Tapas Tuesdays at Art Gallery of Alberta’s ZINC Restaurant

In mid-May, the Art Gallery of Alberta announced an initiative called “all access evenings”, offering free admission to the gallery between 5-8pm every Tuesday and Wednesday night. This replaces their previous promotion of once monthly free admission evenings; museum officials hope this will encourage even more people to take advantage of the cultural institution.

In conjunction with this, the gallery’s in-house restaurant, ZINC, has developed a special “tapas Tuesday” menu to entice patrons to include a meal along with their visit. All of the items are priced under $20, and though most dishes can be found on their regular lunch or dinner menus, a half dozen dishes are exclusive to Tuesday evenings.

In early July, I met up with Mack after work on a Tuesday night for a bite to eat and a walk through the gallery. Signage signifying the dinner deals would be helpful to their cause, either outside the restaurant or at the gallery desk; the menu wasn’t visible until it was presented to us at the table.


ZINC interior

We chose to share the weekly mac and cheese ($16) and the sweet spicy prawns ($12.50). Given the pulled pork burger was just $4, we opted to order two.

Linda wasn’t a huge fan of the mac, but we both enjoyed how creamy it was – it’s a quality many other local versions surprisingly lack. This incarnation featured lots of bacon, mushrooms, and kale, and left us satisfied.


Mac and cheese

I ultimately ordered the prawns because my favourite dish at ZINC remains their prawns over risotto, and this didn’t disappoint. The prawns were well prepared (as always), and we liked the punchy flavours of the accompanying tomato ginger chutney.


Sweet spicy prawns

We expected slider sized pulled pork sandwiches, but instead, were each presented with a full-sized burger. Mack loved the soft, pliable pretzel bun, and we both commented on the generous portion of pork. It’s notable that the locally-sourced Bear and the Flower Farm pork is not doused in sauce so it can stand on its own, though it was paired with cabbage for texture. Chef David Omar confirmed that they are taking a loss on this dish with the hopes that it will bring diners in.


Pulled pork sandwich

During our stay, there were only four other tables occupied. While ZINC is a beautiful space, with its vaulted ceilings and grand windows overlooking City Hall, the atmosphere may be too formal for more casual diners seeking to share a few small plates. If ZINC is serious about attracting a different crowd, could they consider carving up the dining room to include a few communal tables or feature some less conventional seating? Or (recognizing that this is easier said than done), set up some makeshift seats in the foyer just outside of ZINC, and perhaps reduce the menu offered in this space to just a handful of items (potato skins, pulled pork, sausage, a feature cocktail and beer)? It’d help make ZINC much more approachable, which seems to be one of the motivations behind the idea of “tapas Tuesdays”.

At any rate, we did enjoy our night out – we walked off our meal with a spin through the gallery (in time for Canada 150, most of the current exhibits feature Canadiana, including my favourite of the bunch, Gretzky is Everywhere). Hopefully this promotion does encourage more Edmontonians to consider visiting the gallery – and to take a chance on the restaurant as well.

Taste of Edmonton 2015

Mack and I just returned from our third trip around this year’s Taste of Edmonton, and boy, everyone seemed to be talking about Graham Hicks’ takedown of the festival. On Tuesday, the Sun published his harsh take on one of Edmonton’s summer traditions, a litany of his encounter with “awful” food. Although Taste has its fair share of haters, Graham’s piece is surprising in light of his praise of the festival over the past three years, and the fact that nothing significant changed in 2015.

Taste of Edmonton

Taste of Edmonton

We’ve been a bit more deliberate this year in taking advantage of our proximity to the site, stopping by on multiple occasions to gradually use up the tickets we accumulated. This has afforded us the chance to return to our favourites over the course of the week!

Taste of Edmonton

Food trucks were back for a forth straight year

As guests of Taste Alberta, Mack and I were invited to sample the wares inside the Sip ‘n Savour Tent last Friday. The pop-up nature of the tent has enabled the festival to involve chefs who wouldn’t otherwise be willing or available to commit to the duration of the event. That said, with the $10 admission fee, I’m surprised that most of the Sip ‘n Savour dates have sold out – the cost of attending can pretty quickly escalate with the cover charge, given food and drinks inside the tent require Taste tickets. In some ways, should Taste want to expand into the off-season, the Sip ‘n Savour concept could certainly be replicated.

