Hicks Weekly Dish: Biera, a most satisfying meal BY GRAHAM HICKS FIRST POSTED EDMONTON SUN: TUESDAY, AUGUST 22, 2017
Wednesday to Saturday, 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Closed Sunday to Tuesday
Dinner for two, excluding tip and beverages: basic, $40; loaded, $80
Food: 4 of 5 Suns
Ambience: 4 of 5 Suns
Service: 4 of 5 Suns
A pile of chefs talk the talk.
Beer is as sophisticated as wine, they say. Beer can be as carefully paired with food as wine, they say. Beer this, beer that …
Few, however, walk the walk. Very few chefs actually create foods that discernibly, in the mouth, are truly enhanced by the addition of beer and its bubbles.
Even fewer chefs make dishes that go well with one style of beer, and not so well with another.
In fact, I was convinced (other than a cold lager with a hot curry) that the whole fine beer/fine food thing was just another millennial trend, featuring nothing but fashionable pretense.
Then I went to Biera – the recently-opened gastro-pub/bistro/neighbourhood eatery in the new ultra-trendy Ritchie Market building, just west of the Mill Creek ravine on 76 Avenue.
Biera is intertwined with Blind Enthusiasm Brewing. A big chunk of the common space is for the mini-brewery and its brewing apparatus. (The two operations and Ritchie Market itself are owned by beer-lover Greg Zeschuk, the former medical doctor who co-founded and later sold Edmonton’s super-successful Bioware video game studio.)
Just as the trendy, friendly and attractive spaces are physically intertwined, so are chef Christine Sandford’s food and head brewer Rob Monk’s beer.
The “of course” light came on with the first sip from a very smart marketing idea. Biera offers a “sampledoodle” of four small (100 ml – about a quarter-pint each) Blind Enthusiasm beers brewed on site for a reasonable $8.
Unlike commercial beers (or too-hoppy craft beers), Blind Enthusiasm beers are neither overly sweet nor overly bitter. They are, within an undeniable freshness, pleasingly tart.
Chef Sandford has poured her culinary creativity into foods that play well to the fresh tartness of the four in-house brews. This becomes a fascinating dining experience unto itself, and is given even more character thanks to a pantry full of Belgium and French influences based on Sandford’s sojourn as a working chef in those countries.
The flammkuchen – a German/Alsatian cheese/onion flatbread somewhere between a tart and a mini-pizza – featured a sweet/rich/sour trio of sauerkraut-ish onion, melted French cheese and lots of tasty butter soaked into the bread. Sandford, bless her, does not skimp on cream and butter.
Sanford’s risotto uses malted rye as its base, mixed with sunflower seed. Not sure I really liked this dish as it was a tad grainy, but it was interesting, especially with a delicate soy-like sauce infusion.
The crispy skate wing fish was a good-sized, flatter-than-normal and beautifully breaded fish filet. Sprinkled with savoury-packed wisps of sea asparagus and chervil herb, it is one of the better fish dishes to be had in our land-locked city.
All three dishes went REALLY WELL with the Blind Enthusiasm flight of beers! Each had sour, savoury, or sour/sweet elements that were highlighted, that danced into prominence, with a wee swish of a good, tart beer.
Such an approach has its challenges. By the end of a most satisfying meal, after the candied, fermented rhubarb dessert, my tongue had grown gently weary of soured and fermented, and was feeling quite knobbly.
We were too full to test out Biera’s meaty side, its charcoal grill. But the current offerings (Korean style beef ribs, beet-enhanced pork shoulder, grilled chicken in an onion/sour cream sauce) have me hankering for a return visit, wondering how they too will pair with clean, tart Blind Enthusiasm beer.
Biera is proving popular – it was quite full with an all-ages crowd on a late-summer Wednesday evening, is only open evenings and then only from Wednesday to Saturday. Diners with well-rounded palates will be pleased they made the trip.
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The always creative team at Vivo Downtown have unveiled an aperitivo snacking menu for the ground-floor’s informal taverna.
The idea is to provide low-cost, interesting snacks for post-work, pre-dinner gatherings - $1 for one arancini (rice ball) or polpettine (Napoli-style meatball), $4 for a one-person baby pizzetta, $6 for a pint, featured wines and seasonal drinks.
Sportsnet’s Gene Principe is a big fan of the restaurant that’s a hop and a skip west of Rogers Place on 105 Avenue.The popular city-based sportscaster has been immortalized with a pizzetta named after him. “Principe di Hawaii” is a toasted bianca (white) pizza featuring pineapple, ham and smoked mozzarella. Delicious!