10351 82 Ave. NW
Hours: Sun. to Thurs. 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Fri. to Sat. 11:30 a.m. to midnight; Closed Mondays
Food: 4 of 5 Suns
Ambience: 3 of 5 Suns
Service: 4.5 of 5 Suns
Dinner for two (excluding beverages and tip): basic, $30; loaded, $60Know yourself. And know your audience.
by Graham Hicks
The Almanac on Whyte Avenue is owned and operated by the same partners that two years ago opened the Solstice Seasonal Cuisine on 124 Street.
But customers at the 124th Street establishment are a different kettle of fish compared to Whyte Avenue clientele.
Solstice is a destination, a full evening built around breaking bread. Solstice attracts a 40+ audience whose nightclubbing days are long behind them. Three hours of multi-course dining, good conversation and good wine constitutes a fine evening out.
Know your audience. The Almanac is designed for a crowd with an interest in French-themed home-cooking, but only in a casual setting and not for night-long dining: People who might gather with friends for dinner and cocktails before heading to the neighbourhood clubs; or drop in for mini-meals later in the evening; or stay for hours to eat, drink and listen when musicians take over the stage in the restaurant’s back-half.
A visit to The Almanac appealed to our six-person party of young and not-so-young adults.
We could not have been more satisfied. This is casual bistro dining at its best. I’d call it a “gastro-pub” except the featured alcohols are cocktails, not beers, and French country-side recipes create a gentle European reference as opposed to bar grub.
The room itself is not remarkable – the front half has tables and chairs with floor-to-ceiling front windows. The back half, separated by a black curtain, opens into a windowless interior space designed for both music and dining, with high tables and stools.
On a cold winter weekend, the back-half was warmer — stools and high tables it was.
The Almanac smartly offers lighter small plates and main fare.
The “light fare” is a strong suit, poutine for the less adventurous to accompany a cocktail or two, salads, steak tartare, well-priced ($16) charcuterie and cheese boards for night folks with broad palates.
Then there’s the sinfully hot, gooey and rich baked brie.
Most of the mains feature either a meat or fish atop a bed of pasta or potato, or inside a sandwich or crepes. They are easy to assemble, visually pleasing and again, easy on the pocketbook with prices ranging from $15 to $19.
The French cooking touch goes down well – the beef daube stew, long-braised in the manner of the French country side, was rich and tender on top of seasonally appealing, well-mashed potatoes.
The rich, juicy duck confit was shredded in a manner similar to pulled pork, presented in a rough multi-grain roll for an unusual sandwich, with delicious rustic fries.
The steak for the Steak Frites at $16 was no tenderloin, but had been well-marinated for tenderness and liberally seasoned for taste.
The steak tartare was of the runny sort, an interesting texture but surprisingly without much taste given its tomato-caper-Dijon mustard treatment.
Top marks for that baked brie – perfectly broiled, gently melted, hot and sweet, adorned with cranberry, walnuts and chopped pear.
Full marks to Almanac for service – Riyah was gracious, well-spoken, knew the menu inside-out and had terrific timing. On learning of a birthday in our midst, complementary “French 75” cocktails – champagne, gin and sweetened lemon – came for all.
Plans are afoot for renovations to Almanac and a new menu referencing a meat processing shop in the building’s basement (see below).
The Almanac has found a winning formula – an all-purpose good-quality menu and bar, attracting different audiences according to the time of day, time of week and time of year.
Fun to watch this custom-butchery, boutique “salumaria” thing take off. It’s always been possible to purchase cold-cuts in Edmonton, but other than Ukrainian sausage, few are actually made and cured locally.
Butcher/chef Steven Angelo Furgiuele has a fund-raising campaign happening on the ATB Booster crowd-funding website, seeking to raise small amounts from many investors to purchase a walk-in cooler unit for his soon-to-open FUGE Fine Meats.
Below the Almanac on Whyte, Porc Sale (Salty Pork) is nearly complete – a meat-based delicatessen/butchery selling chef/butcher Mark Kalynchuk’s cured meats and offering a meat “subscription service” for discerning meat eaters.
Last week’s fried chicken column inadvertently listed Popeye’s side dishes as those of the independent Northern Chicken. As its chalkboard menu attests, Northern Chicken has its own, often-changing, side dishes.