Restaurants Raising The Bar

La Persaud, Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse and Corso 32 prove the city’s dining scene has come a long way.

French Flair

Originally a catering company, La Persaud is a new boutique restaurant inside La Cit Francophone, with a seating area that extends into the crescent-shaped courtyard on warm days. Patrons enjoy contemporary music from France, international wines and start with the evening’s amuse-bouche before ordering French cuisine by executive chef Emmanuel David, formerly of Dante’s Bistro, who uses local ingredients when available.

The pan-seared breast of pheasant ($30) reflects David’s dedication to local food sourcing. Purchased from Dirt Willy Game Farm & Hatchery east of Edmonton, the pheasant is a tougher poultry with subtle flavour and sweetened with a side of rosemary macerated-Saskatoon berries from local grower, Mo-Na Foods. A side of arancini, Sicilian rice balls coated with breadcrumbs, leave the tangy taste of blood orange in their wake.

Not locally sourced, but carefully crafted, La Persaud’s seafood items include tuna tacos ($13) and escargots with Chablis wine ($12). Travelling from the east coast, the butter-poached half-lobster dinner ($35) is served with a side of ravioli, stuffed with fennel and more lobster and drizzled with a creamy yellow tomato puree. Mix it with the shellfish for a buttery blend of flavours.

Like classic French fare, the portions allow room for dessert. David says the chocolate crme brle ($11) is a customer favourite. When cracked, the crystallized top gives way to dark chocolate custard for bitter cream harmonized with a sweet raspberry sauce. (8627 91 St., 780-758-6636, –Caroline Barlott

Carnivore’s Dilemma

During his travels to Brazil, grill master Oscar Mauricio Lpez fell in love with rodzio, a fixed-price meat buffet served dim sum-style. So he opened Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse, where chefs shuttle skewers of poultry, beef, pork and lamb to your table, and you have a moment to decide if there’s still room for more.

If you’re pacing yourself, just flip your paper disc from green (yes, please) to red (no, thanks). You’ll also need to decide whether to eat more of your favourite meat or a little of all 10, which always includes spicy pork sausages, succulent lamb shanks, perfect top and bottom sirloins, lightly marinated chicken drumsticks and sometimes chicken hearts. But it’s always $44.95.

The only spice the chefs use is pebble-sized South American sea salt, rubbed in just before the meat hits the fire. And to prove a point about tenderness, you’re only given a butter knife to cut with. But in case you get a burnt morsel, offset its stiffness with a smear of chimichurri, a green, garlicky dressing.

You should try caipirinha ($9.50), Brazil’s steely yet summery national cocktail made with lime and cachaa (think rum). And you should even force yourself to try one of the desserts, which are light and fruity, especially the Sagu ($7). It’s a coconut-cinnamon cream that’s smooth as yogurt atop a Brazilian red wine-pudding layered over tapioca balls with the fine texture of caviar rather than bubble tea pearls. (9929 109 St., 780-756-7030, –Omar Mouallem

Rustic Italian

Corso 32 is not a walk-in kind of place. Because of the tight seating, along with the buzz generated by chef Daniel Costa, you need to make reservations three weeks in advance.

But, boy, is it worth it.

Costa isn’t the kind of chef who puts 30 ingredients together to make one thing. He puts together rustic Italian dishes, where the flavours of the tomatoes, cheese, pasta and meat aren’t obscured. The key is technique.

The menu was created the day before we arrived at the restaurant. Costa rewrites it on a regular basis, creating dishes based on what he can get at the market. There were three entrees and three pasta dishes on the menu that day.

Our meal started with arancini tesa ($13), rice balls with pork and peas, served with fresh mint. Crunchy on the outside, with soft mozzarella cheese inside, they’re simply addictive. If Costa decided to open for brunch, his grilled cheese ($14), served with shaved truffles and an egg on top, would become a Sunday favourite.

The ravioli fonduta ($19) absolutely melted in our mouths. It was soft, and coated with a sauce of pecorino cheese and truffles. For a gourmet entre, I tried the roasted half hen ($21). It spiced with a dry-rub, but the coating didn’t overpower the meat.

Side dishes are served in large plates, so diners can share, as if they were at a family dinner. We had the panzanella ($9), a bread and tomato salad. The crostini soaks up the olive oil, zebra tomato juices and essence of the red onions. So simple, so ridiculously good. (10345 Jasper Ave., 780-421-4622, -Steven Sandor 

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