Sunday, November 28, 2010


Well, this blog is two years old today. Two years ago I had taken the semester off school, we were renovating our apartment like mad people and just beginning to discover some of the spots around Edmonton that we now love and return to regularly.

This has been an incredibly fun project and looking back, I understand my friend's Mom's comment - "How do you two not weigh a ton?" All I can say to that is that we didn't choose the name 'Loosen Your Belt' for nothing. But seriously, these entries contain a whole bunch of memories that I'm glad to have documented through food.

Can't wait to see where we're at in another two years. Cheers, and thanks for reading!

BTW, has anyone perused the 'Return of the Magic' displays on Whyte? I'm doing a presentation on them for school this week - 'The Shop Window as an Image'. The display at Coney Island Candy (10345 82 Avenue) is by far my favourite, closely followed by The Nutcracker display at Gordon Price Music, which is Charles' favourite (10828 82 Avenue).

Jar out...

Into the filler...

And full! I stood staring at this for a good ten minutes... thankfully it was a warm day.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Sunday Dinner at High Level Diner

With a veggie burger craving already surfacing, Charles and I decided to head to High Level Diner for dinner this past Sunday evening. Walking into a slightly busy space around 7:30pm, we were seated at a cozy table for two near the bar, and were soon greeted by our very friendly server (Christina of August Studio Ceramics... she will be at Make It this weekend, btw).

Given the cold, snowy conditions that evening, we both opted for a warm pot of Earl Grey, and while Charles went immediately for the Sunday Prime Rib Dinner ($22), I was off to veggie burger land ($13).

We were happy to see our plates come out in good time, as we spent the 15 minutes in between listening to the threesome next to us talk about what is (and isn't) considered 'art'... just as they started getting into the Blair Witch Project (the original only!), we dove into our plates. Charles seemed to enjoy his prime rib, which came out medium rare, moist and tender (it starts at medium rare, but they will continue cooking at your request). While the steamed veggies weren't anything to write home about, it was certainly a welcome Sunday evening meal to counter the cool winter weather outside.

Prime Rib Dinner

I also enjoyed my veggie burger - full of sunflower seeds, brown rice and flax, amongst other items, it was cooked until crispy then loaded with sprouts and a whole wheat bun. And really, you can't go without the burger toppings here - dijon, corn salsa and beet relish... the latter is incredible. Oh, and the house ketchup, which is full of spicy horseradish. Like Charles' vegetables, there's not a lot to say about the green salad here - spinach, red onion, carrot and a balsamic dressing that's slightly overwhelming... next time I'll head back to my standard side, the caesar.

Veggie Burger

The toppings

As the snow came down a bit harder (and the threesome next to us moved into 'abstract art'), we decided to share the bread pudding as a final warm up. Thankfully it came out quickly, heated through and sitting in a pool of rich brown sugar bourbon sauce. Dense, moist and rich, we were happy for the small bowl of whipped cream that comes alongside to 'lighten' things up a bit. After many desserts around this City, I still think this is my favourite 'cold-snowy-evening' dessert.

No matter how much this little intersection of restaurants and cafés changes, I don't think we'll ever be leaving High Level Diner. Although all the meals we've had here in the past haven't been phenomenal, there are some times when it's just the perfect spot.

High Level Diner
10912 88 Avenue
Hours can be found here.
High Level Diner on Urbanspoon

*I also wanted to mention that back in August, we stopped for brunch with my Aunt, Uncle and cousin from Bonnyville. My uncle has had a severe case of Coeliac disease for the past 10 years or so, and he was the happiest person I ever saw munching on a club sandwich - "I can't believe I'm eating a club sandwich!"

While the kitchen is not wheat free, and the Coeliac friendly menu is mostly made up of their other menu items that can be made either with substitutes (ie. gluten free bread) or without the item containing gluten, he said the big thing was that they understood what was going on (ie. they weren't going to serve him a steak on top of a piece of garlic toast... yes, that's happened to him elsewhere, even after he explained the gluten thing pre-order). So thumbs up for that.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A veggie burger craving satisfied: Blue Plate Diner

Meeting up with a friend downtown a couple weeks ago, we found ourselves off to Blue Plate Diner for lunch a little before noon.

Since moving to Garneau a couple years ago, we barely ever make it to Blue Plate anymore. Actually, neither Charles or I could remember having been there in the past six months or so. With the lunch menu seemingly unchanged, there were a few decor updates to keep us on our toes - new paint and a divider between the seating area and the 'bar'.

