the lovely culina
We went to Culina Mill Creek last night for our anniversary dinner. I know they bill themselves as a casual, neighbourhood place, but I’m not buying that. I really see Culina more as a fine dining establishment. It is dark, the service is impeccable, most entrees hover around $30 each, and there are items like pork tenderloin, duck breast and lamb on the menu.
The only thing casual last night for us was the pacing. We were finished drinking cocktails, sharing an appetizer and eating our entrees within one hour. Maybe everybody else had somewhere else to go, or there was another seating, but that was much too fast for us. We were settled in for the evening, but after dessert, we were out the door an hour and a half after we sat down.
Press rewind. Eager to start our evening (e.g. eager to get out of our noisy house), we stopped by Passa Tempo, which is next door to Culina. This little place is an oddity in Edmonton. It is like a wine bar transported from somewhere more sophisticated, like New York or San Francisco. It is one long bar, with benches, and seats only 10 people.
Because it is so small, you can hear everybody’s conversations. Last night the proprietor was trying to sell her rock paintings to another set of customers. I found it hard to concentrate on my own date with this transaction going on. We downed our wine (Old River Road cab sav from California – organic and bold without being huge, if you know what I mean) and high tailed it next door for dinner, me teetering on the icy sidewalks in my high boots and my date chivalrously holding my arm.
Culina is small, too, but not so small that privacy is lost. We were seated at a primo table behind the door, and began ordering and eating. I had a Honey Sour cocktail of honey liqueur, chambond and lemon. It was yummy and I nursed it all evening. The first thing I noticed about the menu was there was an extensive listing of their local sources printed right on the menu (not seen on the on-line version): Italian Centre, Queen of Tarts, Soul Soup, etc. They aren’t kidding about local sourcing, which is just fabulous for those of us who care about such things. Like you and me.
We shared a big platter of calamari, which is a very Earl’s thing to order, but it arrived in a decidedly non-Earl’s like presentation. The soft calamari were only partially covered in sweet coconut curry breading, and served on a bed of greens. I liked the contrast of slippery fish and spicy breading.
While a combination of Coldplay and funky rap played softly in the background, our entrees arrived (very) quickly. I ordered the line caught wild salmon with goat cheese almond sauce on a bed of orzo and a side of Asian greens (which ended up being bok choy). Basically, I will order anything on a menu that has the words goat cheese in it. I realized after it arrived that I should have ordered something more exotic, because I could have made this salmon dish at home. Not like that’s a bad thing, but Mike’s Brome Lake Duck Breast was out of my cooking league, and that would have been a better choice. But now was not the time for regrets. I was hungry.
The salmon was HUGE, like it was a whole family of salmon presented in my big bowl and there was a whole whack of orzo and yes, the creamy goat cheese sauce, spiced with red pepper flakes. I could only chip away at this dish because it was humongous. It was bigger than my head, and I didn’t want to have what I term Thanksgiving belly afterwards.
Mike’s duck breast was very vinegary, but tempered with a cherry sauce it was an interesting dish. The acid of the sauce met up with the tender breast and the little bed of mild potatoes and that all worked well.
Our server was as lovely as Culina. She was warm and accommodating and knowledgeable about the food. I’ve never had bad service there. I love the gilded mirrors in the red bathrooms which make me feel like I’m in a bordello (not like I would know what that’s like) – the whole restaurant decor is funky without being crazy chaotic or too self-conscious.
Dessert was the highlight for me. I ordered the banana fritters, served with caramel sauce and deep fried in a sesame seed batter. The bananas were nestled soft inside the crunchy batter, which was peppered with sesame seeds. I mixed the caramel sauce with the coconut gelato and slurped it up.
But alas, my descriptions of food, decor and service are minimal.
For I was at Culina mostly to gaze into the eyes of my beloved Mike. Happy anniversary my love. It has been a great ride so far…
Culina Mill Creek
9914 – 89 Avenue
9918 – 89 Avenue