Weekly Dish: Two different dining experiences at Little Village and Alder Room BY GRAHAM HICKS FIRST POSTED EDMONTON SUN: TUESDAY, MAY 30, 2017
Between Ben Staley’s Alder Room and Theo Psalios’ Little Village, two more different dining experiences cannot be imagined.
But isn’t that what dining out is all about? How diverse and excellent the city’s culinary offerings have become. It would be near impossible, on a weekly basis, to visit every quality dining room in one year.
At Staley’s recently-opened Alder Room, you pay in advance via an online ticketing system for one of the 12 spots at 7 p.m., Wednesday to Saturday.
In return for your $140 (expensive, yes, unique and top-quality, yes) Chef Staley orchestrates a 12-to-20 dish food evening, lasting 2.5 hours.
There is no set menu. As a diner, you put your faith in Staley, the young self-taught chef who captured the imagination of adventuresome eaters as the first chef of North 53.
Staley left that restaurant to create his own, all-original food experience at the Alder Room and its adjoining cold-tapas sister restaurant Alta, recently reviewed in this column.
Theo’s Little Village is as Greek as Greek can be. Theo Psalios comes by his cuisine honestly. He is the last Psalios in town. The rest of the Koutouki restaurant clan, mom and dad Kally and Yianni Psalios, sister and brother-in-law Dina and Chris St. Denis, have left to open Koutouki Taverna in Palm Desert, California.
The Alder Room is about experimentation and adventure, going where few chefs have gone before.
Little Village is tradition, about Greek recipes – Koutouki recipes – that would be as tasty on a sun-drenched Greek island as they are in Edmonton.
Theo has opted for a hot-deli concept. The Little Village, in a strip mall on Stony Plain Road just east of 149 Street, is take-out. You point to your desired main hot dishes – lamb shank, Greek chicken and stuffed peppers on my visit, then the accessories (dolmades, keftedes, Greek salads, a wide range of fresh dips).
The counter staff assembles your fixings for your lunch/ dinner and out you go. There’s a tiny counter space for eating – about 30 centimetres wide with five or six stools – but that’s it.
The Alder Room has but one seating, at 7 p.m. By which time, Little Village, open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., is already closed. A Little Village food truck can be found at festive events.
For all their differences, The Alder Room and Little Kitchen are united by a commitment to quality. Neither Psalios nor Staley would allow anything sub-standard out of their kitchens. Both take the time and effort to produce excellent quality.
Every evening, Psalios returns to the Little Village to marinate and prepare his lamb shanks for over-night slow-cooking. No wonder the oregano and lemon saturated meat falls off the bone and the fat has melted into liquid gold. One resists the temptation to abandon all manners, pick up that bone and gnaw off every morsel of meat.
At an Alder Room media tasting, Staley had purchased ducks from a small local supplier. They were hung for a day or two to slightly dry the skin.
Meanwhile, incorporating his iron-clad rule that ALL kitchen ingredients at the Alder Room and Alta must be sourced in Western Canada (including the B.C. coast) Staley had been experimenting with spruce tree sap.
He had reduced the sap to a syrup but wasn’t pleased. He then added yeast to the syrup to produce a spruce sap “wine” … which worked as a tantalizing glaze for the ducks.
The duck was smoked over spruce wood and finished over an open flame. The result was earthy yet ephemeral, a duck dish not found anywhere else, unless another chef has created a spruce wine glaze.
The Little Village I am not worried about. It’s a tried and true commodity that Edmonton knows and loves. I am full of admiration for Ben Staley at the Alder Room, at his confidence in his unique culinary talent. It’s a bold experiment – I hope the city is ready – and a hefty price tag by local standards. But the good news is the Alder Room is fully booked for those 7 p.m. settings, at least for the next few weeks.
Where: 10328 Jasper Avenue
Food: 4.5 of 5 Suns
Service: 4 of 5 Suns
Ambience: 3.5 of 5 Suns
Hours: Wednesday to Saturday, 7 p.m. sittings only – reservation only
Price: Set price for dinner for two, excluding beverages and taxes– $140; Alder Room is a no-tipping establishment.
Where: 14816 Stony Plain Rd.
Food: 4 of 5 Suns
Hours: Tuesday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Closed Sundays and Mondays
Price: Dinner for two (take out) - $25