City Market Report: Week 12

For a second week in a row, we actually made it down to the City Market early (don’t expect to happen again).

Street

No crowds!

Saturday was Food Day Canada, a “national celebration of restaurateurs, suppliers, growers, farmers and citizens.” To recognize the day, the Market had organized a full day of chef demos, and had put a call out to local food bloggers to volunteer. I agreed to help out, in addition to staffing the Slow Food Edmonton community tent, where we would be selling Wild Boar & Beer BBQ tickets.

Jo and Thea

Jo and Thea from Slow Food Edmonton

Five chefs demonstrated dishes throughout the day, all that had been put together using ingredients from the market.

Brad Smoliak

Chef Brad Smoliak

Elaine Wilson

Chef Elaine Wilson

Blair Lebsack

Chef Blair Lebsack (of Madison’s Grill)

Salmon with Corn Succotash

Blair’s salmon with corn succotash and potatoes

Guina Fowl Clubhouse

Blair’s guinea fowl clubhouse (one of the special features on Madison’s Food Day Canada menu)

Julianna and Bianca

Chef Julianna Mimande and Bianca

Carrot Dip

Carrot dip from Julianna’s We Eat Together

Duane Hicks

Chef Duane Hicks from Blue Plate Diner cooks with a blowtorch

Before I started my shift, Mack and I did our shopping. Our first stop was at Sundog Organics, to once again marvel at their beautiful produce, and pick up some beets, cabbage and garlic.

Sundog Organics

Leeks!

Sundog Organics

Onions!

Sundog Organics

Tomatoes!

Steve & Dan’s is another weekly stop. Blackberries went into our bag this time around, but their stone fruits were looking delectable.

Steve & Dan's

Plums!

When I saw zucchini at Kuhlmann’s, Mack could tell you I stopped in my tracks – I love zucchini! Last year, we weren’t able to buy the monstrous zucchini, knowing that we would have to lug it home eighteen blocks. This year, being just upstairs, I anticipate my fridge and freezer to be full of zucchini!

Kuhlmann's

Zucchini!

Perusing the monsters at Belua Designs this week, we came thisclose to adding another monster to our family. We also saw Sarah’s first two-headed creation a couple of weeks ago, and saw that she had another one this week – too cute!

Belua Designs

Belua Designs

It was great to see some new-to-us vendors as well, including Shannon and Danny Ruzicka of Nature’s Green Acres. When I visited their farm last summer, they were discussing eventually having a booth at the market, but I didn’t know it would be so soon – apparently, this was their third week already! Visit them for great pasture-raised, hormone and antibiotic-free chicken, beef and pork.

Nature's Green Acres

Danny and Shannon

O Sol’ Meatos, purveyor of air-dried charcuterie, was also at the market. I tried their product at Indulgence this year, and it was tasty.

O Sol' Meatos

O Sol’ Meatos

Last week saw the first time the veggie valet was introduced at the Market – a complimentary service at the information tent where patrons can leave their purchases until they’re ready to leave the street. On Saturday, a pair of shoppers were the first to use the service!

Veggie Valet

Veggie valet in action

Though it was a long day, the best thing about being at the market for that length of time was running into people – coworkers, friends – and being able to leisurely chat with my fellow Slow Food members. I was also fed well – some fatty pork belly and slaw from Filistix kept me going.

Filistix

Filistix

After an exhausting day, I was looking forward to unwinding at a dinner out. Mack and I met up with Maria and Jeff for a late meal at Madison’s Grill, where they had a special menu commemorating Food Day Canada. With entrees starting at $10, it made sense that Madison’s had more than 100 reservations that night.

Madison's Grill

Maria’s Peas on Earth organic salad with Bles Wold dressing (the strawberries were picked specifically for Blair the day before!)

Madison's Grill

Jeff’s amuse bouche trio with cold Doef’s cucumber soup, hummus crostini, smoked Greens, Eggs and Ham guinea fowl tart

When I had seen the menu, I immediately gravitated towards the Big Rock-battered Alberta whitefish fish and chips ($10), with a malt vinegar gastrique and a sweet pea aioli (their play on mushy peas). It was everything I was expecting – a crispy coating, fork-tender interior, and a welcome sweetness from the gastrique.

