State and Main (Jasper Avenue)

Due to my mad panic to finish cosplays in time for Calgary Expo, it took me longer than expected to get to this post. But here it is, at last!

Gastropubs. So hot right now.

There’s something about the fusion of a welcoming pub atmosphere and a stylish menu line-up that just speaks to me. Maybe it’s the fact that I enjoy great food but don’t always feel like dressing to the nines (or paying through my teeth) just to get it.

State and Main sits somewhere between the likes of Original Joe’s and Central Social Hall. The interior is stylishly casual and friendly. The menu is the epitome of modern Canadian comfort food with a few surprising twists: steaks, wings, and pulled pork sandwiches sit amongst Korean-inspired gogi tacos, chorizo lasagna, and a Greek-esque spanako flatbread (think spinach, goat cheese, and roasted red peppers).

Media Tasting Event

Signature Caesar

Pretzel Sticks

With locations already in Windermere, Southgate, Sherwood Park, and Spruce Grove, State and Main recently took their brand to central Edmonton with a new restaurant on Jasper Avenue and 100 Street. At the media tasting event on April 12th, food writers, bloggers, and local media were treated to an extensive menu to showcase the restaurant’s favourites, along with brief speeches from State and Main staff to introduce newcomers to the brand.

Before I even get to the food, my primary impression from my very first experience at a State and Main was the level of attention and service we received. Not only were drinks ordered and dropped off efficiently, the staff were also extremely accommodating towards anyone with a food allergy or intolerance. I’ve been to several media events that provided terrible service, so the professionalism of State and Main with regards to this matter was something I truly appreciated.

Mama’s Meatballs

Chicken Wings

Chicken Gyoza

Dragon Boat Lettuce Wraps

As for the tasting menu–that gigantic tasting menu–it’s a bit of an understatement to say that we were given a well-rounded look into the types of food the restaurant has on offer. I’d need to throw the term “smorgasbord” in there for that statement to be more accurate. In order to keep this post from getting out-of-hand in length, here are some brief notes on the courses I tried from the tasting menu:

Food

  • Chicken Wings: How on earth can you go wrong with wings? Answer: you can’t. State and Main has great wings AND they have bleu cheese dip, so I’m sold.
  • Mama’s Meatballs: These were delightful. I couldn’t eat the garlic bread (sigh), but the meatballs themselves were extremely tasty. Garlic tomato and basil sauce, melted mozzarella, and parmesan equals a great time had by all.
  • Thai Salad: I’ve tried many ‘Thai salads’ in my time and haven’t been overly impressed with any of them. This one is probably the best one I’ve ever had because the flavours work so perfectly together. Romaine and rice noodles, cilantro peanut vinaigrette, citrus marinated grilled chicken, mandarin oranges, red onions, pea shoots, and cashews all combine to make a salad that’s equal parts sweet, tart, and savoury. It’s lovely.
  • The Empire State: All I’ll say about this delectable 10 oz. New York cut is that State and Main knows their way around a damn good steak.
  • Gogi Tacos: I had the gluten-free version of these. The shredded pork was delicious! A nice little Korean-inspired treat.
  • (Also on the menu: Dragon Boat Lettuce Wraps, Pretzel Sticks, Chicken Gyoza, Alberta Bison Burger, Jalapeno Mac and Cheese, Ice Cream Sandwich): Sadly, I couldn’t try any of these, but the pretzel sticks were a fan favourite at the table. Everyone was raving about the red ale mustard sauce.)

Jalapeno Mac and Cheese

Gluten-free Gogi Tacos

The Empire State

Cocktails

  • Signature Caesar: There’s really no excuse for serving up bad caesars in this day and age. Thankfully, State and Main’s Signature Caesar is excellent. I may have had several.
  • State Mint: The gin drew me in but while this drink was tasty, it was a little too sweet for my liking. Probably better for someone who’s just easing into gin and needs a powerful mixer.

Thai Salad

Alberta Bison Burger

Gogi Tacos

All in all, I had a great time at State and Main. The food was good, the service was top notch, and the company was excellent. Price-wise, everything is mid-range and reasonable, with entrees generally sitting between the $15-25 mark. AND there’s a fairly extensive gluten-free menu, which is great. They’re also open at 7:00 a.m. on weekdays, meaning that downtown employees can stop in for breakfast before starting their workday! The only issue with this restaurant, as with many others downtown, is parking. There is, however, a large Impark lot behind the building that’s probably not too expensive if you get there after 6pm.

