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Thursday, 27 August 2015

Rogue Wave Coffee Co. - Survival of the Fittest

Edmonton's coffee scene has diversified and proliferated - Coffee Bureau, Barking Buffalo, Lock Stock, Iconoclast, and that is just scratching the surface - and yet barely sates our endless thirst. All occupy similar, but distinct niches - indicative of a diverse urban culinary environment. Indeed, diverse environments permit specialization. Greater environmental diversity begets vacant niches, which in turn beget the evolution of highly specialized entities to occupy them.


Rogue Wave Coffee Co. (appropriately named, I might add) is settling into its niche in the nascently cool Queen Mary Park. A string of older warehouses have been given new personalities with bright paint and quirky signage. Though but a few blocks from bustling Jasper and 124 Street, pedestrian traffic is sparse. A blackboard sandwich board helpfully points towards Rogue's propped-open door, through which a highly specialized world of coffee awaits.


Rogue's space evokes a late-19th century, complete with laboratory equipment, blonde wood shelves, formulae scratched onto a black board, and glassware brimming with frothing brews. Heavy windows are propped open, letting in an autumn-tinged breeze. A bicycle leans nonchalantly in a corner. Only the soundtrack seems deliciously anachronistic, seguing from Men at Work, to A-Ha, to Michael Jackson.


Rogue Wave's focus is clear. There are no muffins, panini, wraps or other distractions beckoning from the counter. No, Rogue pulls a damn fine cappuccino that balances heft and froth and lingers like the melody of a favourite song. There are a few other permutations of coffee, both hot and cold, plus other quaffable entities, and that's it. This hyperspecificity bespeaks our city's readiness to embrace cafes that are proud to not pander to the lowest common denominator through tedious pages of half-baked dishes, or syrup-laden concoctions that scarcely resemble coffee at the best of times. If entities like coffee shops are products of environmental selective pressures, then Rogue Wave is a fine example of Edmonton's culinary evolution.


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Thursday, 13 August 2015

Summer Nights at Ikki Izakaya

It's a resonantly, unforgivably hot night on Jasper Avenue. Heat radiates from metal and concrete in a prolonged exhale. But it's a fine night for drivers to show off their tuned-up classic cars, trotting them out like pedigreed horses for the few short months when the roads aren't bedeviled with stones and ice. It's an equally fine night to settle over sake and Japanese bar snacks at Ikki Izakaya.


A step through Ikki's door, at the base of the Illuminada Building (and I cannot help but chuckle and think of "Illuminati") quickly breaches a temperature gradient that leads to another, calmer world. Ikki joins but one other izakaya in Edmonton. Light-hearted J-Pop fills the narrow room from top to bottom, bouncing off ceramics and Japanese newspapers. Drinks are 50% of an izakaya's existence (snacks are the other half), and a Sake-Tini cuts through the evening heat with a clear, smooth wave of lemon and cucumber.

Ikki's menu is a thorough assortment of lighter fare, starting with Beef Tataki (top). Six petals of rare beef fan out from a onion-cloud centre, and rest upon a citrus ponzu base. Meat is rarely the focus of Japanese cuisine; it is used to provide flavour rather than substance. Here, though, it owns the spotlight. Takoyaki (lower left) are plum-full of tender octopus. The bonito flakes on top dance as though they are alive. The Albertan's Roll (lower right) wraps crisp lettuce, thinly sliced beef, and nori in toothsome rice. A soy sauce and hotsauce sentence bespeaks the Tokyo-born owner's affinity to her chosen home.


Hire-Sake comes together when a torched blowfish fin passes through flame and is capped for a few moments in a ceramic cup of sake. Rich "umami" - somewhere in the realm of dark mushrooms, well-marbled meat, or a smoky summer evening - permeates the beverage, rendering it bracing and ineffable.


Motsuni Stew, an izakaya archetype, finds silky tofu sharing quarters with sweet stewed pork. Leek and ginger mingle with sonorous miso broth. Small wonder that this dish is epically popular on the other side of the Pacific: it is tremendously satisfying. Dessert, after this rogue's gallery of late-night Japanese snacks, is a whimsical fondue of green tea chocolate, marshmallows, potato crisps, and apple slices. Different combinations of each allow one to customize the ratio of crunchy to soft, and salty to sweet.

Hot summer nights will come and go, and the pedigreed cars will soon retreat to their garages for the season, but I have a feeling that Ikki Izakaya will be here for a great many seasons.


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