Last Friday’s food adventure was spurred on by local bacon lover, Jerry Aulenbach, who many know in the city as ZoomJer. Looking down to my phone earlier in the week, I read a text message asking if Sarah and I would like to join Jerry and his wife for a faith experience. Instantly I went to George Michael (can you blame me), but after a few laughs, Jerry corrected me. It seems d’Lish Meal Assembly Studio has moved away from creating meals for those without the time, to a hip and funky little dining spot now know as d’Lish Urban Kitchen & Wine Bar. The faith that Jerry spoke about, was what the crew at d’Lish decided to call their tasting menu. Tasting menu you say..sign me up!
We’d made our reservation through Twitter (how crazy is that), and arrived to a warm welcome from hostess/server/ seemingly general do it all employee Kasia. We were seated at the back of the tiny restaurant giving us a good view of the refurbished space, as well as providing us with enough freedom for the Aulenbach family’s most recent member, little baby Leah. Sharp and clean, this is definitely a modern setup; something I think goes well with all the recent changes on 124th Street.
Have A Little Faith? Why not! With two choices; the Taste (45 minutes/$30) and the Tour (90 minutes/$60), we all put our Lance Armstrong pants on and went for the full meal deal; it was tour time. After we got crazy with our sparkling waters and orangina, we were brought our first dish; fire roasted red peppers stuffed with goat cheese atop Moroccan crackers, with scallop ceviche on a bed of greens. The peppers were soft and roasted nicely, but I found the goat cheese so overloaded with ‘additions’ that it reminded me of the cream cheese concoctions my mother created during my childhood. The spice cracker didn’t stand out for anything in particular, but had a great crunch. The scallops were wonderful, tasting almost sweet and very clean. They easily stole the show in my opinion. Next dish out on the table, and I should clarify not part of the tour; bacon popcorn. Having eaten the truffle bacon popcorn at Lux Steakhouse + Bar, I was surprised by the distinct improvement when there was no truffle oil involved. As well, I noticed a sweetness not found at Lux. I dare say, I like this version a lot better.
d’Lish seems to have a clear understanding that we eat with our eyes, as plate three arrived ready to impress. The mushroom risotto cakes with lemon sauce were shadowed by a tower of potato gnocchi cakes. The mushroom cake was OK; a crisp pan fried exterior giving way to a softer inside. I’m glad I went for the mushroom cake first, as it lagged well behind the borderline awesomeness held within the potato. Moist, buttery, and tasting like a perfect scoop of tater.
After putting the little nuggets of mushroom and potato down, we were presented with a deep serving dish full of; chèvre noir grilled cheese and a bowl of homemade ketchup. While I imagined these sandwiches were cooked in larger portions and then sliced down for ease of sharing, the biggest problem was something we all agreed at least 90% of grilled cheese sandwiches suffer from; too much butter and/or oil on the exterior. I know it adds taste, but soaking our fingers with grease as we ate these dainty sandwiches wasn’t a welcome experience. The cheese was melted nicely, yet the thickness varied considerably from sandwich to sandwich, with a few sections more like toast on toast. The homemade ketchup was a few notches up when compared with your local store bought variety. Sweet, acidic, and bright. While it may not be for everyone, I think the ketchup’s sharp profile helped cut through the fat.
A long plate of pasta showed up on our table next; black garlic fettuccine with tomato sauce. I was quite excited to see black garlic being used here, as it has really just come into its own in the high end food market over the last 2 years, and “…is made by fermenting whole bulbs of garlic at high temperature, a process that results in black cloves“. This dish was by far the worst of the night. The tomato sauce reminded me of the overly sweet tomato base that covers alphagetti, while the whole wheat pasta put up the biggest flavour fight to date and didn’t do anything for the sauce. As much as it hurts to write these things some days, bad sauce & poor choice in noodles. Having some questions about the black garlic, Chef Sebastian Lysz (formerly of Devlin’s & The Creperie) came out with a clove of the black stuff for us to see. He didn’t really give us the most informative run down, but allowed us to sample the product in it’s dark chocolate like state. For me, I found it lacked any garlic taste, and had me thinking of molasses and tamarind.
With no garlic infused mouth to scare Sarah and I from a post meal kiss, we listened to the description of our next offering; deconstructed turkey dinner on focaccia bread. First and foremost any time someone breaks into the world of food gastronomy, I think no matter what, the end result needs to just taste good. In saying that, I don’t think the dish below is exactly a deconstructed turkey dinner, more like a meatball sandwich. If more elements needed to be combined it would be different; just me and my semantics. The meatball was cooked perfectly, with a mind-blowing level of turkey juice exploding in my mouth before giving way to a heavy hand of rosemary. The gravy was thick enough to pass the spoon test, and combined with the rosemary turkey to overwhelm any note of focaccia bread. They might as well have used a generic loaf as nothing would have been able to compete.
