Established in the early 80’s, La Boheme Restaurant serves its customers from within the historical Gibbard Block. Built in 1912 and designed by prominent Highlands architect Ernest W. Morehouse, the structure was described in 1913 as “the latest idea in architecture, comfort, modern equipment and convenience”. There was even a central gas plant which provided clean fuel for cooking, and each suite had a telephone and a bath with hot running water. With so much history, I’m almost shocked how little this restaurant comes up in our local food scene. Time to check things out for myself.
The building, which originally held both residents and stores, is now occupied by the restaurant on its main floor with an assortment of B&B suites on the floors above. Taking our seats in the empty restaurant, I couldn’t help but think the decor hasn’t changed since it first opened. Even the tiny washrooms seemed stale as I found a poster for the 1986-87 Edmonton Opera season on display. The menu, which has changed from when they posted it on the website (both items and price), includes an assortment of French classics. As our waiter-in-training went over the menu, I was surprised to hear 4 specials were also available; including steak diane and a mixed seafood crepe which was the catch of the day. Must have been a fishing net.
The bread came to the table warm but seemed compact, almost squished from slicing. With the slices cooling quickly, I wondered if the bread was given a zap rather than a slow warm. The butter, which arrived in individual packets from Saputo, had me questioning how serious they take this portion of the meal. And really, how does a restaurant with a $100 prix fix menu not offer in-house butter? Good thing the appetizers arrived quickly distracting us from the the butter packets. First to arrive was the Soup de Jour – Cream of Celery and Leek. I couldn’t take a flattering picture so you’ll have to believe me when I say it was OK. Definitely homemade with strands of celery floating around, the soups biggest problem might have just been the heavy hand of salt. Water anyone…
With a quick follow-up delivery, we were soon eying up Tomates Confites au Basilic – Toasted tomatoes stuffed with fresh thyme, garlic, feta cheese & basil and Moules Marinara – Mussels sautéed with garlic and tomato cream herb sauce. If you noticed that the plate only contained one tomato when the menu is plural, you would be correct. The warm tomato was great, but we all agreed the feta was a poor choice. If the crumbly cheese was subbed for a softer cheese, the texture and mouth feel would have been greatly improved. The mussels arrived in a thick, intense broth but were a miss. A dry, unappealing texture was present in the mussels and our tables east-coast seafood pro, hinted that they were past their prime.
As a change of pace, I’m going to get my dish out of the way first; Filet Mignon – Tenderloin of AAA Alberta beef served with a Chambord demi-glace. Ordered rare, this grill-marked portion of beef arrived perfectly cooked. Tender, and delicious, this meaty portion was easily the best plate of the night.. Still on a pork kick, Sarah opted for Filet de Porc – Seared & baked medallion of pork with a sour cherry demi-glace . I’m not sure where the medallion was cut from, but the grain seemed strangely distinct and it was definitely not pink inside. All said and done though, Sarah was content with the pork and happily consumed her selection.
Our fellow diners for the evening decided on, Cuisse de Wapiti – Grilled medallion of elk with a blueberry demi-glace and Carre D’Agneau – Roasted rack of lamb with demi-glace and crushed mint oil. The elk, which actually arrived as a duo of medallions (oh those medallions) would have given most people enough reason to never eat game again. Lacking any blueberry essence, the elk tasted more like a tin can and required a considerably amount of chewing, meaning this dish made reluctant rounds between all of us before the towel was thrown in. The rack of lamb, which looked gorgeous, went down hill only seconds after arriving. In what is one of the strangest occurrences in my dining history, our table was suddenly wrapped in the aroma of wet cat food. Not entirely sure what was the cause, we all took a whiff of the lamb to confirm that it did in fact smell Horrible. I can tell you that the strong fancy feast aroma smacked any mint flavour away and penetrated the meat, making for an interesting few bites. *shudder*
Besides every dish coming with demi-glace, I hope you’ve also taken note of the sides. Exactly the same on every plate meant we didn’t have to share any of the zucchini, red & yellow pepper, broccoli, squash and mashed potatoes. Is there a lack of creativity in the back of the house? The vegetables were grilled nicely, with the zucchini being my favourite. The mashed potatoes were a little lumpy, but loaded with enough butter to make it quite tasty. I wonder if they used the individual packets? Another point worth mentioned was the temperature, as the plates were complied with items varying from cold to warm. I’m not sure what, if anything, was precooked or par boiled, but it was obvious not everything was cooked after we ordered.
You might think that we would have evacuated after our mains, but we desperately needed to rid ourselves of eau de lamb. Coffee and dessert seemed like the only logical choice. Looking over the classic menu, we selected three plates; Pèche Melba – Vanilla ice cream, topped with peach slices and raspberry coulis, Crème Brûlée – French custard with a toasted sugar crust, and Tarte Tartin –Upside down apple pie served with Bourdon vanilla ice cream (allow 15mins).
The peaches arrived in a frosted glass and came adorned with sugar art. While this looks fun, the whole idea of peaches (canned?) on top of ice cream reminded me of a 30 second dessert thrown together by my mother on a busy day. The brûlée, which came with a slice of cantaloupe, was strange. It had a great crust, which after smashing with the back of a spoon, gave way to a very runny center. We wondered if the crust, which was actually quite thick, required so much heat to produce, that the inside was left melted. I can only hope the upside down apple pie required 15 minutes because it was made to order. The pie crust was chewy and offered nothing else of significance. In fact, I even wondered if their was a crust at one point. The apples were baked down perfectly but seemed bland in my mind, offering no tart or sweet profile. I’d have to say either the ice cream or the melon were my favourite items on the table.
I’m not really sure what to say as I sit here and digest the experience. The bar side of the restaurant seemed so depressing, what with sheets tossed onto the couches, that it seemed more like a haunted house than a fine dining establishment. The service was attentive but mixed, as our waiter-in-training was forced to ask the kitchen for answers when prompted by our questions. He also mentioned that only one person even understood French…in a French restaurant. The hit or miss food temperatures were bothersome, but what really killed everything was the horrible cat food stench that stayed with us through the night. My hands are up and I give in. If you are going to go, I’d suggest the steak.