Cactus Club Cafe, Edmonton

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.)

calamari

calamari

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Famoso, Edmonton

Famoso sign

Famoso sign

I have finally sampled pizza nirvana (or at least as close as you can come when you are in Edmonton).

A group of friends and I trekked over to the south-side Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria for a get together on Saturday. Greedily, we decided to order one different pizza each – that way we could try many kinds and share slices. It was a little bit too much pizza to eat (many of us took home leftovers), but we were happy to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of good eating. They were all excellent pizzas, but I admit I did have a couple of particular favourites.

Famoso’s pizza uses highly refined, low-gluten flour imported from Italy. This means a thin, crispy and light crust. No greasiness here – just the light taste of olive oil and fresh ingredients. Pizzas come with 2 sauces depending on which pizza you order; the pizza rossa (red), which consists of San Marzano tomato sauce made of crushed tomatoes and basil leaf, and the pizza bianca (white), made with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and oregano pizza sauce. Also, while many of the pizzas contained cheese, the amount of cheese on the pizza is a lot less than what you find on North American pizzas. I love cheese, and I was surprised at how little I missed having so much of it on a pizza slice.

Pizza #1 – Margherita – fresh mozzarella, fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil, with added extra toppings of olives, onions and roasted mushrooms. Was yummy but had a few too many olives for my taste.

Margherita pizza

Margherita pizza

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