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Sunday, 2 February 2014

Strong and Free at North 53

Defining "Canadian" food has remained a quandary for generations. Unless one's parents are Aboriginal, then we are all recent immigrants to this particular part of the planet. Poutine and butter tarts, among others, are proposed as quintessentially Canadian dishes, but trying to define food items based on their completed state, rather than their basal ingredients, is a problem unto itself. How Canadian is poutine if the potatoes are grown in Idaho and the cheese comes from Italy? Would a better definition of Canadian food be that which is composed of ingredients grown in Canada?


North 53 - the latest addition to 124 Street's boomtown - ascribes to the latter philosophy. Its ambitious credo is to source ingredients from within our country's borders and, despite its feet barely being wet in the ruthless sea of culinary competition, they are doing a smashing job thus far. To begin, Chicken Liver Paté on toasted brioche is a veritable Dr. Seuss sandwich. Multi-hued carrot wheels are partially hidden by piquant pickled asparagus and chanterelles, whilst a smattering of miniature greenery adds notes of field and sunshine. The paté itself bears none of the blood clot-evoking essence that besmirches so many others; rather, the summation is one of multiple textures and cohesive flavours.


Things are chugging right along with a contortion of technicolour carrots that are shaded by a trio of impossibly fragile caraway crisps. Supple ribbons of raw carrot hide miniature cooked ones underneath, all the while relishing dark suggestions of black garlic and jaunty interjections of buttermilk.


Sockeye Salmon arrives under a glass dome that, when lifted, peacefully releases an evocative cloud of juniper smoke that conjures up a misty dawn dreamscape on Haida Gwaii. The just-cooked fish exhales flavour and draws toothsome support from white northern beans underneath. Here, indeed, is campfire food raised to the next order of magnitude.


Various Beets, as they are billed on the menu, continue of theme of the same ingredients being presented in different guises. In this instance, a rainbow of jewel-like beets are accompanied by whispers - rather than bleats - of goat cheese. Quirky nasturtium leaves leave behind peppery suggestions, and beet meringues - maroon half-spheres - dissolve in an instant.


Finally, an Apple Doughnut is anything but the usual thing one might expect at our national, but unofficial, coffee shop down the road. A rustic fritter sighs with maple and brown butter, while a quenelle of apple ice and a tubule of apple custard lend their own interpretations of this fruit.

If one might lend some constructive advice, it would be to explore greater means with which to showcase Canadian ingredients, as opposed to presenting the same item prepared multiple ways in the same dish. But this is a minor quibble. North 53 does Canada proud.



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