Unless I'm somehow mistaken, the purpose of a waiter is not just to serve but also to offer up helpful and informative advice about the menu, preferably with a smile. And at times that might even entail answering a few questions. So like scouts, waiters should always be prepared. With sharing trends still the rage, menus are often not at all what they seem: questions often include everything from how big are the portions to explanations of exotic ingredients.
At Edulis, alas, our server may be
well-versed on everything on the menu, but the continued eye-rolling, gusty exhalations and overly dramatic exasperation filled the room with an icy chill. Other than asking a few not-so difficult questions (we're not talking Final Jeopardy here) we're not quite sure what went wrong in this human interchange to elicit such a prickly response. It was difficult enough to get her to explain the size of a lightly-smoked herring a l'huile with Dijon potatoes ($14), but when we can't finish a dish that would feed a fishing village, we inquire about what to do. Answer: "Eat it." O-o-o-kay, then. Question period is clearly over.
On a more positive note, the herring is shockingly good. Similar to schmaltz herring, a classic Kosher-style staple, only less salty, this Pacific herring is cured in sugar, salt and juniper and smoked in-house over apple wood. Slices are layered in a deep clay terrine with thinly sliced carrots and onions, and topped with a small amount of vinegar and oodles of sunflower oil. With a side of fingerling potatoes tossed with just a trace of Dijon vinaigrette, this is sophisticated culinary simplicity at its finest.
As are the B.C. spot prawns ($14) served two ways, so long as you're okay with swallowing deep fried shrimp heads whole, eyes, brains and all. A Spanish delicacy perhaps, but a Fear Factor episode for most locals who would probably be happier with just the light-citrus infusion of the Peruvian-style tail ceviche with thinly sliced red onions, cilantro, parsley and mint over a sauce of pureed marcona almonds with spring water, garlic and other seasonings.
In between near-hysterical reactions from our "server" for simply existing, apparently, we take time out to appreciate some of the finer points at Edulis, like a home-baked Red Fife bread beautifully bagged in burlap, a nice touch; as is the "Gilda", a traditional Spanish amuse comprised of an olive stuffed with anchovy and hot pepper then skewered with a piece of toasted bread doused in oil.
A porcini soup ($14) with roasted veal sweetbreads topped with a walnut, apple and arugula salad is inventive, even if it lacks the depth and earthiness one expects from offal and fungi combined. But here at least ingredients are on familiar territory, which is more than I can say for a "double dare ya" confit of cocks' combs ($13), that red fleshy growth on a rooster's head. It may be a Catalan delicacy, but its near tasteless rubbery texture would serve a higher purpose at Pirelli. Thankfully, chef Michael Caballo blended it with hedgehog mushrooms, green garlic, shallots, stock dandelion and the tastiest, meatiest, thickest slab of house-smoked Berkshire belly. By far the most flavour-forward dish so far.
Then the ice princess returns when we inquire about the Arroz Caldoso ($25 per person, minimum of 2 people). After correcting my pronunciation, "Arroz Caldo-SA," she says, I point out the menu's reads "... Caldo-SO." Clearly infuriated, she slaps her arm to her side, takes a pointedly deep breath and begrudgingly begins to explain what it is to the naughty, naughty schoolchildren. After another haughty display, we decide on a pork hanger steak ($15) medium-rare; it arrives blue, barely having touched the heat. Served with a strange, but crispy trotter sausage (braised and deboned ground Berkshire, wrapped in caul fat then poached and browned), an acrid Belgium endive puree, hedgehog mushrooms and finely diced heirloom carrots, it's barely touched.
Desserts, though, are a triumph. Not only because they are executed so well, but because by this time the very friendly, accommodating and informative co-owner/manager Tobey Nemeth has taken over. So thrilled we are by our new server, these sweets could've been dusted with glass shards and we would've licked each plate clean. Thankfully, they are not. A classic baba au rhum ($10) is so moist and fresh, it would be great on its own, but comes with a tableside drenching of rum syrup and freshly whipped cream. A daily house made elderberry ice cream ($10) topped with gossamer-thin slices of poached rhubarb and Ontario wild ginger syrup is equally outstanding.
While Nemeth helps to take the edge off this agonizing dining experience, Edulis is not for anyone if not an adventurous eater. And while we're more than happy to try new stuff, execution is also an issue. As is a very complicated menu with many restrictions, that according to chef is "European with French and lots of Spanish influence. It is things we love." Yeah, you love.
Their website reads in part, "Our goal is to combine the warmth and approachability of a classic European bistro with our passion for the forests and farms of southern Ontario.... Edulis is about many things - the pleasure of enjoying a gathering around the table to share authentic dishes and to be greeted like a friend; conviviality, feasting, celebrating the craft and tradition of cooking, honesty, and spectacular ingredients." Someone, ahem, has clearly never read this.