Edmonton Restaurant Review: Aarde (Closed)

Our table of food on our first visit.

Around for less than two months, Aarde, headed by Chef Guru Singh, is located near the Ice District at 10184 104 Street right in the heart of downtown Edmonton. The menu is inspired by his travels across Europe with regionally influenced cuisine being presented using locally sourced ingredients.

My first visit to the restaurant was a spur-of-the-moment decision. After my friend and I were done perusing the pieces at an art show, we were hungry, so we opted to check out Aarde. It had opened about ten days prior. Even without a reservation, it didn’t seem to be a problem to get a table. Granted, it wasn’t the ideal table. With seats situated immediately to the right of the entrance, we were greeted by a breeze every single time someone went through the door. Our food quickly cooled because of that.

Still, we enjoyed our meal. Although they look to have a great cocktail program (based on images I’ve seen on Instagram), I chose to go with water that evening. Instead, I focused on the food. As suggested by the server, we shared a few dishes, including the Crispy Cauliflower ($11), Mushroom and Artichoke Tartine ($11), Duck and Cornbread Skillet ($15), and Chorizo Sausage ($13).

Crispy Cauliflower

As far as Crispy Cauliflower goes, I’ve had similar before. I felt the deep fried batter may have been a tad heavy-handed, and I’m not sure why cauliflower dust (I’m assuming this is dehydrated veggie) is necessary. Perhaps it brings out the essence of the flavour better? What it has going for it is the maple and mustard glaze for that sweet and savoury balance. The chili flakes provided a little bit of heat as well.

Mushroom and Artichoke Tartine

I could have had several slices of the Mushroom and Artichoke Tartine. This was arguably the best dish of the evening. The wild mushroom fricassee was wonderfully creamy and rich, marrying well with the wine poached artichokes, and creamed spinach. The house baked grilled sourdough bread was perfectly dense enough to hold all of the toppings and keep its texture while being soft enough to eat without scraping the roof of my mouth.

On paper, the Duck and Cornbread Skillet sounded super appealing. Shredded confit duck leg? Check. Coffee jus? Check. Apple mostarda (candied fruit and mustard-flavoured syrup)? Check. Meuwly’s mustard? Check. Fresh cornbread? Check. I love duck and I love cornbread. It tasted fine. I just thought the amount of meat was lacking for an item listed under the meat section of the menu. I also found the cornbread to be kind of heavier in consistency than expected. It was like the middle held too much moisture and wasn’t able to rise enough.

Chorizo Sausage

I really appreciate eateries that make everything from scratch. With that being said, Aarde did not disappoint when it came to their Chorizo Sausage. Lightly grilled with perfect seared lines, the sausage was laid whole across a bed of kale and potato mash. Served to the side was bright pickled red cabbage. Herb oil finished it off. When cut apart, the meat held together well. It wasn’t too tightly packed, making for even cooking and heat distribution. Not overly salty, well-seasoned, and a great mix of textures on the palate.

As we finished up our meal, the chef approached the table next to ours and seemed to dote on them. They ate a single dessert between them, and, for whatever reason, the restaurant was keen to know what they thought and provided them with complimentary beverages. I’m not one to ever ask for special treatment as I’ve always gone in anonymously to try restaurants to be as honest as possible. But, for a new business, I thought it was odd that they weren’t taking the time to ask for feedback from all of their patrons. Aside from that, service seemed to lack as soon as we finished our food. Our server didn’t really ask if we wanted dessert or anything else, and it took forever to flag her down again to get our bill when we were ready to leave.

Despite the end to our night at Aarde, I chalked it all up to growing pains. Therefore, in December, I suggested it as a spot for dinner. A good friend of mine was back in town for Christmas and I wanted her to sample something new.

This time, I made a reservation in advance. I actually used their online form, which is powered by Wix Restaurants. I received an email shortly after submitting saying my request was being processed and that I would get an email or text message to confirm. That never showed up, so I ended up phoning on December 26 to ask. Turns out they had it listed in their books, but obviously hadn’t followed up on processing it through the system. I’m going to assume that this was missed because I input my reservation request on Christmas Eve. Hopefully it’s more reliable the rest of the year.

