Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Dish Bistro (Closed)

Ricotta pasta with a side of salad and housemade chips

Ricotta pasta with a side of salad and housemade chips

In business since 1979, The Dish Bistro (@dishspoonbistro) has amassed many regular customers. However, until a few years ago, I wasn’t one of them. Growing up just blocks away in the Glenora neighbourhood, you would think that my family would have dined there at least once before. The Oliver area is really a skip, hop and jump from their home, yet that was far from the case. It took over twenty-five years before my parents set foot into the establishment and it was only because my fondness for Groupon deals brought us there.

Stepping into the restaurant, it’s unassuming. Large windows brighten up the somewhat dim space, which is broken up into three areas – a room by the bar, a smaller sliver that sits between that and another adjoining span that can likely be rearranged for large parties and is often opened up on busier evenings to expand the total number of seats. The green walls are sporadically adorned by art that kind of reminds me of a grandma’s house. The Dish is homey and has a casual air about it. They also have a patio, which they call the “Secret Garden.” A hidden nook behind the building, the outdoor space must be accessed by passing through a side gate and walking down a small path. I finally had a chance to take advantage of the patio this summer when the weather was still smiling down on us. It’s really cute with hanging flower pots, a bird house, twinkle lights, trees and bright red brick walls. Although, I should note that I overheard one server tell another table of patrons that the space is several degrees cooler than out at the front of the restaurant, so once the temperature cools down come fall, it’s probably not so lovely out there. Make sure to choose a nice, sunny day to dine outside.

Having been several times within the past thirty-six months or so, I developed a taste for certain dishes, specifically the Wild Mushroom & Feta Pasta with beef tenderloin added, so I was pretty much set to order the same thing when I went in June. What I wasn’t aware of prior to getting there were the selections on the daily features menu. Upon seeing the several items on the list, it made my decision all the more difficult. The thing is though, once I spotted the Chicken & Waffles I knew that I had to try it for the sake of comparison. Recently having sampled the dish at The Common and Sugarbowl, I needed to see if The Dish’s version could live up to what I had eaten at the other two restaurants. The friendly server working that evening said it was a good choice.

While my dining companion and I waited for our food to be made, we sipped on water through whimsical paper straws and chatted. Our plates arrived relatively quickly and were each filled with a large circular green onion and cheddar buttermilk waffle topped with two fat pieces of crispy seasoned chicken breast that were drizzled with a grainy mustard and maple syrup. The chicken was battered and fried well – not greasy with a shell that wasn’t too thick and the meat was relatively juicy. It didn’t taste like it was seasoned much, so the majority of flavour came from the fluffy waffle and the syrup, which could easily have been overly sweet. That was avoided with the addition of the mustard. On that note, I would say that The Dish’s ability to keep the Chicken & Waffles more savory than sugary makes it better than what I had at Sugarbowl, but still not quite as delicious as The Common’s offering that builds bacon into the waffle and refrains from the syrup route by going for tart and spicy profiles, using their blackberry and chili sauce instead.

To finish off the evening, we ordered the Double Chocolate Fudge Brownie for dessert. I’d eaten it previously, but I had forgotten just how good it is. You’re given an ample portion (possibly not quite enough for two people as we were fighting for bites) of brownie that has been drenched in chocolate and caramel sauce and comes with a side of vanilla ice cream. The brownie is extremely rich and very moist on the inside, so much so that it almost comes off as being a lava cake. Either way, it was a satisfying end to our meal.

About a month later, my mom joined me there for dinner (that’s when we sat in the “Secret Garden”). She chose the salmon and asparagus quiche with a side of tomato bisque, and I opted for the ricotta pasta dish with a salad of mixed greens and raspberry vinaigrette. Both meals were tasty, but I would say that the quiche would have been better had it come to the table better heated. On the other hand, my layered pasta was piping hot, so my mom kept sneaking some from my plate. We finished off our supper with a tangy lemon tart. More similar in consistency to a light fruit yogurt, the flavour was strong, but refreshing. The whole dessert was kind of airy since they also dismissed using a regular pie crust and exchanged it for a thin filo pastry cup instead. It was exactly what we were looking for after our heavier mains.

I can certainly see why The Dish Bistro is still a favourite of diners thirty-five years after opening their doors. Coming in at No. 45 on The Tomato‘s list of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton for 2013, they certainly have continued to excel at contemporary comfort fare.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Select

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.

2006 - Birthday Celebration

2006 – Birthday Celebration

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.

Cheese buns...more, please?

Cheese buns…more, please?

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.

Gnocchi Fondue

Gnocchi Fondue

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.

Panella

Panella

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.

IMAG2244

Select burger…very dry

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.

Lemon tart...get your own!

Lemon tart…get your own!

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.