It’s been a while since I’ve talked about food and I am jumping back in with one of the most unreal dinners I’ve had in a long time. Last week, I had the opportunity to attend an underground dinner by Chef Antony Krause of The Salt Room at Mother’s Market here in Edmonton. I have been to Mother’s Market several times and even spent a weekend manning the Molly’s Eats booth there but wasn’t particularly interested in the food options available. Well… that’s definitely changing now that Chef Tony and The Salt Room are there. As of this moment, The Salt Room is the only concession area serving food to eat at Mother’s Market, although there are definitely vendors selling bread, baked goods, etc. I didn’t know what to expect with this underground dinner as I was not familiar with Chef Tony prior to this, but Susan of Molly’s Eats convinced Andrea, Cindy (her recap is already up!), Teresa and I that it would be a wonderful Tuesday evening adventure, so off we went.
When I arrived at the tiny hidden side door on Tuesday night, I certainly wasn’t expecting to be greeted by an intimate table for 10! I was thinking there would be 20-30 people at this underground dinner, but after learning that Chef Tony does all his cooking in a very limited space and on a single induction burner plus a pizza oven, I could see why it’s a table for 10! The menu was a list of ingredients and I couldn’t wait to see what we would be eating.
The amuse bouche of “potato, olive, duck” was supposed to be served with fresh snow water but alas the warm spell (almost a heat wave for this time of year) ruined Chef Tony’s plans since there was no clean snow to be found! However, the amuse bouche of potato chip, smashed russet potato, dehydrated olive, yeast puree and duck prosciutto topped with a pea tendril more than made up for that. This was a bite that had a lovely contrast in texture between the chip and smashed potato. From what I can recall, I do believe that Chef Tony also cured the duck prosciutto himself and it was just delectable. The bar was set very high after the first bite and I eagerly awaited the next dishes to follow.
The bread course of “pretzel, rosemary, potato” meant pretzel bread, rosemary focaccia and potato bun served a quenelle of brown butter topped with bacon and maldon salt. I am not usually a huge bread person but I could not stop myself from eating every single bite of bread. I tried to stop but resistance was futile. All three breads were fantastic and had distinct contrasts in taste and textures, but the rosemary focaccia was my favorite – the inside was soft with a hint of rosemary and I thoroughly enjoyed every bite. Our server Chelsea mentioned that there was more butter if we needed it when she dropped off the plates and I thought that there might even be too much butter on the plate, let alone needing to ask for more. While I didn’t ask for more brown butter, I seriously thought about it… The brown butter is amazing and paired with the bacon and maldon salt, I have no words for how good that is – in fact I went in to Mother’s Market on Saturday and bought myself a jar (a JAR!) of brown butter.
As an aside, I have to say that I loved the pottery pieces that these first two courses were served on! They are made by Brenda Danbrook, a potter in St. Albert and I am definitely going to check out some of her other pieces soon.
The next course kicked off a series of drink pairings and along with “langostine, beets, charcoal’ came a homemade ginger ale. It is important to note that Mother’s Market does not have a liquor license so the underground dinner was decidedly non-alcoholic, which is not a bad thing when we all have to drive home and work the next morning. I love the flavour of ginger and the ginger ale had good balance and it wasn’t overpowering on the palate. The langostine was cooked over charcoal and looked amazing, but with my shrimp allergy, I thought it would be better if I took a pass on it (just in case). I did eat the golden beet sponge which was like a dense-ish foam. The texture took some getting used to but it was an interesting item and when paired with the pickled beet puree, it was a delicious double whammy of beet flavour.
