Edmonton Restaurant Review: RGE RD

A timely plate of duck during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Go Oilers!

RGE RD has been open for about four years now. In that time, it has racked up numerous accolades on both a local and national level. As the spotlight on the restaurant and chef Blair Lebsack grew, so did my yearning to visit. Yet, with me, it’s always the case that I’m late to the party.

After sitting on a gift certificate for almost a whole year, I decided to cash it in when my boyfriend and I celebrated our one-year anniversary together this past weekend. To ensure that we secured a spot during regular dinner hours on a Saturday evening, I made a reservation about two months in advance through RGE RD’s website.

Knowing that the establishment had already been around for quite some time, I’ll admit that I was a bit apprehensive about this being my first experience with them. When there has been so much talk and praise for a chef and their restaurant, it’s easy to buy into the hype. Flashbacks of my dinner at Corso 32 ran through my head and I told myself not to have too high of expectations.

When we arrived, the dining room was nearly full. A couple happened to be leaving as we walked in, thereby opening up a second table, and the hostess was nice enough to let us choose the seats we’d prefer. I opted to take the spot nearest the door as it gave me a peek into the kitchen, provided sightlines of the bar and allowed me to people watch (my boyfriend got to stare at me and a window without a view).

The dining room of RGE RD.

It’s a compact space. I counted about forty seats total, but the website mentions that there are sixty. Perhaps that includes the seating on the other side of the building? Called The Butchery, that area is typically reserved for large groups and private events. Our half of RGE RD was cozy though. With all of my design expertise (thank you, HGTV!), I’d like to call the look ‘Industrial Farmhouse.’ The mishmash of cement walls, natural woods, metal lighting fixtures and sheepskin chair backs really conveyed a modern rustic feel.

I will mention that once we settled in, it seemed to take some time before our server came to check on us. Once she did, however, we received relatively steady service throughout our meal. She provided information on that day’s specials and was able to answer a few questions regarding the menu.

One of my inquiries was about the RGE RD Trip Multi-Course Dinner. Personally, I’d been hoping that it would be possible to order one RD Trip between two people. My thought was that we could split all of those courses and then order more off of the regular menu in an effort to sample their popular plates as well. I figured that was a win-win situation. Much to my chagrin, we were told that everyone at the table must participate in order to do the RD Trip, so my boyfriend caved and adventured with me. For $85 each (price may vary), we received six undisclosed courses that served as a canvas of Canadian-inspired cuisine.

Course 1: Tomato with Fiddleheads

The initial dish consisted of a single plump tomato sitting in tomato sauce with slightly charred bright green furled fiddleheads to accompany it. I’d only ever seen fiddleheads once before while walking around an organic grocery store, so I was surprised to find them here. My boyfriend, who is from New Brunswick where fiddleheads grow wild, was also excited to see them in our bowls. That’s when it clicked in. We were being taken on a culinary journey across the country and that trip started in the Maritimes. This was a small salad to whet our appetites and the lightest thing we ate all evening. I liked the balance of the acidity from the tomato and the slight bitterness from the fiddleheads, which seemed similar in texture to asparagus.

Course 2: Pork Belly with Scallop

Our second plate was a combination of seared scallop and pork belly presented with garlic emulsion and a slice of cayenne pepper. My boyfriend said his piece of pork belly was amazing; apparently juice literally shot out of the meat when he ate it. I can’t confirm that the same thing happened to me, but it was succulent and smoky with the caramelized fat. I especially loved the scallop as it was firm yet delicate on the teeth with just the right amount of searing on the top and bottom. The garlic emulsion and the hit of heat from the seedless cayenne pepper also played off of the tongue nicely.

