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.)



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Links galore and some thoughts on Top Chef

Top Chef – You know, at first I didn’t like Carla but she totally grew on me and I’m hoping she wins the whole thing. Glad Gail is back; Toby was irritating. And I totally thought the other person would get kicked out of the final, but I guess past performance was a factor.

Only Here for the Food has a great interview with Chef Rob Feenie.

The Downtown Business Association has posted their Downtown Dining Week info ahead of time (for once) , including menus. (Interesting that the information is only posted on their home page, and not on a separate Dining Week page. And there are no cross links to the info when you click on Dining or Events. Obviously they need some tutoring when it comes to marketing and the web. At least this time I didn’t have to e-mail them a week before the event and ask where the restaurant listings were.) Meals are $15/$25/$50 per person and run from March 6-15. On a few menus that I clicked on, lunches were generally $15 while dinners were all an astounding $50! Not much savings for the dinner choice. At least there’s a better choice of restaurants this time around. (Although I have to say, the Spaghetti Factory? Srsly?)

eggbeater has a post on vegan baking and substitutions.

Edmonton Journal interview with Mark Bittman and on eating less meat.

If you’re a fan of the Watchmen, you might be interested picking up some limited edition Nite Owl dark roast coffee.

And speaking of coffee, Starbucks has some interesting package design for their new instant coffee, the VIA Ready Brew.

Mark Bittman in the NY Times on breakfast alternatives.

Frank Bruni in the NY Times gave Susur Lee’s new restaurant Shang a single star rating (ratings are 0 to 5). Ouch. Other reviews have been mixed. Does this mean he should have stayed in Toronto?

Selected tweets from the live chat (incl. typos!)

bruleeblog Question for the chef – how does he feel about food bloggers doing reviews and the effect it has on restaurants? #naitchef -9:05 AM Jan 28th, 2009

NAIT @bruleeblog #naitchef You’re question will be on the air I hope & they will mention your blog -9:41 AM Jan 28th, 2009

NAIT @bruleeblog #naitchef You’re question will be on the air I hope & they will mention your blog -9:41 AM Jan 28th, 2009

Yay me! 🙂
NAIT @bruleeblog You win our second cookbook for making it to air! #naitchef I’ll get your contact later. -9:49 AM Jan 28th, 2009

When asked for food recs: NAIT @GuitarKat tuna tataki & tomato & gin soup & tenderloin & potato pave & dessert anything chocolate #naitchef -10:13 AM Jan 28th, 2009

Question regarding photography in restaurants: NAIT @mastermaq he thinks clients come first and if they want to -great! #naitchef -10:16 AM Jan 28th, 2009

NAIT A couple of Rob’s chefs work for Gordon Ramsay now #naitchef -10:38 AM Jan 28th, 2009

NAIT Talking about students going into cooking not for the fame, but for a passion for cooking…so important #naitchef -10:44 AM Jan 28th, 2009

NAIT Rob picked Morimoto for Iron Chef because of his Japanese specialty, not because he was the toughest #naitchef -10:48 AM Jan 28th, 2009

When asked about more TV shows or solo restaurants: NAIT @bruleeblog tv yes, future in restaurants connected to @cactusclubcafe #naitchef -11:18 AM Jan 28th, 2009

One ingredient he could not cook without: NAIT @NAITCareers olive oil #naitchef -11:46 AM Jan 28th, 2009

bruleeblog Another q – when Rob is creating new recipes or tweaking, does he consider food allergies at all (dairy-free, gluten-free, etc.)? #naitchef -11:47 AM Jan 28th, 2009

NAIT @bruleeblog yes and no – it really depends #naitchef -12:14 PM Jan 28th, 2009

Rob Feenie coming to Edmonton

So NAIT’s big annoucement  is that Rob Feenie is going to be the chef-in-residence at NAIT… and will be opening a Cactus Club at West Edmonton Mall later in the year.

This is a pretty big deal. He’s probably one of Canada’s more famous chefs (he beat Morimoto in Iron Chef America and his former restaurant partners in Vancouver replaced him with Daniel Boulud). NAIT’s going to get some great publicity out of this.

See my previous post for info on the Twitter live chat. I sent in a question about food bloggers and chefs.