Madison's Grill

Alberta whitefish fish and chips

I also ordered the duo of sliders ($10) – a Spring Creek Ranch beef slider with Sylvan Star gouda and apple-cherry compote and an Irvings pulled pork slider with coleslaw and Brassica mustard. The pulled pork slider was darn messy to eat, and was worth every bite, but I liked the beef slider better, with its melted layer of cheese and sweetness of the fruit compote.

Madison's Grill

Duo of sliders

Mack and Jeff also ordered the steamed PEI mussels ($16), Mack with the Irvings habanero sausage and rose sauce, and Jeff with the spicy Gull Valley tomato compote. They both had fun comparing popping the generous serving of mussels to eating pistachios.

Madison's Grill

PEI mussels

We ended the meal with a “made in Canada” cheese cart, with two soft cheeses from Quebec, two Sylvan Star cheeses and a blue cheese (for Maria, heh, the rest of us abhor blue). Of the condiments, Maria and I liked the apple-walnut compote the best.

Madison's Grill

Cheese tray

It was a day full of food – just as it should have been.

Breakfast Value: Madison’s Grill

I’ve raved about lunches and dinners at Madison’s Grill, but there was still one meal they serve that I hadn’t yet sampled – breakfast. A birthday brunch with the girls provided a good opportunity to finally do so, on a sunny morning in June.

When I initially looked at their breakfast menu online, I just couldn’t believe what they were charging. Just $10 for a customized omelette? $12 for French toast? $14 for Alberta beef hash? What made the low prices even more incredulous is their use of local products – from eggs to bacon to cheese. And in their well-appointed dining room, I would think brunch at Madison’s offers one of the best values in the city.

The only downside was their limited hours (being a hotel after all) – they only serve breakfast until 11am. May and I arrived just after 10, and after settling in with beverages, awaited Annie’s arrival. We called her half an hour later, and it turned out she had our meeting time confused, and asked me to order something for her. Plates were served to May and I not long after, while the kitchen tried to keep Annie’s dish warm in her absence. They ended up having to make her dish again because they deemed it not fit to serve – a testament to how accommodating and understanding Madison’s is as a whole.

In terms of the food – both May and Annie enjoyed their dishes. May had asked for one each of their crab cake and smoked salmon Benedicts ($14; which our server happily combined), while I had ordered Annie a regular eggs Benedict ($12).

Madison's Grill

Crab cake and smoked salmon Benedict

Madison's Grill

Eggs Benedict (I love the cups bursting with fruit)

My omelette ($10) included three fillings of my choosing from a list of ten options – Irvings bacon, mushrooms and Sylvan Star Gouda. Though the eggs were prepared quite nicely – fluffy and light – the fillings were distributed inconsistently throughout, with the cheese concentrated on one end and the bacon on the opposite end. Also, this was personal preference, but the mushrooms were chopped a little too finely for my taste. I did like the pan potatoes, however, flavoured with some fresh herbs.

Madison's Grill

Omelette with bacon, mushrooms and cheese

There are several other dishes I’d like to try off the Madison’s breakfast menu, and with their fantastic service and demonstrated value, I know I’ll back in the future.

Madison’s Grill (in the Union Bank Inn)
10053 Jasper Avenue
(780) 401-2222

Weekday breakfast served 7-10am, weekend breakfast served 8-11am

The 2010 PMA International Winemaker’s Dinner at Madison’s Grill

Tuesday was a funny day. One minute, I was mopping up the lake that had overtaken our office bathroom (there is something to be said about reliable plumbing), the next, I was at a posh food and wine event at the always elegant Madison’s Grill.

I can’t express how fortunate Mack and I were to be the recipients of an extremely generous gift – two tickets to the Peter Mielzynski Agencies (PMA) International Winemaker’s dinner, the gateway to an evening of glorious food, liberally poured spirits and the company of some of the most renowned winemakers in the world. At $160 a ticket, it was out of our price range, but Monique and Patrick, who we had met at the Farmers’ Market Dinner at the same venue a few months back, were unable to attend, and asked us if we could go in their place. We accepted, and thanked them profusely.

