In my family, June is a time for celebration. My Mum, Dad and I all share June as a birthday month, and of course, Father’s Day is a standard observance. This year, for one of my milestone birthdays, I decided the cumulative festivities could justify the Chef’s Table splurge at the venerable Hardware Grill. As it stands, $100 for five courses at the consistently excellent restaurant is reasonable, but it was still nice to have these special occasions to commemorate with my parents.
The Chef’s Table can accommodate up to six, and like any communal table, we were told that we’d likely be joined by a party of two that night. When we arrived, we noticed that the place settings were set for four. The couple never did end up arriving, but we appreciated the heads up nonetheless.
With my parents
The Chef’s Table is located right inside the kitchen, with a perfect view of Chef Larry Stewart and his crew. I’m sure the staff are immune to it now, but I would feel a little odd being observed, fishbowl-style, as I worked. That said, we really appreciated their candor and unaffected behaviour. As we would find out, unlike the nightmare back room scenarios portrayed on television, Hardware Grill is a pristine example of a well-oiled machine.
Our view of the kitchen
A printed menu laid out the five dishes for the night, which would be served over the course of three and a half hours. The meal was so well paced, we had no idea where the time went (it didn’t mean we finished all of our food, however – most of our entrée and desserts ended up in take-home boxes). And though the food was wonderful, what really set the experience apart was the staff. White linens sometimes equal stiff and awkward interactions, but at Hardware Grill, we are always floored by the service. Beyond gracious and professional, as expected at a fine dining establishment, staff are warm, good-humoured and seem to genuinely enjoy their work.
It was also the little things – for instance, we decided to order two wine pairings to share. Without missing a beat, individual glasses were delivered to each of us, a single pour split between two. Although this wasn’t my first time sharing a wine pairing, it was certainly the first time I’ve encountered the generosity of providing a second glass.
Just as the service was measured and executed perfectly, so too were the kitchen dynamics. Chef Stewart received each order, calling out items calmly. The other chefs would quietly get to work on their components, with Sous Chef Jesse Chalmers periodically updating the ETA of the main protein. Communication was paramount, and in this kitchen, was the cornerstone on an effective team. I wrongly assumed dining at the Chef’s Table would be a noisy affair; in reality, the din of the main dining room was noticeably louder than in the kitchen.
Mack observes the kitchen
The first course was a charming way to start off the meal – a bite-size sandwich layered with brioche, lobster, pancetta, arugula and oven-dried tomato paired with a lobster bisque. The photo is a bit deceiving – a heavy hand in the kitchen dealt the lobster.
Soup ‘n sandwich
The salad of buffalo mozzarella and symphony heirloom tomatoes was simple, but made with good ingredients, including a spike of lemon-scented olive oil, was delicious.
Buffalo mozzarella and tomato salad
Mack especially enjoyed the pasta course of hand-rolled goat cheese tortelloni, their creamy centres stealing the show. For me, it was the underlying corn broth that sung – it was skill that coaxed such fragrance and aroma from the corn.
Goat cheese tortelloni with beech mushrooms in corn broth
By the time we reached the entrée, we were already approaching the point of being uncomfortably full. Interestingly enough, we were encouraged to eat the hickory-smoked quail by hand, not something we would have expected. I ended up gravitating more to the vegetables on the plate, in particular to the caramelized cauliflower, lovingly browned in a way that I will try to replicate at home.
After the preceding two courses, I was anticipating a light finish to the dinner. Instead, we were presented with a dense, intensely rich chocolate marquise. Even one half the size would have been too much for me, but the dollop of sour cream on top was curious, lending a tang that did not pair well with the chocolate.
Kudos to the staff of Hardware Grill for a memorable experience. If anything, it reminded me that I shouldn’t let too much time pass between future visits to Edmonton’s most respected restaurant.
9698 Jasper Avenue