Edmonton food

Fish Straight from Japan: Takami Sushi

May 11, 2017

There never used to be many options for Japanese food in Edmonton but if the number of restaurants opening over the last few years is any indication, it seems like Edmonton has developed a taste for Japanese food.

Takami Sushi - # 108, 10430 61 Ave NW - Edmonton AB

Takami Sushi is the latest to join Edmonton's food scene, located on 61 Avenue just off of Calgary Trail. Taking up a space on the ground floor of a new development, the restaurant is easy to miss if you aren't looking for it.

The space is open with a modern, industrial feel - high ceilings and polished concrete floors are accented with orange and brown decor. The restaurant has two separate seating areas, one with smaller tables and a second with long banquette seating perfect for larger parties.

My first visit was for dinner with friends to celebrate my recent engagement to my fiance, and the ambiance of the restaurant was perfect. Our meal was off to a great start with an order of Beef Tataki ($14) garnished with red onion and wakame seaweed. The tataki was thinly-sliced, tender, and dressed with a tasty ponzu sauce. I prefer my beef tataki dressed well with toppings, so I felt the portion of onions and seaweed could have been more generous.

The menu at Takami feels smaller than most, as the priority is to showcase premium fish and ingredients from Japan. Red Seabream, Uni, and Bluefin Tuna are just some examples of the premium fish they fly in every Thursday, so I don't think I need to tell you which day to visit if you want a taste. Unfortunately we had dinner on a Wednesday night, so I definitely need to plan a return trip in the near future.

To give their regular selection of fish a try we ordered the 18 piece Deluxe Assorted Sashimi ($36). What came to the table was absolutely stunning - salmon, yellowtail, ami ebi, octopus, squid, and surf clam on a bed of ice, garnished with greens, flowers, and even dry ice. It was almost too beautiful to eat! Taking presentation and quality into account, the sashimi is quite reasonably priced at $2 per piece.

Takami's menu offers a selection of 8 maki rolls which are a nice option if you aren't a sashimi eater. We ordered four to add some variety to our meal, and first up was the TNT Roll ($17). With avocado, crab meat, shrimp tempura, garlic sauce, unagi sauce and hot sauce, the roll was substantial and flavourful all on its own.

Out next was the Rainbow Roll ($15), a standard maki roll with avocado, crab meat, and an assortment of fish. There was a fair portion of fish on each piece, but nothing special to write home about.

The Dynamite Roll ($15) caught my eye on the menu as it's different from the standard - Takami's version has chop chop scallop in addition to the usual combination of tempura shrimp, avocado, and cucumber. The scallop was fresh and the portion generous, giving the roll great value for what you get.

We rounded off our meal with the house specialty - the Fire Sake Roll ($17). The menu description makes the roll sound incredibly complicated, but the combination of ingredients really works. This roll has tempura shrimp and cucumber wrapped with torched salmon which is then topped with mayo, unagi sauce, green onion, tempura flakes, and a generous sprinkling of crisp deep-fried yam strings. This roll brings a bit of everything to the table - it's savoury, a little sweet, and packed with crunch.

It is also important to note that the wasabi served with every dish is ground in the restaurant. It's fresh and has a slightly different bite to it.

Given the quality and assortment of premium fish, Takami Sushi is a great option south of the river for those who enjoy fresh sushi and sashimi. Sushi Wasabi has been a go-to for us for years for quality fresh fish, and now Takami is a serious contender. Service was attentive during our visit, and our server was very knowledgeable about the fish and the menu. With the stunning presentation and quality of fish, we'll definitely be back to Takami sooner than later!

Takami Sushi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

*Disclosure: I was invited to try a meal at Takami Sushi. 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.



Home Cooking

Quick, Healthy, Easy: Hello Fresh Meal Plan Delivery

April 06, 2017

If you follow me through my social media channels you'll know that not only do I like to check out new restaurants, I love cooking at home too. But cooking at home isn't always easy for me after a twelve hour shift - especially if it's my third in a row.

Back in November I tried out the weekly meal subscription service by Chefs Plate and was impressed by their business model and quality of ingredients. Their weekly delivery of ingredients and easy recipes made healthy eating and meal planning so much easier. At the start of 2017 Hello Fresh emerged on the Canadian market as an alternative to Chefs Plate, so I had to find out if there were any differences between the two!

Hello Fresh was actually founded in 2011 in Berlin and operates in several locations in Western Europe and North America. Similar to Chefs Plate, Hello Fresh is a subscription-based meal delivery service that promises to deliver local, farm-fresh ingredients to your door with chef-curated recipes.

