Adventures in Edmonton: Downtown Dining Week

Through the looking glass…so are the days of Downtown Dining Week. 2015 marcs the fourth year my wife and I have visited at least one restaurant during this week. Our past experiences have all been awesome, save for one. But, I’m happy to report this year was a huge success. Specifically, we ate at the Marc, producers of fantastic French cuisine.

If you haven’t heard of Downtown Dining Week, it’s a week where more than a dozen downtown Edmonton restaurants come up with set menus for lunch (two courses) or dinner (three courses). Many of the restaurants are fancier, more expensive places that cause budget-conscious hearts to beat a little faster. Thus, a set price and menu allows even less-affluent citizens the opportunity to set foot in places they might not dare enter but for anniversaries or special occasions.

First, a brief recap of the past few years. In the first year we ate at the Hardware Grill. The set menu included a nice steak with a coffee rub, and dessert was their popular aged butterscotch pudding. The food was good and the rub was a little on the salty side, but for me, service is what’s most important. Our server was clearly a professional. Overall, a positive experience worthy of an 8.5 out of 10.

The second year, we went to the Harvest Room in Fairmont Hotel Macdonald. The food was awesome, but what stood out to me was the service from the kitchen. My wife cannot eat gluten which is always a pain for both her and the restaurant—particularly when there is a set menu. In this case, the head chef came to our table before we ate, and talked through everything on the menu with us--including the substitutions he would be making to eliminate the flour. I’ll have you know, this is incredibly rare. My experience is that many servers view gluten-free requests like a plague and generally opt to offer an evil glare, and then proceed to tell you what they can’t do rather than what they can. Furthermore, ‘accommodations’ often amount to a dish with no seasoning, fat or flavor that can only be described as an “allergy plate.” 9.5/10

The third year was our first strike out. Not to give out any names, but the unfortunate place we ate at rhymes with Buth Priss. We walked in and were immediately sat next to multiple noisy tables despite the place being not even half full. When we inquired about gluten-free options, the waiter begrudgingly told us he would "try to make it work." What he actually meant is that the fancy dessert done three-ways would be substituted with a few berries in small glass—among other disappointments. Our waiter was absent most of the night and cared very little about our enjoyment.  1.5/10     

In 2015, things are looking up again. The set menu at the Marc included perfectly cooked duck, boar bacon, ginger-beer mustard, and the list goes on. It was a less expensive dinner (there are two dinner types for downtown dining week) and that allowed us to splurge a bit on wine. As for gluten-free, they made my wife a crème brûlée dessert, and it was actually better than the one that came on the menu. There was a minor mix up in the kitchen where they forgot that something had flour in it, but our waiter made up for it in the form of a bubbly treat that came with dessert. 9/10, and my recommendation for this year’s place to eat during this culinary adventure week in Edmonton.  

Downtown Dining Week 2015 ends on March 22. 

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