The Butternut Tree
9707 110 St. (Ledgeview Tower, main floor)
No takeout listed
Tues. to Sat. 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Sun. and Mon. closed
Food: 5 of 5 Suns
Ambience: 5 of 5 Suns
Service: 5 of 5 Suns
Dinner for two, excluding tips, taxes and beverages: Basic, $70; Loaded, $140
By GRAHAM HICKS
The Butternut Tree is a gastronomic delight, a feast for the eyes, for the nose, for the mouth.
It is fine dining at its very best in this city. While the food itself is always at the epicentre of fine dining, everything else must also be perfect – the décor, the service, the view, the lighting, the rhythm, the plating, the presentation, the wines …
Owner/chef Scott Downey has long marched to the sound of his own drum. He left St. Albert at a young age to wander and be educated within the international culinary world.
While most Edmonton chefs learned their trade at the NAIT Culinary School, then apprenticed in local high-end kitchens like The Hardware Grill or The Harvest Room, Downey, in his 20s, worked his way up in such European kitchens as Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark, then studied his craft at The Culinary Institute of America in New York City.
When he came home to open the Butternut Tree in August of 2016, the local chef network did not know who he was, let alone where he’d come up with the million dollars it takes to open a good restaurant.
As other establishments were dumbing down in both price and quality due to the lingering recession, Downey hadn’t the least interest in retreating to fancy burgers and Tomahawk pork chops.
Plus many an eyebrow was raised over his choice of locale. The restaurant space in what’s now called the Ledgeview Tower, nestled alongside the north end of the High Level Bridge, has floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Constable Ezio Faraone Park. But it is awkward to find … and had not had a successful tenant since Crackerjacks discotheque back in the Roaring’ 80s.
Downey has not only survived, his restaurant has flourished.
This was a return visit by the Weekly Dish, the first being in November 2017, a few months after The Butternut Tree first opened.
The first visit was spectacular, this second even better.
The first came close to perfection but was marred by an over-salted jus.
The second … was perfect.
Everything was perfect.
The hemp seed crust on the albacore tuna, nestled inside a dance of celery and radish shavings, perfect.
The swiveling line of mushroom puree over elegant bone marrow within the split bone, decorated with sweet and tender spruce-needle tips, perfect.
The nasturtium leaves marching across the steak tartare in which had been folded the new flavour of haskap berries – as a ground-up fruit leather! And somewhere in there was cricket paste – which must be a bold first for any city restaurant. It was not a distinguishable flavour, but certainly part of a delicious whole.
A chef bold enough to make two of his five entrees vegetarian. But not just any old vegetarian. This was exciting, delicious, brand-new non-meat adventure. Who knew that “sunchokes” – a kind of root vegetable with a visual resemblance to ginger root – could be so intensely flavourful and interesting, especially when garnished with fiddleheads and baby chard? That asparagus cooked within a shaved cedar “nest” could take on a wondrous near-smoky quality?
On the meat side, the encrustment of the superb duck breast with cooked and crisped wheat was an original. The Pacific halibut was easily the best fish filet of the year – finally, tender, moist and gently juicy, with an exquisite crust of yet another exotic grain, and such an experienced chef’s touch as to use scorched onion to draw out the halibut’s qualities, not overpower them.
On the dessert side, Downey once again plunges in where others dare not go. “Sea buckthorn” is being touted as a health food, its taste pooh-poohed. But Downey’s sea-buckthorn ice cream was wondrous, a new, luscious, savoury tropical flavour, with birch syrup and candied Icelandic moss – both being exotic, yet wonderful flavour enhancements.
If you build it, they will come. It’s so good to see the elegant, fascinating, thoroughly original Butternut Tree thriving – it is, for instance, doing a roaring business as a wedding dinner venue.
It’s so good to have a chef who seems able to tromp through the woods and emerge with an amazing palette of new plants and flavours that connect us to the forest as much as an early-morning hike.
A perfect five out of five for The Butternut, for creating a truly Canadiana fine-dining experience.