The Butternut Tree
9707 110 Street, #101 (Ledgeview Business Centre, ground floor, complimentary indoor parking)
Tues. to Sun. 5 p.m. to midnight
Dinner for two, excluding tip and beverages: basic, $80; loaded, $125
Food: 4.75 of 5 Suns
Ambience: 4 of 5 Suns
Service: 4.75 of 5 Suns
So close to a perfect five out of five for food.
If not marred by over-salted jus (gravy) for its duck breast entree, the new Butternut Tree Restaurant would have earned an extraordinary Weekly Dish five-out-of-five Sun rating for its food, and equally close to a five out of five for service.
From where did this lovely restaurant, comparable already to the Hardware Grill in quality and meticulousness, come from?
When chef/owner Scott Downey, an incredibly young 27, opened Butternut Tree in August, nobody knew who he was. Years ago he had left the family home in St. Albert to wander the world and ended up apprenticing in top restaurants (Noma in Copenhagen) and schools (The Culinary Institute of America in New York City).
Ready to put down roots, inspired by the burgeoning Edmonton culinary scene and believing he had something to offer, Downey returned home and took almost a year to put together the Butternut Tree – named after a tree gracing his grandmother’s lawn.
More extraordinary is his locational risk-taking. The Butternut Tree space is on the ground floor of Ledgeview Tower. While it is a beautiful room with a panoramic view, many a restaurateur has tried, unsuccessfully, to make the room work.
It’s slightly difficult to find, but Google Maps ease that difficulty, and as a nice bonus, there’s free underground parking.
The interior is clean and minimal. My only complaint was the romantic but dim ambient lighting – so dark as to require the cell phone’s flashlight to read the menu.
Butternut Tree is about multi-textures on a single plate – crunchy, soft, silky, and pebbly.
Butternut is about inventiveness and boldness. A vegetarian dish features kale cooked three ways, a treat for the eyes, and the tastes contrasting beautifully with other little-known veggies (sliced yacon root, pureed celeriac). Butternut is about surprise. Downey has declared war on conventionality.
There’s not a whiff of chicken, pork or beef on the menu, but there is duck, elk, pheasant, rabbit, octopus, ling cod and far more vegetarian – imaginative vegetarian – than on most menus. It’s a bit dumb not to have one or two conventional meats, if only to have something for less adventuresome eaters.
Butternut is about the senses. The visual presentations are uniformly lovely. Subtle fragrances greet the diner as dishes touch the table. The octopus is a ying/yang between smooth silky octopus coins and delicious crispy buttons from octopus suckers.
Which is all the more puzzling why the duck jus, pleasingly server-poured on the side of the plate, was so over-salted.
The seared duck breast has been beautifully seared, a fine layer of outer duck fat scored and crisped. While the seasoning-free meat would actually have benefited from a sprinkle of salt, the heavily salted jus overwhelmed the delicate grape foam, specialty mushrooms, decorative parsnip and the bed of shaved Brussel sprouts.
The Butternut should succeed in this location where others have failed … as long as Chef Downey has something on offer for the conservative eater. The food is beautiful, a treat for all the senses. The view is amazing, the service impeccable, and the servers knowledgeable. The restaurant is warm and cozy despite the floor-to-ceiling windows. It’s quiet. Conversation can be enjoyed without the need to yell.
Butternut is already emerging as a go-to restaurant for special occasion and romantic dining. Already, weekends are fast filling the spacious 65-seat plus restaurant.
Too bad about the salty duck jus.
If imitation is the highest form of flattery, Teresa Spinelli should be pleased. The just-opened Italian Bakery Mercato in St. Albert is a carbon copy of Teresa’s three Italian Centres in Edmonton and one in Calgary.
Across the parking lot from the Mercato at St. Albert’s Shops at Boudreau, Buco Pizzeria + Vino Bar is now offering an excellent brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.
Buco is the latest eatery idea from the Sorrentino Restaurant Group. The St. Albert location has proved so successful that Buco Windermere is slated for a February opening, Buco Downtown, in the EPCOR Tower, is to open in late March or early April.