Sunday 26 October 2014

Local Food that Cannot be Beat at Edmonton's RGE RD

10643 123 Street Northwest, Edmonton, AB T5N 1P2
(780) 447-4577

Tastiness Factor: 9.5/10

Atmosphere: 4/5

Service: 5/5

Locavore Approved?  For sure YES- With a motto of  "At the intersection of food, farm and friends", I felt fairly confident that these guys would deliver on the locavore front and fortunately I was correct.  RGE RD is serious about local eating, from its constantly evolving menu to its emphasis on nose-to-tail dining.  I can only hope that RGE RD is the pioneer for the locavore movement in Edmonton and that many other restaurants, both old and new, will soon follow suit.  

After a very impressive dinner the night before at Corso 32, I was doubtful that I could find equally amazing food anywhere else in Edmonton.

Little did I know that my second Edmonton pick, RGE RD would deliver food that would impress me on every level, from local ingredients, to creativity, to perfect execution.  These guys have the whole package, and then some.

I should note right off the bat that RGE RD is a classic case of "don't judge a book by its cover".  It is located on a residential street, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and its small storefront is about as non-desript as it gets (I must have checked my IPhone about 5 times to make sure I had the right address).

You will breath a sigh of relief when you enter to find a very pleasant room bursting at the seams with happy diners.  Although the space is small, the tables are adequately spaced and we felt like we had ample room.  The decor is quite rustic in keeping with their "untamed cuisine" theme (the fire wood in little cubbies along the far wall was a nice touch).  The kitchen is open concept and if you are not fortunate enough to snag one of the prized seats right in front of it, you can also watch the action through a small window at the side like we did.  I can vouch for the fact that they are running one busy kitchen!

Service at RGE RD was just as I like-  friendly and informal, yet attentive and knowledgeable.  Our server was exceptionally personal and clearly passionate about the food they are putting out there.  Each time he came to our table, he gladly engaged in conversations about everything from the meaning of the restaurant's name (apparently RGE RD is short for "range road" which is what they call offside roads here in Edmonton) to other restaurants in the city that he recommended.  Not once did we feel rushed or unattended to, which is quite a feat for such a busy restaurant.

If you are so inclined, RGE RD has a nice selection of cocktails, and a well-rounded wine list which includes mostly Canadian wines.  I appreciated the inclusion of 3 half-litre choices of both whites and reds which is a rare find these days but just perfect for a couple to share.

The food menu is composed of a good selection of appies, including a few sharing plates.  The "Kitchen Board", which will easily feed 2-3 people, changes nightly and includes a variety of meats and cheeses.  In terms of mains, there are about 5-6 to choose from, including at least 1 fish and 1 veg dish, and a few nightly specials.  Additionally, there is a "chef's choice" tasting menu including a some dishes not found on the standard menu, that will almost surely opt for on our next visit (base price $75/person).

Grilled Green Bean Salad- All I can say is "wow".  I loved everything about this dish.  First of all, it was ultra-creative.  Who would have ever thought that lemon curb could pair so perfectly with a poached egg, pecorino and mushrooms?  Second of all, meaty mushrooms happen to be among my favourite ingredients, as do runny, perfectly poached eggs.  Thirdly, the char on the green beans brought these local gems to a whole new level.  This dish was genius, plain and simple.

Gouda and Potato Perogies- On the recommendation from our server, Hubby opted for the full order of this starter (4 perogies vs. 2 in the half order)  and was mightly glad he did.  Our server told us they sell out of these pretty much every night and after tasting them, it is no wonder.  From the soft exterior to the mild gouda in the centre to the pickled cabbage on top, these made for a winning first course.

Fall Harvest Squash and Potato Risotto- onion, wood roasted garden veg- This dish was a bit unexpected as the "risotto" was actually diced potato prepared in cream and butter (yum) instead of arborio rice.  The richness of the "risotto" was nicely offset by the bounty of roasted root vegetables on top (squash, beets, parsnip).  There is no better homage to fall than this dish.

Pilatus Farm Bison- hazelnut spatzle, grainy mustard, charred carrots- Hubby left the restaurant raving about this dish which was perfectly executed in every way, shape and form.  From the perfectly cooked sliced bison to the tasty spatzle underneath, it would be impossible to find anything to improve.  This is about as close to perfect as it gets.

Overall Verdict?
WOW.  This place totally blew me away and surpassed all my expectations.  This chef is talented beyond words.  It is places like this that will start to put Edmonton on the radar of Canadian foodies.

RGE RD, you have truly stolen my heart with your dedication to local ingredients, your creativity and your spot-on execution.  Edmonton is mighty lucky to have you!

Rge Rd on Urbanspoon

Friday 24 October 2014

Impressive Italian Fare at Corso 32

10345 Jasper Ave NW, Edmonton, AB T5J 1Y7
(780) 421-4622

Tastiness Factor: 9/10

Atmosphere: 4.5/5

Service: 4.5/5

Locavore approved?  YES- Chef Daniel Costa creates traditional Italian dishes using local ingredients, which is impressive in a city where a) locavore cooking is still a relatively new concept and b) things are much harder to grow than my home city of Vancouver.  The menu here changes quite regularly and, on the night of our visit, represented autumn flavours very well.  Fingers crossed that chef Costa can light the pave the way for much more locavore chefs in Edmonton!

