The Moth Café
9449 Jasper Avenue
10 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week
Group reservations (six or more) on weekdays only
Food: 4.5 of 5 Suns
Ambience: 4 of 5 Suns
Service: 4 of 5 Suns
Dinner/lunch for two, excluding beverage and tip: Basic $25, loaded $60
By GRAHAM HICKS
There is serendipity, there is luck, and there is sound, insightful planning.
Like Wayne Gretzky, the trio behind the Moth Café — Khuyen Khuong, her sister Gillian Khuong and their mom Thanh Lu — have figured out where the puck is going, not where it has been.
Vegetarian comfort food – not the holier-than-thou ultra-vegan stuff, or the forever-dull brown rice and over-cooked legumes – has been little explored. But interest in vegetarian cuisine is growing and the Moth Café introduces a brave new “plant-based” world of interesting flavours, tastes and textures.
Health-wise, cholesterol levels are going through the roof, and type-two diabetes hovers around too many health profiles. “Cut out animal fats,” says my disgustingly skinny family doc.
Once again, the Moth Café offers a refreshing alternative — really good food from multiple cultures that happens to be low-cholesterol vegetarian.
Location, location, location: The sisters Khuong and momma Lu were ready for a new business challenge after running the low-key vegetarian Café Mosaics on Whyte Avenue for the last decade. Some sixth sense guided Khuyen to a location that hasn’t really worked for other restaurants but has been sensational for the Moth Café – the southeast corner of Jasper Avenue and 95 Street, in the Quarters District that the City of Edmonton is desperately trying to awaken. It just feels right. The restaurant, now four months old, bustles with an Old Strathcona-like all-ages crowd.
Design: I was expecting a funky, mom ‘n’ pop café where new owners minimize capital investment, sticking with dirt-ingrained linoleum and smelly curtains in the hopes that good food will keep bringing customers back.
Nothing could be further from the truth with the Moth Café. It’s the Café Linnea of the downtown east-side, with bright, spacious, floor-to-ceiling windows, excellent ventilation and all kinds of interesting design details. It helps that Khuyen has a design background.
The food is intriguing. While the Moth Café isn’t forcing “healthy” down your throat, eight pages of its 13-page menu are devoted to liquid health concoctions – kombucha teas, medicinal teas, tea lattes, ice blends, and — hooray – “plant-based” beers, wines and gin cocktails. My regular coffee latte was pretty boring compared to the flavour cauldron within Maria’s big cup of coconut chai latte.
It’s the last five pages of the menu that make decisions difficult. Jackfruit enchilada, or Tuscan tofu scramble? Veggie lasagna (served cold) or a Vietnamese sub (banh mi) using mushroom proteins in place of cold cuts?
We settled for what turned out to be three terrific dishes, filling us up thoroughly – the Lemongrass Minty Vermicelli Bowl ($15), the Purple Taro Risotto ($15) and the dessert/sweet breakfast Chai Pancake with Cinnamon Banana ($16).
With the addition of the accompanying fish sauce, the vermicelli bowl sprang to life and danced to the flavours of its intensely fresh veggies, the hit of just-cut mint, fried-eggplant-like soy “muttons” and a lemony peanut background. The vermicelli itself was a fine noodle – fresh, almost al dente, different but pleasing.
The risotto had beautiful purple colour thanks to the taro. It was a cool-weather dish, sweetened with coconut cream and bringing new ideas to a classic rice recipe.
The pancakes in the pancake/banana dessert were the only instance of too-dense vegetarian cooking, but the sweet chai whipped cream with the cinnamon banana and a bite of pancake was sensational.
The excellent Moth Café and the equally excellent Vietnamese vegetarian cookery An Chay are bringing variety and diversity to the city’s long-standing vegetarian standbys Padmanadi and Noorish.
Both the Moth Cafe and An Chay are so good that it matters not a whit to be eating “healthy.” They both simply offer light tasty meals as an alternative to, and a break from, our deeply ingrained meat culture.
At the same time, your doctor will be mighty pleased!
Say goodbye to Old Strathcona’s once-beloved 25-year-old Packrat Louie.
A full renovation last summer and a refreshed menu didn’t bring back customers as hoped.
The good news is an established, locally-owned restaurant group with an excellent reputation is taking over the space and will open in June under a new name. (No, it’s not the Sorrentino’s Group with its new Buco brand.)