It has been almost 7 years since my last visit to Cafe Select, which has now been branded by new owners (their other restaurant is Packrat Louie just off Whyte Ave.) simply as Select in an effort to contemporize the name.
The restaurant itself has always been rather inconspicuous sitting on 106th Street just south of Jasper Avenue. Even though it had a reputation as an excellent restaurant specializing in French cuisine and it had existed in that same spot since my parents can remember, I never would have known about it had my friend not suggested we go for dessert one night. While we didn’t get to try anything on our first attempt to eat there (it was late and they were about to close), the restaurant certainly had a cozy feel to it, comforting and inviting.
When we eventually managed to sit down at a table there, it was to celebrate the same friend’s birthday. We enjoyed tea and dessert and I recall it being good, but maybe not overly memorable. What I can tell you is that food blogging wasn’t such a big thing back then and it was more important to get a photo of us together as opposed to pictures of the food.
Well, over the last couple years, I’ve found myself trying out more new restaurants and revisiting ones that for some reason or another I just never quite made it back to. I have Groupon to thank for that. It has actually been difficult to keep track of the vouchers I’ve purchased and, as such, I often find myself leaving their use until the last possible moment. This was certainly the case for my evening at Select.
In preparation, I made a reservation through OpenTable (it’s all about the points!), perused the menu online and, of course, read reviews on Urbanspoon and Yelp. I like to know what I’m getting into even if it means feeling worried that I’m not going to get what I bargained for.
The first thing I want to say though, is for the people who complained about promptness of seating and service at the restaurant, I will gladly do the opposite and give the staff props for attentiveness. As soon as my companion and I walked into the doors, we were pleasantly greeted by a hostess who seated us at roomy booth. Our server came over within a couple of minutes to offer us water and throughout the night she was very friendly, she refilled our glasses without us having to ask, she checked in on us periodically, but not too often and she offered us meal suggestions.
The ambience of the place was also quite lovely. The restaurant is small, so if seated at tables rather than booths, it may have been a bit tighter. However, it was comfortable with the lighting creating a nice soft glow. Yet, it wasn’t so dark that you couldn’t read the menu. Also, from what I can recall, I believe the space has been slightly revamped with new paint and art on the walls.
But, onto the food because, really, the most important thing about eating out is how the dishes stack up and I have to say that I give the restaurant a 7 out of 10 for what we managed to fit into our bellies that night.
The server started us off with a basket of mini cheese buns, which were soft and warm enough that the butter immediately melted upon contact. It is often said that the bread at the start of a meal can tell you a lot about how the rest of the food is going to be, and those little carb-loaded buns were a good sign.
The bread was followed by an appetizer of gnocchi fondue. The actual fondue is made of Fontina cheese and white wine, so it is a bit strong, but paired with the pan fried gnocchi (I’d say equal in quality to David Burke Townhouse and South Gate, both in NYC and both scrumptious), asparagus and prosciutto wrapped apple, it was a match made in heaven. At first I dipped everything separately just to see how the fondue went with each, but when all the flavours are paired together, that’s when you get the best results. The tartness of the apple with the saltiness of the prosciutto and the slight crispness from the outside of the gnocchi and from the asparagus paired with the Fontina cheese and white wine created nice texture and was absolutely delicious. My only disappointment was that there was a still a bit of fondue left and nothing left to dip in it.
Once we polished off our appetizer, our main courses arrived shortly after. I had heard good things about their panella, which is really their one and only vegan dish (also celiac friendly), so I decided to give it a go. Basically a square of chickpea polenta cut into two triangles atop a salad of spinach, potatoes, mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes and hazelnuts drizzled with sherry vinegar, it was quite the colourful plate. While it didn’t look like a lot of food, with the chickpeas providing so much protein, and the buns and appetizers that came before, I felt pretty full rather quickly. I did persevere though and for good reason. The chickpea polenta was done nicely – crisp on the outside, but soft on the inside. It had a lot of flavour as well. But, like the appetizer, I felt it was best when I got everything in one bite and was able to taste the palate as a whole. The salad underneath was great; the sherry vinegar added a nice bite to the mix. Overall, I’m not sure that this is a dish that would make me a regular patron, but I was certainly happy with it.
My dining partner decided to go with their Select burger. A beef patty with black truffle cheddar, greens, bacon jam (she asked to have this omitted), tomato relish and pickled onion, it sounded like a good choice. Turns out that was the furthest from the truth. The taste wasn’t bad. I had a couple bites and thought it had some nice layers to it, but the patty was not that thick and was definitely overcooked, leaving it rather dry. The fries that accompanied the burger were also overdone. My companion finished the burger despite that. She also mentioned to our server her dissatisfaction with the dish, saying it was as if it was made using a frozen store bought patty rather than fresh ground beef. The server was quite apologetic, leaving to tell the manager our comments and insisting that he would be by to talk to us.
We still had a few dollars to use up on our Groupon, so we decided to share a dessert. Since we were already stuffed, we wanted something a little lighter, which left us with either their meringue or their lemon tart. Because we couldn’t make up our minds, we left it to our server to make our decision for us. What we got was the lemon tart topped with a strawberry basil salsa. Before tasting the dessert, I had my reservations about it. I’ve never had basil paired with anything sweet before; I’ve always thought of it more as a savoury herb simply because I usually have it in sandwiches or pasta. But, this was quite the surprise. The lemon tart had just the right amount of tang in it with a nice cookie-like bottom balanced out by the sweetness from the strawberry salsa and an interesting hint of basil poking through every so often. In fact, it was so delectable that I wish we had ordered two of them because half (or less than as my friend was unable to put down her fork) just wasn’t enough.
All-in-all, I would say that the outing to Select was well worth it, even more so with the voucher. Just food with no drinks would have cost us $56 plus tax and tip, but the Groupon saved us $25. For two people and three courses, that’s not too bad.
My only qualm with the restaurant was that the manager never did come to speak to us about the entree. Honestly, it seemed like he was avoiding having to deal with the issue by spending about 20 minutes at another table that had ordered a bottle of wine. They never even offered to discount the dish, which is really something they should have done. Perhaps it’s because they saw us as patrons who weren’t spending the full amount, but the fact that the manager didn’t bother to handle a problem in his restaurant is something I’ll remember about the place. Those are the things people think of when they make a decision as to whether or not they’ll be back to dine again.
And, will I be back? Probably. I doubt it will be any time soon, but the satisfaction I got from 3 out of the 4 plates we did like is enough to keep this Edmonton staple in mind.