Monday, November 22, 2010

A Fall Menu Launch at ZINC

Invited to check out ZINC's new fall menu a few weeks ago (yes, it took me awhile to post... and this is a lengthy one), Charles and I arrived ready to sample a few items and maybe catch up with some fellow bloggers. But after sitting down at a table of six with Chris and Sarah, and Sharon and Mack, we soon realized we would each be receiving every dish on the menu in "by the bite" form. So, with napkins already placed on our laps by the server (I don't think I'll ever warm to this), we began.

The evening began with an intro from Chef David Omar. With the new fall dinner menu, ZINC would continue to focus on local producers and businesses, with items coming from Paddy's cheeses, Green Eggs and Ham and Spring Creek Ranch, just to name a few.

The new addition this fall would be the "by the bite" concept - larger dishes taken down to a one or two bite format. Although I think this is far from tapas, I can see it being a nice option for those stopping for a drink/break/meeting/etc. after work - three bites would provide a nice transition towards dinner. And since many of us often wish to try more than one appetizer or entree, this concept means you don't have to choose just one dish. In short, Charles and I think "by the bite" is a excellent concept.

Food (with "by the bite" pricing) - there were six courses, each consisting of three bites the kitchen had paired for us. The 'bites' are meant to represent their larger plate counterpart.

First Course

Cucumber and Tomato Salad ($4) - Not a fan of tabbouleh, this one didn't do it for me at all - too much garlic and lemon. The quinoa however, was well cooked. Charles ate all of it, which I took as a good sign, but afterwards he said he probably wouldn't order himself.

Beet Salad ($4) - The first time we went to ZINC I had a beet salad and it was fantastic, so I'm glad to see them carrying a version forward. This one included sweet roasted red beet, a beet sorbet, greens and white turnip puree. I liked the combo, although I'm not so sure about the frozen element - the cold intensified the beet sweetness, which I didn't really care for. The crispy beet on top was a nice addition though, providing a crunchy contrast in texture with the smooth sorbet. Charles liked this one, and I'm amazed. He's definitely not a beet fan, but he said it was his favourite aspect of the first course.

Casear salad ($4) - A little garlicky, but otherwise well dressed. Really, it was a piece of crispy Prosciutto that stole the show. Charles liked the caesar also, and I don't think he got through the rest of the meal without imagining how the bacon could somehow work its way in.

Second Course

Lobster Bisque ($4) - This one didn't work for either Charles or I. I was expecting it to be richer and more complex. As Chris mentioned in his post, a piece of lobster meat in there might have been a nice addition. Charles, well, he's just not a shell fish fan, so no chance with this one.

Salmon Three Ways ($5) - My favourite on the plate was the Salt and Dill smoked gravlox - I'm a sucker for dill, and this little bite was full of it. The maple cured salmon had a nice sweetness, but the texture didn't do it for me - it was chewy, and a little leathery. Sarah described it well by comparing it to jerky. Charles had similar thoughts, although nothing on the plate jumped out at him.

Pan Seared Scallop ($6) - Easily the best things on this plate was the sweet potato and maple ginger purée - sweet, a little spicy and a rich orange colour, this was fall on a plate for me. We all jumped into the scallop before the demi-glaze came around, but the scallop as it came out was a little dry.

Third Course

Beef ($9) - Everyone at our table unfortunately received a piece of incredibly dry and overcooked beef, so any flavour from it was lost as was the goat cheese butter, which I was looking forward to. I suppose the dryness would be remedied via a regular sized steak, but if this dish is going to offered in 'bite' format, hopefully they can get the cooking times straightened out.

Vegetarian - Orzo Risotto ($7) - I really loved the flavours in this dish - the tomato and saffron worked incredibly well together. It wasn't really creamy, but I think this allowed the flavours to shine. I have to say, I wish there were more vegetarian options. I can remember the one non-meat option on menus when I was veggie, and it wasn't fun. Charles liked this one too, although he wasn't sure he would pay $7 for the serving size.

Chicken Supreme ($7) - The chicken here was prosciutto wrapped, leaving it incredibly moist, and we both enjoyed the kick given by the sauce on top.

