UNDER THE HIGH WHEEL

Under the High Wheel is a cute, hip diner that serves simple comfort food made from local ingredients. Under the High Wheel reminds me very strongly of the Glasshouse Bistro in St. Albert’s Enjoy Centre: both serve an amazing brunch, both utilize

ALL HAPPY FAMILY RESTAURANT

For years, Chinatown’s Garden Bakery was my go-to Chinese food hotspot. The dishes were delicious, the service prompt, and the bakery downstairs always sold my favourite curry puffs and peanut balls.

Dining there recently was a huge shock. I don’t expect to be eating food cooked by a Red Seal chef, but I do expect that my noodles will be fresh and al dente, rather than microwaved into a gelatinous blob reminiscent of an antagonist in a 1958 horror film.

When a restaurant goes downhill to this extent, it’s time to take up shop elsewhere. In my case, I moved my loyalties next door to All Happy Family Restaurant.

All Happy is best known as the place to go after a wild, drunken night at the bar. They’re open till 4am, allowing you to fill your junk food cravings after spending the night dancing and drinking your face off at Knoxville’s or Central Social Hall. It’s cheap, the food is served within minutes, and it’s a delicious alternative to a packed McDonald’s drive-thru.

However, unlike many of my friends, I also like to eat in Chinatown during the day whilst still moderately sober. I visited All Happy for a dinner with my friend Amanda–my usual date for a Garden Bakery romp–and we were sold. The noodles were as good as the Garden Bakery’s used to be and had all of the flavour that its next-door neighbour appears to have lost.

Amanda and I are purists when it comes to our Chinatown dinners: we order the same two things each time (but don’t worry–as a halfer, I’ve tried a variety of Cantonese cuisine and a smorgasbord of Mandarin delicacies throughout my life).

The Seafood Chow Mein was beautiful. Crispy, fresh noodles served as a bed for a mound of crunchy gai lan, tender scallops, shrimp, carrots, and squid. The sauce, which can turn to jelly if old, left sitting on a counter, or microwaved, had a perfectly thick consistency and was full of savoury seafood flavour.

The Beef Chow Fun with Gai Lan–my personal favourite–was so fresh and hot that I burnt my mouth slightly in my haste to devour it. This version of Beef Chow Fun is the ‘wet version’ (something you should mention if you order it in a restaurant), which differs from the usual ‘dry version’ that is stir fried in spices. I prefer the sauce on my noodles, which is why I order this version. It’s tasty and a nice change from the usual if you’re feeling only slightly adventurous. Gai lan is my favourite of all Chinese vegetables; known as ‘Chinese broccoli,’ it’s crunchy and has a distinct flavour similar to kale.

I also ordered a Litchi (lychee) Cooler, a refreshingly sweet drink full of litchis, which are great as an impromptu after-dinner dessert.

Dinner for two at All Happy came to under $25–a bargain and perfect for those who love a cheap and cheerful Chinatown snack. If you haven’t managed to stumble into this restaurant in the wee hours of the morning yet, give it a shot. Maybe even try it during the day. You might just like it.

P.S. They deliver! Just make sure to order an hour in advance.

All Happy Family Restaurant
10011 106 Avenue
Edmonton, AB T5H v2S1
(780) 421-8297
Open 11am to 4am daily

3.5/5

TRES CARNALES TAQUERIA

Melding a vibrant modern interior and consistently raucous diners with the classic tastes of Mexico, Tres Carnales offers up a bright, flavourful dining experience that’ll simultaneously sucker-punch each of your senses. Exiting the restaurant into a sound-muffled, softly snow-covered Rice Howard Way is like leaving war-riddled England and stepping into the densely quiet Narnian winter. It’s disconcerting.

The restaurant really tries to pay tribute to all of the brilliance that has come out of Mexico. Bottles, figurines, and masks adorn the brightly-coloured walls and fill the restaurant’s shelves, while kitschy star lanterns hang from the ceiling. All of the artwork is lovely, although the Frida Kahlo portrait was definitely the cherry on the Mexican cake.