State and Main
10065 Jasper Avenue
Edmonton, AB
(780) 990-0907

4/5

Narayanni’s

I can’t say I had ever tried South African food until last night, which, as I quickly discovered, has been a deplorable loss on my part. I’ve been completely missing out.

Narayanni’s, a Whyte Avenue staple since 2010, serves up some of the finest curry I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. While the food is primarily Indian cuisine (as a result of immigration in the late 19th/early 20th centuries), it comes with a delightful South African twist: fewer dairy-based items, roti instead of naan bread, and a subtle European spin on items like the braised kale and cabbage. It’s the kind of cuisine that will leave you feeling content and full–warm and fuzzy–without weighing down your stomach with starches.

The restaurant itself is really hard to miss, once you know where you’re going. Just head one block south of Whyte at 101 Street and you’ll find yourself in front of a bright red door and panel, with a huge sign right above it. Inside, Narayanni’s is homey and comforting, with relaxed ambient lighting and the friendly murmur of other guests filling the spacious room. The buffet stands at the centre, with dishes lined in a circle around a barista used to make their signature hot chai drinks.

They have a neat selection of South African wines by the bottle, giving diners the authentic cuisine experience. We were recommended a bottle of the Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon (2010) by daughter and Front of House manager Youmashni Naidoo; to our delight, it was amazing. Similar to a full bodied malbec but with less powerful tannins, this wine paired beautifully with the spicy curries on the menu. The only danger lies in the wine’s drinkability–we had polished off the bottle before we knew it.

The food–oh, the food–was delightful. It’s strange to enjoy a meal that’s both hearty and filling and yet not feel sluggish afterwards. The majority of Narayanni’s menu is dairy free, many items are gluten free, and vegan options are abundant (they even offer a vegan buffet on Tuesday nights). My favourites were the chicken curry (moderately spicy), the grilled masala chicken (tender and flavourful), and the braised kale and cabbage (surprisingly spicy).

While Narayanni’s has only opened for dinner in the past, Old Strathcona residents and employees can now rejoice in the fact that the restaurant will be open for lunch Tuesday to Friday, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. The lunch buffet features four gourmet South African Indian courses: home-cooked soup, salad, chicken curry (local, free-range, hormone/antibiotic-free), and three vegan entrées for only $12 a person. If I worked anywhere near Narayanni’s, I’d make this lunch buffet a weekly routine. For the quality of food you’re getting at that price, you’ve really got no excuse.

One of the things that makes Narayanni’s such a genuinely friendly restaurant is that it’s completely family owned and run. The Naidoo family, also the proprietors of Whyte’s Block 1912, are the brains behind Narayanni’s South African Indian cuisine. In one of my tweets during the visit, I likened the restaurant’s chicken curry to my own mother’s excellent curry–unsurprising, really, since the curry at Narayanni’s was cooked by the mother of the Naidoo family and co-founder of the restaurant, Selva Naidoo. We also finished off the meal with some cinnamon-infused rice pudding, prepared by Narayanni’s dessert master and father, Daya Naidoo, as well as cups of regular chai and pistachio chai.

Along with their new lunch buffet ($12), vegan nights on Tuesdays ($15), and lamb items in the buffet on Saturdays ($25), Narayanni’s is currently also holding a spring special on Wednesday nights, offering the dinner buffet at $15 a person, rather than $20. To be honest, even $20 a person for an all-you-can-eat buffet of this quality is extremely reasonably-priced. You’ll be hard pressed to find the same quality of food at a better price at any other Indian restaurant in the city. At $15 a person, it’s a bargain!

My experience at Narayanni’s was excellent and beyond expectations. The friendly, welcoming atmosphere, the unbelievable food, the clear passion each member of the family has for the business they’ve created–every aspect of this restaurant appealed to me. They’ve made it very easy for me to give a rave review because, quite simply, Narayanni’s is wonderful. And I cannot wait to go back.

