10643 123 St.
Monday to Saturday, 5 p.m. to midnight
Dinner for two, not including tip, tax or beverage: Basic, $60; loaded, $120
Food – 5 of 5 Suns
Ambience – 4 of 5 Suns
Service- 4.5 of 5 Suns
In 2013, when RGE RD was just three months old, The Weekly Dish awarded the restaurant an extremely rare 5 out of a possible of 5 Suns for its food.
I am delighted, ecstatic in fact, that a return visit almost five years later has earned Blair Lebsack’s restaurant yet another perfect, 5 of 5 Sun rating for its food.
Everything was as good, if not better than that impressive showing in 2013 — one of the only differences being the need these days to make a prime-time reservation many weeks ahead.
Chef Lebsack, who left a comfortable job teaching at the NAIT culinary school to launch what was then a bold experiment, has stuck clearly and calmly to the same food philosophy that has guided RGE RD since conception.
He sticks as close to home as possible in sourcing the freshest and most flavourful meats, veggies and grains available, then creates dishes from the same, every bite being quite wondrous.
Front-of-house manager Caitlin Fulton, Lebsack’s professional and life partner, was not working the evening our party visited RGE RD. It mattered not – this is a highly trained friendly front-of-house staff that is welcoming from the moment you step in from the cold until the moment you leave.
The timing of everything — a common fault of so many restaurants — was near-perfect. Our server was first-rate, a consummate service professional who knew the menu, the restaurant, and food in general inside out.
Lebsack is forging ahead with the creation of a truly Alberta cuisine. Other than the fish choices, he has found top-notch local producers for just about everything else on the menu, be it duck, bison, beef, pork, wheat berries, squash or the potatoes from which to make gnocchi.
It’s not that others are not doing the same thing. It has become near-laughable how many restaurants currently lay claim to “local sourcing,” when in fact big food distributors are the ones doing the so-called local sourcing, processing and pre-cooking beforehand.
The reality is Lebsack and his crew are doing “local is beautiful” better than almost everybody else.
His “questionable bits” – an every-day special based on offal, internal organs and such things as head meats – has swayed the queasiest of eaters into fans. Our visit featured pastrami made from beef tongue … and it was the best pastrami I have ever tasted.
The B.C. tuna was lightly seared but kept its cool and was contrasted against a bed of cooked fava beans and corn. The hot sunchoke salad was a gorgeous mix of sunchoke (small artichokes) and earthy mushrooms, topped with a poached egg, drizzled with lemon aioli, all presented on top of a lovely melted gouda cheese base.
From the local Four Whistle Farms, Lebsack has found Alberta duck every bit as tasty as Quebec’s famed Brome Lake duck, only, obviously, much fresher. The sliced breast was delectable and diversified by a side crepe enclosing duck rillette, a style of pate.
His bison, again a healthy-sized sliced tenderloin, was as tender as bison has ever tasted, without a trace of the dryness that plagues too much restaurant bison. The accompanying hazelnut spätzle could not have been better paired.
Finally, the “pig roast” was innovative, a mixed grill featuring every kind of pork outside of ham – loin, belly, bacon-wrapped pork confit. Each bite was a treat, especially in tandem with mashed parsnips and squash gnocchi – as comforting a winter dish as is to be found.
Everything about this meal – the small plates, mains, desserts, a good wine selection, the warm ambience with the recently expanded new section featuring a glassed-off butchery space – was first-rate. Lebsack and RGE RD are leading the pack en route to a truly Canadian cuisine that will equal the best of other national cuisines.
As Valentine’s Day is upon us, I offer my yearly advice. Do not take your significant other out to dine on February 14. To do so is to settle for an overly expensive, mass-produced, pre-set meal with cheap wine included in a pre-set price, served by stressed-out waiters from a stressed-out kitchen. Wait for a quieter day, when any of the city’s 50-plus first-rate restaurants can offer a more intimate dining experience at a better price.