Fourth Course

Green tea smoked duck breast ($8) - The duck was nicely cooked here, although neither Charles or I qite got the green tea flavour. And there was another creamy, flavourful purée here - pumpkin and potato. The blueberry jus was a nice sweet-tart complement to the duck and the vanilla scented tomato worked for me - although I try raw tomatoes every year, I just can't get over that acidic-sweet thing. The vanilla simple syrup took away most of the acidic bite of the tomato, so if you enjoy that aspect, this wouldn't be for you.

Lamb ($9) - If I remember correctly, this was the hit of the table, with well cooked, moist, tender lamb, and a flavourful Cassis jus. I like the addition of the polenta, but another one of their purées would have been fantastic here.

Braised Lentils ($4) - This dish didn't go over with either Charles or I - the lentils were well cooked, but neither of us could find the red curry cream. This was also my first pork belly experience. The way it's been spoken of to me, I was sort of expecting it to melt in some 'ultimate fatty goodness' way, but it didn't. The star of this one, as Chris noted, was the pickled carrot - sweet, sour, crunchy - just amazing.

Fifth Course

Cannelloni ($6) - This cannelloni was full of duck confit - Charles loved it, but said it was probably too rich to order the larger version of. It didn't quite work for me - I like cutting into a piece of duck confit and getting the soft, rich texture of a whole piece of meat; here it was ground so I missed that. The leaks were a little over powering for me, although I understand their necessity to contrast the rich duck.

Pork Tenderloin Medallions ($6) - I loved the braised cabbage here, yet another thing that signals fall to me. The pork was unfortunately a little dry, and Charles experienced the same with his dish.

Bison ($9) - The bison was a little over cooked, and both Charles and I found it a bit tough. The zucchini spaghetti squash didn't quite do it for me texture wise, but the potato gratin underneath was incredibly creamy, which I loved.

Sixth Course

*This course came out with small cutlery as an experiment, that would possibly make the 'bite' eating a bit easier... it didn't go over well at our table. But I have to say it was sort of entertaining.

Bison Carpaccio ($6) - As Chris noted, the bison unfortunately stuck to the plate here, meaning you had to scrape the plate to retrieve the thinly sliced meat, and we were also missing the poached egg. Despite this, the flavours here completely worked for me, especially the addition of whole pink peppercorns - great idea.

Salmon ($8) - This plate didn't work for Charles or I. The salmon was unfortunately dry and the lemon butter couldn't save it. The mixture of barley pilaff and kohlrabi and carrot had a bitter-sweet thing going on that wasn't working for either of us.

Spaghetti ($8) - I took my Nanny to ZINC for lunch this past June - she raved about the fish and chips (which are still on their lunch menu, btw), and I had an Alpaca burger. The meatball here was the same as my burger - too dry, and not overly flavourful. We also didn't receive any of the house spaghetti with this dish, since they couldn't fit it in the serving bowl. Hopefully they will change the vessel in regular service.


I was glad to find an addition of dessert at the end of our slightly epic Monday evening. It was banana bread pudding with rum caramel sauce and bruléed banana, usually served with banana ice cream (like the spaghetti dish, the vessel here was just to small to facilitate its serving). Charles is not a banana person, so this wasn't going to work for him. I liked it though, and although it doesn't come in bite sized format on the regular menu, this was the perfect size, especially with the addition of the rich caramel.

At the end of the night, we both agreed there were 'by the bite' dishes we would definitely order, but I'm not sure all the dishes work with the concept. That said, we've enjoyed our visits to ZINC in the past, and while every dish wasn't a hit that evening, we will certainly be heading back for both 'by the bite' portions and full plates.

Thanks very much to everyone over at ZINC for a very memorable evening. It was certainly appreciated.

ZINC (at the AGA)
2 Sir Winston Churchill Square
780.392.2501 (online reservations here)
Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday, with Sunday brunch (detailed hours here)
Zinc on Urbanspoon

Check out Chris and Sarah's thoughts on the evening (as well as beautiful photos) here. The Undercover Gourmet was also there.

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