Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A Taste of Central & Southern Italy: Uccellino

It's been a long time coming, but one of Edmonton's highly anticipated restaurant openings of 2016 is here. After two highly successful restaurant openings, Chef Daniel Costa's third restaurant quietly opened it's doors to the public this past Friday.

Uccellino - 10349 Jasper Avenue - Edmonton AB

Uccellino, which translates to 'little bird' in Italian, is located to the west of its two older sisters Corso 32 and Bar Bricco. The space is quite different from Corso and Bricco, as Uccellino is lit by natural light through a big front window and is more spacious with high ceilings and larger square footage. The dining space features neutral tones and minimalist decor, giving it a great modern, casual vibe from the moment you walk in.

Given the larger space, Uccellino can seat roughly 70-80 guests, and the top floor hosts a space for private dining. Reservations at Corso 32 are difficult to score without advance booking, and Bar Bricco can have long wait times, so you'll be glad to hear that half the seats at Uccellino will remain unreserved for every dinner service. How great is that?

Uccellino's menu features traditional dishes you would find in Central and Southern Italy. The menu is separated by multiple courses, in true Italian style: Fritti & Crostini, Antipasti, Primi, Secondi, Formaggi & Dolci. Among the multiple dishes there truly is something for everyone as the menu features some vegan and vegetarian options too. I didn't have trouble finding something I liked - my issue was trying to narrow it down to a few dishes as I was tempted by the whole menu!

After ordering, every table gets a dish of olives for snacking. I'm not a huge fan of olives, but these green olives were brined beautifully with hints of orange and caraway, which complemented the buttery flesh and mild flavour.

First to our table was the Potato Croquette ($10/5) made with parmigiano, lemon and nutmeg. The golden brown exterior had a nice crunch, like that of the delicious arancini at Corso 32. Breaking into the middle revealed a velvety mix of potato and fragrant parmigiano - a flavourful combination that makes these croquettes little umami bombs.

Our next plate was the rustic Chicken Liver & Balsamico Crostini ($11/3), where the pate was spread across three large, lightly toasted crostini. The chicken liver itself was smooth and well seasoned, and I enjoyed the contrasting sweetness from the balsamic drizzled overtop.

As we waited for our main courses to arrive, the kitchen sent out a plate of beautiful Gnudi Verde ($18). The six spinach and ricotta dumplings took up the flavour of the fragrant sage butter they were cooked in, and they were delicious. The light dusting of parmigiano was the perfect finishing touch to give them a bit more flavour without overpowering the delicate gnudi.

Unlike Corso 32 & Bar Bricco, Uccellino is utilizing dry pasta from Italy, so we had to try them out for our mains. The dry pasta from Pasta Setaro and La Pasta dei Martellii is exclusive to the restaurant in Edmonton, and diners can actually purchase packages to take home and cook.

For myself I couldn't pass up the Mezza Maniche Cacio e Pepe ($17) with Sardinian pecorino and fresh ground black pepper. Although simple, cacio e pepe is one of my favourite ways to eat pasta, and this dish hit the spot. The pasta was al dente with a great bite, the pepper carried a bit of heat, and the sauce was rich and clung to every bit of pasta.

We also ordered the Maccheroni ($19) cooked in a pigs head and prosciutto ragu bianco, and finished with a dusting of parmigiano. The dish had a nice proportion of meat to it and it was another great pasta with balanced flavours.

The Dolci portion of the menu offers four desserts, but I was particularly drawn to the Amedei Chocolate Budino. A budino is a dessert similar to a custard or pudding, so I was surprised to see the budino presented in the form of a slice of cake. On the first bite I fell in love - the texture was similar to that of a dense mousse, and it just melts in your mouth. The dark chocolate had just the right hint of sweetness, and the dallop of creme fraiche on the plate had a bit of tang that complemented the chocolate incredibly well. If you enjoy the Amedei chocolate truffles at Bar Bricco, you'll love this dessert. I thought that Corso 32's Chocolate Torta and Panna Cotta were my top desserts in Edmonton, but this budino is making me reconsider!

As mentioned, Uccellino is stocked with pastas for patrons to take home, priced at $8 and $14 depending on the brand. The restaurant will soon be stocked with books and cookbooks for purchase as well.

Our visit was on the third opening day at Uccellino and we had a fantastic meal with exceptional service. I love that the restaurant is more casual compared to Chef Costa's other establishments, and the menu has a bit of a lower price point as well. The menu is fairly extensive and may possibly change from time to time due to seasonality, but there will be something for everyone. The bigger space will allow for more patrons and hopefully shorter wait times, which I'm sure many Edmontonians will be happy about. And with half the seats unreserved, that will allow for more spontaneous visits to the restaurant. The doors are now open, so make sure to stop by for dinner service from 5-11 PM Wednesday through Sunday!