For this particular visit, because of my previous experience, I requested a table away from the door thinking it’d be better and warmer. That was not the case. I’m not sure if they just don’t believe in indoor heating or what, but it was freezing in there again even though we were tucked away behind a wall in a nook. Oh well. I tried.

To eat, Kirk and I split four items between us: Vandaag Soep ($7), Roasted Butternut Squash ($9), as well as two of the larger plates, Duck Breast ($20) and Beef Ribs ($24). Kirk additionally ordered one of the rotational draught beers (20 oz. for $9) to quench his thirst.

Potato Leek Soup from Aarde

Dishes were spaced out decently, so everything wasn’t delivered all at the same time. The first to arrive from the kitchen was the Vandaag Soep (a.k.a. daily artisan soup). On this day, it was a luscious potato leek dressed with twirls and drops of flavoured oils. Incredibly smooth with a slightly peppery finish, it was truly delicious and comforting on a chilly day.

The Roasted Butternut Squash was surprisingly one of my favourites. Thick pieces of the gourd were prepared with pistachios, beet souffle, gremolata (an herb condiment typically made using lemon zest, garlic, and parsley), crispy leeks, lemon garlic leek oil, and pickled onions. It looked simple, but I think that it was probably more deceiving that I thought. There were a number of components and each required careful preparation. Extremely flavourful and satisfying without being overwhelming.

Beef Ribs

Between the two mains, I’d definitely say that the Duck Breast was better. While the Beef Ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender, I thought that the meat had more chunks of gloppy fat and grizzle than I’d prefer. I wasn’t a huge fan of the celery root puree either, which I thought watered down the overall taste of the food. I did like the charred cabbage more than I thought I would though.

On the other hand, the Duck Breast was fantastic. The seared duck breast was ever so slightly pink and really succulent. Sure, there was some fat between the meat and the skin, but it wasn’t to the point of taking away from the rest of the dish. A mushroom fricassee similar to that of the Mushroom and Artichoke Tartine and a handful of lentil fritters accompanied the meat. Very on point. We’d both recommend this duck to others.

London Fog Crème Brûlée on the right

Being the holidays, we also indulged in dessert. The sizeable London Fog Crème Brûlée ($10) was made with organic earl grey tea infused into the custard. On the side were a couple of biscotti cookies. I only had a small bite of the custard and sugar crackle. It was strongly flavoured, which I find to be of importance when it comes to sweets. It doesn’t have to be saccharine, but you should be able to taste what it strives to emulate.

Dutch Almond Cake

Kirk and I divided the Dutch Almond Cake ($10). It was scrumptious! Somewhat dense and a tad chewy, it was still moist and delicate in flavour. The outer edges and top were crusty, and the sliced nuts added minor bitterness. The scoop of avocado gelato was oddly gelatinous while being crumbly. It actually did have a creamy mouthfeel though, and it was refreshing, but otherwise didn’t act like a typical relative of ice cream.

Aarde has some kinks to iron out in terms of the atmosphere, hospitality, and certain dishes. However, there’s a lot of promise, too. If the team works to hone their craft, this could be one of the next success stories in the Edmonton restaurant scene.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Partake

Croque Mon’Soubise’ was the star of the menu.

This past spring, the owners of Manor Bistro and Urban Diner, chef Cyrille Koppert and his business partner, Lisa Dungale, announced that they would be opening a third location called Partake. Situated next door to the diner at 12431 102 Avenue, it’d be the sister restaurant to the long standing brunch spot. Partake would also help to ease them into life without The Manor when it closes upon the expiry of their lease at the end of this year.

I kept my ear to the ground through the summer, and, come early fall, my friend and Partake’s bar manager, Clayton Kozak, informed me that opening day was happening. Sadly, I did not have a chance to make it there right away. In fact, I only managed my first visit towards the end of November, but, boy, was the wait worth it.

