Brunchin' at Cucina

March 30, 2013

On my most recent trip down to Calgary for Phil's Birthday, I finally had the chance to try out a restaurant that everyone has been raving about! I first heard about Cucina from my good friend Carmen, and the menu was nothing short of drool-inducing. Under the direction of Executive Chef John Michael MacNeil and the Teatro Group, this place was high priority on my list of places to try.

Cucina Market Bistro - 515 8th Avenue SW - Calgary AB

In a brightly lit space sits Cucina, a casual eatery with a strong Victorian influence, making me feel like I've been transported back in time to have brunch in a summer cottage. The furnishing and decor is carefully chosen to mimic country elegance, but there's definitely some quirkiness as well when I see the portrait of Chef MacNeil with a pig head.

On this Saturday around noon, Cucina is bustling and full of activity. Tables full of happy patrons in both the bistro and grab & go sides of the restaurant tell me I'm in for a treat, and I really am - not just for the food, but my awesome partners in Crime too - Carmen, Diane & Teresa.

sugar cubes for locally roasted Phil & Sebastian Coffee

To start off our meal, we were surprised when Chef MacNeil sent us an overflowing basket of baked goodies to our table. A berry cake, rosemary biscuit, fruit croissant, pain au chocolat, and raspberry asiago biscuit served with apricot preserves and salted butter.. all the pastries were flaky, buttery and full of flavour. I'm not usually a biscuit girl and I loved everything.

The Cucina Skillet ($17): sunny side eggs, pulled short rib, crispy gnocchi, roast squash, micro basil. First off, the presentation in the skillet was beautiful - the colour from the egg yolks and the vegetables beneath was striking against the black, and the aroma coming from this dish was amazing. The short rib was tender while the gnocchi provided a contrasting texture

Got a sweet tooth? The French Toast ($14) was definitely whispering my name: maple-citrus gremolata, toasted pine nut, whipped mascarpone. Thick toast with a crispy interior slathered in mascarpone cheese was rich, but worth every single calorie. Which by the way, calories never count on Calgary food trips!

The Wild BC Mushrooms & Poached Eggs on Toast ($15) has quickly become a restaurant favourite: shallot-white wine reduction, black pepper, parmigiano, and for good reason, especially if you're a fungi (fun guy, oh, puns!). It's a savoury dish worth waking up for, and your stomach will thank you even if your sleep-deprived self will not.

For myself on this particular day though, I had to go with the Benedict of the day: prosciutto, parmesan hollandaise, parmigiano, microbasil. Anything with the words prociutto and benedict usually catch my eye, and the combination didn't disappoint. The eggs were poached to perfection, oozing out a gorgeous bright orange yolk when cut into - seriously, most beautiful shade of orange I have ever seen in an egg!

There is so much variety available on the brunch menu, but if you can't make it in time, there's always lunch and dinner service at Cucina too. Pastries, sandwiches and salads are available for grab & go purchases, and I'll be sure to stop by the next time I'm in Calgary to pick up some goodies. I really admire Chef MacNeil's innovative creations, and commitment to sustainability. There's been more than one occasion where I've seen him tweet about the herbs he's growing, or the offal he's playing with, and the restaurant's support for local producers and events is something to be recognized. Having only been open since October 2012, Cucina Market Bistro has taken the dining scene by storm and isn't leaving anytime soon, if their popularity is any indication.

Read Carmen's take for freq. Magazine here

Cucina on Urbanspoon

Eating abroad

Fresh Fish Quick: Sushi Garden

March 27, 2013

Back in the summer of 2012, I was down in Vancouver and Seattle, which gave me plenty of opportunity to indulge in amazingly fresh fish and sushi. A favourite restaurant amongst my family members is Sushi Garden out in Burnaby - I had never been there before, and was excited to see what the place was all about.