One of several glasses of wine that night

While Mack and I enjoy wine, we admittedly aren’t very knowledgeable about it – growing regions, grape varieties, aging processes – all of it forms a murky haze for us. And though one night does not cure all, to have the opportunity to be exposed to those whose enthusiasm and passion for wine exuded through their pores was intoxicating (or was that the wine?).

A sea of glasses

We arrived at the restaurant just after 6:00, greeted by floating trays of hors d’ouvres and the offer of a sweet grass martini made with Calvados (apple brandy). Not long after, Chef Blair Lebsack spotted us in the crowd and came to greet us personally – his ability to make everyone feel welcome is something that elevates him in the industry, in my opinion.

Eventually, we found ourselves at a table where the common denominator was an interest in wine. PMA, which put together the dinner (we found out later that PMA represents some of the top wine labels in the world), ensured that one of the seven wine and spirit makers present were seated at each of the seven tables. Our table was fortunate to dine with the affable Craig McDonald, who works at the Wayne Gretzky Estate Winery in Niagara, and is considered one of the best winemakers in Canada.

Whites

The Farmers’ Market Dinner had exposed us to the concept of a chef’s introduction of a dish, and how the preamble about the ingredients and processes undertaken to create the final result enriches the meal. An additional layer was added to the PMA dinner, as the winemaker was given the microphone first, to introduce their company and products. Not only was it interesting to hear the stories behind some of the spirits, I was also amazed by the history and generations-old expertise in the room. Lamberto Frescobaldi’s family, for example, has been in the winemaking business for seven hundred years in Tuscany.

Reds

Blair then took the floor before cutlery was raised, and explained why the kitchen thought the dish in front of us would pair well with the wine or spirit we were drinking. Halfway through the dinner, Mack remarked, “I never really appreciated pairings until now.” I felt the same way.

Innis & Gunn beer

The amuse bouche of pickled beet and carrot terrine was meant to refresh our palate after the heavier scallop, tuna tartare and foie gras hors d’ouvres. It was exactly that, a pop of acidity that complemented the sweet and bubbly Pongracz Cap Classique from South Africa.

Pickled beet and carrot terrine with dill salsa verde

The first course was Mack’s favourite – an unassuming combination of steamed PEI mussels with braised pork belly. He thought the pairing, with a Wayne Gretzky Estate Series Chardonnay, was a dream, and loved the textural play of the mussels and the meltingly tender pork.

Steamed PEI mussels and braised pork belly

The next course was my favourite – an upside down smoked duck and gouda tart. As soon as the plate was put down in front of me, I was in sensory overload, under the spell of the fragrant aroma. The duck breast was perfectly cooked, fatty and toothsome, while peach preserves offset the richness of the buttery tart. I am normally not a fan of beer, but I couldn’t help but enjoy the pairing with an Innis & Gunn beer, which played off the smokiness well.

Upside down smoked duck and gouda tart

The nicoise salad with seared ahi tuna served as a good bridge to the denser courses that followed. The beans deserve a special mention, still crisp and light.

Nicoise salad

The fourth course of thyme rubbed Nouveau Beef petite tender was unforgettable. With truffle appearing in more mainstream restaurants, sometimes unnecessarily, this dish reminded me why it is such a glorious ingredient to begin with – creamy and fragrant, both Mack and I wanted to bathe in the white truffle hollandaise. This dish also exemplifies Blair’s exquisite attention to detail – as the beef was paired with a Sokol Blosser Dundee Hills Pinot Noir from Oregon, he made sure that the accompanying wild mushrooms (and white truffle) were also sourced from that state.

Thyme rubbed Nouveau Beef petite tender

The final main, paired with a bold and full-bodied Collazzi Toscana from Italy, was Blair’s clever homage to rustic, “meat and potatoes” Italian food. Instead of doing a traditional mashed or boiled potatoes, however, the plate featured an extravagant potato-lobster lasagne, with the starchy spud layers standing in for pasta.

