Food and Food: Edmonton03 Feb 2010 07:27 pm

zinc, edmonton

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.

zinc, edmonton

zinc, edmonton

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.

zinc, edmonton

zinc, edmonton

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.

zinc, edmonton

The housemade butter was angelic. Fennel with spring onion and fleur de sel. It was served with brioche baked in house.

zinc, edmonton

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.

zinc, edmonton
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.

zinc, edmonton

“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:
zinc, edmonton

This caribou does NOT look succulent.

zinc, edmonton

zinc, edmonton

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.

zinc, edmonton
zinc, edmonton
zinc, edmonton

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

12 Responses to “early review of zinc, edmonton”

  1. on 04 Feb 2010 at 7:32 am H.Peter

    It’s all there, just needs to be tweaked?

    Good to read a Blog review that’s not all blue eyed, because it’s new and in your own home town.

  2. on 04 Feb 2010 at 12:28 pm Kelly

    Yeah, that’s how I would phrase it, H.Peter.

    I was of two minds in posting this review even, since it’s kind of unfair to judge a restaurant in it’s opening week let alone opening night.

  3. on 07 Feb 2010 at 6:01 pm Paula

    I have to agree wholeheartedly with your review. We attempted to have brunch today. Unfortunately, we were a week early – brunch doesn’t start until next week. We had lunch instead. Some good points, including very well executed white fish in batter. Some bad points, including cold food/plates and strange combinations (like smoked turkey mac & cheese as a side order for a burger…). Front of house staff need more training, and it feels like they really are still trying to work it all out. I hope it gets better, as it is a beautiful venue.

  4. on 10 Feb 2010 at 12:49 am A Canadian Foodie

    I have followed the press… but still was not expecting the ideas I saw on yoru plates. What a thrill. Thanks for the frank review, and I, like you, believe they will do better. Somehow, I only expected daytime food. Must not have been reading clearly!!!

  5. on 10 Feb 2010 at 10:29 am Marianne

    Thanks for the review. I hope they improve… it sounds like they are really on to something, especially with the seasonal menu and the wish for polished service. And of course, those windows must make it an amazing spot for a meal!

    That would be fantastic if they got into beer! I’m always disappointed that I can’t have a nice Belgian beer with my meals, maybe this will be the spot where that will finally happen!

  6. on 12 Feb 2010 at 7:44 pm Amy

    LOL for “is this your first visit?” Perhaps that is when the Zinc experience really grew a beard for you?

  7. on 03 Mar 2010 at 1:00 am melissa

    Thanks so much for the review – im having my wedding there in late may of this year and sure hope they work out the kinks by then!

  8. on 05 Mar 2010 at 4:04 pm Jeanette

    I’m sorry to report that Zinc falls into the category of “never again” for us, after the atrocious service we received. As someone who loves food and appreciates what goes into a restaurant and the work required, I wanted to be able to cut them a break, but sheesh.

    Cold entrees, dirty wine glasses, snarky and curt service from our waiter who never once checked in on us during our meal, and watery, cold coffee were all sort of hard to overlook. Despite the lovely locale and interesting menu, it was a sad waste of money and a big disappointment.

    Melissa, if it’s not too late, maybe reconsider for your special day . . .

  9. on 06 Mar 2010 at 4:07 pm GASTRONOMY


    Not sure what experience you had, but I have dined at ZINC 6 times now and I love it. I have traveled around the world and eaten at many restaurants. ZINC is my new favourite resto in Edmonton. Perhaps you were a little bitter that the prices are too much for you. For those who enjoy fine dining will enjoy ZINC. Its certainly not a hick restaurant, it’s for those who enjoy a fine meal. It is quite common, and I can challenge you that you can enter any new restaurant and there will be some issues in the beginning until they get it right. I am sure ZINC will get it right.

  10. on 06 Mar 2010 at 4:50 pm kelly

    I will definitely give it another try when their spring menu comes out. I will admit that eating there did sway my own wedding planning and we did move everything to Las Vegas, even after giving heavy consideration to both Wildflower Grill and ZINC/Compass Catering at the Alberta Art Gallery.

    I do have high hopes for them. I know it was a big rush in the end to open the gallery and the restaurant, so perhaps things will settle with time.

    Gastronomy: What were your amuse bouche selections on your visits, and did you enjoy them? The few people I have known to dine there have said theirs were not very good and I personally found it one of the weakest components of the meal.

  11. on 08 Mar 2010 at 1:06 pm Pierce

    Sounds to me like Gastronomy works for Zinc, since his comments are markedly different from everyone else’s ; )

    My wife and I dined at Zinc recently and experienced similar service flaws (timeliness, food temperature, knowledge of the menu, general uninterested service) that others seem to have noticed. Our entrees were tasty but not superb (the black cod was nice but accompaniements were flavorless), though our amuse bouche (beef with mushrooms) was lovely.

    We’ve had far better experiences in Edmonton, such as the Wildflower Grill, Hardware Grill and the Red Ox Inn, each of which we were delighted with outstanding food and service that matched the “fine dining” prices.

    Good luck to Zinc, though I will likely refrain from returning unless I see an improvement in reviews from fellow diners.

  12. on 16 May 2010 at 3:37 am Duane Scibetta

    well advice and sharing,I will buy one great apple for me .thanks,Joe