Eating Edmonton: Juniper Cafe & Bistro

Eating Edmonton: Juniper Cafe & Bistro

Ah, the old Strathearn Pub, we hardly knew thee. You definitely won’t be missed. An eyesore on the neighborhood, filled with some fairly questionable clientele, and being shut down for running drugs through the bar? Not the type of thing that the actually pretty nice Strathearn neighborhood needed.

Sure, there were some crazed nights of poor decisions there, but really, the area deserves something better than a poorly run, sketchy, cocaine-trafficking pub.

Enter the Juniper Cafe & Bistro, who have recently opened their doors after revamping the space formerly occupied by the bar (9514 87 st).

Walking in to the Juniper, it is hardly recognizable as the old Strathearn. Which is definitely a good thing. They have gone through great pains to completely revamp the space, and now instead of a dank pub where the bigger fear is getting stabbed over quality service, the Juniper is a bright and airy cafe, lined with small tables and a walk-up counter to place your order, filled with delicious-looking treats.

juniper2At first, the Juniper had some small growing pains, such as not taking debit when they opened, or only having photocopies of the small menu, or not having their liquor license in place, but those are hiccups that small businesses have to deal with. Upon return visits, they have definitely been ironing out the kinks.

For the menu, the Juniper offers a small selection of choices for each meal. I have frequented there most often for breakfast, so at this point I am unable to speak to the dinner options. But the brekkie is…good. Upon my first visit there, I was offered a free order of their signature breakfast sandwich, a pulled pork Eggs Bennie sandwich. (The price is $10, which is a little steep, so a was more than happy to take one for free!)

I was unsure at first, since the food was a combination of things I never really cared for. Then I absolutely devoured it. It was delicious. They wanted feedback on their food, and I provide it happily here. It was one of the best breakfast sandwiches I have ever had. So, it would definitely be worth the price.

juniper4As for the other things I’ve tried, the scones are delicious. Blueberry and rosemary? Good. Raspberry and white chocolate? Good. A simple cup of coffee? Good. The Juniper has been all hits for me so far, and I look forward to the short stroll from my place to them on the weekend, to pick up something to snack on.

I truly hope that the Juniper is able to succeed in their location. It is a quiet spot, tucked away from the main traffic of the city, but it serves as a great little local cafe. Each time I have been in there, it seems to be doing good business so far, which is great to see. With an incredibly friendly staff who truly care that you like their food and their place, and increasing efficiency each time I’ve gone in. It will be a place that I will visit, whether it is for a meal, or quick coffee.

The Juniper is a breath of fresh air for the Strathearn area. It is exactly what the place needs, and does wonders for the small, decrepit, mostly abandoned strip mall that it locates. Perhaps the success of the Juniper will draw other small businesses to open up in the area, and bring the place back to life. (As long as Ralph’s Handi-Mart is still around- best fried chicken in the city- not even kidding, it is something of legend in the area.)

If you’re in the area, stop by the Juniper. It is a nice little place for those who have never been around Strathearn before, and a shock to the system for those who remember the days of the Pub, or actually dared to step inside there.

Best of luck to the Juniper, and I hope that they are around for a long time, so that I get the chance to eat more of their delicious stuff!

Advertisements

Eating Edmonton: Tzin Wine and Tapas

Eating Edmonton: Tzin Wine and Tapas

Any time there is an item on a menu simply called “Bacon”, I am sold.

Tzin Wine and Tapas in Edmonton (10115- 104th street, right by the Blue Plate Diner) is a tiny hole-in-the-wall wine bar that can hold about 30 people at a time in a warm setting in the downtown area. What is provided here is a nice atmosphere, a very friendly staff, a cozy setting, and some good wine selections.

tzin3
For food, Tzin doesn’t have an extensive menu, which is nice, and should be expected. It is tapas style, serving small portions so that you are able to try a few different things. And from my experience, those different things are quite tasty, and perfect for sharing.

We ate the Bacon and the Shrimp (I just love the simple names!), and both were very delicious, providing some tasty snacks in between sips of the main star of Tzin, which is the wine selection. A very good selection of both reds and whites should do the trick for wine lovers of all sorts. There isn’t much in the way of description of the wines, which would have been kind of nice, but it is more a place for someone who knows what kind of wine they like, and would like to try something that you can’t always get at the local Liquor Depot.

