The Common Lounge
9910 109 St.
780 452 7333

Food: 4 of 5 stars
Ambience: 3 of 5 stars
Service: 3 of 5 stars

Dinner for two (not including drinks or tips), basic $45, loaded $65.

Many a pub has opted to be a self-declared “gastro-pub," when nothing but hot sauce has been added to the ketchup.

So what a treat to find The Common Lounge, on the downtown side of the High Level Bridge, is a true blue gastro-pub, i.e. a drinking establishment with food that rivals any of the better bistros. And it has great skinny fries to boot.

The Common dances on a tightrope, a balancing act few others would dare try. From noon to early evening the bright and cheerful pub is a haven for foodies. By night a room divider slides back to reveal a dance pub with a DJ. The kitchen stays open until 11 p.m. with the same eclectic day-time menu … including unusual bar snacks like truffle and thyme buttered popcorn, fresh-cut home fries, Asian sticky ribs and poutine with braised pork and caramelized onions.

The Common has character. Under different owners, it was once the 9th Street Bistro – a late-night haunt of the late, great premier Ralph Klein. Unlike most pubs, it’s airy and light with a stylish foyer, though the stools, tables and booths are of your basic bar.

Nothing tells you of The Common’s culinary pre-disposition but the menu. Then the light comes on. Chef Jesse Morrison-Gauthier is no dispenser of frozen fries, but an artistic kitchen wizard.

What other pub in town offers tandoori calamari, arctic char tartare, and mussels steamed in a black bean and thyme cider sauce as appetizers, each as good as they sound?

On two different visits to The Common, I ate or sampled eight different dishes. Not one was a disappointment, most were delightful. If the dish was a standard, something was different. The fish ‘n’ chips were so light as to suggest air had been pumped between the batter and the filet. The fish itself was top quality, its accompanying sauces - pickled onion and an aioli/avocado paste/salad greens dip – equally tasty.

Rarely have I seen and sampled such a creative and unusual antipasto plate. The meats were good cold cuts, but mixed with the green olives were dark, ripe, sweetly-brined cherries. By the cheeses were poached pear slices. On top of the salami sat tiny watermelon rectangles. The fruit flavours re-defined antipasto. Well done, chef Jesse.

The mussels were velvety, almost smoky thanks to the pungent cider sauce. The arctic char was all you could ask a fish tartare to be; light, cool, softly seasoned with added character in a mound of caramelized onion and shredded pear, wasabi aioli and puffy shrimp crackers substituting for the usual crostini.

Finally, there's the chicken and waffle, an American dish that’s all the rage. I don't quite "get" chicken and waffle, but its aficionados declare the Common version with goat cheese and a spicy blackberry sauce, to be the best in town.

The Common’s kitchen must be busy into the night, for this is darned fine food to drink by. The starters may appear pricey, $14 to $18 for the hot ones, but are generous and well worth a few extra loonies. The mains represent excellent value, $15 to $19 for dishes that in a high-end bistro would start at $20 and spiral upwards

* The Sorrentino's restaurant group is offering one last evening of its value-packed "Porchetta (Pork) Party" summer special on Aug 29. The July edition featured a delicate brined and herbed shoulder of pork, scalloped potatoes, mixed greens, toasted ciabatta bun halves soaked in garlic butter and a tiramisu dessert ... all served family style for the grand price of $20 a person including a glass of wine.

Graham Hicks
780 707 6379