When it comes to restaurants, what’s new and exciting often creates the most buzz. But sometimes, these flames burn brightly and then fizzle out, while those of other restaurants have been going steadily for decades. We find out what keeps folks coming back to these Edmonton institutions year after year.
Red Ox Inn
Dining at the Red Ox Inn is an intimate experience by design. For one, it’s a small room; only 12 tables and an estimated 30 seats fill out the tiny Strathearn restaurant. The lighting is dim, but the candles gracing the table provide just enough light to illuminate those with you.
But for all the intimacy the surroundings provide, the love in the air is all for the food. Take the beef tartare, for instance. It’s a dish where, normally, simplicity is key, but not here. A few added flourishes, such as the addition of capers, egg yolk and sriracha aioli, add just enough spice, flavour and creamy texture to elevate the appetizer without making it unrecognizable. For the main course, be sure to try the trout. Served on a bed of succulent chorizo, melt-in-your-mouth grilled scallop, corn succotash, bacon, farro and lobster nage, each bite is a palate-pleasing powerhouse. This is where the farro shines, absorbing the buttery lobster sauce to create a bite with solid earthy texture and creamy seafood flavour.
The trout itself is a sight to behold as it is served skin side up to showcase the golden sear. From the first bite to the last, your attention is captured by a love affair of opposing textures. Just don’t get too excited. It’s an intimate place, but not that intimate. –Cory Haller
Packrat Louie is only a few steps from the bustle of Whyte Avenue, but the vast yet cozy brick-lined restaurant feels like it’s a world away. While the decor isn’t dated, elements like the visibly worn wood-burning oven and a display of hundreds of wine corks give the space a sense of history.
The menu contains many traditional dishes, such as rack of lamb and beef tenderloin. However, you can also enjoy new classics like barbecue duck pizza – topped with duck confit, goat cheese, peppers, mushrooms and onions – or butternut squash ravioli. When it comes time for dessert, the server will stamp the options onto the butcher’s paper that covers the tablecloths. Make sure to take a peek at the after-dinner drinks as well – the Foggy London, a twist on the typical boozy coffee, is the perfect way to end a meal. –Adrianna Szenthe
10335 83 Ave., 780-433-0123, packratlouie.com
Unheardof is 35 years old – in the restaurant business, that’s an eternity, and then some.
When you walk into the restaurant, located near Mill Creek Ravine, your attention is constantly diverted by a curious collection of artifacts, from Second World War-era photos to antique hutches and artwork of old hotels. Maybe my favourite thing is the antique scale in the men’s room. It is the exact opposite of the clean lines and simplicity that dominate modern restaurant design. And the chaos is sort of comforting, like sorting through items in a basement of stuff that bring back memories.
The best way to dine is to order the table d’hte, three courses and a sorbet for $70. To start, the venison carpaccio is delicate, and not gamey in any way. But the seafood bisque is creamy and sweet, and complemented by a puff pastry fleuron.
When it comes to duck, Unheardof’s offering is one of the best in Edmonton; perfectly crispy on the outside, red and tender within. Served with a cherry-fennel stock reduction, it is a classic dish that’s well executed.
For dessert, try the flourless chocolate mint cake, which carries a pronounced bourbon flavour. –Steven Sandor
9602 82 Ave., 780-432-0480, unheardof.com
*Note: Unheardofowners have since announced that this Edmonton staple will be closing its doors as of June 13, 2015. If you want a bite of Edmonton’s culinary history, there’s not much time left to do it.
Going into Normand’s is like putting on an old tuxedo: It’s fancy, but comfortable.
The fine dining establishment has been a Jasper Avenue institution since 1989, becoming a go-to place for celebration dinners.
While much has stayed the same at Normand’s over the years, the restaurant is not afraid to try new things. The menu has plenty of wild game for adventurous diners to try, like wild boar, pheasant and musk ox, plus more exotic selections that pop up as specials.
But, sometimes, the old standards are the best, like the succulent roast duck in a sun-dried cranberry, orange and port wine sauce, or the long-running “Mussels Monday” special, with four pots of Prince Edward Island mussels in four different delicious sauces – white wine and garlic butter, curry and white wine cream, tomato pernod and a varying weekly special – and fries. –Glenn Cook
While the city’s only revolving restaurant has been going round and round atop the Chateau Lacombe since it opened in 1967, recent renovations have given it a modern look. And while the ever-changing view is certainly a draw for curious diners, it wouldn’t mean anything without great food.
The jewel in La Ronde’s crown is its Sunday brunch, where you can fill up on prime rib, eggs benedict, smoked salmon and a wide range of salads and pastries until you can’t even think about moving anymore. Don’t forget, though, about the rest of the week, with old-school classics – like the Wednesday special, a 16 oz. Chateaubriand steak and Caesar salad for two prepared tableside – served up with no apologies. –G.C.