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.

Crystal’s Double Dozen: A Born and Bred Edmontonian’s Top 24 Eateries for 2015

Last year I decided to begin working my way through The Tomato‘s 100 best eats in Edmonton for 2013 and 2014.  There are still places that I haven’t made it to, and the challenge has only become harder with the release of the 2015 list this past March. Not to mention, new restaurants continue to spring up and compete for my attention. Needless to say, I wasn’t as on top of trying different places this year, but my second annual breakdown of my personal favourites in Edmonton does have some variation from my choices in 2014.

I still stand by the belief that any eatery is capable of blowing me away. Whether it’s an independent restaurant or part of a chain, there’s a reason why these places have lasted and continue to bring customers through their doors.

All of my selections are based off of the dishes that I’ve tried, so I by no means can vouch for the entire menu at each restaurant. However, I do feel that whatever I’ve eaten at these establishments are good indications of their brilliance or potential.

If you’ve had the pleasure of enjoying a great meal at the following locations, you’ll understand why they’ve made the cut. Otherwise, this list is my way of nudging all of you to step outside of your comfort zone to try somewhere and something new.

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1. Cibo Bistro
Still my favourite place in 2015. Everything is made from scratch. Delicious arancini, amazing cured in-house salumi, and fresh pasta with the perfect bite.

Review of Cibo Bistro

2. Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen
The official grand opening took place in November and the food really impressed me and my friend. Absolutely fantastic bone marrow agnolotti and tender, smoked duck were the stars.

Review of Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen

3. Woodwork
I recently visited again and it reminded me of why I like this place so much. Talented bartenders mix perfect cocktails, which are usually imbibed with plates of food that often consist of flavourful house-smoked meat.

Review of Woodwork

4. Canteen
The menu changes seasonally, but I still think about the duck breast I had. Visually, it was gorgeous, but it was also incredibly succulent. The chickpea fries and corn fritters are also great for sharing.

Review of Canteen

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5. Rostizado
A great place for gatherings, the platter of 2 consisting of juicy and tasty roasted Four Whistle Farms pork and chicken creates a family-like atmosphere during your meal. Make sure to order the caramel flan for dessert, which is arguably even better than the churros.

Review of Rostizado

6. Duchess Bake Shop
My mom’s first visit to Duchess took place this year, and she loved the desserts. She’s pretty critical, so if she says something is good, it is. The key lime tart is still my top pick here. The banana cream pie has a wonderfully flaky crust, plenty of banana and lots of fresh whipped cream.

Review of Duchess Bake Shop

7. Corso 32
I was maybe a little harsh with Corso 32 last year. My expectations were very high after hearing all the rave reviews before trying it for myself. But, I concede that the fried short rib was a more than memorable dish.

Review of Corso 32

8. Tres Carnales
My quick and dirty review from last year still stands: “This is Mexican street food at its finest. Every time I have been to this establishment, the service has been quick and the food has been fantastic. The guacamole is a tasty starter for the table (I love it even though it contains cilantro). The various aguas – flavoured waters – are a must to quench your thirst on a hot day. If you ever have the chance to eat them, get the duck tacos! They are stellar, but a rarity nowadays. The al pastor quesadilla is a close second.”

Review of Tres Carnales

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9. El Cortez Mexican Kitchen + Tequila Bar
I was skeptical of El Cortez prior to visiting in August. When it first opened, I had heard the food wasn’t all that great, but chef Lindsay Porter who took over a few short months later created a top notch menu. The fried cauliflower and the bulgogi steak tacos are awesome.

Review of El Cortez

10. Rosso Pizzeria
The wood-fired pizza is a must.  I also highly recommend the ricotta with olive oil, which is indulgent, but light. Don’t leave without dessert. The homemade gelato is superb.

Review of Rosso Pizzeria

11. Nosh Cafe
This restaurant moved to 124 Street within the last year and business has been slow to build at their new location. However, I’ve been several times and the traditional Indian dishes – palak paneer and butter chicken – are consistently good.