Check out those rounded built-in shelves!

From my understanding, the eatery does not accept reservations as the 30 seats are for walk-ins only. The place is made to look like a charming French bistro. A few small round tables reminiscent of what you might find outdoors at a Parisian cafe line the windows. The rest of the space is filled by three large booths and about a handful of bar stools. It’s casual and simply decorated, but you can tell it was created with love. I especially appreciate the rounded element of the doorways, mirror and built-in shelves. There’s also a version of their logo done in mosaic tiling embedded into the wooden floor. The pressed tin ceiling is gorgeous, too.

If only I could have admired all of the details in the daylight. However, now that winter had greeted us, even an early dinner at 5:00pm meant we were dining in dimness. I suppose it added to the ambiance though. It was cute and romantic in the candlelight. Plus, not knowing how busy it’d get on a Saturday evening, we opted to take one of the smaller tables for two, leaving the more spacious ones for others, and making it cozy and intimate as we dined.

Our server was helpful throughout the night. Since the items on the menu were created for sharing, we followed his suggestion and opted to split a number of dishes for supper. We selected five in total from the succinct list, which was more than enough (for two people, you actually can stick to three or four).

To start, I also ordered the Empyreal cocktail ($13 for 2.25 oz.) made using the gorgeous blueish-purple Empress Gin, Maraschino liqueur, Giffard Crème de Violette, and citric acid. Presented in a small fluted glass with a twisted lemon peel, it certainly packed a punch. It was a boozy and smooth drink that was great for sipping, and it paired well with all of our food. As a snack, we were also offered a petite bowl of popcorn (daily from 4:00pm to 6:00pm, complimentary snacks are provided with purchase of a beverage) to whet our appetite.

Soon after, plates started arriving from the kitchen. I was very concerned about where everything was going to fit at first. As I mentioned previously, the surface area we were working with was tiny. But, being professionals, they carefully timed each dish, so that only one or two were brought out at once. Sure, that meant, I diligently polished off all of the plates before they would be taken away and I probably overate (in the future, I should ask that they bring me to go boxes), yet I commend their staff for allowing us to savour and enjoy our meal at a leisurely pace.

Dish number one was the Beef Tartare ($16). Bright red minced beef topped by an egg yolk and beet-barley relish was mixed table side with capers, mustard, and chives. A garlic puree was supplied as additional garnish for the perfectly toasted crostini. Although it was a different take on beef tartare, I thought it was wonderful. Full of flavour in every aspect, the tender beef was a real treat.

Mushrooms on toast

Following that was the Mushrooms ($9), a combination of at least three, maybe even four, wild Albertan mushrooms laid on thick toast. Drizzled with truffle oil and accompanied by large shavings of Grana Padano cheese, it was an uncomplicated, but decadent option. My recommendation? Make sure to get all of the components in each bite. Separately, the taste lacks a little. Together, it’s complete harmony.

Dipping the Croque Mon’Soubise’ in sauce.

Continuing with dinner, we then had the Croque Mon’Soubise’ ($18). This sandwich was layered with about an inch and a half of thinly sliced Meuwly’s ham, melted Gruyère cheese, and served with a creamy soubise sauce (butter and onion) for dipping. This was, far and away, the best of the night. Kirk and I agreed that Partake hit it out of the park with this item. That stringy, crisp cheese and soft toasted bread with incredibly well-seasoned ham and rich soubise sauce was so satisfying. Honestly, I’ve been thinking about it ever since that night.

Sausage with braised cabbage and mostarda.

The house-made Sausage ($9) was our fourth dish. A hearty meat, this was paired with braised cabbage flavoured with cinnamon spice and mostarda. Again, it was straightforward and tasty. It was also piping hot. When it came out we could see the steam rising from the plate.