Narayanni’s
10131 81 Avenue
Edmonton, AB
(780) 756-7112

5/5

PAMPA’S SECOND ANNUAL BACON FEAST

Edmonton, for some reason, has become bacon crazy in the last couple of years.

Did I just say, “for some reason”? The obvious reason: bacon is THAT delicious. What with Baconfest, an influx of bacon-inspired cocktails (think Caesars), and more and more restaurants offering items like pork belly and pulled pork on the menu, food options throughout our city can get a little pig-heavy. Even Sailin’ On has a vegan BLT–it’s coconut, but you get the idea.

Pampa, my beloved Pampa, has joined the bacon ranks with their annual Bacon Feast event. The restaurant, which normally serves up cuts of meat rodizio-style (i.e. rotisserie that’s carved tableside), is offering a bacon-inspired special for the month of April. Alongside their usual dinner service, guests can add on the Bacon Feast menu for $14.95, which includes bacon-wrapped boneless veal leg, marinated crispy pork belly (my favourite), and a chocolate petite gateau for dessert (warm chocolate cake filled with bacon-infused caramel sauce and topped with vanilla-bean ice cream and caramelized bacon bits). Bacon Caesars are also on special for $10, each one featuring Bakon Vodka and a slice of bacon–although be sure to eat that bacon strip immediately before it gets soggy.

This is Bacon Feast’s second year and, from my experience, offers a nice variant to the traditional Pampa dining experience. The inclusion of dessert is a huge selling point–even though I couldn’t eat it because of the gluten, I had a nibble at the bacon bits and ice cream, and everyone else at the table seemed to devour their cakes with reckless abandon. Bacon Feast is also a good reason to go out and try Pampa’s pork belly, which I raved about in my review of their brunch. Like I said, it’s not for those who are afraid of fat on their meat (again, I’m surprised those people exist).

My dinner plate. Note: the roasted whole garlic is AMAZING.

The bacon-wrapped veal leg was tender and cooked to medium–this was my first time trying veal, so it was a little unusual for me, but it was filled with flavour. And, of course, anything wrapped in bacon is a good thing. Other than the Bacon Feast offerings, there were the standard ten cuts of meat for Pampa’s dinner service: signature rump steak, top sirloin, bottom sirloin, striploin (which we unfortunately didn’t get to try), pork sausage, parmesan pork loin, bacon-wrapped chicken thighs, marinated Frenched chicken legs, marinated leg of lamb, and garlic rump steak. I go to Pampa for the beef cuts because I’m a huge fan of how they’re cooked: seasoned with rock salt and fired over a charcoal grill. The rump steak will always be my favourite–I think I had three servings of it during this dinner.

Cold salad bar

Marinated pork belly (image from brunch)

There’s also Pampa’s endless cold salad bar which, as always, is great…but be careful not to fill up on pasta salad. You’re better off saving that room for more meat!

Image courtesy of Pampa

Along with Bacon Feast, there are other exciting new things happening at Pampa. The restaurant is starting to offer spring and summer Brazilian cooking classes, which is a really neat idea for a date night or friend date. They’ll teach you to prepare and grill Brazilian-style BBQ using hardwood charcoal, how to make meat-stuffed bread, and how to cook Brazil’s national dish, the Feijoada–a stew of black beans with beef and pork. The Churrasco Master cooking class includes three hours of demonstration and hands-on instruction, lunch, a Pampa apron, a recipe booklet, and a tropical guava cheesecake for dessert. I believe they’ll also be teaching people how to make the delicious (and gluten-free) cheese bread that Pampa serves complimentary with every meal!

Cooking classes take place from April to July and only eight students are permitted per class. Cost is $119 per person, with GST included. Find more information here or register for a class by calling (780) 756-7030.

If you’d rather have someone else do your Brazilian cooking for you, head to Pampa and check out Bacon Feast before the end of April! Find more information on the event here or book a table online here.

Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse
9929 109 St
Edmonton, AB
(780) 756-7030

Brunch at Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse

If I’m going to be honest with myself, whenever people ask me about my favourite restaurant in Edmonton (which they do a lot, since it comes with the food blogger territory), I always say Pampa. I’m not sure if it’s due to my weakness for savoury red meat or my fondness for dining experiences that allow me to eat myself into a coma. Either way, Pampa is always top of mind when recommending restaurants to my carnivorous friends.