Sushi Garden - 4635 Kingsway - Burnaby, BC

If there's one thing I learned during my visit, it's that Sushi Garden is always busy. Oh man, seriously. We had decided to visit on a Thursday night, thinking it shouldn't be too long of a wait for a table of six, but we were so wrong! The line had formed out the door to even get your name down for a table, and we were told it was going to be a 30-45 minute wait. Luckily Crystal Mall and Metrotown were literally right across the street and we had something to do to kill time. I do have to note though - they said that when the time came to get our table, if your entire party wasn't present, you would lose your table!

When it was finally time for us to get seated, I noticed how great of a turnover this restaurant gets on a daily basis. Most tables were in and out of the restaurant within 45 minutes, because of the quick service. And with a high turnover comes the best food - everything was guaranteed to be fresh and made when ordered. To start off the meal we ordered the spicy tuna combo ($7) which came with kappa maki, a spicy tuna roll and spicy tuna sashimi. The spicy and sweet chili sauce mixed with the tuna was appetizing, but it didn't overpower the fish, and allowed us to taste how fresh it was.

California Roll & Chopped Scallop Roll

Smoked Salmon Roll, House Roll & Dynamite Roll

Assorted Sushi: Salmon, Tuna, Ebi, Unagi, Tobiko, Chopped Scallop

As there were 6 people eating, we ordered the Large Party Tray meant for 3 people ($38), which had five different rolls and an assortment of sushi. Honestly, this tray could feed four people, and it did, because of each item having rice associated with it. The rolls were huge, and freshly made as indicated with the warm rice. All the fish was quite fresh, and everyone was happy with the portion size. If only Edmonton could do the same!

In order to satisfy my obsession with Tobiko, I ordered two Tobiko Cones ($3.75/ea) - one for me and one for my little sister. We had thought it was probably like a giant piece of nigiri sushi, with just tobiko sprinkled on the top. But to our surprise, tobiko was generously placed throughout the entire length of the cone. Seriously the perfect ending for a tobiko lover like myself, and I'm willing to bet that is the case for all the ingredients inside the cones at Sushi Garden.

In the end, the meal came in to under $60 for a group of 6 people to be satisfied, which is seriously unheard of over here in Edmonton. While there wasn't anything very unique, their combinations are full of value. Service is quick, but the efficiency of the workers at Sushi Garden compromises the amount of time spent at the table with customers, and therefore there isn't much service. Don't expect good service, but expect fresh fish, and big bang for your buck! If you don't want to wait in line, there is also the option to order take out, which actually can get you a discount if you order far enough in advance of your pick up time. If I lived down in Burnaby, I would definitely consider this option!

Sushi Garden on Urbanspoon

Manicure Monday

Manicure Monday: You're Such a Budapest

March 25, 2013

It's been a jam packed weekend for me, between shovelling 50 cm high piles of snow and sliding around on the roads, I'd still say I'm pretty happy with my weekend and the warm weather forecast coming my way! I just hope we have no more snowpocalypse conditions again until next year! Honestly - roads were so bad on the day it snowed! There was a huge pileup of cars on a major highway, sending 100 people to hospitals, and a major freeway in my city was completely shut down. Talk about traffic mayhem.

I'm still hopeful that the snow will melt quickly, and I will happily splash in any puddles that Spring decides to send my way. All I have to say to winter is that it's such a pest! Which is linked to the OPI Euro Centrale shade I have to share with you today - You're Such a Budapest! Seriously, so cheesy I love it. This particular shade is a light pastel periwinkle creme and it just flows onto the nail during application. It's self leveling and completely opaque at two coats, drying to a glossy finish. With 4 days of wear chip free, this pretty blue hue is really growing on me for Spring :)

Edmonton food

Nello's Restaurant

March 24, 2013

A few months back, I found myself accompanying one of my good friends Teresa to a dinner to celebrate Edmonton's Light the Night Walk in support of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada. Last year, the Prairies region of the society raised nearly $880000 to go towards research. That is definitely cause to celebrate!