With the place filling up quickly, we decided on burgers all around - the friend with a Pemmican burger, Charles with the beef burger, and me with the veggie burger. All of us also went for the soup - a curried vegetable and almond.

I also went for a chai latte, and Charles for coffee

After a quick perusal of Avenue's Top 40 Under 40, our burgers came sailing to our table. The Pemmican (bison) burger, full of dried blueberries, was reported to be very well flavoured by our friend, although maybe a little overcooked. From the looks of it, I also thought there might be a little too much ciabatta in the burger-bread ratio, but he didn't seem to mind. Charles beef burger was enjoyed as in previous visits, and he said it was both well flavoured and well cooked.

Pemmican Burger

Beef Burger

As for the veggie burger, I should first say that our friend gave me a pretty hard time when ordering it - "What, are you becoming a vegetarian again?" Firstly - no, I'm not. And secondly, Blue Plate's veggie burger is simply amazing, and although I've been tempted in the past by Pozole Chicken Enchiladas, tuna melts and meaty weekend dinner specials (that, don't get me wrong, were all good), it always comes back to the veggie burger here. Beets, turnip, zucchini, sunflower seeds, and carrots all make for a wonderfully flavoured patty that doesn't suffer from fillers like TVP, tofu or frozen peas, carrots and corn. This is a veggie burger that is proud to display its fresh vegetables (particularly the beets, which I think is the key here), and I will continue to enjoy it, vegetarian or not. (Okay... rant done!)

A very cheesy veggie burger

The soup went over well, with Charles and our friend both appreciating the texture of the ground almonds throughout. I enjoyed the slight spiciness as well as the flavour, but the gritty texture was too much for me. But there's always another soup of the day around the corner.

Content with our burgers, and with a good veggie burger rant under my belt, we parted ways. Sampling a few other veggie burgers around the City (namely High Level Diner's, Urban Diner's and more recently, Next Act's), it's still only the High Level version that offers anything comparable to Blue Plate's for me.

So hopefully we can start heading back to Blue Plate a bit more often, as now that those veggie burger thoughts are refreshed, I know I won't be able to resist cravings for long.

Blue Plate Diner
10145 104 Street
Blue Plate Diner on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Fall Menu Launch at ZINC

Invited to check out ZINC's new fall menu a few weeks ago (yes, it took me awhile to post... and this is a lengthy one), Charles and I arrived ready to sample a few items and maybe catch up with some fellow bloggers. But after sitting down at a table of six with Chris and Sarah, and Sharon and Mack, we soon realized we would each be receiving every dish on the menu in "by the bite" form. So, with napkins already placed on our laps by the server (I don't think I'll ever warm to this), we began.

The evening began with an intro from Chef David Omar. With the new fall dinner menu, ZINC would continue to focus on local producers and businesses, with items coming from Paddy's cheeses, Green Eggs and Ham and Spring Creek Ranch, just to name a few.

The new addition this fall would be the "by the bite" concept - larger dishes taken down to a one or two bite format. Although I think this is far from tapas, I can see it being a nice option for those stopping for a drink/break/meeting/etc. after work - three bites would provide a nice transition towards dinner. And since many of us often wish to try more than one appetizer or entree, this concept means you don't have to choose just one dish. In short, Charles and I think "by the bite" is a excellent concept.

Food (with "by the bite" pricing) - there were six courses, each consisting of three bites the kitchen had paired for us. The 'bites' are meant to represent their larger plate counterpart.

First Course

Cucumber and Tomato Salad ($4) - Not a fan of tabbouleh, this one didn't do it for me at all - too much garlic and lemon. The quinoa however, was well cooked. Charles ate all of it, which I took as a good sign, but afterwards he said he probably wouldn't order himself.

Beet Salad ($4) - The first time we went to ZINC I had a beet salad and it was fantastic, so I'm glad to see them carrying a version forward. This one included sweet roasted red beet, a beet sorbet, greens and white turnip puree. I liked the combo, although I'm not so sure about the frozen element - the cold intensified the beet sweetness, which I didn't really care for. The crispy beet on top was a nice addition though, providing a crunchy contrast in texture with the smooth sorbet. Charles liked this one, and I'm amazed. He's definitely not a beet fan, but he said it was his favourite aspect of the first course.

