Rocky Mountain Wine and Food Festival

One of Edmonton’s largest and most densely populated food and wine exhibitions–the Rocky Mountain Wine and Food Festival–took over the Shaw Conference Centre last weekend for its 12th year. Read all about it here!

The 12th annual Rocky Mountain Wine and Food Festival has come and gone, leaving thousands of wine-tasting, food-loving people in its wake. The festival took over the Shaw Conference Centre on October 25th and 26th, offering 3 sessions for attendees’ tasting pleasure.

The event is sponsored by Liquor Depot and Liquor Connect, and is run by the same people who organize Winefest each year. While Winefest offers an all-inclusive pass for about $70, the RMWFF sells entrance tickets for $15-24 and sample tickets at $0.50 a piece. With over 75 wineries and 35 purveyors of food, it’s easy to spend a solid $50 per person on sample tickets, provided you’re an eater and a drinker.

Which, of course I am. There are a number of great food festivals throughout the city every year, but only a handful of great wine ones. This was one of them.

There’s really nothing quite like a wine tasting event. An afternoon (that’s right – I went to the afternoon session) of sipping a multitude of global wines, nibbling on tasty treats, and meeting some very knowledgeable vendors is one of my favourite things to do in the world.

The first booth I visited was good ol’ Johnnie Walker’s. The first thing that passed my lips at 12:30 on a Saturday afternoon (excluding the coffee from Timmy’s, of course): a taste of JW Gold Label Reserve. Nothing like a honey-laced shot of scotch to start your day off right. I absolutely hate Black Label, but I’d buy the Gold Label Reserve. It’s lovely.

Here are some of my other favourites from the event:

Wine

  • Red Rock Malbec
  • Freakshow Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Sierra Cantabria Rioja Crianza (TOP WINE)
  • Caligiore Malbec (Organic)
  • 1884 Reservado Malbec
  • Anciano Tempranillo, aged 7 years
  • Cricova Prestige Dry Red
  • Primal Roots Red Blend (very similar to Apothic Red)

Food

  •  Castello Alps Chiantino Cheese
  • The Cheesecake Cafe’s Creole Mussels
  • NaanOLicious’ Cinnamon Naan
  • Sloppy Hoggs Roed Hus’ BBQ Beef Ribs
  • Sunterra’s Cheese Plate, especially the Cambozola (TOP FOOD)

One of the things I liked most about this event was the availability and abundance of cheeses. Unlike Winefest, which only showcased two cheese booths (both from The Cheesiry), the RMWFF offered a variety of cheese options, including a Dairy Farmers of Canada sample station. Brilliant.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to hit each and every booth during our time there, so I didn’t get to try a lot of the food. I was there for the wine, though, and in that regard, RMWFF lived up to my expectations. There were more than enough options for the avid wine lover and each company representative was more than willing to chat with you about vintage, body, retail, and all of the other details I’m sure you’re dying to know.

I really enjoyed this event and was glad I selected the afternoon session, because there were very few line-ups or busy areas. I’d have liked them to provide a tasting notebook, though, similar to Winefest’s; it was difficult to keep track of which wines I did or didn’t like without having anything with which to take notes. The map we were given wasn’t made for note-taking. We didn’t get to keep the wineglass, either, but that’s all right. I have plenty.

While I enjoyed the food options from some of Edmonton’s well-known restaurants, there wasn’t very much that stood out for me. I definitely enjoyed Sunterra’s Cambozola–a blue cheese that’s similar to a brie and gorgonzola mix–and Sloppy Hoggs’ beautiful beef ribs. They fell right off the bone: delicious!

By the end of the event, it was getting difficult to focus my camera (and my eyes), so I’d say RMWFF did a job well done. I look forward to Winefest early next year, and will definitely be back for more Rocky Mountain treats next Autumn!

CHEFS, UNCENSORED: MARTIN FLINT, PADMANADI

Padmanadi has been in Edmonton since 2002 and is dedicated to providing delicious vegan dishes to herbivores and carnivores alike. Chef Martin Flint has cooked for the restaurant for several years and now works as the assistant manager and occasional chef.

How would you describe your cooking style?

In a word, my cooking style is vegan. Having been vegetarian for many years and strictly vegan for the last seven years, I will only use vegan ingredients in anything I cook. I try to keep my cooking simple, using as few ingredients as possible to create uncluttered dishes that allow fresh, natural flavours to come through.

What’s your food/restaurant philosophy?

Here at Padmanadi the whole team is dedicated to bringing an awareness of the vegan lifestyle to the people of Edmonton and all who come through our doors. We aim to show everyone that there is an incredibly tasty, wholesome alternative to what I call the SNAD (Standard North American Diet), and it’s available here in the capital of “beef country.”

