Red Ox Inn

9420 91 St.

780 465 5727

theredoxinn.com

Food: 4 of 5 suns

Ambience: 3.5 of 5 suns

Service: 3.5 of 5 suns

Dinner for two excluding beverages: Basic, $85; Loaded, $120.

There’s no secret to restaurant longevity.

Consistently excellent food with consistently excellent service is 90% of the game.

The Red Ox Inn has been open for 15 years, follows no trends, is a simple unpretentious dining room with just 36 seats.

On weekends, it’s usually full. We booked for four a month ahead. Only the 6 p.m. seating was left.

Why? Because the food is consistently excellent in this out-of-the-way spot at the top of Connors Hill (close to the folk festival hill), the service impeccable.

The Red Ox Inn is all the more remarkable in that owners Frank and Andrea Olson, after 15 years as chef and maître d’ respectively, promoted sous-chef Sean O’Connor to chef in order to focus on the recent opening of the Red Ox’s baby sister establishment, Canteen, on 124 Street.

The Red Ox hasn’t missed a beat. The Olsons must be greatly relieved not to be missed.

The menu reflects a philosophy of quality over quantity.

Its offering is surprisingly small — just six appetizers, seven entrees, and a few dessert selections. As one expects in any fine-dining establishment, portions are on the smaller side, quality and presentation trumping quantity.

If there’s a criticism of the Red Ox, the menu has only one salad, featuring beets. All else is meat or fish/seafood based, though accompanying vegetables are always first-rate. The menu is also often tweaked.

Meticulously prepared food also takes time. Wait times at the Red Ox are not long enough to be annoying, but there’s waiting time nonetheless. Starter bread would have been nice, but was not forthcoming.

The food, the food!

The Red Ox’s steak tartare is a thing of beauty. Usually a tartare (spiced, top-of-the-line minced or ground raw steak) isn’t much to look at, but in this version, the steak is a platform on which layers of thin-sliced onion and shaved parmesan are built, topped with thin crispy crostini, garnished with green sprouts. The traditional capers are blended into an aioli, a creative smoothing out of that particular taste.

The cube of succulent pork belly was nestled inside an emerald veggie forest — draped in thin-sliced cucumber strips, sprouts, and a beautiful blended green pea sauce. This is where the Red Ox’s veggies hide!

The golden beets in the salad had been gently smoked, giving yet another different yet delicious taste.

Of the mains, nothing but praise came from our foursome.

Really good chefs understand minimalism. My strip loin was a tender bit of beef dressed with little but garlic and exquisite oils. It will rest in my memory as one of the finer red meats ever devoured in an Edmonton restaurant.

The Red Ox duck breast is a star attraction, delicately smoked and brined, enhanced by a whipped goat cheese sauce.

Few restaurants handle fish so well as the Red Ox. The ling cod was gorgeous, as if were freshly caught hours before, seared to perfection on a bed of lightly creamed barley and delicate mushrooms. Superb.

Last but not least was a golden risotto, bountifully garnished with fresh crab meat.

The Red Ox’s lead dessert, aptly just called “Chocolate” should be required eating by all other chefs, to experience what chocolate and nut and various chocolate textures should be.

The Red Ox is expensive. The fish and meat mains ring in at $34 each. You are paying for quality, consistent quality. A 4.5 or 5 star rating was only missed due to lack of starter bread and no salad choices.

Congratulations to Culinary Team NAIT, returning home from the Hong Kong International Culinary Classic cooking competition last month with a record 20 medals — four gold, eight silver and eight bronze.