I’ve been a fan of North 53 since the day it opened. Even before, in fact, when I heard they were one winery or two ahead of me throughout the entire Okanagan in 2013. If restaurant owners and staff were tasting their way through BC in search of wines for their yet-to-open restaurant, they were already scoring high marks in my books.
Fast forward to Edmonton and restaurant opening of Januray 2014. Edmonton is taken by storm by a crew of young movers and shakers producing food so foreign to Albertan palates in ways so creative that the city just doesn’t know what to make of this place. Food is too expensive; the food is too weird; dinner takes too long; why is there smoke coming out of my cocktail?
After being open for only a year, North 53 closed for a week and re-opened with a new look, a new menu, and a new chef. Why this contender for Enroute’s Top 10 Best New Restaurant 2014 was undergoing such massive changes got tongues quickly wagging. According to owner, Kevin Cam, change was necessary to give the people what they wanted while still staying in control of delivering the type of food he knew his team was worthy of producing. Also, with head chef Ben Staley leaving North for his own pasture in Chinatown, change was unavoidable.
Filliep Lament is now in charge of the kitchen and judging by a sampling of the foods served to a group of us a couple of weeks ago, I’d say Mr. Lament has things well under control. He should; before coming to work at Three Boars in Edmonton, Lament gained experience with the esteemed Martin Picard at Au Pied de Cochon and also in Montreal with Normand LaPrise at Toqué!.
What does the new North 53 offer? In short, a more relaxed menu to reflect the cultural diversity of the staff and the city. These shareable plates are for after-work snacking and late-night eats. They also go hand in hand with North 53’s stellar wine and cocktail list. Tenders of the bar, Brendan Brewster, Tyler Gushy and Elizabeth Wu, are masters, and North 53, without a doubt, is one of the best places in Edmonton to pull up a chair and set a spell.
The general consensus about the new menu (part of which is featured below) is that it is more approachable than what was on offer during North 53’s first year.
Looks good in theory, but how did the food taste?
Lament went straight for the heart with his first dish, chicharrón: fried pork rinds seasoned with dried scallop, mussel and salmon dust. Gotta love a man who leads with pork rinds.
Next up: popcorn chicken. These delightful little all-meat nuggets were deceptively light bodied, full-flavoured and seasoned perfectly.
Egg yolks on food makes everything good. The marinated and griddled mushrooms would be fine on their own, but mixing in that gorgeous, silky yolk? Bam!
Everything was going splendidly. Interesting dishes intelligently paired with wines, and then this happened:
That, my friends, is a rutabaga and oxtail tart, and it was love at first bite. True love—savoury, custardy, mouthwatering love.
To counter the indulgence of the previous dishes, a crunchy salad featuring raw, pickled and fried vegetables followed the tart. It was a brilliant balancing act of colour, flavour and texture.
For the pasta lovers: clam and scallop fettuccine bathed in a white wine and garlic sauce.
An interesting item from the ‘large plate’ selection is a whole roasted chicken. The bird is brined before being roasted which explains why it is ridiculously juicy. The stuffing is a mixture of steel cut oats and offal — a brave endeavour on the chef’s part. We’ll see if Edmonton is ready for it. I hope so.
Dessert? Of course. Pictured below, a sweet and satisfying apple tart.
While all this food business was going on, we were also being plied with cocktail samples. It’s a tough job, and yes, I’m glad I get to do it.
Cocktail Jedi, Brendan Brewster, mixed, muddled and smashed his way into our hearts and livers with one concoction after another. Tyler Gushy mercilessly added to the merriment. But…then came Elizabeth Yu with quite possibly, the best cocktail I’ve had in years—perhaps decades—with a sake based aperitif called Rosey Cheeks. The drink is her take on Akbar Masti Bastani, a persian ice cream of saffron, rose, and pistachios. Brilliant. Yu says the drink combines her two loves: Japanese spirits and the ice cream that she enjoyed as a child. Lucky for us!
Forgive the lousy shot. By this point of the evening, I was like this picture: out of focus.
What’s in store for North 53? Great things, I hope. It was a gutsy move for Kevin Cam to do a complete overhaul so soon, but Cam isn’t known for his idleness. I liked North 53 before, but it’s an all out love-fest, now.