Monday, August 10, 2015

Crossroads Pop Up Restaurant

On Sunday evening, CJ and I had the pleasure of attending the first Crossroads Pop Up Restaurant, a farm-to-table event featuring a six course tasting menu inspired by the story of "The Three Little Pigs". Using locally sourced produce and humanely treated animals, Chefs Alex Villeneuve and Michel Nasrabadi put together a series of entrées cooked with straw, wood, and brick. There were two seating times (4:30 PM and 7:00 PM) with tickets priced at $55 per person available for purchase through YEGlive

The Mercury Room hosts the first Crossroads pop-up dinner.

The Crossroads pop-up dinner was held at The Mercury Room, a space which doubles as a music/performance venue and a vegan restaurant/bar. I had never been to The Mercury Room before, so I was a little sad to see there weren't any windows to allow for natural lighting for my food photos. Apart from that, I thought the ambiance of the room was great. There were about 26 guests at the 4:30 PM seating time with each seating time having a maximum of 30 guests. 

Table set-up.
The menu.

It's been awhile since CJ and I had a candlelit dinner together, so I really enjoyed how the table set-up made the mood more romantic and intimate. A menu was provided at every seat so guests could follow along throughout the six course meal. 


To start off the evening, we were given an Icebreaker. When I first read this on the menu, I thought it was just going to be a drink that was meant to start conversation amongst the guests. But it was more than that. It was, quite literally, an ice breaker. Sitting on top of regular ice cubes was a hand blown isomalt sphere, meant to be tapped open using a spoon. The sphere, now broken into pieces, melds with the rest of the drink comprised of fizz and simple syrup. At first this drink tasted like diluted candy, perhaps a bit watery because of all the ice. However, as I continued to drink, I could taste more fruity and sweeter notes. CJ and I really liked the concept behind this drink and the double meaning behind its name. 

Local Mushroom Tortellini.

Time for food! The first dish we received was a baby crimini and button mushroom tortellini in a traditional white wine and cream sauce. Aged parmesan, Italian summer truffles, and locally grown pea shoots were used to garnish the dish. Each piece was quite small, but was very flavourful with a little bit of spice. I loved how the mushroom tortellini paired so well with the cheese. I also gave pea shoots a try for the first time, which was a pretty neat experience. So far, off to a very good start!

First Little Pig.

I was immediately impressed by the presentation and colours on the plate when the first little pig arrived. Circling the straw cooked genesis pork tenderloin and sauce were beautiful orange ribbons of locally grown carrots. I liked how the carrots resembled straw in my eyes so that really added on to the story of this dish. A deep purple edible flower and nasturtium leaf were also used as garnish. I started with the carrots which were surprisingly enjoyable - dry at first but rehydrated in my mouth which gave a subtle sweetness. My pork tenderloin was a bit dry but CJ found his to be tender and juicy, so I found myself wishing for more of the BC nectarine and wild horseradish sauce. Lastly, the nasturtium leaf had a strong peppery taste (too strong for my liking) so the contrasting perfume-y and delicate taste of the flower was more up my alley.

Second Little Pig.

The second little pig featured apple wood smoked Boston shoulder which was thinly sliced and tender with a lovely smoky and slightly spicy taste. It was even more delicious paired with the walnut and pomegranate (or Fesenjan) sauce. The otherwise ordinary baby arugula was made excellent with the smoked cheddar and blueberries. I only wish there was more of the cheese! The two chips in the salad gave a satisfying crunch, adding some texture to the dish. The BC cherries were an interesting surprise - biting into the cherry, I quickly got a hit of booze! It's been a long time since I've had alcohol so the taste of the bourbon cherries wasn't really for me. Nevertheless, I thought this dish was well executed and full of comforting flavours.

Third Little Pig.

The third little pig and the last entrée dish of the night was also beautifully presented with an edible leaf and flower as garnish. The cured local pork belly was brick cooked (maybe even brick shaped hehe) and served with a veal peppercorn sauce. I thought the pork belly was flavourful with a good ratio of meat to fat, while the sauce was hearty and delicious. The purple yam mash was a pleasant and mildly sweet starch that CJ and I both loved. The buttered local carrot snap peas on the plate was pretty neat: the carrots were prepared using molecular gastronomy and made into spheres inside the peas. A really fascinating technique, but I felt that the peas definitely overpowered the taste of the carrots - in fact, I'm sad to say that I didn't taste carrots in my bite at all (I wish I had tried the carrots on its own!). Other than the buttered carrot peas, everything on this plate was very tasty.

Creme Anglaise.

For dessert, we were given two flavours of creme anglaise ice cream spheres: lactose free coconut mango (with an edible flower garnish) and rock salted caramel. The coconut mango was fruity and not too sweet with a smooth, creamy texture. CJ and I absolutely loved the salty sweet flavour of the salted caramel ice cream, even though it melted faster than the coconut mango. Unsurprisingly, CJ now wants to create his own ice cream using rock salt! 

Handmade Macarons.

The final dish of the night were these gorgeous handmade French macarons filled with local Evans cherry jam. The macaron shell was perfectly crispy on the outside but moist and slightly chewy inside. The cherry jam tasted amazing and I adored its bright red colour. Underneath the macarons was dehydrated peanut butter and nutella powder with a soft and fluffy texture which rehydrated in my mouth and tasted exactly like peanut butter and nutella! So cool and very innovative! CJ and I were quite curious to learn how it was made and were really excited when Chef Michel explained the process to us. What a wonderful way to conclude the evening! 

After the dinner, Chef Alex and Chef Michel went around speaking to all the guests. CJ and I had such an amazing experience and I'm really looking forward to seeing what these two up and coming chefs will bring to the Edmonton food scene in the future. I thought the menu was very innovative and successfully showed how (food) science and art can come together to create something delicious and unforgettable. You could tell that a lot of passion and hard work went into every dish. Well worth the $55. 

I think pop-ups are a great way for new businesses to test their ideas and see what works and what doesn't. I felt there were only a few very small downsides throughout the dinner, but other than those I thought everything tasted phenomenal overall. My favourite dishes? The second little pig and definitely the handmade macarons! CJ's favourites? The third little pig and the macarons as well! The service at The Mercury Room (Instagram: @mercuryroomyeg and Twitter: @mercuryroomyeg) was also excellent - the servers were friendly, attentive, and knowledgeable about each dish. The evening flowed really well and each dish was served in a timely and orderly fashion. Congratulations to the Crossroads culinary team and Chefs Alex and Michel for putting together a successful inaugural pop-up dinner! Be sure to check out the Crossroads pop-up Facebook page by clicking here to keep updated about future events.