The prices aren’t bad, although Tzin isn’t exactly the kind of place one would go to if they were on some kind of budget. For two appetizers, and two glasses of wine each, the bill came to $100. Not insane, but not somewhere that could be frequented on a weekly basis on my income. But for the time there, it was well worth it.

tzin4The wines we tried were both delicious, and we both really liked the food that we had. The cozy atmosphere was quite nice, and despite the proximity of the tables to one another, it does feel like there is some sort of privacy. Even though they may be a couple of feet away from you, it is not like you have to hear every word that your neighbors are saying, and there is no need to up the volume on your conversation because the other people are too loud. It is quite nice.

Tzin’s decor definitely looks like a wine bar. The cramped quarters, the heavy velvet curtain upon entering the main door, the friendly server, all adds to the atmosphere of Tzin, and helps make it a pleasant evening there.

This is not a restaurant where I would recommend going for a full meal, but it is a good place for an after-work drink, or a quick bite and glass of wine with friends. It can also serve as a good date location. There is nothing but positive things to say about this place, and I would definitely recommend it, as well as frequent it again myself.

Eating Edmonton: Izakaya Tomo

Eating Edmonton: Izakaya Tomo

I’ll be the first to admit that I am extremely picky about Japanese restaurants. Having lived in Japan, I want it to be as authentic as possible, without having to absolutely break the bank in order to get some good sushi, and other delicious Japanese cuisine.

In Edmonton, there are some very solid sushi restaurants. Many of them will annihilate your wallet before leaving, and others will leave you with a reasonable sushi experience, but nothing great.

tomoPrior to going, I had heard nothing but positive things about Izakaya Tomo, located on 99th Street, near 34th Avenue. It is pretty innocuous in a small strip mall next to a hot yoga joint.

Walking in, Izakaya Tomo provides a genuine izakaya feel. It’s not hidden booths and crammed with tables like many Western restaurants, but open, and filled with picnic-style tables, similar to the styles that would be more commonly found in Japan. The decor has it down, and if anything, that is a really good start.

There is an excellent selection of alcohol, including a good variety of beer and sake, and although the menu is not massive, there is a nice selection of Japanese fare to be had. Sushi, rolls, some rices, along with some traditional hot dishes make up for a good opportunity to do some sampling.

IMG_2811The best part about izakayas in Japan (izakaya simply means “pub style”) is that there is always a variety of food, and it is cheap, so that you can order a bunch and share. It is not typical to order yourself a meal. The idea is to order a ton of things, get to sample a little bit of everything, and pay a small price for each dish. Izakaya Tomo does most of this right. Some of the prices are a bit high here, and it is definitely easy to rack up a pretty impressive bill. Such is a problem with getting “foreign” cuisine at Western prices. People are willing to pay it, so there is no reason that it needs to be cheaper (for example, an order of maki rolls will set you back about $4.50, whereas this is generally filler food in Japan, usually to be had for little more than a dollar per order).

But, the food is worth it.

tomo3Everything that we tried as a group, was good. The negitoro was beyond delicious (to the point where we went through five orders of it), and the rolls were excellent (except for the California rolls, which used imitation crab, similar to what you would find at Safeway, making it the only disappointing thing about the restaurant). The fried rice was good (especially the one with the pickles in it- seems weird, but trust me). The okonimiyaki-style dish got rave reviews. The gyoza was solid. The beef tataki was fresh and full of flavour. The fish was fresh and tasty, making it a very good meal.

The atmosphere inside is nice, to along with the good food. It is a fun, laid back place, with a good hubbub from the customers, and a nice buzz to the place.

tomo5In the end, there were five of us, and we racked up a bill of over $170, including drinks (can’t say no to the massive beers!). At about $40/person, we ate until we were full and had enough drinks to keep us happy. Not the best deal in the world, but still, it is nothing out of the ordinary for dining out in Edmonton, especially on Japanese food. And again, the food is absolutely worth it.

Izakaya Tomo is now my favorite Japanese restaurant in Edmonton. It comes the closest to recreating the pub experience in Japan, the food is good, it’s a fun place to go, and despite the perceived high prices, it is really no more expensive than any other sushi joint in town.

I would definitely recommend Izakaya Tomo for anyone in Edmonton looking for a good evening, good drinks, good food, and a relaxed atmosphere.

Eating Tokyo: Genki Sushi

Eating Tokyo: Genki Sushi

It’s difficult to choose a restaurant in Tokyo to choose to review, since there are just so many of them. It has to be one that people will specifically make an attempt to visit, and Genki Sushi, in the Shibuya district, is just that.

genkiA take on kaiten sushi, where plates of sushi pass you by on a conveyor belt, and you simply pick the plates that you want to eat and are charged based on the number (and colour coded prices) of plates that you eat, Genki Sushi makes the kaiten experience even more…Japanese.

