If you want a high class meal at discount prices, one sure way is to try out the local chef school. In my case, that would be Ernest’s, NAIT’s School of Hospitality restaurant where second year culinary arts students get to test out their skills.
The evening I was there, you could choose from their regular menu or from a special set menu designed by a group of students. The special menu was tempting, but the entree was a Peking-style duck with noodles. I’d rather go eat that in Chinatown. So instead my table chose their items from the menu.
First off, apologies for the dark photos. We were in a dark section of the restaurant and I really didn’t want to use my flash. I did a tiny bit of adjustment in Photoshop, but I didn’t want to change the photos too much.
To start, we shared a plate of crab cakes (creole mustard, arugula & lemon, red pepper oil). The flavours were great; the crab cake was creamy inside and the dipping sauces complimented the crab very well, although I think I prefered the mustard to the red pepper oil. My one complaint was that, although it looked perfectly cooked, as soon as you picked up a crab cake it fell apart into soft pieces. Maybe thicker, but not necessarily crispier, crust would have made this dish more complete.
For entrées, we ordered a chili-maple glazed filet of salmon (cilantro lime yogurt),
and a Lamb shank osso buco (wheatberry mash and aged balsamic gastrique).
The salmon was one of the most flavourful salmons that I’ve had in a long time. The glaze seemed to have penetrated through the flesh completely, and the fish was perfectly cooked. Usually you only get some flavouring on top of the fish, not throughout it, so we were fairly impressed.
The lamb had a hearty flavour, perfect for a cold day. The cooking of the meat was a bit uneven as some pieces were cooked perfectly and practically melted in your mouth, while others seemed a bit tough to chew. The wheatberry mash (underneath the lamb and not visible in the photo) was a nice change from the regular mashed potatoes that you usually end up with. My big peeve was that this dish was served in a rather deep bowl, and without a spoon it was quite hard to eat all the last bits of the mash.
We were horribly full but I really wanted to test out one of their desserts, so we finally settled on a gingerbread ice cream. It arrived in a molasses-flavoured edible bowl that was interesting to look at but hard to eat as ripping off bits of the bowl was like pulling taffy instead of it breaking off like a cracker. The ice cream had a very deep ginger and spice taste, but the dish only really tasted like gingerbread once you ate a bit of the bowl together with a bite of the ice cream.
The service at the restaurant was relatively quick and efficient, a rarity that has been missing from many places thanks to the Alberta economy. All in all, I have to say that I’m quite impressed by the student chefs and servers. I’ll definitely be back at some point in the future.
Ernest’s (NAIT School of Hospitality)
N.B. The restaurant is only open during the school year. Additional photos and menus with pricing can be viewed at www.nait.ca/schoolofhospitality/ernests.htm.