Nello's Restaurant - 2920 Calgary Trail NW - Edmonton AB

When told the name of the restaurant, I will admit, I had no idea that Nello's existed. This restaurant is located right by the Melting Pot and beside Tasty Choice, tucked out of sight! I honestly never knew there was a restaurant there, and probably would never had known if it weren't for this dinner. And folks, this restaurant is worth searching for!

The restaurant itself is clean with modern decor, with plenty of seats, and dimmed lighting. The environment would be great for date night or dressing up and going out for dinner with the girls! It has that upscale feel without being pretentious, so casual dining is definitely welcome as well.

Given the nature of the event, most of the courses were served family style, and we all know how big Italian dinners can be! To start off the meal and calm my growling stomach, a large plate of bruschetta arrived to the table. The crisp crostini were drizzled with balsamic, giving the dish a nice underlying sweetness. The tomato mixture was very garlicky - vampires beware. I do like they way that they served it, as the mixture can soften up the bread after sitting for a while. This method ensured the crostini stayed crisp and delicious, especially for those who arrived a little late.

The second course was a salad for each individual. This thing was HUGE for an individual portion, but it was a great way to get fibre into the meal. The vegetables were fresh, and was refreshing with the balsamic and tangy dressing, but it felt like a boring salad for me, with the typical lettuce, cucumber, tomato, onion and carrots.

The entree of the night was chicken parmigiana and two types of penne served family style. The chicken itself was incredibly smooth and tender, with the sauce and cheese complimenting it wonderfully. It wasn't too salty, and the breading on the chicken wasn't overly crisp. All the pasta was cooked al dente, but I've got to say I preferred the cream sauce option over the tomato sauce, which was a little too tangy for me.

To end off the filling meal, we were all served a biscotti dipped in white chocolate. It was the perfectly sweet ending complimented with a cup of coffee. I was pleasantly surprised by the food served at Nello's and would definitely return again in the future as it is quite close to where I am in the city. It's great, local, Italian food. What more could I ask for?

Disclaimer: as this was a celebratory event, views expressed in this post are solely mine. I was not expected to feature this restaurant on my blog, nor obligated to do so. This post is 100% my opinion, and as always, my priority is to you, the reader, to present an unbiased, thorough review.

Nellos Restaurant on Urbanspoon


Longing for Spring Trends: Military

March 22, 2013

Garage Jacket (sold out)(similar) | American Apparel Leggings | Coach Boots & Mini Tanner Bag
BCBG Ring | Tom Ford Nico Sunglasses

Even though Edmonton is currently covered in 40 centimetres of snow, I'm bearing it and pulling out some Spring pieces from my closet. They've been sitting in there and waiting for too long! I'm loving the military trend, especially the utility jackets with faux leather sleeves. It's an edgy look, but can also be worn in a way to contrast a feminine outfit. Time to troop on through the snow.. :)


Avenue Edmonton's Best Restaurants of 2013

March 20, 2013

Two weeks ago, Edmonton's Avenue Magazine published their annual list of the best food and restaurants in Edmonton. Many of my favourite eats appeared on the list, but there's also some places I still haven't tried out! I was lucky to be able to attend the launch party for this issue of the magazine, and sample food served up by some of the winning establishments. I was a little skeptical about the location, Delton Cabinets, but upon arrival, it was a great space to host a party where food was being served up!

Tomato, cheese, basil & caviar appetizer by the Harvest Room

The Harvest Room inside the Fiarmont Hotel MacDonald won the Best Hotel Restaurant award - they served up an appetizer inspired by their Westbury Dungeoness Crab Cakes & Prawns dinner entree. The aioli, avocado, shrimp and vegetables added a contrasting texture to the soft crab cake. Delicious!

Appetizers plated up by EAST

EAST, a relatively new modern Chinese/Malaysian fusion restaurant has taken home the award for Best Chinese Restaurant. They're a restaurant in North Edmonton I have yet to try, but I quite enjoyed the smoked salmon & cucumber appetizer with the deep fried caper. Its a different play on serving up the traditional party dish, and I would love to see how they serve up their twist on authentic dishes!