Might as well make the sushi eating experience a little more futuristic.

genki5At Genki Sushi, once you have found it, lined up with the other foreigners who want to try it out, and found a place at either the plentiful counters or few booths (for larger groups, there are about 3 booths that can seat 6 each), you start to scroll through the computer screen, where you can build up your own orders. You are able to order 3 items at a time, and once you have selected your food, you get to wait for the fun part.

It comes to you on a trolley on a conveyor belt. I have to admit, it is pretty fun to see your food making its way towards you, at a pretty quick speed, on a little table that is like a train that brings sushi. Taking your plates from the trolley, you push a button to send it back, and then dig in and enjoy. You are able to make as many orders as you like, but only 3 items at a time.

genki4The sushi menu itself is pretty expansive, and you will struggle to find a kind of fish that you want, and not see it on the menu. Many Westerners tend to enjoy the rolls quite a bit, as they are some of the most common elements on North American sushi restaurant menus, and there are a few choices here. But the main draw is the fish itself.

Typically, kaiten is your low end option for sushi. It is fast, and cheap, and gets the job done. Genki Sushi is simply better food, for the same price, along with fun put into the whole thing. The choices are strong, the sushi is good, and the entertainment value is second-to-none.

It is very possible to eat a large sushi meal here for under $15. Again, it all depends on how much you want to order. On my first visit, 4 friends and I created a pile of plates as tall as we were (seated), had some drinks, were full by the end of it, and it cost us each about $12. You can’t beat that.

There are some especially delicious choices on the menu that you won’t find at a regular kaiten restaurant: the trout is excellent, as is the mackarel. There are also some “grilled” salmon options (meaning they’ve spent a couple of seconds under a blow torch), that come with onions and mayo that are quite delicious.

genki3It makes sense why Genki Sushi has become such a popular place among Tokyoites and foreigners alike. It is good, cheap food, with a unique twist. This is something that we simply do not have back home (although apparently there will be a Genki Sushi opening in Seattle soon), therefore making it a destination place in the heart of Shibuya. Considering the hundreds of restaurants in the area, it is pretty easy to find, and well worth it in the end.

Genki Sushi was good enough that I took the time to make more than one stop there, and was satisfied with each trip. Delicious.

Ski Report: Panorama Mountain Resort

Ski Report: Panorama Mountain Resort

Panorama Mountain Resort, just outside of Invermere, British Columbia, is a favorite ski spot for its very consistent conditions, and beautiful mountain village. With a ton of condos right on the hill, or (worse case) just a short gondola ride up a hill, everything is close and within reach in the village. There are a handful of very good restaurants and the Great Lodge always makes a good place to relax after a few hard runs down the hill.

This year, the ski conditions weren’t at their best, as Panorama needs one thing right now: a massive amount of snow.

pano2Most runs were open, and generally, there was decent snow coverage, with only the occasional rock or exposed chunk of land, but it really could use a big dump to get a little bit of powder going, to cover up the icy spots and return Panorama to its normal skiing glory.

The resort does well with what it has, having the runs nicely groomed for each day on the hill, and one of the best features of the mountain is that each run is generally big enough that you are able to find a route down that is relatively untouched, or without traces of ice. Despite our concerns for the lack of snow, it provided a couple of days of very solid, if unspectacular, skiing.

A couple of things that have changed in Pano over the past year:

1. There is no longer hot breakfast being served in the Great Hall until 11 AM. This came as a bit of a surprise, since it had always been busy in there for breakfast before. In fact, the Great Hall served no more made-to-order meals, instead relying on churning out burgers and fries and having them sit under heat lamps until they are grabbed by a customer. This created a lot less traffic in the cafeteria area, since it was always a very long wait for food before, but it does create a lower quality meal.

2. Employees tend to be very confused on the locations of things that probably should be a part of their job. It took me asking three different employees where the Ski Patrol station was, so that I could check on an injured student. None of them knew where it was, and I had to rely on some good wandering in order to find the place. I had just assumed that people who worked there would know where certain things were located. I was incorrect.

pano53. The condos at Panorama are always very nice. They all have nice, large balconies, and are quite spacious, and have rooms available for various sizes of groups. This year, a couple of the rooms were not as prepared as they could have been, or have been in the past. Missing bedding for pull-out couches became hard to come by, and there was more than one instance where there was a lovely stash of smelly garbage in a room. These are small things that can be easily remedied by housekeeping and guest services. We were happy to be in the perfectly located Panorama Springs building.

