Dish

Slaw learner

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L’Azia’s flair for the lowly side dish is the least of their culinary accomplishments

As my girlfriend and I chatted over our appetizer of calamari and orange
tzatziki sauce at L’Azia last Saturday night, it occurred to me that if
I’ve noticed one thing in the short time I’ve been a food
reviewer (and I’m fairly certain I have, or I probably wouldn’t
have written that), it’s that slaw, of all things, seems to be making a
big comeback on the contemporary cuisine scene. (“Cui-scene”?) Of
course I don’t mean that sad, oozy, vinegary crap you feel obligated to
get at KFC just because it comes with the meal and the macaroni salad is so
completely not an option that it’s amazing they still offer it; on the
contrary. We’re talkin’ fancy slaws here, sometimes even of the
non-cole variety. In the past month or so, I’ve been treated to a
rainbow of these gentrified slaws; from ginger to wasabi, citrus to mint,
it’s showing up everywhere—even here, next to our calamari, is a
pleasingly tangy wad of straight-up, cabbage-and-mayonnaise slaw. What does
it all mean? Why has slaw been chosen to be dragged out of the culinary
gutter and reclaimed instead of, say, grits? Or, to a lesser extent,
succotash? The answer, I suppose, will never be known. Unless I asked
someone. But I haven’t, and I don’t really plan to. The point is,
my friends, I like slaw. But enough about side dishes; there’s a whole
restaurant beyond the slaw that’s begging to be reviewed. I used to go
to L’Azia quite often back when I worked downtown; located at street
level next to Edmonton Centre’s 102 Street entrance,
L’Azia’s upscale atmosphere and ridiculously good happy hour
specials were more than enough to entice my friends and me into an afternoon
drink and an appetizer or two. Subsequently, my experience with the
establishment had thus far been limited to its lounge, and so, having heard
nothing but good things about the actual restaurant section, my girlfriend
and I decided to forego the usual lounge experience and take in a late dinner
after a movie. Seeing as it was closing in on 10 p.m., we pretty much had our
pick of the litter when it came to a table, so we chose a seat by the windows
looking into the street. The dining area is large and open, accented by an
exposed kitchen, a trio of booths in the middle of the space surrounding a
strange, orange-and-red glass sculpture, and a few impressive columns covered
entirely in polished black river rocks, all lending the space a contemporary
and professional atmosphere. After taking in the decor, we began to peruse
the menu—no small feat, considering its scope. Seriously; this is a
giant menu—at most places like this, I’d expect to find somewhere
around five or so appetizers and about 10 to 12 entrées to choose
from. But at L’Azia? Well, it’s a bit more than that. With 12
appetizers, 14 light entrées and 24 full meals (ranging from authentic
Asian to steaks and burgers) to wade through, the selection is both
impressive and daunting. After about 10 minutes, we finally managed to finish
our assigned reading and reach a decision, my girlfriend going with the
Mediterranean free-range chicken breast served with potato aromatica,
sautéed seasonal vegetables and a Madeira red wine sauce ($14.95)
while I opted for the meaty-sounding Spanish paella with chicken, shrimp,
chorizo sausage, mussels and red peppers on saffron rice ($15.95). For an
appetizer, we wanted to go with the shrimp and scallop wontons with the sweet
and sour pineapple and black sesame sauce, but no! They were out. So we
decided to fall back on that pillar of the appetizer community, the
aforementioned calamari with tzatziki sauce and coleslaw ($7.95). To be
honest, we did spend a little more time sitting around waiting for our food
than I would have expected, given that there were a scant few tables in the
restaurant at that hour, but our waitress did her best to keep us happy and
well informed of the status of our food. It was a while before our calamari
finally hit the table, and it did so to middling reviews. It wasn’t
bad, of course—just, you know, kind of boring. The squid itself was
decent (breaded and fried as per usual), but the sauce was nothing special,
despite the hint of orange that was desperately trying to come out above the
yogurt and cucumber, and the slaw was good, though not particularly
innovative. I wasn’t horribly disappointed, though; there are, after
all, only so many ways to prepare calamari, so it’s average-icity
should have come as no surprise. Sure didn’t make me forget about those
painfully unavailable wontons, though. Ah well. Thankfully, all mediocrity
was quickly forgotten upon the arrival of our main course. My
girlfriend’s Mediterranean chicken was a big hit, beautifully spiced
and roasted and complemented by a eye-pleasing arrangement of flavourful
potatoes, string beans and a rich wine and—I’m
guessing—cranberry reduction. But since my girlfriend won the dinner
competition last time, it was once again my turn to come out with the best
meal of the evening in my Spanish paella, a heaping mountain of pungent
saffron rice topped with huge, plump shrimp and surrounded with mussels,
chicken and chorizo. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever had a
comparable paella anywhere else; the rice was amazingly spicy and delicious,
and the there was so much juicy seafood and tender meat that even I ended up
not being able to finish the whole thing. Needless to say, dessert
wasn’t an option, although I was incredibly tempted by their (again,
insanely large) selection which included a fantastic-sounding
chocolate-and-banana croissant bread pudding that I’ll have to come
back to that when I decide I want to get really fat again. (Although
I’m not really sure why I’d ever decide that—maybe
I’d consider it if it got really cold all of a sudden, I guess.)
Anyhow, everything came to just around $50 with drinks, an average price for
an above-average dining experience. Check it out sometime, if for no other
reason than to start expanding your contemporary slaw horizons. V
L’Azia Edmonton City Centre • 990-0188

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