Lobster and prawns in a creamy salsa with corn: Delicious! GRAHAM HICKS/EDMONTON SUN

By GRAHAM HICKS

Rostizado (by Tres Carnales)
#102, 10359-104 St. (Mercer Building)
780-761-0911

Mon. to Fri. 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.  (10 p.m. Friday)
Sat. 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Closed Sundays

Dinner for two, not including tip, tax or beverage:  Basic, $40; loaded, $80

Food – 4.5 of 5 Suns
Ambience – 4 of 5 Suns
Service- 4 of 5 Suns

Rostizado has changed in the four years since  last reviewed in this column.

It has gone from very good to excellent.

The “modern Mexican” restaurant — started by the Tres Carnales trio of Dani Braun, Edgar Gutierrez and Chris Sills — should now be considered as one of the city’s top-10 restaurants.

As only a confident, independent restaurant can do, Rostizado has gone beyond its former signature dishes, its Cuban-style pork shoulder and chicken cooked Mexican-street style on giant rotisseries.

The rotisserie offerings are still popular, but a cornucopia of other choices now exist – all Mexican, Latin American or South American inspired, all guided and influenced by Chef Gutierrez’s unerring instinct for interesting and unusual tastes.

Most Latino restaurants in town still believe chiles and peppers must be loaded into all they cook, that somehow it isn’t Mexican unless it’s spicy hot. Even in the best of Latino restaurants, too many tortillas, tacos and tamales leave a lump of dough sitting in your stomach. 

Other than small tortillas for dipping, Rostizado has little in common with Mexican fast-food outlets. It is reaching out – with fascinating new dishes Gutierrez-esque in nature, inspired by contemporary kitchens in Peru and elsewhere in Central/South America.

The menu is full of interesting choices – seafood or cheese-based small plates, rotisserie platters, large plates of Canadian staples – fish, beef, chicken, pork, duck – in an array of seasonings, sauces and recipes you won’t find elsewhere.  Even the sides are a fascinating selection of uniquely prepared veggies, rice and bean dishes

It was difficult for our party of four not to be impressed with our starters. The queso verde is similar to Greek saganaki, with Panko-breaded, then fried, fontina cheese. The yummy oily crunch was offset by the smooth, fresh salsa verde sauce on top.

Queso Verde, Rostizado’s variation on Greek saganaki.

The ceviche made from cool, clean sablefish was beautifully acidic with the lightest touch of spice heat, the lime-cured fish layered on ginger salsa and quinoa salad. Rarely has such a gently sour taste been so coordinated with other taste elements in such a dish.

A cool, mild, delicious Sablefish ceviche.

Our party of four splurged on the most expensive “large dish” on the menu, Rostizado’s lobster and prawns served in a lovely creamy salsa sauce ($49). A very light heat came from roasted chiles in the sauce, but it was subtle, letting other marvellous flavours shine through. The lobster and prawns were fresh, bountiful and delicious.

Into such perfection, imperfection did creep.  The evening was robbed of a five-Sun rating by the overbearing tamarind sauce in which two confited and spice-marinated duck legs were served. The thick tamarind sauce was so strong, rich and dark that it smothered the duck’s natural taste, the habanero-flavoured onion and the plentiful cilantro topping.

The confit duck was overwhelmed by an overly-rich tamarind sauce.

Rostizado’s magic lies in Chef Gutierrez’s research and imagination. It’s obvious he has gone far beyond the norm, searching out and testing hundreds of Central and South American spices and flavours, finding those that are both unusual and work well with Canadian ingredients.

Who else would come up with a whipped sweet-potato/coconut cream dessert combo, to accent the fresh-chopped pineapple within a sweet tamal? Rostizado, incidentally, has no microwaves or freezers. It does have a smattering of vegan and gluten-free dishes. 

It’s an interesting combo, this rich, bubbling food served in the high-energy ambience of the cosmopolitan and historical Mercer Building.

If Gutierrez continues to explore this huge cupboard of potential mix ‘n’ match from points south with Canadian-grown meat and produce, many more treats are in store.

FOOD NOTES

Add this voice to the chorus of disapproval: The city put the lease for the city-run Victoria Golf Course restaurant out to tender, as the three-year lease of the Dogwood Café was expiring. The popular, locally owned and operated imaginative café lost out to the corporate Civeo Foods.

I’m sure the city – bound by rigid rules and regulations – had a point system that put an impersonal mega-company on top of the bids.

But for the sake of a few bucks, it just wiped out a lovely, local restaurant that both golfers and the public enjoyed as a piece of culinary Edmonton!  

• • •

Back for a hard-to-believe 27th year is the Sorrentino’s Garlic Festival at all Sorrentino’s restaurants (and Bistecca) for the month of April. Crowned king and queen of this year’s festivities last Sunday was CTV’s Josh Klassen and Virgin Radio’s Chelsea Bird.

CTV’s Josh Classen (left) and Virgin Radio’s Chelsea Bird are the 27th Queen and King of the annual Sorrentino’s Garlic Festival.