Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Hardware Grill - Edmonton, AB

I was just beginning my rotation in a small, rural Alberta town and was already beginning to miss the little conveniences of life in the city after just a week. With a town of only nine-hundred people, there was really only one cafe/restaurant that the locals recommended called Jam Tarts on Main Street (which I have yet to try). That being said, I was ecstatic when the weekend rolled around and I hopped in my car and headed to Edmonton almost as soon as my duties were done for the day. I had booked dinner reservations that Saturday for my companion’s birthday at Edmonton’s second most popular fine-dining restaurant – Hardware Grill. My companion initially came to pick me up in jeans and a T-shirt, thinking that “Hardware Grill” was just some macho steakhouse. Fortunately, he lived close enough to go back home and throw on a decent pair of dress pants and a dress shirt and we had a good laugh about the whole ordeal.
Window into Hardware Grill's Kitchen and Chef/Owner
Larry Stewart
We found Hardware Grill across from the Shaw Conference Centre; it was situated on a large corner block and had tacky, green-striped awnings around the entire building. I was definitely not a fan of the awnings – they looked very outdated, especially for what was supposed to be considered high-end dining – and I was a little skeptical of the environment as I opened the door. Surprisingly, Hardware Grill was much more pleasing to the eye on the inside compared to the outside (never judge a book by its cover I guess!): it featured large wooden tables and booths and unassuming though classic green-brown seats, which gave an upscale feel without being overly pretentious. My favourite part, however, was the large open kitchen and windows that allowed you to look right into the kitchen from your booth! I thought it was an excellent touch which gave Hardware Grill a modern feel even with its classic decor.

I had originally chosen Hardware Grill for one of its featured appetizers, the lobster risotto, which is one of my companion’s favourite dishes (did I mention he was on an undying quest to find the best lobster risotto?!). After perusing the menu, we decided on the Butter Braised Lobster Risotto ($20) and Kobe Beef Carpaccio ($20) for our appetizers, and the Duo of Bacon Wrapped Elk & Slow Braised Beef Short Ribs ($46) and Lacquered Duck Breast ($38) as our entrees for the night. Our meal was started off with a basket of bread served with olive oil. I thought it was a bit strange that the bread was only accompanied by olive oil without any balsamic vinegar (or even butter as an optional side!). To be honest, the bread was not the best I had (especially compared to Harvest Room where my companion took me for my birthday) and tasted very oily with just the olive oil. Hardware Grill would better serve its diners by offering the option of balsamic vinegar or butter to pair with its bread instead of just plain olive oil.

Kobe Beef Carpaccio
I had read online prior to visiting Hardware Grill that Hardware’s Carpaccio dish was one of the best Carpaccio dishes other diners had ever tasted. After enthusiastic reviews like that, I had fairly high expectations for the dish. The Kobe Beef Carpaccio – consisting of Parmesan shards, truffle aioli, and sea salt potato chips – was one of the most amazing beef dishes I have ever had! Hardware Grill’s Carpaccio, which is a traditional Italian dish of raw meat (usually beef, veal, venison, salmon, or tuna), featured thin slices of Kobe beef. I had never tried Kobe beef before and never really believed the hype…until now. Kobe beef, especially done Carpaccio-style, was tender, juicy, and had a delightful not-quite-just-beef taste. My companion and I agreed that the Kobe beef had a certain je ne c’est quoi that makes Kobe beef that much better than AAA Alberta beef. The sea salt potato chips were freshly cut and fried and were perfectly seasoned with sea salt. The truffle aioli was delightfully flavourful and featured the truffle flavour perfectly. The Kobe beef – which I chose to layer on my potato chips, top with Parmesan, and spice with just a touch of truffle aioli – was an amazing combination and was my favourite bite of the night! My companion heartedly agreed and had much more than his fair share of my Kobe Beef Carpaccio.

Butter Braised Lobster Risotto
My companion’s highly anticipated Butter Braised Lobster Risotto was served with a butter-braised lobster tail, soffritto – a Portuguese combination of onion, garlic, and celery – and Parmesan shards. The lobster risotto was perfectly cooked, bursting with flavour, and was definitely one of my favourite risottos that I have ever tasted (including quite a few I tasted in Italy!). I almost always find risotto too creamy; however Hardware’s lobster risotto was light yet flavourful – the perfect risotto! – and my companion agreed that it was one of the best lobster risottos he has tasted as well (mission accomplished!). The only complaint we had with the dish was the lobster tail was a bit chewy, especially compared to the lobster tail we recently had at Harvest Room.

Lacquered Duck Breast
For my main, I ordered the Lacquered Duck Breast dish which was served with a house-made duck sausage, butternut-pear squash puree, cherry marmalade, and potato waffle. The duck breast itself was served rare but perfectly charred and crispy on the outside. It was perfectly seasoned on both the outside and the inside – definitely one of the best prepared ducks I have had. I was definitely looking forward to the duck sausage and had envisioned something along the lines of duck liver pate, one of my favourite types of livers. The duck sausage that came out was…different, to say the least. Throughout eating the house-made ducks sausage, I was not exactly sure what to make of it: the house-made duck sausage had a strange, grainy texture and was a little dry. It didn’t quite taste like duck and I still cannot figure out which part of the duck was used to make the sausage. The root vegetables which accompanied the duck breast were perfectly seasoned and one of my favourite parts of the dish (besides the duck itself!). The butternut-pear squash, potato waffle, and cherry marmalade were also very well prepared and complimented the duck breast excellently.

Duo of Bacon Wrapped Elk & Slow Braised Beef Short Ribs
My partner ordered the Duo of Bacon Wrapped Elk & Slow Braised Beef Short Ribs – which was served with truffle-creamed spinach, crispy polenta cake, raspberry-St. Ermite reduction – for his birthday dish. The short ribs were incredibly melt-in-your-mouth tender but were a little on the under-seasoned side. The bacon-wrapped elk was amazingly marinated and had a literally unending flavour which lasts until the last chew! The only thing I would have liked was to have more of was the bacon flavour in the elk. The truffle-creamed spinach was also perfectly cooked and was incredibly flavourful. My companion, although he thought the spinach was initially very tasty, found the flavour overpowering later on when he had worked through more of the dish. The crispy polenta cake, which is an Italian side dish made from coarsely or finely ground yellow or white cornmeal, was described by my companion as fairly average, although neither of us are big fans of polenta.

Overall, the Hardware Grill was a great choice for a birthday dinner and definitely lived up to all my expectations. The decor was modern, classy, but unassuming and provided an upscale yet casual ambience. The food at Hardware Grill was flavourful and served in very generous proportions – we actually ended up taking a box home for each our entrees, which made for an amazing gourmet lunch the next day. Hardware Grill definitely deserves to be on Edmonton’s top five fine-dining list (though I have yet to try Red Ox Inn, Pampa’s, and Wildflower Grill) and even at a hefty price tag of $150, I would not hesitate to go back to Hardware Grill for another dining experience.

Top Pick of the Night: Kobe Beef Carpaccio, Butter Braised Lobster Risotto, duck breast, and truffle-creamed spinach

Rating: 4.5/5 Erics'

Hardware Grill on Urbanspoon

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