Taste of Edmonton

Mack and Mike at Sip ‘n Savour

That evening, Custom Cocktails and Tapas were on the menu. The patio facing the stage was pretty sweet, and on that sunny evening, it was a very comfortable place to enjoy our drinks.

Taste of Edmonton


Century Hospitality Group catered that night, serving up a variety of small plates, including gazpacho, arancini and pulled pork sliders.

Taste of Edmonton

Outgoing CHG Chef Paul Shufelt

We were also happy to encounter Nomad Espresso, Edmonton’s first mobile coffee cart. Steve is set up inside the tent for the entire festival, which is great for those with access who need a pick-me-up, but it definitely limits his exposure to a wider audience.

Taste of Edmonton

Steve of Nomad Espresso

Outside Sip ‘n Savour, as we found last year, the value for tickets is pretty good, with most samples priced at 3. But as with any large food festival, there are hits and misses.

Some restaurants are reliable and consistently good – perhaps Taste should consider formally recognizing those who, year over year, are creative and seek to elevate the food served at the festival. In my opinion, ZINC is at the top of that list. Their City Market salad, dressed with a champagne and lemon olive oil, was a refreshing reprieve from deep fried dishes (and one I went back twice for!).

Taste of Edmonton

City Market salad from ZINC

Similarly, their decadent banana bread pudding was easily Mack’s favourite dessert, well executed and comforting.

Taste of Edmonton

Banana bread pudding from ZINC

Also on the sweet side, the Hotel Macdonald’s scone, with whipped cream and berry compote, is a classic. And though it’s a plate you shouldn’t have more than once, I couldn’t help myself. It was impressive that Chef Jost was there serving both times!

Taste of Edmonton

With Chef Jost and the Mac scone

There were some restaurants that we weren’t expecting to stand out. Mama Lee’s Kitchen was continuously making small batches of its beef and pork bulgogi – we could definitely taste the difference their efforts made (especially when compared with some of the dishes we tried that had obviously languished under a heat lamp).

Taste of Edmonton

Beef bulgogi from Mama Lee’s Kitchen

The rotisserie roasted pig from the Freson Bros. was another pleasant menu addition, with a good ratio of fat, and finished off with applesauce.

Taste of Edmonton

Rotisserie roasted pig from the Freson Bros.

Overall, we appreciated the other small improvements to the festival – more seating outside of the beer garden, and large overhead signs planted above each of the booths that helped with navigation. We didn’t have a chance to check out the Culinary Championships, but given they’re located separately on Centennial Plaza, hopefully they’ve been drawing the crowds they wanted.

Given Taste of Edmonton will be looking for a new home next year (because of the 102 Avenue construction), only time will tell whether they’ll be able to continue the positive momentum they’ve built over the last four years.

Something to Celebrate: ZINC

My parents were married thirty years ago Monday. As a child, I’m pretty sure I took for granted the fact that Mom and Dad were always there, in solidarity. Now, in an adult relationship of my own, I can truly appreciate and admire their milestone.

To celebrate, my family assembled at ZINC last Saturday. ZINC is one of those restaurants that seems tailor made for occasions. High ceilings, ample natural light, posh azure accents – it’s a room that invites glasses to be clinked and raised.

The restaurant was busy that night – perhaps a confluence of Downtown Dining Week and that evening’s Refinery party – so in some ways, it was fortunate that our reservation was slated just before the rush, as all of our dishes were well-paced.

The amuse bouche was a darling profiterole featuring chicken riette and cumberland sauce. Here, I particularly liked the microgreen garnish, a burst of freshness to balance the salt-forward bite.


Chicken riette

Mack and my sisters ordered starters. Last November, Mack and I had attended a preview dinner at ZINC, where we were invited to try dishes from Chef David Omar’s new menu (a concept that allows diners to choose small or large plates of the same dishes). Mack’s favourite “bite” from that night was the seared scallop ($6), which of course he wanted to have again. It was perfectly cooked, and just the right size to relieve his craving.


