Formosa Bistro Taiwanese Restaurant
9314 34 Ave.
Online reservations: opentable.ca (or Formosa website)
Tues. to Thurs. 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Fri. Sat. and Sun. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Dinner for two excluding tip, taxes or beverages: Basic, $20; loaded $42
Food: 4 of 5 Suns
Ambience: 3.5 of 5 Suns
Service: 4 of 5 Suns
By GRAHAM HICKS
A few weeks ago, thanks to the Chinatown Dining Week festival, two more “authentic” 97 Street restaurants were added to my list of excellent hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurants
Before Christmas, CBC restaurant reviewer Twyla Campbell gave a glowing review to the little-known Formosa Bistro Taiwanese Restaurant – one of dozens upon dozens of ethnic eateries on the 34 Avenue restaurant row from 91 Street to 99 Street.
Campbell is a discerning restaurant reviewer with much credibility. Hmmm … might Formosa (not Famoso, the pizza chain) be a candidate for the Weekly Dish’s best Hole-In-The-Wall restaurants?
Off our gang went to see if multiple hot, steaming, bowls of Taiwanese-style beef and pork broths, wontons, “popcorn” chicken, veggie and bao dishes could chase away the February blahs.
Formosa is not a classic “hole in the wall.” There’s design elements at work, colour schemes, ample floor space, attractive bowls and plating, a clean counter space separating the hidden kitchen from diners. Mops and pails aren’t stored in these washrooms.
Prices are reasonable – appetizer plates for four in the $5 to $8 range, full-sized meat and noodle soups for two at $13 to $16 – a few bucks more than a classic hole-in-the-wall. (And hole-in-the-wall restaurants do not charge $8 for two cups of “special” green tea!)
A definite thumbs-up for the popcorn chicken ($11) – the kitchen-made platter of chicken nuggets had been marinated in soy, garlic and ginger, lightly breaded then quickly doused in a good hot oil. Not so much crunchy as light, soft and billowy.
The spicy wontons hit the spot – a standard pan-fried presentation, both sides browned for a touch of crispness, but the unusual sweet and sour, somewhat vinegary flavouring of the ground meat elevated the dish.
The bao bread was very good – the usual warm, billowy dough encompassing a moist, succulent chunk of cilantro/ground-peanut enhanced pork belly with a fried-egg topping.
The generous serving of “boiled vegetables” – that’s the full description – were pleasant if unremarkable, drained Asian greens garnished with sesame oil and a sprinkle of chopped fried onions.
The noodle soups? The broths were tasty but not life-altering. The cook did not skimp on the very tender slow-cooked beef-on-bone in the beef stewed-broth. The noodles in both the beef dish and the braised pork were attractively different, thicker and more viscous, as if made from a semi-brown rice floor rather than white flour.
Dessert was disappointing. Almond pudding turned out to be unappetizing, cold, white cubes of gelatin with no thought of presentation. It was left half-finished.
What we ate was good, but not hugely memorable and the Alishan Taiwanese tea was highly overpriced at $4 a cup. But Formosa Bistro is certainly worth a visit and its food is far superior to that offered by the Chef Hung Taiwanese Beef Noodle chain’s Edmonton outlet.
DINING OUT NOTES
• Downtown Dining Week returns next week, March 8 to 17, 2019, with some 50 restaurants offering discounted, pre-set menus – lunch/breakfast for $18, dinners for $30 or $45.
Organized annually by the Edmonton Downtown Business Association, the 10-day festival is a brief opportunity to enjoy champagne quality on a beer budget. Reserve ahead of time – the better restaurants quickly fill up. Full details at edmontondowntown.com/dining-week/.
• Michael Maxxis’ Have Mercy Food + Booze – Old Strathcona’s coolest upstairs bar and grill, above El Cortez – has come up with a unique response to the current economic malaise. Everything on the all-American menu – everything – is priced at $7.95.
• On the heels of Boston Pizza and Guru Fine Indian Dining, Delux Burger Bar will be the third restaurant to open in the ICE District’s Edmonton Tower. Delux burger bars can be found in Crestwood, Magrath, St. Albert and at the Edmonton Airport.
• The first and winter edition of Eat Local, a new, high-quality Edmonton-centric dining in-and-out magazine, is available at free magazine racks, online at eatlocalmagazine.ca. The idea is to publish on a quarterly basis.