Review of Nosh Cafe

12. Cactus Club Cafe
I know this is a chain. But, arguably, they know what they’re doing when it comes to food and drinks. I’ve never had a disappointing meal at either location. The dishes that keep me coming back include the beef carpaccio, the BBQ duck clubhouse and the calamari (the addition of the fried jalapeno slices is genius).

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13. Joey Restaurants
Don’t start rolling your eyes. This is the second chain on this list and there are reasons for it. I’ve been frequenting Joey for as long as I can remember. It was the place my friends and I would go for a night out. We’d feel like adults as we had long conversations over what we considered to be pretty fancy food at the time. Not much has changed. Joey has always been a mainstay for me. The menu has been revamped many times over the years, but I hope that they never remove that spectacular ahi tuna sandwich. I crave it.

14. Japonais Bistro
They have filling bento boxes that satisfy your belly and the matcha crème brûlée is addictive.

Review of Japonais Bistro

15. Izakaya Tomo
Must tries here include the crispy tako yaki (octopus balls), oyster ponzu and the prawn spring rolls. Gather a group of friends, order a bunch of plates and share everything!

Review of Izakaya Tomo

16. The Common
Go for the chicken and waffles – one of the best renditions available in Edmonton – or the unique tandoori calamari. They also have a great selection of craft beers and tasty cocktails.

Review of The Common

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17. Three Boars Eatery
This tapas style establishment has an ever-changing menu that is meant to be shared. If you can catch them, the lamb neck croquette, roasted beet and carrot salad, oka tart and the pork belly are highly recommended. The intimate space also makes it feel a little more special.

Review of Three Boars

18. Lazia
They’ve recently shifted the focus of their menu back to more Asian influenced dishes, and I think that was smart. The kitchen pleasantly surprised me with gorgeously plated and flavourful dishes that rivaled their sister restaurant, Wildflower Grill, but with price points that are slightly more accessible.

Review of Lazia

19. Sloppy Hoggs Roed Hus BBQ
I was greatly disappointed when I found out that Absolutely Edibles closed. However, their sister restaurant, Sloppy Hoggs, still exists just down the block on 118 Avenue and 95 Street. The barbecued and slow-cooked meat served here is great and the portion sizes are generous. To top it off, the Absolutely Edibles brunch menu transferred over to this location. The waffles with the works (breaded chicken) are my top choice.

Review of Sloppy Hoggs

20. Ampersand 27
A beautiful atmosphere with equally beautiful dishes made for sharing. Get the melt-in-your-mouth maple butter pork belly.

Review of Ampersand 27

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21. The Cavern
Giving the option to select wine in 3 oz. or 6 oz. glasses and the chance to build a cheese and charcuterie board that is healthy and filling, you’ll likely be surprised to find that you don’t actually require anything else. With cheese, meat, nuts, dried fruit, jellies and bread, this is a meal in itself.

Review of The Cavern

22. The Art of Cake
Cupcakes, slab cakes, cruellers, and shortbread cookies are just a few of the baked goods that they offer at their store. It’s impossible to go wrong.

Review of The Art of Cake

23. Tiramisu Bistro
With an extensive menu, there’s probably something to satisfy everyone. I particularly liked the salmone pizza. Even better, after 5pm on Tuesdays, pizzas are buy one, get one half off.

Review of Tiramisu Bistro

24. Belgravia Hub
Tucked away in the Belgravia neighbourhood, this is an easy restaurant to overlook. However, don’t miss out on their contemporary comfort food. The corn fritters, mac and cheese bites and the braised beef are worth a visit.

Review of Belgravia Hub

Happy New Year and Happy Eating! See you in 2016!

