Sunday, 26 October 2014

Local Food that Cannot be Beat at Edmonton's RGE RD

10643 123 Street Northwest, Edmonton, AB T5N 1P2
(780) 447-4577

Tastiness Factor: 9.5/10

Atmosphere: 4/5

Service: 5/5

Locavore Approved?  For sure YES- With a motto of  "At the intersection of food, farm and friends", I felt fairly confident that these guys would deliver on the locavore front and fortunately I was correct.  RGE RD is serious about local eating, from its constantly evolving menu to its emphasis on nose-to-tail dining.  I can only hope that RGE RD is the pioneer for the locavore movement in Edmonton and that many other restaurants, both old and new, will soon follow suit.  

After a very impressive dinner the night before at Corso 32, I was doubtful that I could find equally amazing food anywhere else in Edmonton.

Little did I know that my second Edmonton pick, RGE RD would deliver food that would impress me on every level, from local ingredients, to creativity, to perfect execution.  These guys have the whole package, and then some.

I should note right off the bat that RGE RD is a classic case of "don't judge a book by its cover".  It is located on a residential street, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and its small storefront is about as non-desript as it gets (I must have checked my IPhone about 5 times to make sure I had the right address).

You will breath a sigh of relief when you enter to find a very pleasant room bursting at the seams with happy diners.  Although the space is small, the tables are adequately spaced and we felt like we had ample room.  The decor is quite rustic in keeping with their "untamed cuisine" theme (the fire wood in little cubbies along the far wall was a nice touch).  The kitchen is open concept and if you are not fortunate enough to snag one of the prized seats right in front of it, you can also watch the action through a small window at the side like we did.  I can vouch for the fact that they are running one busy kitchen!

Service at RGE RD was just as I like-  friendly and informal, yet attentive and knowledgeable.  Our server was exceptionally personal and clearly passionate about the food they are putting out there.  Each time he came to our table, he gladly engaged in conversations about everything from the meaning of the restaurant's name (apparently RGE RD is short for "range road" which is what they call offside roads here in Edmonton) to other restaurants in the city that he recommended.  Not once did we feel rushed or unattended to, which is quite a feat for such a busy restaurant.

If you are so inclined, RGE RD has a nice selection of cocktails, and a well-rounded wine list which includes mostly Canadian wines.  I appreciated the inclusion of 3 half-litre choices of both whites and reds which is a rare find these days but just perfect for a couple to share.

The food menu is composed of a good selection of appies, including a few sharing plates.  The "Kitchen Board", which will easily feed 2-3 people, changes nightly and includes a variety of meats and cheeses.  In terms of mains, there are about 5-6 to choose from, including at least 1 fish and 1 veg dish, and a few nightly specials.  Additionally, there is a "chef's choice" tasting menu including a some dishes not found on the standard menu, that will almost surely opt for on our next visit (base price $75/person).

Grilled Green Bean Salad- All I can say is "wow".  I loved everything about this dish.  First of all, it was ultra-creative.  Who would have ever thought that lemon curb could pair so perfectly with a poached egg, pecorino and mushrooms?  Second of all, meaty mushrooms happen to be among my favourite ingredients, as do runny, perfectly poached eggs.  Thirdly, the char on the green beans brought these local gems to a whole new level.  This dish was genius, plain and simple.

Gouda and Potato Perogies- On the recommendation from our server, Hubby opted for the full order of this starter (4 perogies vs. 2 in the half order)  and was mightly glad he did.  Our server told us they sell out of these pretty much every night and after tasting them, it is no wonder.  From the soft exterior to the mild gouda in the centre to the pickled cabbage on top, these made for a winning first course.

Fall Harvest Squash and Potato Risotto- onion, wood roasted garden veg- This dish was a bit unexpected as the "risotto" was actually diced potato prepared in cream and butter (yum) instead of arborio rice.  The richness of the "risotto" was nicely offset by the bounty of roasted root vegetables on top (squash, beets, parsnip).  There is no better homage to fall than this dish.

Pilatus Farm Bison- hazelnut spatzle, grainy mustard, charred carrots- Hubby left the restaurant raving about this dish which was perfectly executed in every way, shape and form.  From the perfectly cooked sliced bison to the tasty spatzle underneath, it would be impossible to find anything to improve.  This is about as close to perfect as it gets.