One of Tres Carnales’ major downfalls, though, is the size. There’s room for only a handful of tables in the restaurant; that, paired with the fortuitous Downtown location, makes it difficult to get seated during peak hours. Line-ups for a weekday lunch stretch outside of the door. While the popularity makes it more desirable, it also gives the restaurant a hipster-esque feel, as if the fuddy-duddy diners who like to take their time and enjoy quiet calm while they eat aren’t welcome here. And, to be fair, it was mostly a younger crowd I saw piling inside of the doors to escape the cold.

Tres Carnales’ tagline is “Real Mexican food.” In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I’ve never been to Mexico and my primary experience with tacos comes from working in a Tex Mex restaurant for over 5 years. As a result, I’m partial to flour tacos and Tres Carnales only serves corn tacos. Normally this would be cause for dismissal, but it’s what Tres Carnales puts inside of those corn tortillas that makes the restaurant so well-worth visiting.

The Tinga Poblana tacos were on special during our visit, so Funmi gave them a shot. These tacos were filled with pulled pork and chipotle peppers, stewed and slow-cooked to tender, flavourful perfection. They were served with a light salsa verde for dipping.

I tried a Chorizo Quesadilla, filled with house-made mexican ground chorizo sausage and oodles of cheese. These were very tasty, although a little greasy. I’m a huge fan of Spanish chorizo, which isn’t as oily, but the Mexican iteration of the sausage went very well in the corn tortillas. They were served with guacamole, which was a little blander than the guacamole I make for myself at home (hint: I use lots of garlic, onions, tiny diced tomatoes, lemon juice, and salt, along with plenty of mashed avocado…and sometimes some dried chili flakes to spice things up). Nevertheless, it was nice to be able to complement the decadent richness of the quesadilla with a cool, fresh guacamole dip.

On a whim, Funmi and I ordered the Papas Fritas to share: a mound of Russet potatoes topped with guajillo chile mayo, queso fresco onions, and cilantro. This side is definitely a must-try; the chile mayo was rich and delicious without being too thick. A perfect addition to our corn tortilla entrées!

One of the owners, Chris Sills (el Surfo), made the rounds of the restaurant during our visit to ensure that everyone was enjoying their dining experience. I’ve read some reviews that disapprove of the restaurant’s minimal service policy (which means that diners usually order at the counter, just like at Famoso), but in the two times I’ve eaten here I’ve never found the customer service wanting.

For one of the owners to concern themselves with the happiness of the dining room means that this restaurant generally cares about the public opinion. No, they won’t be standing by with a white cloth on their arm, waiting to pour you a fresh glass of wine, but this isn’t the restaurant you go to for a fine dining experience. If Tres Carnales is anything, it’s fun, it’s vibrant, and it’s extremely low-key. And the food is pretty damn good, too.

Tres Carnales Taqueira
10119 100A Street
Edmonton, AB T5J 0R5
(780) 429-0911
*Note: does not take reservations

NYC: KUNJIP RESTAURANT

If you know me at all, you’ll know that I have a semi-unhealthy relationship with beef short ribs. Korean-style beef short ribs. Cooked over a barbecue, preferably.

I’m obsessed with them. I’m constantly at the local Asian supermarket picking up pounds and pounds of these meaty treats. I check out which butchers sell short ribs, and have made plans to head to D’Arcy’s Meat Market the next time I’m craving Korean BBQ. Note: they have an excellent homemade recipe for Korean galbi (short ribs in a Korean soy sauce) on their website’s blog!

I’ll put up my never-fail recipe for Korean short ribs soon but, until then, I’ll leave you to drool over the pictures from Kunjip Restaurant in New York City.

Despite my obsession with short ribs, I’ve never actually been to a Korean BBQ restaurant. Rachel and I had heard great things about Kunjip and decided to check it out with all the apprehension and excitement of first-timers.

The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, so potential diners have to wait in a long line that snakes through the restaurant and protrudes out onto the street and halfway down the block. It gets busy, but the line moves fast. If those Kunjip servers are anything, they’re efficient.

