Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hello Marc

Charles and I visited The Marc yesterday evening. Arriving a little before our 8pm reservation, we were warmly greeted by owner Doris Saurette and then led to our table by the window after hanging our jackets at the front.

As others have described, the room itself is fairly streamlined, with polished concrete floors, dark windows, white linens and paint, and a long mirror along the west wall that allows you to see almost everyone in the restaurant, and them to see you. One thing both of us enjoyed was the semi-open kitchen - on the way to the washrooms, the small kitchen is wide open for all to see. There's definitely something intriguing regarding visibility going on in this space (read: in a way I would like to write a paper on it for an urban anthropology class).

9:30 and the room was clearing

After a long day at work, a drink was certainly in order. Charles went for a glass of white wine, while I decided on a Ginger Roger's cocktail (Victoria gin, ginger ale, lime and mint) which turned out to be a flavourful, smooth start to the evening. For food, it would be braised beef cheek ($10) and lamb shank ($23) for Charles, and roasted beet salad ($8) and the daily fish - saffron and tomato poached wild snapper and PEI mussels with white bean Mediterranean pilaff ($20) - for me. I should also note that they were out of the duck confit by the time we arrived last night.

Our appetizers came out quickly after we were provided with a piece of bread and butter each. The smell alone made it immediately obvious that the beef cheek would be the star of the table. Soft, rich, tender meat fell apart as soon as Charles touched it, and combined with perfectly cooked potato, decadent braising liquid and crispy salsify chips, each bite was something to linger over. I enjoyed my beet salad, although not quite as much. The components of the salad were all excellent, my only complaint would be the large amount of frisee overwhelming the delicate sweetness of the beets.

Beef cheek, potato, salsify chip

Roasted golden beets, frisee, pecans, goat cheese

Mains took a little longer to come out than the previous course. Upon arrival, we immediately knew Charles dish would be the favourite once again. The lamb fell from the bone easily, and the delicate fat allowed each bite to melt immediately on the tongue. The accompanying potato mash was smooth and well seasoned, and the lavender-honey carrots were an excellent accompaniment, providing a sweet contrast to the savoury plate (Charles had also ordered a side of lavender carrots - $5 - which unfortunately didn't make it to the table. Our server did apologize afterwards though.).

Lamb, potato puree, lavender-honey carrots

As with my salad, parts of my main were good while others left something to be desired. The fish was perfectly cooked - moist, tender and almost creamy when combined with the flavourful saffron and tomato braising liquid. My issue was with the beans, which seemed a little under cooked and dry, as well as under seasoned. Such a contrast to the fish and broth was definitely disappointing, as each bite including the beans softened the best components of the dish.

Saffron and tomato braised wild snapper with PEI mussels and white bean pilaff

Despite the amount of chocolate I 'tested' at work yesterday, we decided on a piece of chocolate cake and an order of the beignets (all desserts are $6). The chocolate cake was slightly dry, but otherwise nicely flavoured, with a layer of salted caramel walnuts through the middle. The beignets were lovely though - crisp on the outside and pillowy soft on the inside, and combined with sips of coffee and the caramel sauce served along side, they were a great way to end the evening.

Service throughout the evening was friendly and relatively prompt, with owners Patrick and Doris Saurette stopping by tables often throughout the evening to deliver food and drinks, clear plates, and refill water glasses. Doris also suggested a beautiful, almost spicy, white wine that went with my main well. We appreciated both being obviously present on the floor throughout the evening, checking in with customers and helping out busy wait staff.

A combination of fond memories of il Portico (the owners were obviously familiar with many of last night's patrons) and recent buzz from both Eat My Words (here and here) and the most recent edition of The Tomato (see page 20), have certainly set expectations high for The Marc. Overall, we had a good experience; that said, Charles brought up this morning that with their limited and static menu (save the daily fish and desserts), there's nothing drawing him back any time soon... although I think he might be swayed at the mention of braised beef cheek.

The Marc
9940 106 Street
Hours: M-F (11:30am - 2pm and 5:30 - 10pm), Sa (5:30 - 10pm) Closed Sundays
The Marc on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Next Act and La Bohème

After a great experience at Opera al Fresco this past summer, Charles and I waffled, then finally decided to take in Edmonton Opera's 2010/11 season. Kicking off the first of three with La Bohème this evening, we decided to meet up with a couple friends for dinner/drinks prior, and thought The Next Act would fit the bill.

