I had a pretty strong start to November with a dinner at Ampersand 27, so I wasn’t expecting to have another epic dinner to look forward to for a while. New restaurants don’t come along that often. So I’m grateful that I got a chance to kick off last Remembrance “long” weekend with a late night dinner at the new North 53. I say new, because although I had been there a few times before, this past Friday was their official reopening launch, showcasing a new look, new chef, and new dishes.
The previous chef, Ben Staley (who’s opening his own eatery, The Alder Room in Spring 2015) had previously put North 53 on the map with his progressive Canadian cuisine and a unique tasting menu. Additionally, North 53 quickly became known for their innovative and inspiring cocktails, and their playful bar became a popular late night hotspot on the 124 St strip. The contrast between the two spaces was evident to both chef Staley and owner Kevin Cam, leading to the mutual decision for change. Stepping up from his sous chef position, Filliep Lament now runs the North 53 kitchen. The restaurant still focuses on using local ingredients when appropriate but that doesn’t stop them from getting the best ingredients from all over the world for their more globally-inspired dishes.
It was already 9pm by the time most of our party arrived and with a reservation for 9:15pm, North 53 happily accommodated our early arrival. It was a packed house! Highly suggest making reservations for a table, or else you’ll be fighting for seats at the bar for walk-ins.
Our group started off the night with some drinks. The cocktail menu has entirely changed although North 53’s infamous Smoke & Oak Fashion still remains.
Divided out into freshmen, sophomore, and graduate drinks, I figured I needed to try something on the freshmen side. I ordered the “Fizzy Apple Thang”: Bulleit Rye, lemon, spiced Turbinado syrup, apple juice, bitters, and some forced carbonation. Ooooh! Yummy! Not overly sweet for my taste, and definitely om nom nom, as described in the menu. Everybody else seemed quite pleased with their drinks as well. The Verte Chocolate, a boozy hot chocolate with a toasted marshmallow meringue was also right up my alley!
The tasting menu and plates are now gone and instead replaced with snacks, plates, and plates to share. The new concept focuses on smaller tapas style plates, encouraging its patrons to share more menu items. The most noticeable difference on the menu? The price. Diners, I’m sure, will be happy at the lower price point of the meal. Since there was five of us for the night, we ended up ordering (nearly) everything on the menu to try.
I really enjoyed the mousse, the chicken liver sourced from Four Whistle Farm. Blended with duck fat, it was smooth and rich. Rye bread crisps from Edmonton’s Tree Stone Bakery sandwiched the mixture into a bite sized piece. Delicious! Could have used a couple more bites, perhaps larger individual portions would have been more satisfying, although the petite bites gain points for being adorable.
Chicharron seems like a trend now on a lot of menus and North 53 has jumped aboard. Scallops and mussels are dried in house and ground, with kelp and salmon katsubushi, giving a strong umami flavour to the fried pork skins. So good, crunchy, and super addicting!
The Marinated and Griddled Mushrooms came out next, a drool-inducing looking plate. A mixture of crimini, shitake, beech, and oyster mushrooms are first brined with Maggi sauce and griddled on the flat top before serving. The in-house curry blend, spices sourced from The Silk Road on Whyte Avenue, was subtle and a 63 degree sous vide egg yolk (very Three Boars!) topped it all off.
The Popcorn Chicken literally took on its name: pureed popcorn grits mixed in with a tempura beer batter made a crisp coating to bites of Four Whistle Farms chicken and finished with powdered popcorn. Yum!
The Shrimp Chorizo was one of my favourite dishes for the night! The shrimp was mixed in with a blend of garlic, chill, fennel seeds, smoked paprika and hot paprika, giving the “sausage” slices that classic chorizo flavour. Loved the fact that not all the shrimp was ground so that you could still taste and see chunks of shrimp. Other components: fried potatoes and braised savoy cabbage, all mixed into a ham broth as the dish’s base.
The Carrot Salad was the most elegantly plated of the night, and was nice and refreshing after the heavier dishes we had earlier. Loved the colours and the varieties of techniques used to treat the carrots (steeped and pickled), with a light vinaigrette of olive oil and Saskatoon berry vinegar. To add back some sweetness, a carrot caramel, made from freshly juiced carrots, was drizzled around the plate. Quenelles of goat cheese topped it all off, with hints of green cardamom. Most of the bites I got were on the sweeter side, while some of the others got a hit of the vinaigrette. Wish I had the dish all to myself to get the best of both worlds!
The Rutebega & Oxtail Tart was a table favourite. John Schneider’s Gold Forest Grains lends his Park wheat flour to make the tart shell, which was filled with a rutabaga puree. The oxtail was from Sangudo Farms, braised and shredded, then cooked with red wine, espolet peppers, and a red wine vinegar sourced from Spain. A micro salad from their urban cultivator topped off the dish with a honey and lemon oil.
The clam and scallop fettucine gave the Shrimp Chorizo a run for its money for me. Utilizing their pasta extruder, the house made egg-free (whaa?) pasta was amazing and perfectly cooked. West Coast clams and Nova Scotia scallops were tossed in alongside a white wine sauce, my favourite! Absolutely loved this dish and bound to be a favourite for many.
Last main for the night was the Short Rib Glazed in Beer. The short rib was sous vide for 24 hours before being finished with a beef stock and beer glaze. The navy beans were nice and tender, but not overcooked, and mixed with parsnips, carrots, onions, and celery. I was confused as to where the bone marrow was, expecting a whole bone to be plated, but was notified that the dish was finished with raw bone marrow for added flavour.
Before I knew it, desserts were coming out. The Blue d’Elizabeth was a conversation stopper, a combination of the named blue cheese from Quebec, roasted Bosc pear, and a side of salad with olive oil from Turkey and dressed with a burnt caramel mixture, deglazed with a sweet sherry. The components were all separate but combined created an amazing dish, well balanced, and truly unique. I’m not the biggest fan of blue cheese either but this was so yummy!
What the whole table was thinking though? Getting our spoons into the Cognac ice cream. TO DIE FOR. Smooth, creamy, the ice cream’s texture was perfect. Calvados and maple syrup were incorporated into the mix itself, and finished with Cognac-rehydrated sultana raisins. Even the simple toasted brown flour sugar cookies were delicious! We also got to try the blueberry sorbet (unpictured), light and refreshing, not overly sweet. A great way to end our meal.
As if all these dishes weren’t enough, we continued into the late night with more drinks, good laughs, and a tour of the kitchen. Not much had changed from my last kitchen tour, although a whole lot of new faces were introduced. By the time we were done (or seemingly so), it was past 11pm. Just in time for the “Late Night” menu. How convenient! The one thing not on the regular menu? A fried chicken. Oh yeah. I heard that chicken was chef Lament’s favourite. So we had to order it, obviously!
Perfect late night snack: three pieces of dark meat, brined and fried with a simple batter. A powdered green Tabasco and jalapeño mixture gave the chicken an added kick, although I didn’t seem to get any of that in my bites! Will have to try it again on my next visit for that, but the chicken was moist and tender, the batter crispy. If you were going to North 53 just for their cocktails menu, now there’s another thing to look forward to after 11pm!
Overall? A nice change to their menu, encompassing a greater variety of dishes for diners. Love that fact that the dining side and the bar are well paired and the atmosphere more casual compared to the restaurant’s past. My must-orders: the fettuccine, shrimp chorizo, fried chicken (late night menu only at time of writing), and Cognac ice cream. Looking forward to trying more dishes and cocktails, congratulations to the new crew at North 53!North 53
10240 124 St