Edmonton Restaurant Review: Ampersand 27

A portion of the & 27 menu.

A portion of the & 27 menu.

Ampersand 27 (@ampersand27yeg), one of Whyte Avenue’s newest culinary adventures, opened at the end of 2014 under the watchful eye of Chef Nathin Bye. His work with restaurants such as Wildflower Grill already raised the bar for food in this city, so it was only natural that we come to expect even more from his own venture.

Taking over the spot previously occupied by Murrieta’s, the space has been transformed into something more open, inviting and adventurous. Filled with curved lines, warm colours and the bask of glow from hundreds of twinkling lights, the eatery looks beautifully modern and high class while maintaining a casual sense of atmosphere.

Having made a reservation through OpenTable, we were guided to our table right after we were greeted at the door. Seated in a quiet corner of the dining room I was able to observe the rest of the room. Two long tables sandwiched by bench seating (not really the most comfortable) were surrounded by numerous tables for four, which are perfect for reconfiguring for additional large groups. Next to our table there were doors, which I assume lead into a more private space for special occasions. I’m unsure as to why I felt this way, but there’s something that seems special about this place.

As I took it all in, I started to work my way through the menu. Drinks first, I noticed that they have a well-rounded list of cocktails, beers and wine. In fact, the number of beverages available likely surpasses the food choices. But, I’m okay with that. I often find that restaurants that have more focused menus tend to do a better job with their dishes.

The majority of the food items available for dinner are meant to be split with your dining companions. Broken down into share plates, build-your-own charcuterie boards, larger provisions and flatbreads, many of the options sound tasty. It comes across as a natural decision to divide the dishes amongst the group rather than hoard something to yourself because doing so means getting to sample a variety of things, which is what I often prefer to do since it allows for better and truer reviews.

On this particular evening, we chose three dishes: seared albacore tuna, maple butter pork belly and the forest floor flatbread.

Seared Albacore Tuna

Seared Albacore Tuna

I usually find it hard to pass up seared fresh tuna and I’m glad that we didn’t here. The fish was cooked perfectly with just the outer edges having been seared and the middle still a gorgeous pink colour. The dish was pleasantly light and healthy by plating the tuna with pickled hearts of palm, citrus, seaweed and cashew puree. The hearts of palm reminded me of artichoke with a bit more crunch, the citrus created a refreshing balance, the seaweed provided additional texture and salt, and the cashew puree gave it an subtly nutty quality. Essentially, this was the perfect start to our meal, one that would leave room for what was to come.

Maple Butter Pork Belly

Maple Butter Pork Belly

Personally, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with pork belly. The gummy mouthfeel of the thick layer of fat that so often accompanies this meat has always put me off, but I do enjoy a well made pork dish, so I was willing to chance it. Thankfully, the maple butter pork belly was excellent. Arriving at the table like a work of art, the maple glazed pork belly was just right. Sitting atop a bed of southwestern mesquite corn, baked beans, green peas and fritters like a crown, the fat from the meat acted like butter, simply melting away when eaten.

The Forest Floor Flatbread

The Forest Floor Flatbread

Our last selection for the base of our meal was the forest floor flatbread, which is essentially a thin crust pizza. While the dough was too crisp for my taste, the foraged mushrooms, house made ricotta, truffle and arugula combined to make a delightfully earthy dish that is vegetarian friendly. I particularly loved the cheese.

It appears that no dinner outing is complete without dessert and because they have their own pastry chef (Tim Androschuk), we each opted for our own (sampling the other, of course). My friend’s doughnut was decidedly smaller than expected, but it was quite dense and rich, so it seemed like enough to satisfy the dessert craving. A cocoa orange cake doughnut with Grand Marnier glaze topped with walnuts and served with a side jar of cranberry preserve, it had many layers of flavour. I went for the red velvet. Deconstructed and artfully plated to include pieces of red velvet sponge cake (much airier), strawberry textures (meringues, strawberry pieces, fruit leather), rhubarb rose puree and whipped cream cheese, this was like my idea of dessert heaven. There were so many different things happening, but I could see that it was one cohesive dish where everything was fantastic on its own, but also came together in a wonderful marriage.

Other than the stellar food, one of my favourite things about the restaurant was the professional and knowledgeable service. The staff all seemed to know their stuff when it came to the menu. They were attentive throughout the night, and often times the chef or management would do a round to make sure every guest had their needs met.

It’s that attention to detail in all that they do that will continue to make Ampersand 27 feel like a special place to dine.

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 Ampersand 27.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria (Jasper Ave)

Appetizer - Prosciutto Wrapped Mozzarella Balls

Appetizer – Prosciutto Wrapped Mozzarella Balls

Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria, number 53 on The Tomato Food & Drink’s top 100 best things to eat or drink in Edmonton, Alberta, has been a mainstay in the city ever since it opened its first location at Jasper Avenue and 118 Street in 2005. Over the years, Famoso has expanded to 26 restaurants between three provinces with a 27th franchise opening in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan come this spring.

