Posts tagged ‘Restaurants’

Marketplace Restaurant, or Mandala Bistro

IMG_7559

Sometimes a good restaurant is easy to spot. The decor, the menu, and the atmosphere all speak to you and they say, “this place is going to be good.” Other times, you find a gem when you least expect it, like we did at the Marketplace Restaurant on Temple Street last week. Situated across from the Criterion movie theatre, this restaurant seems unsure whether it is a deli, a cafe, or a sit-down restaurant. The menu only adds to the confusion, with its offering of American, Italian, Tex-Mex, Indian, and Nepalese fare – everything from chili dogs to penne a la vodka to nachos to chana masala.

As a result, I was really unsure about what to expect when Sean and I walked into Marketplace, but we were drawn in by the incredibly cheap Indian lunch specials and by the fact that we were hungry and had a movie to catch. At the very least, I expected a couple of edible curries for a decent price. As it turns out, we were blown away by the most delicious Indian food we’ve tried in New Haven – topped off with great service, and oh, those prices!

Marketplace offers a “Vegetarian Lunch Box” special that consists of two curries, rice, naan, and dessert for $6.95, which is what drew us in. Sean and I decided to split that and an order of vegetarian pakora ($3.95).

The pakora (vegetable dumplings fried in chickpea batter) were very good – not too oily, and dusted in cumin, which really made the flavours pop. Our $4 platter came with about a dozen pieces of pakora and was easily enough to share.

Our “Lunch Box” was generously portioned as well. We agreed that we could probably each have eaten a lunch box to ourselves (without the appetizer), but that we would be stuffed afterward.

The naan bread was not my favorite part of the meal. It lacked the buttery, yeasty flavours that I associate with really good naan (although the waitress did offer us butter to put on it), and tasted a bit more like pita bread to me.

The curries, on the other hand, blew us both away. Since we got two curries with the lunch special, we each chose our favourite. Sean opted for chana masala (curried chickpeas), which came with nice chunks of soft potato in a rich, dark sauce. I chose the matter paneer (peas and cheese in a creamy sauce), which I am prepared to say was the best matter paneer that I have ever had in my life. Both curries had a surprising depth of flavour, and they were also very different from each other. The matter paneer especially succeeded in being rich and creamy while still packing a satisfying range of spice and flavour.

The dessert that comes with the lunch box is one of my favorite Indian sweets. Gulab Jamun is a delicious ball – not unlike a better donut hole – soaked in sweet syrup. This particular Gulab Jamun was denser than I am used to (maybe whole wheat?) and the dough was spiced with ground cardamom, which gave it an added level of flavour that I have never tasted in this dessert before.

To top it all off, the service here was excellent. The waitress was friendly and attentive, and she really didn’t seem to mind that we were splitting a lunch special or that we had come in 30 minutes before the lunch special was over (it runs from 11am to 3pm). The place had the vibe of a new family-owned restaurant, where everyone is really invested in making sure that you enjoy your food and your experience.

I still can’t speak to the American, Italian, Tex-Mex or other assorted dishes on Marketplace’s menu, and I’m pretty sure that I’ll never try them. I am willing to say, though, that this was the best Indian food I have tasted in New Haven and in some cases the best I have had anywhere. I hope this place stays in business a long, long time.

UPDATE: We went to Marketplace again this week with a couple of friends, partly to get a picture for this review and partly because the food was just that good. The manager came over to talk to us for a little while and said that the place is getting a makeover. The name will be changed to Mandala Bistro, they’re renovating, and they’re paring down the menu. The curries and the current chef will stay but the lunch special has to go (it is, it turns out, to cheap to last). The new prices will make a curry about $8 for lunch and $11 for dinner, which is still completely worth it (in my opinion) – and it makes the prices similar to the other places in town.

On this trip, we also tried the palak paneer (spinach and cheese) and the navarattan korma (curried vegetables) and they were both excellent. The palak paneer was full of flavour and very different from the creamier matter paneer. The navarattan korma was packed with perfectly cooked vegetables (mushrooms, carrots, green beans, cauliflower and potato), which maintained their own flavour and crunch while working nicely in the sauce. Our whole party was unanimous in declaring this the best Indian food in New Haven.

