Sunday, April 6, 2014

Up next on our YEG Restaurant Tour: Rge Rd

Last night we set out on the second of our quest to try each of the restaurants on Avenue Magazines list of Best Overall. Immediately after our great experience at Tavern 1903, we booked a table at Rge Rd, holder of the #1 spot on the list.

I've seen a lot of great reviews of Rge Rd from bone fide restaurant reviewers and regular folks posting kudos on twitter and yelp. It sits in the #1 spot on Avenue's list. It is very highly regarded, and so I think that sets expectations very, very, very high.

Rge Rd surprised me a couple of ways before we started our meal. The first is it's location. It's tucked away in a tiny, unassuming little strip mall in Glenora, northwest of downtown proper. The second surprise was how  tiny it is, with a total of 44 seats. The room is cozy and intimate. This may sound odd, but I was a bit distracted by the decor. There were too many different textures in the room. Cedar clad beams, wood look tables in a different shade, laminate flooring in yet another wood like finish, white subway tiles behind the bar, a glimpse of exposed brick in the kitchen. On the other hand, the light fixtures were fabulous.

Rge Rd endeavours to serve local ingredients, and that includes an extensive list of Canadian wine and beer. Something I really respect. (In a former career I took French clients to a local restaurant, where their request for a recommendation for a Canadian wine caught me and the server off guard.) It's lovely to find somewhere that celebrates our own producers.

Serving local produce here in YEG must present challenges, especially in the deads of winter. But it is also a sentiment that I have great respect for. My personal bent is that local food matters more than organic food - after all, how "good" can organic bananas picked green, ripened with gases en route and requiring tankers of diesel to transport be?

Our server, Darren (we think - we aren't completely sure, so if we're wrong, apologies) was great. Very confident and humorous, and of course appropriately attentive.

Now on to the food.
Our table of four shared the Kitchen Board and the Roasted Beet and Baby Greens Salad to start.

I love beets, and salads that include them. This salad was nice, but it didn't knock my socks off. The beets themself were a little soft for my liking and a little mellow flavorwise. The best element of the salad was the little cucumber cube filled with Anise flavored creme fresh. That was delightful.

The Kitchen Board changes daily, and last night included a Rabbit Tourine, local brine-cured ham, cheese, and scotch eggs. I didn't taste everything on the board but I think the four of us were in agreement that the scotch eggs and aioli were remarkable. They had us discussing just how one would go about making scotch eggs.

I ordered the Bison entree. It is served with roasted carrots and hazelnut spatzle. The bison was beautifully cooked and very tender - which is a feat in itself with bison. The spatzle was underwhelming - quite bland and non descript. The flavor that stood out the most on that plate were the roast carrots. So much so that should I return to Rge Rd I'd likely order the roast vegetable entre.

Sheri had the duck breast, and the guys both ordered the daily beef. The mashed potatoes that accompanied the steak were very good. Sadly, the beef itself not so much.

We all had dessert too: Sheri and Daryl had Apple Galette and both enjoyed it. It's served with a scoop of amazing, smoked ice cream. Richard had the cheese and fruit tray, and I had the poached pear with lavender creme brulee. I wish that the pear were either warm, or chilled. At room temperature it did not have that great, sweet pear taste.

Beside the beef steaks being less tender than they should have been, there was nothing to dislike about our meal. The preparation and presentation were perfect. The service was great. Prices and portion sizes were in line. However, I cannot write this without adding a BUT. I've chatted with both Daryl and Sheri about this so far and we are all in agreement: this meal was very good but it was not exceptional. Small tidbits stood out: the creme fresh and cucumber, the aioli for the scotch egg, the roasted carrots, the smoked ice cream, the wine. But the rest, and the "stars" of the plates, were under seasoned and unremarkable.

On my personal list of top 5, Tavern 1903 sits atop of Rge Rd. While I do think I will return to Rge Rd, I think Tavern 1903 is destined to be a place we go to often. And, there are still three places on this list to try - three more opportunities to knock 1903 from the pedestal I've placed them on.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What's the meaning of this dream?

Number one son left on an adventure last Saturday: a two week vacation in Thailand with some buddies. His travel experience to date has included:

  • family vacations in tropical locals 
  • trips with his soccer team. 
  • four months on his own, more or less, in Germany with a soccer club. 
So while he has traveled to many more places than I had at his age, he's always had a big safety net and quite possibly not really taken in the full experience of a traveller. So I'm hoping he has a great, and eye opening, experience. 

Now what does this have to do with a dream? Only that the dream's primary characters were son #1 and me, and that I had this dream about 36 hours after he departed. 

It started with he and I and a collection of his friends loading a cube van with stuff that they needed to start out on some kind of 'enterprise' - I don't recall the specifics of said enterprise but for some reason I was integral to getting it started. Once the van was loaded, we piled in and headed out on the road. I was in the passenger seat and #1 was driving. First corner taken far too quickly and I fall out of the van, dangling by my seatbelt, as sunshine continues driving down the highway despite my peril. I'm finally able to escape the danger at a stop light, at which point I undo seatbelt and insist on being taken home. I add in the threat that if he does not return me to the safety of my home, I'll walk there and he can expect to find all of his worldly possessions at the curb when he does come back. 

