Hicks weekly dish: Four years later and I’m disappointed BY GRAHAM HICKS FIRST POSTED EDMONTON SUN: TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 2017
10522 124 St.
Tuesday to Friday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Food: 3.5 of 5 Suns
Ambience: 4 of 5 Suns
Service: 3.5 of 5 stars
I was disappointed.
When Canteen opened on 124 Street in late 2012, it was one of the first chef-driven bistros to dramatically elevate the quality, quantity and fun of casual fine-dining in our town.
Frank and Andrea Olsen, chef and maître d’ respectively, had long made the Red Ox Inn in the Strathearn neighbourhood a dining establishment of choice. Canteen was the Red Ox Inn’s cheekier younger sister, with more flair, more “fun” fine dining.
My first visit to Canteen, a few months after opening, was a true dining experience – exactly as Frank had conceived. I still remember his unusual, super-tasty French fries, big, juicy Moroccan lamb chops and almond-coated Arctic char.
Four years later, it was time for a check-up.
We can make excuses – it was a weekday in early February and neither Frank nor Andrea were working that evening. But the food was nowhere near the quality I was expecting. The service, while friendly, was strangely indifferent – not the effusive family-like welcome that Andrea would have extended.
My dining partner and I ordered one small plate, an appetizer, two mains and a dessert for a total of $93. Three of the five dishes were okay, one was good, and one was excellent.
Why was the white sauce poured over the veal meatballs’ small plate so bland, and the four golf-ball sized meatballs undercooked in the centre?
The butter-poached prawns, black garlic and smoked yogurt sounded like a yin-yang dance of delicacy and robustness. Nope, not to be. There was lots of light, loads of delicate, a hint of garlic somewhere in the back of the throat … and not much taste.
The flat iron steak, nicely sliced after a quick sear, was beautifully cooked with a reddish hue throughout; no sauce to speak of, just a teaspoon or two of garlic caper aioli on the side. The dish was basically a few slices of beef arranged on top of potato and sweet potato wedges with a watercress topping for colour. The beef looked good, but was plebian in taste and severely chewy. Chewiness is expected from a flat iron cut, but at a $31 price point?
Saving the evening was a delicious soft, crispy strip of pork belly, with four scallops and tart apple slices on top of a corn puree. This was Frank Olsen’s culinary art at its finest – an intermingling of flavours in which the whole is greater than the parts. The sweet corn puree was a beautiful binder.
Dessert was redemptive too, an east-meets-west fusion of coconut mousse/pudding, topped with lime, peanut brittle and a surprisingly smooth finishing touch of Thai basil.
My impression is of a good restaurant that has unconsciously eased up on quality control as the owners seek a balance between family time and running two restaurants. Perhaps it was my imagination, but portions seem slightly reduced and prices edging toward expensive.
Time to reassert your standards in your kitchen, Frank and Andrea, and do remind the serving staff that genuine and attentive friendliness beats simply going through the motions.
I guess it’s about paying through the nose for convenience.
Curve Restaurant in Rogers Place, before an Oilers hockey game, still has a ways to go.
It’s the most expensive restaurant in town on an ounce-for-ounce basis - $46 for prime rib, $40 for four lamb medallions.
The atmosphere is cavernously pleasant, clean and naturally lit. It is informal to the extreme – the two-person tables are tall and round, with bar-stool seating. The service is friendly, efficient and fast.
The food is okay, but not memorable. My table mate’s $36 chicken breast tasted like ...regular chicken. The lamb sirloin medallions were so cooked that they could have been any red meat.
Much chatter in the foodie classes about two new exotic downtown restaurants – Bundok and Baiju. It’s terribly unfair of reviewers and food bloggers to pass judgment on just-opened restaurants still figuring things out. The Weekly Dish will give them time to settle in before making anonymous visits.