Overall Verdict?
WOW.  This place totally blew me away and surpassed all my expectations.  This chef is talented beyond words.  It is places like this that will start to put Edmonton on the radar of Canadian foodies.

RGE RD, you have truly stolen my heart with your dedication to local ingredients, your creativity and your spot-on execution.  Edmonton is mighty lucky to have you!

Rge Rd on Urbanspoon

Friday, 24 October 2014

Impressive Italian Fare at Corso 32

10345 Jasper Ave NW, Edmonton, AB T5J 1Y7
(780) 421-4622

Tastiness Factor: 9/10

Atmosphere: 4.5/5

Service: 4.5/5

Locavore approved?  YES- Chef Daniel Costa creates traditional Italian dishes using local ingredients, which is impressive in a city where a) locavore cooking is still a relatively new concept and b) things are much harder to grow than my home city of Vancouver.  The menu here changes quite regularly and, on the night of our visit, represented autumn flavours very well.  Fingers crossed that chef Costa can light the pave the way for much more locavore chefs in Edmonton!

I have called Edmonton home for the past 3 weeks on a short foray here for work.  I must admit that I did not have high hopes for the Edmonton food scene and did not expect to find anything in the way of local, forward-thinking cuisine.  After hitting a few of Avenue Magazine's picks of the city's best restaurants with Hubby this past weekend, I am happy to report that I was very wrong in these previous assumptions.

Our first stop on our Edmonton food tour was Corso 32, which I learned is one of the hottest tickets in town.  I was fortunate to somehow snag a 9pm reso at the communal table when I called to book only 4 days in advance, but according to online reviews, reservations need to be made over a month before to get a seat at an individual table.  This is likely one of the reasons that Chef Costa recently opened a sister restaurant, Bar Bricco, next door.  At this new joint, there are no reservations taken so those who cannot bear to wait for a seat at Corso 32 can at least enjoy light food and drinks at Bar Bricco.

Corso 32 is located on Jasper Ave. in downtown Edmonton, making it a good choice for anything form a business dinner, a family get-together or a romantic date.  The room is quite small, with not all that much space between tables, but the noise level was surprisingly reasonable.  I actually quite enjoyed the  liked the intimate atmosphere which I was still able to appreciate despite sitting at the communal table.  The decor was very nicely decorated with very tasteful Italian accents, including a large wall painting beside the semi-open kitchen.

The service we received was quite exceptional, all thanks to our very gracious server.  Not only did he give very good menu suggestions and keep our water/wine glasses topped up, but he also went so far as to write us a list of other good restaurants in the city and discuss it with us on our way out the door.  His  kindness is in keeping with what we experienced in Edmonton in general, but was certainly notable considering how busy he was taking care of the packed room that evening.  My only minor service flaw was in the pace of the meal, with appies coming very quickly after ordering and then quite a delay with the mains.

For such a small spot, Corso 32 has a quite an impressive wine list, including a nice selection by the glass.  Hubby and I opted for a bottle of Borgo Magredo Pinot Gris which not only had a very light, fruity taste but also came in a very snazzy old-school bottle.

Now onto the food.  A good thing to keep in mind while perusing the menu is that they do not skimp on portions.  Hubby and I are usually more than capable of polishing off an appie and main each but here this amount of food was enough to feed three.  Sharing is encouraged, and is a good way to taste a variety of menu items.  The menu is quite succinct and is divided into antipasti, 4 different pastas and one each of a fish, a poultry and a beef dish.  There are also a few desserts if by some chance you have room left.  I should also note that the prices here tend to be on the stepper side (even by Vancouver standards!), with average prices of $15 appies, $25 pastas and $35 mains.  

Here is rundown of the dishes we enjoyed:

Arancini with speck, cabbage and fontina- Although I have never met an arancini I did not like, Corso 32's version was particularly yummy.  The fried exterior was perfectly crispy, without being the least bit greasy.  Then, on the inside, there was not only nicely-seasoned risotto but also a generous amount of fontina cheese.  It does not much more decadent then that!  With two balls in a half-order, this is more than enough for 4 people, let alone for the two of us, but we ate every last bite!

Fennel and arugula salad- I ordered this despite my usual dislike of fennel just because we wanted a lighter appie to go with the heavy arancini.  And I owe them a "thank-you" for having made a fennel lover out of me.  The simple vinagrette cut the licorice taste of the fennel, giving it a very pleasant taste while still preserving its crunchy texture.  The hazelnuts really took centre stage on this salad as they were obviously of very high quality and super fresh.  Top that with some shaved parmagiano and you have a one fabulous salad!