Hello Fresh offers three different types of boxes: the pronto plan, family plan, and veggie plan. The price changes according to the type of box and the number of people you're ordering for (2 or 4 people), so you're looking at spending anywhere from $10.83 to $12.33 per person per meal depending on your preferences. As it is a flexible subscription service there is also the option to skip deliveries if you're planning to be away for the week or have different dining plans.

So how exactly does it work? It's super simple:

  1. The week prior to your delivery, pick and choose the meals you want according to your meal plan (pronto box, family box, veggie box), and specify your delivery date (Tuesday or Wednesday). 
  2. Hello Fresh will purchase, portion, and package all of your ingredients and ship it right to your door. 
  3. Receive your box and get cooking! 
Hello Fresh currently offers delivery via Purolator to Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Newfoundland, and the Maritimes. The company is quickly expanding to meet demand and will hopefully make it to your province soon if you're outside of these areas. Deliveries arrive at your door in a fully insulated box with ice packs to keep all the ingredients fresh, so you don't even need to be home at the time of delivery. That's what I call convenience!

Hello Fresh set me up with a two person pronto box and a two person veggie box to try and I was very impressed with both plans. All the dry ingredients and vegetables arrived fresh while the proteins were packed separately at the bottom of the box with the ice packs.


Shrimp Banh Mi Burger

The recipe cards were visually appealing and easy to follow with pictures accompanying each step in the recipe. Like Chefs Plate, the ingredients and amounts were listed out in case you wanted to recreate the dish in the future, and nutritional information was available. But what I was really impressed with was that each recipe listed out kitchen tools required and potential allergens in each ingredient. This is wonderful for people with food allergies as it isn't always apparent when you're cooking something new.

When it comes down to packaging, everything was recyclable, from the box, to insulation, to ice packs. What I appreciate about Hello Fresh is that the ice packs can actually be sent back to the company through their recycling program to be reused. It feels much better to be able to give the ice packs a second life than to open and drain them down the sink as instructed by Chefs Plate!

While comparing the two companies I also noticed some other subtle differences:

  • in the Chefs Plate ingredient boxes there is no branding other than with the Chefs Plate logo, meaning that you don't know what brand of ingredients you are using, and additional packaging was used in sending the ingredients to you. With Hello Fresh, small items like broth concentrates, sour cream, vinegars and hot sauces are branded, so there's less packaging wasted. 
  • Hello Fresh does not include items like oil or butter in their boxes while Chefs Plate does, so you need to ensure you have some on hand prior to cooking 

After giving the two boxes a try, I have to say I really loved the Hello Fresh experience. All of the recipes were easy to follow and the meals were on the table ready to eat in 35 minutes or less. I felt that although you were restricted to choosing from 4 recipes (Chefs Plate allows you to choose from 7 recipes), there was still a variety of different choices. I cook a lot of Asian (Thai, Vietnamese, Korean) and Italian food at home and yet I felt that a lot of the recipes I cooked in the two week period pushed me out of my comfort zone. I found myself making dishes with Egyptian and Mediterranean spices, and I even followed a Tunisian recipe. I found new recipes I loved and will definitely use again in the future.


Greek ragu

A lot of people have asked me whether Chefs Plate or Hello Fresh is a better option, and I honestly enjoyed the Hello Fresh experience more. Hello Fresh is a bit more expensive ($80 per week versus $66), but I enjoyed the Hello Fresh recipes more and being able to return the ice packs for recycling is a big plus as it is important to me.

If we're comparing ingredients, both companies offered very fresh, locally sourced products. When it comes to the dishes themselves, more often than not, I found myself saying 'wow' after the first bite of every recipe from Hello Fresh - something that didn't happen for me with Chefs Plate. The recipes are truly delicious and you get near restaurant quality results in your own home with Hello Fresh. I also found that each recipe made enough for three portions, bringing down the cost per meal. So for me, it's a no-brainer to go with Hello Fresh for their meal delivery service, but I do encourage people to try both and compare for themselves. If you're interested in giving Hello Fresh a try, use my code ANDREA50 for 50% off your first box and let me know what you think!

*Disclosure: I was sent two Pronto boxes from Hello Fresh for review. 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.

Chef in Residence

Recap: NAIT Hokanson Chef in Residence Luncheon With Amanda Cohen

March 29, 2017

I've said it before and I'll say it again - Edmonton's Northen Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) has one of the top culinary arts programs in the country. There is incredible talent that comes out of the kitchens and every year the students have the opportunity to learn first-hand from a renowned chef. This year's Hokanson Chef in Residence program welcomed Chef Amanda Cohen of New York City's Dirt Candy.