I have called Edmonton home for the past 3 weeks on a short foray here for work.  I must admit that I did not have high hopes for the Edmonton food scene and did not expect to find anything in the way of local, forward-thinking cuisine.  After hitting a few of Avenue Magazine's picks of the city's best restaurants with Hubby this past weekend, I am happy to report that I was very wrong in these previous assumptions.

Our first stop on our Edmonton food tour was Corso 32, which I learned is one of the hottest tickets in town.  I was fortunate to somehow snag a 9pm reso at the communal table when I called to book only 4 days in advance, but according to online reviews, reservations need to be made over a month before to get a seat at an individual table.  This is likely one of the reasons that Chef Costa recently opened a sister restaurant, Bar Bricco, next door.  At this new joint, there are no reservations taken so those who cannot bear to wait for a seat at Corso 32 can at least enjoy light food and drinks at Bar Bricco.

Corso 32 is located on Jasper Ave. in downtown Edmonton, making it a good choice for anything form a business dinner, a family get-together or a romantic date.  The room is quite small, with not all that much space between tables, but the noise level was surprisingly reasonable.  I actually quite enjoyed the  liked the intimate atmosphere which I was still able to appreciate despite sitting at the communal table.  The decor was very nicely decorated with very tasteful Italian accents, including a large wall painting beside the semi-open kitchen.

The service we received was quite exceptional, all thanks to our very gracious server.  Not only did he give very good menu suggestions and keep our water/wine glasses topped up, but he also went so far as to write us a list of other good restaurants in the city and discuss it with us on our way out the door.  His  kindness is in keeping with what we experienced in Edmonton in general, but was certainly notable considering how busy he was taking care of the packed room that evening.  My only minor service flaw was in the pace of the meal, with appies coming very quickly after ordering and then quite a delay with the mains.

For such a small spot, Corso 32 has a quite an impressive wine list, including a nice selection by the glass.  Hubby and I opted for a bottle of Borgo Magredo Pinot Gris which not only had a very light, fruity taste but also came in a very snazzy old-school bottle.

Now onto the food.  A good thing to keep in mind while perusing the menu is that they do not skimp on portions.  Hubby and I are usually more than capable of polishing off an appie and main each but here this amount of food was enough to feed three.  Sharing is encouraged, and is a good way to taste a variety of menu items.  The menu is quite succinct and is divided into antipasti, 4 different pastas and one each of a fish, a poultry and a beef dish.  There are also a few desserts if by some chance you have room left.  I should also note that the prices here tend to be on the stepper side (even by Vancouver standards!), with average prices of $15 appies, $25 pastas and $35 mains.  

Here is rundown of the dishes we enjoyed:

Arancini with speck, cabbage and fontina- Although I have never met an arancini I did not like, Corso 32's version was particularly yummy.  The fried exterior was perfectly crispy, without being the least bit greasy.  Then, on the inside, there was not only nicely-seasoned risotto but also a generous amount of fontina cheese.  It does not much more decadent then that!  With two balls in a half-order, this is more than enough for 4 people, let alone for the two of us, but we ate every last bite!

Fennel and arugula salad- I ordered this despite my usual dislike of fennel just because we wanted a lighter appie to go with the heavy arancini.  And I owe them a "thank-you" for having made a fennel lover out of me.  The simple vinagrette cut the licorice taste of the fennel, giving it a very pleasant taste while still preserving its crunchy texture.  The hazelnuts really took centre stage on this salad as they were obviously of very high quality and super fresh.  Top that with some shaved parmagiano and you have a one fabulous salad!

Fried Shortrib- When I told Hubby that this dish had garnered rave online reviews, he was keen to try it.  The shortrib had an unexpected crispy exterior and a soft melt-in-your-mouth interior.  It was topped with a made-for-autumn salad of arugula and pear and served with bread on the side.

House-made goat ricotta- You know when you have friendly folks sitting next to you when they offer you some of their food.  And the people sitting next to us at the communal table did just that, and I could not be more thankful since this seemingly simple appie was downright delicious.  I am not a cheese fan by any means but this ricotta was perfect for me- mild, soft, light and creamy.  I must reiterate again though that the folks here at Corso 32 do not skimp on portions so unless you have tons of room in your belly, you will want to share!

Alberta Rainbow Trout "Mandorla"- This ranks up there as one of the best fish dishes I have had this year.  The very generous piece of trout had a beautiful crispy skin and was topped with a heaping pile of slaw made of celeriac, apple, greens and almonds (hence the "Mandorla").  It was quite simple, yet perfectly executed and I loved the use of all the fall ingredients.

Garganelli with Braised Tuscan Pork and Porcini Ragu- Corso 32 is best known for its homemade pasta and, after tasting it, it is quite apparent why that is.  The pasta was perfectly al dente and, in this particular dish, was covered in a chunky pork sauce that was seasoned to perfection.  The earthy notes from the porcini were again perfect for this time of year.

Overall Verdict?
Corso 32 was my first upscale dining experience in Edmonton and, suffice it to say, I was pretty darn impressed.  My hometown of Vancouver is known for its great food scene and I was pleasantly surprised to find that Corso 32 was on par with, or even superior to, any of my favourite places back home.  So don't be scared off by the wait.  Reserve well in advance or if that is not an option, try for a spot at communal table like we did.

You'll be mighty glad you did.

Corso 32 on Urbanspoon