Friday saw the kick off of Edmonton’s 8th annual Downtown Dining Week. Jenn and I decided to take in a couple of the venues, one for lunch and one for dinner. I made us a lunch reservation at Madison’s Grill (in the Union Bank Inn), and a dinner reservation at Zinc (in the new Art Gallery of Alberta, where we also bought ourselves a membership to the gallery and took in some of the current exhibits before dinner).
First up, Madisons: To set the stage, when I arrived they had no record of my reservation. I was told they “might be able to squeeze [me] in,” to which I politely reminded them that they ought to given that I had called and made a reservation, which they subsequently lost. I should also note at this point that there were at least two other tables that sat empty during our entire stay. “Might be able to squeeze you in” indeed.
I ordered the Spring Creek Ranch Steak Salad (Option 2 on their DDW menu), while Jenn ordered the Irvings Farm Pork Tenderloin (Option 1). I also ordered a glass of Peller Estates Riesling, which was actually pretty bland. The food itself was good, but not great, certainly not what we expected from a place with a name and reputation like Madison’s. My steak was well cooked but poorly seasoned, and the flavour of the gorgonzola – while reasonably good by itself – overpowered everything else. Jenn’s tenderloin was good, but – as she put it – not good enough to make up for the rest of the experience.
Zinc, on the other hand, was totally the opposite experience. We found we needed less time to browse the gallery than originally thought, so I called to push the reservation a half hour earlier. They were more than happy to accommodate the change. There was the odd matter of not being able to enter the restaurant from within the gallery itself and having to go around from the outside, though that may have been due to a special event happening in the gallery that evening.
Service was a little slow, but our waiter was very friendly and professional. We of course both ordered their Downtown Dining Week special, and I also ordered a glass of Pierre Sparr Gewürztraminer. While waiting for the first course we noshed on some fresh brioche with sundried tomato butter. To our surprise, Chef David Omar himself brought out our first course and explained the dish – Nori Wrapped Salmon, Salmon Roe with Creme Fraiche, and Lemon Garlic Dressed Microgreens. The microgreens were refreshing with only a mild bitterness; the flavours (and the pop) of the roe and the creme fraiche played well together, and the nori-wrapped salmon had a very “pure” salmon taste, though the nori was only a tiny bit difficult to cut through.
The wait for the second course was fairly long, but it was worth it; Salmon Chowder and Crimini Bannock. The salmon was cooked to flaky perfection, and contrasted nicely with the Yukon gold carrots. The cream sauce was served separately in a stainless tea pot, so you can serve as little or as much as one desires (the salmon stood up well even without the sauce). A small wooden dish held fresh Italian parsley and herbed coarse salt. I enjoyed the flavour of the crimini bannock, but personally found it a touch too salty. Jenn didn’t think so, so I attribute it to my tastes having been a touch sensitive that night (perhaps due to the less-than-impressive lunchtime wine).
We opted not to wait too long for the final course, having been given the choice. Once again, Chef David Omar delivered it to us personally, taking a moment to explain his overall creative vision for the meal. (Other Downtown Dining Week participants take note here.) The final course involved Maple Candied Salmon, Beet Sorbet, and a
Carrot Macaroon. The candied salmon was very complex and flavourful, a perfect blend of sweetness and saltiness. The macaroon was dipped in white chocolate, and while the flavour was also excellent, I found it was too sweet for me – again, I think this was just my tastes being overly sensitive this evening. The beet sorbet was a surprisingly refreshing treat with a much milder flavour than one would expect from a beet-based dish, especially given the deep red colour.
Overall the meal was very enjoyable and the experience was very memorable. We especially enjoyed the presentation of the dishes, and Chef David Omar’s account of finding his inspiration in the new gallery exhibits of Emily Carr’s Coastal Landscapes and the Haida artworks (the salmon), as well as Brian Jungen’s reuse of materials (the beet sorbet was made from leftovers of other dishes, while the macaroon used juice from the carrots of the previous course). As Jenn put it, it was like being on an episode of Iron Chef.
It amazes me that the two experiences we had were such contrasts from each other. If the goal of Downtown Dining Week is to get people to come in and try a restaurant that they might not try otherwise, the meal offerings should probably have some “wow” factor. Madison’s did not impress me at all in this regard; I feel that their Downtown Dining Week menu was almost a token offering to the event rather than an opportunity to show off their culinary skills, not to mention the service was very disappointing, and the wine sub-par. Zinc, even though a bit slow, still managed to provide a memorable service experience and offer us an interesting and delicious meal that will likely bring us back again.