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

Volcano Restaurant

Volcano is in a great location for those living south of Whyte Avenue–easily accessible by Calgary Trail and Gateway Boulevard, the restaurant offers both Japanese and Vietnamese cuisine in a well-decorated, spacious building. The combination of Asian flavour offerings is unusual but not unheard-of in our city, where one can get Korean short ribs at many Japanese restaurants, or enjoy a Pad Thai served up alongside a Curry Laksa.

When we arrived at the event, we were greeted with a glass of prosecco and given a chance to grab a seat at one of the many tables. The food samplings were laid out in platters: sushi, sashimi, and maki on one side of the table, short ribs, spring rolls, and pork chops on the other. The divide was interesting but not unwelcome–it’s nice to be able to pair cool raw fish with a cooked item or two.

I took a little bit of everything, grabbed a sake caesar, and sat down with my plate of goodies. Everything was good, although the short ribs will always come up tops for me. The tuna sashimi was light and fluffy, as it should be, and the unagi maki was filled with flavour.

We were lucky enough to witness the ribbon cutting ceremony, introduced by Ingrid Schifer de Dennis from Schif and the City and followed by a brief speech from the owner of Volcano. The event also had a photo booth set up by Mojo Photo, which was a great way to document the occasion (other than the usual flurry of tweets and food photos, of course).

I haven’t had a chance to try the full menu yet, but I’d rate Volcano as a tasty, reliable Japanese/Vietnamese restaurant based on my experience at the grand opening. I don’t feel like I can give it a fair rating until I dine there on a regular night, so my apologies for not including the usual wine glass ratings at the end of this post.

The prices are in the mid- to high-range for a sushi restaurant, so I’d estimate prices to be around $40-50 per person for sushi (depending on how much you can eat) and around $15-20 per person for Vietnamese. They also offer a variety of Western and Chinese dishes, including brunch omelettes and chicken stir fry. The menu on the website doesn’t appear to be working at the moment, but you can view their full offering on SkipTheDishes.ca.

Volcano Edmonton
4226 Gateway Blvd.
Edmonton, AB T6K 7J1
(780) 756-2218

Food Blogger Tweetup at La Ronde

On Tuesday, April 15, a host of local food bloggers–including yours truly–was invited to a Food Blogger Tweetup at Chateau Lacombe’s La Ronde Revolving Restaurant. As a promotion for their new Tieless Tuesday events, which include an evening of jazz and half-price bottles of wine, the restaurant offered our group of bloggers a complimentary three-course meal.

We were tasked with simply tweeting or blogging about it at our own discretion. La Ronde, while generous, did not ask anyone for a good review.

So here’s the honest truth: La Ronde is classic. It always has been and it likely always will be. The food, while good, is traditional. It’s not a place you’d go for the latest duck confit-kimchi-truffle salami innovative creation. It is, however, somewhere you’d go for the time-honoured classics: beef wellington, osso bucco, or pan-seared salmon.

And, to be fair, La Ronde does these well.

Scott Parker, the restaurant’s Pastry Chef, has an affinity for great desserts that have stood the test of time.

“I started baking when I was really young. A lot of the things I’m baking are things I had when I was a child,” says Parker.

“I do a lot of different things…trend things. But as far as flavours go, I suppose you’d call me a traditionalist.”

Below are the options we were given for our three-course meals, along with my selections and a brief overview.

Starter
Choice of
: Seafood Trio, Escargot Vol au Vent, or Crab Cakes.
My selection: Seafood Trio – sashimi-style tuna, chilled spiced scallops, and marinated shrimp served on miso ice, wakame, and tempura “crunchies.”
The verdict: very good. The spiced scallops were my favourite and, as YEGFoodie pointed out, there were a number of unique textures combined in this dish. The crunchy wakame complemented the silky smooth sashimi; the tempura “crunchies” gave substance alongside the whipped wasabi. I thoroughly enjoyed this dish.

Main
Choice of: Alberta Rack of Lamb, Deconstructed Beef Wellington, Cyclopene of Alaskan Scallop and Prawn, or Free Run Supreme Chicken Breast
My selection: Alberta Rack of Lamb (of course) – mustard and herb-crusted with a triturate of potato and Tuscan jus.
The verdict: not bad. The lamb was cooked perfectly and had a nice flavour on its own, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the herb and mustard crust. This might be due to the fact that I’m a purist when it comes to lamb–rosemary, garlic, pepper, and rock salt is all I need–but I just found that it added too much, overpowering the flavour of the meat. Some bloggers found the dish too salty, but I’m a salt fiend, so that didn’t faze me.

Dessert
Choice of: all of the desserts.
My selection: Chocolate Torte
The verdict: classic. Beautiful chocolate with a very thin, delicate crust on the bottom. This was lovely when paired with the berry compote and sorbet accompanying the dish.

Overall, it was a very good meal. The service was attentive, the Samurai Caesars (made with sake) were fabulous, and the company was top notch.

Tieless Tuesdays? Worth checking out, if only for a great atmosphere, soothing jazz, and a half-price bottle of wine.

Many thanks to Linda for organizing this event!

La Ronde
10111 Bellamy Hill
Edmonton, AB T5J 0S1
(780) 428-6611

4/5

CHEFS, UNCENSORED: THE DUCHESS BAKE SHOP TEAM

Ever wondered who’s behind the delicious dishes? Here’s your chance to get to know the masters of grilling, the best of the bakers, and the kings and queens of Edmonton’s food scene.

Welcome to Chefs, Uncensored.

Duchess Bake Shop has been around since 2009 and is one of 124 Street’s staple foodie havens. All items are made daily in-house…from scratch. There are over 20 pastry chefs in the Duchess kitchen, so this interview was put together as a collaboration from the whole team, with pastry chef Kerri Stennes as a representative.

How would you describe your baking style?

The baking style at Duchess is mainly French inspired, but we also include some popular Canadian favorites.

What’s your food/shop philosophy?

Our philosophy is that there are no shortcuts to making good quality product. For us, that means using the best quality ingredients we can find, and making everything by hand in small batches, in house, every day. Those basic techniques allow us to maintain the freshest and best products.

What inspired you to become a chef?

Being able to bake a pie from scratch, give it to a friend or neighbour and then seeing the joy that it brought is what made me realize my dream was to become a pastry chef. Working at Duchess has brought that dream to a new level because everyone on our team is so passionate about creating memorable experiences through pastry. I have learned that baking is a great art; it requires careful attention to detail and a steady hand!

What’s the first thing you ate that made you realize food was an important part of culture?

A blueberry muffin in my grandmother’s kitchen. From a young age I knew that food had the power to bring people together. My mother was always encouraging us to help out with dinner or baking, and I have fond memories of sharing that time with her. It was great watching the family enjoying our food over multiple conversations.

What’s your favourite wine and what do you like to pair it with?

My favorite wine is a rich, Spanish Rioja paired with a goat cheese blanc mange and muddled blackberries.

What do you think is Edmonton’s next big innovative ingredient?

I don’t think it is one particular ingredient. Edmonton is realizing the potential of using high quality, local ingredients. Any ingredient can be innovative when you experience how unique its flavour is and feel inspired to create a dessert around it.

Why should people visit your bake shop?

We’re trying to create an elegant, cosmopolitan environment full of amazing people and world class food – it’s a unique experience.

Duchess Bake Shop
10718 124 Street
Edmonton, AB T5M 0H1
(780) 488-4999