Casear salad ($4) - A little garlicky, but otherwise well dressed. Really, it was a piece of crispy Prosciutto that stole the show. Charles liked the caesar also, and I don't think he got through the rest of the meal without imagining how the bacon could somehow work its way in.

Second Course

Lobster Bisque ($4) - This one didn't work for either Charles or I. I was expecting it to be richer and more complex. As Chris mentioned in his post, a piece of lobster meat in there might have been a nice addition. Charles, well, he's just not a shell fish fan, so no chance with this one.

Salmon Three Ways ($5) - My favourite on the plate was the Salt and Dill smoked gravlox - I'm a sucker for dill, and this little bite was full of it. The maple cured salmon had a nice sweetness, but the texture didn't do it for me - it was chewy, and a little leathery. Sarah described it well by comparing it to jerky. Charles had similar thoughts, although nothing on the plate jumped out at him.

Pan Seared Scallop ($6) - Easily the best things on this plate was the sweet potato and maple ginger purée - sweet, a little spicy and a rich orange colour, this was fall on a plate for me. We all jumped into the scallop before the demi-glaze came around, but the scallop as it came out was a little dry.

Third Course

Beef ($9) - Everyone at our table unfortunately received a piece of incredibly dry and overcooked beef, so any flavour from it was lost as was the goat cheese butter, which I was looking forward to. I suppose the dryness would be remedied via a regular sized steak, but if this dish is going to offered in 'bite' format, hopefully they can get the cooking times straightened out.

Vegetarian - Orzo Risotto ($7) - I really loved the flavours in this dish - the tomato and saffron worked incredibly well together. It wasn't really creamy, but I think this allowed the flavours to shine. I have to say, I wish there were more vegetarian options. I can remember the one non-meat option on menus when I was veggie, and it wasn't fun. Charles liked this one too, although he wasn't sure he would pay $7 for the serving size.

Chicken Supreme ($7) - The chicken here was prosciutto wrapped, leaving it incredibly moist, and we both enjoyed the kick given by the sauce on top.

Fourth Course

Green tea smoked duck breast ($8) - The duck was nicely cooked here, although neither Charles or I qite got the green tea flavour. And there was another creamy, flavourful purée here - pumpkin and potato. The blueberry jus was a nice sweet-tart complement to the duck and the vanilla scented tomato worked for me - although I try raw tomatoes every year, I just can't get over that acidic-sweet thing. The vanilla simple syrup took away most of the acidic bite of the tomato, so if you enjoy that aspect, this wouldn't be for you.

Lamb ($9) - If I remember correctly, this was the hit of the table, with well cooked, moist, tender lamb, and a flavourful Cassis jus. I like the addition of the polenta, but another one of their purées would have been fantastic here.

Braised Lentils ($4) - This dish didn't go over with either Charles or I - the lentils were well cooked, but neither of us could find the red curry cream. This was also my first pork belly experience. The way it's been spoken of to me, I was sort of expecting it to melt in some 'ultimate fatty goodness' way, but it didn't. The star of this one, as Chris noted, was the pickled carrot - sweet, sour, crunchy - just amazing.

Fifth Course

Cannelloni ($6) - This cannelloni was full of duck confit - Charles loved it, but said it was probably too rich to order the larger version of. It didn't quite work for me - I like cutting into a piece of duck confit and getting the soft, rich texture of a whole piece of meat; here it was ground so I missed that. The leaks were a little over powering for me, although I understand their necessity to contrast the rich duck.

Pork Tenderloin Medallions ($6) - I loved the braised cabbage here, yet another thing that signals fall to me. The pork was unfortunately a little dry, and Charles experienced the same with his dish.

Bison ($9) - The bison was a little over cooked, and both Charles and I found it a bit tough. The zucchini spaghetti squash didn't quite do it for me texture wise, but the potato gratin underneath was incredibly creamy, which I loved.

Sixth Course

*This course came out with small cutlery as an experiment, that would possibly make the 'bite' eating a bit easier... it didn't go over well at our table. But I have to say it was sort of entertaining.

Bison Carpaccio ($6) - As Chris noted, the bison unfortunately stuck to the plate here, meaning you had to scrape the plate to retrieve the thinly sliced meat, and we were also missing the poached egg. Despite this, the flavours here completely worked for me, especially the addition of whole pink peppercorns - great idea.

