East is Eden
If you want to go to East, you have to go north, to a sea of chain restaurants and big-box stores, where lies this exciting new restaurant by Richard Lim, whose mini-empire includes Wildflower Grill and Lazia.
Here, he goes back to his Malaysian roots, as the most memorable dishes harken back to his Kuala Lumpur upbringing. Lim and executive chef Nathin Bye brought three Malaysian cooks into the kitchen to make dishes heavily influenced by their capital’s street-hawker fare.
Order several of the signature dishes and prepare to share. The butter prawns ($17.95) come buried in egg floss, shredded yolk that’s flash fried to a crisp and served sweet and salty. Roll the prawns in the floss and it’s a perfect combination.
For richness, try the beef brisket ($13.95), served in a hot pot of brown soya oyster sauce, or the Kuala Lumpur Hokkien noodles ($12.95). The thick wheat noodles are deep brown from a heavy soy sauce, mixed with seafood and pork. It’s a side dish turned into a meal.
Finish with a smoothie, designed by Lim’s son, Eric, and daughter, Tamara. The mango smoothie, with hints of peach, is a dessert unto itself.
And, unlike the shakes from the surrounding chain shops, the smoothie doesn’t get runny when you get to the bottom. (16049 97 St., 780-457-8833, eastedmonton.ca) –Steven Sandor
Past Cibo Bistro’s grand antique double-doors, everything else is modern. From the travertine stone walls to the decor and, especially the menu, it embraces modernity in ways many Italian restaurants reject for more “traditional” ambiences.
Here, “homemade” would be a curse word – not even the bruschetta tastes like something you could make in your kitchen.
For $12, you get three of three with the Trio di Bruschetta Della Casa: marinated fennel and zucchini, braised red peppers and artichoke and, the best of the trio, meaty hedgehog mushrooms. Shaved Parmesan and toasted bread add two more dimensions to the texture.
The ricotta cakes ($11), are crowned with tomato basil jam and make for another great starter. There’s a chicken topping, too, but it’s outshined by the cheese and jam’s rapport.
Moving on to entrees and sides, there are a handful of staples in addition to the daily specials.
The beef cheek ($24), slowly braised in a thick red veal stock, is humongous, but the crispy breaded ball of cheesy risotto by its side lets you take a break. So does an actual side on the contorni menu, such as the brussels sprouts, capers and shallots finished in butter ($7).
Despite the modern flair, pastas are a given. And the creamy goat cheese gnocchi with fava beans ($20)? A must. Finish it with bustrengo ($9), an olive oil-soaked cake – stay with me here – stuffed with figs and apples. It tastes like a gourmet hot-crossed bun that’s been topped with sour-cream custard.
Like the cured meats, pastas and cheeses, it’s made in-house, perhaps the only conservative thing about Cibo. (11244 104 Ave., 780-757-2426, cibobistro.com) –Omar Mouallem
Of the Essence
Ousia, a 890 square-foot Mediterranean restaurant with an earthy brown decor, has a warm, intimate atmosphere that still feels connected to the outside world, thanks to a wall of windows looking out at Whyte Avenue.
Ousia, which means “essence” in Greek, offers signature dishes on dinner and brunch menus that change every few months.
When I visited in March, I saw interesting twists on classics at the top of the menu, with appetizers like the scallop ceviche ($12), raw seafood marinated in lime juice. But here, it was paired with an avocado pure, cilantro and slivers of jicama (a root vegetable with the crunch of water chestnut and the sweetness of apple), all served on house-made taro chips.
Entrees are just as interesting, both to the mouth and the eyes. Try the pistachio herb crusted sea bass ($24). The light fish is the perfect match for the creamy cucumber-cumin yogurt sauce and the sweet roasted red pepper salsa.
Meanwhile, the tender pan-seared duck breast ($28) forms a marriage of flavours between the sweet pomegranate gastrique, slightly salty celery root and tart kumquat chutney.
Dishes are portioned so you can comfortably have a dessert, which may just be the highlight of the meal, especially if you opt for loukoumades ($8). These cinnamon and honey fritters are served alongside in-house made halva ice cream. (10846 82 Ave., 780-761-1910, ousiarestaurant.com) –Caroline Barlott