Annie introduced me to Wild Tangerine (10383 112 Street) two years ago, but I haven’t been back since. I thought the portions were small for the price, but the decor and the atmosphere were the closest I have ever found to duplicating the fictional Sex and the City “coffee shop” in Edmonton. When a window opened up on Friday to meet up with Bettina for dinner, I jumped at the opportunity to take her there.
Wild Tangerine is part of a very small group of restaurants that are considered darlings of the Edmonton food scene (Culina and Soul Soup are two others). Part of that reason is chef Judy Wu’s presence on the national stage (for example, just recently winning bronze at the Mystery Wine Pairing event at the Canadian Culinary Championships in Toronto). The other is because of its whimsical interpretation of fusion fare using locally-sourced products.
I’ve always been sceptical of the movement towards Asian-Western “fusion”, especially because with that word anywhere near the menu, restaurants seem to believe it grants them a license to automatically increase the prices. At any rate, I was ready to give Wild Tangerine a fair shot that night.
At 5:30pm, we were just one of three parties at the restaurant, but by 7pm, nearly every table had been taken. My initial impression of the decor still held true – I loved the muted, earth-toned walls, orb-like pendant lighting and the IKEA-esque plastic white chairs. In all, with its dark floor and open space, it reminded me of a funkier version of Culina.
I also appreciated the unexpected little touches, like the stamp on the brightly-colored napkin, the mini-clipbord menus, and the smooth pebble stones at the base of the bathroom sink. I thought the plastic water cups were a little inelegant and out of place given the setting, but that was a minor nitpick.
Their selections of mains is small, almost always a good sign of a restaurant trying to focus its energies on doing a few things very well. I had heard rave reviews on their Shrimp Lollipops ($8 for 3), so we ordered that to start. For entrees, Bettina opted for the Peppercorn Crusted Yellow Fin Tuna with Organic Hemp-Oil Tomato Coulis ($20), while I decided to try the Cha-Siu Organic Pembina Pork Tenderloin with Spicy Tangerine Glaze ($22).
The Shrimp Lollipops were beautifully presented, carefully placed in a white ceramic cup. Neither of us cared for the wasabi yogurt they were served with, but I loved the crispy coating on the shrimp. They were undoubtedly messy to eat, with bits of fried noodle ending up as unfortunate casualties with every bite, but each savoury crunch transported me to an upscale midway where beautiful food tastes as it should.
Our mains were timed right, both delivered shortly after our starter plates had been cleared. Again, the artful arrangement of the food should be noted, with ribbons of carrots and slivers of chives adorning the tops of both our dishes. The bok choy was perfectly prepared, crispy, with the natural juices of the vegetable palpable. Unfortunately, both her tuna and my pork had been overcooked (the tuna to the point where it stopped tasting like fish and had a firm, meat-like consistency). Luckily, the sublime, sweet-spicy tangerine glaze saved my dish somewhat, ensuring that I used all of the conveniently pre-sliced pork as a vehicle to soak up every last ounce of the sauce.
Service was attentive throughout, and again, with my adoration of the ambiance, I know I will be back. Likely next time, it will be for tapas and desserts instead.
Peppercorn Crusted Yellow Fin Tuna
Cha-Siu Organic Pembina Pork Tenderloin