Scallop (Mack wishes this was actual size)

My sisters shared the panzanella ($10) with bread, tomatoes, asparagus, prosciutto, lemon garlic preserve and a balsamic reduction. They fought over the last piece of prosciutto.



For entrees, our party size allowed us to try nearly every main on the menu, and just about all of them were well-received.

My Dad cleaned off his herb panko dusted rack of lamb ($41) – literally – there wasn’t a shred of meat to be found on his plate. Served with a couscous and anchovie tapenade, baked apple and pear chutney and eggplant ratatouille involtini – nothing else was left either (it’s of the highest praise, really. It’s tough to impress my Dad).



Amanda liked her plate of alpaca and house-made pasta noodles ($26), ZINC’s version of spaghetti and meatballs. The meatballs were moist (thankfully, as we had found them to be rather dry in my previous encounter).



Mack’s Spring Creek Ranch beef tenderloin ($42) was cooked to a tasty medium rare, though he remarked that he wasn’t asked about specifications upon ordering. It was served with a potato and watercress mash, caramelized onions and baby carrots.



My pan-seared line caught pickerel ($34) was delicious, coated with a light, dreamy potato foam. The bed of vegetables was as colourful as it was a textural contrast to the flaky fish, consisting of beets, edemame beans and pickled mushrooms.



The only dish that didn’t enthral was the duck ($32). While well-cooked, with crispy layers of skin atop the tender meat, it was much too salty. My Mom and Felicia did enjoy the accompanying pumpkin and potato purée though.



Sometimes, the small, seemingly insignificant things about a restaurant help to elevate a meal. One example at ZINC was the brioche bread. It was warmed through, sweet and slightly toasted, and easily lapped up the tomato compote butter it was served with. We asked for seconds!


No pictures of the bread, unfortunately

That said, personal gestures are also a welcome addition to the dining experience. When I made the reservation, I was asked if it was a special occasion. At the end of our meal, Chef Omar came to greet our table, and brought with him two miniature ice cream trees and a great story about how this became the signature special dessert.


Chef Omar and my parents

The trees each held five different house-made ice creams and sorbets – the favourites around the table were the avocado ice cream and the lemon sorbet.


The ice cream tree!

The service was attentive throughout our stay (nary a wine or water glass was left unfilled), and we felt very well taken care of. And between the good food and personal gestures, ZINC really was a great place to celebrate. Congratulations, Mom and Dad: here’s to thirty more years!

ZINC (inside the Art Gallery of Alberta)
2 Sir Winston Churchill Square
Lunch: Tuesday-Saturday 11am-2:30pm; Dinner: Tuesday-Wednesday 5-9pm, Thursday-Saturday 5-10pm; Brunch: Sunday 11am-2pm; closed Mondays

By the Bite: ZINC’s Fall Menu

It’s hard not to admire restaurants that take risks – especially if those risks challenge diners to take a chance on something out of the ordinary. ZINC’s fall menu is one such gamble – it offers an interesting twist on the recent trend of small plates.


Nearly three dozen people attended ZINC’s media launch dinner, held on November 1, 2010 (oh yes, I am that behind). Chef David Omar introduced the driving concept behind his new menu, generously illustrated by a sample of eighteen dishes, plated and served as they would be on any other night, to any other diner.


Chef Omar explained that he wanted to provide guests with the option of ordering food as one would order wine – either by the glass or by the bottle. So, frustrated with the idea of confronting a customer with multiple menus, he designed the Fall 2010 menu to allow for both “by the bite” and “by the plate” selection.

Mack and I were seated with Chris, Sarah, Marianne and Charles – I’m sure jokes about dining with food bloggers abound, but for such an experience, there are no better dining companions (especially when they are much more on top of things than I am, having written about it weeks ago).

It was an intense meal to be sure, and to tell you that I remember everything, even with my notes, would be a lie. The flip side, however, is that the elements that stood out on that brisk fall day still do, while other, less memorable courses have fallen away.

