HicksBiz Blog

Category: food


At Piccolino's, every customer is a friend: Weekly Dish column originally published in Edmonton Sun, July 18, 2012

Piccolino Bistro9112 142 St. 780 443 2110 Food: 4 of 5 starsAmbience: 4 of 5 starsService: 4 of 5 starsDinner for two (without beverages): Basic, $40; fully loaded, $60 Why Italians are so much better at this than anybody else, I do not know.But it's the Italians in this town — Canadians of Italian heritage 1/3 who understand the art of hospitality.After a fine, tummy-filling dinner at Piccolino, owner (with his dad Joe) Lino Rago sits down to catch up on the last few years.He's not really sitting down, he's like a Jack-In-The-Box.Every few minutes, Lino jumps up to greet every customer coming through the door like a long-lost cousin, to give an "arrivederci" or "ciao" and a hug to departing favourite customers. Everybody is a favourite.Piccolino is an immensely popular, small (80 seats) Italian restaurant in the inner west end.There's nothing in its appearance to suggest something special. It looks like your basic eatery in a tree-lined, upper-scale neighbourhood's strip mall, south of Stony ... Read the rest of entry »

Lazia is affordable quality: Weekly Dish column published in Edmonton Sun June 6, 2012

Lazia10200 102 Ave. (Edmonton City Centre West) 780 990 0188 Lazia.caLunch and dinner, 7 days a week Food: 3.75 of 5 starsAmbience: 3 of 5 starsService: 3.5 of 5 stars Dinner for two: Basic, $30; loaded, $50 It’s no wonder that Lazia – in the downtown Edmonton City Centre Mall, across from the YMCA – is a busy place.It’s clean, it’s attractive, it’s fast if time is of the essence.And for the food quality and attention to detail, Lazia is remarkably inexpensive.If something on the 60-item menu (excluding desserts) does not call out to you, then you must be the pickiest eater alive.Lazia’s menu has a split personality. One face is Canadian cuisine, the other Canadianized Asian.The “small plates” are primarily Asian and quite delicious. But unlike most Vietnamese or Thai restaurants, presentation is a priority. The five fat gyoza (Japanese dumplings), for instance, are presented on pressed seaweed for visual effect with a line of sweet chili for decoration and taste, and a light soy dipping sauce.On the Lazia me ... Read the rest of entry »

Worth the gamble: Weekly Dish review of Sage Restaurant, published in Edmonton Sun May 29, 2012

Sage at the River Cree Resort & Casino 300 East Lapotac Blvd. (Whitemud Drive and Winterburn Road) Enoch, AB. 780 484 2121 www.rivercreeresort.com/dining evenings only, closed on Monday Food: 4 of 5 stars Ambience: 3.5 of 5 stars Service: 4 of 5 stars Dinner for two (without beverages): Basic, $85; fully loaded, $140 Reassurement can be a wonderful thing. It's reassuring to report, despite reports of financial turmoil, that life goes on at the Enoch Cree First Nation's River Cree Resort & Casino just outside the city. It's more reassuring, from a fine-dining point of view, to tell you the casino's high-end Sage Restaurant remains one of Edmonton's top restaurants. You enter Sage from inside the casino. For the non-gambler, the approach around the perimeter of the casino's VLT zone is daunting. All that ambient noise and non-stop electronic bell ringing is like West Edmonton Mall on steroids. But as you cross the glass-floored entrance into Sage, all is ... Read the rest of entry »

Nefeli's is classic Italian: Weekly Dish column Edmonton Sun May 22, 2012

In praise of classicism. Nefeli’s – way up in the northeast, in a new strip mall bordering the storm-lake communities north of 153rd Avenue – is all about old-fashioned, classic, Italian food. As it should be. Operating partner Joe Jamal Eddine is happily old-school, a career maître d' who understands customer retention is as much about hospitality as it’s about good food. Joe’s curriculum vitae goes back 25 years in Edmonton. He was maître d’ at the downtown Pazzo Pazzo for many years before striking out to do his own entrepreneurial thing at Nefeli’s with partner Chad Protasiewich. It’s only natural he has stayed with that which brought him to the dance, being traditional, delicious, plated Italian cuisine. You won’t find trendy at Nefeli’s (which means goddess of the clouds in Greek mythology).No wild pairings, no presentation of the month. Just fresh, creamy, bursting with flavour, traditional and formal Italian dishes. ... Read the rest of entry »

Wildflower Grill in full bloom: Weekly Dish review originally published in Edmonton Sun May 15, 2012

Here’s the kicker. Not only is the Wildflower Grill a contender as the top restaurant in town. Not only is the Wildflower Grill, south of Jasper on 107 Street, a pleasure to dine in. Not only does executive chef Nathan Bye insist on nothing but the best leaving his kitchen. It doesn’t have to be expensive! There’s a huge surprise on the Wildflower Grill’s menu. It’s called “lighter fare” in between the “small bites” and the “mains.” Lighter Fare offers 12 delicious, succulent, beautifully cooked dishes ranging in price from $12 to $18. They are perfect for lighter appetites — i.e. what we should all eat if we stayed within a daily calorie intake that doesn’t encourage the gaining of a pound a month. OK, as a reviewer, I had to try a “main” — the mesquite grilled salmon medallions at $36 to follow my beef carpaccio appetizer. The ladies opted for the lighter fare — a Canadian West ... Read the rest of entry »

