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Thursday, 28 November 2013

Kenko - The Road Less Traveled

The Jasper Ave-124 St nexus continues to strengthen with every successive restaurant opening (and, believe me, there are many).  Indeed, upon these streets there is never a shortage of wonderful things to eat and drink. The darker twin to this sunshine child of all things culinaria is a morose shadow of exorbitantly high leases, ruthless competition and fickle audiences, the resulting admixture of which may send even the sturdiest of institutions floundering (see the recent closures of The Makk and Bistro Saisons). And so, daring entrepreneurs may opt for subdued digs, snugly set aside from hip crowds.

Kenko Japanese Cuisine is quite far from this hub; in fact, it's nearly impossible to find.  Even well-written directions culminate in fruitless trips 'round the block of a southside industrial complex. This is because Kenko shares digs with Korean eatery B-Bim-Bap. Kenko, in fact, sports no exterior signage. Kenko's space, though it is anachronistically clad in maroon velvet furnishings, purveys some seriously superior sushi. Spicy Tuna Tempura Roll, for example, is almost imperceptibly crusted in a fragile, crispy wrapper that carefully contains crunchy asparagus and meaty, chili-laced tuna.

TNT roll delivers a promised kick, with slices of velvety mango and intermittent pops of tobiko present to attenuate the roll's impressively spicy tempura shrimp. Attractive presentation is a bonus.

White House Roll's stately presentation includes a banana leaf on an elongated platter. Vivacious salmon, understated tuna, and milky scallops reveal themselves one by one within a watery-crisp white radish wrapper.

A final bonus: the chef appears with a gratis dish of oblong red snapper kissed with wasabi mayo, tiny rings of green onion, and salty tobiko roe. Here is further proof that forays off the well-trodden path are laced with unexpected rewards.

Kenko Japanese Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

November Rain at The Rock Wood Fired Pizza

The Rock Wood Fired Pizza recently appeared on a westward stretch of 137 Avenue, and purports to be a duality of pizza and spirits. This descriptor is reasonably accurate, although a recent visit proved to be not quite the "soft rock" of a cultivated pizzeria, nor the "hard rock" of a guts-and-glory tap house.

The Rock's interior is dimly lit and punctuated by coloured spotlights. A garage sale's worth of rock memorabilia - think guitar chandeliers and menus that evoke record sleeves - covers walls and tables. Music plays at a remarkably considerate volume; indeed, ambient conversation noise all but drowns out the strains of "Don't stop believing." For a house of spirits, beer offerings are slim. The Rock is apparently out of Alley Kat on this particular evening, and it takes no fewer than three wait staff to reach that conclusion. I settle on the Microbrew Sampler. Most of the seven brews taste similar to one another, though "Suicide Blonde" and "Rock Steady Red" were rather enjoyable.

Onto the pizza. The Rock's record sleeve menu is unnecessarily insists on including a redundancy of hamburgers, appetizers and sandwiches. All could be deleted without consequence. Pizzas are divided into "Red," "White" and "Specialty" pies. "Harvest Moon" falls into the latter category, and features tomato slices, proscuitto, basil, and capers. The tomato slices are unripe to the point of being white and crunchy in the centre, far beyond rescue from even the oven's heat. The proscuitto underneath is nearly undetectable. Basil and capers are fresh and zesty; were the tomatoes ripe, the entire dish would be far tastier.

"California Dreamin" replaces tomato sauce with cream sauce and, thus, is "white." The crust - it must be mentioned for both this pie and previous - is excellent. Thin, but not too thin, and perfectly tender without the horrendous black char-bubbles that plague other pizzas around town. Toppings, however, land squarely in the middle of the road. Sun-dried tomatoes are obscure and effectively silenced by pesto. In all estimation, a decent, if not especially memorable experience. Erstwhile slices made for a welcome midnight snack - nothing lasts forever, even cold November rain and leftover pizza.

The Rock Wood Fired Pizza and Spirits on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 10 November 2013

True Grits - Secret Supper at Creole Envie

Who doesn't love a juicy secret, especially where dining is concerned? I recently attended Edmonton's first Secret Supper, thanks to a generous invitation from organizer Gemma, and must confess that - as with all good secrets - it is a morsel of knowledge worth sharing. The gist of secret suppers, which are an open secret worldwide, is that the location is not revealed until right before the event. Creole Envie, as I discovered the morning of, hosted our inaugural hush-hush dinner.

The gentle aesthetic of Tasso Prawns cleverly hides an utterly, incendiary, all-consuming afterburn. Pickled okra helps tame the fire; this veg's characteristic sliminess is obliterated in favour of a green bean-like crunch.

Crab-stuffed Portabellas burst with cheese drippings and crustaceanesque juices. Overall aroma is a bit "wharfy" in the sense that in evokes a seaside pier in the best possible way. The gargantuan mushroom functions like a large bivalve in both texture and appearance.

Turtle Soup is neither teenaged nor mutant in composition and presentation. Tiny veal morsels intermingle with the "holy trinity" of Creole veggies - onions, celery, and peppers. Shreds of real turtle, which is supple and demure, float atop a brick red base. The entire gestalt is one of soul-warming strength. 'Tis ironic that so many cold-weather dishes trace their natal roots to hot climes.

Bay Scallops with Pancetta are the evening's runaway hit. Two plump pillows coexist with spicy, porcine shards and mercifully ripe, miniature tomatoes. Each nibble constitutes a gustatory explosion of spicy and sweet.

Next up are Grits with Crawfish. Ever-smooth white grits are flecked with reddish crawfish, the flavour of which falls somewhere between lobster and crab - more focused than the former, yet softer than the latter. A puddle of heavy cream ups the richness factor. The entire composition is reminiscent of other corn-based comfort foods; think Ukraine's nachinka or Italy's polenta.

Frog Legs with Piquant Sauce visually evoke a pair of skinned Barbie limbs, but texturally elicited comparisons to firm, white fish or loose muscle-fibered fowl. "It tastes like chicken" does justice to no one; frog is a mild-yet-assertive paradox all on its own. Chunky tomato piquant sauce complements without being overbearing.

Dessert, though there is scarcely room after so many courses, features peaches, pecans (how I wish they were pralined or candied) and cream with just a suggestion of bourbon. The secret is out.

Creole Envie on Urbanspoon


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