Restaurants are made up of many factors. The ones most often referred to include menu, service, decor and ambiance. But location is frequently left off that list, in spite of the fact that it contributes to the overall experience of the establishment. Convenience, ease of access, and neighbouring attractions do determine, to an extent, the frequency with which a diner returns.
That’s why it was curious to me when it was announced that Chef Andrew Fung’s new venture, Nineteen, would be located in the far-flung southwest neighbourhood of MacTaggert. Although Nineteen is located within the same quadrant as his most recent restaurant, the Blackhawk Golf Course, there is probably more to be said about being first to the post. Nineteen is breaking new ground in an area of the city dominated mostly by chains, and brings more sophisticated dining to suburban residents who may be accustomed to commuting for a refined meal.
Still, in anticipation of a complimentary preview event on Monday evening, I was most looking forward to how Chef Fung would “redefine dining” (Nineteen’s catchphrase). Without much in the way of surrounding street life or a critical mass of restaurants, the expectations for Nineteen are high – in order to attract patrons outside of the immediate area, the restaurant has to be considered a dining destination.
For us, it was a bit of a harrowing journey to Nineteen. From our downtown home, it took us over an hour’s drive to reach the restaurant, the Whitemud at a crawl due to two accidents. It was a reminder of why we generally don’t venture beyond a certain perimeter in a vehicle, especially at rush hour, but we recognize that it was an experience isolated to us among the diners that evening. As a result, we were late for the start of the tasting, but happy that we fortuitously ended up seated with Edmonton Sun columnist Graham Hicks and his lovely wife, Maria.
Our first impressions of the restaurant were positive. The dining room connotes warmth, achieved through a combination of the incandescent light fixtures and the organic, leather material throughout the space – in wall panels and gold-coloured chairs. It felt almost like a smoking lounge, comfortable, but polished. Nineteen also has a lounge, dressed similarly and separated by a wall.
That said, my favourite feature of the dining room was the open window into the kitchen. It’s always great to have a visual connection with those preparing your food, and at Nineteen, clearly they have nothing to hide.
Peek into the kitchen
The menu sampling was generous, with ten separate courses served over a span of three hours. The dishes were to give us an idea of the breadth of the menu, though the final version for the restaurant’s opening night of November 7, 2012 was yet to be finalized. We were told that the menu would likely change on a bi-weekly basis, to allow for the inclusion of seasonal and rotating dishes. At least on the menu presented, there weren’t any local suppliers highlighted, though I didn’t have a chance to ask Chef Fung if this would change.
Our favourite dishes were served in the first half of the meal. Among them was the one-bite ahi tuna twist, with a surprisingly fiery finish, and gloriously fatty blueberry duck sliders with chipotle aioli.
Ahi tuna twist
Chef Fung also showcased quite a bit of his flair for seafood. His miso marinated Atlantic salmon was bright and briny, a flavour carried on in the wasabi miso dressing on the accompanying spinach salad. Mack really enjoyed the ahi tuna & scallop ceviche, gorgeously presented on a pedestal with fresh thyme crackers. The ponzu and wasabi pea foam were subtle but ideal enhancements.
Miso marinated Atlantic salmon
Ahi tuna & scallop ceviche
The Japanese baby back ribs were also a hit around the table, glazed with sake soy. They had just the right amount of sweetness for my palate, and the meat easily flaked off the bone, textured with the right amount of fat.
Japanese baby back ribs
Less successful was the confit chicken waffle. The sweetness of the grilled peppers were the highlight among the muddled flavours of chicken and the quinoa-potato waffle. As well, the duo of Alberta pork featured an overly dry tenderloin, and an undercooked, chewy king oyster mushroom.
Confit chicken waffle
Duo of Alberta pork
Without a doubt, Chef Andrew Fung has crafted a menu that plays to his strengths, which include incorporating Asian ingredients in inspired ways. But what I guess I was hoping to find at Nineteen was a more defined identity, one that would occupy an upscale niche not yet found in Edmonton to help make it the destination restaurant in an otherwise bleak independent dining district. For example – Corso 32’s obsessive approach to Italian cuisine, or the refined interpretation of a steakhouse by Charcut in Calgary. Of course, as I mentioned above, perhaps it doesn’t matter – Nineteen’s niche may simply be serving upmarket cuisine in an area starved for it. Only time will tell.
Thanks again to Chef Fung and the staff at Nineteen for the invitation. Best of luck in these opening weeks!
5940 Mullen Way