Perhaps a little too efficient. When we were seated (after about a 20 minute wait), they immediately started bringing out our order, which they’d taken while we waited in line. We ordered drinks–a cold sake for Rachel, a hot sake for me–and I had to very firmly request my hot sake despite the woman’s insistence that “cold sake is better.” Yes, it was a Saturday night, and yes, they had a long line-up, but the server made it very clear that making a hot sake to order was very much an inconvenience. I pressed my point and eventually received my drink from the mildly irritated middle-aged female server.

Our food was all delivered within a couple of minutes: seafood pancake (Hae Mool Pa Jun), rice with vegetables and egg (Sanche Bibimbob), and our short rib BBQ assortment (Gal Bi Gui). As first-timers, we didn’t actually realize how much food we’d ordered, and that the Gal Bi Gui came not only with short ribs, but with lettuce, ssamjang sauce, kimchi, purple rice, green beans, tofu, egg soup, and more.

We also didn’t realize that the trick to Korean BBQ is to create a lettuce wrap using the short ribs, ssamjang sauce, and any other fixings we desire. Luckily, the same woman who graced me with hot sake took pity on us, taking it upon herself to prepare us each a beef wrap before unceremoniously plunking them directly into our mouths (I’m not even joking…she fed us). It was hilarious, it was delicious, and it was actually very kind of her.

After that, we got on like a house on fire. There was clearly too much food, but we made the best of it, and the servers no longer rushed us (although they did eye us quite regularly towards the end of the meal).

One thing that did disappoint me, though, is that we’d requested the short ribs to be barbecued at the table. They urged us to let them cook it in the back–probably because our table was too small and they didn’t want to waste time barbecuing for two people–so the short ribs came out cooked. I’d have liked to see them cooked at the table; if that’s something that you’d go for, I’d recommend going with a small group. The groups that I saw there received more attention from the servers.

A word of advice to those who hate being rushed whilst eating (as do I) – just don’t let them. They’re not going to force you out of your seat. Eat your food, enjoy your company, and leave when you’re ready. Don’t bogart the table for no reason, but don’t feel compelled to bolt down your food and run out the door.

Despite the sense of urgency you get from the servers in their quest to flip tables, and despite the one lady’s reluctance to serve hot sake, I really enjoyed Kunjip. The food was excellent and the service was blindingly fast. And oh, those short ribs…they were worth the wait, and worth the rushing.

I look forward to trying Korean BBQ restaurants in Edmonton so that I’m able to compare between the two. If you’re in New York City, though, check this place out: it’s completely no-fuss, and you have to expect that you’ll receive authentic service for an Asian restaurant (i.e. often blunt), but the food is worth it and reasonably priced…provided you don’t over order.

Kunjip
9 W 32nd St
New York, NY 10001
(212) 216-9478
Open 24 hours

 3.5/5

NYC: FLEX MUSSELS

NYC is lucky enough to be so close to the ocean that items like crab, lobster, mussels, scallops, and a variety of fish are just regular entries on a menu.

Landlocked Canadians such as us Edmontonians don’t have that luxury, unfortunately. Nevertheless, Edmonton would do well to invest in a restaurant such as Flex Mussels – a restaurant dedicated solely to these delectable mollusks of the ocean.

I had a fabulous meal with one of my favourite friends whilst dining at Flex Mussels. The concept is simple – they serve mussels. Mussels of all kinds: from Classic (white wine, herbs, garlic), to Bombay (Indian curry, garlic, cinnamon, star anise, white wine), to Maine (lobster, smoked bacon, chowder, parsley). If you love mussels and you’re in NYC, this is the place to go.

The restaurant also offers a variety of other seafood, including oysters, arctic char, octopus, and salmon. There’s even a chicken dish for those who refuse to eat of the sea (those crazy, crazy people).

And, of course, the wine list is extensive. There’s much more variety with the white wines, but they do have some excellent bottles listed under their reds.