Salmon ($8) - This plate didn't work for Charles or I. The salmon was unfortunately dry and the lemon butter couldn't save it. The mixture of barley pilaff and kohlrabi and carrot had a bitter-sweet thing going on that wasn't working for either of us.

Spaghetti ($8) - I took my Nanny to ZINC for lunch this past June - she raved about the fish and chips (which are still on their lunch menu, btw), and I had an Alpaca burger. The meatball here was the same as my burger - too dry, and not overly flavourful. We also didn't receive any of the house spaghetti with this dish, since they couldn't fit it in the serving bowl. Hopefully they will change the vessel in regular service.


I was glad to find an addition of dessert at the end of our slightly epic Monday evening. It was banana bread pudding with rum caramel sauce and bruléed banana, usually served with banana ice cream (like the spaghetti dish, the vessel here was just to small to facilitate its serving). Charles is not a banana person, so this wasn't going to work for him. I liked it though, and although it doesn't come in bite sized format on the regular menu, this was the perfect size, especially with the addition of the rich caramel.

At the end of the night, we both agreed there were 'by the bite' dishes we would definitely order, but I'm not sure all the dishes work with the concept. That said, we've enjoyed our visits to ZINC in the past, and while every dish wasn't a hit that evening, we will certainly be heading back for both 'by the bite' portions and full plates.

Thanks very much to everyone over at ZINC for a very memorable evening. It was certainly appreciated.

ZINC (at the AGA)
2 Sir Winston Churchill Square
780.392.2501 (online reservations here)
Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday, with Sunday brunch (detailed hours here)
Zinc on Urbanspoon

Check out Chris and Sarah's thoughts on the evening (as well as beautiful photos) here. The Undercover Gourmet was also there.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In waiting

The Fall semester will be done in four weeks and five hours, and I'm impatient for guilt free days and evenings of reading (books of my choice), work, and some lengthy baking/cooking sessions.

As I scramble to finish research papers and presentations, Josée Johnston and Shyon Baumann's book - Foodies: Democracy and Distinction in the Gourmet Foodscape - is waiting to be read. I found it a couple weeks ago on the book shelf where texts for the "Foodie Culture" seminar were held (I always assume the bookstore over orders, so if I've screwed you out of a text, I'm sorry. But seriously, they've been there since August.). I'm expecting a good critique of professional food writing, the authentic and exotic, food politics and food blogging, amongst other topics, so I'll try to do a couple posts if it turns out to be constructive, which I think it will.

The authors were on Q way back in June, but sadly they didn't post the interview (or I just can't find it). What Jian seemed to focus on in the interview though, was the 'foodie' label, however, I don't think any consensus on the word's meaning was found.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A late evening dinner at Urban Diner South

We popped by Urban Diner (8715 109 Street) Tuesday night around 8:30 for a late evening dinner (we noticed a couple weeks ago that they had opened, although nothing seemed to be announced and their website still says location 'coming soon'). The place was pretty much empty but for a table of two and a table of about six construction workers... likely the same ones who's scissor lifts I've been dodging in HUB on my way to class.

Anyhow, we had our choice of seating so opted for a window seat. I'm glad they chose to take down the 'secluded patio' feature of the old tenant's (Fiore Cantina) - not only is it much brighter in there, but you can gaze out the window onto the increasingly busy little area of 87th and 109th. I'm wondering though, if a piece of glass or something will appear on the patio come spring to help block the noise and exhaust of 109th traffic from patio diners.

I always forget that Urban Diner carries Fentiman's Sodas, and I ended up with the Dandelion & Burdock brew which was a delicious treat. Charles went for the Organic Lager from Mill Street Brewery from the Diner's pretty excellent, though short, beer list. I also noticed that they were doing a cask night last week with one of the breweries they carry on tap, which is definitely encouraging. Food wise, I went for the reuben with butternut squash and sweet potato soup ($11.95), while Charles decided on the steak sandwich with fries ($16).

Food came out quickly, and we got right into it. Charles steak was cooked slightly past his requested medium rare, but the mushroom gravy was the perfect rich, savoury accompaniment. The shoestring fries were excellent - peppery, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, and especially good when dipped into the gravy. My reuben was good too, although I'm pretty easy when sauerkraut (or any cabbage for that matter) is involved. The corned beef was moist and well seasoned, and the sautéed onion and swiss cheese made for a wonderful late evening mess. The soup seemed to contain a little curry, which was definitely welcome, and was a perfect fall warmer before we ventured back out into the cold.