Uccellino Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Buffet of Abundance: Narayanni's

When it comes to Indian food I'll admit that I'm definitely not an expert, but I love the layering of flavours and combination of spices used in Indian cooking. I typically associate Indian food with heavy cream-based sauces and rich flavour, so when I heard that there was an Indian restaurant offering vegan dishes in their buffet I was curious to check it out.

Narayanni's - 10131 81 Avenue - Edmonton AB

Tucked away behind the busy Whyte Avenue hustle and bustle, Narayanni's offers a bountiful buffet of South African Indian dishes. This family-run restaurant has quite the unique exterior, given that the building was a machine shop in the mid 1900's. After three years of renovations the Naidoo family opened Narayanni's in 2010 with the beautiful, warm interior present today.


Hummus

Selva and Daya Naidoo emigrated to Canada from South Africa in the early 1980s and opened up Block 1912 as one of their ventures together. After selling the business and enjoying a few years of retirement, Narayanni's (named after their granddaughter and the Hindu goddess of abundance) came to be. Now on any given day Chef Selva can be found preparing food in the kitchen, while Daya works on desserts or mans the front of house alongside his daughter Youmashni.


Grilled Masala Chicken

Specializing in South African Indian cuisine, Narayanni's offers a buffet with dishes that are lighter than the traditional Indian buffet. Without the use of dairy the flavours and textures of dishes are more prominent, and the buffet is a great option for those with vegan or dairy-free diets. The restaurant is proud to use free-range chicken and local produce whenever possible, and Chef Selva steers clear of artificial colouring, preservatives, and MSG.


Braised Cauliflower & Peas

Narayanni's has always offered a dinner buffet, which changes nightly. Tuesdays feature a $15 cash only vegan buffet, Wednesdays are $15, Thursdays are $20, and Fridays/Saturdays are $25 (Saturday features a lamb!). The restaurant recently introduced a cash only lunch buffet from Tuesday through Friday from 1130 AM - 100 PM. At $12 per person you have access to soup, salad, rice, 3 vegetarian dishes, 1 meat dish, and dessert. It's incredible value - just make sure to visit the ATM before you visit!


Bhajia

My mom and I stopped by for dinner on a Friday night and we were pleasantly surprised by how busy it was. Despite being located behind a busy street, Narayanni's unique cuisine clearly brings in old and new customers. The circular buffet station featuring a variety of dishes sat in the center of the room, with Youshmani in the centre making drinks for guests.

On this particular Friday night, the menu included:

  • Appetizers: Papadum, Bhajia (onion & spinach fritters), hummus, mint chutney, sweet mango chutney, lemon pickle dip
  • Salads: Mixed green salad, traditional wedding salad, greek salad
  • Soup: Curry vegetable soup
  • Vegetable dishes: butternut squash, chana dahl & eggplant, braised kale & cabbage, braised cauliflower & peas, paneer
  • Meat dishes: Grilled masala chicken, chicken curry, masala fried sole


There were many dishes to choose from and we happily sampled our way through the buffet. To accompany our meal we were offered warm roti to soak up all the sauce on our plates. Unlike the traditional roti at Indian buffets, this one reminded me of a green onion cake - densely layered and super flaky. Of all the dishes that evening my favourites were the braised kale & cabbage and the braised cauliflower & peas. It was a surprise for me as these dishes, which were boring in appearance, turned out to be the the most complex in flavour and texture. Papadums are also a favourite of mine wherever I go, but the hummus and chutneys accompanying these lentil crisps brought them to the next level.

We rounded off our meal with a regular chai and a pistachio chai, both of which were excellent. The regular chai was just slightly sweetened, milky, and fragrant. The pistachio chai, on the other hand, was a little more decadent with notes of almond and topped with whipped cream and crushed pistachios.

At the end of the meal I was satisfied without feeling as weighed down as I would from traditional creamy, buttery-based sauces found in most Indian buffets. And most importantly, the lighter fare didn't sacrifice flavour. The lunch and dinner buffet Tuesday through Friday is affordable, and $25/person for a weekend dinner buffet is decent value, but I would have liked to see an additional protein option at that price point. Narayanni's is fittingly named and representative of the abundance of good food served by Chef Selva. If you haven't been, you'll just have to see (and taste!) for yourself.

Narayanni's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

*Disclosure: I was invited to try the buffet at Narayanni's Restaurant. Views expressed in this post are solely mine. This post is 100% my opinion, and as always, my priority is to you, the reader, to present an unbiased, thorough review.