word from Marlow Moo that the Gnocchi Fondue at Select was quite remarkable. That alone was reason to visit.

Select (formerly Cafe Select) is a slightly tight but cozy space downtown that features a Gallic-style room with ornate door frames and small tables. The room is packed, even at 9 pm on a week night. Edmontonians are catching on to European late-night dining, it would seem. We dive into Gnocchi Fondue; this dish features assertive Fontina fromage with semi-dry white wine. It is a gorgeous dairy-ridden lava that begs for a bite and then another bite. Pan-fried gnocchi are unexpectedly welcome in their mish-mash of shapes, while proscuitto-wrapped apples are a duality of sweet and salt. Whole asparagus spears are pleasing in their simplicity, and all components are nicely suited to the elfin cauldron of melted cheese.

The "cheese" theme continues with Duck Confit Macaroni. This update on a traditional mac and cheese features colourful tomatoes and unctuous shreds of duck. The pasta is tender, but the surrounding cheese sauce could be more generous. Many flavours compete for attention in this dish.

Porchetta is a tender riot of herbs and tender meat that revels in its interstitial juices. Mashed spuds are an agreeable companion, but I would have liked to have seen polenta, or something with a bit more texture. A small hillock of red cabbage is similarly understated and content to defer attention to the protein-heavy star of this show. I was beguiled, though not quite bewitched, by the use of cheese at Select. Though I wasn't fully convinced by our entrees, I would return for the fondue alone.

Select on Urbanspoon

Friday, 1 February 2013

Dallas Pizza - True Patriot Love

Purists will contend that the only true pizza is Neopolitan pizza: thin and crisp with just a few toppings. Purists will bemoan that this genetic stock spawned mutants with hotdog-stuffed crusts and other freaks of nature. Indeed, those that adhere to the ultra-orthodox dogma of pizza will believe that the Chicago deep-dish or the Hawaiian are false idols not to be worshiped. Acknowledging the roots of an insanely popular dish is well and good, but ruling out all but the purest of pizzas means missing out some damn fine Canadian-style pizza.

Canadian-style pizza features a thick, bready crust crowned with a plethora of toppings that should complement - but never overshadow - its base. The best Canadian pizza in this city may very well be found at Dallas Pizza. This family-run eatery is right in the heart of the comfy Forest Heights neighbourhood, and features a down-home ambiance right out of a small town.

Their menu features a roster of Canadian favourites, including pepperoni, ham and fresh tomato, ham and pineapple, and deluxe, to name a few. The kitchen is accommodating, and will gladly make your a pie that is half one flavour and half a different flavour. After much deliberation, I try half ham and tomato and half shrimp and mushroom. This creation features a fragrant crust that balances a crisp exterior with a tender interior. Though the tomato slices could be riper, the ham underneath is pleasantly smoky. The kitchen does not skimp on the shrimp, and nary a mouthful is to be found that does not contain at least several of these desirable crustaceans. The mushrooms add a savoury counterpoint, and a thick blanket of cheese is stretchy and mild. I will not argue that Naples is the natal cradle of authentic pizza, but this, my friends is true patriot love in pizza form.

Dallas Pizza & Steak House on Urbanspoon


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