Edmonton’s Rat Pack Shines at Solstice

You could call Jan Trittenbach, Jamin Sharp, Jon Elson and Josh Meachem the Rat Pack of Edmonton. Not because they’re a bunch of guys who can sing and dance, but because they just happen to have met and worked together at Packrat Louie just off Whyte Avenue. Like the original Rat Pack (minus one), this group also has the chops – in the kitchen, that is.

L to R: Meachem, Trittenbach, Elwood, Sharp Photo credit: Chantelle Tyler of Not What They Seem Productions
L to R: Meachem, Trittenbach, Elson, Sharp
Photo credit: Chantelle Tyler of Not What They Seem Productions

Leaving the southside restaurant for bigger dreams and grander schemes, this culinary Rat Pack took over the Sommerville Wine Room on 124 Street and opened  Solstice Seasonal Cuisine.  The restaurant’s name pays homage to the connection between the sun and our food, as in what is available certain times of the year, depending on the season.

That’s all the warm and fuzzy stuff;  local, regional, seasonal, etc., but what we really want to know is, is it any good?

In a word, yes. In two words, yes and very.

The menu is, thankfully, small: there is much to be said for quality over quantity. The menu is also interesting: beet soil, chick pea ragout, pig tail. That pig tail, by the way, is divine and you’ll be doing yourself a disservice by turning up your nose and passing it up because “pig tail” sounds unsightly.

Appetizers IMG_9706_Snapseed

The meat is pulled off the bone and formed into a croquette then served on an edamame and chickpea ragout, a mini bagel cracker and bacon jam, and finished with a grainy maple mustard vinaigrette. Delicious.

pig tail IMG_9723_Snapseed
Pig Tail
Jumbo Scallop and Cornmeal-Crusted Oysters
Jumbo Scallop and Cornmeal-Crusted Oysters

An example of balance: buttery-rich seared scallop, crisp wafer-thin potato chip, silky aoili, piquant chili confit. The scallop and oyster appetizer was faultless.

mains IMG_9708_Snapseed

Trittenbach and Sharp’s European training shows itself in the rock solid execution of the mains. The proteins are perfectly seared, roasted, braised, and finished with exquisite sauces.

Beef short rib with baked potato perogy, leeks, acorn squash purée, braising jus
Beef short rib with baked potato perogy, leeks, acorn squash purée, braising jus
Duo of Veal - tenderloin, cheek, popcorn gruyere polenta, red cabbage, brussel sprout greens, mustard pan jus
Duo of Veal – tenderloin, cheek, popcorn gruyere polenta, red cabbage, brussel sprout greens, mustard pan jus

Creme brûlée is my go to for dessert and having only two items on the list made our decision easy: we’d order both. The creme brûlée was seductively smooth and surprisingly well-paired with the green apple sorbet. The chocolate mousse, though, with that light-as-air meringue and cardamom almond milk froth had me shielding my plate from my dinner date’s wandering spoon.

L - Creme Brûlée R - Chocolate Mousse
L – Creme Brûlée
R – Chocolate Mousse

The kitchen knows what it’s doing, no doubt there. Service by Jon Elson was flawless. He has the right balance of knowledge and professionalism without being stuffy or condescending. That leaves only one member of the Rat Pack who needs mentioning: the barkeep.

Josh Meachem’s domain is situated at the back of the room, next to the kitchen. It’s a small but nicely appointed space with four stools allowing you to get up close and personal with this modern mixer. Edmonton’s cocktail scene (yay, Edmonton has a cocktail scene) is hot right now, and Meachem could hold his own against any of the more prominent (i.e. bearded, pierced, tattooed, moustachioed) bartenders in the city.

cocktails IMG_9705_Snapseed

House-made syrups, vintage glassware and top-shelf spirits come together in a dazzling display of cocktail shakery. The list is noticeably longer than the food list — and that’s just fine in my books. A table of eight, next to us, were working their way through the list with lightning speed. They were very happy.

Si Mamacita
Si Mamacita

I like the restraint that Solstice is showing. They could’ve gone overboard in every department, but they haven’t. The menu is focused, the room sparse yet pleasing, the staff confident and still approachable. A very good start for a very smart team.

More details about the food and my experience at Solstice can be found here in my CBC Edmonton AM segment with Mark Connolly.