La Petite Iza, The Brasserie Garneau’s Been Waiting For


February 3, 2021

Words by: Joe Gurba

Photography by: Shaun Hicks

Abel Shiferaw built us a French time machine.

Locked down in Edmonton and longing for Paris? For meandering meals in a toasty fin de siècle dining room? For an enclave of France in our frozen expanse? Well it’s finally arrived – the only telltale difference being the kindly Canadian service.

With limited restaurant service set to recommence on February 8th, we’ve scrapped our coverage of La Petite Iza’s outstanding curbside feasts, Valentine’s Day package, and monumental take home burger that’s taken the city by storm. Instead, let’s walk through the full in-house dining experience this gorgeous new brasserie offers.

As we climb to the third floor over La Petite Iza’s sister café and patisserie, Eleanor & Laurent, it’s already clear that Sugarbowl’s inveterate restaurateur Abel Shiferaw has spared no expense in remodelling this Garneau building to reflect the Paris he calls home a quarter of every year. When we reach the top and cross the threshold, it’s as if we’ve stepped into the cab in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. Instant transport.

Dark wood panelling and decorative tiles exude their continental ambiance. Grandiose belle époque lamps cascade from the bar top like bouquets of lilies in brushed bronze, bowing their heads as evening descends. Two expansive murals adorn the dimmed lights tiling the ceil ing, inspired by the art nouveau iconography of Alphonse Mucha and Toulouse-Lautrec. The only thing reminding us we’re still in Edmonton is the handsome patio that the back of the room opens out on. Come summer, we can all crush Muscadet and Duponts with a view of the valley and downtown’s distant towers.

Shiferaw envisioned a full day of Parisian gastronomy in these sister spaces. We can begin our day at Eleanor & Laurent on the main floor with pastries and coffee from their newly established Kaffa Roastery (located two doors over above Red Bike). As the day drifts on, we can drift to the third floor for an early aperitif hour, sipping on a blanc vermouth or an herbes de provence martini with orthodox renditions of brasserie hors d’oeuvres, be it pâté or smoked mussels or escargots à la persillade. Of course if you got it and want to flaunt it, champagne and oysters will always do the trick!

As the dinner hour descends, we can do as the French do, and course out a long, meandering meal of iconic brasserie dishes. A first-rate steak tartare or a French onion soup can open our meal before plates of tuna niçoise, bouillabaisse, and duck confit trickle out. Just imagine those entrées with classic pairings like Alsatian Gewürztraminer, rosé de Provence, and Burgundian Pinot. Or take the Belgian route! Their beer list, though presently much shorter than Sugarbowl’s, is tailored for the cicerone or the seriously obsessed. They even boast bottles of one of the world’s most highly prized beers, Westvleteren XII—quite possibly the only place in Alberta where these rarities are available.

The only thing reminding us we’re still in Edmonton is the handsome patio that the back of the room opens out on. Come summer, we can all crush Muscadet and Duponts with a view of the valley and downtown’s distant towers.

At last, the dessert list lands. This thing is a mortal threat to the indecisive. Choose from canonical sweets like a delicate crème brûlée, a custardy apple tarte tatin, dark chocolate and hazelnut mousse, or a lemon tart with mascarpone chantilly and almond tuile. But if we’re paralyzed with indecision, we can always drink our dessert. There’s nothing out of place about a chilled pastis, but we should really take advantage of the rare luxury of seeing Sauternes poured by the glass. Let’s hope this sets a trend!

As we ride the tide of wine and butter poached delights, we feel transmogrified into a Paul Cézanne or Berthe Morisot sketching in Montmartre, or an Agnès Varda or Jean-Luc Godard swooning in the 5th. We’ve needed a restaurant like this one in Garneau for many years. Clearly Shiferaw knew that better than anyone, because this establishment has been many years in the making. It certainly has the makings to live on as long as Sugarbowl, Edmonton’s longest lived restaurant by many accounts.

February 8th is around the corner so book now. If you’re still staying at home, lock down one of Chef Hicks’ ever evolving takeaway feasts like roast duck or rabbit pie, or try his deceptively simple and astounding take on a burger that marries Albertan and French cuisine: eight ounces of loosely ground AAA Alberta brisket dry brined then just-seared like a proper steak, couched in a house made brioche bun and adorned only with red wine onions, imported raclette or port salut cheese, and the original Escoffier recipe for scratch aioli. It took me completely by surprise, tasting like the best bœuf bourguignon I’ve ever had. À votre santé!

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