Ampersand 27

A short while ago, I was invited to the Ampersand 27 media night on November 13th, where a number of Edmonton’s magazine editors and restaurant critics came together for a tasting of the new restaurant’s sharing menu.

As the new inhabitant of the space that was formerly Murrieta’s, Ampersand 27 is in a prime location on Whyte Avenue, occupying a portion of Varscona Hotel’s ground floor. The restaurant is the newest venture of Chef Nathin Bye, of Wildflower Grill and Lazia fame.

As for the name–well, it’s an unusual one. There’s a story behind it that you can read on their website; a cute tale that involves the ampersand as the 27th letter of the alphabet (prior to the 19th century). Chef Bye stated during the media event that he was a big fan of fonts, which explains the quirky name. As a copywriter (and not a graphic designer), I personally hate ampersands; thus, despite the restaurant’s use of alternative typography within their name (&27), I will humbly defer to the 21st century letters of the alphabet for this post.

I wasn’t sure what to expect before I visited. I’d heard that the charcuterie was the thing, but that portions were akin to many higher-end fine dining restaurants (i.e. teeny). I’d browsed the menu online and wasn’t sure whether to be amused or exasperated at some of the hipster-esque terminology (i.e. specials that were “evolving daily”; bread options that are referred to as “flour & water”; a menu item called “The Living Salad”). Was the restaurant aiming too high? It’s vision of uniqueness too grand?

Charcuterie

In a word: no. Chef Bye has crafted something incredible with Ampersand 27–a stylish and unique concept that feeds off a family dining experience, variations in texture, and edgy menu items that offer just the right amount of daring. I came, I ate, and I was charmed.

There’s nothing quite like walking into a stunningly decorated restaurant and being presented with two plentiful charcuterie boards: wooden platters overflowing with an abundance of Ampersand 27’s specialties. Cheddars, bleus, chevres paired with mounds of your favourite salumi: chorizo, prosciutto, genoa–accompanied by pickles, mustards, grains, and the most decadently creamy duck and chicken liver pate you’ll ever taste.

Charcuterie

Their cocktail list is just as inspired as the menu. I tried the Flora cocktail, made from gin, elderberry liquor, hibiscus raspberry shrub, and tonic. I’m a huge fan of gin cocktails when done well; this one was a little sweeter than I usually drink, but it was delicious and the hibiscus shrub was a cute touch.

Flora Cocktail

After the charcuterie boards came a flurry of tastings from their menu, as per below.

Beet Texture: A dainty salad of roasted, gelled, and crisp beets, served with sous vide and goat cheese ganache. Beautifully different for those who don’t usually eat beets, or who generally think all beets are served pickled. I thoroughly enjoyed the sweet and savoury flavours of this dish.

Beet Texture

Confit Parsnip: Sliced parsnip served with gremolata, pine nut, red pepper dust, and jam. A creamier take on the average parsnip and one that combined flavours together that were completely new to me. A nice dish, although I did prefer the Beet Texture.

Confit Parsnip

The Living Salad: Ah, The Living Salad. Order this and you’ll be presented with a mini tree trunk hosting a plant pot of local micro greens and a jar of cold pressed canola emulsion. And scissors, so that you can harvest your own salad. It’s a really cute concept, especially for those who think the novelty of cutting your own salad at dinner is exciting. For $15, though, it’s a fairly pricey novelty–especially for just a handful of micro greens.

The Living Salad

Maple Butter Pork Belly: It’s pretty difficult to screw up pork belly. Add some maple butter and Chef Bye’s inimitable talent, though, and you’ve got a winner of a dish. A true homage to the south, the pork belly was served with southwestern mesquite corn, baked beans, green peas, and fritters. Lovely and savoury.

Maple Butter Pork Belly

Pastrami Pork Cheeks: I feel like this dish is Chef Bye’s sharing menu’s understated pièce de résistance. Coming out under a glass dome (reminiscent of the one covering the rose in Beauty and the Beast), the pastrami pork cheeks are unveiled amidst a heady, charcoal-scented haze of smoke–the smell of which will incite memories of barbeques, smoked meats, and everything good and smoky and tender. Served with braised red cabbage, rye spaetzle, and sauerkraut creme, this dish is delicious and exciting. I strongly recommend giving it a try.

Pastrami Pork Cheeks

Seared Albacore Tuna: Almost every restaurant in Edmonton has a version of seared tuna or tuna tataki at the moment. It’s become a popular dish, particularly for those who aren’t quite ready for sashimi but want the flavour and texture of not-quite-cooked tuna. Ampersand 27’s version takes the seafood aspect a little more seriously than most, serving the tuna with pickled hearts of palm, citrus, seaweed, and cashew puree. The result is a seared tuna dish that’s a little more fishy than I’m used to, but that combines some interesting textures and flavours together that will surprise even the most veteran of seared tuna-goers.

Seared Albacore Tuna

The Seashore: I missed out on a photograph of this dish, which offered scallops, prawns, smoked trout brandade, and sea asparagus. A lovely option for seafood-lovers, The Seashore combined some of my favourite under-the-sea items and made them taste spectacular. Scallops. I’m always for the scallops.