The space itself has certainly been re-vamped, and both Charles and I loved the blend of new and old - warm hardwood flooring, clean white and grey walls, and elegant lighting somehow combine beautifully with the old bar and green furniture, and the space remains as comfy and casual as ever. And although I didn't check out the bathroom, my friend said it was clean and sparkly, versus the "interesting" state of the old one.

Pumpkin Pie spiced ale

Beer wise, Charles went with with a Steam Whistle (pint, $6), while the rest of us went for the Alley Kat seasonal brew - Pumpkin Pie spiced ale (pint, $6). I'm glad to see that Alley Kat brought back their Pumpkin Pie Ale (and that Next Act is carrying it on tap) - it has a caramel richness and pleasant spiciness that goes so perfectly with fall weather. For food we decided on a shared appetizer of crab cakes ($11 for 3), with entrees of fish and chips ($13), a halibut burger for me ($13) and a BBQ pulled pork sandwich with tobacco onions for Charles ($12).

Our crab cakes came out quickly, and we happily dove in. There were good reports on the crab cakes all around - they were light and flaky, and the red and green peppers studding them were an excellent addition... and we all fought over the last bit of dill aioli served along side. I was fine being the only one to enjoy the coleslaw - it wasn't the prettiest thing to look at, but the cabbage and carrots were fresh and crunchy, and the capers provided a welcome salty-acidic bite.

Crab Cakes

Mains were also enjoyed by all. Charles' pulled pork sandwich was rich, flavourful and moist, with bits of well caramelized pork providing a lovely sweetness. Our friend, who was desperately craving fish and chips, found two pieces of fish with a light, crunchy batter on the outside, and moist, flaky fish on the inside. After reading a rave review of the halibut sandwich by Allan Kellogg, I was happy to find it lived up to expectations. A flaky, meaty piece of lightly battered halibut came out on a soft bun, topped with coleslaw (which I was happy about... again the capers were welcome to contrast the richness here) and house tartar sauce, making an incredibly comforting, slightly messy sandwich that went perfectly with the Pumpkin Ale.

BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich

Fish and Chips

Fish Burger

All this turned out to be perfectly satisfying pre-Opera food - a little greasy, incredibly comforting, and perfect with beer. With friendly, casual and prompt service, a cozy atmosphere, and solid 'comfort' food that goes well with a good beer, we certainly hope to be heading to The Next Act a little more often.

*I should also note that we enjoyed our first opera, with Act II definitely turning out to be the highlight of La Bohème for us - lots of comedy, a dazzling set design, and streamers at the end that almost made Charles jump out of his seat.

The Next Act
8224 104 Street
Hours: Su - Th (11am - 1am), F - Sa (11am - 2am); Weekend and holiday brunch from 11am - 2pm
The Next Act on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Pourhouse Bier Bistro

After a rough week of midterms and assignments (which seem to be lasting into this week and next), Charles and I decided to head out Friday evening for dinner. Not wanting to leave Garneau, we decided on The Pourhouse on 103rd and Whyte.

We had stopped back in August for what turned out to be a less than stellar lunch - both food and service wise. Promising to have over one hundred beers on the menu (it doesn't quite look like that many on the menu itself...), we were disappointed when they were out of quite a few. At any rate, we were hopeful for improvement - we love Sugarbowl, but an alternative to head to once in awhile, with solid food and good beer, would be great to have in the neighbourhood.

Arriving around 7:30, we found the place relatively empty, with just a few tables of two, and one larger, rowdier table of six. The space (formerly Flavours Modern Bistro) is as beautiful as ever - warm brick, the large window at the front, and rich hardwood floors. Some new lighting and a long mirror and banquette along the East wall have been added by the new tenants. We decided on a table along the banquette, and a server appeared shortly after with a food menu and beer list.

As noted above, the beer list seems a bit shorter than what is advertised. Organized by country, the list appears to be focused on Canadian beers (both large and small breweries), with a couple from Alley Kat and many from Ontario. There are also more fruity and pale beers on the list than dark browns or stouts, and everything is at a pretty fair price - about $6 a bottle. Charles went for one of the two Polish brews on the menu - Lezajsk - while I decided on Crabbies Ginger Beer, both of which we enjoyed.

Food wise, Charles was again craving a plate of nachos (~$12), with nothing yet beating out the plate offered at High Level Diner (they also have excellent refried beans with theirs that I always get to eat). I went for a veggie burger (~$14) that would come with toppings of house hummus and ratatouille, along with a salad.

