Exceptional. Ambitious. Unique. These sort of superlatives might get overused in our Yelp-driven, Instagram-friendly restaurant culture, but dinner at Alder Room in Edmonton can only be described in glowing terms. Twenty-five-year-old executive chef and co-owner Ben Staley, who previously worked at the city’s North 53 and also runs Alta restaurant next door, has been preparing for this project for over two years, and the result is a truly remarkable dining experience in Alberta’s capital.
Alder Room is the first tasting menu eatery in Edmonton; its ambition is to be a “modern, experiential restaurant; a place to interact with regional, seasonal cuisine and those who prepare it.” Instead of reservations, one prepays for a gratuity-included ticket for one of the 12 seats available each night. There’s just one seating per day, at 7 p.m., and the 12 to 20 course dining experience—including small amuse-bouches such as quail eggs rolled in vegetable ash—takes about three hours from start to finish. There are wine and non-alcoholic pairing options; expect to be served flavourful, housemade juices with the latter.
The sparsely rectangular, Nordic-inspired Jasper Avenue space was designed by local firm Workspace, which also worked on area restaurants Corso 32, Uccellino, and da Capo. Diners, seated along a communal bar, face an open-concept kitchen and cozy, brick-lined hearth, interacting with the young kitchen team as dishes are finished and plated on zen, imported tableware from Humble Ceramics. “We really wanted to create an environment where the guest has a direct connection with those who are making their food,” explains Staley.
Almost all of the food served is sourced from Alberta and neighbouring provinces; Staley has even replaced pantry staples such as olive oil with local alternatives, although he is willing to go farther afield—to Washington state and southern British Columbia, for example—to source higher quality ingredients if necessary. “The concept is actually an extension of what I was doing at my previous job, just more focused and refined,” says Staley. “Imposing those limitations on ourselves helps breed and nurture creativity, in my opinion. I like to think of creativity as a muscle that needs to be worked and strained in order to thrive.”
The food culture of Japan, Scandinavian chef Nicolai Nørregaard’s use of preservation techniques, and René Redzepi of Noma’s “dedication to finding new flavours and reviving and modifying old techniques with ingredients within his region” have all inspired the concept for Alder Room. From salty jersey milk ice cream with maple syrup to pork that has been aged for four months, the expertly prepared dishes add an unexpected twist to familiar ingredients while celebrating their essential qualities.
Alder Room opened on May 24, and has already sold out its first few weeks of seatings, unsurprisingly. “So far the response has been very positive,” says Staley. “We feel that our little city was wanting something different, that is why we felt confident to do what we’re doing in Edmonton.”
Alder Room, 10328 Jasper Ave, Edmonton, AB.
Photos by Daniel Wood.
Never miss a story. Sign up for NUVO’s weekly newsletter.