Tuesday, November 9, 2010

d’Lish Urban Kitchen and Wine Bar, Edmonton

d’Lish is a small wine and tapas bar on 124th Street in Edmonton. Sparkling in black and white, the bar runs the length of the room. My eye is continually drawn to the cut-out patterns in the chair backs and bronze lampshades. Toe-tapping jazz plays in the background, but when a group of people request a French musician, the sommelier hurries to see if she can fill their request.

Chef Sebastian Lysz says that the key elements of a great wine and tapas bar are a lack of pretension and a really social, relaxed environment. “Great food, great wine and a good time,” says Sebastian. “You’re there for the company more than anything else.”

The menu includes a variety of small plates that can be shared as well as some larger dishes if you’re looking for a full meal. There is a tasting menu that changes weekly with small servings of 5-7 different dishes that can be accompanied by a 3- or 5-wine pairing. d’Lish also offers a lunch menu and brunch on the weekends.

Be Prepared to Change
d’Lish originally opened as a catering and meal assembly kitchen. The catering business is well established and is “the bread and butter of our operation,” says Amanda Babichuk, the owner. d’Lish has distinguished itself by not using disposable plates and utensils. Amanda explains that not only does this show environmental stewardship, but it also emphasizes the importance of presentation as the commencement of the dining experience.

The meal assembly side of the business was meeting increasing competition from grocery stores that were also providing fresh meal solutions. In addition, d’Lish was failing to take advantage of its streetfront location on 124th Street, which offers a range of art galleries and restaurants. “It’s evolving into an adult culture playground,” says Amanda. So, on September 15, d’Lish reopened as a wine and tapas bar.

Creative Warrior
Amanda Babichuk has much in common with her customers. She has recently moved downtown after living in St. Albert; she shops at City Market; and she’s concerned about food safety. “People are so much more aware of localization versus globalization,” Amanda says. “We’re really keeping with local proteins as all of that garbage – antibiotics, etc. – affects you the most. We have visited every single farm where we get protein.”

Amanda has a marketing background, and she is using it to reach her audience, who she defines as “a younger demographic; a little bit edgy, urban.” I had some misgivings when I heard her describe herself as a Creative Warrior, and yet it rang true. She is passionate, determined and caring.

Amanda says that she had a crisis moment when she first opened d’Lish. Her focus was on local food, but it could be more expensive. Should she opt for the cheaper options in order to secure her first big catering contracts? “It’s a terrifying choice when you’re faced with impending doom,” Amanda says. She realized that she had to remain true to her principles as this would be customers’ first impression of her business, and she couldn’t compromise.

Local Food
Local food is a priority at d’Lish. Chef Sebastian says that the menu will change with the seasons: “If tomatoes aren’t great, I don’t want them on the menu. We’ll serve a roast squash and root vegetable salad instead.”

D’Lish relies on Full Course Strategies that supplies Edmonton restaurants with a range of local food products, saving chefs from the difficult task of sourcing all their food products themselves. One is Brassica Mustard that is Prairie grown and Prairie made. “Globalization is great for things like truffle oil and vanilla extract,” says Sebastian, “but mustard isn’t something you need to send around the world.”

I tasted a wonderful three-month old Pecorino cheese from The Cheesiry in Kitscoty (5 minutes from Lloydminster). The farmers invited Sebastian to help them develop their product. “It was nice to really understand what goes into the product from start to finish, from milking the sheep, to monitoring temperature and humidity, to washing the rinds,” says Sebastian. (O’Sol Meatos also produces a range of charcuterie products.)

Chef Specialties
Sebastian worked at Waterton National Park for two seasons where they used a lot of local food. He has two food passions that are front and centre at d’Lish. One of them is vegetables. “Vegetables are ignored a lot. They fall to the side of meat preparations, and that’s unfortunate as they have so much flavour,” he says. I sampled the spinach salad, and it was a wonderful showcase for spinach, roast beets, and candied pecans with fig balsamic preserve and herbed goat cheese on a small pastry biscuit on the side.

Sebastian also recommends the cheese and meat boards. “If you’re having a glass of wine after work, a couple of cheeses and meat along with some bread and preserves is a wonderful way to go,” he says. “We try and have everything of the same high quality as the cheese. The olive oil is from the Turkish mountains. It’s imported and produced by a local company.”

Education and Information
Amanda believes that restaurant-goers want information and education. They want to understand why the menu is changing, and they’re looking for information about food and wine pairings. To meet that need, she has hired Kasia, a level two sommelier, as her front house manager. Kasia started working in restaurants because she enjoyed cooking and food. She realized that some restaurants required a knowledge of wine, so she began taking the courses offered by the International Sommelier Guild.

“The courses are hard, intense. It’s like a degree,” says Kasia. “I feel I have so much to learn.” I was surprised to learn that very few of the people taking the sommelier courses were actually in the restaurant industry. Kasia says that the vast majority are professionals and business owners who want to make better choices for themselves. That seems unfortunate.

Kasia says that you can never assume people will like what you like. “You have to ask the right questions to work out what they’d like,” she says. “Everyone has a different palate, and you have to respect that.” She was, however, prepared to recommend the Frog’s Leap Petite Sirah, which she says is an absolute gem. And according to the Frog’s Leap website, it goes well with chocolate – I’ll have to try it!

My thanks to Amanda, Sebastian and Kasia for ensuring that my visit to d’Lish was so enjoyable. In the best tradition of wine and tapas bars, there was good food, good wine and good company.

1 comment:

Jennifer G said...

Absolutely DO NOT use D'Lish catering for your wedding.

I hired them for my wedding of 120 people and their delivery was unprofessional and negligent.

- Their setup delayed the reception by 40 minutes.

- Food for the wedding party was to be ready in the bridal suite for 10 people. Only one small platter was provided with only 2 of the 11 items. Not even enough for two people to eat. After having to request more food we had to wait for another 45 minutes and still did not receive enough food or anywhere close to all the items. Requested more food yet again and this time it arrived garnished with red peppers **specified in writing allergy of the bride**!

- All the warm food was served cold.

- The beef and chicken skewers were undercooked.

- Instead of completely coated petite fours in silver and purple icing as agreed up on in writing we were given cut up sheet cake with yellow icing.

- Our custom made wedding cake was RUINED by D'Lish adding their own decorations without permission.

- The bar service supplied no orange juice and ran out of cola for mix by 10:00 and did NOT restock.

- D'Lish has not and will not return our emails or telephone calls to date.