Biera a 'ridiculously delicious' dining experience, says Edmonton AM food critic
Biera makes delicious look easy, but looks are deceiving
If you're looking for burgers and chicken wings at Biera, the restaurant inside Blind Enthusiasm brewpub, walk on by. You're not going to find them here.
What you will find is inventive, exquisitely prepared food made with fresh, high-quality ingredients.
Culina Mill Creek alumnus Christine Sandford is asking you to open your mind, trust with your heart, and allow her to introduce you to foods influenced by her Prairie upbringing and European wanderings.
Those wanderings include holding the chef position at In de Wulf, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Belgium, and acting as chef de partie in its offshoot, De Superette, in Gent.
The Belgian influence is widely apparent at Biera.
Sandford and her capable crew pickle and ferment in-season ingredients like devil's club shoots, ramps, and fiddlehead ferns, and dehydrate and pulverize pungent herbs to infuse oils and vinegars.
They cure pork fat into lardo, make cheese, bake sourdough bread, and use processes that take days to complete so the diner can experience, in one bite, the sheer joy and passion of these unknowingly complex creations.
Sandford makes it look easy, but of course, looks are often deceiving. The zucchini plate is a fine example with colours and flavours so vivid, the collective ingredients look like a study in still life.
A bright and lively herb vinaigrette dresses green and gold squash blossoms, thin rounds of yellow zucchini, tender bright leafy greens, and fresh peas that snap and pop in your mouth like tiny, sweet, edible fireworks.
Even the bread and butter is worthy of an ode. Don't make the mistake of rationing the accompanying spreads.
Heap high the lardo! Do not ration the cultured butter or you will be left with the dilemma of ordering more bread and risk filling up before the next delectable dish arrives.
Like the beef tartare, a blend of various cuts, including the heart to add body, texture, and flavour, made even more luscious by a ring of mustardy smoked, rendered fat around the mound of expertly minced meat.
If you like your beef grilled, the "Korean cut" beef ribs should be an obvious choice. The thin strips are marinated in garlic and a house-made spicy Dijon oil, grilled and glazed with wort — the liquid extracted from the mashing process during the brewing of beer.
The ribs are accompanied by broccolini and delicate Hakurei turnips. If Sandford offered these spheres as a side dish, I wouldn't complain.
The same can be said for another brassica, the radish, that appears on the snack menu. Admittedly, it is the accompanying chicken skin that catches my attention, not the often bitter and woody root vegetables.
The difference here is that these radishes from Reclaim Urban Farm are picked at the height of their little lives, with Sandford only adding salt, pepper, and a lemon verbena vinaigrette to gild these mild, sweet, crispy orbs.
The chicken skin seems almost unnecessary, or so you'd think, until you taste the crackly strips. Then you realize that they, like the radishes — as part of a ridiculously delicious dining experience — are completely necessary.
And what of the beer at Biera? Start with a flight of four 100 ml glasses of each offering — a lager, an ale, a wheat, and a light IPA— before you commit to a larger portion. It will be hard to choose.
Rob Monk, previously of Yukon Brewing, is doing a fine job of crafting well-balanced, bright, approachable suds at Blind Enthusiasm.
Grabbing a spot on the west-facing patio and enjoying a glass of any one of these brews is going to be a popular activity in this revitalized area of Edmonton's Ritchie neighbourhood.
There are dozens of places in the city where you can pull up a chair and dig into nachos and wings while enjoying a cold one.
If you want an experience where hours later you're craving one-of-a-kind interesting dishes like queso-fresco stuffed kohlrabi rolls, crispy skate wing with seaweed emulsion, whipped lardo on chewy sourdough bread, and tempura-battered fiddlehead ferns, then prepare to fight the residents of Ritchie for a seat at Biera.
You can hear Campbell's reviews on Edmonton AM every second Friday. You can also see more of her reviews on her blog, Weird Wild and Wonderful, and can follow her on Twitter at @wanderwoman10.