The mussel entrées come served in a gigantic pot and range from $19.50 to $25 each, depending on complexity. You can keep it simple with a Fra Diavolo mussel pot, served with San Marzano tomatoes, olive oil, fresh basil, red pepper, and garlic, or you can dive into the deep end with a $25 pot of mussels, lobster, San Marzano tomatoes, and croutons – also known as the Bruschetta.

Rachel and I were feeling indulgent, so we both ordered from the higher end of the menu – a Marseille made from bouillabaisse, calamari, shrimp, and rouille for Rachel, and a Bisque with lobster, saffron, tomato, garlic, and cream (they’ve since removed the saffron from this dish) for myself.

Top these heavenly-filled seafood pots off with a bottle of South African Spice Route Chakalaka (2009), and you’ve got a meal that you’ll remember when you’re old, grey, and eating your bland, overcooked chicken breast (fingers crossed I never forget how to use spices).

There was nothing I didn’t like about Flex Mussels. The service was attentive and friendly, the food was amazing (mussels in a saffron cream sauce – my taste buds had a gastronomic orgasm), and the atmosphere was stylish and romantic (if slightly chilly).

Oh, how I wish for a Flex Mussels of Edmonton’s own.

Funnily enough, Flex sources its mussels from the Great Canadian province of PEI…naturally. Alberta isn’t as lucky as to have a piece of the coast to call our own, but our restaurants are managing to get mussels in all the same.

Looking for a good pot of mussels in Edmonton? Here are my go-tos:

  • Sicilian Pasta Kitchen Downtown – try their Cozze Gorgonzola or Cozze Siciliana. $20 for a huge bowl of excellent mussels.
  • Louisiana Purchase – surprisingly, the Louisiana Purchase has excellent mussels. You don’t get as many as at SPK, but they cost $14 and are just as delicious.
  • Istanbul Restaurant – they’re a little unorthodox (already shelled and extremely spicy), but they’re great and only cost $12. Try to finish them all.

This review is, of course, about NYC’s Flex Mussels (of which there are two locations). It’s great. I know a lot of Edmontonians who head to NYC on a yearly basis, so make the effort to eat there. Please. You’ll thank me.

Flex Mussels
Upper East Side: 174 E 82nd St (this review’s location)
(212) 717-7772
West Village: 154 West 13th St
(212) 229-0222
Open for dinner, Mon-Fri

4.5

MONTREAL: RESTAURANT MISTO

There are so many restaurants in Montreal that it can be difficult to decide where to dine out, unless you have personal favourites or have received recommendations from a preferred friend. While Urbanspoon and Yelp can be helpful in narrowing down whatever you’re in the mood for, they can also do much to exacerbate the problem – there are hundreds of restaurants with excellent ratings, located within blocks of one another.

So how does one ensure that they get what they want?

Well, you can take a chance. And you can run through the reviews on Urbanspoon and Yelp, but be sure to always take those with a pinch of salt (hint: if a review says “dis restorant sux.. the food is horible. wont go bk”, I’d recommend ignoring it).

In any case, we happened upon Restaurant Misto, thanks to the helpful reviews and ratings on my two favourite community-based restaurant review websites.

There’s nothing completely remarkable about Misto, but it’s exactly what I was looking for that evening. A trendy Italian restaurant that opens out onto the street via large windows (sans panes), Misto is romantic, it’s reasonably-priced, and the food is innovative without stretching too far from the traditional.

We started out with fresh bread and oil/vinaigrette, as well as a variety of cocktails: a gin Caesar, a Piscine Italienne (Prosecco, Campari, and red grapefruit juice), and a Le Roi, La Reine (cava brut reserve segura viudas, port, and orange zest).

One thing I truly miss about Montreal is the fabulous cocktails and the extensive wine lists. Edmonton has been sorely devoid of great cocktail bars ever since Devlin’s closed down and, even though restaurants are starting to take wine lists more seriously, it’s taking a while for them to ramp up the options. Soon, my dear YEG…soon.