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July 25, 2009 at 1:24 pm 1 comment

Wisconsin, Land of Cheese and Spicy Tofu

Cheese

After nearly a week of chain restaurants and family diners, yesterday arrived like a flavour explosion. We drove into Wisconsin from Minnesota, and got hungry for lunch long before Milwaukee or even Madison. We pulled into the town of Tomah and as my dad was pulling into yet another Subway parking lot, I convinced the family to go to the touristy cheese store first so that we could at least get good, local cheese for our sandwiches. We walked into the Humbird Cheese Mart to find not only a variety of cheeses, but also breads, mustards, sauces and fudge. After much debate, we settled on Smokey Swiss ‘n Cheddar (which they kindly sliced for us), Garlic and Dill cheese curds and a long, tiny loaf of pumpernickel bread. For about $10 (not counting the variety pack of cheese and meat that my parents also got), we ate a satisfying lunch and never went back to Subway.

Spicy Tofu, Part One
Pulling into Milwaukee four hours later, we needed to eat before the ball game (we are going to six Major League Baseball games on this trip), and we settled on a Caribbean place called Good Life that I’d found on the internet before we left Edmonton. The restaurant itself was cute, situated on a corner and made mostly of glass with about a dozen tables, a large patio and a long bar. The menu was long with lots of vegetarian options, including curried cashew patties (that are also the veggie burger patty), jerk tofu, and Good Life Salad. We decided that the cuisine was more “Pan-Caribbean Fusion” than authentic fare, but the food was very good, the prices were fair and the atmosphere and service were lovely.

I ordered the jerk tofu plate ($13), which comes with rice, beans, and a wedge of pineapple, while my dad got the platter ($17)  (all the above plus corn on the cob and roasted veggies). My mom, still full from lunch, got the Caribbean chips and salsa ($8 ) and called it good. Excellent, actually. The chips were made from thinly sliced sweet potato and plantain, and both the mango salsa and guacamole were homemade, fresh and delicious.

The jerk tofu was great and the sides were even better. The rice was cooked to a soft, pleasant texture and subtly spiced with flavours that we loved but couldn’t quite recognize. The stewed red kidney beans were spiced entirely differently, and provided a nice textural contrast with the rice. My dad’s sides (which he shared) added yet another dimension to the platter. The roasted veggies (mostly zucchini and summer squash) were tender-crisp, and the corn on the cob was spread with mayo and cheese, a culinary choice that sounded disgusting when a friend first told me about it upon returning from Mexico, but which I actually really enjoyed.
The jerk tofu itself was cornmeal-crusted and swimming in jerk sauce, which (I tell you without a touch of irony) was almost too flavourful. The best thing about the platter, though, was its balance and the spicy, spicy tofu sat perfectly as the centrepiece of a well-balanced and delicious meal. The portions were huge, though, so while I strongly recommend the platter, I also strongly recommend sharing.

Spicy Tofu, Part Two

In between culinary adventures, we went to an incredible ball game. The Brewers won 5-0, Sabathia pitched a full game shut out, and Weeks dodged a tag to disrupt a double play and make it to third base (and eventually home). But that’s not what you came here to read about.

At the ball game, I resisted all temptations: pretzels the size of my head, ice cream sundaes, and even popcorn, because I had a mission: vegan hot wings. In searching for vegetarian options in Milwaukee, I came across many rave reviews for the Palomino, a restaurant that serves regular bar food and veggie analogues, all cooked up in their dedicated veggie fryer so that there is no chance of meat or meat juices in your vegan hot wings. After the game, we got lost on a series of interchanges and didn’t arrive at the Palomino until 10:30. Due to a city ordinance, they couldn’t serve us on the patio after 10:50, and due to wheelchair accessibility issues, we couldn’t get inside. After much pleading, they agreed to bring us vegan hot wings to go, but this means that I never saw a menu and can’t tell you anything about their other veggie options. The wings ($9), properly called “Toffalo Wings”, were very good. The portion was huge and came with tater tots and celery, as well as a delicious and presumably homemade ranch dip. The wings themselves were large chunks of battered and deep fried tofu and seitan, which were properly crispy, chewy and spicy. The only thing I would change is to make them smaller for a higher crust-to-tofu ratio, more like traditional wings. They were definitely worth the driving and the pleading, though, and I went to bed with a full tummy and soft spot in my heart for Milwaukee – land of cheese and spicy tofu.

August 9, 2008 at 9:29 pm Leave a comment

Salad Bars

The American salad bar is a wonderful thing, that Canadians don’t know about and Americans don’t know to appreciate. Unlike the Canadian (or Albertan perhaps) salad bar, which tends to bear a limited selection of pre-made salads (potato, macaroni, green, caesar, and even tuna or egg), the American salad bar is an invitation to innovation with fresh vegetables, beans, cheeses, croutons, dressings and other toppings. A proper salad bar, in my estimation, is one that lets you make your own salad from various ingredients, and although potato and pasta salads are not unwelcome, they shouldn’t be the centerpieces of the buffet.

