The showstopper is the trout from Lake Diefenbaker. Seared on one side, it glistens on a bed of bright green peas and asparagus with nutty local grains – buckwheat, quinoa, barley – cooked risotto-style. A contrasting pool of crimson pinot noir beurre rouge adds a tart, rich finish. It’s the Prairies on a plate, and the calling card of the new chef in town.
After wandering the world with the Gordon Ramsay empire and stopping off for a stint in Vancouver with Daniel Boulud, Top Chef Canada winner Dale MacKay returned home to Saskatoon to launch his flagship, Ayden, then start a fiefdom of his own. Now, with his brain trust of barman Christopher Cho and executive chef Nathan Guggenheimer, he’s branched out to Regina. The team’s specialty: globally inspired dishes, made Saskatchewan-specific with local ingredients.
Service in this high-ceilinged heritage building’s dining room is lightning-fast and good-humoured. Soon, I’m sipping on Cho’s pinot-noir-based cocktail, its musty, seductive grape-iness amplified with grape shrub and balanced with pisco, dry curaçao, Aperol, lemon and bitters. In a playful, punchy take on Caesar salad, cauliflower, prosciutto and kale each come both cooked and raw; it’s followed by lacquered, sweet-spicy rectangles of slow-cooked, two-bite pork belly sushi.
This is food that inspires swapping impressions with neighbouring tables of date-nighters and a dozen raucous workmates who have the bar backlogged with orders. We’re deep in conversation with the couple next to us, who rave that the veggie burger is the best they’ve tasted, but ignore our advice to get the raspberry soufflé. No matter. They love their crème caramel with hazelnuts, and promise they’ll be back. Next time, we’ll make it a table for four.