The number of Edmonton eateries I still want to try is never-ending, but the last (written with trepidation) of the so-labelled “high end” restaurants on my list was Characters (10257 105 Street). Mack took me there for my birthday on Saturday night.
My knowledge about restaurant has been limited besides perusal of their website and exposure to a recent advertising campaign they have launched (billboards and ads in local magazines), so I really didn’t have any expectations.
Walking in, we were greeted by a friendly host who promptly seated us at one of the choice tables along the wall. While I first decided to sit in the “Batcave chair” facing the banquette, I soon switched with Mack in order to have a view of the dining room – a not uncommon choice for female patrons, as we overheard a waiter comment.
Photos don’t do the dining room justice – I loved the open room, the sconces and the lighting fixtures, the bank of windows, the brick, and the wood panelling on the ceiling. I did think, however, that they could have afforded to either restore the hardwood floor or have it installed in favour of the cheaper-looking laminate floor.
Our server provided us with ample time to peruse the wine list and the menu. While we ended up just asking the waiter to recommend a wine, we were both shocked by the availability of a $1300 bottle of red (2000 Chateau Margeux or Chateau Lafite) from the truly extensive 13-page menu. Both glasses were exactly what we were looking for – a light, sweet Riesling for me, and a medium-bodied Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre for Mack.
On this night, we decided to try Foie Gras ($12) for the first time. Unfortunately, because of an outdated menu on the website and our lack of foresight in taking pictures of the menu pages, I am left without “proper” description of our food, except to say that our appetizer was served with poached pears. For our mains, I decided on the Brome Lake Duck Breast ($33) while Mack opted for the Beef Tenderloin ($37).
After snacking on disappointingly cool bread, we were presented with a beautifully sectioned plate of foie gras on grilled toast and accompanying fruit. We divided the pate between the two of us and dove in. Two bites in, both of us agreed that we wouldn’t be able to finish it – somewhat grainy, the smoky flavour that it left at the back of our throats was something we furiously tried to wash down with wine. When our server returned to see if we had finished with our first course, we encountered what would be the most honest exchange I have ever come across at such a high-calibre restaurant – he expressed his own dislike of foie gras in pate form, but encouraged us to give the seared version a try, a type he much preferred.
Our entrees arrived a short while later, on such “busy” plates I honestly had to repress the Iron Chef-esque commentary streaming in my head as I sampled the variety in front of me. Mack’s vegetables were perfectly cooked, his mashed potatoes deliciously creamy, and his beef tenderloin juicy but just a touch overdone to his requested medium rare. He loved the melted blue cheese on top, commenting that it was this that made his steak. As for the duck – it was the fat on the breast that made the meat. The texture of the duck confit filling in the ravioli was interesting, and I really enjoyed the generous amount of sweet pineapple chutney included.
Brome Lake Duck Breast
The entire meal was so well paced that we were both surprised to discover that two hours had passed by the time we were presented with the dessert menus – meaning commendable coordination on the part of the kitchen and our server. While we were curious about the tableside Smores for Two (described by the waiter as cookies, chocolate, and a “pot of fire”), we ultimately decided on the scrumptious-sounding Callebaut with Character: warm molten chocolate cake with milk chocolate mousse and white coffee ice cream ($10).
The dish reminded me a bit of the chocolate tasting I had at Wildflower Grill a few months ago – it had a little bit of everything. Mack enjoyed the whole coffee-bean ice cream, while I found the smooth mousse the perfect compliment to the subtly-sweet lava cake.
Callebaut with Character
I had a great time at Characters – exceptionally attentive, personable service, well-prepared, high-quality food, and a dreamy, relaxed atmosphere make it a highly recommended choice for special occasions.