Murrieta’s is one of those restaurants that is easily overlooked. Perhaps it can be attributed to its non-descript location on Whyte (without a flashy patio or sidewalk real estate), or more likely, its resemblance to other upscale casual restaurants like Joey’s. Well, Murrieta’s (with locations in Calgary and Canmore as well) is trying to shed that image, having hired Chef Shand Chartrand to revamp the menu, and hopefully, the brand itself.
Chef Chartrand first splashed onto the Edmonton food scene as the Executive Chef of L2, the Fantasyland Grill’s attempt at reinvigorating a dated establishment. By all accounts, he did a wonderful job, putting L2 on the map, and showed that Bourbon Street wasn’t the only dining destination at the mall. So when it was announced in February that he was shifting to Murrieta’s, it was a bit of a coup for them to have landed a chef with such a reputation (General Manager Courtney Campbell told us that once he took a look at Chef Chartrand’s resume, he literally chased him down the street to call him back). Two weeks ago, I was fortunate to be invited as a guest to Murrieta’s summer menu launch (thanks, Karlynn, for thinking of me!).
Chef Chartrand took his time in developing his first menu, speaking with suppliers and choosing a select few local producers, such as MoNa and Mighty Trio Organics, to highlight. That said, in introducing the menu, it was clear maintaining value-driven dishes was important, as was the need to cater to their customers with recognizable dishes. Chef Chartrand did say seafood sustainability was of particular importance to him, and as a result, the four types of fish that appear on the menu were selected based on that criteria (including an Alberta pickerel). I would hope that for future menus the names of local producers are more prominent, however – short of asking the server, that information was not readily at hand.
Chef Chartrand presents his menu
While the meal wasn’t intended to be eaten family-style, it quickly devolved into this, as plates circled around our table. We were permitted to order what pleased us, and someone suggested we try all of the appetizers – yes, all ten of them. My favourite was the tempura prawns ($14), wrapped in a light and crispy batter, and served with coconut jelly, pickled ginger and sachimi aioli. The deep fried goat cheese ($14) also shouldn’t be missed, still spreadable but accented with a nice crust, accompanied by local crackers and orange brandy sauce.
Deep fried goat cheese
Our table was a bit more sensible when it came to entrees, ordering just one a piece, but there was still a fair amount of plate-passing on this round as well. Without question, Chef Chartrand knows how to make fish sing – the pan-seared pickerel ($32) was perfectly cooked, and the side of béarnaise sauce on that rainy evening provided the comfort I was looking for. I probably could have done with some more side vegetables and without the wilting pea tendrils, but it is a dish I would order again.
Pan-seared pickerel with béarnaise sauce
Two other exceptional dishes I had the opportunity to taste were the lamb duo ($39) and the ancho glazed veal shank ($31). Although the appetizer lamb meatballs were imbued with a gamey flavour, the half lamb rack I tried had none of that, cooked to a moist medium rare.
Lamb duo of roasted half rack and merguez sausage
The veal was similarly moist and fork tender. It was without a doubt the largest serving of meat on the menu, and even featured a bit of bone marrow. Many around the table agreed that this was the best dish of the night.
Ancho glazed veal shank
Dessert unfortunately didn’t leave us on a high note, though the presentation was certainly memorable. Several of us ordered the daily crème brule ($9), which was caramelized tableside. After the dishes were delivered, alcohol was sprayed on top, then ignited for a showy blue flame. The white chocolate custard was okay, but I would have preferred a warmer custard temperature. We were also disappointed that the promised fresh-baked cookie wasn’t available to accompany the dish.
White chocolate crème brule
Having nothing to do with the food, but being a part of the experience that night was geeking out and asking to have a photo taken with former Oiler Craig Simpson. He was there as a wine rep for Murrieta’s Well winery (their blended white wine, called The Whip, was delectable – I had two glasses easy), but was more than happy to indulge a few fans.
With Judy, Craig and Karlynn
Thanks to Murrieta’s for the invitation – it was a lovely evening all around. I do think Chef Chartrand will help raise the restaurant’s profile, and with time, could transform it into a dining destination.
10612 82 Avenue