Clementine – and its name evokes both the citrus fruit and the genteel woman's name – lies like a glorious curio at the base of a soaring, ultramodern condo tower west of Edmonton's downtown.
Though a recent addition to the city's culinary landscape, its soul is old and comfortable. A winding glass entryway leads to a grand room dressed in dark wood, brass and frosted-glass light fixtures. Multiple bar stools jockey for position around an expansive bar that houses every spirit imaginable, while a few tables afford more private seating.
Indeed, the room feels old, but not contrived. No detail is overlooked, from the bumblebee insignia on the cutlery to the grey cloth-bound menus that possess the heft and presence of antique novellas. Subtle jazz and the pointed absence of anything electronic remind patrons of what their primary focus ought to be.
Clementine's bar has stage presence. Behind its noble, wooden edifice, the talented hands of Evan Watson, Andrew Borley and Jordan Clemens conjure up imminently memorable cocktails.
The ethereal Marigold ($15) presents top notes of mint with a vibrant rye undercurrent. The Pomme ($14), as its name suggests, brings crisp green apple notes to an assertive, herbal concoction of Polish vodka, tarragon and honey, whereas the Provence ($15) evokes a summer afternoon in France, resplendent with strawberry, lemon and rosemary.
Watching the bar team work is half the fun, and their movements are as seamlessly choreographed as a modern ballet.
Behind the scenes, chef Roger Létourneau lets fly with unbridled creativity that is a feast for both eyes and palate. Plates are small and meant for sharing, and Clementine's strength soon proves to be layering together unexpected textures.
Case in point: Carrots with Sea Buckthorn and Amaranth ($6) sees auburn spindles of barely-cooked carrot rolled in toasted amaranth. Crispy Potato with Canola and Pickled Potato ($10) adorns lavishly crispy baby spuds with opaque, paper-thin shavings of pickled potato. Here, hot pairs with cold, and savoury sidles up with sweet to create a revelatory experience, the likes of which are rarely created with potatoes alone.
The more substantial plates prove equally enticing. Sourdough Rye Pancake ($15) mixes the rich northern European tradition of fermented dough with lashings of piquant sambal. It's a multifarious explosion of sour and spicy flavour profiles, made all the more enjoyable by morsels of gently salty Jambon de Paris. Smoked Duck ($25) is unapologetically fatty, smoky and not a bit overdone. An accompanying boiled duck egg was supposed to have been soft-cooked, but instead is rather rubbery.
This minor misstep is easily forgiven upon the arrival of Port Salut with Yellow Beet, Carrot and Lavender ($14).
This laudable segue from dinner to dessert finds a buttery slice of voluptuous Port Salut cheese that practically sighs as it reclines into ribbons of golden beet and carrot. Floral hints of lavender weave between the ribbons, lacing together cheese and veg.
A teetering tower of sunflower praline lined with apple cider caramel ($10) is an apt ending. Here, impeccably crunchy praline is balanced by little clouds of subtle caramel. A large quenelle of rye semifreddo is tangy and refreshing. The flavours are familiar, yet the presentation is novel.
It's a juxtaposition of old and new, just like Clementine itself.