We haven’t been eating at particularly interesting restaurants so far (hence the lack of posting), but we have had some good salad bars. One was actually at an old-style Bonanza in Regina (the Bonanza in Edmonton has gone faux upscale and replaced its American-style salad bar with Canadian-style prepared salads, so maybe this is just an Alberta thing), and the other was at Ruby Tuesdays in the Mall of America last night.

The Bonanza salad bar was classic: iceberg lettuce, raw vegetables (cut into huge chunks by lazy prep cooks), cottage cheese, yellow cheddar, chopped hard boiled egg, white croutons, fake bacon bits, and the regular Kraft Dressing catalogue. There were also things like potato and pasta salads, perogies, soups and various breaded fried meats, which is what seemed to interest the rest of the clientele. This came in at $9.49 CAD.

The Ruby Tuesdays salad bar was amazing! There were lettuce choices including iceberg, spring mix and romaine. In addition to regular toppings (fresh and cut small enough for salads), there were shelled edamame beans, marinated green beans, bleu and feta cheeses, pumpernickel croutons and homemade dressings! It was only $8.49 USD and it was fabulous, but it was also one of only two vegetarian items on the menu (the other was a veggie burger).

So, in the absence of a kitchen, here are two “recipes” based on my favorite salad bar combinations. (There are no measurements, because I really have no idea). You can make these at home and if you want to eat salad all week (which you just might in this heat), prep a variety of your favorite veggies and keep them in separate containers in your fridge to keep them fresh. Put salads together when you’re ready to eat, and voilá! Homemade salad bar.

The Classic Salad Bar Creation

Iceberg Lettuce (or bagged iceberg lettuce with cabbage)
Chopped Onions
Chopped Broccoli and/or Cauliflower
Quartered Radishes
Sliced Cucumber
Green Peas
Chickpeas
Shredded Cheddar Cheese
Cottage Cheese
Croutons
Italian Dressing

Fancier Salad Bar Creation

Spring Mix
Sliced Red Onions
Sliced Mushrooms
Julienned Carrots
Broccoli and/or Cauliflower
Cherry Tomatoes
Shelled Edamame Beans
Steamed Green Beans
Bleu or Feta Cheese
Pumpernickel or Regular Croutons
Balsamic Vinegar
Olive Oil
Pepper

August 7, 2008 at 9:12 am Leave a comment

Remedy Café

Palak Chana WrapMmmm! Remedy is one of my favourite places for a quick lunch or dinner accompanied by long conversation with friends. Located near the university on 109 Street and 87 Avenue, Remedy is a cozy café with a variety of overstuffed chairs and comfy couches. It’s a happening place, though, so you may sometimes have to share your couch space, or even (gasp!) sit at a table.

Café first and restaurant second, Remedy has a long drink list including teas, coffees, beers and my favourite chai – the Kashmire Chai, which is bright green and topped with crushed pistachios. Cleverly named dips (Slayer Dip for 5-Layer Dip) and desserts (“Desserts is Stressed Spelled Backwards” Cake, “Does This Cake Make Me Look Fat?”) are sold alongside smaller treats like biscotti and “Time and Date Squares”. Not having much of a sweet tooth, though, I have never tried the Remedy desserts although they look fantastic and I have been told that they are.

Instead, I am all about Remedy’s curries. There are 2 vegan options – chana masala (chickpea curry) and sabji masala (mixed veggie curry with falafel pieces) – and an additional vegetarian option – palak paneer (spinach with homemade cheese cubes). At lunch, the curries come in wraps ($7.50) with a delicious tamarind-cinnamon dipping sauce, and at dinner, the curries come in bowls ($9) with pita pieces. All of the curries are delicious – well spiced with good ingredients – but my favorites are the chana masala and the palak paneer. Luckily, you can get them together as “Palak Chana” and then I am in heaven.

There is only one caveat about the Remedy Café – it truly is a café first and restaurant second, and so while the food itself is always good, the food service varies. I have usually gotten my food within 10 minutes of ordering it, but I have also often been forgotten during a rush and received my food much, much later. Still, it’s a great place to sit and read or catch up with friends, accompanied by a delicious curry.