Crystal’s Double Dozen: A Born and Bred Edmontonian’s Top 24 Eateries for 2014

This year I decided to start tackling The Tomato‘s 100 best eats in Edmonton for 2013 and 2014 (once the second year’s was released in March). It pushed me to try a number of local places I had heard about and hadn’t yet made it to, and it also encouraged me to stop at quite a few restaurants that weren’t originally on my radar or on either list. Working my way through as many establishments as I could on the lists, I was inspired to compile my own.

My selections for the top Edmonton eateries are based on the 80 or so restaurants I was able to fit in within the past 12 months. The only stipulation to be a contender for the list is that you’re some sort of food establishment. I believe that whether it is family run, an entrepreneurial business or part of a franchise, it shouldn’t predetermine how good they are perceived to be. I have had amazing meals at chain restaurants, subpar dishes at independently owned eateries and vice versa.

If you already frequent my picks for 2014, you know why they’ve been chosen. But, if these are new to you, I hope this article urges you to get out and take a chance on something different in 2015.

Cibo Bistro interior, salumi, arancini and mezzaluna pasta.

Cibo Bistro interior, salumi, arancini and mezzaluna pasta.

1. Cibo Bistro
An Italian restaurant that is similar to the much lauded Corso 32, the kitchen’s creations blew me away. It’s slightly larger than Corso, their arancini is better, the cured in-house salumi is to die for, and the fresh pasta has the perfect bite.

Review of Cibo Bistro

Dinner at Three Boars Eatery

Dinner at Three Boars Eatery

2. Three Boars Eatery
This tapas style establishment has an ever-changing menu that is meant to be shared. If you can catch them, the lamb neck croquette, roasted beet and carrot salad, oka tart and the pork belly are highly recommended.

Review of Three Boars

Rostizado's Mexican rosticeria is one of Edmonton's newest hot spots.

Rostizado’s Mexican rosticeria is one of Edmonton’s newest hot spots.

3. Rostizado
One of Edmonton’s newest additions, this sit-down rosticeria has changed the landscape of Mexican cuisine in the city. A great place for gatherings, the platter of 2 consisting of juicy and tasty roasted Four Whistle Farms pork and chicken creates a family-like atmosphere during your meal. To top off your lunch or dinner, make sure to order the caramel flan.

Review of Rostizado

Clockwise from top: Rosso Pizzeria's ricotta, Japonais Bistro's matcha crème brûlée and Canteen's duck breast.

Clockwise from top: Rosso Pizzeria’s ricotta, Japonais Bistro’s matcha crème brûlée and Canteen’s duck breast.

4. Japonais Bistro
Their traditional bento box includes everything a sushi lover would want to satisfy any cravings. I’m also a big fan of matcha flavoured anything, and their match crème brûlée begs for a second, third and even fourth helping.

Review of Japonais Bistro

5. Canteen
Situated along 124 Street, it is located among numerous other eateries that are making names for themselves. However, if you’re a fan of duck, this is where I have found some of the best. Canteen’s duck breast was the most tender I have ever had. It was also beautifully plated, so you’re not only eating with your mouth, but also your eyes.

Review of Canteen

6. Rosso Pizzeria
The wood-fired pizza crust is both crispy and chewy as it should be. The ricotta with olive oil is indulgent, but still light, and the green olives were so tasty that they will make those who aren’t fans fall in love. The homemade gelato – pistachio, banana cinnamon and Mayan chocolate are wonderful – is a rich and refreshing finish.

Review of Rosso Pizzeria

Clockwise from top: The Common's duck confit, Wildflower Grill's gnocchi and Woodwork's stocked bar.

Clockwise from top: The Common’s duck confit, Wildflower Grill’s gnocchi and Woodwork’s stocked bar.

7. The Common
This hipster hangout has a number of of-the-moment dishes to match. Go for the chicken and waffles – one of the best renditions available in Edmonton – or the unique tandoori calamari.

