Review – Taste of Edmonton offers some variety, but not enough
Gazette staffers test drive revamped event
Friday, Jul 19, 2013 04:00 pm
Another year, another trek to the Taste of Edmonton, the city’s premiere wine and food festival.
Every year I check it out. This time I decided to try something new. I invited two Gazette staffers who have a love for world cuisine in their DNA to join me and provide different insights.
Viola Pruss, our business reporter, has backpacked across four continents sampling a multitude of exotic delights. And Judy L’Heureux, a top-notch graphic designer, has a passion for seafood inherited from her East Coast heritage and love of homegrown French cuisine.
Upon arriving at Sir Winston Churchill Square on Thursday night, people were in high spirits and the chaos was fairly controlled and organized – in most cases.
It may have been the first night when crowds are traditionally thinner, but numerous times we carefully snaked around long lineups on sardined sidewalks. Even a mid-evening dousing of rain failed to dilute crowds.
We weren’t quite sure what to expect. Although organizers have revamped the festival, I had an immediate sense of déjà vu. The booths and entertainment stage were placed in an identical configuration – in large part due to the square’s basic structure.
We tried two programs requiring different tickets. Our first stop was the new Sip ’n Savour tent, converted from last year’s wine venue. Fenced in from the festival vendors, this tent features workshops and competitions during the day. And from 7 p.m. onwards, it morphs into a pop-up tasting centre with a different theme every night.
We attended the President’s Reception with chefs serving half a dozen appetizers while patrons sat al fresco on comfy wicker sofas listening to a band and watching the parade of foodies.
Interestingly enough, the appetizers varied in taste and quality. For instance, we gave Normand’s Bistro’s smoked bison carpaccio the thumbs up. The perfectly roasted bison was delicately paired with crisp greens and tangy dressing to create a pop-in-your-mouth flavour.
In contrast, another chef created a curry-based rice dish with chicken and parsley that is best described as bland. Lacking in salt, it tasted flat.
Within this format, patrons were also given a glass and encouraged to sample different beverages, wine and spirits. For anyone new at wine appreciation, this was a great introduction.
Our second stop was the food booths arranged on three sides of the square. On the Rocks jumped out, serving Alberta prime rib and mini Yorkshire pudding. For three tickets, Judy was handed a bowl-shaped Yorkshire pudding stuffed with shaved prime rib.
“It’s good. The pudding is cold and the beef is warm,” remarked Judy, holding the delicacy with one hand while catching falling crumbs with the other.
She and I checked in at The Creperie for their famous crepe glace au chocolat, a delightful confection of vanilla ice cream wrapped in a crepe and sweetened with hot chocolate sauce, almonds and whipped cream.
“When we have crepes we have them with jam. But this is different,” Judy said, adding she would like to try them again.
Viola, on the other hand, opted to sample the seafood crostini at Underground Tap and Grill – a move that prompted some guesswork as to the ingredients.
“The bread is fresh and it has a very light sauce,” Viola noted.
“Is it like a tartar sauce?” Judy asked.
“No, kind of like a salad dressing. But you get more of the seafood and tomato taste. It’s like bruschetta with seafood in the middle,” Viola said.
I’m not big on bar food, however in a nod to my Polish heritage I was drawn to The Canadian Brewhouse’s deep fried pickles with tzaziki sauce. The sampling is a one-quarter slice of a very fat pickle dipped in a batter and deep fried in scorching heat.
I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed the hot pickle covered in a golden, crispy crust and dipped into a cool tzaziki sauce. But the quarter pickle slice for three tickets ($3 value) was a bit pricey.
At Smokehouse BBQ, both Judy and I stopped to sample candied bacon on a stick, a slice of bacon marinated in maple syrup, cooked to a crisp and woven on a stick. I loved it. Judy wrinkled her nose at it.
“It’s a candied bacon and I was expecting a thicker coating. It just tastes like maple smoked bacon,” she said.
Viola opted for the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald’s mushroom bisque, a creamy soup that deftly harmonizes subtle flavours.
“Once you have it in your mouth, the flavours expand,” Viola noted.
We also made a quick stop for Mercer Tavern’s beef ribs, Bistecca Italian Steakhouse’s bruschetta and Bistro Praha’s grilled Hungarian sausage with sauerkraut and garlic bread. At this point, we were stuffed.
But in a brief recap, we noticed there were a large number of Asian restaurants. Even though Asian food is quite trendy, 18 out of 42 is lopsided.
As Viola pointed out, “We need more variety. There were very few African, European and South American restaurants.”
By and large, the food was quite tasty, however the samplings varied in quantity and value. Fortunately most of the portion sizes and reasonable prizes allowed for extended grazing.
Some of the repeat restaurants offered a similar menu to last year, and as a personal preference, it would be great to see more adventurous dishes.
For a complete menu selection visit www.tasteofedm.ca.