North 53 really needs no introduction if you keep up with Edmonton’s food scene (1 2 3 4). Featuring only Canadian ingredients (over 90% of which are sourced in Alberta and BC), the now 11 week old addition to Edmonton’s growing 124 St was not far down on my list to eat. Why did it take me so long to get there? Perhaps because Joe and I lack Saturday night planning skills? Frigid cold weather? I really have no excuses. So I’ll be extra thorough for this post and not because I feel ashamed that it took me so long to get in, but because North 53 truly deserves it.
Our reservation was for 7pm last Saturday and when we arrived, it was surprisingly not fully seated! A long bar counter actually allows diners to show up without reservations, something I wish I would have known earlier. Large windows made it feel quite open and as the night went on, the dark interior gave it a very trendy atmosphere.
To start, I had my mind set on a Caesar, a truly Canadian drink. I didn’t even bother to look at the drinks menu (whoops!) and when I ordered, our server Chris kindly told me they had removed it from the menu. Aperol Spritz then? North 53’s mixologist Brendan Brewster (formerly Woodwork, Manor Bistro), happily accommodated my off menu request. There’s something about the Aperol Spritz that’s gotten me to order it, over and over again, making it one of my favorites now. Delicious! Next time I’ll be sure to order one of his signature cocktails though.
Joe and I decided to order off the a la carte versus the $85 tasting meu (lowered from the original opening $100), although many tables were doing so. There’s just something about being able to choose what to eat!
The “Various Beets” has been on the menu for some time now and that’s always a sign that it’s a winner. Indeed it was. Beets sourced from Riverbend Gardens, done in a multitude of ways: sorbet, pickled, and dehydrated meringue; layered with a goat’s cheese mousse, red wine vinaigrette, candied walnuts, and nasturtium (a watercress-like leaf with a peppery taste). Best presentation ever. And incredibly delicious! The beet meringue was the most intriguing, dehydrated to the point that upon contact with moisture (your mouth), it almost dissolved into a burst of beet flavor. What just happened there?!
While I was pondering away on the use of a dehydrator, Joe was trying the duck rillette, which he chose from the menu. Similar to a pate, the Fourwhistle Farm’s duck was cooked until tender, shredded and formed, topped with pieces of smoked duck breast, and cherry gelee. Gastriqued cherries along with a cherry and hazelnut puree decorated the rest of the plate. Joe loved the gastriqued cherries and both of us enjoyed the smoked duck breast. More of that, please!
Sauteed carrots came on top of pearl barley risotto, finished with the Cheesiry’s pecorino stock, freshly shaved perocrino, and watercress. Sprinkled over top was a dehydrated brown butter powder, giving the dish another layer of seasoning.
The black cod, sourced from Vancouver Island, was done to perfection and supremely moist. Little neck clams and a clam froth were mixed in with the butternut squash puree and roasted butternut squash, although a different server (not Chris) said they were oysters when he brought it out. I really enjoyed this dish and it’s because of dishes like these that I’m always keen on ordering a fish entree instead of another protein. I won’t know how it compares to the wild boar or milk fed veal sirloin tip until my next visit!
I have learnt that two desserts will always make me happier than one and seeing that we were both 80% full, why not. Chris highly recommended the sunchoke ice cream, and he was so knowledgeable about the menu that we went with his advice. This dish is definitely not to be missed! Aside from the creative use of sunchoke, or Jerusalem artichoke (to which none of those names is related, it’s a tuber), it was placed on a thyme sponge of sorts, layered with balsamic vinegar curd and more of the brown butter powder, this time with black malt. Sunchoke chips and mint were notable as well. The ice cream was very well done, smooth, no crystals of ice and had such a pleasant flavor. The thyme sponge had a… spongey texture. Obviously. Honestly one of the most interesting things to eat, next to the beet meringue we had earlier. Really starting to wonder what kind of dehydrator they’re using back there!
Our second dessert was the wild blueberry sorbet, accompanying a goat’s milk panna cotta. On the bottom were dried blueberries, roasted rolled oats, and a blueberry tuile to anchor the dish. All components were gorgeous, and overall the dish was very unsweetened, which can be a nice way to end a meal. The tarragon granite might not be for all, especially if you do not enjoy licorice! I didn’t even know tarragon had that natural taste, it’s always mixed in with other herbs when I’ve had it.
Overall, the meal was one of the best that I’ve ever had. Points all around for presentation, creativity, and taste! It’s like an episode on the Food Network. Not only that, the service was excellent and the kitchen was timely with our plates. Chris was extremely knowledgeable on the menu and its ingredients. I had read from some diners that the atmosphere was quite formal, but not so when we went. Quite relaxed in my opinion but they may have eased up, much like the cost of the plates.
As a bonus for the night, we were given a tour of the kitchen and a little more info on the North 53. Joe’s brother happens to be good friends with the owner, 24-year old Kevin Cam. A couple of weeks spent researching in New York led Kevin and Chris K of CK Design to come up with the interior of North 53. A Kijiji ad sent 21-year old Chef Ben Staley (of Da Capo and Blue Pear) his way and the rest is history. I don’t think I even appreciated food the way I do now when I was 21…
My first question after being introduced to the kitchen: where’s this magical dehydrator? Apparently, it’s just a dehydrator. You know, your standard one that you have at home to make apple and banana chips. Except rectangular, for ease of use. So it’s not some fancy high-tech gadgets going on back there! Just “wizardry” as Chef Eric Hanson puts it. How Chef Ben Staley comes up with these ideas is beyond me. That plus 70+ hours of experimenting with ingredients and techniques for a single dish… Outstanding!
Other highlights: the kitchen’s cooler, located in the old bank vault of the building. Chef Eric Hanson (catch him on City’s Breakfast Television!) showed us around, the thick solid walls protecting their ingredients, from beef hearts to fois gras to a Cindy-sized liquid nitrogen tank, all waiting to be developed and used for future menu items. 14 menu items have been removed since opening, 15 new items put on. It’s what you have to do when ingredients change! And although they have four acres at Heritage Harvest Gardens growing whatever they request, Alberta’s climate can only do so much. Their urban herb cultivator was the only space of peace in the small kitchen, quietly growing various herbs for their use.
We got to taste one of the petit fours that comes with the tasting menu, a Saskatoon berry macaron made by Chef Steve Baidacoff. Had to quickly eat mine and take a photo of Joe’s before he devoured his, which made the kitchen smile, including Kevin!
Thanks so much to the whole team at North 53 for the evening. Not only did I get to taste great food and drinks, I got to meet the youngest and brightest team of Edmonton’s culinary scene. They’re such a tight knit of individuals, evident from the “familia” photos floating all over their social media. Greatly appreciated the kitchen tour as it was a busy Saturday evening!
Newly installed artwork in North 53’s vestibule was the last sight of the fantastic evening. By now the restaurant was full and alive at 9:30PM. Add me (and Joe!) onto your fan list! With this much hype and such creative dishes, I sure hope this makes Avenue’s Best New Restaurant 2015. The year is still early though! I will be back soon enough, no more excuses. Oh, and thanks to my friend Josh who lent me his Sony NEX7 camera for the weekend! Definitely can’t go back to iPhone photos anymore…North 53
10240 – 124 St