Just in time for the Valentine’s Day weekend, OpenTable announced two restaurants owned and operated by St. Albert-raised chefs are on its 2019 list of the 100 Most Romantic Restaurants in Canada.
Daniel Ducharme, executive chef at St. Albert’s Riverbank Bistro, and Scott Downey, executive chef of Edmonton’s The Butternut Tree, are elated the restaurants have made the list compiled by the online restaurant reservation system.
Both are newcomers sharing the honours with high-profile establishments such as the Harvest Room at Fairmont Hotel Macdonald, Kitchen76 at Two Sisters Vineyards at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., and Quails’ Gate Estate Winery Old Vines Restaurant in Kelowna, B.C.
When asked about the accolade, Ducharme’s response said it all. “Wow! It’s insane to be in that company. There’s a lot of good restaurants in Canada. We’re in the best location possible and it’s very iconic,” he said, describing the restaurant’s site overlooking the banks of the Sturgeon River.
The family-owned restaurant focuses on featuring high-end regional Canadian cuisine sourcing as many local products as possible. By putting a creative spin on familiar dishes, Ducharme’s handsomely flavoured salmon, beef tenderloin and mushroom soup have become consistent local favourites.
As a restaurant with a romantic ambience, Riverbank highlights the European elegance of dark woods, sparkling chandeliers and large windows that welcome soft light.
“It’s cosy. Our music selections are gentle and we have real candlelight in winter. I understand it’s about a possible fire hazard. But it’s a lost art. We’ve had couples celebrate anniversaries and when the sun goes down, it’s the perfect view.”
At Downey’s Edmonton’s Butternut Tree, a panoramic view is also available to visitors. Just a stone’s throw from the Alberta Legislature, the restaurant’s 58 seats all have a view of either incredible architecture, surrounding parks or the High Level Bridge.
“We wanted to make sure every seat has a view and we wanted to make it intimate enough to have that special experience,” said Downey.
Raised in St. Albert, he spent summers in Sackville, N.B., at his grandmother’s home.
“She had this giant butternut tree growing in her yard. We would collect the walnuts growing on it, open them up and eat them,” he said. “Her whole philosophy and way of life was to use things around you.”
Highly influenced by her love of the land, Downey has partnered with foragers from across Canada to supply the restaurant with nature’s bounty. To that end, he cooks using a variety of naturally growing ingredients such as wild cranberry seed powder, wild sumac, tidal plants, caribou moss, juniper branches and chaga mushrooms.
“These flavour profiles add a new approach that give you that ah-ha moment. It’s about trying something never before tasted.”
Depending on the season and product availability, he draws up a new menu every six to eight weeks.
“We want people not just to come for dinner, but to have an experience. We have unique flavours you haven’t tried before, and we have a very special vision and how we want to get there. Luckily more people are looking for us, not just stumbling across us.”