4. This year, Panorama has changed their ideas around for storage, insisting that no skis or boards enter the rooms. They now provide lockers on the first floor of the building where you can store your stuff. But this raises a few issues, with one locker being assigned per room. The lockers are the size of your typical high school locker, meaning there is little chance of fitting a snowboard in there, let alone six. At best, you could get two pairs of skis in there, but nothing more, and even that requires a degree in engineering to figure out. Locks are provided by the front desk, with a $20 deposit if they are not returned. Somehow, this new locker usage feels like a money grab, since it provides far more inconvenience that needed. I see no issue with leaving skis and boards on the balconies of the rooms, as it has always been done before. Another issue is that the locks have the combinations attached to them on a small, easy-to-lose card, which of course could lead to a whole other whack of issues.

Panorama is a definite favorite spot for skiing. This year, it was not perfect, but perhaps that is more to blame on mother nature and her refusal to snow much this year. The weather was absolutely perfect, hovering near the freezing mark for much of the time. It offered a perfect day outside, and warm enough to sit outside on the large patio at the Great Hall, to enjoy the spectacular views, some good times, and some good skiing.

I will always recommend Panorama to others as an optimal place to ski. Despite the little foibles that we found this year, it is still a great place to go. Maybe wait, and be sure to check those snow reports, before heading out.

Long Way Down (TV Review)

Long Way Down (TV Review)

Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman are back for another incredible motorcycle trip in Long Way Down, the follow up to their incredibly successful, and amazingly watchable, Long Way Round. In this journey, the two friends decide to bike from the very northern tip of Scotland, all the way to the most southern point of South Africa, seeing as much as they can on the way down.

long3The series’ made by these two are so fun and interesting to watch, that I can only hope there are going to be more on the way. (There are talks that they are going to be making a third version of the series, another monster trip from the south of South America, up to Alaska, called, of course, Long Way Up.)

So many interesting things happen to these guys on their trips, and it is of course surrounded by incredible natural scenery, as they make their way through Europe and then criss-cross the African continent.

  • The friendship between McGregor and Boorman is what makes this show tick. They are very likable people, and they are endlessly watchable.
  • It is always cool to see a famous actor just being a regular person, and this very much is how McGregor is. He doesn’t play on his fame, and really does seem to be just a normal guy. He is funny, and relaxed, but gets worked up over the same things as anybody else would.
  • There is conflict in the series, just as there was on Round. Nothing while traveling is ever perfect, and disagreements happen. They are open to them.
  • They always stop to do charity work along the way. This is great to see, and gives their trip more than just the “rich actors wanting to do cool, crazy stuff” idea.
  • I love the planning episodes. It is like a travelers dream, to be pouring over maps like that.
  • Incredible scenery.
  • The chance to experience so many things. The people they meet along the way, the tiny villages they stay in, the local flavours of Africa. They aren’t just high-tailing it across a continent, they want to be able to experience it as much as humanly possible.
  • The riding itself looks incredible. They go from solid blacktop roads, to brutal deep sand. Even them, being very experienced riders, spend a lot of time falling off their bikes, but still pushing forward in fairly undriveable conditions.
  • Their love of motorbikes is infectious. It would be hard to watch their series without some part of you craving to get your licence, and start learning how to ride a bike, if you don’t know how already. It really does seem like complete freedom. The open road, the views, having your own thoughts all day. Incredible.
  • The human factor: our two main characters get tired, they get grouchy, they want to quit, they need a day off. All of these things happen on any kind of road trip, and they are not immune to it.
  • Respect: they are always respectful of their surroundings, and they don’t just come roaring into town expecting the best of everything because they are making a TV show. They are happy to be treated well, and are content with often meager amenities. Boorman and McGregor do not act like primadonnas, which is great.
  • Excellent camera work. With personal video diaries, helmet cams, and a couple of camera men along on their journey, it is captured and edited very well. Not much is missed, and it is put together in a nice, entertaining way.
  • For those who have also read the book that came out before the series, like Long Way Round, this is another great way to accompany it, with the visuals that go along with the descriptions in the book.

longFor travelogues, Long Way Down is top notch. Although I have never held a particular interest in Africa, seeing their adventures has definitely opened my eyes to how incredible the place can be. This is another fun show from these two guys, and would definitely recommend checking it out on Netflix.