I recently had the pleasure of trying Sunday brunch at Pampa for the very first time. We had gone to the restaurant for the Downtown Dining Week special, which unfortunately wasn’t offered on Sundays, but we ended up staying for brunch instead (which offered a greater meat selection, anyway).

All about that rump

Salad bar offerings

A brunch dining experience at Pampa is almost identical to a dinner service, although at a more reasonable price–$29.95 per person, rather than the usual $49.95 for the full dinner. Brunch runs from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. every Sunday, with the regular all-you-can-eat salad bar and five cuts of meat: signature rump steak, top sirloin, chicken drumsticks, pork belly, and pork sausage.

For those of you who have never tasted the delights of Pampa, meal service is run in a Rodizio style–you help yourself to the cold salad bar, sit back down at your table, flip your little card over to green, and wait as gauchos with sizzling meat on rotisserie sticks swing by and offer you a variety of options. They slice the meat from the rotisserie for you right at the table, never giving too much (so that you have room to try everything), but always being generous if you favour a particular cut. It’s indulgent and delightfully salty, thanks to the beautiful rock salt they use to season their meats.

Salad bar offerings

A nice selection of cheese and greens

Salad bar offerings

A great addition to the meat roster was the pork belly. Not for those who don’t like fat on their meat (if those people actually exist), the pork belly was tender, juicy, and covered with a small portion of delicious crackling, adding a nice crunch to the overall texture. These pieces weren’t served on a rotisserie stick but rather on a plate and with a slice of lime.

My favourite, as always, was the rump steak. Ever since they took ribeye off the menu–which was based very much, I’m sure, on the high cost of that cut–rump steak has been my welcome alternative. While the top sirloin is still tasty, it has a tendency to run a bit dry, whereas the rump steak is consistently juicy and flavourful.

Pork belly and lime

Try the ceviche–trust me

Local oils and balsamics from Evoolution

The salad bar offerings are not to be sneezed at, either. My favourites include the whole roasted garlic, sliced pineapple and capicola, a great selection of olives and imported/domestic cheese, and the ceviche (fish marinated in citrus juices). Of course, all of these delicacies are nothing without the accompaniment of a big glass of red wine–thankfully, wine is also 10% off on Sundays and sangria and mimosas are only $7 a glass.

As always, the service was top notch. I’ve never had bad (or even neutral) service at Pampa–each server comes to your table with a wealth of menu and drink knowledge and each Rodizio gaucho is supremely accommodating with their meat. If you’re looking for a particular cut and simply mention it to them, they’ll send it over as soon as possible. It’s perfect–service at Pampa is a well-oiled machine. And, when you’re filled to the brim with meat, you flip over your card to the red side and your server will bring by a visual demo tray of their many desserts (all of which are fantastic, by the way).

Cheesy goodness

If you’re new to the Rodizio experience and aren’t sure if you’ll enjoy it, I strongly recommend trying Pampa for lunch or Sunday brunch so that you get a taste of the experience without paying the full dinner price. The cost of the full dinner is a fairly significant deterrent for many people, so trying the restaurant for lunch or brunch is a good way to dine at Pampa without making the full cost commitment. There’s a parking lot underground that you can reach from the back alley and which offers free parking for restaurant guests (but I believe this is only on weekdays and after 6pm). Personally, I try to get to Pampa at least once every few months for my Rodizio fix. I simply can’t get enough of that rump.

Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse
9929 109 St
Edmonton, AB
780-756-7030
Make reservations online

5/5

The Parlour Italian Kitchen & Bar

I have a particularly bad habit of neglecting to review restaurants that I regularly frequent. Which is silly, of course—if I’m eating there all the time, then there must be a reason why I keep coming back.

Parlour, by Century Hospitality Group, is one such restaurant and hopefully they’ll forgive me this oversight.

I’ve been regularly dining at Parlour for a year and a half, partly because they’re the best lunch option within walking distance of my office, and partly because their pizza always keeps me coming back for more.

