Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Pho Files: Steak and Brisket Pho at Pho Hoa

Steak and Brisket Pho by raise my voice
Steak and Brisket Pho, a photo by raise my voice on Flickr.

It was a well-meaning friend who took me to Pho Hoa (9723 106 Avenue) what seems like a lifetime ago, that began my pho addiction. Before then, I knew nothing of the large, aromatic, steaming bowls of noodles and meat. I believe I had a cold and ordered pho ga (chicken pho). My life was forever changed.

I headed back to Pho Hoa this afternoon for the first time in years to enjoy a bowl after the Lunar New Year celebrations in Chinatown. Unlike many of the restaurants in the area which are Mom and Pop operations, Pho Hoa is part of a chain.

I ordered a large steak and brisket. "Large" usually means more broth in a bigger bowl. In this case, it also meant more meat. When it was placed before me, the top of the bowl was almost covered in it. As well, there is usually a disproportionate amount of steak to brisket (like, lots of steak and maybe two pieces of brisket). There was a lot of brisket here, and it was presented the way I like it: thick slices. Reasonably lean, too.

I was still working through the meat, even towards the bottom of the bowl, with its deep, rich broth. The noodles held up pretty well too.

One of the reasons I stopped coming here was a decline in quality that I perceived. I was pleasantly surprised by my experience this afternoon, and will come again based on it. I hope it will be consistent.

Grilled Beef Vermicelli at Ninh Kieu

I usually have pho at Ninh Kieu, but yesterday for lunch I decided to go for bun (vermicelli noodle bowl). Ninh Kieu's beef is second to none - soft, grilled flavour, and reasonably lean. The portion is pretty good too.

Onion Cake at Ninh Kieu

Onion Cake by raise my voice
Onion Cake, a photo by raise my voice on Flickr.

I love the selection of appetizers at Ninh Kieu (10708 98 Street) if for no other reason than they offer half-sizes. When I dine alone, one onion cake is all I need. Hot and crispy, and moist on the inside, I always enjoy this treat here.

Coffee Break: Latte at Second Cup

Latte by raise my voice
Latte, a photo by raise my voice on Flickr.

Second Cup is always my go-to to grab a cup of coffee since there is one in close proximity to where I live. Their lattes are consistent, and very hot. The "V" illustrated here was an attempt at the barrista drawing a heart - hey, it's the thought that counts!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Coffee Break: Flat White at Transcend Jasper Avenue

Flat White by raise my voice
Flat White, a photo by raise my voice on Flickr.

Transcend has some coffee beverages that are better known in other parts of the world. A "flat white" is one of them. It was explained to me as a cross between a latte and a cappuccino.

Indeed, it was creamy like a latte, but more along the size and strength of a cappuccino, without the foam. It also wasn't overly hot, an aspect of the drink which I personally quite enjoyed.

Apparently, flat whites are quite popular in Australia. I can see this becoming one of my go-to drinks at Transcend.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Coffee Break: Espresso at Transcend Jasper Avenue

Espresso Shot by raise my voice
Espresso Shot, a photo by raise my voice on Flickr.

I stopped in to the Jasper Avenue location of Transcend Coffee to do some reading and wait for a rally to start up the street at Beaver Hills House Park.

I had an espresso, as I needed an afternoon pick-me-up - and up I was indeed picked (that looks funny now that I have written it down, but I really did mean to say it). Very bold, very rich, very powerful. I was taken to the deepest depths of coffee.

Needless to say, it was very strong and not something I would have every day, but it was an expertly pulled shot.

Fatburger Single Burger Combo

Once upon a time, there used to be only one location of Fatburger in Edmonton. It was located way on the south side, in an area not easily accessible by me.

Then, one day another location opened up in City Centre Mall downtown. I avoided it for as long as I could, as eating a heavy fast food meal in the middle of the day could prove hazardous to my digestion.

Today, I decided to go for it. I had a single burger combo. The patty was juicy and took most of its flavour from its surrounding condiments, of which there were many. I really like the fresh, untoasted bun (I find toasted buns have a tendency to fall apart).

Besides the indigestion, the only other drawback I find to Fatburger is the price. In fact, several parties entered and then left due to sticker shock. While the quality is high, it is still technically fast food.

If you like burgers, don't overlook Fatburger - even though your budget may hate you for it.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Coffee Break: Latte at Wild Earth Cafe

Latte by raise my voice
Latte, a photo by raise my voice on Flickr.

Wild Earth Cafe (14238 85 Ave) recently opened in Edmonton's west end. Wild Earth's south side bakery location is quite a popular spot for coffee, treats, and sandwiches.

This location is smaller both in terms of size and menu offerings, but there is a huge selection of hot and cold drinks, particularly coffee and tea (there is a list of at least a dozen different kinds of London Fogs). A number of pastries and cakes are in the front display area, and there are a few sandwiches, salads, soups, and hot items to make a light lunch.

Today was my second trip to Wild Earth and I opted for a latte. Fitting in with the artistic atmosphere was the artistic presentation of my drink, which was rich and creamy.