In the order that they were served:


Cucumber and Tomato Salad ($4/bite, $10/plate) –  I loved the textural variants, from the cucumber to the tomato to the quinoa. It did alarm me a little when Chef Omar mentioned that quinoa was very “in” at the moment – as much as I love fads sometimes, I was hoping there was more to his inclusion of the grain. Still, it was a lovely dish that longs for an Indian summer.

Caesar Salad ($4/bite, $10/plate) – My favourite of the trio, if only because of the bacon bits: prosciutto that had been deep fried, then dried in the oven. More please.

Beet Salad ($4/bite, $10/plate) – Not being the biggest fan of beets, I would never order this, but bravo to Chef Omar to demonstrate the versatility of beets – as a sorbet, and as a chip.


Salmon Three Ways ($5/bite, $12/plate) – It was great to have Chef Omar introduce each course, particularly when they were preceded by a story or a rationale. With this dish, we got both: continuing to order his salmon from Fin’s, this dish was his way of opposing the movement towards GMO salmon; while the maple cured candy (which tasted like fish jerky, emphasis on the fish), was something Chef Omar snacked on during his honeymoon. Unfortunately, I didn’t really care for the plate, narratives or not.

Lobster Bisque ($4/shot, $10/bowl) – Playfully served in a small cup, I thought the bisque was well-prepared.

Pan Seared Scallop ($6/bite, $18/plate) – ZINC’s staunch regulars demanded this dish carry over from the summer menu, and so, it remains. It wasn’t difficult to see why; the scallop was cooked well, and the sweet potato and maple ginger puree was perfection. Purees are a resolute strength of the kitchen.


Beef ($9/bite, $38/plate) – I still can’t wrap my head around who would only want a smidgen of beef. Around the table, the slices of Spring Creek Ranch striploin (individually fired) were all well-done and dry. No amount of goat cheese butter or shiraz jus could have saved it.

Vegetables ($7/bite, $24/plate) – Orzo really isn’t ideal for risotto; it doesn’t soak up flavour as well as rice or barley. Although it was all right to eat (I am a fan of the crunchy microgreens and sundried tomatoes), it was a poor vegetarian option.

Chicken ($7/bite, $29/plate) – The chicken supreme saltimbocca was delicious – moist and particularly flavourful in its swath of red pepper butter, it definitely did not suffer the same fate at its Angus brother. The roll of naked papperdelle noodles seemed like an unnecessary afterthought, and as much as I enjoy asparagus, given Chef Omar’s mentions of seasonality, it seemed inconsistent.


Duck ($8/bite, $32/plate) – Memories of Wild Tangerine’s jasmine tea, wok-smoked duck danced on my tongue when Chef Omar described that his duck breast had been smoked in green tea. Unfortunately, the smoked flavour didn’t really come through. The accompaniments, however, helped make this one of the most interesting dishes – a delicate, vanilla-scented cherry tomato, and a pumpkin and potato puree that would have been fit for dessert. It’s worth noting that while Chef Omar does his best to source locally (and does feature some local proteins on his menu), he told us later that Greens, Eggs and Ham isn’t able to supply him with the consistent volumes that he needs, so only he is only able to serve their duck on occasion).

Braised Lentils ($4/bite, $12 plate) – With pork belly atop the lentils, I expected fireworks. But with a slice of belly with too much fat but not enough flavour, the lentils, turned in a red curry cream, ended up being the most exciting taste to be had.

Lamb ($9/bite, $38/plate) – One of Mack’s favourites, and unlike the steak, was perfectly cooked. Sadly for me, as our tablemates were noting down their love for the dish, I dropped my piece on the floor. Sigh.


Pork Tenderloin Medallion ($6/bite, $16/plate) – The pork was overcooked and chewy, again a victim of precise timing needed with such small portions. The Savoy cabbage was nice, but Chef Omar emphasized that he would use whatever cabbage was fresh.

Cannelloni ($6/bite, $14/plate) – Greens, Eggs and Ham duck confit made an appearance in this dish, hurrah! Mack and I differed on opinions here though – he absolutely loved it (the melted manchego cheese, from Paddy’s, and the mushrooms and leeks didn’t hurt either). The texture of the confit reminded me a little too much of pate, though I agreed that the flavour was amazing.