Review of The Common

8. Woodwork
The second you step foot into this restaurant, you’re overcome with the scent of wood-fired cooking. Their cornbread is delicious, the dill sausage is worth a second visit, the cocktails made by their master bartenders are strong, and the desserts are simple yet decadent.

Review of Woodwork

9. Wildflower Grill
With a menu that is split into small and large plates, it’s a great place to go to cater to parties that have a mix of petite appetites and those with bigger ones. This also allows for groups to sample a variety of items. The food is rich though, so you won’t leave hungry. Do try the three mushroom ravioli.

Review of Wildflower Grill

Clockwise from left: Tres Carnales' al pastor quesadillas, Cactus Club Cafe's beef carpaccio and Duchess Bake Shop's key lime tart.

Clockwise from left: Tres Carnales’ al pastor quesadillas, Cactus Club Cafe’s beef carpaccio and Duchess Bake Shop’s key lime tart.

10. Tres Carnales
This is Mexican street food at its finest. Every time I have been to this establishment, the service has been quick and the food has been fantastic. The guacamole is a tasty starter for the table (I love it even though it contains cilantro). The various aguas – flavoured waters – are a must to quench your thirst on a hot day. If you ever have the chance to eat them, get the duck tacos! They are stellar, but a rarity nowadays. The al pastor quesadilla is a close second.

Review of Tres Carnales

11. Cactus Club Cafe
Sometimes chain restaurants get a lot of flack, but, while Cactus Club venues across western Canada serve the same menu, they treat each location as separate entities working under a shared culture. What we are now witness to are establishments that are more popular than ever because they cater to the cool as well as the foodie. I have yet to have a disappointing meal at the WEM and Jasper Avenue eateries. The dishes that keep me coming back include the beef carpaccio and the BBQ duck clubhouse.

12. Duchess Bake Shop
Their beautifully packaged rainbow coloured macarons are dainty little treats that sometimes come in interesting flavours – rose pops to mind – that have to be sampled. The key lime tart is the dessert for those who enjoy sweet and tangy combinations.

Review of Duchess Bake Shop

Clockwise from top: Under the High Wheel's gnocchi, The Cavern's cheese and charcuterie board for two and Select's gnocchi fondue.

Clockwise from top: Under the High Wheel’s gnocchi, The Cavern’s cheese and charcuterie board for two and Select’s gnocchi fondue.

13. Under the High Wheel
This adorable little cafe decorated with vintage furniture is a lovely place to converse over brunch. Go for the savoury Belgian waffles that are topped with smoked salmon. The gnocchi with mint pesto is delectable, too.

Review of Under the High Wheel

14. Select
I haven’t been since the restaurant apparently underwent a renovation at the end of the summer. However, it looks as though their menu remains the same, thank goodness. The gnocchi fondue paired with prosciutto wrapped apple wedges is so boozy that it feels decadent, and the chicken masala perogies provide an unexpected flavour, but a very pleasant one at that.

Review of Select

15. The Cavern
Giving you the option to select wine in 3 oz. or 6 oz. glasses and the chance to build your own cheese and charcuterie boards that are healthy and filling, you’ll be surprised to find that you don’t actually require anything else. With cheese, meat, nuts, dried fruit, jellies and bread, this is a meal in itself. If it’s available, the Comte cheese is particularly good.

Review of The Cavern

Clockwise from top: Corso 32's chocolate torta, The Glass Monkey's beets salad and Izakaya Tomo's oyster ponzu.

Clockwise from top: Corso 32’s chocolate torta, The Glass Monkey’s beets salad and Izakaya Tomo’s oyster ponzu.

16. Corso 32
A tad overhyped, but the food is still really well made. The fried short rib was incredibly tender and flavourful and worked as a meal on its own. The portion sizes of the appetizers and sides are surprisingly large and excellent for passing around the table. For dessert, the chocolate torta with candied hazelnuts is so rich and has just the right amount of bitter balanced with the sweet.

