May. 04, 2011 - Issue #811: On being a John
Niche finds its spot
Jasper Ave eatery part of downtown dining resurgence
The menu is concise, and includes but four appetizers and four entrées. Of the appetizers, which include a charcuterie platter and salad, we are drawn to bison meatballs ($10). Our order disappears into the kitchen and soon a wondrous aroma fills the room: first, the piquant scent of sautéed garlic, then a complex bouquet of herbs and, finally, the robust and sunny essence of ripe tomatoes. The physical summation of these scents is a slightly chunky tomato sauce that gently veils the meatball quintet. The meatballs are finely textured, reminiscent of robust beef and lack any trace of grease. Grated pecorino cheese adds character and a sprinkle of pine nuts imparts crunch. Each bite is a gustatory journey to sun-warmed gardens and gently lit kitchens—elegant comfort food that is entirely unpretentious.
We sip glasses of sparkling San Pellegrino ($6.50/bottle) and pour over the menu, punctuated by locally sourced selections. Dining decisions are difficult but, after considerable vacillation, I select Brome Lake duck with mashed potatoes and lemon thyme gravy ($20). Duck meat is dark, devilishly juicy and luxuriates beneath crackling auburn skin. Here, a leg and thigh of duck rests against an ivory hillock of buttery mashed potatoes, sheltering a bundle of long, startlingly green beans. The meat falls off the bones with little more than a touch, the spuds are velvet-smooth, while the beans easily tread the tender-crisp frontier. The gravy—how I wish there was just a bit more—coaxes additional flavour from each ingredient with the vibrant zip of lemon and herbaceous touch of thyme.
The seafood entrée changes frequently, reflecting the ephemeral availability of different piscine species. Tonight, Niche features prawns in a tomato-olive-green bean ragu ($23). The rosy-hued, chubby prawns literally pop with subtle marine sweetness and loll in a roughly hewn bath of tomatoes, black and green olives, and jade green beans. This ragu is a spectrum of textures: toothsome olives, watery-crisp beans and tender tomatoes. A handful of peppery arugula and small slices of dilled potatoes ride shotgun; they are flavourful alone but are content to defer the spotlight to the saucy prawns.
Satiated but yearning for dessert, we order coffee ($3) and a Salted Caramel Brownie ($8). This creation, the brainchild of chef Nathan Saurette, is a brunette square topped with a dollop of lemon whipped cream. Lemon and chocolate are not intuitive companions, but this synergistic pairing suggests otherwise. The brownie itself is a riot of flavours. Bittersweet cocoa is enriched by gooey, velveteen caramel that puts forth tiny, crunchy nips of salt. Interspersed with bracing sips of coffee, this brownie imparts a deep sense of chocolate-fueled satisfaction, a sense that will persist for many days to come.
Niche is part of a grander resurgence of fine dining along Jasper Avenue, part of an urban succession that will see bold, colonizing restaurants, such as Niche, become cornerstones. Here, in the territory of uncomplicated flavours and sleek mise-en-scène, Niche has clearly found its home. V
Mon – Thu (11 am – 12 am);
Fri (11 am – 2 am); Sat (4 pm – 2 am)
11011 Jasper Ave, 780.761.1011
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More info about Niche →
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