Edmonton·Food review

Bodega Highlands will break the space curse with succulent bites

Christian Mena and Lino Oliveira, the formidable yet friendly duo behind Sabor, Bodega, and Urbano Pizza downtown, opened the doors to Bodega Highlands in August.

Delicious salads, desserts, cheeses and charcuterie abound at this new eatery

Campbell says the 'quirky space' has gone through a much-needed renovation. (Bodega/Twitter )

Christian Mena and Lino Oliveira, the formidable yet friendly duo behind Sabor, Bodega and Urbano Pizza downtown, opened the doors to Bodega Highlands in August.

If anyone can break the curse of this quirky spot on 112th Avenue, it's these two friends who first became business partners in Sabor eight years ago.

Staying true to what they know, the menu at the Highlands location is a duplicate of that featured downtown. Two dozen tapas, both hot and cold, make up the bulk of the offerings, with a handful of salads, desserts, cheeses and charcuterie completing the list.

Twyla Campbell says diners will want to hunker down and sample as much as possible, including this tasty calamari dish at Bodega Highlands. (Twyla Campbell )

Bodega brings in the precious Iberia de Bellota, a heritage breed of pig that forages on grass and acorns for the last six months of its life, a diet that contributes to the unique, sweet and nutty flavour of the heavily fatted ham. A leg with the hoof on hangs in a glass case by the bar.

'Hunker down and sample'

The space went through a thoughtful and much needed renovation. The room now features cowhide covered benches, great slabs of wood and mirrors on creamy white walls.

It is brighter, more open, and now features four stools at a bar that will come in handy for those waiting for a table. Like the downtown location, this Bodega does not take reservations.

You'll want to hunker down and sample as much as possible although the speed of service is also conducive to a quick in-and-out meal, as well.  

The wine offerings might make you linger, though: $9 for a six ounce pour (red or white) is commonplace here, and a Barón de Ley Reserva Rioja costs $58, a good dinner deal for this supple Rioja, packed with black fruit, cherries and spice.

Tempting tastes 

Oliveira is a master at cephalopod cookery. If you're going to eat octopus or squid for the first time, this is the place to try it.

Oliveira maintains that using high quality ingredients means you don't have to overcompensate with complicated cooking techniques.

Lightly charred, seasoned with chillies, lemon oil and tomato sauce, the grilled calamari is the perfect example of Oliveira's philosophy that he has passed on to Chef Buddhike Katukoli, who, along with two young apprentices, heads the Highlands kitchen.

The roasted pork belly with quince and a balsamic reduction marries sweet and salty with each bite of crispy richness.

It's tempting to place a second order of the pork, but save room for the sherry-spiked, umami-packed crimini mushrooms that get coated in a rich blanket of yolk when fork meets soft poached egg.

Dessert is as enticing as the savoury items. There's chocolate mousse, a selection of cheese with quince preserves and the Crema Catalana, a silky custard topped with caramel and served with roasted pecans, is a satisfying choice. But the cheesecake with a port cherry topping is what really sings.

Light and rich all in one, there is thankfully an abundance of succulent cherries to accompany each bite.

Bodega Highlands is (hopefully) here to stay.

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.