North 53

10240 124 St.

587-524-5353

north53.ca

Food: 5 of 5 Suns

Service: 3.5 of 5 Suns

Ambience: 3.5 of 5 Suns

5 p.m. to late, Wednesday through Sunday

No minors

Dinner for two, just food – Basic $50, loaded $170

It’s tempting to toss out the hyperbole here, to bequeath North 53 chef Ben Staley with lofty adjectives like “brilliant” or “stupendous” or “child genius.”

But while North 53 has captured the imagination of Edmonton’s culinary world in the same manner as Blair Lebsack’s RGE RD last year and Daniel Costa’s Corso 32 in 2010, it’s too soon to add too many exclamation marks.

Nevertheless, this is a great story in the making.

Young chef (barely into his 20s), with no formal training, auditions for a 24-year-old entrepreneur with no food background but with the will and money to open a high-end bistro on 124 Street.

After the eight-course audition, entrepreneur Kevin Cam completely changes direction. He decides to build the new restaurant, North 53, around Ben’s talent and all-local food philosophy.

Staley — previous experience as a sous chef at Blue Pear, and a short-lived stint at Da Capo café — pulls it off.

Four months after opening, this reviewer can attest that North 53 is indeed for real, that Staley appears to not only have a unique cooking style with unbridled creativity and imagination, but also the organizational smarts to build and run a kitchen consistently delivering such intricate dishes to the folks at the tables.

I don’t care that much about local, local, local. It just makes sense. Any good restaurant should purchase its meat and veggies and dairy and berries nearby. The less time any harvested food product spends in transit — besides well-aged beef — the tastier and fresher it will be. The more direct the contact between grower and chef, the better the product.

So while North 53 hangs its hat on “90% B.C. and Alberta sourced,” it’s what’s coming out of the kitchen that is more remarkable.

And what’s offered on the menu is as as bold and interesting as the dishes themselves.

North 53 has pushed the small-plate notion to a new extreme.

Guests have the option of picking from an a la carte small-plate menu with but seven (unusual) choices in the $12 to $21 range, or throwing themselves at the chef’s mercy for an eight-course “tasting menu” from which there is no deviation, and in which the full table must participate. At $85 a person and an additional $50 per person for a wine pairing, it sounds preposterous. But at North 53, the quality and reputation of this eight-courser is (apparently) so good that the tasting menu is selling out on weekends. It helps that the wines are mostly from small, top-quality Okanagan vinters, wines rarely making their way into E-town restaurants.

Our table of four opted to go a la carte, and couldn’t have been happier.

Every dish at North 53 is unique, a creation unto itself — tastes, textures, food combinations and presentations that leave you with unabashed admiration for this kitchen.

Staley’s kitchen centres around a sous-vide cooker. Meat and herbs are sealed into plastic bags, left in warm circulating water to cook and be fully infused, then quick-seared before sent to the dining room.

For his “Chicken, cooked in hay”, a herbed butter is initially smoked by smouldering hay, the chicken infused with the smoked butter in the sous vide, and then, the final flourish, given a little “fresh” smoke in the kitchen. The cover is opened at the table, releasing the delicate hay fragrance at precisely the right moment. Oh, and this marvellous chicken is hidden under leafy greens in a buttermilk vinagrette, then perched upon a pureed rutabaga base.

You get the idea: The veal sweetbreads are perfectly cooked, crisp on the outside, spongy and moist inside, bathed in a camomile-infused butter then presented on a silky, woody, oyster mushroom base; the haddock is juniper scented, with onions as you’ve never tasted onions before; the goat’s milk dessert is a panna cotta style, with an exquisite tarragon/anise infusion.

No question, North 53 is deserving of its fast-growing reputation. It’s also satisfying to see such boldness of ideas and unconventionality — at North 53, RGE RD, Corso 32 — be so readily accepted by the dining public.