Fried Shortrib- When I told Hubby that this dish had garnered rave online reviews, he was keen to try it.  The shortrib had an unexpected crispy exterior and a soft melt-in-your-mouth interior.  It was topped with a made-for-autumn salad of arugula and pear and served with bread on the side.

House-made goat ricotta- You know when you have friendly folks sitting next to you when they offer you some of their food.  And the people sitting next to us at the communal table did just that, and I could not be more thankful since this seemingly simple appie was downright delicious.  I am not a cheese fan by any means but this ricotta was perfect for me- mild, soft, light and creamy.  I must reiterate again though that the folks here at Corso 32 do not skimp on portions so unless you have tons of room in your belly, you will want to share!

Alberta Rainbow Trout "Mandorla"- This ranks up there as one of the best fish dishes I have had this year.  The very generous piece of trout had a beautiful crispy skin and was topped with a heaping pile of slaw made of celeriac, apple, greens and almonds (hence the "Mandorla").  It was quite simple, yet perfectly executed and I loved the use of all the fall ingredients.

Garganelli with Braised Tuscan Pork and Porcini Ragu- Corso 32 is best known for its homemade pasta and, after tasting it, it is quite apparent why that is.  The pasta was perfectly al dente and, in this particular dish, was covered in a chunky pork sauce that was seasoned to perfection.  The earthy notes from the porcini were again perfect for this time of year.

Overall Verdict?
Corso 32 was my first upscale dining experience in Edmonton and, suffice it to say, I was pretty darn impressed.  My hometown of Vancouver is known for its great food scene and I was pleasantly surprised to find that Corso 32 was on par with, or even superior to, any of my favourite places back home.  So don't be scared off by the wait.  Reserve well in advance or if that is not an option, try for a spot at communal table like we did.

You'll be mighty glad you did.

Corso 32 on Urbanspoon

Friday, 19 September 2014

French Food at its Finest at Les Faux Bourgeois

Tastiness Factor: 9.5/10

Atmosphere: 4/5

Service: 4.5/5

Locavore Approved? KINDA - Although this French gem may not change their menu around as regularly as some others, they still honour the changes of the seasons and feature seasonal produce on their nightly "specials" board.  They also feature a nice selection of BC wines.  Based on the opening page of their website, their "Spring-Summer" menu will soon be changing to feature the tastes of fall. Wonderfully rich and comforting French dishes are apparently on their way!  We cannot wait to drop by on a rainy Vancouver night to be warmed up from the inside out:)

With so many promising new restaurants popping up in Vancouver these days, it is easy to loose sight of all the great Vancouver restaurants that have survived the test of time and continue to thrive in the city's competitive restaurant scene.

Les Faux Bourgeois is one of those "oldies but goodies" that remains still manages to have a packed house every night.  With its wins of "Best French" and "Best Bistro" in Georgia Straight's 2014 Golden Plate Awards and its honourable mention in the categories of "Best Casual French" and "Best East Side" in the 2014 Vancouver Magazine Awards, it is obvious that people have not forgotten about this French gem.

When we arrived at Faux Bourgeois for our 9:00 reservation on Saturday night, the place was hopping. I had expected it would be since I called the Tuesday before to book it and I fortunately snagged the very last spot for that night (reservations STRONGLY recommended, far in advance!).  How these guys manage to fill the space night after night is made more impressive by the fact that it is not close to any other eating/drinking establishments or forms of entertainment, so if you are here it means you made a special trip to join them for the evening (which, for the record, I would gladly do ANY night of the week!).

Although there was a full house, we never felt crammed at all at our table, however those at the booths on either side of us were obviously a bit more snug with their neighbours.  Having just been to Paris a few months ago, the slightly dated and sparsely decorated brought back fond memories of our meals there.

Contrary to the stereotypical rude service that some associate with Paris (which, for the record, we did not find to be the case on our recent travels there), the service at Les Faux Bourgeois was quite exceptional.  It is obvious that these servers are used to being busy.  They juggled their tables masterfully and made it look easy.  Despite running around all night, our server remained astonishingly chill and composed and somehow managed to make it back to the table with the water jug every time my glass was near empty.  Our appies arrived at our table within of ordering.  There was then a lag as we were waiting expectantly for our mains.  We were starting to get a little antsy when suddenly, to our surprise, a bowl of fries appeared in front of us despite the fact that neither of us had ordered fries.  "There must be a mistake", I said, to which the server replied "These are for you to nibble on since we know it has taken a while to get your mains out".   And just like that, any negative emotion that I may have had about waiting melted away and they instantly scored an A+ in the service department!

