Downtown eatery near perfect
For the first time in a long time, I’m dining at a place that doesn’t feel derivative of current food and design trends. It’s an elegant and intimate room with chrome bistro chairs, sleek white tabletops and a comfy crushed corduroy banquette. Air’s Moon Safari is playing, and there are no cured meats or $14 cocktails to speak of. It feels refreshing.
Canvas (located on 11th Avenue S.W.) is in the old Stardust Pizza spot, a late-night slice joint I used to frequent, oh about eight years ago after hazy nights spent dancing at Broken City. Thankfully, there isn’t a trace of Stardust in the renovated space, which is owned by the Gerry Thomas Art Gallery.
Visiting on a quiet Saturday night (as in, we’re the only people here), my husband and I feel privy to discover a restaurant that is on the verge of becoming YYC’s next culinary darling.
Bold words, I know, but there is something special in executive chef Arnold Tse’s small menu of share plates and entrees, something that this city craves — sublime dishes at a reasonable price.
We start with three share plates ($7 each or three for $18). The first up is the barley croquettes — an innovative dish that mimics arancini, substituting the pearl shape of arborio rice with barley. Stuffed with bits of short rib and mascarpone, the result is a crisp croquette topped with shavings of Grana Padano and paired with a basil tomato sauce.
Sometimes I like a little show with my dinner, and Canvas certainly stylizes its presentation. Before a dish is brought out, our server lines up three spoons on a simple cotton napkin at the end of the table. As each narrow, uniform white plate arrives, the spoons are distributed. It’s an elegant way to present the food without being too ostentatious.
The white bean purée is phenomenal — fusing chickpea, chèvre, lemon and Grana Padano into a creamy dip crowned with a pool of lush mint honey. The combination is smooth and zesty with a hint of smoky flavour.
The roasted mushrooms are next. Spiked with white wine, garlic and shallots, the lightly roasted fungi maintain an earthy flavour with a nice contrast thanks to pinches of fresh herbs and Grana Padano.
We enjoy the first three dishes so much that we decide to forego entrees entirely and get three more share plates — although I intend on returning to try the steelhead trout with tomato and scallion broth, and quinoa ($23) or the chicken with barley risotto ($21).
The beet chips are not what you expect from a dish with this name. Lined with pickled ginger and radicchio , the dish features chunks of shrimp and golden beet chips. Like the rest, it’s great. The shrimp is perfect with a rich garlic and scallion cream sauce, and the beets offer a nice overall crispiness.
When I propose the spaghetti squash to my husband he shakes his head. “I’ve been to way too many hippy potlucks with spaghetti squash.” Ignoring this bizarre revelation, I order it anyway. Served cold, this is an invigorating dish with a white balsamic vinaigrette, herby sage and warm, crispy speck.
For dish number six (yes, and we’ve saved room for dessert) we have the braised leeks. It’s a great combination of textures and flavours, from the oniony leeks, to the crunch of pecans, and the pops of soft Cambozola (think Gorgonzola or blue cheese), made only more decadent by our add-on order of butter-fried bread ($3).
Speaking of dessert, Canvas remains in top form straight through to the finish. For this menu, pastry chef Sandy Shek offers two flights — chocolate or citrus ($12 each). Each flight features three components and tonight we’re given the option of trying a little from both. We decide on the caramel pecan tart, passion fruit mousse, and kaffir lime macaron. Each bite is fantastic — the tart is rich and perfectly nutty, the mousse is amazing with an accompanying herb olive oil sponge, and the macaron is chewy, citrusy perfection.
Need I go on? We had a grand old time in this lovely intimate setting with great food and professional, polished service. I look forward to returning to see how the menu evolves over time — but for now I really like where it’s at.