The Pho Files: Pho Tai at Ngu Binh

Pho Tai by raise my voice
Pho Tai, a photo by raise my voice on Flickr.

Ngu Binh (15620 95 Ave.) is the west end's newest Vietnamese restaurant. It is located in the Sandy Lane strip mall.

I ordered a bowl of Pho Tai, which is typically what I order first at such a restaurant. At $10, it was pricier than bowls of pho in Chinatown, but it was large and had a lot of meat in it, which was lean and tender. The brother was deep and meaty, with enough herbs to give the flavour multiple layers.

I hope Ngu Binh fares better than its predecessors in that location, because it's exciting to see hot spots for pho extending throughout the city.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Coffee Break: Espresso at Spinelli's Bar Italian

Espresso by raise my voice
Espresso, a photo by raise my voice on Flickr.

I have a confession: I have been doing shots. Straight shots. Often more than once a week. Sometimes, alone.

My name is Paula, and I am addicted to the espresso at Spinelli's Bar Italian (95 Street and 108 Avenue in the Italian Centre Shop).

Bold, deep, with just a slight accent of fruit, the espresso here is consistently good, never bitter, and very satisfying. I had always found straight espresso shots to be too strong, until now.

And, since caffeine is currently not available intravenously, this is the closest alternative I have found.

Sweet and Sour Chicken Balls with Coconut Rice

After our wonderful experience last week, a return to Pho Rice Pot (184 Street and Stony Plain Road) was imminent. Hungry, but on a budget, we opted to share an order of sweet and sour chicken balls with a large order of coconut rice.

We made short work of the twelve deep-fried chicken balls. Golden brown and just a little bit greasy, they were artery cloggers, but delicious ones. The coconut rice was rich and creamy.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Satay Chicken Rice Bowl at Rice Bowl Deluxe

Rice Bowl Deluxe is an independent, Asian fusion fast food restaurant in Callingwood. The menu is full of choices inspired by Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indonesian, and Chinese cuisine.

I had a Chicken Satay Rice Bowl. Four skewers of chicken were atop a medley of vegetables in a plastic bowl within the larger bowl, containing coconut rice. I had to extract the bowl and pour it into the larger one, which was a bit awkward.

The veggies and rice were tasty enough, but the chicken did not taste fresh to me, and seemed undercooked in a few places. The peanut sauce was served to the side and was average.

Overall, I was not impressed enough to plan another trip here in the near future, although I would be willing to give Rice Bowl Deluxe a second chance.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Pho Files: Stewed Beef Brisket Soup at Pho Rice Pot

Stewed Brisket Soup by raise my voice
Stewed Brisket Soup, a photo by raise my voice on Flickr.

Biggest. Soup. Ever.

Those were the words that went through my brain when I set eyes on my serving of stewed beef brisket soup that I had for lunch this afternoon at Pho Rice Pot.

I had a choice of egg or rice noodles, and I opted for rice. The bowl was so large, I could have gone swimming in it (OK, not literally - but you get the idea). Huge chunks of reasonably lean brisket floated atop a mountain of noodles, as did a number of large and tender carrot pieces. The broth was so aromatic, its scent wafted all through our table, and it was a bit spicier than other Vietnamese stews I have had. I think a spicy paprika may have been used (also attributing to the broth's orange colour), but I could also taste cloves and other seasonings.

This soup is one of the restaurant's specialities, and I could see - and taste - why. It was truly memorable.

Lemon Chicken at Pho Rice Pot

Lemon Chicken by raise my voice
Lemon Chicken, a photo by raise my voice on Flickr.

Pho Rice Pot (18485 Stony Plain Road) was conveniently located near where I was shopping this afternoon, so we stopped in for lunch.

I could not resist grabbing a bite of my companion's lemon chicken (and besides, I was paying!). The large plate contained three chicken breasts, battered and fried to a golden brown. The chicken was juicy and plump, while the coating was crispy and not too greasy. The sweet lemon sauce was served in a bowl to the side.

We noted that with an order of rice, we could have shared it for lunch - and that is exactly what we plan to do on a future visit!

Filet Medallions at Tony Roma's

Filet Medallions by raise my voice
Filet Medallions, a photo by raise my voice on Flickr.

Tony Roma's is one of my favourite restaurant chains in part because of the affordable lunch menu. For $7, $8, or $9 a customer can order from a variety of dishes, most of which are smaller versions of items on the main menu.

When lunching yesterday at the Westmount location, I decided to be decadent and went with one of the $9 options: the filet medallions. Two adorable three ounce steak pieces were set atop a thin slice of garlic foccacia, and served with coleslaw and one choice of a side. I opted for fries.

The medallions were grilled perfectly to my specifications - the photo makes them look a bit burned, but they weren't. They were well done, and I am impressed they were as good as they were without turning into shoe leather. They were fun to look at and even more fun to eat. Tony Roma's coleslaw and fries are consistently good - not out of this world, but definitely enjoyable.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Coffee Break: French Press at Three Bananas

French Press Coffee by raise my voice
French Press Coffee, a photo by raise my voice on Flickr.