Les Faux Bourgeois' menu is quite simply divided into appetizers, mains, sides and desserts.  They also have a nightly feature board with 3-4 additional appetizers and mains to chose from.  The wine list is quite succinct and contains a nice mix of Canadian and French wines.

Here are the dishes that we enjoyed:

Bread- It starts off very French with baguette and butter, plain and simple.

Steelhead tartare- This dish from the daily features menu caught my eye the moment I saw it on the chalkboard beside us and I am so glad I ordered it.  The chopped steelhead was complimented by herbs and was perfectly seasoned.  And for reasons I cannot explain, the little salad on the side, simply dressed with oil, salt and pepper, was particularly memorable.  I would love to know their secret!

Soupe a L'Oignons Gratinee-  I had heard this was one of their signature dishes so Hubby gladly ordered it to see what all of the fuss was about.  It was served piping hot with a generous amount of cheese on the top, and a perfect onion-and-crouton soup underneath.  Hubby loved it so much he ate up every bite and "forgot" to offer me ever a spoonful!

Frites- Neither Hubby nor I had ordered dishes served with fries and we regretted this decision as waiter after waiter passed with plates of them for other tables.  They looked SO good!  So you can imagine our excitement when these FREE frites with a side of ridiculously yummy aioli arrived at our table as an apology for our long wait.  Apology accepted!!!

Pleurotes Royale- The French are not known for their vegetarian dishes but this is Vancouver after all so I was not surprised to find one on the menu. This dish actually resembled a meat dish, with the meaty mushrooms sliced overtop the pearl barley and spinach "risotto".   A very satisfying and hearty dish.

Filet de Porc- Hubby loved his main of  perfectly cooked pork (with that lovely pink center) wrapped with strips of bacon.  It was served over some plump nugget potatoes with a side of broccolini, and topped with a flavourful jus.

Overall Verdict?

With all of the positive comments I have heard about this place over the years, I expected it to be good but this meal far exceeded my expectations.  I tend to be partial to creative, innovative cuisine but there are times when I crave a well composed, perfectly-executed meal and this is exactly what I got at Les Faux Bourgeois.

And all of this, with a glass of wine and two beer, for under $90?  That just cannot be beat.

My only regret about going to Les Faux Bourgeois last Saturday night is that I did not discover it years earlier!

Les Faux Bourgeois on Urbanspoon

Monday, 8 September 2014

Pizza Well Worth the Visit at Kerrisdale's Bufala

Tastiness Factor: 9/10

Atmosphere: 4/5

Service: 3.5/5

Locavore approved?  YES- Unlike many of the other upscale pizza joints around town that focus on authentic ingredients for their pies, Bufula has taken the local road.  The flour for the crust comes from Saanichton Farm on Vancouver Island, while the sauce is made from local tomatoes.  Toppings also sing "local", with seasonal produce and local meat/seafood.  While they will not be getting the VPN certification anytime soon, that is not what they are going for, and I think their local approach is what will set them apart from their competition.

Kerrisdale is not an area that is known for its good eats.  But with the appearance of a new kid on the block, that may change.

The new kid's name is Bufula, and in her few short months since opening, she has made great strides with long line ups for lunch and dinner, seven days a week.  After eating there last night for the first time, a totally get what all of the hype is about.

When we arrived at 8:30 on a Friday night, there was a 45 minute wait.  There was no space at the bar so they offered to call us when a table was ready.   We walked down the street to 41st to find a place to have a drink but were surprised to discover that the only places that were open at that time in the evening were coffee shops and sushi bars.  So what was the next best option?  The White Spot right next door to Bufala.  Since it is pretty much the only place within walking distance, it has likely seen its evening business skyrocket over the last several months, with customers that are either too hungry to wait for a seat, or those like us who are killing time while waiting.  I must say, they actually have a few decent BC wines on the menu and surprisingly cheap local beers!