Our entrées consisted of a variety of perfectly-cooked pastas and delectable meats. The Duck Confit Orecciettei held the most succulent pieces of duck amongst a light but beautiful pasta sauce, the Mushroom Ravioli with Gorgonzola Sauce was unbelievably creamy and decadent, and the Braised Lamb Shank in Miso and Roquefort Sauce was so tender it fell off the bone at the touch of a fork (and also went very well with a glass of the 2010 Valpolicella Classico).

The server took care of our every need and we were never left wanting. The restaurant was relatively quiet when we sat down, but the service didn’t reflect this. It’s a difficult conundrum, customer service – sometimes I’ve had better service when the restaurant was busy as opposed to completely empty, oftentimes because the servers themselves spend most of their time smoking/eating/flirting in the back of house when it’s not busy. Thankfully, Misto didn’t have this problem.

We ended up having a delightful meal at this restaurant, and I once again thank the good people of the world for posting their reviews on the internet. Like I’ve said before, I prefer to judge for myself (and especially with restaurants), but a nudge in the right direction is always appreciated.

So, if you’re ever in Montreal meandering around the Mont-Royal area and in the mood for trendy Italian, head to Restaurant Misto for great food, excellent service, and a nice breeze to caress your neck as you make your way through their delightful wine list.

Restaurant Misto
929 Mont-Royal est
Montreal, QC H2J 1X3
(514) 526-5043
Monday 5pm to midnight 
Tuesday 5pm to midnight 
Wednesday 11:30 to 3pm & 5pm to midnight 
Thursday 11:30 to 3pm & 5pm to midnight
Friday 11:30 to 3pm & 5pm to midnight
Saturday 5pm to midnight 
Sunday 5pm to midnight

3.5/5

MONTREAL: LE P’TIT PLATEAU

Fresh air, fabulous friends, Bring Your Own Wine, and foie gras = not a complaint in the world. I’m a BYOB convert, plain and simple. Not that I’d ever need much convincing of BYOB’s greatness, but there you go. Edmonton is woefully lacking

Istanbul Restaurant

Istanbul Restaurant is somewhat of an anomaly. Located on the north end of 82nd Street between an Instaloans and a cigar shop, the restaurant isn’t exactly occupying prime foodie real estate.

The subtle location gives Istanbul Restaurant even more charm, though, affording it a ‘hidden gem’ status that Edmonton’s food-loving population so love to discover.

And yes, it truly is a hidden gem.

The first thing I noticed about Istanbul Restaurant was the décor – distinctly Middle Eastern, but with an abundance of Evil Eye talismans. Known as a nazar, the round blue amulets are traditionally used as protection against the Evil Eye…eerily unsettling, because the talisman itself looks like an eye. I first came across these decorations at a pub in the UK (called Evil Eye, no less), even though the pub itself primarily served south-east Asian cuisine.

Aside from the relief borne from the knowledge that you aren’t going to die a dreadful death by evil stares, the rest of the décor is lovely, with bold red elements and shiny, coppery ornaments.

As for food, Istanbul serves a variety of Middle Eastern specialities, including hummus, shish kebobs, kofte, and barbecued Turkish-style lamb chops. However, if you’re dating/dining out with someone who’s not-so-adventurous or picky about their food, the restaurant also offers some Westernized dishes, including pepper steak and Pacha-getti (spaghetti with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese).

I started my meal with a glass of Jackson Triggs Cabernet Merlot and the P.I. Mussels, which were rich, tasty, and so spicy that I broke a sweat. For $12, they sure do load you up! Taken out of their shells, the mussels are cooked in a rich, spice-filled sauce that offers just enough creaminess and plenty of herbs and vegetables. To be honest, I probably could’ve gotten this appetizer as my main course and been full. The mussels themselves, along with the side of pita bread, were plenty. I’d recommend them, but only if you like spicy food (and seafood, of course).