Course four involved some DIY-ing as we were given iced teas and a jar of simple syrup so that we could sweeten the tea to our personal tastes. The tea had nice floral taste to it – quite possibly hibiscus? (I forgot to ask) and didn’t require a lot of syrup. The “beef, purple carrot, Lyonnaise” dish was intriguing as I tend to think of anything Lyonnaise as a bit safe and dated, which is not what Chef Tony has presented thus far. What we were served was beef heart, red leaf lettuce heart, a play on Lyonnaise style with the charred onions, mustard jus and a vibrant purple carrot puree. I still can’t believe that was purple carrot, but the taste was all carrot and I tried to scoop up every single drop of that puree. Beef heart is not something I would go out of my way to eat as it can be tough and chewy – it is a muscle after all, but I can say that I have never enjoyed beef heart as much as this before. This beef heart had good bite and flavor and if I wasn’t told it was beef heart, I would have never known.
Following on the heels of last dish came ‘zucca, kale, lamb, gouda’ with a juniper Italian soda. The juniper Italian soda blew my mind – it had a strong juniper flavour and Chelsea told us that she and Chef Tony went into the forest and cut down juniper branches to infuse and make this drink. Say what?! That is dedication and passion for your craft and I have nothing but appreciation for that. The kale zucca was topped with braised lamb neck and Sylvan Star old grizzly gouda – I could not stop eating this. I typically turn my nose up at lamb as I find it particularly gamy, but this braised lamb neck was so tender and worked beautifully with the pasta and cheese. On a cold wintery day, this would be the ultimate comfort food dish that I would eat… of course I lack the skills and patience to cook this myself, but I would buy it on the way home (possibly even go out of my way on said imaginary cold wintery day).
As we moved to my favorite course of any meal – dessert – I was stunned with speechlessness. I pretty much lost it with the presentation of ‘blood orange, caramel, chocolate, orange blossom’. I am currently obsessed with terrariums and this was effectively an edible terrarium! Dessert was a blood orange bavarois, dehydrated chocolate mousse, light caramel sauce topped with a chocolate lid that exuded orange blossom essence once you broke it into the bavarois. The blood orange bavarois was custardy and creamy with excellent orange flavour. The dehydrated chocolate mousse gave the bavarois a textural element and paired with the chocolate lid – the whole dish was just divine. If there was any way I could have licked the bowl clean – I probably would have. The warm gala apple cider was also very good but I will admit all my focus and attention was on dessert.
To end the night, Chef Tony gave us little boxes of ‘popcorn, cherry, pine, alder’ petit fours to take home. They included a sour cherry gummy, a smoked alder chanterelle mushroom chocolate truffle and a popcorn caramel. I ended up sharing my petit fours so I didn’t get a chance to sample the popcorn caramel although I was told it was amazing. I was initially skeptical about the chocolate truffle because really? mushrooms? but I tasted it and it had a hint of mushroom flavour so it gave the chocolate an umami/earthiness to it, which cut the sweetness for me. The sour cherry gummy was my favorite, mainly because I love gummy candies but there was a nice tartness to the candy that made it much less like the sugary sweet candies of my childhood. Grown up candies… I believe in them.
Overall, I was very impressed and delighted by this underground dinner. Nearly everything was sourced/foraged locally and/or made by Chef Tony and I think that anyone who is willing to put so much into their food deserves to be applauded. I would definitely recommend checking out his next series of dinners or just popping by Mother’s Market on Friday – Sunday (10am – 5pm) and trying his food. In fact, Cindy and I did just that this past weekend – we went to Mother’s Market and had a great chorizo dog ($9) – presented in actual dishware to boot!
So What Would Argenplath Pay?
The underground dinner was $70 and I was lucky enough to receive a discounted ticket but to be honest – this meal would have been worth every penny of the $70 ticket. In fact, Chef Tony hosting another dinner on April 1 and we put in a reservation before the end of the night, so I am putting my money where my mouth is – I am paying $70-$100 (depending on ingredients sourced) for the next dinner.
The April 1st underground dinner sold out so quickly that a second dinner was added for March 31 and it is also sold out. Chef Tony is still getting requests for tickets and he is starting a contact list so he can let people know when he is doing another dinner. If you are interested in coming to one of his underground dinners – follow/message @thesaltroom_yeg on twitter and instagram.