Monday, March 3, 2014

Something Amiss at The Glass Monkey Gastropub

Parsnip Puree
Gastropubs have become trendy in Edmonton, and everyone has begun to jump on the bandwagon opening them up in all shapes and form, from gastropubs to European-esque taverns to modernized cocktail bars. Not quite a restaurant, not quite a bar, gastropubs and the like are supposed to offer elevated food in a casual environment with equally impressive beer and other spirits.

Tuna Salad
The Glass Monkey Gastropub seems to be having a bit of an identity if one simply glances as their menu, which I found to be all over the place. They offer a variety of dishes from small plates that are supposedly snack size - although from what we experienced I'm not sure it's even that - more like taste size. Then there are small plates that are essentially appetizers, as well as entrees, and desserts. As for the type of cuisine they offer, they seem to offer something for everyone. Their menu ranges from upscale bar snacks such as charcuterie, cheeses, olive and almonds to heartier fare such as pasta pizza, Mediterranean/Asian/Italian/South American/You Name any Cuisine you can think of inspired dishes. I always tend to find that restaurants with such a lack of identity or who is trying to appeal to the masses is doing so many different things that they cannot do any specific thing particularly well. I'm not sure if this over exploration of the different cuisines of the world because they, like many other restaurants in Edmonton seem to be deathly afraid of alienating potential customers. So instead standing their ground and sticking to one particular kind of cuisine, they're trying to include everything under the sun, hoping it will make their menu more approachable to the general populous, and thus draw in a more diverse customer base and more people overall.

We began with a trio of small plates, that we were informed were meant to be eaten with crostini and should be more than enough to share. The parsnip puree with mascarpone cheese, lemon and hazelnut intrigued us, as purees are normally relegated to a supporting role on a dish. Normally when I think of purees, I think that they’re commonly used as baby food, sauces, decoration, or a mashed potato substitute underneath some sort of protein on an entrée. In this case, it was given the starring role, but it failed to shine. I was expecting the puree to be creamier, given it was combined with mascarpone cheese, which is normally fairly rich. As well, it was served ice cold, making the puree quite a bit stiffer and drier than we’d expected, and although I could taste a hint of lemon, it desperately needed more seasoning to elevate the parsnip.

Chicken Yakitori
The tuna salad with eggplant caponata, artichokes and capers had a nice acidity to it, and although artichokes are not normally one of my favorite vegetables were beautifully soft and went well with the salty capers. Unfortunately the tuna and artichokes were cut far too large, and refused to lie down nicely upon the crostini, which was supposed to act as its delivery vehicle. A finer dice to make the tuna and artichokes the size of a homemade salsa and this dish could have been perfect.

Baby Squid
The homemade ricotta with apricot chutney and spiced sunflower seeds was the best small plate of the night as it was creamy, fluffy and had a sweet finish. Although this item too was served a bit too cold for our liking, the flavoring was perfect. Although I understand all of the small plates were likely prepared well before service, then left in the refrigerator until needed, they would have gone over better had they been taken out of refrigeration earlier and served closer to room temperature so they did not feel ice cold in our mouths, not to mention making them harder to spread on the crostini.

Pork Sausage
Moving onto the small plates, we opted to try the baby squid poached in olive oil with black eyed peas, garlic and shaved fennel. Unfortunately the baby squid was bland, and was again served just below room temperature, making this already unlikable dish more difficult to eat. The chicken thighs covered with yakitori glaze and green onions was tender and moist, but I found the yakitori glaze heavy on the salt. Although some of my dining companions enjoyed it, the salt made it difficult for me to eat more than one small piece.

The large dish that evening was house made pork sausage with mashed potato, caramelized onions, pepper relish and jus or basically their version of the English classic, bangers and mash. The sausages had a good snap to it but was moist and flavorful on the inside, while the caramelized onions and pepper relish balanced the sausage out with an enjoyable sweetness, making this dish the clear winner of the night.

Jack's Grill Bread Pudding
To finish the night we had their Jack’s Grill bread pudding with caramelized rum sauce and whipped cream, obviously an homage to the former tenants of the space. Once again, my dining companions seemed to enjoy this dish, but haven eaten much better on my travels, I found the bread pudding to be simply a large piece of dense cake made from bread, drowned in an overly sweet custard infused with rum, which is the typical North American version of the similarly named classic English bread and butter pudding. Although similarly named with the same ingredients, I would have preferred a light, fluffy, almost crème brulee type of dish made with bread that is lovingly joined with mildly sweet custard, which is how I’ve experienced bread pudding while travelling in London, United Kingdom. Although online they have two different names, I’ve found on menus they’re often referred to by the same name, and therefore still hold out hope that someone in Edmonton is competent enough to make it the way that I believe it’s meant to be, airy and delightful. Meanwhile my warm molten chocolate cake with chipped cream and chocolate sauce was neither warm nor molten. It was instead a dense, overly bitter, room temperature chocolate cake that had a biscuit on top, covering a hole where it looked like they piped liquid chocolate inside. The chocolate inside was also room temperature and barely oozing by the time I cracked the cake open and freed it. Had the cake itself actually been warm, slightly sweeter, lighter, and the chocolate inside actually been hot and molten, I think the result would have been satisfying than the reality that I was presented with.

Warm Molten Chocolate Cake
Overall the entire experience was disappointing with only one out of the eight dishes actually satisfying. After many of the good things I'd heard about them on Twitter, I was surprised at the unfortunate experience that we had and had hoped The Glass Monkey Gastropub would fare better than Jack’s Grill who previously occupied the space. However, they far from thrilled me and I don’t think I’d return to The Glass Monkey Gastropub for another go, given the plethora of new restaurants that have opened up in Edmonton recently that I have yet to try. As for being a gastropub, certainly some of the food that they were trying to offer, conceptually at least, is far above your usual bar fare, however the execution still requires some serious work. For another perspective, check out @thepolishviking’s review on The Glass Monkey Gastropub on Dine & Write.

The Glass Monkey Gastropub
5842 111 Street NW
Edmonton, AB  T6H 3G1
Twitter: @GlassMonkeyYEG

Glass Monkey on Urbanspoon

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