Some friends and I planned a dinner out on Saturday, April 25th, so I suggested we try out the newly opened (as in opened two days before on the 23rd) Cactus Club Cafe location over at West Edmonton Mall. Edmonton used to have a local location of this Western Canadian chain a long time ago, but it didn’t fare very well and closed relatively quickly.
Despite its brief stint in Edmonton, the Cactus Club Cafe has been around for many years. More recently in the past few years, much like how Earls and Moxie’s is also doing, the Cactus Club Cafe is working to make their menu, decor and atmosphere more sophisticated. When (Canadian celebrity chef and Iron Chef America winner against Masaharu Morimoto) Chef Rob Feenie’s assocation ended with Vancouver’s Lumiere and Feenie restaurants, he later popped back into the public eye as the new “Food Concept Architect” for the Cactus Club Cafe. They’ve used his name to great advantage; his face is all over the website, he often talks to the media about the food at the Cactus Club Cafe, and all of his specific dishes are marked on the menus with a special RF logo.
As the restaurant had just opened, I half-expected service to be a bit slow but all of the staff were unfailingly attentive and helpful, and the food arrived quickly. (Other blogs and Chowhound discussions say that staff were flown in from Vancouver to ensure smooth service.)
The restaurant is located in a free-standing location in the northwest corner of the mall where a car repair shop used to be (Sears, I think). There is no entrance via the mall at all; an interesting decision that I hope doesn’t hurt them later when the tourists and locals stay inside the mall and don’t want to walk outside in bad weather.
The decor is modern but comfortable, with a mix of different textures and materials. Red leather seats, wood panelled walls and tables, glass, and even a concrete block wall gives the place an interesting look. The lights are dimmed somewhat so the red of the seats are muted. The booths are spacious, and art is featured on many of the walls (including some from Andy Warhol). A large patio was already set with lounge-style outdoor furniture, although at the time it was still too chilly for people to sit outside.
To start, a couple of people ordered bellinis and promptly declared them delicious. (Sorry, no photo. They stirred and slurped the drinks before I could take the camera out.)
We all shared a couple of appetizers. The first dish was an order of calamari, red pepper and jalapeño, dusted with fresh dill and served with chipotle aioli and tzatziki dips. The calamari was tender and the jalapeños gave the dish a lot of heat. (Lots and lots of heat.)
Another appetizer was the smoked cheddar spinach dip, which included grilled chicken, romano, parmesan, mozzarella and salsa fresca, and was served with tortilla chips. There was enough cheese in there that there was the occasional string of cheese when dipping, but not so much that the dip became greasy. The chicken also made the dip more dense and hearty. The chips were baked, I think, because they weren’t greasy at all and didn’t seem fried.
For the main part of the meal, some of us ordered full entrées and some ordered smaller dishes. I really wanted to try the sablefish (also known as black cod). I think this fish has become one of Feenie’s signature ingredients; every time I see him on TV (including the Iron Chef episode) he always seems to be cooking it. This version is a sake-soy marinated sablefish in dashi broth, served with fingerling potatoes and asparagus. The sliced potatoes, which looked surprisingly like scallops, absorbed enough of the broth to flavour the potatoes, but not so much that they became soggy. The fish portion was huge and perfectly cooked. It practically melted in my mouth. I was tempted to drink the broth but it was a little too salty to have on its own. My only complaint about the dish is that I wish there had been more vegetables. This is definitely something that I would order again and again.
One friend ordered the bandara salad, which consisted of cajun chicken, corn, dates, feta, crispy chow mein and honey-lime vinaigrette. She said the chicken was well seasoned, and that the salad was decent but nothing special.
Another dish ordered at my table was the beef carpaccio – peppercorn-crusted tenderloin with grainy dijon aioli, pickled shallots, fried capers, parmesan and five-herb crostini. My friend opted not to have the crostini due a need for a gluten-free meal. She said the dish wasn’t what she had expected, but that it was tasty.
And my third friend ordered scallops and butternut squash ravioli, which was served with a truffle beurre blanc, amaretti, pine nuts and crispy sage. I asked how the dish was and was told that it was excellent but that she wished there had been a little more food.
For dessert a couple of us ordered the chocolate peanut butter crunch bar with Tahitian vanilla ice cream, chocolate pearls and caramel sauce. The bar had a soft fudge-y texture, with a layer of crispy rice at the bottom. It really did taste like eating a chocolate and peanut butter bar, albeit a fancy one. The chocolate pearls were crunchy and delicious and the caramel sauce was surprisingly thick and a bit hard. What would have really made this dish stand out is a fantastic ice cream. Too bad this one wasn’t that great. While the texture was okay, I could not taste any vanilla at all, let alone Tahitian vanilla.
One nice feature that the restaurant offers is a single bill that is split per person for all menu items; each section of the bill included a spilt cost for the appetizers, and everyone was assigned the cost for their individual drinks, entrées and desserts.
And lastly, the bathrooms. I have no idea what the men’s room looks like, but the women’s room is gorgeously filled with frosted glass. The furniture in there looks like it would fit in with any magazine photo spread of a contemporary modern living room. Push a button on the toilet seat and a plastic cover automatically rotates to give you a clean place to sit. Mini TVs set into each stall’s door broadcasts fashion shows for your entertainment. They even provide lighted makeup mirrors with “You’re beautiful” printed on them in case you need to do some preening before heading back out.
All in all, we were happy with our food and I am eager to come back and try some of the other menu items. Go early or be prepared for a long wait to get a table.
Cactus Club Cafe
West Edmonton Mall
(northeast corner of the mall in the parking lot, no entrance via mall)
1946, 8882-170th Street NW
Also in various locations in British Columbia and Calgary, Alberta.