As someone who only visits Edmonton every couple of months or so, the growth of the city's food scene is impressive. It feels alive. Restaurateurs are venturing out of their comfort zones, trying new things, taking chances and it has been all for the better for a city that the rest of Canada continues to underestimate.
Wishbone may be a little hard to pick out by a passerby, boasting a symbol for a sign and being on a recessed upper-level entrance of a generic office building on Jasper Avenue, but those aware of the local food scene will know it as the space that formerly operated as MRKT. The restaurant of Brayden Kozak – the busy restaurateur also owns and operates Three Boars and Farrow – is an undeniably good looking one after inheriting wonderful bare bones from its predecessor by way of toboggan-like wood panelling that wraps itself warmly around the room.
Come for lunch and you'll find the space bright, airy and welcoming. Pleasant servers will circle the room and drop plates of food at your table like a delicious plate of the signature wings, tossed in a honey chili sauce, seasoned lightly with togarashi and a hit of micro cilantro, generous portions of a fresh and crunchy Asian-style napa-cabbage slaw or the satisfactory cheeseburger. The burger itself is palatable and comes topped with the usual suspects (American cheese, lettuce, pickles et al.), but the brioche bun that encases it all is fairly off-putting in its sweetness.
As the sun fades and the eatery retires its lunch offerings, more inventive dishes come out to play. Chef Kozak's dinner menu is more or less global with its approach and while globetrotting finds varying levels of success.
Playing to the popularity of Asian flavours are aforementioned chicken wings, the charcoal-grilled skewers such as pork belly in a thick gochujang glaze, candied nombu to snack on, as well as a plate of slightly overcooked gai lan with a sharp sherry vinaigrette and garlic chips that are all too bitter.
Wishbone's sea bream crudo sounds great in theory, but does no favours to one's taste buds. On this particular evening, it tastes shockingly bland and begs for acidity despite the addition of sea buckthorn as well as crispy, puffed wild rice, briny samphire, and cold-pressed canola. To hardly be able to taste the abrasively tart sea buckthorn is an interesting feat in and of itself and not a good one at that.
The Welsh rarebit reimagined sees a bulky piece of toast topped with an even more bulky serving of sautéed cremini mushrooms on a heavy ladling of mornay sauce and finished with a generous grating of cured egg yolk. It's a very heavy dish that feels like the odd-person out with the rest of the offerings here.
There are moments of brilliance, though. An impeccable interpretation of Oysters Rockefeller has tiny, sweet and salty chunks of Chinese sausage drowned happily in garlic butter sealed with a golden, bubbly layer of Butterkase cheese and breadcrumbs.
Chef Kozak's tête de cochon is another home run. Crack through its golden brown shell to find tender, salty pork meat mellowed out perfectly by a lightly dressed frisée salad, saskatoon berry compote and a mustard cream. Modest slices of crispy pig's ear add a little crunch and bring everything full circle.
As well, the chef's use of baby turnips, tender and juicy and placed in a tangy buttermilk dressing with crushed hazelnuts, candied hazelnuts, small pieces of fried green kale and plenty of nori is an exemplar of how to cook a root vegetable.
For dessert, two gigantic buttermilk beignets close out the show, dusted with icing sugar and sitting in warm dulce de leche. If you ask me, beignets are best left small and bite-sized with a pleasantly sweet dip on the side. They are not something I should need to ask for a knife to slice into and eat with a fork.
In a recent issue of Bon Appétit, editor-in-chief, Adam Rapoport wrote in his editor's letter pointedly and honestly "Of course, the reason I'm so critical of restaurants is because so many of them get it so right."
I couldn't agree more.
In the past few years, the bar has been set high in Edmonton for eateries opening their doors – the most recent example being Biera – and when a restaurant doesn't reach it, it's hard not to feel a little let down.