I haven't had French Press coffee in a long time, and decided to indulge at Three Bananas (Churchill Square) this afternoon where I was meeting up with a friend. Fourteen ounces of fresh, fragrant coffee was enough to keep me bouncing off the walls for the rest of the afternoon.

The Pho Files: Pho Tai at Pho King

Pho Tai by raise my voice
Pho Tai, a photo by raise my voice on Flickr.

This is a small bowl of rare steak pho at Pho King. The steak was actually cooked pretty thoroughly by the time it reached my table, but it was very tender and the broth was perfect.

Beef Salad Rolls at Pho King

Beef Salad Rolls by raise my voice
Beef Salad Rolls, a photo by raise my voice on Flickr.

I took my second trip to Pho King in a matter of days as I was on Alberta Avenue this afternoon photographing the Deep Freeze festival. In addition to my usual bowl of rare steak pho, I had two salad rolls with beef. The salad roll choices also include shrimp and tofu.

The rolls were thick and tasted strongly of basil. The beef itself was tender, but plain-tasting. I was expecting it to have the excellent grilled flavour of the beef found in Pho King's vermicelli bowl. Thus, I was a bit disappointed.

Breakfast for Lunch: Eggs and Pancakes

Eggs and Pancakes by raise my voice
Eggs and Pancakes, a photo by raise my voice on Flickr.

Of all of the chain restaurants in Edmonton that serve breakfast, I think I like IHOP (3921 Calgary Trail) the best. I find the food of slightly higher quality, particularly the pancakes, which literally melt in my mouth.

Which is why I went for the eggs and pancake combo when I was there for lunch late last week. Two pancakes, two eggs, hash browns, and a choice of bacon or sausage. I asked for a turkey bacon substitution, which cost me an extra $1.29. That was my one problem with the meal - other restaurants do not charge for such a thing (like Denny's). But anyways . . .

I had my eggs over easy and I chose the blueberry pancakes. Wow. They were light, fluffy, and had large, juicy blueberries falling out of them. Definitely the highlight of the meal.

The poor man at the next table opted, for some reason, for toast instead of pancakes. When mine arrived, he had to apologize for staring, as he had a serious case of food envy. I resisted the urge to tell him afterwards that they tasted as good as they looked.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Grilled Beef Vermicelli at Pho King

I opted for vermicelli instead of pho for supper last night at Pho King (92 Street and 118 Avenue).

My grilled beef bun (as the word is in Vietnamese for a rice noodle bowl) was probably the best I have ever had. The meat was succulent, presented upon four skewers and flavourful with lemongrass. Presented in a shallow bowl, the noodles and vegetables were separate, keeping the cold items cold and the hot items hot. My dish was as beautiful to look at as it was delicious to eat.

Chocolate Torte Cake and Mochachino

I often have coffee in the afternoon, usually over a meeting or reading a book by myself. It is only when I feel particularly decadent that I have cake or another kind of sweet treat.

When I was at Zocalo (95 Street and 108 Avenue) with a co-worker yesterday, I indulged in a piece of chocolate torte cake. The cake itself was rich and fudge-like in texture, while the creamy middle layer reminded me of cheesecake. However, it was the top, thick layer of fudge which took the cake (literally). It was a chocoholic's delight.

Add to this experience the fact I had a mochachino, and that rounded out the chocolate goodness of the afternoon. What I like the most about Zocalo's mochas is that they use real, shaved chocolate - not a poweder or syrup. The result is not as sweet as other mochas, but definitely rich and chocolatey.

Now, please excuse me - I have to get to an exercise class!

Onion Cakes at Pho King

Onion Cakes by raise my voice
Onion Cakes, a photo by raise my voice on Flickr.

I love green onion cakes as an appetizer in Vietnamese restaurants, so I ordered them on my trip to Pho King (92 Street and 118 Avenue) for supper yesterday evening.

The cakes were not as crispy as I like, but were quite chewy on the inside. At only $3 for a cake, it was a steal, even if it was not perfect.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Pho Files - King Noodle

Pho Tai (Steak) by raise my voice
Pho Tai (Steak), a photo by raise my voice on Flickr.

King Noodle House/Pho Hoang (10613 - 97 Street) is one of the busiest Vietnamese restaurants in Chinatown. Pho is what the place sells for the most part, with a few vermicelli dishes and appetizers. It is family owned and operated (Hoang is, in fact, the family name), prices are in line with what pho goes for in Chinatown, and the place has a greasy spoon feel to it, Vietnamese style.

My small bowl of Pho Tai (medium steak) was large and hearty. I find the meat King Noodle uses is very soft and tender. The broth is flavourful and slightly more oily than I have had elsewhere, with a strong scent that can linger on the lips afterwards. I think this is perhaps from a little extra fish sauce, which is a typical ingredient of pho broth.

What makes King Noodle's pho stand out even more from the rest is the noodles themselves. They are firm and stay that way, even after they are in little pieces floating at the bottom of the bowl. They never get soggy. It's a great texture that keeps me slurping all the way to the end - and I very rarely consume all of the liquid in a serving, except here.

King Noodle is a pho joint that lives up to its name.