On certain nights, inside downtown Edmonton’s JW Marriott hotel, designer threads and bespoke attire take a backseat to hockey jerseys and the iconic Alberta tuxedo (denim jacket and jeans).
Inside the highrise hotel are four restaurants owned and operated by Oliver & Bonacini, a restaurant group from Toronto.
A pedway connects the building to Rogers Place, making it a convenient spot for food and drink before and after Oilers home games.
Braven, just off the main lobby, has 200 seats and promotes a “go big or go home” attitude.
The menu features steaks, chops and seafood in a room that runs the design gamut from Scottish hunting lodge to trendy mid-century elegance.
Much of the food is cooked on a birchwood-fired grill that takes up a good chunk of real estate directly in front of guests seated at the bar. The scent of wood smoke and leather hangs in the air. It’s not a bad smell.
I am faced with a dilemma of choosing between the 12-ounce slow-roasted prime rib with truffle double-baked potato, veg and soup or salad for $49 or the higher priced, 14-ounce (but lesser accompanied) ribeye steak.
The decision to share the ribeye with my dinner date makes the cost of $62 easier to swallow.
The steak arrives medium rare as per our request and sliced with precision into 10 thick pieces. A sprinkling of finishing salt heightens the already robust flavour of the beef that releases a hint of wood-smoked juice with each bite.
Wilted greens and roasted tomato halves accompany the steak, but we order the burrata with heirloom tomatoes as the official side over the recommended tater tots. The raw tomatoes, picked at the height of flavour, are finished simply with olive oil, salt and pepper. The dish is as tasty as it is beautiful.
Halfway through the steak and salad, it’s obvious that the foie gras French toast and deep-fried squid we had for starters was overkill.
We were enticed, I suppose, by the word, which, like its synonym, appetizer, refers to a smaller portion of food eaten to stimulate the appetite in preparation of the main feature.
Fatty goose liver on milk-and-egg-soaked bread that’s fried and laid atop a thick swath of apple butter and then blanketed with walnuts and apple chunks is more an appetite suppressant than a stimulant.
Perhaps I should be grateful the amount of foie gras was startlingly smaller than the lobe shown on the restaurant’s social media feed. At $24, though, and in that moment pre-steak, I felt a bit short-changed.
Should we have stopped at one starter? Yes, but seeing XO mayo served as a condiment to the deep-fried squid spurred me to order a second.
XO contains no cognac although it is named after the spirit because of its luxurious qualities. The recipe originated in Hong Kong and requires the long slow cooking of precious ingredients like dried shrimp, scallops and aged ham. It’s rarely seen on Edmonton menus.
What a disappointment then, to find the flavours so scant, had I not read the description, I’d argue that any XO was present at all.
While the starters fell short of expectations, the mains were entirely satisfying but the service on two occasions was surprisingly nowhere near the level it should be for a restaurant of this quality.
Employees should not be voicing aloud their personal opinions or frustrations, nor should they make a customer feel inconsequential. And after nearly five months, servers and management should have a sound grasp of product knowledge.
Staff should also know why the restaurant is named Braven. After two visits and a phone call, the mystery remained until moments ago when I received an answer from the restaurant’s PR firm.
Braven is an amalgamation of brave, brazen and raven; words that stand for courage, boldness and craftiness and reflect what the restaurant represents: strength and wisdom.
As for ownership, while Braven is situated inside the hotel, it is not the property of JW Marriott.
What that means is that Braven and the three other O & B restaurants within these walls need to uphold or exceed the standards set by a business as globally lauded as this high-end hotel chain.
The $300 I spent on dinner for two (with tip) left me feeling a tad shortchanged.
Find Braven inside the JW Marriott at 10344 102nd St.