Feel welcomed with French classics at the Eden
Dishes such as cassoulet and sole meunière scream 'comfort,' and that isn't a bad thing
A restaurateur can do many things to help a restaurant stand out. It can be something as mesmerizing as a marble bar top that cocktails rest on night after night, ornate tiles that sparkle under rays of sunlight, or bespoke art installations that draw attention to themselves in their own right.
One thing a person cannot buy is authenticity. And the newest restaurant in Calgary's Inglewood neighbourhood, the Eden, offers just that in the humblest and most warming of ways.
It is always hard to describe something you can't quite put your finger on, but just trust me when I say that if you walk into this unassuming eatery on 9 Ave. SE (formerly the Carmichael, previous to that Jacqueline Suzanne's), you will feel welcome.
Let's not lie to ourselves here: Feeling truly welcomed and, perhaps, even valued, at a restaurant is a rarity these days. I'm not just talking about Calgary restaurants, I'm talking about the average contemporary restaurant in this country. You know them well. They're the ones where the bartenders do you a favour, sliding that $18 cocktail over while smiling indifferently. The ones with servers that politely inform you that your table reservation is good for only two hours, then you have to hit the road.
Refreshingly, the Eden doesn't really fit in with that crowd, and that's why, shortcomings aside, I see it finding success in our cutthroat Calgary restaurant scene.
To get it out of the way, the interior of the Eden is nothing to write home about. The bi-level space has been lightly updated from its preceding concept with a bright white wall and namesake graphic. It looks less stuffy, but a passerby will not be enticed solely by its interior.
Sitting down, and at first glance, the restaurant's menu reads like an index from a Julia Child cookbook. At a second and third glance, it really does. Cassoulet, bourguignon, mushrooms in cream sauce, sole meunière. It reeks of familiarity, and this is not a bad thing. Not at all. Dishes like this scream "comfort" in a most valiant way and sturdily oppose the bone-chilling weather we have been graced with as of late here in Alberta.
Can I get an "Amen" for butter, cream and all things braised?
Like a good cable-knit sweater, crispy slices of bread – trying hard to soak up the fat-ridden sauce accompanying the pile of sautéed mushrooms above them – help soothe the winter shivers.
In the Eden's subtle update on sole meunière, the white fish is breaded, making it much more crispy than in a traditional preparation, but it does not disappoint. The fried fish and tangy lemon butter sauce in a ménage à trois with a well-dressed house salad is a delightful balancing act.
The pork cassoulet is just as memorable, but less of a looker and more of a wallflower; simply a shallow bowl of white beans, tender chunks of pork shoulder, slices of celery, wedges of carrots and baby potatoes.
The roasted beet salad is unapologeticly and pleasantly simple, with frisée, mixed greens and goat cheese all tossed in a tart vinaigrette. A chicken cordon bleu sandwich decently follows with an accompaniment of marinated cucumbers and onion before the overcooked hamburger, charred to a black crisp on its outer edges, brings us back to reality.
Things take an unusual, disappointing twist when it comes to the beef bourguignon. Described as "slow-cooked beef stew," the dish actually presents itself as two large slices of under-braised beef coated in a vegetable sauce (think mirepoix puréed) with floppy green beans. Strange.
Helping accent a roller coaster of impressive and subpar dishes on one particular evening was a bout of awkward and repetitive service.
Our $35 twist-cap bottle of Tempranillo sat with its cap screwed tightly after the initial pouring, never to be opened again by our server. However, every time she returned to our table, she would ask: "Would you like more water?" while looking at a table full of empty water glasses.
I don't expect white-glove service with an economical (and drinkable) Spanish wine, but keeping water glasses topped up without question and inquiring about wine pours is fundamental.
After a fairly stiff crème brûlée, a slice of terribly overcooked blue-cheese cheesecake quickly becomes the most disappointing bite of the evening. The unfortunate combination of a crumbly texture, mealy mouth-feel and an unbalanced ratio of blue cheese to cream cheese makes this cake memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Hiccups and server awkwardness aside, if you are seeking shelter and sustenance on a frigid, blustery day, few eateries in Calgary can make you feel as cozy and at home as the Eden.