Review of Corso 32

17. The Glass Monkey
This place has gotten mixed reviews, but I enjoyed my meal there. Carrying on with some of the Jack’s Grill (its predecessor) favourites, the beef carpaccio was awesome and, as served, there was no need for accompaniments nor were any provided. Also, everything I saw being brought to surrounding tables looked so good. And, no, don’t order the wine because it’s pricey, but do have a beer. The service received was great as well.

Review of The Glass Monkey

18. Izakaya Tomo
It’s all about lingering over a bunch of shared plates all evening long. Must tries here include the crispy tako yaki (octopus balls), oyster ponzu and the prawn spring rolls!

Review of Izakaya Tomo

Clockwise from left: Sugarbowl's exterior, Watari's maki rolls, and Tropika's pad Thai, sambal bunchies and home style chicken.

Clockwise from left: Sugarbowl’s exterior, Watari’s maki rolls, and Tropika’s pad Thai, sambal bunchies and home style chicken.

19. Sugarbowl
The number one reason to visit this Edmonton staple is the cinnamon bun. Hands down this is one of the best out there; it’s also one of the most refrained as it entirely does away with cream cheese icing (I know, I never would have thought that would have been okay until I ate their cinnamon bun). The only thing is you have to get there early because they sell out. Stay through lunch for their lamb burger.

Review of Sugarbowl

20. Watari
One of the few all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants in the city, and it’s good sushi at that! Sashimi is included with lunch and dinner, and the fish is fresh. There are also a few specialty rolls on the menu along with dishes like beef tataki and ponzu muscles. You get two hours to dine. With the quick turnaround, you’ll have no problem getting your fill and then some.

Review of Edmonton AYCE Sushi

21. Tropika
This Malaysian and Thai establishment is a staple for me and my family. The pad Thai rocks and the satay peanut sauce can go with pretty much anything they serve. For lunch, the combos (available at the west end location…not sure about the south side) are a great value – three pre-selected items and a side of rice – that are super filling and oh so tasty.

Review of Tropika

Clockwise from left: The Art of Cake's mini cupcakes and cookies, The Parlour's truffle and short rib pizzas, and Absolutely Edibles' waffles with the works.

Clockwise from left: The Art of Cake’s mini cupcakes and cookies, The Parlour’s truffle and short rib pizzas, and Absolutely Edibles’ waffles with the works.

22. The Art of Cake
Seriously, what can’t they bake here? The cupcakes, slab cakes, cruellers, and shortbread cookies have ensured that I probably gained 5 pounds this last half of the year. No matter though, every bite was worth it.

Review of The Art of Cake

23. The Parlour Italian Kitchen & Bar
Part of the Century Hospitality Group, this place exceeded my expectations. Their signature thin crust pizza flavours are different than the norm – the truffle was especially good. The prices during Monday to Friday happy hour (3 to 6pm) really can’t be beat, and, if you still have room, the desserts are worth it.

Review of The Parlour

24. Absolutely Edibles (Closed)
The brunch menu is fabulous with massive portions that you just can’t stop eating. The waffles with the works (breaded chicken) are my top choice, but there’s no wrong decision when it comes to any of their options. I will tell you to be wary of leaving saucy items on top of the waffles though. If they’re left to sit too long, your waffles will become soggy!

Review of Absolutely Edibles

Happy New Year and Happy Eating! See you in 2015!

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Cibo Bistro

Mezzaluna pasta

Mezzaluna pasta

I think it was still summertime when my friend and I first attempted to visit Cibo Bistro (@cibobistroedm), only to find that they were closed on Mondays. Since we had to postpone our meal there, it took us quite a bit of time to circle back around to the idea. It wasn’t until mid-November when we finally made a point of going to the restaurant again.

