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red ox inn

November 30, 2008


We spent a fabulous evening last night at Red Ox Inn, celebrating a friend’s birthday.  I don’t get out much, so this was my first visit to the Red Ox.  I will be back.

Red Ox is one of the Original Fare restaurants.  In my humble eating-out experience, the majority of the restaurants belonging to Original Fare are crackerjack places.  You really cannot go wrong by choosing one of those dining establishments.

Red Ox is in a tiny strip of shops in Strathearn, just above the Folk Fest hill.  It is a teeny place, with seating at only twelve tables.

The experience was like entering a friend’s house – a friend who happened to be a very very very good chef.  The place has no centre tables – only dark leather banquettes lining the walls.  We were fortunate to be seated in a corner private booth on the other side of the kitchen wall.  It was a good thing, because we wiled away the evening moaning with ecstasy about the food and giggling a lot.

This was a slow luxurious dinner.  My husband and I know the couple we went with for many many years and this is the best kind of dinner comrades, because we were not lacking in conversation during the long pauses between courses.  In fact, Red Ox felt like a private dinner party that way.  Only we did not have to plan, shop, cook, clean or serve.  Perfecto.

For starters, there was oohing and aahing over the goat cheese salad, which offered a generous disk of warm chevre on top.  J exclaimed, oooooh, that’s some nice cheese.   The salad had good texture with the crunch of almonds and slivers of pig fat on top. 

I lucked out with the crab cake, which can present as dry and gummy.  This was not.  The crab cake was moist and creamy inside, as all cakes should be, even savoury ones.  It was rolled in crusty shitake mushroom coating, and served on a jammy sweet corn sauce, embellished with a large spinach leaf topped with lemon marscapone cheese.  The cheese was just tinged with lemon, and mixed in well with the crab.  We almost licked our appetizer plates clean.  There was not a speck of food or sauce left on the plate when they were cleared by our attentive server.

My tablemates scoped out the other clientale, which was a range of strapless dress on a near-wordless date, a jovial table of casual old friends in their 60’s, and a guy wearing a Rush jacket.  I know for a fact that my brother (who is in the music industry) brings his artists to Red Ox when he’s in town from Vancouver.  This is the place for people who love food, and who don’t necessarily need to be seen.   Correction, people who love food and wine…not just food.

Our server was a serious guy, but he was exceedingly well spoken about the wine list, right up to the weather conditions that a certain kind of Australian grapes grew in.  We drank a bottle of white (Kim Crawford, Malborogh Sauv Blanc – fruity bouquet, sweet and breezy) and a bottle of red (Feuduccio Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, Italy – a big wine, ruby-violet in colour and robust fruity bouquet), just like the Billy Joel song.

We had a long discussion as to whether the creature pictured above was an ox or a moose (of course it was an ox.  What was I thinking?) and then more food arrived.  The table was filled with Arctic char, shrimp curry and beef tenderloin served on simple white plates (to match with the background soft fiddle music and simple white wall decor and lighting) – the focus was on the food, as it should be. 

My tablemates inhaled their Arctic Char and were very enamoured by the shoestring potatoes piled on top of the pancetta wrapped char.  The fish was cooked to perfection, as was my beef tenderloin.  Calling the beef a medallion is a bit modest – this was a palm-sized chunk of thick meat, cooked medium-rare as requested, covered in a spicy garlic mushroom sauce, and perched on mashed potatoes, and adorned with little root vegetables (parsnips?  sweet potatoes?) french fries. 

My husband proclaimed his shrimp curry to be unbelievable in a very good way.  And he started going on and on about this being the best meal he has ever had, and the superlatives flew fast and furious around the table.  I tasted his shrimp, and they were presented in a fragrant creamy broth that lent its spiciness to the large pink lovelies.   

Here’s the link to Red Ox Inn’s menu, and I have to say, the descriptors on the menu do not do the food justice.  That is one of very few quibbles with the place.  I wish the menu more clearly reflected the food, and included sources for ingredients for those of us on a local bent.  The austere and modern decor is also in sharp contrast to the food, which is clearly lovingly prepared with a commitment to fresh, local and organic.  A less mod and more homey, deeply coloured decor would be a better fit, something in keeping with the three gorgeous paintings of the owners’ children which are displayed at the front entry.

We did not meet the owners, but here’s an interview with Frank Olsen on the Original Fare site.   Alas, there seemed to be only two seatings when we called – 5 pm and 8 pm, which must work for the restaurant, but we were sad to wait until 8 pm to be accommodated.  In fact, some of us ‘pre-ate’ to starve off starving.  You can bring your own wine, but the corkage fee is $30, which is crazy expensive.  Sadly, the bring your own wine phenomenon has not caught on in Alberta, and expensive corkage fees just might be why.  We thought our server might be stuffy, but he was just serious about his job, and we did manage to coax a couple of smiles out of him over the course of the evening.

That’s all I can dredge up as far as constructive criticisms, just in case you think I’m working for the Red Ox Marketing Board or something.  The place offered a near-perfect experience. 

By the time we got to dessert, I’d say we stopped eating and switched into feasting mode.  Two lemon tarts and two bread puddings appeared.  The bread puddings were perfectly soaked in creamy goodness, with chunks of blueberry and white chocolate, and the lemon tarts were very tarty (those naughty lemons) and served with a raspberry sorbet.  There wasn’t much sweetness going on there, but it was an excellent palate cleanser.  We downed (decaf) cappuccinos and were released into the dark streets.  A brisk walk to look at the starry view of Edmonton a block away on the top of the river valley closed out our evening.

While we were very generously treated to our feast by J, I can tell you this was not a cheap meal.  But we had wine and three courses, and the prices are in line with the quality – this place does not gouge.  It was a perfect fit for a birthday dinner with some dear dear friends.

Red Ox Inn
9420 91 Street
Edmonton , Alberta, Canada

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Dave permalink
    December 1, 2008 9:34 am

    Red Ox Inn is probably my favourite restaurant in the city, perhaps my favourite restaurant anywhere. I noticed the very mixed clientele also. It’s a wonderful place. I wish there were a restaurant like that in every neighbourhood in the city.

  2. December 4, 2008 4:41 pm

    Oh this makes me so excited!! My husband and I are planning to go to Red Ox for our anniversary later this month. We have never been, but heard great things. This just confirms it, and I’m grateful to have the details on the dishes you tried. And now that I know how small a place it is, I will be sure to reserve early.

    Thank you!

  3. December 4, 2008 4:53 pm

    Yes, this is a perfect anniversary dinner spot – good call!

    I also love Culina – Millcreek for that occasion, too…both are dark, romantic and have passionate food!


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