We were also given the Pressured Octopus, which I only nibbled at because I despise the thought of eating octopus or squid (they’re two of the few things I won’t eat). Nevertheless, I tried the dish’s sea salt crusted potato and slices of chorizo. The chorizo tasted as most chorizo is wont to taste and the potato was delightfully seasoned. There were some concerns from the table that the potato was too salty, but I thought the salt level was just fine.

Rocky Road: For dessert, we were treated to a taste of Ampersand 27’s Rocky Road, a selection of “rocks” that have a hard shell and liquid interior and are served on edible “moss and sand.” In continuation of the restaurant’s attention to textures, this dessert is unique and delicious with a beautiful presentation. The “rocks” come in chocolate, mint, mango, and lychee flavours.

Rocky Road

Neaveau Misu: The restaurant’s most popular dessert is a modern take on tiramisu–a toffee pudding served with coffee caramel, amaretto, hazelnut, and brown butter, topped off with a side of macaron and ice cream. Bring me any kind of toffee pudding and I’m satisfied, but this one was exceptional. This was my favourite dessert of the evening.

Neaveau Misu

Citron Bleu

Citron Bleu: The Citron Bleu is a light, delicate serving of lemon buttermilk mousse alongside a portion of blueberries, earl grey gel and milk crisps. Lovely and sweet, this dessert is a must-try for those who like fruity and tart flavours.

There were so many things to taste and try that I’m certain I’ve missed out a few in this post, where I’ve simply tried to focus on the things that stood out during my experience. Regardless, I was very impressed by Chef Bye’s vision come-to-life at Ampersand 27. I look forward to returning to try a full-blown charcuterie, filled with my favourite things. And, in the future, I’d like to give some of their “Larger Provisions” a try–doesn’t a lacquered leg of duck and duck fat potatoes sound amazing?

I strongly recommend this restaurant with one small word of warning: it isn’t cheap. Like most other high-end restaurants in the city, the price point can be higher than most. A single charcuterie with two meats, two cheeses, and a few accompaniments can easily shoot past the $20 price range into the $30s and $40s, depending on what you order. Sharing plates range from $11 to $19 and the full meals start at $23. It’s not overpriced, by any means, but be wary of those charcuterie boards if you’re on a budget.

Ampersand 27
10612 82 Ave
Edmonton, AB T6E 2A6
(780) 757-2727

5/5

Cavern

Serving up delicious espresso-based beverages with local chocolate fixings, charcuterie boards made with a variety of cheeses and cured meats, and liquor to delight everyone (wine, scotch, bourbon, port, cognac), Cavern is a revelation in everyday coffee shop gastronomy.

Cavern is a next generation coffee shop. Similar to (the dearly departed) Roast, the cafe offers not only amazing coffee, but a variety of beautiful food items and lots of liquor. Lovely, lovely liquor.

Found in the basement of Phillips Lofts on 104 street, Cavern is a small (i.e. four 4-top tables and a small bar) but beautifully well-kept cafe that specializes in one of my favourite things in the world: cheese. The restaurant sells retail cheese along with a light menu for brunch and lunch that features some excellent cheese board and charcuterie options.

Featured cheeses include anything from Spanish manchego, to the Cheesiry’s lavender pecorino, to British cheddar. Cheese-lovers will find much to rejoice in at this particular location – pair your favourite cheese with a hearty latte, a glass of malbec, or mini chorizo. Whatever you like.

It might sound like a regular cafe/diner/cheese shop to you, but there are several things that make Cavern really stand out above the rest.

First, they’ve built a partnership with JACEK Chocolate in Sherwood Park and have utilized this partnership to expand their menu offerings. Guests can order a hot chocolate made from JACEK chocolate, or a mocha – a latte that comes with a chocolate JACEK spoon for you to stir in. You can order a cheese and JACEK Chocolate pairing for nibbles. You can buy JACEK Chocolate bars at the till.

Secondly, I’m a fan of nice bathrooms in restaurants. It’s that small, unexpected touch that can really impress me about a place. Cavern’s individual bathrooms are a work of art in white marble and shiny brilliance. They’re just lovely.

As for food, I’m convinced. I ordered a Charcuterie for One, which included two cheeses or meats. I selected the prosciutto di parma and the brie de meaux, and paired them with the Don Rodolfo malbec. Beautiful.

The charcuterie came served on a lovely slate cheeseboard with a handful of almonds, figs, cranberries, apricots, and pears. On a separate slate board came half of a baguette and a delicious jam, both of which were spectacular when combined with the brie.

The prices are reasonable at Cavern, too – $16 for a Charcuterie for One, which is enough for a light lunch, and $8 per 6 oz glass of wine. You can get a fresh baguette sandwich for $11 and a UK-inspired brunch of baguette, cheddar, fruit, and accompaniments for the same price.

All in all, Cavern won’t break the bank, but it’ll definitely tantalize those taste buds.

Cavern
#2, 10169 104 Street
Edmonton, AB T5J 1A5
(780) 455-1336

 5/5