As Food Day Canada approaches (August 5, 2017), I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to highlight Alder Room, which does a fantastic job of highlighting what we can do with regional ingredients. The tasting menu at Alder Room is regionally and seasonally inspired, so it will probably be a different experience each time you go. The Alder Room website describes itself as follows, so that gives you a hint of what’s to come.
Alder Room is a modern, experiential restaurant; a place to interact with regional, seasonal cuisine and those who prepare it. Our menu is inspired by our connection to the land.
Alder Room can host up to 12 diners at its single 7pm seating (Wednesday to Saturday) and we arrived for our reservation on a Friday night. We had a group of four and there was another couple there as well, bringing the total number of people in our seating to 6. This was certainly an intimate meal and it definitely helped that the initial bites were served in the front seating area, where we would be able to chat while having champagne and snacks.
Before diving into the snacks, Chef Ben Staley (owner of Alta and Alder Room) gave us an overview of Alder Room’s philosophy and noted that he uses regional ingredients from Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia. In particular, he indicated that he had a partnership with Vesta Gardens (in Thorhild) where they supply both his restaurants with produce. Each week, he heads out to Vesta Gardens to see what is available and tailors the Alder Room tasting menu to whatever is ripe and in-season.
The snacks were a nice start to our meal as they were a good precursor of what was to come. One thing I am going to just say now is the plating at Alder Room is so nice, I can’t even tell you the number of times that I commented on how pretty things were. While I don’t love eggs, I didn’t say no to the quail egg and its interesting plate. I liked the quail egg and thought the vegetable ash was interesting, but favorites for me from the snacks were the dried fermented peaches and the fried sunchoke skins. The peaches reminded me of preserved Asian snacks and I could see myself snacking on those regularly. The fried sunchoke skins were filled with a cream/puree and it was a nice textural contrast between the soft inside and the crunchy skin – I would eat that any day!
Once we finished with the snacks, we all moved over to the main seating area, which is a long bar where we can see the cooking and plating happen right in front of us. Wine and juice pairings were available and I opted for the mixed pairing, which alternated between wine and juice. The juices were all made in house and had combinations I would not have thought of, although they were fairly apple heavy.
As we move through this tasting menu, I am going to note that this is the point where we shift towards a photolog rather than a full blown blog post, especially considering we were last at Alder Room in late June and it’s now early August, so the menu has definitely shifted.
The four courses post-snacks were all quite good and I really appreciated the emphasis on vegetables in this menu, especially as I try to move towards a more plant-based diet. In particular, I liked the new potatoes in goat butter a lot – goat butter is something I have never tried before, so that was a new experience! This dish also reminds me of one of my favorite dishes – moules-frites, which is never a bad thing.
Throughout dinner, we were watching the baby romaine hanging out above the fire (it was there for 4 hours – talk about hot!), and I couldn’t wait to taste it as grilled romaine is the latest vegetable preparation that I’ve really loving.
The main protein of the meal was the Peking duck glazed with beet juice – I quite liked this dish and thought it was well done. However, I do recognize that if you lean towards the carnivore side of omnivorous, this meal is probably low on the meat elements. Another thing I did like was that our dining companions are vegetarian, so their plates were customized to suit their dietary needs, which isn’t always the case when you’re having a tasting menu.
As we moved to the end of our meals, we slowly transitioned to dessert with two ice cream dishes. The first was the lovage ice cream with compressed strawberries and edible flowers. This dish was not particularly sweet and definitely leans towards herbaceous, which is nice because then you’re not free falling from savory to sweet in an instant. The lovage ice cream was quite inspiring as I have a large plant growing and never know what to do with it except to use a few leaves in tomato soup. I am super tempted to experiment with making lovage ice cream now.
The second ice cream is probably one of the best ice creams I have ever had in my life. I recently returned from Japan, where I thought Hokkaido ice cream was the best I ever had, but this salted Jersey milk ice cream was on par with that. It was rich and creamy and when paired with the maple syrup that Chef Ben Staley and his sous chef tapped themselves, I was in heaven.
We ended the night back where we started, with a shared plate of sweets. As someone who doesn’t love things that are too sweet, this was a perfect level for me. The peach cooked in sugar for 3 days was amazing – it actually reminded me of peach tea, which is definitely something I associate with summer. I have thought about making caneles, but am not willing to invest in the proper equipment (i.e. copper moulds), so seeing the amaro caneles on the plate was awesome.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at Alder Room and would say it was one of the best meals I’ve had in Edmonton. I loved that each dish was incredibly well thought out and really appreciated the flow of the meal as it wasn’t taking you on a wild ride but more of a lovely walk through the woods.
So What Would Argenplath Pay?
A meal at Alder Room is definitely on the more expensive side with the tasting meal priced at $140 and the drink pairing will range from $50-$70 depending if you have the non-alcoholic, mixed or wine pairing. Our meal was covered by an Indiegogo reward as part of the crowdfunding campaign that Alder Room ran back in 2015. Drink pairings were not included, so my mixed pairing came out to $60 + tax.
To be honest, I don’t know that I would have taken the plunge at Alder Room if we didn’t have the Indiegogo rewards, since $200/person is definitely something for special occasions only, but now that I’ve experienced it first hand, I would be willing to do it again. In fact, I am thinking about going in mid-September, which is harvest season, so there should be a lot available for Chef Ben Staley and his staff to play with.
If Alder Room and the tasting menu style is not for you, I would suggest trying Alta (next door) as it follows the same regional ingredients philosophy but puts you back in control of what you’re eating. Again, the menu changes with the seasons, but my last meal there was also delicious. If you ever see chicken liver on that menu – I would recommend ordering it for sure!