For my main, I had the Adana Beef Kebob, made from spiced ground beef and lamb and served with bulgur, salad, hummus, and fresh baked pita bread. The beef was spicy and tender, the pita bread fresh and warm, and the rice packed with plenty of heat. My fellow diners tried the Adana Chicken Kebob and the Pan Fried Sole, both of which were full of flavour and spiced to perfection.

The service was wonderful, with plenty of water refills to soothe our seared mouths. Entree prices range from $15 to $30, depending on whether you’re in the mood for spaghetti or rack of lamb. For two people without drinks and with appetizers, the bill will come to approximately $60, which is very reasonable for a taste of true Turkish cuisine.

I’m a huge fan of spicy food, so I’ll be sure to return to Istanbul Restaurant. I appreciate the fact that they’re so generous with their spices – the restaurant stays true to Turkish cuisine and doesn’t seek to temper the heat of the food or change it to suit a blander palate. If you can’t stand the heat, don’t bother with this place. If, however, you’re like me and crave the food of other continents, exotic spices, and something slightly out-of-the-ordinary, get yourself to Istanbul Restaurant post haste. Şerefe!

 Istanbul Restaurant
12918 82 Street
Edmonton, AB T5E 2T2
(780) 478-8881
Mon to Sat: 11am to 10pm
Be sure to stop by for belly-dancing Saturdays!

4/5

BURGERS

They have all the charm of an intimate pub, drink specials to knock your sobriety off, and an excellent team of wait staff, but when it comes to food, The Hat falls flat. The Hat is Jasper’s Black Dog. Long and thin, with a bar that practically reaches

DELUX BURGER BAR

The Century Hospitality Group is Edmonton’s boutique, casual fine dining restaurant generator. With restaurants such as MKT, Lux, Hundred Bar and Kitchen, and the Century Grill under their belt, it’s clear that their vision is to expand the contemporary, and invigorate Edmonton’s casual dining scene.

Delux Burger Bar is just another of Century Hospitality Group’s projects and the goal of this endeavour is simple: the new burger.

Delux offers traditionalist options, yes – but they also have a variety of new and innovative burger creations, including The Delux, which combines blue cheese, portabella mushrooms, and chipolte mayo, and the Bison and Brie burger, which has a bison patty topped with blueberry compote, brie, caramelized onions, and house made mayo.

You can also build your own burger using the checklist below. (And yes, that’s Buttered Lobster.)

One thing to note, though – Delux’s burgers don’t come served with a side. You can, of course, always add on a side of french fries if you wish. We decided to start with some of Delux’s starter-sized salads, which were a refreshing choice for dinner on a patio on one of Edmonton’s hottest summer days.

For the Canadian traditionalist, the menu offers four different kinds of poutine. I opted for The ‘Cowboy’ poutine, which comes with fresh cut fries, Nathan’s Famous hot dog, cheese curds, and gravy.

We’ve all had excellent poutines (we do live in Canada, after all), but this one was fantastic. Loaded with gravy and cheese curds, as well as little pieces of quality hot dog, Delux’s poutine is good enough to remind you that you actually don’t give a damn about counting calories, and that Canadians are pretty amazing people to come up with such a dish. Cheese! Fries! Gravy! Genius.

Even though I chose to eat at a burger bar without actually ordering a burger, Taner saved the day by ordering an ‘Out of the Water’ burger: Stella Artois battered halibut with creamy coleslaw, red onion, and tartar sauce. This overlord of Filet-O-Fishes might not have been the biggest fish burger in the ocean, but it sure as hell was tasty.

I must admit that I was sceptical in trying Delux – I’m generally much more of a steak/noodles/pasta kind of person, and burgers, though delicious, aren’t usually part of my cravings compass. I was pleasantly surprised.

If you’re in the mood for casual fine dining and want something quick, different, and reasonably priced, then try Delux. Let me know how the Bison and Brie burger tastes and be sure to enjoy your complimentary cotton candy at the end of the meal.

Delux Burger Bar
Parkview – 9682 142 Street 
(780) 420-0101
Location also in Riverbend/Terwillegar (14111 23 Avenue)