Side entrance to Zinc. You may also enter through the main foyer of the AGA.
On Sunday January 31, the Art Gallery of Alberta reopened after being closed for nearly five years of renovations. The new building made a lot of promises: more gallery space, better exhibits, a stunning exterior and new spaces for restaurants and cafes. Tuesday February 2 marked the first day of operations of the flagship restaurant, Zinc. (Or is that ZIИC?)
Naturally, I have been excited about Zinc for sometime. Working where I do l afforded me the ability to see a lot of behind the scenes photos as things were put together going up to the big day, and doing a site tour of the Art Gallery of Alberta as a possible wedding venue amped up the excitement even more.
Visiting on the first day of a restaurant’s opening is a different experience, and not one necessarily recommended. Service may lack smoothness, menus could be in the process of being tweaked and may not be complete yet, and everything is in a state of change and upheaval.
I attempted to make reservations earlier in the week on their online reservation system, but it wasn’t operational yet. It wasn’t clear what number I should call to reach the restaurant, but the woman manning the phones at the AGA’s main number put me through.
We arrived a bit late for the 7pm reservation, but were seated in a mostly empty restaurant. Perhaps we missed the dinner rush, or perhaps there was just less hype about the restaurant than I expected.
The room, and building, are stunning. Some have criticized the design to be a non-Gehry designed Frank Gehry style building, and there are definite similarities, but the building is stunning nonetheless…especially when compared to the building before. Many people walking by stopped to peer in and more than once a car slowed to a crawl outside as the occupants stared as the impressive curvy zinc facade.
The restaurant itself has soaring zinc ceilings, with large ENORMOUS windows. Sitting near them, it was not chilly at all, however. Cool blue light accents the metallic accessories which is equalized by a warm yellow glow from candles and the bell tower at nearby City Hall. It’s a very industrial room, but also cozy due to carefully placed dividers and a gorgeous Douglas Fir wall. The view is quite captivating as it overlooks the square and City Hall, and I imagine in the summer it will be a great place to grab a drink before attending a festival or event in Churchill Square.
After we were seated our (very) green waitress asked us if it was our first visit to the restaurant which amused me a great deal. She was definitely still learning the ropes, but was careful to do things the right way in a restaurant of this calibre, like serve from the right and switch out cutlery after each course.
The menu was an abbreviated version of what is to come, and is expected to change seasonally, according to sommelier and maitre d’ Claude Fournier. He came around twice to see how we liked our meals, and took our thoughts and concerns very seriously. It’s nice to get someone who cares about the answer when they ask the question. Claude also said that Chef David Omar and him hope to have dishes which reflect the different exhibits in the gallery at that time. I’m excited a restaurant in Edmonton (other than the Blue Pear) will focus on a varied rotating menu. Although he is not a beer fan (“I cannot stand the yeast,” Claude said) he hopes to do beer pairing as well at some point.
At first glance, it seemed that there was a lot going on in the menu. I saw a lot of food trend buzzwords like foam, gelee and the like. I was also alarmed by the amount of flavours appearing on a single dish. For instance, the fois gras ballotine. However, they were all variations on anise, and it really worked in the end. There were only three appetizers plus a soup and five mains available to order. Later, two desserts (which we had to pass on.)
There is also a large cocktail list with some interesting libations available, and a selection of Alberta beers, but all in the bottle.
Our amuse bouche was served in a tiny coffee cup and was an extremely cold, extremely bland cream cheese avocado “pudding” with ginger. Thank god for the overly zingy ginger, because there was NOTHING going on in this otherwise. It did not amuse my mouth at all.
The housemade butter was angelic. Fennel with spring onion and fleur de sel. It was served with brioche baked in house.
Foie gras appetizer. A slice of foie gras with salted licorice caramel ice cream, black sambuca gelee, coriander apple with salad and brioche toast. As I mentioned previously, this dish sounded all over the map, like there was too much going on. Turns out: it was pretty good! The saltiness balanced well with the sweetness and the anise flavours just worked with the foie gras. The brioche provided just enough crunch for the creamy foie gras.
My dish was less successful. I had the beet salad. The Good: the presentation (like a salad painting!), the parsnip goat cheese puree, fresh carrot juice as a palate cleanser and rose honey reduction. The Bad: Rose honey reduction was hidden on the bottom of my salad, creating an unbalanced sticky glop of flavour as my greens disappeared and the beet “carpaccio” was kind of ridiculous. They’re just raw beets. And they were hard to cut. In addition the beets that were supposed to be roasted were not and were mostly crisp and hard as well.
“Taste of Alberta” main. At $44 this was the most expensive item on the menu. It featured (left to right) bison short ribs, caribou and a saskatoon berry sausage on a bed of braised red cabbage, artichokes and gnocchi. On top, a drizzle of spice chocolate sauce. To put it lightly, disappointing. While the short ribs were toothsome and savoury and moist, the sausage was dry, as was the caribou. How dry? This dry:
This caribou does NOT look succulent.
Wild Alberta pickerel with pickled mushrooms, edamame, beets and warm potato espuma.
I waffled on a main, but finally went with fish. I just HAD to know what “potato espuma” was. I was pleasantly surprised by this dish; it really knocked it out of the park. The pickled mushrooms perked up what is a relatively plain, light fish, and the glorified mashed potatoes just worked. Espuma is supposed to be more of a foam, but this is more of a light creamy mash. Menu error? I was left wanting more; the serving size was adequate but I just wanted to taste more.
I will have to return before I make any firm decisions, but this first visit left me wanted more of the good and less of the bad. I sense great things in the making, though, so I will remain hopeful and try to not judge before they are fully operational.
Dinner for two (two courses each), with one beer ran about $130.
Liane Faulder wrote a preview about Zinc in the Journal a few weeks ago: Zinc offers beautiful food, by design
Zinc at the Art Gallery of Alberta
Open for lunch and dinner service everyday but Monday
Sunday Brunch is also served
online reservations also available