124 Street’s Canteen opened its normally closed doors last Monday to host their first Closed Mondays pop-up event. Get this: six of their young cooks become chefs for the night, free rein on the menu, creativity unleashed. Oh, and Canteen’s Chef Mike Nguyen serving tables. Um, DEAL.
Edmonton actually has quite a number of pop-up events that I think go relatively unnoticed or are underrated. I try to make it to pop-up events as often as I can but sometimes life (aka work) really gets in the way. Thankfully the Monday dinner had varying seating times allowing Diane and I to nab tickets off of the Eventbrite page.
Canteen’s Chef Mike Nguyen was playing server for the night, more nervous it seems than the talents behind the kitchen! It was fun to see Mike out of the kitchen and interacting with guests, his enthusiasm for the night’s menu clearly visible. The idea behind the pop-up was to create an outlet for his hardworking team and allow them to showcase their own food, a space that’s not all too commonly found in Edmonton’s food scene. I think it will (and should!) become a popular concept because imagine what dishes could come out of these young chefs and others in the industry if given the chance!
Tickets were $50 (+ Eventbrite service fees) per person and allowed each guest to choose five dishes out of fifteen a la carte items. The six chefs were split into three fun teams: Team MD, Chef Madison Melley and Chef Duncan Gommerud serving their “The Doctors Are In” menu; Team Odd Couple, Chef Matthew Marcotte and Chef Ellen Mitchell serving “Whatever”; and Team Lenny&Carl, Chef Lindsey Leonard and Chef Carla Stokes with “Dinner and Show”. Friendly competition never hurts.
In hindsight, Diane and I should have not kept the event to ourselves and invited a third guest. It would have saved us some grief over choosing which five dishes not to order. It was so hard. I’m not joking, we even discussed which ten dishes to order a week prior to, a few days before, and still spent a good amount of time at the table. They all sounded fantastic!
Let’s get down to the food. All ten courses of it! Kudos to the entire kitchen and front house staff for expediting this. Three essentially separate menus, varying seating times and somehow orders were still being pumped out at a great pace. Brace yourselves.
Crab Agnolotti by Team MD came out first, a fresh carrot pasta, citrus buerre blanc and toasted nori seaweed. These little packets were filled with a ricotta crab filling, absolutely delicious! I really appreciated the toasty flavours of the sesame seeds and nori, totally transforming the dish with a different layer of flavour. Being familiar with the dipping style of agnolotti by Bar Bricco, both Diane and I understood the execution of the dish although I noticed a lot of diners not dipping into the butter and then into the nori strips. A little instruction from the presenting servers would make this an easy fix! The texture of the pasta was a bit interesting (not in the bad sense!) and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Mike quickly elaborated for us that it was made with a bit of rice flour, giving it that chewy texture which quickly made sense! I could have used a bit more acid — more citrus flavours in the buerre blanc — but otherwise, a fantastic start to dinner!
The Beet Dip was highly recommended by Chef Mike when we were deciding which dishes to order. Thank goodness we got it. Made with Za’atar spices, pomegranate molasses and sprinkled with toasted hazelnuts, the beet dip was one of my favourites and most memorable of the night. Why has nobody done this yet? The sweetness of the beets were somehow not overbearing and the toasted hazelnuts added some great texture to the spread. Tree Stone Bakery crostini served as a base but to be honest, the dip could have been easily eaten straight out of a bowl.
Team Lenny&Carl continued to impress us with their next dish, Flank Steak with chimichurri, roasted sweet potato puree, a smoked tomato salsa, and grilled red onions. Look at the colours! Really reminded me of Canteen’s dishes, usually quite bright and beautifully plated. Not only did it look unreal, the flavours on this dish were equally bright and very well balanced.
Their Chicken and Waffles came out piping hot, the parmesan, cornflake, and roasted garlic-crusted fried chicken moist and well seasoned. The green onion waffles impressed me the most. Think Asian green onion cake but light, fluffy, and not greasy. Love! The lemon cilantro aioli served to brighten up the chicken, a well thought out accompaniment.
Compared to their previous dishes, the Eggplant Caponata looked more along the style of homecooking. Eggplants, tomatoes, and onions were made out in the caponata and both Diane and I detected a hint of heat in the dish. Perhaps chili oil? Although the dish had great flavours, I think dish could have been better executed. Perhaps because we were expecting long strands of fettuccine rather than bite-sized pieces.
Going back to Team MD, the Indonesian Braised Beef stole the show for table side presentation. Every time a server would come out with this dish of crisp braised beef patties, confit tomatoes, steamed dumplings and bok choy, you could feel the eyes around the room look towards it. A coconut curry broth was then poured at the table to make a nice and surprisingly light broth. I feel like this dish stood out on the menu the most and was a great success!
Rabbit Poutine was our first dish from Team Odd Couple’s “Whatever” menu. Every time I looked up from my meal, I swear this dish was on its way to another table. How could you not order the poutine? The braised rabbit was well cooked and not noticeably game-y. Cheese Factory curds were ladled over with a smooth gravy on top of frites and garnished with salted herbs. Without the salted herb mixture, I thought the rest of the dish was lacking in seasoning so mixing the dish well before eating was key. I like my fries crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. I think the added crispy texture would have worked well with this dish. At this point in the dinner, I was really bursting at the seams!
The Char Gravlax Carpaccio from Team MD wrapped up our savoury dishes. I think this dish should have came out first alongside the agnolotti and beet dip but that’s okay! No complaints here when finishing a fantastic meal with a fantastic dish, no matter what order it could have been. A cute little orb of yogurt bubble was served in the center of the cured salmon and the crisp potato chips were a great alternative to crostini or crackers.
Double desserts is how we roll, with three lovely options for the night. It really saddens me that I couldn’t try all three! Citrus Polenta Cake from Team MD wasn’t at all gritty as I had imagined (I have a fear of gritty polenta…) and the citrus notes were bright and went well with a sour cherry sauce. And yay to a smooth ice cream and caramelized white chocolate! You’d think people would caramelize white chocolate more often…
We also ordered the S’more and Smoke, a deconstructed s’mores plate with a alder wood-smoked meringue, dark chocolate mousse (?), rosemary graham crumb and spruce shoots. Holy moly, if there was ever a campfire dessert done well in a restaurant setting, this is it. We were so full that we couldn’t even finish but thankfully Diane let me take this one home to polish off! Absolutely loved how the smoke, rosemary and smell of spruce shoots worked together for this dessert!
Most likely my longest recap ever but there were just so many dishes to write about! I’m so happy that I caught this event on Twitter and was able to attend. Chef Mike Nguyen hopes to do it again soon and was delighted to see that tickets sold out within days of posting. I can’t wait for the next Closed Mondays pop-up. Dubbed as the “Canteen Kidz”, can I be the first to say I’d start a fan club? Congratulations to all the young chefs on making such creative and inspiring menus and thank you to everybody at Canteen for making it happen!
Closed Mondays by Canteen