Located on 104 Avenue in Oliver Village between Safeway and MacEwan Residences, it’s slightly tucked away from the hustle and bustle of one of downtown Edmonton’s main arteries. I had made a reservation through OpenTable about a week or two in advance, but, as my friend was running late at the office, I called to have our booking pushed back. The hostess that I spoke to said it wasn’t an issue as there weren’t any conflicting reservations within that time frame. The two of us eventually made it there at about 6:15pm, and I was surprised to see, as the server led us to our table, that the place was still empty, save for the semi-private room near the back (although, it was pretty much full by the time we left an hour and a half later). With maybe just over a dozen tables in the space, it’s not large by any means, but still likely seats more than the city’s other lauded Italian restaurant, Corso 32 (read my review). Unlike Corso, however, the dimly lit space of Cibo Bistro looks a little more traditional with earth tones, leather upholstered chairs, cobble-like tiled floors, stone tiled walls and paintings of Italy.

As we perused the menu, I couldn’t help but notice the similarity between its layout and the offerings of Corso 32. That means I was apt to do a comparison by sampling a few items, so I could truly see the difference. Both have made The Tomato‘s top 100 list for two years in a row. Corso has been No. 1 each time with Cibo trailing just a few spots behind (No. 6 in 2013 and No. 4 in 2014).

Arancini is one of my friend and I’s favourite Italian dishes. Since we had eaten that at Corso, it was a no-brainer to use that as a starting point for our showdown. That, along with the Salumi, served as our appetizers.

As far as arancini go, they are considered an indulgent antipasti because they can be quite heavy and filling. It’s essentially risotto that has been battered and fried until a crisp outer shell is formed. The filling at Cibo is mixed with roasted cauliflower and Fontina cheese and, once cooked, is generously sprinkled with freshly grated Pecorino Romano. I’m not exactly sure why, but I think that, even with all the rice and cheese, there was a lightness to these arancini that the ones I ate at Corso didn’t have. The bowl we received had 6 to 7 arancini, which we shared. The breading was perfectly fried whereas Corso’s were a little overdone, making the shell harder to break. The cauliflower added a little more texture to the risotto, so it wasn’t all just mush, and the cheese was nicely melted inside. I also believe that these ones were a lot less salty.

The salumi platter that evening was a steak tartar with shaved truffle served with a side of crostini. This was probably the best dish of the evening, no doubt about it. They say the meats are cured in-house, and the tartar was prepared so well that it literally melted in your mouth. Paired with the shaved truffle, this was a completely decadent starter. I would have gladly eaten that has my main meal. The board came with 6 pieces of crostini and there was enough tartar provided that we weren’t sparingly spreading it on the bread. In fact, I was piling the tartar on thick, so I have to say that this selection was worth it.

For our entrees, we had a harder time deciding. Our server was excellent and, to help, she described, in detail, each of the pasta dishes on the menu, including that evening’s special. We finally made our choices – I ordered the Mezzaluna and my friend chose the Pappardelle.

The food menu.

The food menu.

The Mezzaluna was ravioli stuffed with braised beef that is cooked until tender and then pureed, so it can be stuffed inside fresh, made from scratch pasta. The pasta shells were thin and prepared al dente. The sauce was a burro bianco (white butter) with Balsamico Vecchio (aged balsamic) and Crotonese Calabrese cheese, which was flavourful, but felt delicate. I particularly loved the used of the balsamic as a dressing, something that I hadn’t had in a long time. The sauce and the beef played off one another really well, so much so that I wanted more as soon as I polished off my plate.

The Pappardelle consists of fat ribbons of fresh pasta bathed in tomato sauce and served with braised lamb, mint and Pecorino Romano cheese. I had just one mouthful of the dish and the pasta had just the right amount of bite. The lamb was succulent and the sauce was subtle.

Pappardelle pasta

Pappardelle pasta

Unfortunately, we did not have room for dessert on this occasion. Plus, we were in a bit of a rush to make it to book club, but I will say that after our trip to Las Vegas and our meals at Giada in that city, had I been able to manage some sweets, I would have gone for the Zeppole (Limoncello and Mascarpone doughnuts dusted with powdered sugar). They’re certainly on my list for next time!

