By GRAHAM HICKS
Among the detritus of discarded civic slogans, Edmonton once called itself Canada’s Smart City.
In fact, the smartest Edmonton project of late has come from within.
We are smack dab in the middle of the annual Downtown Dining Week, which superficially is about discounted dining in Edmonton’s downtown.
Until Sunday, March 17, 2019, some 50 downtown restaurants are offering two-or-three course lunches and dinners, $18 for lunch, $30 or $45 for dinner. New this year are $18 two-course brunches at about a dozen restaurants.
A three-course dinner for $45 is great value – about 40% off menu prices – especially at high-end dining rooms like Atlas, Hardware Grill, the Harvest Room, La Ronde, Madison’s Grill, Ruth’s Chris, Sabor, LUX, Chop or Zinc. Reservations are a must!
The benefits of Downtown Dining Week, however, go far beyond steak-at-hamburger-prices.
Downtown Dining Week gives a “face” to the downtown, an identity centred around food.
The Edmonton Downtown Business Association and the participating restaurants earn valuable brownie points for creating awareness – at least from those who follow the dining-out scene.
The event is the Downtown Business Association’s most visible production … in an era where recognition and visibility are crucial to business success.
To get 50 independent restaurants involved in a joint community project, with specific menu and pricing rules, is no small feat.
I’m sure they have their reasons, but I am bothered that some better-known downtown restaurants – like Corso 32, Butternut Tree, Black Pearl, Cibo, Bundok, Baijiu, Joeys Bell Tower and others – choose not to participate in Downtown Dining Week, especially given the (free) media and community support they happily accept all-year-round.
Downtown Dining Week introduces new, interesting restaurants to the restaurant-going public.
I did not know, for example, that former Earl’s Tin Palace head chef Rui Carvalho has opened his own eatery, Villa Bistro, on 104 Street.
Or that River City Revival House, while located in the Starlite music hall building, is a restaurant unto itself with its own entrance … with a sublime beef brisket option during Dining Week.
Or that the new XO Bistro – offering samples of a lovely, cool, green papaya salad at the Dining Week kick-off party – is worth checking out.
Or that the Oil Lamp on 97 Street might be a decent Greek diner.
Downtown Dining Week introduces or re-introduces these 50 restaurants to the growing downtown residential community. What they save on transport costs, the theory goes, they spend in nearby restaurants and bars.
Perhaps the most important benefit is the wooing of suburbanites to the downtown.
This gets tricky, for I have a long-standing disagreement with Downtown Business Association executive director Ian O’Donnell.
Ian claims downtown parking is relatively painless and inexpensive compared to other big cities. We just don’t know it.
I say that downtown driving, especially for novices, has become a white-knuckle nightmare thanks to non-stop LRT construction, fewer street parking spaces, road closures, bike lane complications, a confusing and fluctuating street-parking payment system, ever-longer red lights, overly complex signage, hard-to-find, expensive and hard-to-negotiate downtown parking garages.
Then there’s the fear many Edmontonians have, irrational or not, of riding the LRT at night – but that’s another story.
Downtown Dining Week is an enticement to, once again, try out our downtown’s drive-and-park and find out which of us, Ian or me, is right. Let me know!
Edmonton’s Where and Avenue magazines, at this time of year, fill their pages with “best of” restaurant awards, in various categories based on their own judging systems. At the same time, The Tomato Food & Drink, published six times a year, offers its annual Top 100 Best Things to Eat or Drink in Edmonton, based on reader suggestions.
All three free-of-charge publications appear not to let advertisers influence their choices.
It’s curious, however, how restaurants fall in and out of popular favour. For the most part, the annual spotlight falls on the latest and trendiest eateries, though good food has to be a constant. Restaurants highly praised two or three years ago fall off the map, though service and quality haven’t changed.
Most-often mentioned in these 2019 “best-of” surveys: An Choy, Butternut Tree, Kanto 98, Biera, RGE RD, Bundok, Cibo, the Corso/Uccellino/Bricco group, London Local, Buco, Hardware Grill.
Where Magazine surprised us with its selection of the little-known Noi Than Thai Restaurant as its Best New Restaurant of the Year. Avenue Magazine chose Pip in Old Strathcona.
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Restaurants participating in Downtown Dining Week, March 8-17, 2019 (@DbaYeg #Tasteyegdt, edmontondowntown.com)
Atlas (Grand Villa Casino)
Bellamy’s (Chateau Lacombe)
Buco (EPCOR Tower)
Cask & Barrel
Central Social Hall
Chop (Sutton Place)
CRAFT Beer Market
CRASH Lobby Bar
Fionn MacCool (City Centre Mall)
Harvest Room (Hotel Macdonald)
Match Eatery (Grand Villa Casino)
Old Spaghetti Factory
River City Revival House
Rocky Mountain Icehouse
Rose and Crown
Share (Westin Hotel)