Swine Off to Slaughter | by Jasmine Khokhar

OUR CHOICES:

Beverages

Banana Weiss – Hacker Weisse, Banana Juice $9
Coffee $3

“Rabbit Food”

1. Sautéed mushroom, egg yolk, toast $12

“Sharesies”

2. Pork & lamb liver terrine, beer mustard, house pickles, toast $14

3. Fennel sausage stuffed whole quail confit, Spanish onion, wilted greens, bacon-date gastrique $20

4. Four Whistle Farm duck breast, shiitake mushrooms, hijiki seaweed, smoked apricot sweet & sour sauce $20

At first step upon the wooden porch surrounding the entry to Three Boars, my immediate impression is that this restaurant is not for the faint of hip-heart. It is a quaint place: rustic-looking tables and benches, enduringly chic filament lights of factory days gone by, tiled single washroom solely ventilated by the unfortunate crotch-level toilet window. Though the charming, old building makes for a small space, it is a space efficiently utilized – cozy, but not suffocating. We are seated upstairs. It is bright. The loud James Brown funk, and subsequently raised murmur, makes it hard for me to imagine bringing my parents here; and makes me wonder if my friends, already aurally challenged from years of headphone abuse, will be able to hear me.

I am obligated to inform our server of my intentions to review, and though I expect it to skew our service experience to the better, much is left to be desired. We are told simply that the dishes are meant to be shared. I have heard through the grapevine that the menu changes often, in the name of freshness & ‘keeping it local’ and that they use underutilized, typically unpopular parts of the animal in the pursuit of sustainability. I cannot rightfully confirm these things because we were told nothing of the unique charm & attraction of the place. Should I have asked? I don’t think so. The server is the patron’s direct link to the vision of the restaurateur. A brief “have you been here before?” could have had the conversation rolling.

Specialty concept restaurants are an emerging trend in Edmonton, providing foodies with exciting new opportunities. But the unknown is notorious for the fear it can engender. The server, if well versed in the menu, and willing to help, can act as a mentor of sorts, our wise Mr. Miyagi. Instead, we were left to largely fend for ourselves in terms of understanding the food descriptions and figuring out exactly how to eat the food. Our server returned from the kitchen prepared with five suggestions, two of which were essentially variations on a theme, but with little explanation as to what they were or why we might like them. When we refused one of the suggestions she seemed at a loss for further assistance. She did validate our independent choice, suggesting recognition of and familiarity with the dish. This knowledge should be shared unprovoked.

We get our beer in a tall weizen glass (the hourglass with three-quarters of its bottom lopped off). It is a pleasant orange colour; cloudy, though a characteristic of the beer or of the banana juice I cannot differentiate. The taste is heavy on the banana – slightly at first, then gradually growing to that film of sweet syrup at the back of the throat – largely drowning out the beer itself. If I am correct in assuming (my own hearsay because the menu had no description and none was provided verbally) that the Hacker Weisse is one of the hefeweizen German wheat beers, white and unfiltered, it exists on its own with hints of banana (and clove and pepper). Presumably the banana juice is meant to accentuate, not to overpower. I have never before consumed a beer cocktail, though they seem to be another growing trend in the city (eluding my understanding due to uninformative service).

Such service marked our entire experience. Good restaurants give a salivation-inducing, illuminating detailing of every dish at each step of the meal: generalities during first glance, advice and complementary dish pairings at ordering time, exactly what I’m about to eat and optimal consumption technique, if not painfully obvious, upon delivery. None of these happened here. This, too, relies on a knowledgeable, helpful, and eager staff at all levels.

Pork & lamb liver terrine, beer mustard, house pickles, toast

We were left guessing, for example, on the first dish [2] pork & lamb liver terrine. Earlier in the evening, I had to explain to the table the terrine part and later had to name it when it reached our table. Anyone who disparages television needs a lesson in the virtues of the Food Network. Without its wisdom, I would have been hard pressed coercing my friends to eat what they rightfully deemed “cat food”. Terrine is essentially a mash up of garnishing ingredients and chunks of meat held together by its own fat, left to set overnight and served cold. We conclude through a joint effort that the pickles are green beans, shallots, and beets, but orange. These are quite tangy, and a welcome variation on the typical “garden vegetable” side. The beer mustard, textured with whole mustard seed, has a hard-hitting bite on its own, but is a nice addition to the blander terrine. The toast looks like slices of baguette, oiled and salted. It is a tad heavy on the salt if eaten alone, but a fair addition to the terrine if eaten together. Here is where those consumption technique points would have served well, where instead the food’s full potential is undermined.

Sautéed mushroom, egg yolk, toast

The second dish was [1] sautéed mushroom & egg yolk. It is quite underwhelming. Salt is the predominant taste, with what I think is the egg yolk adding a tinge of a full-bodied, rich taste. I tried to get a forkful of only yolk from the bottom of the plate and instead got a mouthful of salt. Credit goes to our tablemate, and fellow TV addict, for drawing upon his Gordon Ramsay crush to identify the yolk as that of a quail egg. Chef Ramsay, however, would almost certainly decry the need for such deductive reasoning during a dining experience. There is promise of harmonious texture between meaty mushroom, runny yolk and crisp toast, if not for the chewy, soggy mushrooms from overcooking and an overabundance of oil. It is a shame that all virtue of the farm fresh egg was thwarted by salt.