In the end, and I’ve given this a lot of thought over the last month, I’m inclined to say that, while Corso was excellent, I honestly think that my meal at Cibo was a tad better. And, I feel like that says a lot. The pair of restaurants has a lot going for them – fantastic food, fresh, housemade dishes, wonderfully knowledgeable staff – yet they’re also hindered (arguably by some) by small spaces that make them seem exclusive when, in fact, they’re not. They’re friendly, intimate atmospheres that are very welcoming, so perhaps it comes down to preference which one you would prefer. Based on my singular visits to Cibo and Corso, I found them both to be great hangouts. They’re equally quiet in terms of ambiance, making it easy to converse with your dining companions, which is a big pro nowadays in a world where dance music seems to be pumping everywhere else.

The semi-private room at the back. A great place for a small group to have fantastic conversation.

The semi-private room at the back. A great place for a small group to have fantastic conversation.

After a few weeks of contemplation, my companion critic for that night and I agreed. Until I have a chance to revisit each, I cannot say with absolute certainty which will come out on top a year or two from now. Only time will tell. One of my friends who had dinner with me at Corso said that our meal there was one of the best she’s ever had. I’d be curious to see her thoughts of Cibo and her comparisons to Corso.

Nonetheless, examining my own experience of the food, which, of course, is the foundation of a stellar restaurant, I believe that Cibo has won my heart and my stomach. That is not to say I won’t be eating at Corso again, because I will, but contrary to what every other review or person has told me, Cibo is going to be my personal number one for now.

For a more in-depth look at this establishment’s involvement in the local community and its efforts towards sustainability visit The Local Good to read my profile of Cibo Bistro.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Corso 32

The front of the restaurant with the matte signage on the window.

The front of the restaurant with the matte signage on the window.

A few years ago, I still lived at home. My mother owned a shop downtown in what is now known as ATB Place and the two of us would carpool to work together. My first encounter with Corso 32 (@CORSO32) was on one of those rides as we cruised along Jasper Avenue. One day, I happened to be looking out the passenger window as we headed east, and I spotted a small tenant space with a window that had just been christened with the name ‘Corso 32’. Matte transferred signage was all that distinguished the soon-to-be open restaurant from everything else that vied for your attention on this street. As such, it seemed to get lost in the fervor and it took a while before I managed to point it out again.

Fast forward to 2014 and I still hadn’t visited what is arguably now the best restaurant in Edmonton. I had heard countless recommendations from food critics, bloggers and friends, but, for some reason, I just had not been there. Having started my quest to visit all the restaurants, cafes and farmer’s market booths listed on The Tomato‘s list of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton, I realized that, if I was to truly get the full experience of their list, I would need to eat at the establishment that has topped it for two consecutive years now.

Our table was near the back of the restaurant. As you can see, it is quite small.

Our table was near the back of the restaurant. As you can see, it is quite small.

Knowing that Corso 32 is very small and also often has to be booked far in advance, I looked into making a reservation with the restaurant. They utilize the handy Yelp SeatMe system, so I was able to search for available times using the computerized calendar. Only serving Wednesday to Sunday from 5pm to 11pm, I wanted to dine there after work, so I wouldn’t need to go out of my way to get there on a weekend, or have to kill an exorbitant amount of time between office hours and my meal, so I kept clicking on various dates until a 5:30 opening on Wednesday, October 8th popped up. Booked about a month and half in advance, it’s not a lie when people say that it is difficult to get a table there on short notice. Seeing as how I didn’t really care when I ate, just that I did not want to have dinner at 9pm in the evening, I was okay with this. A table for four (all I could get), I had my dining companions lined up and ready to eat with me.

