Friday, March 25, 2011

Birthday Anthropology: Corso 32

Charles asked me a few weeks ago where I would like to go for my birthday, and I had a great list - Wildflower Grill, Bistro La Persaud and Madison's were top candidates. But then I decided on my research project for Anthro of the Senses - the sensuality of the restaurant experience.

Not that the three spots above wouldn't provide sensual experiences, but Corso 32 seems perfect for this project. Corso 32 seems to take on both 'local' and 'Italian' identities, and my aim is to explore how these two aspects are emphasized via décor, sound design, seating layout, structural design (ie. the role of the 'half-open' kitchen), lighting, etc. Ultimately, I want to illustrate the ways in which these considerations shape the sensual aspects of our dining experience, and possibly change the way we interact with and taste our food.

So far I have found one ethnographic record of a 'local' restaurant in Wisconsin that attempts to showcase regional food and provide a space where people can gather, eat and discuss the food, and ultimately learn new ways of preparing local ingredients. This particular essay suggests that the restaurant plays an essential role in developing healthy local food systems.  However there is little discussion of 'how' this is accomplished beyond the food itself. On the other side of things, there are many studies of 'Italianicity' and how it is created in the American restaurant via design (esp. photographs), but the focus has been on 'casual-family-dining' spots (ie. restaurants such as the Olive Garden).

The best resource so far is a design book called "Eat Out". It covers various types of restaurant design and briefly (and I mean briefly) discusses the aims of each. I think the 'rustic chic' and 'straight forward' sections will be most helpful in this particular context. So after perusing previous anthropological research to do with restaurants, Corso 32 seems to present a new scenario - local food is showcased and they simultaneously present a new type of 'Italianicity' than has not previously been researched. So I'm going to try to navigate this representation whilst incorporating the senses, and a focus on an Edmonton context allows me to reflect on my own experiences, background, etc. (ie. It allows me to be 'self-reflexive' - something much loved by socio-cultural anthropologists right now).

With all this in mind, Charles stopped at Corso 32 a couple weeks ago, snagged a reservation for 8pm, and we were off last night for a birthday/anthropology project dinner. The place was full when we arrived, and after a few minutes we were led to what I think is the best seat in the house - the window end of the communal table.

Drinks were easy - it's got to be prosecco, especially on birthday occasions. Food was another matter, and it took us awhile to settle on options.

First up was the starter on special - a crostini with Swiss chard, crispy pork and braised pork belly, a fried egg and parmigiano ($11). Wow. This wasn't easy to share but it was an incredible way to begin the evening. The crunchy crostini and pork were mellowed by the soft egg and pork belly, and there was a lovely sweet-peppery-vinegary situation happening that I'm obviously unable to articulate. If only they served breakfast.

Window seat (sorrow, I forgot to get the camera out for the 'starter')

Next we opted to share the arugula and fennel salad with roasted hazelnuts and parmigiano ($13). This one was peppery, fresh and the roasted nuts provided both crunch and a pleasant smokiness. The perfect 'in-between' item.

Moving quickly on to mains (and receiving questions from the gentlemen seated next to us - "What are you guys doing a tasting menu or something?") I decided on the polpette (aka. meatballs; $22) whilst Charles went for the 48hr. chuck flat steak ($26). The meatballs were as remembered from our last visit - rich, peppery and fragrant. And I'm sorry to keep bringing this up, but I was once again reminded of the Frankies' Meatballs, with the addition of raisins and pine nuts here as well. And the flat steak. Soft and tender, it had the very enjoyable peppery-vinegary thing going on as well.

We also did the side on special - brussel sprouts with pork (~$7). I loved these and Charles was swooning. The leaves of the sprouts were charred and peppery while the bits of pork were salty and fatty. Watching us dive into the sprouts, the group at the end of the table ordered a dish of their own halfway through their mains.

And dessert. I was really counting on the zeppole (aka. donuts) and limoncello, but by the time we made all the way through the savoury items, they were out. So it was an order of the torta ($9) we fell in love with last time along with a slice of the blood orange and olive oil cake with mascarpone ($8). The torta is still loved - the warm, crunchy roasted hazelnuts, the fleur de sel, the chocolate - it's a tough one to beat. As such the olive oil cake came in second, but it was still excellent. The citrus cut through the richness of the cake and mascarpone well, as did some black pepper. I think the best thing about this cake though is the crispy, chewy edges.

After a Macallan 12 for me and a Brooklyn Lager for Charles (I'm very excited to see the addition of beer and a short but incredible looking cocktail lineup... next time!) it was time to head out. I should mention that service throughout the evening was prompt, and we were checked on during each course to see how things were tasting.

Though it would have been nice to head to a 'new' spot for my birthday, I'm glad my anthro project led us back to Corso 32 - the meal was enjoyed, as was the atmosphere and service. I have much to write on for my anthro paper, but as we left we both agreed we can't wait for a reason to head back.

Corso 32
10345 Jasper Avenue
Reservations via phone or in person only.

Thoughts on our initial visit here.


Isabelle said...

Oh my lord ... I need to get to this place BADly. Looks amazing once again.

Marianne and Charles said...

Looking forward to thoughts when you head over, Isabelle!