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A fun desert at Sorrentino's Mushroom Harvest Festival.
A fun desert at Sorrentino's Mushroom Harvest Festival.

Sorrentino’s Mushroom Harvest Festival

At all Sorrentino’s locations in September:

Downtown, 10162-100 St.

South, 4208 Calgary Trail

West, 6867-170 St.

Little Italy, 10844-95 St.

St. Albert, 595 St. Albert Road

and

Bistecca Italian Steak House, 2345-111 St.

Food: 4.5 of 5 Suns

Dinner for two excluding drinks and tip: Basic, $70, loaded, $120

Twenty-one years, for an annual food festival, is a long run. Think of a favourite restaurant where you took your new-born for a family celebration of his or her birth. Today when you return as a family that child is now an adult, capable of (but likely reluctant to) cover the bill.

Somehow, the 21st annual Sorrentino’s Mushroom Harvest remains as vital as ever.

If anything, the festival — essentially an additional menu at the five Sorrentino restaurants plus Bistecca for the month of September featuring 10 mushroom-based dishes (soup, salad, pastas, pizza and entrees) — is gaining in popularity.

It’s no secret why. It has to do with mushrooms themselves, a gift to mankind with a wondrous variety of textures and tastes, bringing depth, earthiness and warmth to any dish. It’s also the time of year, mushroom dishes being so appropriate as the weather cools.

At Sorrentino’s, it’s about executive chef Sonny Sung and his culinary team’s unending creativity and expertise, every year finding out more about what the edible fungus is capable of in satisfying the human craving for taste.

This year, Sonny is playing with sweet/savoury combinations — honey and balsamic, salted caramel, sweated sweet onions — that tease and please the palate in a little dance above where the rich mushrooms roam.

My notes from a media tasting last week at Sorrentino’s South, where nine festival dishes were presented in small-plate style:

The cream of mushroom soup has become a Sonny Sung signature, sinfully rich in creams and pureed mushroom varieties with a touch of sherry and truffle oil, then flavour-finished with tarragon.

The soup is so popular that during the festival, Sorrentino’s sells its own Mushroom Harvest mushroom soup base. This year’s zuppa is accompanied by a crisp parmesan fluted wafer which, when eaten with the soup, layers in yet more warm, comforting cheesy flavours.

This year’s stuffed portabella mushroom has the usual — goat-cheese, pesto and pine nuts. But the honey/balsamic vinaigrette drizzled over the stuffed mushroom and mixed greens is beautifully sweet and tangy.

Everybody who loves risotto, raise your hands. For the festival, Sung adds orange-coloured lobster mushroom to the soft, creamy rice, plus shrimp and parmesan-reggiano cheese. The lobster mushroom addition moves the risotto from delicate to bold. I love it.

The Cactus Club Café’s butternut squash ravioli may be legendary, but Sonny’s sweet wild-mushroom ravioli squares are better. He stuffs them with crimini and portabella mushrooms, douses them in lemon/garlic/white wine sauce with crumbled pancetta (Italian style bacon) on top. This particular recipe is all the more fleeting. Like mushrooms themselves, it only blooms during the festival.

The veal medallions and mushrooms is indeed a classic, but on top of the standard wine-based sauce, Sung has conjured up a sweet caramel drizzle that, with shitake mushrooms this time around, coaxes new tastes out of this traditional dish. It also pairs magnificently with a “baby super-Tuscan” style red wine, a cabernet-sangiovese grape blend that Sorrentino’s has imported for the Mushroom Harvest.

Fish lovers rejoice — the festival fish dish is a cobia (lemon fish) filet, not often featured on city menus with an interesting flavour of its own. The cobia has been enhanced with subtle infusion of chanterelle mushrooms. It’s not often one has a fish and mushroom dish so soft and subtle.

It’s fairly obvious why the Mushroom Harvest is consistently a must-dine-out September feature in this town. Much of its fun lies in surrounding special events, such as mushroom-picking walks, mushroom cooking classes, and two special dinners, including a truffle dinner — see sorrentinos.com for details.

Each presiding chef at Sorrentino/Bistecca locations is given the freedom to create their own mushroom-based dishes for the festival. Our preview was based on the Sorrentino’s Downtown menus. Festival prices are comparable to other fine-dining establishments.

Thank you, Sorrentino’s, Chef Sung and the entire culinary team. As an Edmonton-based, family-owned, group of restaurants, you never let us down when it comes to “festival” special dining.

•••

The big YEGfood news this past week is the takeover by Toast Catering owner/chef Spencer Thompson of the magnificent dining space in the Alberta Hotel reconstructed building across from the Shaw Conference Centre.

It’s been empty since a landlord/tenant dispute closed the excellent Tavern 1903 a year ago. Thompson has a strong culinary reputation from his catering and festival presence. Nothing would be better for the downtown than a really good casual restaurant returning to that space. Look for an October opening.