Manor Bistro is as good as ever: Graham Hicks Weekly Dish review, originally published Edmonton Sun, Wed. May 9, 2012

It’s an unjust world. Big box restaurants have massive marketing budgets for bland, warmed-up frozen food. The best restaurants in Edmonton — small and intimate, with superb chefs using local suppliers — can’t compete marketing-wise. Once past the trendy new restaurant stage, they can’t afford the advertising to stay top-of-mind. Pity. It’s the independents who deliver the very best dining that Edmonton has to offer. The Manor Bistro (originally the Manor Café) is almost 20 years old. The food, the ambience, the entire dining experience is as good, if not better, than ever. You cannot beat The Manor for location. In a former stately old home where 125 Street turns into an elm-lined lane south of Stony Plain Road, the main floor has been opened up to accommodate about 10 dining tables, the upstairs rooms converted into three popular group dining areas. The patio is drenched in dappled sunlight. The Manor has such longevity that chef/owner Cyrilles Koppert is ... Read the rest of entry »

Thumbs up for Suede Lounge: Weekly Dish review originally published in the Edmonton Sun, Wed. May 2, 2012

It's a pleasure to find a gentle, unpretentious, consistent place to eat.It's even more unusual when the establishment is actually a chameleon, a gastro-pub/lounge in the early evening, morphing into a nightclub as time goes by.Suede Lounge has managed to own this turf on the west end of Jasper Avenue (across the parking lot from Earl's Tin Palace) since Jeff Koltec opened the restaurant/lounge in 2004. He sold it last fall.The new owners, thank goodness, see no need for drastic change and have in fact brought in Chef Andrew Seguin from Calgary to maintain Suede's calling card of good, original food.The room is truly versatile. Modern without going overboard on trendiness, it's 60 seats or so, with a stand-up and mingle area, separated by a few stairs from the dining space.We dined at Suede Lounge as a most successful Art of Conversation LXVIII wound down in the stand-up area. While the crowd continued to socialize, the dining area didn't feel crowded or overwhelmed.Suede is known as a wine bar, but its menu ... Read the rest of entry »

Potpurri of fun: The Hot Chefs Cool bEATS food festival at the Shaw Conference Centre: Weekly Dish column originally published in the Edmonton Sun April 25, 2012

Hot Chefs Cool bEATS food festival, Shaw Conference Centre, April 21, 2012Food: 4 of 5Ambience: 4 of 5Service: 4 of 5Much like that re-invented Alberta Progressive Conservative Party, our culinary world evolves.Previous fundraisers for Culinary Team Canada — an Edmonton tradition thanks to long-time organizers Shaw Conference Centre Executive Chef Simon Smotkowicz and NAIT’s Vinod Varshney — were swish, gala events with fancy dresses, business attire and starched linen.Suddenly, it’s not about old-school elegance any longer.It’s about having fun, bringing out the kid in us.It’s about dropping the price tag, as fewer and fewer companies and individuals are willing to shell out for those $300-plus charity event tickets.Hats off to Hot Chefs Cool bEATS co-chairs Simon and Vinomania’s Gurvinder Bhatia.Like Premier Alison Redford’s campaign managers, they figured out where trends are going, and got there first.On Saturday evening, Hot Chefs Cool bEATS was one big, informal, fun street party — and all the better fo ... Read the rest of entry »

Best bread, best French onion soup at The Dauphine Bakery + Bistro: Originally published in the Edmonton Sun, Wed. April 11, 2012

The Dauphine Bakery and Bistro(780) 421-4410 10129 104 st Edmonton, AB T5J0Z9 Mon to Sat. 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday open until 7 p.m.   As the Queen of Tarts of the 104 Street Downtown Farmers’ Market, Linda Kearney’s lemon tart pies were usually sold out before noon.  Fortunately, Kearney had the energy to expand into a permanent bakery and bistro, which sadly, for copyright reasons, cannot use the “Queen of Tarts” moniker. The Dauphine is just steps away from her summer market booth, and what a fine addition to the year-round dining scene it is. The ambience is surprising and delightful. The street-front doors of the old building on 104 Street open onto a wide set of cathedral stairs, leading into an airy loft basement that is anything but — huge ceilings and natural light from the storefront windows create an inviting bakery with the floor space of a warehouse. The main dining space is a niche alongside the great staircase, just seven or eight tables, pl ... Read the rest of entry »

Why the Sorrentino's Garlic Festival is so successful on so many different levels

(This blog posting is a follow-up to the Weekly Dish column in the Edmonton Sun on Wednesday, April 4, 2012, entitled "Alberta's Garlic Advantage" in print, and "Garlic Festival an all-Alberta affair" in the on-line version) The Sorrentino’s Garlic Festival, in its 21st year, has become part of the very fabric of this city. And along the way, a textbook case of great marketing that should be thoroughly studied by any student of marketing and promotion. Most restaurants owners – 99% of them –lack the energy and imagination to separate themselves from the pack. It’s enough, they think, to simply open their doors, provide adequate service, good food and enough advertising to get by. Then there’s Sorrentino’s. Among their many other entrepreneurial strengths, Carmelo and Stella Rago understand the power of being different. Inspired by a world-famous garlic festival in California, Carmelo found the extra energy and extra effort to start that first Garlic Festival two deca ... Read the rest of entry »