Oven roasted Pilatus Farms bison tenderloin

Dessert (accompanied by our eighth drink that night, a Kunde Reserve Century Vines Zinfandel) was a sinfully rich chocolate-almond silk cake, tempered somewhat with a wild berry compote. Needless to say, I was happy we were offered coffee to end the night, the caffeine helping somewhat to gather my bearings.

Chocolate-almond silk cake

At the end of the “epic meal” (Mack’s words), the kitchen staff were applauded with a much-deserved standing ovation. From start to finish, it was an incredible dinner, and an evening we won’t soon forget. We are indebted to Monique and Patrick for this experience.

Relaxed but Refined: Madison’s Grill

Did somebody say poutine?

That’s what I thought to myself when I saw the lunch menu being offered by Madison’s Grill during Downtown Dining Week. While I don’t normally have enough time to head into the core for a weekday lunch, a combination of some accrued overtime and sheer desire to try Chef Blair Lebsack’s upscale take on poutine drove me to make a reservation.

Though the restaurant was nearly empty when Mack and I arrived, it quickly filled up with diners from nearby office towers, many who seemed eager to partake in the special pre-fixe deals before us. In the elegant dining room, seated at the table clothed in white, the polished hardwood gleaming in the late morning sunlight, it was easy to just relax. And while I do enjoy the quick-serve options of my usual Chinatown lunches, the refined setting provided a nice change of pace.

I knew I had my heart set on the braised Spring Creek Ranch short rib poutine ($15) before I even entered the restaurant, but that’s not to say that the regular lunch menu did not have its own allure. From the Sylvan Star grilled cheese sandwich ($15) to the Irving’s pulled Berkshire pork sandwich ($16) and the grilled scallop and prawn risotto ($19), it was clear to both of us that this wouldn’t be our last daytime visit to Madison’s. Mack had to fight the urge to order a second helping of poutine, but eventually decided upon the prawn orzo ($15).

Before our food arrived, Blair was nice enough to chat with us for a bit. When I said I was surprised to find Sylvan Star cheese curds on the menu, he replied that the award-winning company only makes them a few times a year. For the occasion of Downtown Dining Week, Madison’s put in an order for 10 kg of curds! He also noted that the sauce Robert “gravy” was a reference not only to the French brown mustard sauce, but also to his Chef de Cuisine, Robert.

Our food was promptly delivered, and yes, I am happy to say that the poutine lived up to my high expectations. The squeaky cheese was divine, stringing errant fries together under a delicious gravy bath. And what of the short ribs? Off the bone came the meat, with just the right proportion of luxurious fat to enhance the tender richness of every bite.

Braised Spring Creek Ranch short rib poutine

Mack was equally enthralled with his prawn orzo (though he did slightly regret not ordering the poutine after a small taste). He thought the pasta had been cooked perfectly, and liked the combination of the prawn cream sauce and warm prawn salsa.

Prawn orzo

We were satisfied with our mains, and so declined the offer of a dessert menu from our server. Little did we know, Blair had a sweet surprise in store for us anyway, and brought over a complimentary trio of truffles. Beautifully plated, my favourite was the almond-coated round, with the flavour and texture of the toasted nuts pairing well with the dark chocolate. Mack preferred the orange-flavoured truffle.

Trio of truffles

Our lunch at Madison’s Grill was a breath of fresh air, and left us both relaxed and ready to return to work. It’s a safe bet we will be back soon.

Madison’s Grill (in the Union Bank Inn)
10053 Jasper Avenue
(780) 401-2222

A Love Letter to Local Food: Farmers’ Market Dinner at Madison’s Grill

When I saw the menu for the third Farmers’ Market Dinner at Madison’s Grill, I couldn’t look away. Sylvan Star Cheese fondue? Nature’s Green Acres short ribs? Greens, Eggs and Ham duck confit? Not only did every dish sound delicious, but the ingredients for nearly the entire dinner had been sourced locally. Moreover, several producers would be joining us for the meal. We were in.

The fact that the dinner cost $70 per person (plus $30 for wine pairings) was a moot point when I made our reservations two weeks prior. But after the fact, I can wholeheartedly say that the experience was worth every dollar.