So what does this dream mean? I have my own thoughts, but just for fun I'd like to see yours. Add your thoughts as a comment. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Dinner Out, in Suburbia

There's a new joint on the block out here in suburbia; Hart's Table & Bar - a Century Hospitality Group property - in the old Ric's Grill location on 23 Avenue. And it's a much needed addition, as anyone that has tried to go for dinner after 5 p.m. in Terwillegar knows all too well. The supply of seats does not meet the demand.
We decided to give them a try last night when we hatched a plan to grab a burger with our good friends Chris and Kathy - a fairly spur of the moment casual night out in the burbs to catch up with friends. Hart has only been open a week and does not take reservations. We arrived at 6:45 to quite a significant wait, but after learning that there was a similar wait over at Delux Burger Bar, we opted to give the new place a try. And I'm really glad we did. 
I hadn't been to Ric's Grill for several years before it closed, but if my memory is correct most of the layout of Hart is the same as it was as Ric's. One huge improvement is that the windows are no longer covered by stuffy black curtains. The lounge area is inviting with large sofa's and big raised tables. I think my favorite bit of decor was the wall paper in the washroom though! 
The menu's (available on line) are a little more upscale and diverse than the competition (Delux and Original Joes) in the neighborhood, a welcome addition to the local choices. The food was very good. I had the 'Tomahawk' Pork Chop and it was tasty and juicy. I nibbled on the DHs Century Kaleslaw that came with his Fish and Chips and it was delicious, as were his fries. 
The other BIG thing that Hart has going for it is it's beer selection. Fat Tire in bottles. Delirium Tremens on tap! Just a couple favorites from among the extensive list. I can imagine Hart becoming a favorite based on beer list alone.

I look forward to warm summer evenings out on their patio sampling that grand list. Welcome to the neighborhood, Hart, and (though I'm quite sure you will be) I wish you much success.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

It's time to replace watching Food TV with real world food experiences.

A short while ago I pointed out to my DH that it had been years since we'd been out for a nice dinner that wasn't part of a fundraiser. Sure there had been plenty of burgers and beers at chain restaurants, lots of fun casual meals with great conversation and lots of great, home cooked dinners with friends that love food. But something was missing:  opportunities to get 'all gussied up', to enjoy good conversation,  great food  and great service - where someone wasn't on the hook for the prep or clean up.

There are probably a handful of reasons that we haven't been out. We are firmly entrenched in suburbia, where chain restaurants serving burgers are the norm. The DH is a very good cook, and has oft been heard to say "Mine's better" when reviewing food. It's hard to part with your disposable income when you can do better, for less, in the comfort of your own home. And we've been pretty removed from the restaurant scene here in Edmonton for quite a while - years of uber busy kid sport schedules kept the calendar full and took priority over keeping informed on what's hot and what's not.

But as our calendars have freed up from those sport commitments our social commitments have shrunk, not grown. We find ourselves chilling, day after day, watching HGTV or the Food Channel, drooling over beautiful food or sumptuous vacation properties. Armchair foodies rather than the real thing. Sad and pathetic homebodies! ;-)

I'm not much of a fan of winter and do confess that I would rather be somewhere other than Edmonton for about six months a year. But, since I do live here, I've decided it's incumbent on me to find reasons/people/places/activities here that will help me like Edmonton more, not just hate it less. I  prefer to support local businesses whenever possible, and believe fresh local food is better for all involved.

Enter Avenue Magazine's Edmonton's Best Restaurants 2014, and agreement from friends Richard and Sheri to see if we could try them all! Well, at least the top 5 on the Best Overall list!

First up for us: Tavern 1903. I'd been intrigued by Tavern 1903 since reading Baconhound's review from Sept. 2013. I love it's downtown location in a reclaimed historic building. I firmly believe that if Edmonton is to thrive, we need a vibrant downtown: a vibrant and thriving city needs a thriving core.  I've enjoyed great meals at The Hardware Grill. I was intrigued by the Mozzarella Bar. So Tavern 1903 seemed a logical first choice.

We started slowly, ordering appetizers only, not sure if we'd continue having more of the amazing looking appetizers or move on to entrees. We'd heard great things about the Korean Fried Cauliflower, and also tried the Spinalis Rib Eye Roll, the Hickory Smoked Ribs and the Smoked Fior di Latte Mozzarella. Every single bite was delightful. The KFC was as good as we'd heard. I'm not sure if it or the mozzarella was more of a surprise for me - I'm actually not fond of cauliflower and I don't, usually, eat cheese. But these two dishes were superb. The combination of flavors and textures was both complex and yet subtle - no one flavor overpowered the others. Presentation was impeccable.The appetizers did their job and whetted our interest. We soon ordered entrees.

My friend Richard ordered the shortribs, the DH had the flat iron steak, and Sheri and I decided to share a full sized salad and - get this - Chicken and Waffles! I've heard tell of chicken and waffles but have never run across them on a menu. Curiosity got the best of me! The salad was crunchy and fresh, brilliantly dressed with the right amount of blue cheese and yummy bacon. And the chicken and waffles were another unexpected big win. Succulent chicken, crispy coating, savory waffle and a slightly sweet sauce. YUM.

We finished the meal with Jack Daniels Chocolate Cake and Maple-Bacon Cider Donuts. Now, I'm a chocoholic - never met a chocolate anything that I didn't love. And this cake was no exception. It was a beautiful rich chocolate delectation. BUT those donuts - oh my - those donuts might be the best dessert I've ever, ever had. Ever.

Service was impeccable. The food was beautifully presented. Portion sizes are generous. Pricing reasonable.

Overall, Tavern 1903 may be the best dining experience I've had in the last several years, locally and when travelling. I think one of the biggest indicators of how good it was was that the 'chef's' at the table quickly quit thinking about whether they could make the dish, and simply enjoyed them. It's been a while since we've still been talking about how good the meal was the next day!