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Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Canada's 100 Best Restaurants - Corso 32

Edmonton's Corso 32 once again earned a spot in Maclean's quasi-periodic 'best restaurants' issue. In this year's issue, Corso shares the podium with deserving co-victors Rostizado by Tres Carnales and Rge Rd. Though functionally different, common philosophies of locally-sourced yet pragmatic ingredients, artistically individualistic interiors, and memorably engaging personalities unite this trio. Corso 32 is the oldest of the three; though a mere four (pushing five) years old, this puts Daniel Costa's brainchild squarely in the category of "established" restaurants.

This descriptor should hardly be sneered at. To the contrary: it should be applauded. In this epoch of rapid-fire information streams, with attention spans reaching an historical low and a public that too often revels in tearing down restaurants behind the veil of online anonymity, it's a small miracle that eateries survive past the five year mark. Corso was indisputably the talk of the town when it opened, but eventually the blinding sheen of novelty wore off and gave way to a durable, powerful, patina of longevity.


Reservations at Corso are hard-won victories, just as they were four years ago - a testament to the kitchen's prowess. The room is still dark. The tables are still close together; so many diners were a-tizzy when their notions of North American personal space were challenged. Though the enigmatic word cloud that once separated tables from kitchen has vanished, a life-sized portrait of Costa's Italian forebearers still gazes over the room with comfortable ease. A grappa-based cocktail kicks off an evening meal with similarly enigmatic grace: alternating notes of air, frothy sweetness and round, bracing sour undertones are held in the same breath by sunny citrus. Unexpected yet most welcome.


Arancini are piping-hot from the fryer, encircled by rivulets of steam. An exploratory prod through these spheres' crispy crusts reveals a toothsome mantle of arborio rice with interjections of sonorous morel mushrooms. They are every bit as beguiling as they were on the maiden printing of Corso's first menu.


House-made Goat Ricotta remains another long-standing menu favourite, and for good reason. Throughout this satiny creation one finds neither graininess nor the tell-tale musk of "goat" - both of which characterize other, lesser cheeses.

Corso 32 was but one of two Edmonton restaurants that cracked Maclean's "best restaurants" issue in 2012 (the other most-deserving recipient being Tres Carnales). This time, Edmonton's contributions have notched up to three. Though but one small step in this city's quest for recognition as a valid dining destination in Canada (certainly no small feat when this province's reputation of 'beef and more beef' precedes it), these comrades-in-arms have made greater contributions to this province's - and this country's - culinary landscape than they know. Such dedication to one's craft cannot be falsified.

Author's note: I am proud to confess that I was a judge and contributing author for both the 2012 and 2015 Maclean's restaurant special editions.






Corso 32 on Urbanspoon

Monday, 13 April 2015

Bubba's Rises From the Ashes

Bubba's BBQ and Smoke House once lived in a nondescript field behind a south-side Superstore, hemmed in by two busy roads and operating out of a regular-looking trailer. Yet here, alchemy occurred. Slabs of meat were transformed by smoke and spice rubs, kissed and carried into otherworldly realms by the byproducts of combusting wood. Customers lined up, rain or shine, to take carnivorous communion at this altar of all things smoked and grilled. This halcyon era of barbecue, when protein-packed portions of sultry flesh were dished out in empty lots instead of overly polished restaurants, should have lasted forever. But disaster struck. The city let out a collective cry of anguish when Bubba's humble trailer went up - literally - in smoke. Bubba and his barbecue vanished.

This is how an improbable cult hero rose from the ashes.


Recent word on the street suggested that Bubba's was alive and well at an auction house near Argyll Road. The city's collective cry of anguish gave way to a frenzied "Hallelujah" Chorus. A BBQ lunch-run last Friday produced a take-out container heaving with succulent pork ribs, a generous helping of barbecue sauce, and a small mountain of seasoned rice. This is what Edmontonians dream of during the interminably grey winter months: lascivious meat and bone so thoroughly permeated by smoke and rubbed spices that they sigh and fall away at the lightest touch. The small tub of BBQ sauce seems almost redundant. Too often, barbecue ribs in this city are drowned - no; bludgeoned to a second death by superfluous syrupy concoctions. That is never the case with Bubba's

Bubba is one of those rare souls who does what he does because he damn well believes in it. Not because it's trendy. Not because it sets social media and the blogosphere a-twitter. Certainly not because he has something to prove or an axe to grind. No; good barbecue must be done for its own sake. Anything less would be unacceptable.


Bubba's BBQ and Smoke House on Urbanspoon

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