Tavern 1903 at the Alberta Hotel is the new addition to the famous Hardware Grill. They focus on a modern twist on traditional food. It has two feels to it. The bar side is bright and lively, while the dining room side is a mellow and comfy. Both sides are decorated differently and both sides catering to different crowds. This gives the restaurant a sort of black and white variation, which gives the restaurant uniqueness and character. My companions and I sat on the dining side, but we realized soon, that we would have rather sat on the bar side. I think the causal ambiance on the bar side matches both the personalities of the staff and the food.
We started with 3 appetizers to share: the pork belly, the cauliflower, and the crab cakes. Starting with the pork belly, it was done well, albeit slightly overcooked to the point where the meat portion was a little chewy. That being said, the pork belly was actually very good. It was rich and the combination of the of the smoked ribs gave it an extra kick. Of course the fatty part of the pork belly melted in your mouth and when it does, you get the full flavour of the pork that is so satisfying. I felt that the pretzel bun was out of place. It didn’t add anything to the dish that was not already in the pork belly. It was odd since it was difficult to cut into pieces to eat with the pork belly and even if you were successful, it didnt pair well with it. I think a soft steamed sweet bun would accompany this dish much better than the pretzel did.
Moving on to the highly recommended Korean Fried Cauliflower. The cauliflower was fried in a crunchy batter and covered with a sweet, sour, and spicy sauce. The sauce was great. It was a perfect balance of all those three flavours. Also, although had been soaked in sauce, it still remained crispy and very enjoyable. My only issue with this dish is that we were unable to taste the cauliflower despite a non-overpowering sauce.
The final appetizer that we shared was the crab cakes. I’m going to have to say I was disappointed in these crab cakes. They were devoid of flavour and worst of all, they lacked crab meat.
After some good conversation over a bottle of red from their excellent wine list, our mains arrived. One of my companions and I ordered the short ribs and my other companions went with the crusted salmon and the chicken and waffles.
The fries were great. They were fried to perfection and flavoured with truffle oil to give it boldness. That was as far as I go in complimenting this dish. The short ribs were very disappointing. With my first few bites, I noticed that it lacked the flavour and moisture that I would expect from slow cooked short ribs, especially after trying the short ribs at Wildflower Grill. Here I was, constantly reaching for my glass of water to wash down the dry, bland beef. This dish would certainly benefit from more sauce and some seasoning for the beef. Even the accompanying vegetable medley which were seasoned with salt and pepper had more flavour than the beef.
Unfortunately, I did not try the salmon nor the chicken and waffles. However the consensus was that the chicken and waffles lacked flavour as well. The salmon was more enjoyable. It was crusted well and paired well with the sauce, but my companion was not overly impressed by this particular dish.
For the #2 rated restaurant of 2014 in Edmonton, I was not impressed. The atmosphere and the wine selection was great, but the food that we ordered was neither innovative nor satisfying. Their dishes lacked flavour and attention to detail. On top of all that, the prices were on the expensive side. With appetizers around ~$10-15 each, ~$30 main dishes, and $1 each for still water, we were looking at close to $50/head before the wine. This restaurant requires some major fine tuning before I can give out any recommendations.
Atmosphere: cozy/tradition, bright/lively