Course three was actually my favourite of the night. This was a mushroom risotto with ricotta and cracklings served with semolina bread and sour cherry & sage butter. If done well, risotto can be so delicious and hearty. In this case, the rice was still al dente and the sauce was incredibly creamy and flavourful once the dollop of ricotta cheese was melted in. My boyfriend argued that it would have been made better with added protein, but I was happy to eat it with just the mushrooms as the fleshiness of the fungi felt satisfying enough and the crunch from the cracklings provided a twist to the typical risotto dish. The slices of bread were soft and, although the pink-coloured butter didn’t pack as much of a punch as I hoped it would, I noticed hints of sour cherry with a couple of bites.

Course 4: All About the Duck

The risotto was followed by a plate of duck breast with a cube of duck rillette bread pudding, apple puree and pickled pear. I anticipated that the duck breast would be tenderer, but there was a little more chew to it. Still, it was delicious when combined with morsels of the pickled pear as the sweetly tart taste offset the earthiness of the meat. Rillette is similar to a pate and it was pressed into the bread pudding, creating a savoury version of the dessert that disappeared way too quickly.

Having travelled across Canada during our dinner, it was practically inevitable that our main entrée would utilize bison in an effort to represent RGE RD’s home province of Alberta, and represent they did. We were offered a wrapped bison medallion where one portion of the gamey meat was from the shank and the other was braised. Aside from a couple of small pieces of bone lingering around, I found the meat to be juicy and the braised meat fell apart so easily. Underneath the bison was a mix of sunchokes, potatoes and green beans with eggplant puree as well as some wine reduction swirled around the edge of the plate. Sunchokes are supposed to be fragrant and nutty in flavour, but honestly, I don’t think any were in my dish. Only pieces of potato ended up on my fork as everything was starchy in texture. Granted, I lucked out with the green beans though because my boyfriend said he didn’t get any of those.

Course 6: White Chocolate Ganache Buttermilk Tart with Red Wine Poached Pear

Already stuffed, we had one final course to go. Dessert was a dense white chocolate ganache filled buttermilk tart topped with red wine poached pear. The shell was like a cookie base and, oddly enough, it wasn’t too sugary even with the white chocolate middle. The taste of the red wine in the pears really came through and they mostly helped to counter the sweetness. Despite being so full, I sort of wished dessert had been bigger.

Counting the wait time at the start of our evening and the duration of our full meal, we were there for three hours. Now that I’ve completed the RD Trip dinner once and I’ve seen the value (the available bison dish on the a la carte menu is $36 on its own), I’d say that foodies should consider this to be worth the money. Three out of six plates included some sort of protein and most of the portions were quite large in size. In fact, I was actually questioning whether or not I’d manage to finish everything (I did).

I’ll have to go back to try their standards like the questionable bits and the octopus. But, based on the gastronomic voyage we took, it turns out that RGE RD, for the most part, is deserving of the acclaim. While this is not an everyday place to dine, it’s certainly one to keep in mind for a treat or a special occasion.

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Edmonton Bakery Review: The Art of Cake

One of the displays at The Art of Cake shop.

One of the displays at The Art of Cake shop.

As I’ve grown, my appreciation of food has, too. I can cook and bake well enough, but I don’t really have that touch. Not yet, anyway. Some people learn from a really young age, some are just naturally good at nurturing and cooking, but not everyone has what it takes to venture out on their own and make a living from it. Gloria Bednarz and Guenter Hess, pastry chefs and owners of The Art of Cake, took the leap and have made a nice niche for themselves in Edmonton over the last few years.

I first learned about The Art of Cake about five years ago when my friend Alexis announced she was getting married. Gloria, being her aunt, was going to be making her cake, so I was lucky enough to try a few of them at both Alexis’ engagement party and her wedding. Unfortunately, I don’t recall the flavours that they opted for, but I do remember that the cake itself was absolutely delectable, moist, dense and not overly sweet. Most memorable was the look of the 4 or 5 tier cake, which had been covered in a white chocolate fondant that had been rolled and applied to look like the petals of a flower – delicate and beautiful – with the final touches being fresh gerbera daisies.

Alexis and Ryan's beautiful wedding cake!

Alexis and Ryan’s beautiful wedding cake!

