On one of our very first dates, D took me to Red Star Pub for dinner. I was still living in Calgary and hadn’t heard of Red Star, so female readers can probably imagine my internal monologue, “He’s taking me to a pub for dinner?!”
The menu showed promise of non-pub fare with dishes like Chicken & Wild Mushroom Polpettes and Beef Carpaccio but I wouldn’t be convinced that this could be a decent meal until my first bite of the chicken polpette and truffled creme fraiche. Immediately I was hit with the earthy flavours of truffle and porcini which were only accentuated by the cool tanginess of the creme fraiche. The chicken polpette was roasted with lots of brown bits but was still so moist. It was genius and THAT was my introduction to Daniel Costa’s food.
Since Daniel opened Corso 32, it has become my favourite restaurant in Edmonton. I’ve eaten there 6-7 times and have never been disappointed by the food put out by Daniel and sous chef Ben Chalmer’s kitchen (they’re freakin geniuses). It was at Corso that we celebrated my move to Edmonton and also where I took my sister when she visited us from out of town (she loved it and requests it on her visits now). It’s always a privilege eating at Corso but a couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to indulge in the mack daddy of dinners.
To start, we had an antipasti platter served on a beautiful charcuterie board crafted by Geoffrey Lilge. I’m stating this for the record - the board is officially on my Christmas wish list (hope you’re reading this D).
The Antipasti board featured 4 items from the menu: marinated nocellara del belice olives; arancini (risotto balls); and two types of crostini - one with house made goat ricotta and the other with pea and pecorino. I’m always amazed at the house made goat ricotta – thick, creamy, and fresh. As a crostini, it’s simple but very satisfying.
The next dish steals my heart everytime I have it. So many of my favourite things put together harmoniously on one plate – cheese, bread, truffles, and sunny-side up egg… Corso’s version of a Grilled Cheese.
The cheese used in this dish is boschetto - a blend of sheep and cow’s milk. It carries a strong punch of flavour from the truffles flecked throughout the cheese, but Corso tops this decadent sandwich with even more shaved truffles from Umbria (that’s why I love this place). The richness of the truffles, cheese, and egg yolk is balanced with lemons and grilled fresh spring onions. At one point, a drop of egg yolk and cheese spills off my fork and I actually contemplated scooping it off the table with my finger and licking it up. THAT is how much I love this dish.
After the richness of the Grilled Cheese, it was great to ease our stomachs and palettes with a salad of Pear Carpaccio and arugula. The sweet pear contrasted well with the saltiness of Pecorino Tartufo (sheep’s cheese flecked with truffle shavings). The roasted BC walnuts gave the dish nice crunchy texture. This plate of freshness helped to reset our palettes for the next few dishes.
Ravioli with house made sheep ricotta, Edgar farm asparagus, & black truffle. This dish replaces the Fonduta ravioli which I loved and am a bit sad to see go. However, hearing the testimonial ooh’s from the diners next to us enjoying the ravioli, I think this replacement is very much welcomed. The cracked pepper went well with the milder flavours and would cause me to make pasta at home loaded with cracked pepper twice more that week.
When Corso first opened, we were able to try the Cotechino and was happy to see its return to the menu. “Cotechino” is an italian sausage usually made with pork. At Corso it is made in-house and served with pickled lentil salad. I loved that celery leaves were used in the salad. Generally we eat the celery stalks and toss out the leaves but I made a mental note to keep the celery leaves in the future for salads.
I couldn’t help thinking if this dish were topped with a sunny-side up egg, it would be the ultimate breakfast – like a REALLY, REALLY escalated version of Spam and Eggs**.
I always try to get a pasta dish at Corso because a.) I. Heart. Pasta. and b.) they do it so damn well. In addition to the ravioli, we had paparadelle with traditional bologese. The bolognese was made with pork and beef. It tasted like it had been simmering for hours. Milk had been added to the Tuscan tomato sauce to add more creaminess and depth.
Along with the Grilled Cheese and the next dish, these three items would be my highlights from the evening.
Corso’s fried short rib comes with a Bartlett pear salad and crostinis. When Allen brought this dish to our table, I couldn’t restrain my giddyness. I think I surprised him with my excited outburst, “Short Rib!!” The short rib is pull-apart tender and browned so well that the brown bits create mini flavour explosions in my mouth.
Our last dish (before dessert) comes in the form of halibut. The halibut was flaky, and the roasted tomato, caper vinaigrette had a bit of a kick to it. With the fennel, parsley, and pine nuts this dish wasn’t too heavy, which is great considering we had already eaten 10 dishes before this one.
Our Dolce dish was the chocolate torte w/ salty hazelnuts. This dessert is always good but was made VERY well on this particular evening. Even though we were feeling a bit like fat bastards from all the food we had eaten, we both ate up the silky, smooth torte. I’m also pretty sure the girls seated next to us were convinced to order it when they saw us savouring each bite.
We finished the meal with Amaro, a sweet but slightly bitter liquer generally served as an after dinner digestif.
This was so far, my best meal of 2011 and it would be difficult to top this. The only downside with a great restaurant like Corso 32, is that tables are high in demand. Reservations should be made at least 2-3 weeks in advance.
I have heard criticism from others on Corso’s tight quarters, “The tables are too close together”…. but it hasn’t bothered me. I imagine in Italy laughing and chatting with others is the best way to enjoy a meal and I see Corso’s layout as “social seating”. On this visit, our dining neighbours (a party of two couples) were friendly and we engaged in “show and tell” with dishes coming to our tables. Our neighbours had arrived shortly after us and left when we were on dish 10. Laughing at our never-ending meal they’d said, “I guess we’ll see you next time we come since you’ll still be here eating.” They weren’t far off, the whole meal took 4 hours… the food kept coming and our bellies kept expanding – I half expected our stomachs to pop like overfilled water balloons. But man, what a way to go.
(Photos Courtesy of Dong Kim)
*Since my Spam comparison could be taken the wrong way, I should add that spam and eggs with instant ramen was a staple breakfast from my childhood. It still remains a comfort food for me. On trips to Hawaii, I revel in the consumption of Spam with rice or Spam Misubi. Please know that any reference to the lunch meat comes from a place of utmost respect and worship. Outside of pork belly, Spam could be the ideal meat with its fatty and salty glory.