Image courtesy of NAIT

The Hokanson Chef in Residence program, now in it's ninth year, welcomed Chef Amanda into the teaching kitchens from March 6-10. At the end of each residency the culinary arts students work with the chef to prepare a three-course luncheon highlighting the different dishes and techniques learned throughout the week. With the current shift towards vegetable-centric menus and urban agriculture, it didn't come to me as a surprise that Chef Cohen was featured this year. What did surprise me though was that Chef Cohen herself is not a vegetarian.

Chef Cohen was a vegetarian in her early years and noticed a gap in the market for a restaurant that put vegetables first. With her love for vegetables and ability to transform them, she opened Dirt Candy in 2008 and hasn't looked back. Although labelled as a vegetarian restaurant, Chef Cohen loving describes Dirt Candy as a 'vegetable restaurant,' where she comes to work to play and have fun transforming vegetables.


Beet Juice

Since opening, Dirt Candy has become the first vegetarian restaurant in 17 years to receive 2 stars from the New York Times. It was also recognized by the Michelin Guide 5 years in a row and won awards from Gourmet Magazine, the Village Voice, and many others. Chef Cohen was also the first vegetarian chef to compete on Iron Chef America, so it was exciting to see her in action at NAIT!

The first course at the luncheon was Chef Cohen's take on the popular pork belly bao. Roasted carrot buns filled with carrots and a carrot hoisin sauce were accompanied by a rainbow carrot, cucumber, and ginger salad. I really enjoyed how the sharp flavours in the salad contrasted against the sweetness of the buns!

Our entree was a celebration of Chef Cohen's love for corn, and what better than with stone ground grits? Chef Cohen really wanted to highlight the natural sweetness of corn, a flavour that almost always disappears in the preparation of grits. The creamy dish was mixed with pickled shiitake mushrooms and served with a tempura poached egg, making the dish full of varying textures and punches of flavour. Little dots of huitlacoche, a corn fungus known as the 'Mexican truffle,' also brought forward an earthy umami flavour. But overall, the dish had a beautiful sweet flavour that I won't be forgetting anytime soon. Grits will never be the same!

At Dirt Candy the vegetable-centered dishes don't stop when it comes to desserts. Celery Cheesecake and Cucumber Semifreddo are just some of the unique dishes you'll find on the menu. To finish off the luncheon, Chef Amanda paid homage to her Canadian roots with a sweet pea and mint Nanaimo bar. I find Nanaimo bars can be very sweet, but this version was refreshing and a lovely end to the meal.

I always assumed that a vegetarian meal would leave me wanting more, but I found myself pretty full at the end of the meal! I personally enjoy vegetables, but I'm not the type to deviate much from their original form. Chef Amanda's meal was definitely an eye-opening experience for me as I now realize there are so many possibilities when it comes to vegetables. NAIT continues to raise the bar to bring in world-renowned chefs for their Chef in Residence program, and Chef Amanda Cohen was an excellent choice to mentor the culinary arts students. I'm already looking forward to seeing who comes in next year!


Edmonton food

Greek to Go: Little Village Opens it's Brick & Mortar

March 23, 2017

When Edmonton's food trucks started to appear in and around the city in 2011 everyone was pretty excited to see that the trend had finally reached our city. If you were anything like me, you were determined to try every single food truck. That quickly became a difficult task when more and more trucks emerged onto the scene.

Little Village - 14816 Stony Plain Road - Edmonton AB

Fast forward a few years and there are still many food trucks parked curbside in the warmer months, but some of Edmonton's favourites have shifted toward opening up brick and mortar spaces. Filistix and The Local Omnivore are a couple examples, and the latest food truck to join them is Little Village.

If you've ever had the food from Little Village food truck you've met owner/operator Theo Psalios - the guy inside the truck that always greets you with a smile on his face. Theo brought Little Village to life in 2012 and has been serving up his take on Greek dishes ever since. Operating out of a food truck means food service is dictated by the weather, but now that Theo has a storefront where you can get a taste of Little Village any time of the year.

Located along the hustle and bustle of Stony Plain Road, Little Village occupies a small, brightly lit space in a strip mall. A few seats are available for those who wish to dine-in, but Little Village primarily offers ready-made meals for take out.

As you walk in you're greeted by large chalkboards and two glass displays with food ready for consumption. While the offerings have some overlap with the food truck (like the lamb sandwich and lemon potatoes), there are also a variety of classic Greek offerings like moussaka, pasticchio, and dolmades.

The chalkboards outline the grilled/rotisserie meat, sandwich, and salad options, while the glass display cases are stocked full of cold side dishes and hot Greek classics. Prices are very reasonable given the quality of ingredients and convenience, so I may just find myself here quite often given the close proximity to my home.