Their independent business has built up a good reputation since it was established. Named to Avenue Edmonton‘s list of 25 Best Things to Eat 2012 and The Tomato‘s list of the top 100 best things to eat and drink in Edmonton for 2013, it’s obvious that they have a big fan base here. So, lo and behold my excitement when I walked through City Centre mall during my coffee break back in July and found their new shop in the basement level by the food court (next to Caffè Sorrentino). I was so excited that I could finally try some of their touted old-fashioned coconut macaroons – the item that kept getting mentioned in all these articles – without going out of my way.

The shop, for the most part, retains the layout created by the previous tenant, Big City Cupcakes. Simple and sleek, the store keeps a largely white palette, allowing the desserts, wedding cakes, tiers of mini cupcakes and large canvas imagery to steal the show. The Art of Cake’s tagline is “Nostalgic Artisan Baking” and it’s easy to see that they’ve made the choice to keep things to the basics. Everything is wonderfully presented with a vintage feel that fits the classic offerings, but nothing is overdone.

On our first visit, my break companion and I were happily greeted by Dawn who keeps watch of the store. Even though I walked in fully ready to purchase a Friday snack, she plied us with samples of blueberry cake and fluffy cruellers. I tried each one and both were delicious, but the blueberry cake would be my choice between the two. In the end, I opted for a carrot cupcake. Having been recommended by Alexis and also one of my favourite cakes, there was no question about it. The cake was soft, but it didn’t fall apart when eaten and the flavours were good as they refrained from using too many spices. The icing was unexpectedly subtle as well. It still had a bit of a cream cheese taste to it, but instead of being heavy, it was closer to a buttercream frosting, making it smooth and much lighter. I could tell that it was made fresh that day and everything tasted natural.

Our second trip was my chance to try their coconut macaroons. I forgot to buy them the first time around, but that’s okay because it was an excuse for me to go back. Plus, I think it’s better to spread out all these indulgent desserts. Packaged in groups of 6, the macaroons were larger than I thought they would be, and the bottoms of each macaroon were lightly spread with dark chocolate. The outside was nicely browned on the edges, providing that slight crunch when first bitten into, but breaking away into a moist and chewy center. My friend walked away with a couple “Elvis” peanut butter bacon cupcakes, which she tells me were very yummy.

The third time around I bought myself a shortbread cookie and a slice of banana cake. The shortbread was super buttery and melt-in-your-mouth with a small dollop of raspberry jam on top. It was delicious. Honestly, sometimes a good shortbread cookie is all you need. I found the banana cake to be heavier than the blueberry cake. It’s covered with a thick layer of brown sugar icing that I could have used a little less of, but doesn’t take away from it overall. Thankfully, their cakes seem to have little excess grease and this particular one was filled with the perfect proportion of semi-sweet chocolate chips making for a lip-smacking, albeit, sweet lunch substitute.

A lemon poppyseed cupcake with raspberry icing - the September feature - bought for my friend's birthday.

A lemon poppyseed cupcake with raspberry icing – the September feature – bought for my friend’s birthday.

I’ve stopped by to check out the dessert cases a couple more times since. In addition to everything I’ve mentioned so far, they seem to have muffins, cookie packs, cake pops and housemade jube jubes (covered in white chocolate and shredded coconut) readily available. Cupcakes come in an assortment of flavours and are offered in both regular and mini sizes, and you can also order single tier cakes through the shop.

If you’re looking for a bakery that can cater to your wedding needs, a special event, or cravings for your sweet tooth during the work week doldrums, I highly recommend you stop by The Art of Cake. Although, at this point in my life, I’m not expecting to get married any time soon, I’ll continue to keep them in mind for when I do…one day. In the meantime, they’ll be one of my go to places for when I need a pick-me-up.

Consider The Art of Cake for your wedding, special event or just because!

Consider The Art of Cake for your wedding, special event or just because!

For a more in-depth look at this establishment, visit The Local Good to read my profile of The Art of Cake