Tastiness Factor: 9/10
Locavore approved? YES- Chef Daniel Costa creates traditional Italian dishes using local ingredients, which is impressive in a city where a) locavore cooking is still a relatively new concept and b) things are much harder to grow than my home city of Vancouver. The menu here changes quite regularly and, on the night of our visit, represented autumn flavours very well. Fingers crossed that chef Costa can light the pave the way for much more locavore chefs in Edmonton!
I have called Edmonton home for the past 3 weeks on a short foray here for work. I must admit that I did not have high hopes for the Edmonton food scene and did not expect to find anything in the way of local, forward-thinking cuisine. After hitting a few of Avenue Magazine's picks of the city's best restaurants with Hubby this past weekend, I am happy to report that I was very wrong in these previous assumptions.
Our first stop on our Edmonton food tour was Corso 32, which I learned is one of the hottest tickets in town. I was fortunate to somehow snag a 9pm reso at the communal table when I called to book only 4 days in advance, but according to online reviews, reservations need to be made over a month before to get a seat at an individual table. This is likely one of the reasons that Chef Costa recently opened a sister restaurant, Bar Bricco, next door. At this new joint, there are no reservations taken so those who cannot bear to wait for a seat at Corso 32 can at least enjoy light food and drinks at Bar Bricco.
Corso 32 is located on Jasper Ave. in downtown Edmonton, making it a good choice for anything form a business dinner, a family get-together or a romantic date. The room is quite small, with not all that much space between tables, but the noise level was surprisingly reasonable. I actually quite enjoyed the liked the intimate atmosphere which I was still able to appreciate despite sitting at the communal table. The decor was very nicely decorated with very tasteful Italian accents, including a large wall painting beside the semi-open kitchen.
The service we received was quite exceptional, all thanks to our very gracious server. Not only did he give very good menu suggestions and keep our water/wine glasses topped up, but he also went so far as to write us a list of other good restaurants in the city and discuss it with us on our way out the door. His kindness is in keeping with what we experienced in Edmonton in general, but was certainly notable considering how busy he was taking care of the packed room that evening. My only minor service flaw was in the pace of the meal, with appies coming very quickly after ordering and then quite a delay with the mains.
For such a small spot, Corso 32 has a quite an impressive wine list, including a nice selection by the glass. Hubby and I opted for a bottle of Borgo Magredo Pinot Gris which not only had a very light, fruity taste but also came in a very snazzy old-school bottle.
Now onto the food. A good thing to keep in mind while perusing the menu is that they do not skimp on portions. Hubby and I are usually more than capable of polishing off an appie and main each but here this amount of food was enough to feed three. Sharing is encouraged, and is a good way to taste a variety of menu items. The menu is quite succinct and is divided into antipasti, 4 different pastas and one each of a fish, a poultry and a beef dish. There are also a few desserts if by some chance you have room left. I should also note that the prices here tend to be on the stepper side (even by Vancouver standards!), with average prices of $15 appies, $25 pastas and $35 mains.
Here is rundown of the dishes we enjoyed:
Arancini with speck, cabbage and fontina- Although I have never met an arancini I did not like, Corso 32's version was particularly yummy. The fried exterior was perfectly crispy, without being the least bit greasy. Then, on the inside, there was not only nicely-seasoned risotto but also a generous amount of fontina cheese. It does not much more decadent then that! With two balls in a half-order, this is more than enough for 4 people, let alone for the two of us, but we ate every last bite!
Fennel and arugula salad- I ordered this despite my usual dislike of fennel just because we wanted a lighter appie to go with the heavy arancini. And I owe them a "thank-you" for having made a fennel lover out of me. The simple vinagrette cut the licorice taste of the fennel, giving it a very pleasant taste while still preserving its crunchy texture. The hazelnuts really took centre stage on this salad as they were obviously of very high quality and super fresh. Top that with some shaved parmagiano and you have a one fabulous salad!
House-made goat ricotta- You know when you have friendly folks sitting next to you when they offer you some of their food. And the people sitting next to us at the communal table did just that, and I could not be more thankful since this seemingly simple appie was downright delicious. I am not a cheese fan by any means but this ricotta was perfect for me- mild, soft, light and creamy. I must reiterate again though that the folks here at Corso 32 do not skimp on portions so unless you have tons of room in your belly, you will want to share!
Alberta Rainbow Trout "Mandorla"- This ranks up there as one of the best fish dishes I have had this year. The very generous piece of trout had a beautiful crispy skin and was topped with a heaping pile of slaw made of celeriac, apple, greens and almonds (hence the "Mandorla"). It was quite simple, yet perfectly executed and I loved the use of all the fall ingredients.
Garganelli with Braised Tuscan Pork and Porcini Ragu- Corso 32 is best known for its homemade pasta and, after tasting it, it is quite apparent why that is. The pasta was perfectly al dente and, in this particular dish, was covered in a chunky pork sauce that was seasoned to perfection. The earthy notes from the porcini were again perfect for this time of year.
Corso 32 was my first upscale dining experience in Edmonton and, suffice it to say, I was pretty darn impressed. My hometown of Vancouver is known for its great food scene and I was pleasantly surprised to find that Corso 32 was on par with, or even superior to, any of my favourite places back home. So don't be scared off by the wait. Reserve well in advance or if that is not an option, try for a spot at communal table like we did.
You'll be mighty glad you did.