Full-on Flavour at AnnaLena

AnnaLena has been burning up my Instagram feed ever since it opened about six months ago. I saw well-plated (that is, not pretentious nor precious), approachable food along the lines of Burdock & Co. (which I love) and other contemporary West Coast restaurants. I was curious, but it takes a lot of wrangling to get Wicca into places like this. So I kept this place in my back pocket. Luckily, a failed attempt to get into Kinome on West Broadway turned into the perfect moment to try out AnnaLena!

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AnnaLena is located on West 1st near Burrand, right next door to Ron Zalko (the gym with the logo that screams out THE 80s).

They were fully booked when we popped in on a Sunday around 6pm, but luckily the bar seats were free. I actually LOVE sitting at the bar and seeing all the action and hearing the staff chat about this ‘n that and disputes and shit. I get a better sense of how the place is functioning, and also see if they know how to properly pour a beer 😉

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Le menu, which is also on their website. I like how the dishes are anti-named. They just list the main ingredient. Most people end up ordering dishes in restaurants by just saying the main ingredient anyways, so this is smart. And you can tell at-a-glance if a dish is off-limits to you.

This is a share-plates kind of restaurant, but as you’ll see, portions are actually big enough to share between 2-3 people. You’re not stuck trying to portion a droplet. Prices are completely fair for the level of cooking and quality of food. They recommend 1.5 to 2 dishes per person.

We had great service at the bar, but I wish we were offered bread at the beginning of our meal instead of near the end. Some delicious sauce was left unmopped 🙁

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Two beers on tap which were really respectable choices. Bottle list is good…the Dieu du Ciel Moralite IPA stands out as a great, not-so-common choice.

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I went with Strange Fellows Guardian White IPA. A great white IPA, right up there with Brassneck’s Free Radical White IPA. My only (minor) complaint is the use of the chilled (and deadly cold) glass. Really, no restaurant or bar needs to use chilled glasses anymore — it’s such a throwback to more ignorant quaint times when the only beer available was watery mass-market lager that only tasted good when served ice cold. I think 7°C is good for most styles of beer, and even if it warms up to say 10°C while you’re eating, it’s still within the acceptable range. Think champagne or white wine temperature. Rant over.

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Last time I saw braggy cookbooks in a restaurant, it was at Damso on Bute when I had all-you-can-eat Korean fried chicken wings. Here they’ve got the Modernist Cuisine 6-volume set.

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Also a stack of Lucky Peach! 😀

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First dish: Kale with fried cauliflower, pickled shallots, ginger tahini dressing, and potato chips(!). Loved it.

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Every salad should have chips on it! I like how the tahini wasn’t overbearing (I kinda hate tahini, and make my hummus without it). Tender kale, non-greasy cauliflower, and the pickled shallots gave a nice counterpoint to the richness.

Right away from this first dish we could tell how AnnaLena likes to cook their food: bold, flavourful dishes that skirt that line between well-seasoned and over-seasoned. Nothing we had that night was salty per se, but the flavour and richness sliders were definitely pushed up, almost into the reds and distortion territory (to use an audio mixer analogy).

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Second dish: Grilled Octopus with fingerling potatoes, sauce gribiche, and lobster oil mayo. I had to google “sauce gribiche” 😛 It’s a mayonnaise-type sauce that uses hard-boiled egg yolks and mustard. The orange dabs are the lobster oil mayo, which was made using lobster shells. They actually went to the trouble of separating the “suckers” from the tentacles before cooking! Another great dish. When I see “grilled octopus” on a menu, I want to TASTE that char. And they did it! Tender octopus with that smoky grilled flavour and aroma.

Wicca spent minutes with the dish, even after the food was all gone. I think she was trying to lap up the remaining sauce with her fork and failing, then finally pushing it away and saying, “Take this away from me.” We discovered later that they serve bread here and wish we had some to finish off the sauce gribiche.

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Third dish: Buttermilk Fried Chicken with maple mustard and dill powder. The menu says “maple mustard” but it looks like mayo to me. It also tasted like mayo with the sweetness of maple syrup and a light mustardiness.

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This was our first time seeing dill powder and it was amazing. Really not an overpowering flavour when it’s powderized. I was smearing and scraping as much as I could off the plate.

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That batter was SO crunchy! Some people liken it to LA Chicken, but I vehemently disagree. I’ve never had such crispy/crunchy fried chicken from LA Chicken. This hit all the marks I needed for fried chicken: crispy/crunchy, right level of seasoning, and juicy!

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Fourth and final dish: Scallops with glazed veal sweetbreads, mixed mushrooms, carrot puree, corn, and pasta. Honestly, we were feeling satisfied and almost saturated after the fried chicken that we could’ve went without this dish and walked away really happy. But we took a deep breath and went in one more time.

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See that sheet of pasta underneath there? That sheet of pasta was a welcome “neutral” flavour that offered a reprieve from the richness. Whereas the previous three dishes were all great, this one didn’t quite hit the mark for us, especially when eaten in this sequence. If we had this dish earlier, or instead of the fried chicken, we might’ve liked it better. I know other people love this dish, and there isn’t really anything technically wrong with it. The puree was creamy, sweet, and ultra-smooth. The sear on the scallops was great. Every element was done well, but taken as a whole…I never thought I’d be so stuffed and borderline overwhelmed by a scallop dish 😛

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Some complimentary macaron-like things. We could not understand what these were when the server described them. We even asked him to repeat it. We were expecting him to say “macaron” but it didn’t sound like (nor taste like) macarons. Dinner for two plus a beer came to $80, which is really reasonable, especially if we omitted the $28 scallop dish. Service and pacing of the dishes was excellent. Hardly any lull between dishes, and everything seemed to be executed effortlessly. Really refreshing to see a kitchen and a restaurant operating in an efficient, deliberate way.

If you like Burdock & Co. but want heartier servings, this place is for you. If Farmer’s Apprentice is too cerebral for you, this place will definitely satisfy your gut. RECOMMENDED. Just be warned: you may end up tapping out early.

We’ll definitely be back. That 42hr Lamb Neck sounds good…

AnnaLena Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

P.S. The houses across the street are so cute! Very Montréal/Toronto feeling. I’m sure all the fashion bloggers in town have worn out this block.

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