When we were finally summoned back to Bufula at around 9:15, the place was still packed.  Although I quite liked the room due its high energy and hip vibe, I should note that the space is quite cramped with communal seating down the middle, booths on one side and the bar/kitchen on the other.  This is therefore not the ideal place for a first date or work meeting, but well suited to a get-together with friends.  We were seated at the communal table which worked fine for us, but my choice would have been one of the cozy-looking booths if I had the choice.  We enjoyed peering into the large open kitchen behind the bar, where we could watch the chefs hard at work making the pies and taking them out of the pizza oven.

Service started off a bit slow, which was understandable considering how busy they were when we were first seated.  After the server finally got around to taking our orders, however, our starters came out in decent time.  It should be noted (and our server did forewarn us) that the food arrives family-style so if guests are ordering personal pizzas like we all did, they will not all arrive at the same time.  Most of our pizzas came out a bit too quick, when we were only half way through our appetizers, while our friend ended up waiting about 10 minutes for his pizza after ours.  The servers themselves seemed pretty run off their feet and did not have much time to walk us through the menu but when things got a bit quieter at the end of the night, they were happy to chat with us.

Bufula is fortunate to have Josh Pape at the helm of its bar program.  Pape has won numerous accolades for his work in many great Vancouver restaurants and is doing great things now at Bufula.  The cocktail list is succinct, with only a handful of classic aperitif cocktails and a few original cocktails.  My friend and I both sampled from the original cocktail list.

Westside (Vodka, basil, lemoncello, soda)- I am not one for sweet cocktails so the lemon-basil combo was just perfect for me.

Rossini (prosecco and strawberry puree)- For those who are looking for something sweet, my friend's classy cocktail definitely delivered.

In keeping with the cocktail menu, the food menu is also fairly short and sweet and consists of about 12 starters and 12 pizzas.  Being a pescatarian, I noticed that the menu is fairly meat heavy (most starters contain at least some meat) which is not all that surprising once you know that the co-owners are from Vancouver's meat-centric Wildebeest.  Vegetarians can take comfort in the fact that 5 pizzas are vegetarian-friendly so they will not leave hungry.

Here were our picks of the night:
Kale Caesar Salad- I never order Caesar salad but had read rave reviews about this one so I suggested we try it. This was honestly the best Caesar I have ever tasted.  Must to Hubby's delight, it came topped with 2 strips of bacon and an egg yolk on the top.  Although it was a tad overdressed for my liking, I loved the flavours in the dressing, and the kale held up really well to its richness.

Meatballs- The meat eaters at the table loved these very moist house-made meatballs.  Although I did not eat the meatballs themselves, I gladly helped myself to the side of bread that I used to soak up some of the tomato sauce.  The sauce was absolutely heavenly.  Not only was the tomato sauce bursting with flavour but it was mixed with creamy ricotta that brought each bite to a whole new level.

Bruschetta- This dish switches up daily depending on what is fresh and available (gotta love that!).  Out trio consisted of roasted red pepper/basil/goat cheese, mortadella/artichoke, and apple and walnut.  I loved the variety of flavour combinations and also appreciated the generous topping:bread ratio.

Pizzas- There are plenty of great pizza joints here in Vancouver (Farina, Barberella, Nicli) but I now feel pretty confident saying that my new favourite pizza of all is here at Bufula.  Interestingly, they do not use traditional flour and do not have a traditional pizza oven, and it was their crust that stole my heart.  So soft and chewy, with the perfect amount of char.  It is what every pizza crust should aspire to be.

The Funghi was the obvious choice for me (I am a mushroom fanatic) and, with its perfect crust and impressive variety and quantity of meaty mushrooms, this was my favourite funghi EVER.  Not to mention the perfect balance of pecorino and goat cheese, and the generous heap of watercress overtop.  I am salivating...

My friend's partner enjoyed the Bacon and Clam which he felt was reminiscent of a comforting bowl of clam chowder.  It was quite unique, with potato, thyme and little dollops of pickled mustard seeds over top.

Hubby and friend shared oxtail and kale, and the carpaccio.  Although Hubby enjoyed the Carpaccio which happened to be our server's favourite, he felt they really knocked it out of the park with the Oxtail and Kale complete with spicy peppers and aged cheddar.

Overall verdict?
Before going to Bufala, I questioned whether anther upscale pizza place in Vancouver was needed in Vancouver.  After eating here, I can answer my own question with a resounding YES!  I will say it again- Bufala is now home to my FAVOURITE pizza in the city, with its to-die-for crust and very unique flavour combinations.  There is no higher praise to give!

Bufala on Urbanspoon