Our food arrived in almost no time. Charles' nachos were simply nachos - nothing amazing here. My veggie burger was unfortunately a little disappointing - the large kaiser roll was pretty dry, and I couldn't seem to find the hummus anywhere on the slightly spicy veggie patty. Combined with limp lettuce and a mild ratatouille that had lost its juices to the bun, I left with my veggie burger craving unsatisfied. The salad was promising, with chick peas studding the entire thing, but whatever the combo of lettuce and dressing used, it left a bitter taste.

I'm not sure what we were expecting with The Pourhouse, but we were certainly hoping to find what it is that "Bier Bistro" signals to us - carefully chosen beer and good dishes to along with it. With The Next Act's new overhauled menu and space a block away, and with Accent lounge just around the corner offering solid food and drink, I still hope The Pourhouse can pull things together and offer something unique to Whyte and Old Strathcona.

The Pourhouse Bier Bistro
10354 82 Avenue
Hours: T-W (3pm - 12am), Th (3pm - 1am), Fri (3pm - 2am), Sat (11:30am - 2am), Sun (11:30am - 10pm)
The Pourhouse Bier Bistro on Urbanspoon

*We have a reservation for The Marc this coming Saturday evening, and after an early but good report on Chowhound and a recent post over at May Contain Nuts, I'm definitely looking forward to it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Turkey and accompaniments

Although I could tell my family was a little wary when Charles and I offered to cook the turkey (after all, this would be our first), everything turned out well, and we ended up with a moist but crispy skinned turkey for our Monday afternoon meal.

Charles ordered a turkey from K&K a couple weeks ago, and after a final tour of the City Market on Saturday morning, he managed to lug the 15lb. bird home via ETS. It sat in the fridge until the next day, when we washed and salted it in preparation for Monday. We decided on this method of cooking the turkey - no stuffing, high heat, and only a couple hours. This, I think, is what scared my family; no stuffing! Two hours! 450°F! That's crazy!

The turkey was in the oven Monday morning, along with an addition of onion, lemon, thyme, celery and sage in the cavity, at 9:30am and was done around 11:30am. I wish I would have taken a picture pre-carving, but here it is, ready for transport to my Nanny's larger apartment where we would be eating.

The gravy that accompanied the turkey recipe was excellent. My family has a long standing tradition of ruining the gravy, but I think this roux based one will likely be utilized around Christmas as well. Also, we substituted the turkey stock with chicken, which worked well.

The happy turkey card from my Mom.

My Mom took care of the mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts over at my Nanny's, while my cousin brought a much loved green salad, and my Aunt did cranberries and her mashed yams - there's something about the way she cooks yams that's always good; this time there was lots of cinnamon and pecans.

Charles and I also handled the pumpkin pies along with a maple and salted pecan ice cream, a wild mushroom 'stuffing' that went over really well, I roasted some carrots and made some swiss chard, and we all enjoyed a bottle of en Santé's Green Envy wine.

As many reviewers said, the custard from the pumpkin pie recipe ended up making two regular sized pies, which worked out well. And I also followed other reviewers' advice and doubled the spices. The custard was rich and smooth, and the sour cream provided a subtle brightness. The crust from David Lebovitz worked well. Although it's sort of ugly, it was the right light and flaky base.

My family inevitably sticks fingers in the pie.

Maple and salted butter pecan ice cream

Tonight we used some left over turkey and the stock that simmered for the better part of yesterday evening, to make soup. I can feel a bit of a cold coming on, and warm turkey soup was certainly in order.

We hope you all had an excellent weekend!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Restaurant l'Échaudé - Part 2

Since our final visit to l'Échaudé was a month ago, I will simply say that our Friday lunch on the patio there was quite lovely. A warm afternoon, great food, people watching and friendly service. Plus, more chocolate dessert.

Rosé and sparkling wines were chilled and ready for enjoyment over lunch

The cold soup: a refreshing raspberry-beetroot

Charles' Steak frites

 My Brandade de Morue with shrimp and smoked scallops

Dessert: a rich, dense chocolate-pistachio ice cream sandwich

We still had some time before leaving for the airport, so we walked around Vieux-Port for a bit, eventually bumping into the rooftop of the Mussée de la Civilisation and a representation of the Laurentian Forest during the winter. I wish we would have discovered the rooftop sooner - incredibly quiet and peaceful amidst the bustling streets below.

So a beautiful final half-day in Québec City. Needless to say, we can't wait to return.

73, rue Sault-au-Matelot
Vieux-Port, Québec
Lunch from 11:30 and dinner from 5:30 daily; late night menu after 10pm; Brunch on the weekend from 10:30

You can find the post with details of our dinner visit to l'Échaudé here.