August 2, 2008 at 8:30 am Leave a comment

Oodle Noodle Box

The Oodle Noodle Box (10803 Whyte Avenue and 170 Street & 100 Avenue) is not yet as ubiquitous as the Wok Box, but it is well worth going out of your way. Not only are the boxes at Oodle Noodle cheaper, they are also more delicately flavoured and ultimately more tasty in my experience. If you go to the original location on Whyte, you will often see owner Sonny dancing along to the music as he cooks up your dish in the restaurant’s open kitchen.

But what is an Oodle Noodle Box? It’s a dish consisting of of noodles or rice, vegetables (carrots, celery, beansprouts, onion, broccoli), and your choice of meat/tofu and sauce in a cute take-out box. The tofu here is not the big cubes of bland medium-firm that you get at some places; instead it is what is commonly known as “deep fried bean curd” – tofu that is thinly sliced and fried to make it airy and light. Basically, it’s perfectly designed to soak up the sauce for a flavour explosion in your mouth.

If you choose tofu (and I hope you will after that description!), your box will cost a mere $6.99 for a generous portion – but vegetarians beware: only 2 of the many sauces are actually vegetarian friendly. Everything except the Kung Pao and Tokyo Glaze have meat broth or fish sauce lurking in their depths. This isn’t posted anywhere, so it’s good to know before you go.

The Kung Pao is extraordinarily delicious, especially if you ask for added coconut cream (which is free of dairy products). It’s a mellow-tart sauce with a touch of spice that’s typically served over very thin noodles (you can also order other noodles or rice). The Tokyo Glaze is a homemade teriyaki sauce that’s dark and sweet, with subtle flavours that absorb well into the thicker noodles with which it’s served. The special fried rice is also a vegetarian option, and vegan if you ask for no egg.

The Ooodle Noodle Box is fast food at its best: it’s fast, filling, cheap, delicious and not too bad for you. And it’s locally owned. What more could you ask?

July 10, 2008 at 8:20 am 6 comments

Roasted Beet and Candied Pecan Salad

Beet and Pecan Salad

I had a salad similar to this at the Delux Burger Bar on the west end (Restaurant Review in a Minute: The food was good but overpriced, the decor was minimal but tacky, the service was friendly but the polo shirt uniforms were off-putting). Having decided not to put the restaurant in my regular rotation, I still wanted to have the salad again, so here is my version. I made it for Mother’s Day this year and it was a big hit.

P.S. I’ve decided that after today, I’m going to start posting every other day rather than every day. I think that this will be better for me and for you, but please feel free to leave me a comment if you disagree.

Roasted Beet and Candied Pecan Salad

3 large beets, diced (about 2 cups)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
½ tsp. cumin
½ tsp. salt

½ cup pecan halves
2 Tbsp. butter or margarine
1 Tbsp. light brown sugar

¼ cup fresh dill, snipped
1 cup goat feta, crumbled
5 oz. mixed greens

¼ cup olive oil
4 tsp. balsamic vinegar
3 tsp. Dijon mustard
½ tsp. maple syrup
¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 450F. Cut the beets into ½-inch dice and put them in an 8-inch baking pan. Pour oil, salt and cumin over them and coat to toss. Roast the beets for 30 minutes, turning once during the process. Cool and set aside.
  2. In a large non-stick skillet. Heat the butter or margarine over medium high heat. Add the pecans and sauté until fragrant and toasty, about five minutes. Add the brown sugar and heat until it absorbs the oil and sticks to the pecans. Stir constantly throughout this process. Cool and set aside.
  3. Mix olive oil, vinegar, mustard, syrup and pepper. Set aside.
  4. Arrange greens in a serving platter or bowl. Arrange snipped dill, crumbled feta, beets, pecans on top. Pour on dressing. Toss immediately before serving.

June 29, 2008 at 8:00 am 1 comment

Nachos Around Town

Nachos from Julio\'s Barrio

Nachos are one of my favourite guilty pleasures, right up there with What Not to Wear marathons and really bad jokes. I know that nachos go against everything I stand for; they aren’t healthy, the ingredients are rarely organic or locally sourced, they can’t easily be successfully veganized, and the list goes on. However, I am also in favour of occasional hedonism, so my partner and I went on a quest last year to find the best nachos in Edmonton. We based our judging on a number of factors: quality of ingredients, price, serving size, variety of toppings, sturdiness of chips, and atmosphere of the joint being top on the list.

