Chaya, Banff

There is this teeny tiny restaurant in Banff called Chaya. Run by Japanese, they serve a small variety of ramen, rice, udon and soba dishes. The food is rather simple, but it is satisfying. Seating is limited – if the restaurant is full you will have to wait. They are open from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. (although don’t quote me on that as my memory is swiss cheese and I didn’t jot it down). Menus are in both Japanese and English.

Chaya

Chaya

Their rice balls come with your choice of salmon, tuna or umeboshi (Japanese pickled plums). I ordered a salmon filled rice ball to try. (I’ve had umeboshi before but I think it’s one of those foods that I’d rather pass on.)

salmon rice ball

salmon rice ball

The rice is unseasoned, but the filling was actual chunks of cooked, seasoned salmon instead of just some canned fish stuffed into the rice. My only complaint was that either the rice could have used some seasoning or that it would have been nice to have more salmon included, as I found the rice to be somewhat bland on it’s own. The salmon tasted very flavourful.

inside of salmon rice ball

inside of salmon rice ball

The chicken teriyaki don came with many pieces of very tender chicken, plenty of sauce, and some pickled ginger on the side. It was a very large bowl and was more than enough for one person. Could probably feed two if you only wanted a small meal.

chicken teriyaki don

chicken teriyaki don

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News and links

I know there’s lots of other things happening around town, but Sharon at Only Here for the Food already does such a great job of recording all that already. So instead today you get links that I stumble upon and find at least mildly interesting.

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Las Vegas

When I decided to go on a trip to Las Vegas, I knew I wanted at least one fancy pants meal. After doing some reading about the various places in Las Vegas, I settled on L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon as the place where we’d have our most expensive meal, to be eaten on the Saturday before we went to a showing of KÀ.

LAtelier de Joël Robuchon

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon

I’ve actually had my eye on this upscale chain of restaurants for a while now. I had planned on going there while in Hong Kong last year, but on the only day I had free I wasn’t feeling hungry at all and ended up going to sleep early instead of trying to find my way there. Because of this, L’Atelier was high on my Vegas to-do list.

This location of L’Atelier is located right next to the casino floor and they had the doors propped open, which meant that some of the casino sounds filtered into the restaurant. Part way through my meal they closed one of the doors and most of the sounds went away, so at some point I actually forgot we were right next to the casino. Next to the restaurant is Robuchon’s other restaurant at the MGM Grand, Joël Robuchon at The Mansion (which I considered for my list but crossed off due to the price). And next to that fantastic entrance (look at the chandelier in the foyer!) was the KÀ Theatre.

Joël Robuchon at the Mansion and KÀ Theatre

Joël Robuchon at the Mansion and KÀ Theatre

In Las Vegas, L’Atelier is a one-star Michelin French restaurant. A majority of the restaurant’s seating is at a bar surrounding and facing the open kitchen, similar to a sushi bar. An important part of the dining experience here is watching the kitchen staff make your food. It is for this reason that Robuchon calls this series of restaurants “the workshop,” or L’Atelier.

bar seating at LAtelier de Joël Robuchon with the casino viewable through the window

bar seating at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon with the casino viewable through the window

The decor was very modern with lots of reds and blacks. The kitchen was decorated by large vases of fruits, eggs, and vegetables floating in water, as well as giant fake apples and round hanging greenery.
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Ernest’s (NAIT School of Hospitality), Edmonton

If you want a high class meal at discount prices, one sure way is to try out the local chef school. In my case, that would be Ernest’s, NAIT’s School of Hospitality restaurant where second year culinary arts students get to test out their skills.

The evening I was there, you could choose from their regular menu or from a special set menu designed by a group of students. The special menu was tempting, but the entree was a Peking-style duck with noodles. I’d rather go eat that in Chinatown. So instead my table chose their items from the menu.

First off, apologies for the dark photos. We were in a dark section of the restaurant and I really didn’t want to use my flash. I did a tiny bit of adjustment in Photoshop, but I didn’t want to change the photos too much.

To start, we shared a plate of crab cakes (creole mustard, arugula & lemon, red pepper oil). The flavours were great; the crab cake was creamy inside and the dipping sauces complimented the crab very well, although I think I prefered the mustard to the red pepper oil. My one complaint was that, although it looked perfectly cooked, as soon as you picked up a crab cake it fell apart into soft pieces. Maybe thicker, but not necessarily crispier, crust would have made this dish more complete.

Crab cakes

Crab cakes

For entrées, we ordered a chili-maple glazed filet of salmon (cilantro lime yogurt),

Chili-maple glazed filet of salmon

Chili-maple glazed filet of salmon

and a Lamb shank osso buco (wheatberry mash and aged balsamic gastrique).

Lamb shank osso buco

Lamb shank osso buco

The salmon was one of the most flavourful salmons that I’ve had in a long time. The glaze seemed to have penetrated through the flesh completely, and the fish was perfectly cooked. Usually you only get some flavouring on top of the fish, not throughout it, so we were fairly impressed.

The lamb had a hearty flavour, perfect for a cold day. The cooking of the meat was a bit uneven as some pieces were cooked perfectly and practically melted in your mouth, while others seemed a bit tough to chew. The wheatberry mash (underneath the lamb and not visible in the photo) was a nice change from the regular mashed potatoes that you usually end up with. My big peeve was that this dish was served in a rather deep bowl, and without a spoon it was quite hard to eat all the last bits of the mash.

We were horribly full but I really wanted to test out one of their desserts, so we finally settled on a gingerbread ice cream. It arrived in a molasses-flavoured edible bowl that was interesting to look at but hard to eat as ripping off bits of the bowl was like pulling taffy instead of it breaking off like a cracker. The ice cream had a very deep ginger and spice taste, but the dish only really tasted like gingerbread once you ate a bit of the bowl together with a bite of the ice cream.

Gingerbread ice cream

Gingerbread ice cream

The service at the restaurant was relatively quick and efficient, a rarity that has been missing from many places thanks to the Alberta economy. All in all, I have to say that I’m quite impressed by the student chefs and servers.  I’ll definitely be back at some point in the future.

Ernest’s (NAIT School of Hospitality)
11762-106 Street
Edmonton, Alberta
N.B. The restaurant is only open during the school year. Additional photos and menus with pricing can be viewed at www.nait.ca/schoolofhospitality/ernests.htm.

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