Bison ($9/bite, $40/plate) – The pan-seared tenderloin sung to me in this trio, the Saskatoon berry jus providing a pleasantly sweet finish.


Bison Carpaccio ($6/bite, $40/plate) – Some of the plates (bisque, scallop), seemed to be a more natural fit for the “by the bite” concept. The bison Carpaccio was another, as some might be uncertain about committing to an entire dish of unknown. The plate was elegant, but the paper-thin slices of meat were overpowered by the pink peppercorn. I would order it again; it was promising.

Spaghetti ($8/bite, $26/plate) – The alpaca meatball I had a few days later from ZINC’s station at the Chili Cookoff wasn’t dry, so I’d say that much like some of the other proteins, that the kitchen just had to work on the timing.

Salmon ($8/bite, $36/plate) – Why eat salmon when you can have an amazing roasted barley pilaf with kohlrabi and carrot instead? This accompaniment knocked my socks off, and made me wonder why it wasn’t the vegetarian option.

Dessert, to my mind, made the easiest transition to the tasting concept – how often have you wanted to order one of everything off of the dessert menu? In a city with a distinct lack of dessert bars, I hope someone steps up soon.

While Chef Omar couldn’t provide “by the bite” servings of his desserts, he did treat us to his banana bread pudding. Served warm, it was a lovely way to end the night.


Again, I’d like to commend Chef Omar for introducing this concept to Edmonton diners. Though some dishes worked better than others, I can imagine the menu is a work in progress. I would also guess that with time, the kitchen could perfect the preparation of the proteins.

Thanks to Chef Omar and the rest of the staff at ZINC for a memorable experience!

ZINC (inside the Art Gallery of Alberta)
2 Sir Winston Churchill Square
Lunch: Tuesday-Saturday 11am-2:30pm; Dinner: Tuesday-Wednesday 5-9pm, Thursday-Saturday 5-10pm; Brunch: Sunday 11am-2pm; closed Mondays

Artful Dining: ZINC

In spite of my criticisms of Downtown Dining Week, I had every intention of partaking in the food festival. While I do think the Downtown Business Association could do much to expand and better promote the event, the pre-fixe menus are still undoubtedly a great way to sample new (and revisit favourite) restaurants.

ZINC, the sparkly new restaurant in the beautiful Art Gallery of Alberta, topped my list of eateries I wanted to try, with their $50, 4-course menu highlighting four of the current exhibits seeming too good to pass up. I wasn’t sure what to expect – most of the chatter has been decidedly negative, though there have been some bright spots for the month-old restaurant. Needless to say, our expectations at the gate leaned to the low side of the spectrum approaching our dinner.

A week prior, I made a reservation online (nope, not on Open Table), noting down a request for a window seat, as well as listing the special occasion we were celebrating. Upon arrival, we were seated one table shy of a window, and at no point was our occasion acknowledged. While I had no issue with either of these things, if the restaurant has no intention of fulfilling seating requests or recognizing the reason for dining, they should simply take those categories off of the reservation system.

The view from our table (the two-top next to us was taken when we arrived)

During our preview tour of the AGA in January, we were privy to a sneak peek of ZINC. At that time, I already knew I loved the soaring ceiling, floor-to-ceiling windows, and the dramatic cobalt-blue bar. Sitting inside the restaurant, however, the echo-chamber effect of the high ceiling wasn’t conducive to an intimate conversation, particularly with an unnecessarily long table. The metallic strip around the edges of the tables and as a menu backing were nice touches though, reminding diners of the restaurant’s namesake.

Interior (the Douglas fir wall is another beautiful feature)


We were a bit apprehensive about the service we would receive at ZINC, but as it turned out, we needn’t have worried. Our waiter, Nick, was excellent, and though he looked familiar to us, we couldn’t quite place him. We eventually asked if he had worked anywhere else in Edmonton, and he told us the Wildflower Grill had been his previous post (he had served us one of our best meals there). Nick was particularly great at explaining the connection each of the DDW dishes had to the art exhibits – I’d recommend asking to be seated in his section if you are concerned about potential service issues!