The winner for Best Food Truck in Edmonton went to Drift - a truck well loved by Edmontonians, typically parked downtown on Jasper Avenue by Audrey's Bookstore on 107 Street. For the night they served up a slider version of their cult-favourite pork belly sandwich - one that I will admit I do love. The combination of pork with crunchy pickled carrots and daikon with a spicy mayo really hits the spot!

Last but not least, the well-known local Duchess Bake Shop took home the prize for Best Dessert. Many love them for their macarons and cakes, with their beautiful presentation and incorporation of only the finest ingredients. For the night, they served up their play on s'mores with a large maracon sandwiching a torched marshmallow creme with chocolate, and an airbrushed maple leaf chocolate served atop a maple marshmallow and cookie. So good, I wanted more!

To check out the full list of restaurants making Avenue's list, make sure to pick up a copy of this month's issue! Or click here! For my Edmontonian readers - is there any place on the list you're now dying to try? Let me know!

Manicure Monday

Manicure Monday: Can't Find My Czechbook

March 18, 2013

Happy Monday! It's clear skies and sunny weather here in Edmonton today.. only that my city is buried under 20cm of snow! Boo to the snow and terrible roads, but I just feel like Spring is around the corner! The days are getting longer and I can't wait to finally be able to pull out a skirt to run around in.

In anticipation of Spring, I've got Can't Find my Czechbook - a vibrant dusty turqoise shade from the OPI Euro Centrale collection for Spring 2013. The vibrancy and pigmentation of this blue hue reminds me of robin eggs, and it seems to match with the color scheme of my blog too. How could I not love it? The formula was smooth, but the first layer was definitely streaky upon application. The second sheer coat levelled everything out well, and it dried quickly to a glossy finish. Wear time was 4 days chip free, which is a little less than ideal, as I like five days, but thats something I'm willing to sacrifice for this beautiful shade!

Downtown Dining Week

Downtown Dining Week's 10th Anniversary: March 15-24

March 14, 2013

The Edmonton Downtown Business Association's annual Downtown Dining Week is celebrating it's 10th year and running from March 15-24! As an annual tradition, restaurants in the heart of our city put together special prix fixe menus to showcase the culinary talent in "The Dining District".

Tonight I was lucky enough to attend the opening reception tonight to kick off the 10 days of eating. Seven restaurants were in attendance, and I got to get a sneak peek of whats going to be on the menus!

Appetizers from Riverside Bistro in the Courtyard by Mariott, available on the dinner menus. Watermelon & feta, Blackened sea scallop with guacamole & a tortilla chip, and grape bruschetta with prosciutto. I loved the grape bruschetta - it was so different and refreshing!

Butter chicken from Cocoa's Restaurant and Lounge in the Delta Suites hotel, available on the lunch menu. The sauce was well seasoned and the chicken tender and flavorful.

Red wine braised lamb shank with thyme and goat cheese soft polenta, from Sorrentino's Downtown. The lamb was tender and juicy with the aid of the red wine jus, without noticeable game flavour. The soft polenta was a great pairing with the dish, and I would definitely order this off their dinner menu!

Braised lamb shank with parmesan polenta, brussels sprouts with bacon, and sour cherry demi glace from The Public House, available for dinner. I was surprised to see that 2 of the 7 featured restaurants had made such similar dishes, but the flavours were quite different. I found the lamb to be less flavourful than Sorrentino's, but I loved the addition of thickly cut bacon chunks and the brussels sprouts. I usually hate brussels sprouts, but these ones were delicious!

Pan seared pork medallion with yam macaire, and cinnamon maple demi glace from ZINC, available on the dinner menu. If I had to choose a favourite for the night, this would be it. The pork was savoury and so tender, while the sweetness of the yam and demi glace balanced it out perfectly. This version had some onions with it, adding a tangy kick - absolutely delicious.