For dessert we decided to share the lemon-sour cream pie. The small piece was perfect after our largish meals, and although slightly tart, it was certainly the light ending necessary.

I think Urban Diner will be a welcome addition to this block of cafés and restaurants, especially on busy weekend brunch days, when Sugarbowl and High Level Diner have lineups stretching out the door. We're definitely glad to have another casual spot in the area, and that the spot is Urban Diner is definitely nice, since we don't get over to the 124th location too often. We'll definitely be stopping again soon.

Urban Diner (South)
8715 109th Street
Urban Diner on Urbanspoon

*Just a note on breakfast in the area - Da Capo has been doing breakfast on weekends. We stopped a couple Saturdays ago, and my over easy eggs, as well as hash browns, were excellent.

**Sugarbowl is featuring Wild Rose Brewery's Velvet Fog right now. It is a pretty lovely one, managing to be both smooth and tangy at the same time. Also, Sugarbowl seems to have recently increased the amount of garlic in their hummus quite a bit, so if your partner/friends/whoever is concerned with your breath, or vice versa, go with the cornbread or crab fritters.

***We walked by Urban Diner Thursday (today) to take the picture of their sign above, and they were packed!

March 14, 2011 - We stopped in for dinner here this past Friday. Things are as good as ever, and happily their beer list is growing. The most recent addition - Yukon Brewing's Porter on tap. Food wise, we clearly don't deviate from favourites - once again, Charles did the steak sandwich and I did the Reuben... here are some pictures though.

Steak sandwich


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A little Anthropological love for the Olfactory section

I think I mentioned earlier about my 'Places, Things, Stories' Anthropology class. Well, we had our first project last month - creatively explore a space/place in any way you would like, then write about your findings. One of the goals throughout the class is to make the familiar strange and/or noticeable (if you're into this, check out The Mezzanine by Nicholas Baker, it's at the EPL). Incredibly experimental, this was a daunting assignment - no formal paper, no theory required, be creative - this goes against all the methods of my previous classes. Anyhow, I chose to explore Kerstin's using scent.

The senses (particularly those that have traditionally been the "lower senses" - taste, smell and touch) are becoming a huge area of study within anthropology, but right now, as my prof. said yesterday, 'it's cutting edge stuff!' Although I've spent lots of time throughout my degree reading of our mutton chopped forefathers, the nice thing about my senior classes is the opportunity to explore emerging areas in sociocultural anthropology, whether I'm going on to do my masters or not.

My first assignment - an olfactory map - went well, although it was difficult to move beyond the dominant smell in the Shop - chocolate - and I got caught up in the 'hegemony of smell'. Despite this, I still discovered some important things about scent that I never really noticed or paid attention to previously:
  • Smell is often trapped in specific areas. 
  • Smell is fleeting and is best when new - for instance, if you have been away from home for a lengthy period, you'll be able to smell those things you were formally habituated to. 
  • Something completely obvious but that is worthwhile mentioning, is that smell works best or is enhanced when utilizing other senses. 
  • We have very few words to describe the things we smell, so communicating smells becomes difficult, and is often dominated by those familiar perfume and food smells (however, this gives me the opportunity to make up words, which my prof. seems fine with and I'm particularly excited about). 
  • Related to the last point, it's frustrating when you recognize a smell but can't place it.
  • Smell, like taste, is connected to our memories in ways we rarely recognize. The list goes on.
For my final essay, I'm continuing with the olfactory area. I found this amazing book - The Smell Culture Reader - tucked away on Rutherford fourth, all on its own dealing with smell compared to the books around it dealing with multiple senses at once. It's a compilation of thoughts on smell from anthropologists, sociologists, etc. on things like Odorphobia, 'Smellscape' or scent and place, perfume, scent, memory and nostalgia, and smell in ritual.

I thought I'd post this since our sense of smell is so closely related to taste, and also because I fail to go anywhere now without paying extra attention to the smell of things. Looking back on The Marc post and our visit just after I handed in my first project, I was certainly giving a bit more attention to the smells of things, particularly with Charles' beef cheek and lamb dishes.

Next semester I'm taking a class devoted entirely to Anthropology of the Senses, which I'm really excited for. So hopefully much more regarding the senses to come this winter.