What inspired you to become a chef?

I have long been dismayed by the sad lack of good vegan food available in restaurants and hotels around the world. I don’t think vegans should have perhaps one or two choices of restaurant or just eat mountains of pasta and tomato sauce or fries and salad! Perhaps it was this that made me want to try to do something positive. When I first came to Padmanadi some eight years ago I was completely captivated by the owner, Kasim, who really inspired me to try my hand at doing something that he could see I was passionate about. With his guidance and expert help from his daughter Maya, I learnt the ropes and am still learning.

What’s the first thing you ate that made you realize food was an important part of culture?

I have always believed that food and the sharing of food is a cornerstone of every culture that has ever been on the earth. There is nothing more fundamental than the preparation of [food], and the “breaking of bread” with your neighbour.

What do you think is Edmonton’s next big innovative ingredient?

It’s really hard to tell. After sun dried tomatoes and balsamic vinegar, who knows? Personally I would like to see an increased interest in the numerous types of fungi now available.

Why should people visit your restaurant and try your food?

People should come to Padmanadi to try something different. I guarantee they will be amazed by the selection of wonderful food on offer; every dish a beautifully cooked and presented explosion of flavour that will leave them counting the days until their next visit. As I say to all our guests, “you come in as a customer but you leave as a friend.”

Padmanadi Vegetarian Restaurant
10740 101 Street
Edmonton, AB T5H 2S3
(780) 428-8899
Tues – Fri: 11am to 2pm; 4pm to 10pm
Sat-Sun: 10am to 2pm; 4pm to 10pm

New Location: Cactus Club Downtown

Last night, I was lucky enough to have attended the new Jasper Avenue Cactus Club Cafe’s media reception launch party. The 25th Cactus Club location in 25 years will open on Jasper Ave and 111 Street sometime next week, with a few new menu items, brilliantly ambient art pieces, and a brand new, shiny interior.

Several of Cactus Club’s big names were in attendance, including Richard Jaffray, founder of the Cactus Club restaurants, Executive Chef Rob Feenie, Canada’s first Iron Chef America champion, and Chef Matt Stowe, product development chef at the Cactus Club Cafe and Season 3 winner of Top Chef Canada.

The Cactus Club Cafe chain is well-known for its stylish interiors, excellently curated wine lists, and their innovative take on classic dishes.

“We really strive to innovate and push the envelope in the casual fine dining scene,” says Jaffray during his welcome speech.

With items such as the Cohiba, a cocktail made from muddled fresh blackberries, lemon, spearmint, vodka, and soda, and tuna sushi cones wrapped in soy paper, it’s easy to see the innovation. And it’s even easier to taste it.

I can’t wait until this location opens so that I don’t have to trek myself over to WEM for a fantastic peppercorn steak. I’ve been a fan of Cactus Club ever since I had an amazing Valentine’s Day meal there (you can read about it here!) and left with my hands gripping a brand new, complementary Rob Feenie’s Casual Classics cookbook.

To whet your appetite for this new location, here are a few sneak peek pictures from last night’s event, including shots of food, people, and the delicious Cohiba cocktail! Enjoy!

Cactus Club Cafe (Downtown)
11130 Jasper Avenue
Edmonton, AB T5K 2V2
(587) 523-8030
Hours: Coming Soon

BATTLEDISH 2013

On October 5th, pans were ready, ingredients prepared, and chefs pumped up to take home the crown. Hosted by Dishcrawl, Battledish pitted 5 chefs against one another in a culinary competition to name one chef as King of Battledish. The winner of the Most Delicious category and the crowned King of Battledish was Chef Paul Shufelt of Lux Steakhouse and Bar for his Ultimate Slider.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at this event, not least because of all the great food I got to try! My favourite dish was Hundred Bar and Kitchen’s Pork Belly Sandwich, which was served with kimchi and a beautiful mayonnaise sauce. I thought this item was the most innovative because of its unorthodox use of kimchi. And it worked!

My favourite cocktail was by far the Pimm’s No. 1 Cup at The Burg. While they didn’t invent this cocktail (just like Lux didn’t invent the Old Fashioned), it was still delicious and a great choice for the day. A close second was Hundred Bar and Kitchen’s Dude Fizz Vodka Cocktail.

A huge thanks to Gemma Huber, Edmonton’s Dishcrawl Community Manager, for organizing the event! I’m looking forward to Cocktail Wars, Dishcrawl’s next big competition. I wonder if former bartenders can enter…I do make a mean gin cocktail! 😉

To find out more about the winners and the other categories, visit the Dishcrawl blog here.

To read my fellow bloggers and judges’ reviews of the event, check out the Only Here for the Food andLittle Miss Andrea blogs!

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