Situated in the midst of downtown between MacEwan University and construction-riddled Norquest College, Parlour offers a modern take on classic Italian cuisine. As they say on their website, “The Parlour is where modern meets tradition, where Italian dining meets Century Hospitality.” The restaurant interior is stylish and comfortable, with two levels for diners to choose between: a brightly lit, window-heavy downstairs portion that revolves around the central bar, or the more intimate, quiet atmosphere of upstairs.

I’ve tried their regular pizzas, which are made in the Neapolitan style from Organic 00 pizza flour that’s shipped over from Italy—they’re delicious. And I’ve tried their gluten-free pizzas, which had a bit of a rocky (i.e. salty) start when the restaurant first opened but which have since blossomed into a great and tasty alternative to wheat-based dough.

The crust is important, as purists will tell you, but I’m very much a toppings kind of gal. Parlour uses high quality ingredients for each of their pizzas, including prosciutto, braised beef short rib, and shaved truffles. The Sonny Boy is a lunchtime favourite, with soppressata salami, fior di latte, mushrooms, tomato sauce, and fresh thyme, as is the Hawaii 5-0, with farm fresh Canadian back bacon, fresh pineapple, tomato sauce, and provolone.

If you’re going for the pizza (which I strongly recommend you do), you have to try one of their Dippers. My favourites are the truffle dip and the black garlic aioli. They’re stunningly rich but go perfectly with a piece of dry pizza crust.

Gluten-free Create Your Own pizza

Gluten-free Hawaii 5-0 and Create Your Own

If you’re just in the mood for cocktails and appetizers, you can’t go wrong with the antipasto board. The smaller size is enough for up to four people and is great when paired with one of their wines on tap.

I’m very impressed by the way Parlour is willing to accommodate alternative diets, such as gluten intolerance. During my last visit, Chef Tony Le, Executive Chef for Century Hospitality Group, brought us complimentary plates of the flourless chocolate torta dessert, which was served with berry coulis, blueberries, and a raspberry sorbet. I was full…but I still made room for this delicious treat.

Flourless chocolate torta

Overall, I’m a huge fan of Parlour and I’ve no doubt that I’ll be back. Next week, probably. And again next month. Man, I love working downtown.

The Parlour Italian Kitchen & Bar
10334 Capital Boulevard
Edmonton, AB T5J 1L9
(780) 990-0404

4/5

Buco Pizzeria + Vino

A great pizza is a wonderful thing. With Neapolitan style on the rise (think Famoso and Rosso), it’s only natural for more pizza places to pop up throughout the city with their own attempts at a traditional Italian pizza.

Buco is St. Albert’s iteration of this trend. A branch of the Sorrentino’s Restaurant Group, Buco held its grand opening on July 26th, where they invited media guests and bloggers to enjoy a variety of appetizers and pizza, and to watch the owners as they cut the ribbon and officially declared the restaurant open.

I’ve been back once since the grand opening–I wanted to make sure I’d tried enough to give a trustworthy review, since they didn’t serve gluten free pizza at the event–and I can say in full sincerity that I’ll be back. Often.

The restaurant itself is a stylish and boutique little pizzeria located at The Shops at Boudreau in St. Albert. Ceiling-to-floor glass covers half of the restaurant, which is filled with a mix of modern furniture and traditional elements (olives, olive oil, and more). There’s a small, heated patio that’s great for a summer drink and bite to eat.

Food-wise, they’re excellent. The charcuterie is amazing (that cacciatore!), the caprese salad offers just the right amount of flavour with a beautiful dash of pesto, and the gluten free pizza (while a bit tough to cut) was delicious and covered in high quality toppings. Nothing has passed my lips at Buco that didn’t delight me–from prosecco to the warm spiced olives.

Drink-wise, they’re even better. I’ve often lamented the lack of restaurants that featured a BYOW (Bring Your Own Wine) special in Edmonton. Montreal spoiled me for them, since they were everywhere. I was very excited to see that Buco offers this special on Mondays–a perfect reason to grab some friends, enjoy some amazing food, and drink your favourite wine at cost. Buco also has $5 2oz cocktails every Wednesday; I’m dying to check out their version of the Negroni.

I’d easily situate Buco as better than Famoso and on par with Rosso. The fact that they offer much more than pizza is a great selling point, but it’s also in the fact that their execution is so well done. It’s not kitschy and it’s not cheesy. It’s a classy pizzeria that offers exactly what you’re looking for if you’re a fan of pizza a la Naples. Good job, Buco. See you next Monday.