ZINC menu

Like Wildflower, ZINC also serves an amuse bouche. Presented on an ice-cold spoon, we were treated to foie gras yogurt topped with a raspberry segment. It was not our cup of tea – the guttural richness was not pleasing to our palates.

Foie Gras Amuse Bouche

The bread course, however, was! Hot (and I mean hot) out of the oven, two beautiful buns were delivered, accompanied by herbed butter. Mack especially appreciates warm bread (always noting the dearth of restaurants that pay attention to this comforting detail).

Gloriously Warm Bread!

My appetizer was a duo of sardines: sardine paté and grilled marinated sardine filet, with sundried tomato, brioche bread, and fresh herb salad. Apparently related to Goya, this dish had the weakest connection to art – Nick explained that during the Peninsular War, Goya’s native country of Spain had an alliance with Portugal. As a result, Chef David Omar drew inspiration from Portuguese cuisine, which includes the use of sardines and sundried tomatoes. I had to applaud Chef Omar for the playful presentation though, with the upright placement of the sardine, and the spin on sardines on toast. It was my favourite aspect of the dish (the paté, like the foie gras, was too strong for me). The greens were light and offered a burst of freshness, dressed with a champagne vinaigrette.

Duo of Sardines

Mack had decided to order off the regular menu, and thoroughly enjoyed his first dish of pan-seared scallops ($18), with sweet potato and maple ginger purée, red radish, organic microgreens, glace viande and citrus foam. The presentation was beautiful, and he noted that the scallops were cooked perfectly.

Pan-Seared Scallops

My entree was a trio of house-made ravioli (inspired by Karsh’s portraits), and was the dish I had been looking forward to the most. Unfortunately, it wasn’t executed quite right. The squid-ink ravioli was supposed to burst with its stuffing of an egg yolk and goat cheese, but unfortunately, had been bathed too long. On the other hand, the oyster mushroom and ricotta ravioli had been undercooked, the pasta still bearing that telltale chewy firmness. Still, I liked the creativity behind each of the pasta rounds, with my favourite being the black ravioli and its salty filling.

Trio of Ravioli

Mack’s Spring Creek Ranch beef tenderloin entree ($42) was similarly uneven. The steak was inconsistently prepared, with only a part of it registering the requested medium rare (the rest was most definitely well done). Mack did like the flavour of the watercress mashed potatoes though.

Spring Creek Ranch Pan-Seared Beef Tenderloin

We shared my dessert, a three part affair of corn pudding, caramelized popcorn and wild boar bacon ice cream. The duo of Cardiff/Miller inspired this plate – with Miller’s birthplace of the farming community of Vegreville leading to the use of corn and bacon. We were also supposed to combine the flavours of the dessert (as the couple work together to complete their art installations). The silky corn pudding was our favourite, and Mack noted its flavour resemblance to rice pudding. The bacon ice cream, aside from the occasional piece of bacon as a reminder, wasn’t as flavourful as I would have liked.

Cardiff/Miller Dessert

The last course was a chocolate little dancer martini, which I let Mack take care of. The Degas connection was in the movement and swirl of the Baileys and Kahlua within the transparent house-infused vanilla vodka. Mack liked the chocolate syrup rim, and finished the drink without complaint.

Chocolate Little Dancer Martini

It seems some of the early issues at the restaurant may have resolved themselves with time, but not all of them. I hope the rest of the kitchen miscues are eliminated soon, as I am optimistic that ZINC could evolve into a great restaurant. I hear that Chef Omar is working closely with area producers to include even more local content on the menu – this, combined with the creativity he demonstrated with the Downtown Dining Week menu, leads me to believe that the best may be yet to come.

ZINC (inside the Art Gallery of Alberta)
2 Sir Winston Churchill Square
Lunch: Tuesday-Saturday 11am-2:30pm; Dinner: Tuesday-Wednesday 5-9pm, Thursday-Saturday 5-11pm; Brunch: Sunday 10am-2pm; closed Mondays