Alberta Hotel Bar + Grill

9802 Jasper Ave


Mon. to Thurs. 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5 p.m. to midnight

Fri. 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Sat. 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Sunday closed

Food: 4 of 5 Suns

Ambience: 4 of 5 Suns

Service: 4.5 of 5 Suns

Dinner for two excluding drinks and tip: Basic, $60; loaded, $80

I was worried, but I ought not to have been.

Worried that the Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen, burdened with expectation, could not win for want of trying.

A few years ago, across Jasper Avenue from the Shaw Conference Centre, architect/developer Gene Dub replicated the once-fine Alberta Hotel, torn down in its declining years to make way for that pink palace known as Canada Place.

On the main floor, architect Dub re-created the early 20th century ambiance of the original Alberta Hotel bar and restaurant. The Hardware Grill’s Larry Stewart leased the premise and soon opened Tavern 1903 with magnificent food and ambience.

Something happened, some tumultuous dispute between these two well-known and highly respected Edmontonians. To this day, the details remain unknown. Tavern 1903 abruptly ceased operations and sat empty for most of 2015.

In mid-November, with a new restaurant partner in Spencer Thompson of Toast Catering, Dub re-opened the restaurant as the Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen.

How could Thompson fill the huge boots of his predecessor? Larry Stewart is an undisputed king of Edmonton cuisine. Thompson held a pre-Christmas opening night "gala" to mixed reviews. Included were multiple dishes not actually on the menu. Strange.

New restaurants, however, should be given six to eight weeks to settle in before being assessed. It was time, last weekend, to test the Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen.

This is a good restaurant! For its price range and quality – all the mains, other than the New York strip loin, run from $21 to $28 – it’s among the best.

The ambiance is pleasant, if a tad dark on the dining side. The service is first-rate. The menu is small, just six appetizers, five mains and five desserts, but varied and interesting. The dishes are visually appealing, arriving hot and with perfect timing all evening. Other than good company, which our party of four most definitely had, what more can you ask of a dining experience?

There’s no overall theme, other than the obligatory local sourcing of ingredients. The menu is eclectic – a little Italian, Canadiana, plenty of meat. The common thread is Chef Thompson’s style.

At the top of the Alberta Hotel hit list would be Thompson’s duck breast, and the Alberta Hotel’s already established signature dish, its bone marrow agnolotti (a variation on small pasta pockets) appetizer.

The healthy-portioned duck breast was fresh, tender, succulent and perfectly cooked. Paired with the natural sweet of roasted pear and a carrot puree, it left a food memory of the highest order.

Bone marrow - the soft mushy stuff inside animal bones, is delicious but requires culinary skill and patience to make it sing. The pasta pockets are dark and rich, the marrow flavour augmented with the winter comfort of wild mushrooms, brown butter and pecorino cheese.

The Pembina pork cheeks – a part of the pig with distinct flavour and texture – were very good. But the dish's oft-praised buttermilk polenta was as bland as pureed baby food.

Carpaccio fans, get thee to the Alberta Hotel. Chef Thompson’s carpaccio is among the best, presented in salami-like thin slices, cured in delicate canola oil, perfectly herbed.

Thompson “gets” fish. His fresh ling cod filets arrived in a scallop, claim and veggie sauce a few tablespoons shy of a tasty bouillabaisse. The accessories around the spicy sturgeon cake appetizer – pineapple, coconut curry, the exotic jicama – were far more interesting than the flavourless sturgeon itself.

For dessert, another signature Alberta Hotel dish: The “de-constructed” banana smores are inspirational, your basic campfire marshmallow smores unassembled and upgraded with serious chocolate and banana ice-cream. It’s a delightful concoction. Dessert lovers will swoon.

Overall, the Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen offered an evening of excellent food and ambience, in an establishment comfortably treading a fine line between the casual dining/prices of an Earls or a Cocktail Club and the elegance of a Hardware Grill. And we didn’t even begin to talk in this review about the wine list, or hanging out at the bar!


Food notes

* On Wed. Feb. 3, 7 p.m., Shaw Cable 10 TV presents "I Like It Raw", a local documentary on a 30-day stint where carnivorous Albertans with health issues turned to a completely raw veggie diet. Ycch!

* From the Crudo family, (the top-ranked Cafe Amore and Black Pearl Seafood) a third restaurant will open this summer across from the new Rogers Arena, Papa Giuseppe's Kitchen.

* Watch those wine prices! Friends were shocked when the usually inexpensive hot-dog emporium The Dog charged $15.75 for a 9 oz. pour of Oyster Bay and $14.50 for the same-sized glass of Folonari Valpolicella. You can buy those wines by the bottle at liquor stores for less.

Graham Hicks

780 707 6379