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Mar 29, 2009 01:33 PM

Red Ox v. Blue Pear (Edmonton)

I consider these to be the best two places in town. Here's a brief comparison, based on two very recent visits.
BP has a 5 course prix fixe menu for $89, (they now do a $59 3 course for early sittings), you choose app, entree and dessert, soup and salad are same for everyone. They also do wine pairing for each course (3 levels at $39, 55 or 89), or order your choice of wine.
RO: apps, entree and dessert all at individual prices on menu, and choose wines yourself.

Food: Overall, both are very good to great.
Most recent visit to RO, I started with a cajun-inspired prawn appetizer, duck entree and bread pudding. Prawns were great, but the accompanying dumpling/samosa-like item could have been a bit crisper. Duck breast was perfectly seared to medium rare, and nicely spiced. Came with a squash hash that was good, some veggies, and a fried risotto cake that was kind of mushy. I don't know if a fried risotto cake can be done well, so this is probably as good as it gets. The bread pudding- one of the great desserts anywhere.

BP, my app was a "soft shell taco" - a flat tortilla with a too-big pile of bean, a chunk of lobster, avocado, a nice spicy sauce...quite good. Soup and salad you was a spicy squash soup with pumpkin seeds, apple jelly, some kind of oil. Extremely good! Salad was mixed greens with beets 3 ways - one chunk of roasted beets, some fried beet shavings, and beet powder on a champagne mousse cube. Interesting, innovative, and good. My entree was duck breast on soba noodles, miso broth and shitake mushrooms, with enoki tempura on top. Tempura wasn't totally successful, as it was a clump of enoki (much easier than a bunch of incividual mushrooms). Duck was great, noodles and miso could have been a bit more flavourful. Dessert: shaved frozen blue cheese, port ice cream sandwich and a blue pear (small pear in a blue curacao gel). Odd, good, odd...not sure how to describe it. Wine pairings for the meal (did the mid-level one) worked well.

Both nights, everyone I was with was happy with all their food - so I would say my opinion here covers that of my wife too (others people not same at each place, so can't compare).

It would be really hard to say which was better. RO is more simple, great food. Less innovative, and less expensive. I don't think their wine list is spectacular, and given that they have a pretty consistent menu and small by-the-glass selection, I find it odd that they don't always mesh well. For example, it has now been rectified, but for a while they didn't have anything that worked well with their duck...they've now added pinot noir to the by-the-glass list, but previously the reds were more for the beef/lamb dishes.

BP, I like the 5 course concept, and I like the wine pairings. I also like the fact that they change their menu monthly. The food is more innovative, and I like that the chef tries a lot of new ideas with flavours, textures, etc. But sometimes everything doesn't work...sometimes a simpler idea might have been better. So, while the food may be (only slightly) better at RO, I think they are pretty evenly matched.

Atmosphere: I prefer the RO, for its semi-rustic diner feel. More relaxing. BP is too stark, cold and bare. But they are working on that, with some re-designing going on.

Service: great at both. RO a bit more casual, the odd glitch (plates to wrong people, forgot coffee...). BP - more staid, but still fun and friendly, no mistakes at all.

Price: BP is more expensive by far: $89/head. The new 3 course meal gets you soup or salad, entree and dessert for $59, but as the menu is really designed for 5 courses, that would be a small meal. Most recent visit, 3 people, 5 courses and mid-range wine pairing was about $460 before tip.
RO an average 3 course meal would be in the $50 - 65 range, but it would be substantially more food than the 3-course at BP. Last visit was 4 people, all but one had dessert, 3 or 4 beers and 2 bottles of wine (about $60/bottle) for well under $400 before tip (360 or 370 I think). For that much food and booze, you can spend close to that much in a lot of places in town and get far worse food, wine and service than you experience at RO, whereas BP is sort of in its own price category for Edmonton.

Hard to make a choice on which I prefer. RO might win on just food, but BP gets it for wine, willingness to take chances (even if not 100% successful) and overall experience. Really, I'm just glad they are both here and I have to make an effort to go to both more often.

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  1. Ah, $59 for the 3 course; thanks for the info. It was missing from their e-mail newsletter.

    2 Replies
    1. re: anonymoose

      My recollection is that the $59 set menu includes soup or salad, entree and dessert and not what they call an "appetizer". I just checked their website and could not find any information other than their regular $89 set menu which includes an appetizer and soup and salad.
      Blue Pear is one of the few "top" restaurants in Edmonton and the price has been going up steadily, perhaps beyond the quality when compared to Vancouver restaurants.

      1. re: felix the hound

        Felix is right - on both acounts. Baby Blue Pear gets choice of soup or salad, an entree and dessert.

