In spite of my criticisms of Downtown Dining Week, I had every intention of partaking in the food festival. While I do think the Downtown Business Association could do much to expand and better promote the event, the pre-fixe menus are still undoubtedly a great way to sample new (and revisit favourite) restaurants.
ZINC, the sparkly new restaurant in the beautiful Art Gallery of Alberta, topped my list of eateries I wanted to try, with their $50, 4-course menu highlighting four of the current exhibits seeming too good to pass up. I wasn’t sure what to expect – most of the chatter has been decidedly negative, though there have been some bright spots for the month-old restaurant. Needless to say, our expectations at the gate leaned to the low side of the spectrum approaching our dinner.
A week prior, I made a reservation online (nope, not on Open Table), noting down a request for a window seat, as well as listing the special occasion we were celebrating. Upon arrival, we were seated one table shy of a window, and at no point was our occasion acknowledged. While I had no issue with either of these things, if the restaurant has no intention of fulfilling seating requests or recognizing the reason for dining, they should simply take those categories off of the reservation system.
The view from our table (the two-top next to us was taken when we arrived)
During our preview tour of the AGA in January, we were privy to a sneak peek of ZINC. At that time, I already knew I loved the soaring ceiling, floor-to-ceiling windows, and the dramatic cobalt-blue bar. Sitting inside the restaurant, however, the echo-chamber effect of the high ceiling wasn’t conducive to an intimate conversation, particularly with an unnecessarily long table. The metallic strip around the edges of the tables and as a menu backing were nice touches though, reminding diners of the restaurant’s namesake.
Interior (the Douglas fir wall is another beautiful feature)
We were a bit apprehensive about the service we would receive at ZINC, but as it turned out, we needn’t have worried. Our waiter, Nick, was excellent, and though he looked familiar to us, we couldn’t quite place him. We eventually asked if he had worked anywhere else in Edmonton, and he told us the Wildflower Grill had been his previous post (he had served us one of our best meals there). Nick was particularly great at explaining the connection each of the DDW dishes had to the art exhibits – I’d recommend asking to be seated in his section if you are concerned about potential service issues!
Like Wildflower, ZINC also serves an amuse bouche. Presented on an ice-cold spoon, we were treated to foie gras yogurt topped with a raspberry segment. It was not our cup of tea – the guttural richness was not pleasing to our palates.
Foie Gras Amuse Bouche
The bread course, however, was! Hot (and I mean hot) out of the oven, two beautiful buns were delivered, accompanied by herbed butter. Mack especially appreciates warm bread (always noting the dearth of restaurants that pay attention to this comforting detail).
Gloriously Warm Bread!
My appetizer was a duo of sardines: sardine paté and grilled marinated sardine filet, with sundried tomato, brioche bread, and fresh herb salad. Apparently related to Goya, this dish had the weakest connection to art – Nick explained that during the Peninsular War, Goya’s native country of Spain had an alliance with Portugal. As a result, Chef David Omar drew inspiration from Portuguese cuisine, which includes the use of sardines and sundried tomatoes. I had to applaud Chef Omar for the playful presentation though, with the upright placement of the sardine, and the spin on sardines on toast. It was my favourite aspect of the dish (the paté, like the foie gras, was too strong for me). The greens were light and offered a burst of freshness, dressed with a champagne vinaigrette.
Duo of Sardines
Mack had decided to order off the regular menu, and thoroughly enjoyed his first dish of pan-seared scallops ($18), with sweet potato and maple ginger purée, red radish, organic microgreens, glace viande and citrus foam. The presentation was beautiful, and he noted that the scallops were cooked perfectly.
My entree was a trio of house-made ravioli (inspired by Karsh’s portraits), and was the dish I had been looking forward to the most. Unfortunately, it wasn’t executed quite right. The squid-ink ravioli was supposed to burst with its stuffing of an egg yolk and goat cheese, but unfortunately, had been bathed too long. On the other hand, the oyster mushroom and ricotta ravioli had been undercooked, the pasta still bearing that telltale chewy firmness. Still, I liked the creativity behind each of the pasta rounds, with my favourite being the black ravioli and its salty filling.
Trio of Ravioli
Mack’s Spring Creek Ranch beef tenderloin entree ($42) was similarly uneven. The steak was inconsistently prepared, with only a part of it registering the requested medium rare (the rest was most definitely well done). Mack did like the flavour of the watercress mashed potatoes though.
Spring Creek Ranch Pan-Seared Beef Tenderloin
We shared my dessert, a three part affair of corn pudding, caramelized popcorn and wild boar bacon ice cream. The duo of Cardiff/Miller inspired this plate – with Miller’s birthplace of the farming community of Vegreville leading to the use of corn and bacon. We were also supposed to combine the flavours of the dessert (as the couple work together to complete their art installations). The silky corn pudding was our favourite, and Mack noted its flavour resemblance to rice pudding. The bacon ice cream, aside from the occasional piece of bacon as a reminder, wasn’t as flavourful as I would have liked.
The last course was a chocolate little dancer martini, which I let Mack take care of. The Degas connection was in the movement and swirl of the Baileys and Kahlua within the transparent house-infused vanilla vodka. Mack liked the chocolate syrup rim, and finished the drink without complaint.
Chocolate Little Dancer Martini
It seems some of the early issues at the restaurant may have resolved themselves with time, but not all of them. I hope the rest of the kitchen miscues are eliminated soon, as I am optimistic that ZINC could evolve into a great restaurant. I hear that Chef Omar is working closely with area producers to include even more local content on the menu – this, combined with the creativity he demonstrated with the Downtown Dining Week menu, leads me to believe that the best may be yet to come.
ZINC (inside the Art Gallery of Alberta)
2 Sir Winston Churchill Square
Lunch: Tuesday-Saturday 11am-2:30pm; Dinner: Tuesday-Wednesday 5-9pm, Thursday-Saturday 5-11pm; Brunch: Sunday 10am-2pm; closed Mondays