Birthdays provide me with a yearly excuse to try something new, in a price category that is normally out of the question (particularly in light of having recently taken on our first mortgage). Last year, we checked out the decadent Sunday brunch at the Hotel MacDonald. This year, I wanted to do something a little different.
It was at the Grilled Cheese Olympics back in March where Mack and I first met Tony Le, the Executive Chef at Lux Steakhouse (he and his colleagues at Lux are undoubtedly the most active chefs on Twitter in #yeg). It turned out he was an avid reader of our blogs, and at that time, he generously offered to prepare an off-menu meal for Mack and I.
I had pocketed his proposition until I started thinking about where I wanted to celebrate my birthday this year. A posh steakhouse seemed perfect – it would be a nice break in between packing and cleaning. We provided Tony with a price per person ($75), and confirmed the date. I couldn’t wait.
It was a quiet Saturday evening in the restaurant – the perfect atmosphere to relax after a busy day (and of course, meant that Tony would have the time to prepare our dishes). Also – I’m not a fan of the dim, masculine, almost gothic nature of traditional steakhouses, so Lux’s open room with wood paneling and visually intriguing glowing red portholes was a welcome change.
Our server Robin was great throughout the evening. Attentive without being overbearing, he gave us the space we needed to enjoy such a meal. After we were settled, he drew our attention to the half-price wine promotion Century Hospitality is currently offering this summer (with Lux’s turn on Saturday nights), which applies to all bottles of wines available by the glass. We took his recommendation of the Quails’ Gate Reserve Chardonnay, which would pair well with some of the meatier dishes Tony had in store for us that evening.
In addition to our purchased wine, however, Tony was kind enough to provide us with a bottle of Sumac Ridge sparkling wine to start us off (Robin asked if we would be driving; as public transit users, we were safe). He said when he first tried the wine, he thought it would pair perfectly with truffled bacon popcorn, and set off to experiment.
He was right. I love dishes that taunt the nose first, and this was definitely one of them, with the almost earthy notes of truffle a harbinger for the savoury flavours to come. The addition of bacon fat (from Irvings bacon) made for an irresistible combination, each tasty morsel leading to another, in between sips of the sweet bubbly. Pretty soon, I found myself staring at an empty basket (and I finished before Mack did, which almost never happens).
Truffled bacon popcorn
As each course was served, Tony came out of the kitchen to explain the dish, something we really appreciated (the opportunity to hear the creator describe his piece firsthand really enhances the product). The second course, he said, was inspired by the fact that we are avid market shoppers. He went to the City Market that morning to shop for some ingredients, many of which ended up in our heirloom tomato salad – including tomatoes from Doef’s Greenhouses and bee pollen from Lola Canola (two of our favourite producers!). It was an undoubtedly beautiful dish, with the tomatoes sliced mandolin-thin, with the white balsamic reduction and ancho chili oil subtly highlighting the freshness of the produce (I love that the tops were left on the tomatoes). The bees pollen had an interesting, almost malted texture to me, which Mack really enjoyed.
Heirloom tomato salad with white balsamic reduction and ancho chili oil and bees pollen
The lamb salad rolls that followed helped showcase Tony’s range of inspiration. The shredded, perfectly cooked (rare!) rack of lamb had been rolled up with soba noodles and apple kim chi for a bit of heat – I adored the different textures. Served with a watercress and dill salad with an amazing pickled ginger mirin, I can’t see why this course shouldn’t become a regular appetizer on the Lux menu.
Lamb salad rolls with pickled ginger mirin
Next, the pan-seared halibut reminded me that I am but a humble cook – no halibut I’ve ever made has tasted like that, so flaky and moist. Served with a bacon broth that had been cooked with sea asparagus (from Mo Na), the broth took the salty edge off the sea asparagus, but left them with that signature crunch. I requested a spoon to make sure no part of the dish was left unconsumed.
Pan-seared halibut with sea asparagus in a bacon broth (I’m a terrible food blogger – I was halfway through the dish before I realized I hadn’t yet taken a photo…it just looked that good)
We were a little disappointed that the duck used in the subsequent dish wasn’t sourced from Greens, Eggs and Ham, but we understood Tony had his shopping limitations. The Brome Lake duck had been finished with a cab demi glaze, and was served with a grilled apricot and potato gratin. The breast had been well-prepared, and I liked the accompanying sauce. The apricot was a nice touch too, ensuring our palate wasn’t overpowered by the protein and cheesy starch.
Duck breast with cab demi glaze, grilled apricot and potato gratin
Our final entrée was an espresso bison shortrib with a peppercorn glaze and topped with potato frites. While it’s difficult not to enjoy any meat tender enough to fall off the bone, I have to say the bison was overshadowed by the bed of corn. The grown-up cousin of our starter, this was decadence at its finest, the kernels just danced in my mouth with a coat of sumptuous bacon fat and truffle oil (thanks, Matt!).
Espresso shortrib with a peppercorn glaze, potato frites and truffled bacon cream corn
As we readied ourselves for dessert, we couldn’t believe that we were already into our second hour of dining. The time warp was attributed to the skill of the kitchen that ensured the courses were properly paced so our stomachs weren’t overwhelmed.
The first of two desserts (you read that right) was a flaky pastry with sour cherry compote, poached pears, champagne sorbet with raspberry coulis (the raspberries and pears were sourced from the City Market). It was the perfect plate to follow several dense courses – funny how fruit can help settle an ailment of overeating, no? Both Mack and I agreed, however, that the best thing on the plate was the light and refreshing champagne sorbet.
Flaky pastry with sour cherry compote, poached pears, champagne sorbet and raspberry coulis
What was the final course, you ask? A birthday cake in the form of cream cheese and chocolate cupcakes, accompanied by coconut and walnut chocolate truffles.
Cream cheese and chocolate cupcakes and truffles
We were really happy that Tony was able to sit and chat with us for a while at the end of the meal. Though we’ve had conversations in passing, it was great to finally have the opportunity to get to know him a little better. It was easy to see his passion for Edmonton, and he stated his intentions to remain here, in order to continue to contribute to the community. I think the city is lucky to have such a talented and committed chef in Tony!
Thanks again to Tony and the rest of the staff at Lux for a wonderful night, and for one of the best birthday meals I’ve ever had.
Lux Steakhouse and Bar
10150 101 Street
Steakhouse hours: Lunch, Monday-Friday 11-2:30pm; Dinner, Monday-Thursday 5-10pm, Friday-Saturday 5-11pm, closed Sunday