To finish off our main meal, we had the Aligot ($12), also known as Potato Fondue. This had a down-home quality of mashed potatoes and garlic blended with a significant amount of Gruyère and Emmental. The cheese pull was beautiful and the side of bread created an excellent base of starch on starch (endless starch throughout the night, really).

Rounding out the evening was dessert. Despite being insanely full, it didn’t take a much for our server to twist my rubber arm. I caved and went for the Piss-a-la Dessert ($12). The origin of the Southern France-inspired dish (pissaladière), from what I could find online, is really more of a savoury-style pizza. But, here, the base was a deliciously flaky pastry crust covered in fig jam, melted cuts of brie, crunchy roasted nuts, and drizzles of caramel sauce. It had a salty-sweet balance that was at once warm, comforting, and divine.

Ultimately, Partake gave us one of the greatest and most memorable meals I’ve had in the city this year. Superb service was had throughout the night, the portions were large, and the prices were reasonable. More than anything, the chef has pared the menu down to about a dozen and a half items that truly showcase the simplicity and simultaneous complexity of French cuisine. That’s not exactly an easy thing to do. Nevertheless, Partake has succeeded. For Cyrille’s and Lisa’s latest endeavour, here’s to another 25 years in business.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Culina Mill Creek (Closed – visit Culina Muttart)

bibo-culina

The exterior of Bibo and Culina. Photo credit: Unknown.

Culina Mill Creek has been around for a dozen years and in all that time I had never visited. So, call me surprised when I found out that the restaurant, along with its sister location, Bibo Wine Bar, would be closing this fall. The news lit a fire under me, and earlier this summer, my friend and I decided to try the food before it was too late.

First off, I would like to say that we arrived at Culina for our reservation right on time. It was still relatively quiet in the eatery, so they had our window-side table ready to go. Kyle, our server, was excellent throughout the night. He provided some great recommendations, was attentive and really friendly.

We started off with some peach iced teas, which were perfect to quench our thirst on a warm evening. Our drinks were accompanied by two shared starters. The lamb meatballs were flavourful and succulent with a bit of heat that was cooled by a yogurt, tzatziki-like dip. The second appetizer was a plate of pão de queijo, if I remember correctly. Those were Culina’s take on Brazilian cheese fritters. Big and fluffy with lots of melted cheese inside, these were rich and filling. The house-made tomato chutney was a must to top every piece of fritter, too.

My friend’s dish (unfortunately, I cannot remember what exactly it was called) was prepared with fresh pasta noodles and was filled with chunks of roasted tomatoes and leaves of arugula, which created a nice balance with the beef and sauce. For my entrée, I went with the half order of the sockeye salmon. It was the perfect portion, especially after our starters. The salmon was cooked so well and the skin was deliciously crispy. If I could have, I would have licked my plate clean just to get every last drop of the creamy sauce that served as the base of the dish.

Brigadeiro Cheesecake

Brigadeiro Cheesecake

Since this was likely going to be my one and only chance to eat at the Mill Creek location, I figured I needed to go all out and try one of the desserts. Kyle said we couldn’t pass up the Brigadeiro Cheesecake. This was a decadent finish to an already satisfying meal. The mascarpone goat cheese cake with a crust of Oreo crumbs that was all topped off with a classic Brazilian sweetened milk-cocoa truffle sauce was wonderful. It was also a large enough slice for two to three people to share.

Sadly, October 23’s brunch will be the last service provided at Culina Mill Creek, and October 22 will be Bibo’s final night (chef/owner Brad Lazarenko does hope to reopen Bibo somewhere downtown once he finds a suitable location). If you find yourself looking for a cute independent restaurant to go to within the next month, consider dropping by one or both. The food is fantastic and worth the visit.

However, don’t fret if you miss out on either because Culina Muttart will still be available for lunch and brunch daily and for dinner every Thursday evening. As well, Brad’s culinary offerings can also be found at the Dogwood Cafe located in the Victoria, Rundle and Riverside golf courses.

It’s going to be a new adventure for this local chef and his team, so let’s give Culina Mill Creek a great send off.