The evening finally arrived, and being that it was fairly early in the evening, it wasn’t full by any means. I learned later that they give each table a two and a half hour dining limit, so they can be sure to fit in two seatings each night. Not aware of that, our meal ran a bit longer than the allotted time as we opted to try and wait until a friend who was running late could join us. In the end, we were starving, so we went ahead and ordered our food without her.

Two of us opted to quench our thirst with glasses of sparkling lemonade while my other friend drank a couple of craft beers. To begin, we all shared a full size bowl of the arancini. If you have not had arancini before, it’s basically risotto shaped into balls, breaded and fried. Corso’s arancini is filled with speck (a fatty bacon or pork fat), cabbage and Fontina cheese. The balls are then decorated with finely grated Parmesan cheese. The dish is rich with a somewhat smokey flavour and entirely indulgent, but so worth the calories. I actually meant for it to be part of my main meal, which I had planned to pair with my plate of fried short rib. Unfortunately, the arancini was so good that it disappeared before the other dish was placed in front of me.

I have a love affair with short rib. When it’s cooked properly, the meat falls off the bone and it is so tender that it practically melts in your mouth. The fried short rib antipasti at Corso was just that. Served with a side of crostini and topped with shaved pear and arugula salad, it was another winner. I actually mistook the pear for radish, probably because they garnished the dish with radish as well. But, I should have paid more attention and realized when the flavour profile of the salad was more sweet than peppery. At the last minute, I also decided to get the side of beets. Prepared with ‘agro dolce’ (sour sweet) sauce, salted ricotta and crushed pistachios, it was a great accompaniment to what was left of my meat. The portion was also quite large, so I ended up taking quite a bit home for lunch the next day.

My two dining companions that were there chose to go with pasta dishes, which are made in-house from scratch. One decided on the cavatelli, the other the ricotta agnolotti. I had a bite of each, and they were both delicious. The pasta shells of the ricotta agnolotti were thin and cooked perfectly. It was actually a much lighter dish because the ricotta is creamy, mild and soft in texture. Paired with the swiss chard from Sundog Farm (@sundogfarmer) and a thin butter sauce, it didn’t seem like it would be too filling. On the other hand, cavatelli is thick rolled pieces of pasta that were served in what tasted like a rose sauce with spicy pork and fennel sausage, broccoli rabe and Pecorino cheese. The pasta was toothsome as the sauce was velvety, the sausage added a slight heat, the rapini brought some crunch to the texture of the dish and a little bitterness and the cheese a bit of saltiness. As my friend put it, it was like the food was making love to her mouth. I told her I would likely paraphrase her!

Our fourth finally made it as we were about to order dessert. Thankfully, our server knew her and she happens to be a regular there. Otherwise, they might have shooed us out earlier to make room for the second coming of diners (I’m so sorry to the people who arrived and ended up having to be seated in their sister business, Bar Bricco (@BarBricco), next door, which I’m sure is lovely as well, but not what they expected).

Three of us opted for the chocolate torta to finish off our dinner. Presented with salty, candied hazelnuts, it had that sweet versus savoury combo that I love. Wonderful as it was, I think two of us could have shared and it would have been more than enough to satisfy us both. It’s not actually a huge dessert, yet it is incredibly decadent and I found myself “forcing” it down because I knew I couldn’t let any go to waste. One person decided to go with the vanilla panna cotta, which was made with vin cotto, honey grappa and pistachios. I did not taste it, but it looked yummy, too.

By the end of the evening, the restaurant was pretty much at capacity and so were we. I had been told so many things about the eatery in the last two years that I had become worried that my expectations were too high, but the restaurant proved me wrong. I understand why Corso 32 and Chef/Owner Daniel Costa have the reputation they do. The food is fantastic, and the establishment is a good representation of how far Edmonton’s food scene has come and where the city’s foodies hope it will continue to go. Will Corso 32 top my own list of E-Town’s best restaurants? You’ll have to wait and see.