I stopped by with a friend on opening day and I knew I couldn't leave without my favourites - the roasted lamb and lemon roasted potatoes - so we picked up a 1/3 Lamb Shoulder ($14.75). All the rotisserie meats are served with a side of potatoes and tzatziki, rounding out the meal. The lamb had a beautiful crust, was well seasoned, and was fall-off-the-bone tender. The potatoes were soft and packed full of flavour, and everything together was a killer combination.

The Lamb Gyro ($10.50) was also on my radar, stuffed with roasted lamb, vegetables, and herbs. The pita held up well to the combination of ingredients and was fairly filling, but I found myself wanting a side with it.

Last but not least we picked up a portion of Moussaka ($6.50/slice), which I lovingly refer to as lasagna's eggplant cousin. The Little Village Moussaka is loaded with eggplant, tomato, ground beef, and creamy bechamel sauce. The mild flavours blend well together, and makes for pretty good comfort food.

The food truck will still be found at the 124 Street Grand Market and various events around the city in the summer months, but now that Little Village is open, lemon roasted potato lovers can get their fix year round. Trust me, they're that good. Stop by and grab a bite Tuesday through Saturday, 11am - 6pm (530pm on Saturdays!).

Little Village Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Downtown

Port to Prairie: Grandin Fish 'N' Chips

March 07, 2017

For months Edmontonians have been teased by five little words on the window of the space beside The Common: Fish 'N' Chips Coming Soon. Finally the coverings are off the windows and Chef Jesse Morrison Gauthier's second restaurant is ready to serve his take on a British classic.

Grandin Fish 'N' Chips - 9902 109 Street - Edmonton AB

Located right next door to it's older sister, Grandin Fish 'N' Chips is a fast-casual restaurant serving up fish 'n' chips with a prairie twist. Taking inspiration from dishes in London and the East Coast of Canada, the restaurant hopes to be a modern, sustainable, and health conscious seafood option in Edmonton.

As you walk through the door you'll find yourself below framed chalkboard menus outlining all the restaurant's offerings. When it comes to the fish 'n' chips at Grandin, the classic version features fresh fish coated in tempura batter and served with a side of fries, coleslaw, and tartar sauce. Haddock, Cod, and Basa are always available, and the 'fish of the day' is an additional option. Alternatively, you can ask for your fish to be pan-fried or cooked using a gluten-free batter, both of which are gluten-free options.

As the restaurant is fast-casual there is the option to dine in or ask for your order to go. The dining room can seat roughly 25-30 people and can get quite busy during the lunch rush from 11am-1pm. Dinner time is slightly different with sit-down service, so the pace of your dining experience is more dependent on your server.

The best thing about the restaurant space is the use of nautical-themed decor. I love the contrast between the stark white and blue, especially in the whimsical wallpaper designed by local tattoo artist Heath Smith. There's some fish bait in one corner, a fishing line in another, and there's even a cheesy collage of children and adults with their biggest smiles sharing some of their best catches. The space has a fun, casual vibe, and is a great space for a casual date or to meet with friends for a quick meal.

I met with a friend for lunch and we ordered a couple items to share. First up came the Cod + Chips ($16) with the standard accompaniments. We were surprised to find that for the price there was only one piece of fish, but it was perfectly cooked and flaky inside of the light tempura crust. The cod itself wasn't seasoned, which allowed for the sweetness of the fish to come through, and the fried batter was barely greasy. A quick squeeze of lemon and a dip into the slightly tangy tartar sauce gave the dish all the flavour it needed.

The Haddock + Chips ($14) came next with two pieces of fish and felt like better value given the portion size. It was cooked just like the cod - flaky and coated by a crisp batter. The coleslaw with both orders wasn't much to write home about, and the fries were pretty standard. We ordered a side of Jalapeno Mayo ($1.50) sauce for our fish, but found the kick of heat to pair better with our fries.

In addition to our fish 'n' chips we ordered a side of the Fried Brussel Sprout Bubble and Squeak ($5). I must admit I mostly wanted it just because the name was intriguing, but also because brussel sprouts are delicious! Bubble and Squeak is a traditional English dish made with leftover roasted vegetables fried together with mashed/crushed roasted potatoes. The name comes from the bubbling/squeaking sound that cabbage makes when cooked. This version at Grandin Fish 'N' Chips brings together roasted and caramelized brussel sprouts, parsnips, and potatoes to give you a unique side to accompany your main.


Flaky fish!

Using products from suppliers like Fins Select and Effing Seafoods, you can be assured that your meals at Grandin Fish 'N' Chips are responsibly sourced and sustainable. There is even the option to purchase fresh seafood to take home from the retail case by the entrance of the restaurant. While there are endless dining options in the downtown core, Grandin Fish 'N' Chips is a great addition as a seafood option, so check them out when you're nearby.

Grandin Fish 'N' Chips Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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