Food: Edmonton21 Dec 2009 02:35 pm

I debated visiting many restaurants for my birthday, even thinking as far afield as a return to Las Vegas. However, in the end practicality won out, and I stayed in Edmonton. While I considered old favourites Zaika, Habesha and Culina Highlands for dinner, I wanted to use the occasion to try someplace new. In the end, I settled on Hardware Grill.

When there is a discussion of good food in Edmonton, it is inevitable Hardware Grill pops up in the conversation. This long standing member of the Edmonton food scene has always been a front runner in cuisine in our city. However, until this month, I had never eaten there.

The restaurant opened in 1996 in one of Edmonton’s historic buildings, so named as it is in the location formerly occupied by the W.W. Arcade hardware store and Imperial Lumber store. The building, the Goodridge Block, opened in 1912. I had a very vivid memory of buying a copy of the game Jenga as a child at the location, which I thought was an Army & Navy. However, that seems to not be the case. Perhaps I just remember buying it up the street.

History aside, we arrived just on time to a busy restaurant for our Monday reservation in very cold weather and received a warm, casual greeting. Our table was in a private corner, just near enough to a large party of eight to feel included.

Initially I found the decor cozy, with a definite early 90s feel. Something about the colours and “loft” look, I think. After we had been sitting a while, I thought the decor was showing its age, however. Thinning carpets and squeaky chairs were evident. I enjoyed being able to see Jasper Avenue through the mesh blinds. Even at such frigid temperatures that day, there were still people scurrying about.

hardware grill tasting menu
Hardware Tasting Menu for the week of December 14, 2009

Mike and I decided on the tasting menu, which changes weekly and riffs off their a la carte menu. Our server left a copy of the tasting menu so we could know what was up next. I am accustomed to dishes being announced as they arrive, so this pleased me. Sometimes I forget the intricacies of dishes for when it comes to blogging.

As it was a special occasion, I also indulged in the wine pairing. I will admit to being a complete blank slate when it comes to wine. Champagne, I know. Wine, I do not. However I enjoy the wine pairing ritual and the decadence of a new glass with every course.

Mike got a pint of the $8 exclusive-to-Hardware Howe Sound Nut Brown Rail Ale. It is a beer from Squamish, B.C. It was nice, but a little thin tasting for such a cold winter evening.

Our server returned with a simple basket of some warm sourdough bread. I am not sure what to say about the service, since I think my issues with it can be chalked up to a personality clash. Generally, I  found it good, and well paced. I guess it was just not at the level for what I expected for one of the finest restaurants in Edmonton, but that is very subjective. Some people wish to be entertained at dinner, I do not.

I should clarify there were no huge issues or problems, it was simply something that rubbed me the wrong way. However when I think back, I remember the food, which is what matters the most I think.

The amuse (no photo) was a delectably fatty, salty, smokey duck prosciutto. With just four slices I was left wanting more…just as a good amuse bouche should do.

hardware grill edmonton
First course was butternut squash-mascarpone cheese tortelloni with chanterelle mushrooms. There were also cipollini onions, which appeared often in later dishes. Composing bites of tender pasta with a sliver of mushroom and parmesan cheese was wonderful, and rewarding. The warm creamy filling made this dish perfect for winter.

hardware grill edmonton
The salad was goat cheese fritters on top of greens with dates hazelnuts and striped beets. The fritters were creamy and warm, balanced by a perfectly pomegranate vinaigrette dressed salad.

Sweetbreads followed (no photo), which was the only disappointing course, in my opinion. They were wrapped in prosciutto, resting on a roasted portobello mushroom with onion jam, potato crispies and wine reduction. The potato slivers were very crispy indeed and awkward to eat. They reminded me of the bottom of a bag of chips, actually. They kept going all over the plate. I finally just rolled the slightly touch, slightly overdone sweetbreads in them.

hardware grill edmonton
Confession: I often order lamb because it looks beautiful when presented and is fun to eat. Hardware’s rendition did not disappoint. It came on a huge pillow of pea ravioli, which complemented the lamb perfectly.

hardware grill edmonton
Before dessert, I visited the ladies room which is in the basement. There you might peer into the private dining room, which is a richly coloured room full of wine. Hardware probably has the largest wine list in the city (the book was close to 20 pages) and so it makes sense to make it part of the decor.

hardware grill edmonton

We ended on a sweet note, a Glenlivet butterscotch pudding, with a cornflake crusted bread pudding, made to dip into the pudding. It was hard to tell, but I think our server tried to tell us that he had sent our desserts flying off the plate on his first attempt to deliver them. It was not surprising, the presentation was quite wacky. I will admit that I am not a fan of butterscotch, but this was a good dessert. I could not simply finish my bread pudding though. It was too rich, and I was too full.

The food was incredible, save for the slightly off sweetbreads course. A well paced two and a half hour dinner left me feeling satisfied. The service, however, made me feel awkward and might be enough to keep me away for a while. Perhaps I’ll give the lunch menu a try sometime soon.

Hardware Grill
9698 Jasper Avenue

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