Buco Pizzeria
The Shops at Boudreau
St. Albert, AB
(780) 569-2826

4/5

LOBSTER SUMMER AT THE KEG

Seafood. Steak. Wine. Few things give me greater pleasure, especially when I have access to all three at once. Which is why the Lobster Summer tasting event at The Keg was such a pleasant (and mouth-watering) experience.

On July 16th, I attended an event at South Edmonton Common that showcased The Keg’s Lobster Summer promotion, a 15-year annual tradition that features dishes made from Canadian hard-shell, full-meat lobsters shipped over from the North Atlantic. Owen Abrams, The Keg South Common’s General Manager, informed us that the restaurant brings in Atlantic lobsters every summer and humanely kills them as they’re used.

Alongside communications partner Kwittken, The Keg’s event brought together food bloggers and local foodies to taste this year’s selection of seafood dishes, including a number of new starter and casual plate options.

“We’ve added a few dishes to adjust to the rising prices of seafood,” said Owen. “We’ve added some lighter seafood fare, which is more casual and at a lower price point so that everyone can enjoy it.”

We started the evening with the Szechwan Lobster—golden fried lobster and shrimp with a mix of chilli peppers, red peppers, and asparagus, all tossed in a sweet and spicy sauce.

Szechwan Lobster

For the gluten intolerant (a.k.a. me), the starter was a Shrimp Cocktail with chilled black tiger shrimp and a martini cocktail sauce made with olives and gin—two of my favourite things. The tiger shrimp were gigantic: a perfect starter for one person or to share. These dishes were paired with a glass of Knotted Vines Chardonnay, Viognier and Riesling from British Columbia—the medium sweetness and light aftertaste of this wine went really well with the Shrimp Cocktail.

Shrimp Cocktail

Two of the Lobster Summer menu’s new casual plates, the Crispy Lobster Tacos and the Lobster Roll, were brought out. I was unable to taste either, but the consensus at the table was that the Lobster Tacos were a nice light dish, while the Lobster Roll had generous helpings of lobster and shrimp to match the heaviness of the brioche roll.

Lobster Roll

Instead, I was given a plate of the Scallops and Bacon, another favourite of mine. The scallops were cooked perfectly and I enjoyed them with a glass of Veramonte “Ritual” Pinot Noir from Chile–a lighter red wine that paired perfectly with the delicate scallops.

Scallops and Bacon

We were all fairly full to bursting by this point, so being presented with a huge plate covered in a 6oz sirloin steak, half a lobster, and grilled mushrooms was almost laughable. I gave it my best effort but, despite the tender medium-rare steak and buttery sautéed mushrooms, I was only able to eat the half lobster.

Steak and Half Lobster (Image courtesy of The Keg Steakhouse + Bar)

To be fair, our meals were also accompanied by a 1lb lobster tail (we had one per two people at the table), so I’m sure you can understand why I was in a food coma by this point. Finish that dining experience off with a glass of J. Lohr Estates “Riverstone” Chardonnay from California and I’d say that Lobster Summer was a complete success.

In all honesty, I’ve always been much more a fan of crab than lobster, but this event and these dishes turned my opinion around completely. The half lobster was lovely, but the 1lb lobster tail was the centrepiece of the entire event. It was huge—as well it should be, at $40 per tail—and pieces dipped in the ramekin of butter would melt in your mouth. A superb example of lobster at its finest.

I was very impressed by The Keg’s Lobster Summer menu and also very appreciative of their diligence in accommodating my gluten intolerance. Owen spoke to me before and during the meal to ensure that everything was suitable—and it was. More than suitable, in fact.

I’ll definitely be returning to The Keg to enjoy items from the Lobster Summer menu before it ends on August 30th. If you’re having a special occasion dinner or simply want to treat yourself, I strongly recommend adding the 1lb lobster tail to your meal. You won’t regret it.

The Keg Steakhouse + Bar (South Edmonton Common)
1631 102 Street
Edmonton, AB T6N 1M3
(780) 485-6530
@TheKeg

Cover photo courtesy of The Keg Steakhouse + Bar