Pizza isn’t something that I go out for regularly, but, when I do, it should come out of the oven hot, flavourful and it shouldn’t be too heavy in the stomach. Famoso’s pies certainly fit the bill.

Out of all the times I have been, I have not once tried the margherita pizza, which was mentioned in the Tomato’s list. However, I have tried a number of the others, including the Sweet BBQ Chicken and Spicy Thai, and very much enjoyed them.

My latest visit to the original downtown location was a chance for me to use my soon-to-expire Groupon. The voucher included an appetizer, a regular pizza and a seasonal pizza, allowing for a nice variety during our meal.

Immediately upon entering the establishment, I noticed that it looked refreshed. I’m not sure when it happened, but I think the space had a new coat of paint and the booths had been reupholstered fairly recently. We grabbed a table and immediately started perusing the menu. One improvement I noted was that they now include a note pad at the table, so you can jot down everything you want without having to work from memory when you head over to the till to place your order (maybe they always had them, but I had never seen that before and I thought it was great addition). The only thing they should also provide is a pen or pencil as well.

The front counter

The front counter

As a further comment, I always found it strange that a sit-down restaurant with servers that bring your food over to you and will take subsequent requests for drinks and desserts at the table later requires you to take your initial order to the counter. But, after thinking further about it while dining this time, I can see a couple of benefits. The first is that you can take your time going through the menu and picking out the items you want without the server stopping by every few minutes to ask if you’re ready. The second is that when you are ready, you can make sure you’re not waiting for someone to come by before you can get your order in, meaning you can delight in your meal at your own pace. Service is usually attentive as they make sure they are well staffed to handle and attend to the tables.

Regarding the food, I feel that it has always been tasty, but the menu has diversified and incorporated many more elements that bring in new flavours from different cultures and I love it. This particular dinner, my mother and I shared a small order of the Prosciutto Wrapped Mozzarella Balls as well as the Cavoletti and Moo Shu BBQ Duck pizzas.

As an appetizer, the Prosciutto Wrapped Mozzarella Balls are a great starter. The small size comes with three of the mozzarella balls smothered in a light tomato sauce with a side of fresh flatbread. I have never really been a fan of the tomato paste type sauces put on most pizzas, so it’s nice to know that this dish incorporates a simple, quick-cook sauce that isn’t overpowering and still lets the flavours of the prosciutto and gooey mozzarella shine through.

The Cavoletti pizza bianca

The Cavoletti pizza bianca – one of my favourites!

The Cavoletti falls under the white pizza category (no sauce) and is topped with Brussels sprouts, prosciutto crisps, gorgonzola cheese, dates, walnuts and a bit of honey. I will say that the first time I ate this pizza, I was a little skeptical, but it has become a favourite and is now ordered almost every time I go to Famoso. I’m a sucker for the combination of nutty, salty and sweet flavours that come out in recipes like this. The textures of this pizza are fantastic as there is a nice crunch from the oven-roasted Brussels sprouts, prosciutto crisps and walnuts. On another occasion I added duck as a topping and it paired well, reminding me a little bit of the BBQ Duck Clubhouse sandwich made at Cactus Club Café with its Peking duck, roasted chicken, San Daniele prosciutto and pecan fruit bread.

Our second pizza, the Moo Shu BBQ Duck is seasonal for fall/winter 2014 and falls under the new world pizzas list on the menu. This one has toppings that include house-made hoisin sauce, fior-di-latte (mozzarella), pulled duck, green onions and chopped cilantro (not a flavour that suits my palate, so I typically ask to have it omitted if I can). This was reminiscent of the many Peking duck dinners that I have eaten at New Dragon Palace where you build wraps filled with crispy duck skin, duck meat, hoisin sauce and julienned carrots and green onions. The barbecue taste provided extra bite and heat, which I appreciated as someone who likes spice.

The Moo Shu BBQ Duck new world pizza

The Moo Shu BBQ Duck new world pizza

Best of all, the food showed up at our table piping hot – not always the case in the past – and I was glad as my mom needs her food to be almost scalding, otherwise, to her, the meal becomes “just okay” or subpar, so big props to the kitchen this time around.

It was also extremely busy at the Jasper Avenue location this particular Saturday. I’m not sure if some people were coming in to use up their Groupon as I was, but having arrived for an early supper at four o’clock that afternoon, we saw the place fill up promptly afterwards, and the stream of people coming into the place did not let up at all.

As a whole, if you love authentic Italian cuisine (all owners and managers of each new franchise go through an intensive training program in Naples, Italy), Famoso will not disappoint.

For a more in-depth look at the establishment’s involvement in the Edmonton community and its efforts towards sustainability visit The Local Good to read my profile of Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria.