Oh Saskatoon – what the heck is in the water there?
I have already been blown away with the ridiculous amount of good food to be found in the city, and soon, there will be another insanely great restaurant to make dining choices even more difficult. This one will most definitely up the ante yet again in this fine city, heck in this fine province – maybe even – in this fine country.
Perhaps, it has something to do with the Ayden team and their golden touch? Whatever it is, keep on keeping on, because you continue to affirm Saskatoon as a culinary destination whose star keeps on rising.
You may as well get in line now people. I’m dead serious.
Prepare to have your socks knocked off by what is going to be an incredible place to dine – the Little Grouse (on the Prairie) is set to open early in 2016.
The winning team from Ayden Kitchen & Bar is spreading its wings again, this time offering authentic Italian food based (mostly) on prairie ingredients. The restaurant will be located just blocks away from Ayden, on 3rd Avenue in the Birks’s building.
Did you know the sharp-tailed grouse is the official bird of Saskatchewan?
Quite unexpectedly, I recently had the opportunity to dine in at Ayden for a private tasting of menu items that will be served at the Little Grouse alongside food writer extraordinaire, (who I depend on to teach me about all things food), Amy Rosen.
So what is going on with this non-foodie? Opportunity – I guess. Maybe it’s a clear sign for me to embrace the foodie within – to learn – and then to share. Anyhow, I know you are not used to such stories from me and I promise to continue on sharing my outdoors adventures. But because food and travel really go hand in hand, I really hope you don’t mind me also sharing these food experiences (with guidance from those who know what they are talking about when it comes to food – ahem, Rosen).
Maybe, one day I’ll grow up and even be able to better articulate about food. One thing is clear, practice makes perfect and by the wise words of my fine foodie friend, “I’ll fake it til I make it.”
Leading the way for the Ayden team (which in this venture also includes Dale MacKay, Nathan Guggenheimer, Christopher Cho and Eric Strom) will be Head Chef Jesse Zuber who will relocate from Ayden to run the new resto.
Ayden’s General Manager and Mixologist, Christopher Cho shared that the concept for the new restaurant was initially based on food they like to eat, stating “That is our genre. We don’t consider ourselves like a bistro and we feel there’s nothing like us [Little Grouse] now, especially in this area.”
And it was Jesse, along with Christopher who would walk us through numerous courses of freshly prepared Italian fare this fine day.
One thing to be sure of is that I am not faking here. I have in the past declared myself as a non-Italian food lover but that has all changed. For the true fact is, I don’t think I ever actually tasted real Italian food, until I devoured the exquisitely prepared dishes below by Jesse.
Preview of dishes to expect on the Little Grouse (on the Prairie) menu
A 14-day aged dry rib eye with Nova Scotia sea salt basil puree and basil chips ricotta salata, and to brighten the acidity, beautiful local crab apples and to add a small French influence, some aioli. I really loved the crunchy texture of the basil chips!
And now for the close up. *By the way, each dish is getting a close up. They all deserve them, so they are all getting one.
Oysters on the half shell
Shippagan Bay oysters hailing from Shippagan Bay, New Brunswick. Jesse takes an acqua pazza direction with this dish (Don’t worry I had no idea what it meant at first either. Translated in Italian, it means “crazy water,” a very light broth that contains tomato and typically seawater, or in this case oyster brine). The brine here is mixed it with an heirloom tomato broth, a touch of shallot to give it a little bit of acidity, and Chiante red wine vinegar from Italy.
Handmade egg yolk Raviolo (Ravolo al uovo con sugo di porcini)
Finished in a porcini stock, this incredibly delectable ravioli is magically filled with a raw egg yolk that gently coddles as it cooks (Amy’s words, not mine – but hey, I’m learning!).
Farm fresh eggs from chickens raised exclusively on sprouted grains are used. This Jesse shares, brightens the flavour of the yolk.
The smell was
amazing intoxicating, but I’m not sure I can even articulate just how delicious this dish was. A super simple combination including a touch of garlic, Saskatchewan chanterelle mushrooms finished with a touch of stock and cream.
7-year aged Acquerello Risotto with black truffle
The risotto is made from 7-year aged Acquerello rice – Each grain is individually dried on racks in a sub-terranian cave for seven years (crazy!).
The texture of the risotto is “insane and you can almost smell the cave on that,” says Zuber. He also shares that because the grains are longer than traditional rice, when you cook them, the starches that fall off create a luxuriously textured risotto. The truffles are from Burgundy. Talk about a luxurious eat. OMG, this dish blew my mind. For the record, I only eat 7-year cave aged risotto now.
Duck in broth
A twist on a bollito misto (Italian stew) and stracciatella which is an Italian egg drop soup. The dish featured broth with duck confit, duck gizzard in onion and bacon compote, roasted duck breast, roast beet and porcini.
And to cool us off after all those hot eats, a delightful, Strawberry Granita.
Neat fact ~ The flour used in these dishes (and ones at Ayden) is a beautiful high protein Saskatchewan wheat that’s all organic and milled about 15 miles from the restaurant.
What to expect at Little Grouse
Expect an intimate space with 41 seats including a 9 of those seats at an eat-in bar. The menu will be à la carte, and as Chef Zuber shares, “Not varying too far from Italian standards with an interplay – more modern and casual.” He adds to also anticipate a modern twist on starters. Dining will also be alla famiglia, meaning the sharable menu will be flexible and not strictly fixed (small 6 -7 courses, large, 9).
For more local food and chef related stories check out: Last week’s post on the Backyard; a profile in Pink magazine on local Regina Chef Aimee Schulhauser and quick eats in Saskatoon; plus the very recent coverage I provided for Vacay.ca, of the prohibition themed event hosted by Ayden Kitchen & Bar, Prairie Feast.