Chicken & Fritters from Hundred Bar | Kitchen, available on the dinner menu. The fritters were a close runner up for me tonight at the event, as they were served with a bacon butter and peach jam. A perfect combination of sweet, salty, smoky, encased within a golden shell. Mmm.

Heritage Angus beef salad with olives, pickled celery, cherry + roma tomatoes, shaved fennel, rosemary & bloody mary vinaigrette from LUX Steakhouse + Bar, available for lunch. Unfortunately, this one just didn't do it for me. While the beef was cooked medium rare and very tender, and the crunch from the veggies was nice, the seasoning was too strong for my liking, and there was too much going on.

With 30 different restaurants featuring two course lunch menus for $15 and three course dinner menus for $25 and $50, there's definitely something out there for everyone. And to celebrate the 10th anniversary, all dining patrons can enter to win gift certificates to participating restaurants, and a grand prize draw for 50 bottles of Wine from DeVine Wines, plus a 35-bottle Whirlpool wine cooler! How fun is that?! I know I'm going to be out two or three times next week.. if only my stomach could handle more! Take a look at the menus here!

Are you planning to try some of the menus? Let me know if you go out to eat!


Campus Food Bank 5th Annual Mac 'N Cheese Affair

March 13, 2013

Two weeks ago, I had the chance to attend the University of Alberta's Campus Food Bank (CFB) Mac 'n Cheese Affair. Their motto, "Hunger for knowledge, not food", really hits home, because I've never really considered how many people attend University and utilize their services. I'm fortunate enough to be living at home and attending university, but not everyone has the luxury, so hearing all the facts and seeing the support for this organization on campus was really eye-opening.

Throughout the night, there were a bunch of performances, speeches and videos to watch, which taught me a lot about the food bank. The ultimate goal of this organization is to shut down the food bank permanently. While that may sound counter-intuitive, it means that they hope to reach a day where everyone has access to food, and doesn't need to depend on a food bank to provide their basic nutritional needs.

With the aid of a silent auction and ticket sales for the event, ($20-$30/person) the CFB had a goal to raise $9000 that night. When we arrived for the event, volunteers were selling balloons at $10 each, with each guaranteed to win a $10 gift certificate to a local salon, or the chance to win a Chef's Table dinner for 12 at Earls. Diane chose to buy one before we walked in to take our seats.

Arriving to our designated table, what I hadn't realized was that I was to sit beside the mayor of our city for dinner. What?! Once the rush of anxiety settled, I took my seat, calm and collected. After the Mayoral address, it was an absolute pleasure to sit, dine, and chat with Edmonton's mayor, Stephen Mandel. Although he had another event to attend that evening, we had the chance to discuss and review our favourite restaurants here in the city - something I never thought I'd have the chance to do!

Mr. Mandel was so much fun to talk to, and before he left for the evening, he made a point to buy each of us a balloon, hoping we might win something good. The best part? Us posing for this picture was his idea, as he made fun of me taking pictures of my food... :)

The meal for the night was perfectly appropriate for a food bank themed celebration! What better comfort food than buffalo chicken mac 'n cheese? Warm, creamy pasta with chunks of cheesy goodness.. and finished off with a sticky toffee cake. Aramark actually catered and donated all the food for the evening, and its so great to see a prominent campus business supporting the CFB.

At the end of the evening, it was time to pop the balloons - however, there were still over 30 ballooons left to be purchased! I really wondered whether that Chefs Table prize was in there, and considered buying a couple, but the CFB decided to auction them off as a lot. The winner paid $300 for the bunch and had a fantastic time popping all their balloons.

I was basically 100% sure there was no way anyone at our table was going to win the Chefs Table prize, but upon popping the balloon gifted by the mayor.. SURPRISE SURPRISE it was in there! Whoo, thank you Mayor Mandel for being a good luck charm! I had a great time at the annual dinner, and encourage all students to attend next year! It's a great way to support the organizations on campus, and get to know a little bit more, or even get involved with the CFB and all it does for students.


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