FOOD REVIEW

Like a moth to the flame: Moth Cafe a bright spot in the Quarters

To many, the revitalization of The Quarters, a 40-hectare area east of Edmonton’s downtown, seems off to a slow start.

The offerings prove that plant-based food can be filling and delicious, says Twyla Campbell

The offerings at The Moth scored near perfect marks with food critic Twyla Campbell. (The Moth/Instagram)

To many, the revitalization of The Quarters, a 40-hectare area east of Edmonton's downtown, seems off to a slow start.

The glistening, glass-faced Hyatt Place Hotel at 95th Street and Jasper Avenue has been the only new kid on the block since it opened its doors in the summer of 2016.

A half-block east, the deep, muddy maw of a once-abandoned condo project and the boarded-up Miramar restaurant remain long-standing blights.

With the opening of The Moth, Thanh Lu and her daughters Jillian Khuong and Khuyen Khuong, have brought faith —and food — to the masses.

Last summer, the trio began renovations on a dingy Vietnamese restaurant, giving it a lift with white walls, exposed high ceilings, modern lighting and organic touches of wood and plants. The space beams inside and out.

When employees at Lu's other restaurant (Café Mosaics) were asked for input, one offered up "The Moth" in hopes that people would be attracted to it just as moths are to lights.

Judging by the lineups, mission accomplished.

Like Café Mosaics, The Moth is all about vegetarian and vegan food but with an added emphasis on nutrition and holistic elements.

Elixirs, tonics, and medicinal teas fill pages of the drink section. The lavender lemonade kombucha is a refreshing, citrusy pick-me-up and one of eight fermented potions made by Calgary's Tru Buch.

Don't wait for summer to try the blended ice drinks. The Kaui Gold is a bright yellow, vitamin-packed pineapple banana smoothie with a hint of earthy turmeric and a shot of "Blood" elixir, a blend of botanicals meant to bolster the circulatory system.

Out of six food items ordered, all six scored near perfect marks and if a plate of the jackfruit "crab" cakes were placed in front of me right now, I would happily indulge.

Meaty chunks of jackfruit mimic chunks of crab, and the accompanying citrus cream does a commendable job of tempering the heat of cayenne pepper in the baseball-sized cakes.

The risotto explodes with flavour thanks to caramelized salted shitake mushrooms and bright green onions.

The rice's purplish hue and slivers of green onion against the dark pebbled texture of the bowl make it a pretty as a picture to flaunt on social media. But, that could also be said for the banana blossom shitake miso soup, as well.

Again, loads of umami in this bowl, and the placement of strips of the flower's heart, lengths of bright green onion, lobes of golden mushrooms, and sugar cube-size blocks of tofu make this soup look like an edible art installation.

The love that Thanh Lu and her staff have for their jobs is evident in the food coming out of the kitchen.

The only criticism to be found is with the jackfruit enchilada.

The whole wheat tortilla was a tad dry, perhaps from overexposure to heat or air, and the accompanying molé lacked complexity, but the filling itself was delicious and satisfying.

A dollop of tofu sour cream offered a cool and pleasant contrast to the hot (as in spice and temperature) dish.

The opening of The Moth accomplishes three things: it gives the Hyatt some much needed company; it gives diners proof that plant-based foods are filling and delicious, and it gives hope to Edmontonians in general, that though The Quarters is slow to change, the change we're seeing is certainly bright and shiny.

Not bad for a dusty little no-nothing creature that usually inspires more fear than admiration. Not bad at all.

You can hear Campbell's reviews on Edmonton AM every second Friday. You can also see more of her reviews on her blog, Weird Wild and Wonderful, and can follow her on Twitter at @wanderwoman10.