So, without further ado, and in order from worst to best:

7. Chili’s provided (not surprisingly) the worst nachos we tried. We actually sent them back and left. (Why did we even go there? I couldn’t tell you). The chips were store-bought and some of the saltiest I’d ever tasted. We had to order it without the (very meaty) chili, which turned out to be the only topping that the nachos really had. We got a pile of chips with cheese (but only on one side), tomatoes, and a scoop (still in scoop shape) of sour cream. There wasn’t even any salsa, which was pretty disappointing given that the place has in its kitchen not only salsa, but guacamole, jalapenos, fajita vegetables and beans. The atmosphere was doubly depressing, it being pretty clear that the plastic cactus staring me down was the same plastic cactus in the same place in every Chili’s restaurant across North America.

6.Teddy’s (11361 Jasper Avenue) rated high for atmosphere (it’s nearly 60 years old and used to be the place to propose to your lady friend in Edmonton; now its stained-glass windows and overstuffed mahogany chairs are juxtaposed against the VLT room to your right), but their cheese seemed to be Velveeta or something similar so we simply couldn’t consider poor old Teddy’s as a finalist.

5. Cafe Mosaics (10844 Whyte Avenue) is one of the only places that serves beans with their nachos, which is a welcome addition. However, the other toppings are sparse and the salsa is from a bottle. Besides which, there are so many better things on their menu that the nachos rarely tempt me.

4. Martini’s Bar and Grill (9910 – 109 Street) has nachos at a decent price ($7.95), but the portion size is small for nachos (just a regular dinner plate) and the chips and salsa are store-bought. The toppings (tomatoes, green onions, olives and jalapenos) are generously portioned, but the nachos rarely provide serious competition with the free popcorn for me. That being said, the bar is one of my favourites (a cute neighborhood pub that really is just that – everyone from barflies to hipsters to business people frequent the place) and the dinner menu goes beyond pub food to some really decent fare.

3.The Sherlock Holmes (10012 – 101A Avenue, and Capilano and “The Mall”) has a decent dark pub atmosphere and a long beer list. Their salsa is the best that we sampled; definitely homemade and with a refreshing hint of cucumber. Their nachos ($10.95), though, are only mediocre. The toppings (tomatoes, onions, jalapeno) are minimal, and tend to get overpowered by cheese and chips. The chips are straight out of a bag, but the portion size is good (enough for 2 people to treat as “lunch”).

2. Julio’s Barrio (10450 Whyte Ave, and the West End, and Calgary) tries a bit too hard for “authentic” Mexican atmosphere and ends up coming up a bit tacky, but their nachos ($13.50, pictured above) are the penultimate in Edmonton snacky cuisine. The chips are the sturdiest that we sampled, and both chips and salsa are certainly homemade. The toppings (olives, tomatoes, jalapenos, bell peppers and onions) are varied and plentiful. If that’s not enough for you, you can also order veggie ground round ($4) or a side of refried beans ($2.50). Their beer menu is not extensive, but does have some good choices and they have margaritas. The portion size is a bit smaller than our winner, Original Joe’s, but there is certainly still enough food. The only complaints? The price with added beans is a bit steep ($15.00) and the ratio of toppings to chips is so high that you almost need a fork, and you certainly need about half a dozen napkins, to finish these things.

And the winner?

1. Original Joe’s (10520 – 102 Avenue, and all over Alberta, apparently) is our favourite nachos place. The atmosphere is nothing special, but the patio is gorgeous (complete with enclosed deck and water feature) and the beer list is long, with a focus on microbreweries. The nachos, though, are obviously the main event. They offer two sizes: 1. “big enough for two people to eat as their sole dinner” ($10) and 2. “too big for four people to eat as a late-night snack” ($15, pictured below). It was the value for our dollar that first attracted us. The toppings (red and green onion, tomatoes, jalapenos and olives) are the most varied of any nachos we tried. The tri-colour chips are homemade, flavourful and sturdy, and everything is well-proportioned. There are enough toppings to last until the finish but not so many that the chips get soggy. The only disadvantages? The salsa is store-bought and the guacamole ($2.49 extra) tastes like it’s been frozen.

So, enjoy!

Nachos at Original Joe\'s

June 27, 2008 at 9:30 am 1 comment

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*All entries tagged "vegan" and "gluten free" meet those dietary requirements to the best of my knowledge as long as the vegan or gluten free instructions are followed (where applicable). It is always wise to double-check ingredients (especially when dealing with packaged foods) and to confirm ingredients and preparation methods at restaurants.