It was 6 p.m. Friday night and I was in my pyjamas already. As my husband and roommate arrived home for a movie night, we cracked a bottle of red wine and opened a laptop in search of dinner.
The standard delivery options didn’t appeal. Pizza and Chinese are so five years ago. We were also tired of navigating the unwieldy deluge of chains and middling options on Skip the Dishes, having used that service a number of times since it launched in Edmonton in 2014. The choices on UberEATS caught our eyes immediately: a deliberate selection of local and independent restaurants, complete with beautifully plated pictures of some of the menu items. There weren’t a lot of places on that service – possibly because it just launched in mid-2016 – but we were intrigued by the prospect of noshing a high-end meal on the couch.
Dessert arrived first, though we had placed the order last: The bouchon chocolate cake from Tapavino. With my fellow diners hovering behind me, I gingerly extracted a small Styrofoam container from a plastic bag sodden with leaking chocolate sauce and lifted the lid – we all burst out laughing.
None of us had expected the cake to arrive as it appeared online, with artful swirls and colourful garnishes, but this was a pretty sad variation – a soggy brown puck in a mire of chocolate sauce and a lone, beige, leaf-shaped garnish.
Almost all of Tapavino’s menu is available for takeout, explained owner Stephen Sicoli a few days later. The restaurant doesn’t send out a couple of things that don’t travel well, like seafood, but generally tries to offer as much as possible.
“We package it to the best of our ability,” explained Sicoli. “Things like whipped cream aren’t going to be whipped cream when it arrives, especially when it’s going with a hot cake.”
The other places we ordered from – Lux Steakhouse & Bar and Alberta Hotel Bar & Kitchen – offer much fewer takeout options. We opened the second order (Lux’s grilled brick chicken) with trepidation and felt relief to see that it redeemed the possibility of high-end takeout arriving in decent shape. Inside the box, a half chicken was perched on a tumble of roasted potatoes and asparagus, a wedge of grilled lemon alongside (Interestingly, this was the only item we ordered that didn’t have a featured picture).
Chef Tony Le of the Century Hospitality Group verified that he chooses their delivery items scrupulously. “We wanted to make sure the food came as you would receive it here in our restaurant – and, if we couldn’t do that, it wouldn’t go on the UberEATS menu,” he explained. That’s why the restaurant doesn’t have many steaks on its takeout menu, he noted, despite being a steakhouse.
Arriving almost an hour after we had placed the order, our two meals from the Alberta Hotel must have had a bumpy ride – both were a heaped mess on one side of their too-big takeout boxes. The bright red beet puree included with the duck was particularly garish.
But both needed to be sliced up anyway, since each piece of meat came whole (so as to retain heat). A couple minutes of plating and the dishes didn’t look half bad. While some may shun this extra effort – therein lies the key of successful high-end takeout: You can’t eat it right out of the box.
Chef Spencer Thompson has learned a lot since offering delivery. (Turns out, mine was Alberta Hotel’s inaugural UberEATS order.) Despite the challenges, he’s enthusiastic about the service.
“I really liked the idea of people being able to get a high-quality meal to go,” Thompson explained. “And it’s marketing that we actually get paid for, which is pretty rare.”
And while restaurants in Edmonton receive the added bump in awareness, nailing the five-star dinner treatment may still be a long time coming. Tapavino only sends out four to five orders per week, while the Century restaurants average about five orders a day. But the trend is there. Even though you can’t expect your meal to arrive in perfect condition, being able to get a nice meal delivered to your door is a pretty great option to have.
*since the publication of this article, Alberta Hotel Bar & Kitchen has closed
This article appears in the February 2017 issue of Avenue Edmonton. Subscribe here.