May 14, 2011

Corso 32–Edmonton

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Corso 32 might be the most hyped restaurant in Edmonton right now. And judging from our visit last week, all the hype is true.

After our extraordinary meal, I can't believe it's taken us so long to get there, and I really hope we can go back soon.

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We had an early 5:30 reservation and were seated quickly at the back of the restaurant, right in front of the floor-to-ceiling black and white photo of an earthy, Italian farmer (the name of the restaurant is the address of chef Daniel Costa’s family in Italy). At first I thought it would be nice to get some of the beautiful light streaming into the front from Jasper avenue, but the back had a feel all its own: dim and cozy.

It's a small, narrow space and the tables are close together, creating a jovial, happy atmosphere, full of people enjoying themselves.

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We decided to go all out and order lots of food and plenty of drinks too. One look at the menu brought us back to our Roman vacation (which I realize I still haven't written about!), with ingredients like prosciutto, crostini and roasted potatoes. It's a mouth-watering menu that changes all the time - and they print a new one every day for last-minute changes.

They don't archive the previous menus on their website, but from what I gather from reading online reviews, it's mainly the produce that changes with the seasons. This menu included some particularly springy ingredients: stinging nettles, fava beans and ramps.

The staff are well-versed in the gluten-free diet. When I told our host I had celiac, she pointed out everything on the menu I could have, and when our server arrived he also seemed well-informed. Unfortunately they don't have gluten-free pasta, but there were lots of options.

We started off with a skin and seed martini for J and a Corso Campari for me. The martini was delicious, though the coffee flavour from the espresso overwhelmed any taste of amaretto or grappa. It tasted like a chilled coffee martini - yum. My campari was a beautiful pink colour from the blood orange, and a refreshing way to start the evening.

For our first course we chose the arancini ($11) and the appetizer special, a pear carpaccio salad ($13): thinly sliced pears, shaved parmesan, arugula, roasted walnuts, with a black truffle vinaigrette. Unfortunately I couldn't eat the arancini - deep-fried, lightly-battered rice balls filled with smoked pork, oyster mushrooms and fontina. J said they were amazing, and they sure looked it.

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Meanwhile I was enjoying my fantastic salad. It was served in layers - pear on the bottom, topped by arugula, parmesan, and bits of roasted walnuts. The bold flavours combined perfectly: fresh sweet pear, bitter arugula, salty earthy parmesan, the crunch of walnuts, and that amazing truffle flavour, with plenty of deeply flavoured olive oil and cracked black pepper. I haven't have a salad that good in a long time.

Next we shared the stinging nettle soup with a poached egg, parmesan and roasted pine nuts ($13). The bright green colour against the white bowl certainly looked springy - it's the colour I hope we start seeing on the trees soon! The soup was velvety and rich with a fresh, broccoli-like flavour, and the soft, runny poached egg dissolved perfectly into the puree. Normally it's served with a toasted baguette slice on the side, which would be perfect to mop it all up.

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Service throughout the meal was flawless. Our server was knowledgeable with exactly the right manner: friendly but professional. We asked him for drink recommendations a few times and he ably responded. He paired an Italian San Gregorio Falanghina with our soup, which was bright and delicious (I don't know much about wine, and I don't even remember if it was on the dry or sweet side ... but it was good!)

My 48-hour chuck flat steak ($26) was a gleaming fan of red beef slices with a crisp brown exterior. It had a nice marbling of fat throughout, and the meat was soft in my mouth with lots of flavour. It was served with brussel sprouts leaves and thin strips of roasted parnsip for an earthy combination. The vinaigrette is called a "bagna cauda", which is a traditional hot Italian dip for vegetables made with olive oil, anchovy and garlic. I'm not sure I tasted those, though the agressive salt definitely could have been from anchovies. The salty profile of the sauce worked perfectly on the meat, but when eating a few brussels leaves drizzled with it, it was overwhelming. There was also a big mustardy punch, which I loved.

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J couldn't help but order the Carbonara ($18), one of our favourite pasta dishes, and one we ate a lot in Italy. It was made with wide tagliatelle noodles, ramps and house-cured pork jowl. J concluded too much salt was its main flaw. He also described the noodles as "gunky" - he couldn't tell if they were overcooked, or just too wide for the light, eggy sauce.

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With our mains we ordered two sides of vegetables, which might have been a little excessive (I ended up eating most of them as leftovers for lunch the next day). Having said that, I loved them both: the roasted potatoes with lemon and sage ($7) were tiny, blackened, crispy and perfect. The roasted kale with anchovy and lemon vinaigrette ($8) was chewy and juicy with blackened edges and an amazing fresh lemon flavour. J, however, found the leaves undercooked and far too chewy, and the vinaigrette too lemony, so it depends on your tastes. Greens cooked this way definitely aren't authentic, at least not to Rome. A side of cooked spinach or chicory is available everywhere there, but always boiled until quite tender.

At this point I was starting to get full, but I knew I still had plenty of room for sweets, so I was very happy that the chocolate torta ($9) is gluten-free. J ordered the pistachio and olive oil cake ($8), and we also tried the Testadura goat cheese with buckwheat honey and pepper ($12). I slathered the hard triangles of cheese with the amber honey and sprinkled pepper on top: a gloriously contrasting mouthful.

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The meal came to a triumphant conclusion with these desserts. Accompanied by grappa for J (too strong for me) and a potently sweet melon liqueur for me, the cake and the torta were two of the best desserts we've had in this city. I couldn't taste the cake, but the sugar-sprinkled plate looked beautiful, with the creamy whiteness of mascarpone and bright pink of the blood orange. J's favourite part was the drizzling of olive oil and finely chopped pistachios on the plate under the sugar.

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My torta was intoxicating. A log-shaped slice of chocolate mousse cut from a loaf pan, it had a texture unlike any mousse I've had. Creamy but not full of air bubbles, dense but not thick. The delicious chocolate was complemented by the crunch of the toasted hazelnuts scattered over top. J declared it the "Ultimate Nutella".

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Chef Daniel Costa is a bold seasoner. Besides the few overly salted dishes, overall we really appreciated the aggressive flavours that made our mouths come alive.

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It was an extravagant meal - but worth every penny. Corso 32 is a bright light on our city's dining scene, and from the looks of the packed restaurant on our visit, it's thriving. My best wishes to Chef Costa and his team, and thank you for a wonderful evening.

Corso 32
10345 Jasper Ave.
Edmonton
www.corso32.com

3 comments:

Marfa said...

Everything sounds so good. A bit exotic and elegant. Nettle...I remember it grew in our backyard and my mom pulled most of it out with her gardening gloves, because my sisters and I were getting hurt by it...only later did we find out that it has GOOD uses.

Marianne said...

Wow - their new menu looks great (fantastic photos, btw)! So glad you two enjoyed it! Those cocktails look amazing. And I agree about the atmosphere - the decor and the table placement helps create an enticing sense of space.

Anonymous said...

Way over rated. The poor service and high cost will catch up with them after the initial excitement wears off. Not going back.