Optimistically Cautious

Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Black & White Affair: Culina

Ask any of my close friends and they'll tell you that I carry "the list" with me at all times. This piece of paper contains my culinary hit list - names and addresses of city restaurants I would like to try. Subscribing to the mantra of "always prepared," I know I'll have an answer to the question of "Where do you want to eat?"

So on Saturday, I finally made it to the place at the top of the list. Culina (9914-89 Avenue), based on its local recognition and critical acclaim, is the middle-income equivalent of Vancouver's Vij's. Brad Lazerenko's name is eternally on the lips of those in the business, and I had to find out if his Culina really deserved all of the hype.

I made sure to call ahead for reservations, having heard their weekend brunch was quite popular. When Bettina and I arrived just after noon, all but two tables were full. The restaurant was much smaller than I had anticipated - seating capacity couldn't have been more than 35 tops - and was decidedly chic. Stark contrasts created by eggshell white walls and curtains, black floor, and dark brown furniture translated into a modern, if not slightly cold decor. I know this is a personal bias (which I've expressed before), but an enjoyable brunch in my mind must be supplemented with sunshine and possess that feeling of kick-back casual. Amidst the rather formal surroundings of Culina's dining room with its shrouded windows, I couldn't help but think it may function better as a business lunch or dinner destination.

Our waitress was on the green side, but did her best to find out the answers to our questions. Bettina ended up ordering 'the ham and cheese' (honeyham and edam on grilled raisin bread), served with salad, while I chose the 'bacon and eggs' (slow braised bacon, mushroom frittata, potato hash, rye toasts, spicy ketchup).

Our food arrived in a prompt fashion. Bettina didn't have anything negative to say about her sandwich, except that it was really nothing special. As for my meal - it was different, and definitely showcased the creative cuisine Lazarenko is known for. In place of traditional bacon, the meat portion of the dish was fried pieces of pulled pork. It wasn't bad, but did take some getting used to. The frittata was topped with a blue cheese mushroom cream sauce, and though I initially winced at the mention of blue cheese, it turned out to be surprisingly good.

I will admit to having unbridled expectations for Culina - both because of how long it took me to eat there and all of the glowing literature I had read. So while I wasn't entirely disappointed, Culina's brunch just isn't for me. I'm willing to give their dinner a shot, but it may have to wait in lieu of their rather pricey menu.

Restaurant interior

Sugar and creamer

Water in a wine bottle

'the ham and cheese'

'bacon and eggs'

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