Next up was our first, and only amuse-bouche; prickly pear granita with a slice of fresh fig. As a huge fan of prickly pear cactus, I was super stoked for my bowl of icy goodness. Prepared perfectly, the granita was like a ray of sunshine; clean, refreshing, invigorating. No matter how good the slice of fig was, I could have easily consumed this slushy treat without it.
Next up, another round of popcorn. Once again, just like the bacon popcorn, this was not part of the tour. It was a gift from two very kind Edmontonians I’ve been seeing more and more as of late. With Jerry a huge bacon man (even his business card is bacon), L&J were hoping to spoil him with a little veggie love. So there we were, eating more popcorn; dill & truffle oil popcorn. Sarah was the first to notice this bowl suffered from a hint of burnt corn, while none of us at the table could taste any dill. It’s not like you don’t see it there…you just don’t taste it. Maybe they need to warm it inside the truffle oil, or pop it in dill butter.
After our kernal party, we were presented with a long dish that included two options; Creamed Chicken & Mushroom Crepes that sandwiched a Tomato Sausage & Prawns combo. Splitting each crepe made for a slightly awkward moment, but we found delicious meaty chunks of mushrooms and moist chicken stuff inside. The crepe itself seemed a little bland but held together nicely. The tomato sauce for the sausage and prawns was considerably more spicy than one would expect from just hearing tomato sauce. The shrimp were prepared heavenly, while the chunks of sausage offered both lean and fatty bites. I think we could have used the sauce to help alleviate the boring crepe.
Soon enough, Jerry and I were brought out of our spicy sauce dreams as the next dish arrived; pork rillette with brioche bread and maple apple chutney. As I’ve eaten a lot of rillette lately, I was surprised to find them not exactly certain what the meat was at first. The top slice of the brioche was borderline stale, which combined with a cold (not room temperature) rillette made spreading next to impossible without ripping everything apart. The texture, as Sarah so eloquently stated, was akin to tuna, and I actually found it rather bland. I wonder if they went light on the fat. I do commend them for having it available, but I think it needs some work.
If the shrimp were cooked perfectly, and the scallop ceviche was bang on, then the vanilla bean cured salmon with red pepper aoili was out of this world. The combination of clean and cool flavours married together perfectly. The slice of cherry tomato and large caper hidden below, were great additions. If everyone hadn’t consumed theirs at an equally fast pace, I may have just tried the, “hey, what’s over there trick”. Well done d’Lish, your seafood is fantastic.
As the clock ticked by, our first moment of ‘when will this end’ was short lived as our next delivery just so happened to be dessert. Four individually sized options arrived on a slate tile. The small, one-bite brownie sized chunks, were actually black garlic sticky toffee pudding with fresh figs. Delicious sweet, I found the only profile that cut through was molasses. The tall triangles were spice cake. Something Sarah and I both found dry. The tiny pink globs of hard meringue (pavlovaa?) were chewy and sweet. The lemon sponge cakes which came adorned with little flags of hazelnut pinwheels were probably my favourite, as it offered a depth of flavour that nothing else could. While the tray itself presented nothing to write home about, the 3D style plating was just so much fun.
Phew. *wipes brow* I sure hope I covered all the food. With a food experience, or should I say, faith experience like this, we all had plenty of time to take in the evening. What was originally scheduled, as per the menu, for 90 minutes, ended up being over three hours. Not a problem for the five of us, as we had no where to go but home, but it could create a bigger issue for those who dine on a deadline. Next the service. From dishes being delivered without so much of a peep out of the wait staff, to most of our dish specific questions being unanswerable by the staff, I think it’s safe to say there is a learning curve at d’Lish that may be steeper than expected. Don’t get me wrong, I realize there will always be some questions raised by the pubic because the menu changes so frequently, but as someone with a very keen interest on the what, how, and why, I’m always going to hope the staff don’t have to say let me ask the Chef after each plate.
I also really the the idea of this tasting menu. With an ever changing supply of goods, we were told the tasting menu allows d’Lish to utilize the majority of items not consumed elsewhere; have some cheese near its end or something unpopular on the chacruturie plate, why not make a tiny sandwich for the tasting menu. In reality, d’Lish has the potential to elminate most waste; something I think they should be commended on. With my first experience setting the bar pretty high, I’d love to tell you to go and try one of these plates… but it may just be gone by the time you read this. Which is all the more reason to keep going back.