It was a little comical that we made our way to the Union Bank Inn on Friday via public transportation, but then again, it didn’t make sense to drive, particularly in the dinner’s context of sustainability. After our coats were taken, we joined a couple seated at one of the two tables in the Vintage Room, right by the fireplace. Meals at a communal table have to do with the luck of the draw sometimes, but fortunately for us that night, Monique and Patrick and Slow Foodies Nicole and Steve provided us with good company, and enhanced our evening with lovely conversation.

My only criticism was the packed quarters – I felt bad for the servers who had to work between a too-narrow space between the two tables (resulting in a few dropped dishes). I had to wonder if the decision to include an additional eight seats beyond their original limit of twenty was the right call.

The cocktail hour was accented by dainty hors d’oeuvres – including smoked salmon, beef tartar, and Fairwinds Farm goat cheese tartlets. The beef tartar was particularly excellent.

Smoked salmon tartlets

Before the meal began, Chef Blair Lebsack invited the two producers up to provide some background on their farms. Andres Gruenberg (of Greens, Eggs and Ham) and Eric and Ruby Chen (of Peas on Earth), gave us snapshots of their production, and were ever gracious about the work that they do. Blair then proceeded to introduce the appetizer course – descriptions also accompanied every subsequent dish, and was much appreciated. It was obvious that Blair has a lot of respect for local producers (having visited their farms and all), so it was great to hear about some of the cooking processes he used to create the dishes.

The Sylvan Star Cheese fondue came in individual servings, much to my delight (not that I wouldn’t have shared, heh). The grilled apple, Saskatoon berry compote and spicy pine nuts were fancy accompaniments, but I probably would have been happy just with baguette slices and cheese. Yum.

Sylvan Star Cheese Fondue

The Northern Alberta Pike fillet (from Lesser Slave Lake) was a favourite of some around our table. Wrapped in Pembina Pork bacon and topped with candied bacon(!), it was a surprisingly subtle course, with each element holding its own. The fish had been cooked perfectly, and the underlying shellfish and golden beet broth lent an earthy note to the dish. Not surprisingly, Mack loved the candied bacon.

Northern Alberta Pike Fillet

The cleverly named Duck, Duck, Goose was my personal favourite. Andres had asked Blair why he hadn’t been ordering goose, which spurned experimentation in his kitchen. Both birds were served two ways – in-house smoked duck breast atop potato-onion hash, an absolutely sublime pulled duck confit with braised leeks and parsnip puree, slow roasted goose breast with sour cherry pan jus and goose rillette on toast points. The servings may look deceivingly small, but it packed a hefty punch – and had Mack been momentarily distracted, I would have swiped some of his duck confit.

Duck, Duck, Goose

As I had the chance to visit Nature’s Green Acres last summer, I was looking forward to trying their Nouveau Beef again (butchering at seven months lends the beef its name). The braised short ribs did not disappoint – meltingly tender, the flavour in the meat was inherent. The mushroom confit and mushroom-marrow farce were great accompaniments, and mirrored the beef’s richness.

Braised Nouveau Beef Short Ribs

By that point in the meal, I’m sure I would have been satisfied with flavoured whipped cream for dessert, but of course, Blair did not disappoint, and ended the dinner with a bang. The white chocolate pecan brownie had been doused in a duck egg-EnSante wine sabayon and macerated berries – every bite was a textural firework of nutty, tart sweetness.

White Chocolate Brownie

The dinner was a love letter to local food, no question, and I was especially thankful for the opportunity to share a meal with some of the city’s wonderful producers. Shopping at a farmers’ market or even visiting a farm is one thing, but breaking bread is something else altogether. Blair said that another Farmers’ Market Dinner is in the works for March, though patrons would probably get something similar by ordering the chef’s 6-course “Menu Surprise” – a tasting menu that allows the chef to utilize producers that cannot offer great quantities of ingredients.

Thanks to Blair and the staff at Madison’s Grill for a wonderful evening!

Madison’s Grill (in the Union Bank Inn)
10053 Jasper Avenue
(780) 401-2222