Last week was Edmonton’s annual Downtown Dining Week, organized by the Downtown Business Association, and I managed to squeeze in two meals, dinner at The Marc with a group of friends and a lunch at Hardware Grill with Nhan. With a recent purchase of a condo unit (downtown living in two years!), I’ve been slashing my dining out budget as much as I can. Although I’ll be cutting back on eating out, I’ll still try to find new meals each week and keep posting. That or this will quickly turn into a (horrible) cooking blog. Anyways, I couldn’t miss DTDW! A week full of set menus at various downtown restaurants at $15 (lunch), or $25 or $50 (dinner). Let the eating begin!
Although coming in with full intentions on ordering the evening’s set dinner menu, I started to reminisce the duck breast I had on my last dinner here. Since half of the table was trying the menu, I jumped ship and ordered what my heart desired. Not to say that I didn’t get a bite of everything though!
To start the night off: Manila clams in a kale and parsnip puree with bits of Merguez sausage., layered with garlic chips. Great depth of color to it, although the taste of kale wasn’t as predominant as the color. That could be a good or bad thing, depending on if you want a full kale flavor. The Manila clams were cooked nicely and bits of sausages throughout the dish gave off spicy notes from time to time. The couple bites that I had were good, but nothing outstanding.
This was probably the main reason why I didn’t order the menu, a pork loin served as the main entrée. For some reason, I never order pork dishes when I eat out. Perhaps memories of dried out loins at home has held me back from trying it at all. What a mistake. By far the best dish in the set menu, this pork loin was done just perfect. Moist and well seasoned, I enjoyed the protein more than I ever thought was possible. What more, the chickpeas mixed in with bloomed mustard seeds and seasoned with a chermoula spice (Moroccan), made the dish very filling. Even my tablemates seemed to enjoy it, for the most part, with not one a particular fan of chickpeas in the first place. I didn’t get a bite of the apple, celery, and jicama slaw, but I’ll just imagine that it otherwise added a nice crisp texture to the dish.
Dessert for the night was a meringue with creme anglaise, pistachio and red currants. The meringue was nice and fluffy, smooth in texture, and had a fair bit of volume upon serving. It must have been made to serve as I have no idea how else this would have maintained its integrity. The creme anglaise tasted similar to the anglaise given with The Marc’s infamous beignets, although this time a bit creamier. The red currants, although striking in color, were very tart, something I personally prefer without in my dessert.
Only two from our table of four ordered the DTDW menu. The third, ordered the entrecote, complete with fries and the truffle aioli. Recently making the Tomato Food and Drink’s list of top 100 best things to eat in Edmonton, the fries and truffle mayo was a bit puzzling. Not nearly as crisp as I had imagined it, and a one note mayo base dip made me confused as how this got on the list at all.
What I do know is this: The Marc usually has outstanding food and outstanding service. Tonight, not so. My duck breast (not pictured, see previous post of The Marc) became seemingly saltier as the meal progressed, the beignets (not pictured) weren’t nearly as crisp as the last three times I’ve had them, and the service was slow to boot. And with no apologies from our waitress, I felt a little disheartened that I had made my tablemates so excited for the night. It was a Monday night, and with a couple of large tables ordering ahead of us, I suppose it was justified. Although more attention to detail would have made the experience a bit better.
A couple of days later, I had lunch with Nhan at Hardware Grill. With a great track record from last year’s Downtown Dining Week, Hardware Grill is probably the best bang for your buck. At $15, your two-course meal will fill you up AND the selection of courses is greater than anywhere else for the week. With a large group of people, I would have been able to try the whole menu!
For my lunch, I ordered the small BLT wedge. Just a normal wedge salad, but what made the dish delicious was the candied bacon. Yum! Thoroughly crispy as well and not oily.
Nhan had the soup of yesterday, a cream of mushroom soup. Two words to describe the soup: creamy and mushroom. True to its name, rich in flavor, filling, but perhaps overly dense if you were expecting something lighter for lunch.
My second course was a pasta carbonara, complete with a 63 degree poached egg, a roasted garlic cream sauce, layered with parmesan, double smoked bacon, oregano, and teeny tiny spring onions. De-licious. Fully aware at how heavy this dish could get, I was mentally prepared. After cutting the egg, the yolk ends up making a richer, and creamier texture to the dish. Thankful for our ever refilling glasses of water, I ended my meal happily satisfied.
Nhan ordered the short ribs, served with a side corn-cheddar mashed potato, in a red wine sauce. A bite of this told me enough: it was moist, melt in your mouth, and… rich. Decadent for those who seek it, but I’m personally a fan of lighter and refreshing meals for lunch.
By the end of our meals, we were both full and $15 lighter. Great price, good food, full stomach. What more can you ask for? I think next year I’ll deviate from Hardware Grill to see what other lunches there are, although it’s hard to beat with such a good menu selection. If you missed this year’s Downtown Dining Week, make sure you mark it on your calendar for next year. Usually in the middle of March, for a solid week, a chance to taste great downtown meals for a fraction of the cost!Downtown Business Association