It’s an obvious opener, when I am introduced or known to be a restaurant reviewer.
“So you write the Sun’s Weekly Dish, eh? We have a special occasion coming up. Where should we go?”
I hate the “it depends” answer.
But it “depends.”
Depends on your tastes – do you stick to the tried ‘n’ true? Do you like adventure? A buddy has the most boring tastes imaginable. But he’s a hotdog connoisseur.
Depends on your wallet – Are you going to spend $20 or $100 per person? Do you want an extensive wine list, or is “red” or “white” perfectly acceptable?
Depends on my memory – What’s most recently reviewed is usually top of mind. Two excellent meals currently loll about my taste buds – at The Butternut Tree in June, the Highlands Golf Course in July. Pampa’s Brazilian Steakhouse was memory-refreshed, thanks to its Taste of Edmonton brisket on coconut mash.
Depends on your mood – If you’re “in the mood” for a vegetarian curry, you’re not going to Normand’s on Jasper for wild boar ribs.
Depends on when the restaurant was reviewed – with so many restaurants to be checked out, restaurants are not normally re-visited, at least for a year or two, if ever. But if a good chef moves on, quality can drop overnight. The King & I was once one of Edmonton’s Top 10 places to dine. Now it’s just another Thai restaurant.
Depends if the restaurant is still open. Researching this column, I made of list of well-known restaurants that have closed since The Weekly Dish debuted eight years ago: Alta, Bistro Saisons, Bothy on 124 St., Century Grill, Characters, Gini’s, Col. Mustard’s Canteen, Grub Med, Il Pasticcio, La Boheme, Manor Bistro, Massimo’s, Nefeli’s, North 53, Packrat Louie’s, Parkallen, Piccolino, Plates, Sabzy’s, Solstice, Tavern 1903, Wild Tangerine, Wildflower Grill.
Also this column rarely reviews big Canada-wide chain restaurants. They usually have line-cooks, not chefs. I admire the Joey’s, Earl’s and Cactus Clubs for food quality, but there’s no such thing as the in-house chef’s touch.
So, you still want to know where to go?
We’ll give it a shot – sticking to sit-down, dining-in restaurants with table service.
In the broadest of terms: The classics – the linen, good wines, knowledgeable servers, dependable if unadventurous menu, big bucks: ATLAS (Grand Villa and Starlight casinos), Bistecca, Hardware Grill, The Harvest Room (Hotel Mac), La Ronde (Chateau Lacombe), Madison’s Grill (Union Bank Inn), Normand’s on Jasper, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Sawmill Calgary Trail (best prices of the classics), Sorrentino’s Downtown, Violino. Looking promising is Braven Steakhouse in the JW Marriott, opening Aug. 1.
The established hipsters, i.e. the smaller, adventuresome, chef-owned-or-led restaurants that began revitalizing downtown, 124 Street and elsewhere five to 10 years ago: Canteen, Cibo, Corso 32, The Marc, Pampa, Rostizado, RGE RD, Red Ox Inn, Three Boars, Tzin, Wishbone, Woodwork, Workshop Eatery, XIX, Zinc. Sabor is somewhere between classic and hipster.
The second wave of hipsters, of equal quality to the first: Biera, Black Pearl, Bodega Tapas (soon to be four outlets), Bundok, Butternut Tree (verging on Canadiana classic), Café Linnea, Chartier (In Beaumont), Clementine’s, DOSC, the various Japanese-style izakayas especially Dorinku, London Local, Partake, Pip, Prairie Noodle Shop, Revel, Wilfred’s.
The casual, often ethnic, classics – Bistro Praha, Guru, Japonaise Bistro, Langano Skies, Louisiana Purchase, Sofra.
The best of comfort foods: Bubba Gump’s, Café Amore (and Amore Pasta), Captain’s Boil, Homefire Grill, MEAT, Melting Pot, Mimi’s, Northern Chicken, SC’s (River Cree Resort), Sloppy Hoggs, Sorrentino’s, Vaticano. In between comfort and classy – Highlands Golf Club dining room, the Buco and VIVO groups.
Decent vegetarian: Die Pie, Good Stock, Kanu, Padmanadi, Noorish (ultra-vegan).
There you go. Something for everybody. If you think any (really good) restaurant has been overlooked, email me at email@example.com or text me at 780-707-6379.
I’ll bookmark this column on my smartphone, if you’ll do the same.
So the next time you ask me “where to go”, we’ll be both forearmed and forewarned!