Four Whistle Farm duck breast, shiitake mushrooms, hijiki seaweed, smoked apricot sweet & sour sauce

Next was [4] duck breast, mushrooms, & seaweed. Immediately, this plate is evidently more on-point. Every bite is flavourful, with several varying tastes working quite well together. The apricot sauce is an excellent touch, a sweet accent to the gamey duck; the crispy, charred outer edges of which texturally contrast and highlight the tough meat inside. These mushrooms seem much better than those in dish [1], though we cannot say with certainty why. Perhaps it is a different type of mushroom? Caps were used instead of slices. Cooked better? It may well be simply the seaweed accentuating the taste of the mushrooms. A word on the hijiki seaweed: this type of seaweed is known to contain inorganic arsenic. We frequently ingest organic arsenic through our diet, but it is not harmful because our bodies break it down fairly easily. The inorganic variety, on the contrary, is poisonous to humans. Health Canada warns against consumption in large quantities here: http://www.inspection.gc.ca/

Fennel sausage stuffed whole quail confit, Spanish onion, wilted greens, bacon-date gastrique

The [3] fennel sausage stuffed quail confit w/ bacon-date gastrique was a complete mystery, by virtue of its bare menu description and continued lack of communication. What is a gastrique? I know of fennel only because it is a cultural staple in my household. The sauce is solid, but buries the naturally flavourful quail and is moderately too salty. On the thigh piece, the bacon taste overwhelms the other meat, but it is better balanced on the breast. The quail itself is tender, if not a touch chewy. The fennel is indistinguishable, but could have been an intriguing advantage to the dish if used properly. The wilted greens evoke the salt version of the “sour face”. A noble effort, the dish ultimately misses its target, albeit narrowly.

The coffee is a light roast, offered in a single-serving French press. Even with cream and a packet of sugar added, the sour bitter bite nearly overwhelms me, before the sugar brings on a battle of tastes that smoothly transition to a bearable equilibrium. Much like the restaurant itself, the roast is unordinary, the presentation is unique but impractical and, in the end, it makes for an uninviting coffee.

Because, on a whole, Three Boars was… alienating. Remember the early post-Y2K-scare years of relief, excitement, and satire of the minute dregs that were the portion sizes of the highbrow restaurant of the ‘90s? Remember how we deemed such French silliness to have no place in the gluttonous North American diet? Apparently, the Three Boars team thinks it’s time for a throwback, offering portion sizes that border on comically small. I understand that adopting better meat-consumption practices means paying more for higher quality meat that we eat less often. But my meat treat for the week should not leave me running for the McDonald’s across the street. The Three Boars’ commitment to sustainability through the use of otherwise unused parts of the animal is, reportedly, a way to keep costs down, as well. Why, then, are we paying almost $100 for a dinner that did little to sate our stomachs? Maybe I am underestimating the earning potential of this city. I am a poor student, my inclinations toward prices diverge from the average, but it seems like the restaurateurs are trying to attract a younger customer. They’ve got the atmosphere, but taking the restaurant route for dinner should make for an evening of effortless comfort, not one of an anxious mystery that harkens back to the angst of teenhood. Perhaps it is this pursuit of youthful ambience that is hindering their service: for we are expected to acquire “knowledge” independently because we have the Internet, we are conditioned to equate being “helpful” with increasing the proliferating competition against us, being “eager” is not cool. And you gotta be cool to eat here.

Jasmine Khokhar has been missing since 2008. She was last seen appearing confused & disoriented, dancing a jig in the area of Edmonton, Alberta. She would now be 23 and may have grown facial hair. If found, please contact authorities immediately. Do not approach her as she may be armed with verbal abuse & is considered dangerous.

Photography by Skye Oleson-Cormack 

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  • Julia

    I’m surprised by your experience with Three Boars, I find both the staff and food here fantastic. That’s not my issue though. Personally, I think if you are going to put yourself out there and write a serious critique of a higher-end tapas restaurant, you should perhaps do your homework first. Gatriques are very, very common in French cooking, and to question what it is and then write it off merely as a sauce in the next few lines doesn’t do justice to your “educated” style of restaurant review.

    And of course, the real mistake here was not ordering one of their signature poutines. 😉

  • Sydney

    Also, french pressed coffee is bitter my nature… and to suggest you’re going to get arsenic poising from one of their dishes is a little extreme… and rude.

    also, as a biologist who took an entire course in arsenic biology, soluble arsenic or “organic” is not toxic. the website itself says this.

    “Organic arsenic, the less toxic form, is commonly found in most seaweed and other marine foods. Exposure to organic arsenic from most seaweed and other marine foods has not been associated with human illness, therefore organic arsenic from these sources is considered to be relatively non-toxic”

    • jasmine

      If you take a look at the source that I cited in my original work:

      http://www.inspection.gc.ca/food/consumer-centre/food-safety-tips/specific-products-and-risks/arsenic/eng/1332268146718/1332268231124

      which is an official Government of Canada Food Inspection Agency document, indeed the second hit if you search “hijiki seaweed” on Google, you will clearly see the paragraph from which I took my information. It is the section on arsenic in seaweed and explains the difference between organic arsenic, which you are talking about, and INorganic arsenic, which is the substance under question in my article, contained in the type of seaweed, hijiki, used in the dish. The paragraph immediately following the one you quote:

      “Inorganic arsenic compounds are relatively toxic. Sample results have shown that hijiki seaweed is high in inorganic arsenic. Sample results for several other sea vegetables, including dulse, nori, kombu have been low.”

      As a biologist, one would expect you to appreciate and respect research.

      In the future I think it would serve The Wanderer well to give someone’s work the proper attention it deserves before completely discounting it and editing it out at your own discretion.

  • Jasmine, my apologies about this. Huge mistake on MY part; this is completely on me.

  • Sydney

    My apologies as well, Jasmine.