Located on the corner of Jasper and 97th, Hardware Grill has been, for as long as I can remember, a destination restaurant in Edmonton. With a strong culinary heritage that has both supported and propelled local culinary students, this high-end establishment doesn’t exactly make for your average dinner. Unless of course you might be a business power-house or Edmonton Oiler. Heck, even the infamous, foul mouth Gordon Ramsey stopped in late last year, when he made his first visit to Edmonton.
With a self-imposed 2011 goal of getting heart warming people together for a meal, I figured the first of hopefully many, should be something special. After all, with the hectic and time-consuming holiday season wrapping up, why not spend a Friday night out in style. Hearing about the Chef’s Table, I confirmed with the person on the phone that I’d be able to fit our group of 6 for this experience. Nestled alongside the busy kitchen, the Chef’s Table allows, in Hardware’s words, for us “to experience the excitement and drama of the kitchen”. The only catch if you could call it that, is the menu for this table which is fixed at $89 per person, with wine pairing an additional $35.
Sarah and I arrived to find three of our four diners already in place. The first thing I noticed was how quiet things were. Sure there was sizzling and the sound of pans, but other than a few words here and there, the added “excitement” of this table was very minimal and remained so during our entire stay. With our last guest arriving, the staff did not given any insights to the meal; we were left to imagine! First to arrive, was a basket of freshly baked whole wheat and sourdough bread. Both breads were good, surprisingly cold though, and with a 5 course set meal in front of us, I don’t think the bread was good enough to entice anyone into more than a taste.
In what I found to be a slightly strange move, we were started the night with an amuse-bouche. Maybe strange is the wrong word here, and I should go with surprised. Not surprised that we started with an amuse, after all, these one and two bite treats are designed to entice the mouth, but because the Duck Pastrami placed in front of us looked like it brought some umpf. The three razor-thin slices were meaty and fatty all at once. Combined with a herb oil and cherry reduction, this was definitely a slightly heavier kick-off than expected. Not the average palette wake-up, that’s for sure.
Our first course of the evening was delivered within minutes after the duck; Encrusted Sea Bass Stuffed with Scallop & Lobster, Creamed Truffle Oil Spinach. Perfectly cooked…no maybe I should say, extraordinarily cooked. The fish was in a word, divine. With a small bit of rich shellfish tucked inside, this was one of the best seafood items I’ve ever eaten. The spinach was done well, but in comparison to the fish, I don’t even think I could put them on the same field. The tomato on top was also given top marks.
Kind of surprising, what with the amuse-bouche also being a thinly sliced protein, course two was Smoked Kobe Beef Carpacciao, Truffle Aolii, House-made Potato Chips. The smoke was delicate but noticeable, while the slices of beef were thicker than many I’ve had. Quite flavourful on their own, a mini sandwich creation of beef, aioli, and chip turned out to be spot-on.
Dish four, and course three on the evening, Oven Roasted Quail, Chanterelle & Cipollino Red Wine Risotto, Cambozola. The tiny birds were cooked perfectly, but I found the straight roasted and minimally seasoned bird rather boring. The exterior was crispy, but the small portion of meat was unable to ooze any real strong essence. The risotto had retained some bite and its rich sauce was a heavy hitter. My favourite part may have just been the cheese, which came in a thick slice but soon melted into the dish as I worked my way through the quail.
The kitchen picked up quite a bit after the delivery of our quail, so it was no surprise to find a large gap before our next course; Chili & Coffee Rubbed Venison Chop, Truffled Cream Spaghetti Squash, Pan Fried Gnocchi, Cherry Marmalade. Besides lacking any real hint of rub in my mind, the venison was cooked to absolute perfection. The spaghetti squash was rich, creamy and not your average homemade version, while the gnocchi, which arrived with a glorious pan-fried edge, were a little too greasy for me. The sauce was another bonus, and lent itself wonderfully to the meat.
After sitting for three hours, we were finally presented with course number five, our dessert; 12 Year Glenlivet Scotch Pudding & House-made Donut. Ripping into the donut, I found the exterior to be a lovely crispy edge, yielding to a soft and fluffy center. The pudding, which was very very boozy, was luxuriously rich and, as Sarah noted, not for everyone. As a side, this dish did take me back 20 years, as it reminded me of the butterscotch pudding my mother used to make. A sweet finish to the night.
There was a lot to think about as I devoured my pudding; the restaurant, the service, the meal, and the company. The restaurant, which stands strong in Edmonton, runs like a tight ship. A quick walk to the bathroom will have you passing by what seems like a never ending stack of accolades. The service, which received a mandatory 18% because of our group size, was informative, funny and attentive. And really, in a place like Hardware Grill, I wouldn’t expect any less. At this stage, it’s a career that I imagine earns them more than the average tip. The meal, which we were informed was dreamed up just minutes before our arrival was solid; not outstanding or life changing. A quick look at the menu after our meal, and I saw similar dishes that would appear to have influenced what we were given. The biggest bummer for me was that the seafood (my favourite course) came out first. If there is anything else to say about this meal, it’s that our kitchen-side seat showed us that every plate here is presented, cooked, and delivered in a way that may never leave anyone disappointed. Finally, the company. Thank you. Even if the food wasn’t as good as it was, the meal would have been made even better by all of you. I can only hope that my goal of organizing a place for friends, new and old, to share a meal will have now set off on the right foot and give me the bump needed to organize more nights like this.