I was excited to finally hit up Chef Dale MacKay’s newest enterprise for a couple of reasons… First and foremost I respect Dale and his team and think he’s a great chef- both in concept and practice. When he was successful on the Food Network’s Top Chef Canada, and opened up ‘Ensemble’ and later ‘Ensemble Tap’ here in Vancouver, I was a huge fan.
It was a real shame to see them close their doors so soon, but when I started hearing the rumours of Dale heading home to Saskatoon, I was thrilled. Despite what we like to believe, Vancouver is a fickle city (feign shock here.) Now, I don’t know all the reasons for the move, not my business, but our loss in Vancouver is our gain in Saskatoon – and yes, I lay claim to both, depending on the circumstances. (Incidentally, I also take Halifax, Panorama, and certain parts of France…)
Secondly, and maybe more importantly, my Dad is an even huger fan, both of the Food Network and of Dale. After having missed his (controversial) first love years ago, Rob Feenie, at Feenie’s, and Dale himself, at Ensemble, I was hell-bent on letting my Dad have his super-fan moment… which I discovered involves sitting quietly and calmly enjoying his meal, but at least in the vicinity of said ‘superchef’. So if there were ever a spot to write about- it oughta be daddy-approved.
And so we made our reservation. Finally.
Sipping my wine, I surveyed the lunch menu – simple, seasonal and to the point. Cleverly simplified descriptions – Kale, Fish, Pork, Beef – with some chef-y twists on lunchtime regulars. A smart move for the downtown business crowd, (though I was secretly hoping for the foie-gras parfait I had tried at Ensemble…) I almost immediately decided on the steak-frites, but as I watched the show unfold around me, and other diners got their dishes… I changed my mind three more times.
It’s fun to see such an accomplished Chef as Dale, chatting to customers across the counter from the open bar, and I knew once Dad got in from parking the car (in the 3 feet of snow,) he’d be tickled about it.
The room is simple as well, let’s call it “contemporarily rustic,” sort of “if farmhouses served champagne” (well, mine certainly would… if I had a farmhouse…) Connie Young of “ce de ce design collaborative” did a great job on the design, mixing prairie elements and imagery with an upscale vibe. Possibly a nice representation of Dale, himself…? The staff was friendly and efficient, our server, Craig, easy to like. First impressions – check.
Sadly, just as I decided on the feature sandwich, an amazing-looking, hand cut Reuben, they ran out… so steak-frites was my destiny after all. No complaints here. The steak was perfect. The greens were perfect. Exactly right. Fresh, seasoned perfectly, cooked with love…?
Dad was a little adventurous and went for the chorizo burger topped with a fried egg – He loved the generously seasoned, garlic-infused chorizo and though the egg was nice, insisted that the burger stood perfectly on its own, without any “accessories.”
Despite the frigid temperature outside, the vibe in there was anything but. Busy, but not nuts, upscale but not stuffy. Friendly, but not saccharin.
All in all, a perfect introduction to what I hope will be a longstanding relationship between Dale, his team and my hometown. The only thing missing that I could see… was the actual Ayden. But that’s ok… Dale’s definitely cute enough on his own.