The biggest news in Yellowknife’s food industry recently has been the opening of the Quarry Restaurant and Lounge, which takes up a large chunk of real estate in developer Mike Mrdjenovich’s new Chateau Nova hotel. Milica Mrdjenovich, marketing manager for Nova Hotels, opened the restaurant and helped develop the menu. She tells EDGE she was looking for “a steakhouse feel… but we also wanted to make it comfortable and affordable for everyone. That’s kind of the Nova theme, is making sure that nobody feels out of place. It is a definitely more elevated feel for Yellowknife, but it’s definitely fairly priced.”
The name, says Mrdjenovich, “originally came through as a little homage to the local terrain” — but it’s hard not to think that it’s a tongue-in-cheek reference to her developer father’s often controversial reputation as a blast-happy nemesis of local rock formations.
Head chef Ibro Vejzovic is a longtime Nova employee, who previously ran the kitchen at their Fort McMurray hotel. “Unfortunately, that hotel burned down,” says Mrdjenovich. “We transitioned him up to Yellowknife. He’s been with us a long time.” The menu so far meets the stated aims of offering a little bit of something for everyone at lunch, then focusing more on steak in the evening. The restaurant is very much in its first days of operation, so when EDGE visited earlier this week it was in a spirit of kindly inquiry, rather than critique. (As opposed to some local social media reviews, which have been decidedly mixed so far.) The high-ceilinged space (there’s a more intimate dining area up a set of stairs and a separate lounge that holds 75, along with a wraparound bar and two fireplaces) is clean and contemporary by Yellowknife standards, if a little generic.
We were encouraged by the presence of a local catch-of-the-day special — in this case a pan-fried pike, not a dish often served at local restaurant tables. According to Mrdjenovich, they have sourced “a local supplier that we get our fish fresh from a few times a week.” This was probably the highlight of the various dishes ordered. Service was friendly and responsive, if still learning the ropes. We look forward to checking out the lounge, which, with its double fireplaces and craft cocktail menu, sounds like it might be just the ticket come snowfall. And we’re glad to welcome a new, large patio to the city, though it will be many months before anyone gets a chance to use it.
Meanwhile, tucked away on the third floor of the Days Inn on Franklin, the Mantle Restaurant has been quietly operating since the beginning of September, with a grand opening planned for October 2nd.
This is cause for serious rejoicing from fans of the late Epic Grill, because — though you wouldn’t know it from the name, the decor, or a first glance at the menu — the Mantle is offering up some truly authentic Filipino food, including a marinated beef si-log, or tap-si-log, the meat/egg/garlic rice breakfast dish that had Yellowknifers crowding out the Grill’s tiny space for far too brief a time.
It’s called the Mantle Breakfast on the menu, chef Rodil Libiano says, because he didn’t want to confuse hotel guests unused to Filipino food. Explains co-owner Cherrie Leaban: “We’ll be serving a lot of authentic Filipino dishes, but because we’re in a hotel, we have to cater to a lot of different tourists so we made sure to have Asian and Western tastes on the menu.”
EDGE stopped by for some of Libiano’s specialties, barbecued pork and chicken dishes inspired by the street food of his home town. We tucked into a plate of very reasonably priced pork barbecue skewers and a quarter portion of crispy chicken served with a sweet chili sauce — and both were complete successes, meat cooked and seasoned perfectly, sauces rich in layered flavour. Even the pickled vegetable sides were a treat, and both plates did indeed feel like robust, first-rate street food. Leaban says the restaurant will be serving a wide variety of traditional Filipino dishes off the menu, buffet style — “We want Yellowknifers to really taste what adobo is,” she says — but most exciting of all is the news that they will be offering up Lechón as a regular buffet item — that’s the traditional Filipino feast staple of whole roast pig (minus head and legs) served with a special sauce.
“Food… It’s a like a culture to us," says Leaban. "When we go on a picnic, from the time we start until we go, there’s always food, and cooking and cooking , barbecuing, barbecuing. It’s a culture. It’s basically that grateful heart we have, like thanksgiving, it’s coming from there. That’s why it’s always a feast to us. It’s like when you go to a Filipino birthday, you don’t have to bring anything, because there’s always so much food. Just bring your empty stomach (she laughs) and we’ll fill it.”
In other Yellowknife restaurant news, it’s hurry-up-and-wait time:
Flavour Trader: Etienne Croteau’s Flavour Traders/Saveurs de l'Artisan, which drew huge line-ups at its stall during the year’s farmers market, is now looking to open its doors at Breakaway Fitness on 48th St “by the end of October.” Once up and running, Croteau and his team will be stocking their store freezers daily with 15 different international meals, including, as we reported earlier this year: “Singapore curry, butter chicken, chicken mole, Peking duck, bison and morel stew, teriyaki quail, Thai tom soup, vegetarian Lebanese rice, lamb tagine, maple syrup cake… and whatever else may inspire him. Prices will range from $8 for a simple meal, to $20 for something more exotic, such as quail or foie gras. All will be single serving, but special orders can be made up.”
YK Hotpot: As temperatures start dropping, we’ve been eyeing the upstairs space above the Kilt and Castle, where work has finished on the soon-to-open Chinese hotpot restaurant we told you about earlier this summer. Local businessman Liang Chen, who is helping owner Jackie Shi get the operation off the ground, had originally expected to open earlier this month, but is now also shooting for a late October date. Chairs and table are on their way, the individualized hot pots are in Vancouver getting processed through customs, and otherwise, all is good to go.
Buns, Meat and Money: Crunching YK's Fast Food Numbers (August 2016)
YK Hood by Hood: The Suburbs (July 2016)
Inside the Fat Fox (June 2016)