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Restaurant Raves: Baijiu Bar

Disclosure: I'm a full-fledged, passionate-about-work Dietitian, but really, my dream job is that of a world-travelling professional food critic. What a delight to my senses it would be to see the world AND to taste it! My mother chose "travel agent" as her second career, but has written about food in her travel journals with such precise detail that you could relive the flavours again and again. Through her continually chatting to family about various exotic places she's been or has sent clients, finally the travel bug is getting to me. My love of good food has always got to me. The combination of the two would be just too much. For the time being, I settled quite comfortably on Baijiu Bar - an Asian Fusion fine dining bar located in the Mercer building in Edmonton (although looking back on the experience, I wouldn't call it settling). My sister's best friend provided the intel on this place for my sister's bachelorette party, and we provided the hungry appetites. What a ride!

Baijiu's site defines itself as, and I quote: " 'Baijiu' (pronounced “Bye Joe”) which translates to BOOZE in Cantonese is a cocktail bar & eatery that dishes out Asian inspired plates. Like all Chinese joints, our foods meant to be shared amongst a table."

The ambiance in the restaurant suited our needs quite well, with antique-looking wood tables and bar, low lighting, louder more current music, and a somehow quirky yet amiable oversized print of The Notorious B.I.G. hung next to our circular booth. We were greeted immediately by a Francophone server "Joel", pronounced "joe-el" (think: soft "J"?), who was ever-attentive to our insatiable need to (slightly) booze up the party of eight before going out dancing. Our group settled on ordering the "Family Table" - a chef's choice menu, for which we needed at least 4 tasters (on the website it says 6), and our various dietary restrictions and dislikes (including pesco-vegetarian, dislike of fish, and gluen-free) were met with gracious accommodation.

The cocktail list was at first glance both extensive and expensive, but dare I say rightly so. I was not feeling the sweets that day, and so ordered a Pisco sour - just the right amount of sour, offset by sweet simple syrup and smooth egg white. My fellow diners ordered a few pitchers worth of the Sakura Spritz between them, which had sweet Umeshu plum wine complimented by citrus flavours of grapefruit, orange Cointreau, and notes of sweet rose and sour hibiscus flowers. Sometimes, something is delicious beyond wanting to keep it to yourself - and that drink was one, so everyone sampled and enjoyed.

Our first appetizer dish was a devilled egg with an Asian flavour twist. The egg had been soaked in black tea, filled with creamy wasabi egg yolk, and topped with crispy fried shallots and pickled chilis. Perfect amounts of spice, savoury, creaminess, and sweet played catch with my senses. Never have I consumed something so interesting and different in texture and taste. Despite it not being everyone's favourite dish, my sister and I exchanged a "THIS IS SO GOOD I CAN'T EVEN" glance more than once.

Next arrived a Mi Krop Salad. Their shredded vegetable and bean sprout salad had a generous amount of roasted peanuts and cilantro with a lime and fish sauce dressing, finished off with a surprising garnish of sliced strawberries. Also the perfect marriage of flavours, and a nice lead-in from creamy and savoury to light, crisp, and fresh, in order prepare us for the meatier dishes that came next.

Our vegetable tempura was done in a gluten-free batter, which I in fact prefer to regular tempura batter! Crispy on the outside, ever so slightly gummy near the vegetable, and vegetables on the soft side of tender-crisp. Delicious dipped in their house Ponzu sauce.

Everyone but myself participated in devouring the crispy and tender pork and shrimp dumplings. I can speak to the vegetarian yam dumplings, and looking through the menu, had to research one of the ingredients here. White Rabbit Candy is the first ingredient, and is a milk-based creamy taffy manufactured in China. Somehow it is a part of their Pan-Fried Yam and Truffle Gyoza, for which my only critique is that the dough puffed and crisped up so nicely that the inside of the dumpling looked quite empty, save a small spread of cooked yam. Lack of plump dumpling (say that five times fast) aside, the flavours were rich, buttery, and savoury umami with the touch of truffle oil.

Phew! Still with me? Mouth watering yet? Then came the baos. A bao or baozi is a gummy, puffy, almost sweet steamed dough that we North Americans might call "steamed bun", and is usually filled with meat or other savoury or pickled food. While the table enjoyed BBQ pork-filled buns, I chomped down on a savoury miso mushroom bun, sprinkled with fresh sliced shallot a small amount of crispy fried rice.

I enjoyed a vegetarian version of Lap Cheong Fried Rice, hold the pork and chicken sausage. This was the crowning glory of my diving into memories of cheap Chinese buffets, but instead of feeling run down by MSG, heavy oils, and lack of nutrition, it was the taste of fresh squeezed lime, crispy bean sprouts, pan-fried rice and soy-sauce-sprinkled tofu that lingered. I cleaned up this bowl to the last rice grain.

Last on the dinner menu was the ocean perch for me and the slow-roasted pork for the girls. The pork was passed around in lettuce wraps multiple times and slowly disappeared, while the whole fish didn't go as fast since all of us from European descent and Canadian upbringing don't like looking into the eyes of the food we eat. Nonetheless, it was the sauce that made it so good. The perch was presented in a thin crispy white batter, and drizzled with a "sweet and sour peanut emulsion". Most surprising but delightful was the pairing of fresh red peppers and skinless grapefruit pieces dropped on top, giving a very pleasant sour complement to the savoury and sweet peanut gravy.

Pause here for a moment... I felt like I was the food critic in Ratatouille - humour me if you've seen it - taken on a trip through memories, not of "maman's kitchen", but instead memories of greasy savoury Chinese food outings and brought out on the other side through a meal with fresh and healthy ingredients, exciting flavours, and a satisfying visual experience. Now that I can relive it by writing my experience, and sharing it with you, I love this dream job even more!

And so, on to dessert. We were enlightened to an enticing arrangement of Cinnamon Toast Crunch ice cream sandwiched into a puffy deep fried bao, a combination this bar called "Deep Fried Ice Cream". Forgive my continual raving, but this was the BEST THING I've had all year. It's safe to say it served as my favourite dessert of LIFE, having developed a strong affinity for breakfasting on Cinnamon Toast Crunch ever since gramma allowed me to include it in my cereal bowl if I also had All-Bran Flakes. The accompanying flavour to the Cinnamon Toast ice cream was a green matcha tea ice cream of the same deep fried arrangement, dusted in matcha powder. Equally sweet and delicious. The friendly chef came out to thank our group, and we thanked him for the fabulous and tasty artwork that was put on our table. I would highly recommend this place for groups of 6 or more.

Ratings please!

Perceived healthiness: 6 / 10 (but who gives?)

Taste: 9.5 / 10 (gotta leave room for the sake of healthy competition!)

Accommodation to food restrictions: 10 / 10 (my own little dishes! Thanks!)

Ambiance: 8 / 10 (better for a night out on the town than intimate chats with your partner)

Expense: 7 / 10 (probably more worth it in a larger group for the chef's choice menu)

Overall: eat here? YES.

Comment below if you think you have a similar sense of adventure - and list your favourite off-the-beaten-path restaurants (albeit with vegetarian options please) for me to review!!

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