        And yes, when I compare it to some of the best places I have eaten in Canada in the last year - Fuel in Vancouver being one of them - it is overpriced. But, I think that says something about Edmonton's food supply, which BP uses. I don't know who their supplies are, but ones that would be good candidates, given that the Radies' are huge proponents of buying local, might be places like Spring Creek (beef), Greens Eggs Ham (for duck), Sunworks (chicken) - all of which are quite pricey for their meats. And produce is going to be much less expensive in Vancouver.

        Compared to another of my favorite places right now - Fuze in Banff - BP is also more expensive, but Fuze doesn't say anything about the sources of their ingedients and though I think some is local, probably not as much as BP.

    2. Thanks for the thoughtful comparison. My issue with set menus is that I'm not much of a dessert person, and would rarely order it on my own from an a la carte menu, which is why I've shyed away from The Blue Pear. That said, however, how can you go wrong with a port ice cream sandwich?

      10 Replies
      1. re: KayceeK

        I'm not a dessert person either, so actually kind of like being 'forced' into it. Only time I ever have it is in a really good restaurant where I can relax with a glass of port (or scotch, depending on the food) and a couple of cups of coffee.

        1. re: Dan G

          thanks for the follow up Dan G, it looks like BP is getting more and more inventive. I recall the owners saying they were heading to French Laundry in CA a while ago, perhaps some if this is rubbing off. I still have a difficult time with the increase in prices. since we started going 5 yrs ago it has gone up 30$pp. I do not feel that the quality of food had changed. I don't know how they can really justify THAT large of an increase.

          As well the addition of another level of wine pairings is great, however, they added a 'low end' not a high end, for the same price as what it was previously. I personally do not recommend the low end wine pairing now as it they are not great wines, and do not pair as well.

          All this being said, we would still like to return for one more try and certainly do not discourage anyone from going there as I am sure it will be a fabulous meal. they have just priced themselves out of my budget for our anniversary dinner splurge. :(

          1. re: cleopatra999

            I am pretty sure the last time i was there, the wine pairings were $39 and $55, so the addition of the $89 one would be adding a higher end. I have never had the $39 selection, figuring if I'm splurging anyway what's another $16. I don't know if I would go up to $89 however.

            The selections at $55 were very good - the only one I remember for sure was the D'Arenberg Feral Fox Pinot...I'm a big fan of D'Arenberg wines - but I would buy any of them. And that price also includes a bottle of Voss water for each person. I usually don't care about bottled water, but do like sparkling sometimes.

            1. re: Dan G

              I cannot confirm this, and I don't think that I explained it well. But it seemed like to me when they added the $89 option they just shifted the 2 levels up, that is the $39 wines became the $55, the $55 wines became the $89. And then they brought in 'lesser' wines that are now the $39 level. maybe that makes more sense now what I was meaning?

              an example is we had an amazing David Bruce Chard the second last time, the last time the white was Stump Jump, a good white, but it is pretty cheap and generic in my mind compared to the David Bruce.

              Again, I cannot confirm, it was just my impression.

              1. re: cleopatra999

                I sent an email to Jessie pointing out that i could not find any basic information about the Baby Blue Pear and wine pairing offerings on their website.

                1. re: felix the hound

                  Felix - please post when you find anything out, as I''m interested in knowing more!

                  1. re: raidar

                    They have been advertisng the Baby Blue Pear in the Journal. This is what they have on the Original Fare website
                    " We have heard your requests for a ‘pared’ down version of our 5-course meal and are proud to introduce the Baby Blue Pear.
                    This 3-course option is available for 5-6 pm reservations and all evening on Sundays.
                    It includes: your choice of soup or salad, a main course and a dessert - chosen from our 5-course menu."

                    The journal ads have the price of the BBP ($59) but no mention of wine pairing. It must have been their most recent e-letter that mentioned there is a baby wine pairing for $20.

                    1. re: Dan G

                      Yup, it's in their latest e-newsletter:

                      "Enjoy an early dinner with our NEW Baby Blue Pear menu!
                      Three courses for $59!
                      Available until 6 p.m. Wednesday - Saturday and all evening Sunday:

                      You receive:
                      First course: Your choice of soup or salad
                      Choose an entrée and a dessert

                      Enhance your experience with a Baby Blue Pear wine pairing - $20"

                      1. re: anonymoose

                        I was just pointing out that this is the kind of information one expects to find on a restaurant website nowadays.

                        1. re: felix the hound

                          Yes they seem to have a bad habit of publicizing something elsewhere but not posting it on their own site. I've noticed this also when they update their monthly menu.