20Ten’s best dish made a remarkable grandmother very happy
RESTAURANTS by Aidan Morgan
20Ten City Eatery
2010 12th Avenue
My grandmother, who was born in Northern England in the 1920s, lived through World War II, came to Canada in the 1950s and settled among the chemical plants and flat farms of southern Ontario; who outlived her husband and two of her children; who volunteered at a hospital to look after “the old people” (most of whom were 10 years younger than she), and still has her memory, speech and a gentle wit, loves crab cakes.
So when she came to town, my first thought was to take her out to 20Ten City Eatery, because I knew their lunch menu features crab cakes ($16). And my grandmother, who in her ninth decade is done suffering through mediocre food, loved them. She pronounced them “the best crab cakes I’ve ever eaten”.
On that point my grandmother and I agree. The crab cakes are delicious, perfectly textured and served with a chili remoulade (though I was disappointed that the cakes were made of and not by crabs, but I hear that crab training is a time-consuming and unreliable process).
Of course, my grandmother wasn’t the only person at the table. Who else showed up, and what did they eat?
Let’s pursue this line of inquiry over the next few paragraphs.
My mother, who profoundly misunderstands the purpose of restaurants (to eat large quantities of rich food until your brain is a cauldron of endorphins), ordered the City Salad ($12), a mixed greens plate with lentils and grilled asparagus in a lemon and caper aioli. It’s actually something of a standout in the salad world, a bright and tart concoction, but I have a horror of capers. Capers can touch my food but then they have to leave. And they never leave, which makes for a stressful eating experience. My mother liked the salad but wished it had fewer capers and more lentils. You caper lovers can scoff at my mother, but that’s how she feels.
20Ten also offers the Mosaic Salad ($12), which has a vanilla-almond dressing. It makes your salad taste like marzipan, a.k.a. history’s greatest monster. I don’t recommend it. On the other hand, if you enjoy marzipan — that protean paste capable of mendacious reconfiguration into innumerable inedible forms1 — you might enjoy the experience. Mind you, the kitchen has undergone significant change in recent months, with Francesca Baker as the new executive chef — so the recipe may have been tweaked.
My partner ordered the Grilled Bison Bacon Burger ($19), a genius interpretation of the bacon burger in which the bacon is ground right into the patty. This isn’t a new idea but it’s always a good one. The burger was accompanied by the rosemary frites (frites are what you call fries when you have an extra ‘t’ lying about; the additional letter functions as a sort of orthographic seasoning). She pronounced it delicious (which is a highly complimentary but strange way to pronounce ‘burger’).
My father and I both ordered the 12th Avenue Halibut and Frites ($17), which was A) probably not caught on 12th Avenue and B) surprisingly filling given its light pan-searing with panko and herbs. The pan-searing lets the halibut’s delicate flavour come through nicely. It was served with a chili remoulade, which works for both fish and frites.
Lunch? On fleek.
Supper comes with higher stakes than lunch, obviously: more money, more prestige, more calories on the table. I took my Knights of Appetite out for a round-up of the menu (including two newly named members, who were forced to undergo a grueling induction ceremony).
We started with a bottle of Fog Head Pinot Noir ($53) on one end of the table and the Nk’Mip (pronounced Inkameep) Merlot ($44), both of which are wonderful red wines. In a nice touch, our server aerated the wines at the table. We ordered the Steak Bites ($14) and got a few orders of Polenta Fries ($7 side). The polenta fries had a satisfying cheesy crust and soft interior. The main attraction of the steak bites was the wasabi mayo and soy honey glaze.
On to the main dishes. Our vegetarian Knight ordered the Vegetable Spaghetti ($21), with strings of carrot and zucchini on a bed of sautéed kale and topped with parmesan. I don’t know what to say about it beyond the fact that it wasn’t particularly good, with a single-minded crunchiness and most of the flavour coming from the grated parmesan. Two other Knights ordered the Fettuccini Carbonara ($21), the one dish on the table that I didn’t get a chance to try for myself (a good sign, actually). I did get a slice of the hasselback bread that comes with the carbonara in a sizeable half-loaf; it was terrific on its own.
Two other diners ordered the New York Striploin ($34), a 10 oz. piece of beef with a spicy rub. Both steaks came out a bit rarer than ordered, which in my view is absolutely right. Restaurants in Regina overcook their steaks so routinely that it’s forever warped this city’s conception of good steak.
The French Chop ($26) was hefty and nicely seasoned, with a cherry and red wine sauce. I find that cherry often overwhelms everything else on the plate, but according to the guest who ordered it, it worked perfectly with the pork chop.
I ordered the Spanish Paella ($37). I enjoy paella to an unreasonable extent (would I sell my own children for a good paella? Maybe I already have) but I think this may be the last time I try it at 20Ten. Soupy, overly tomato-flavoured and focused on big pieces of seafood (shrimp, scallops, halibut) at the expense of depth of flavour, it was significantly disappointing and I was tempted to return it to the kitchen.
The desserts ($9), however, were uniformly good. Crème brules fanned out to several people at the table, a 20ten Brownie with salted caramel icing appeared, and I finished off the evening with a 20Ten Tea ($8.50).
I had high expectations for 20Ten. Given the uneven dining experience I can’t recommend it unreservedly. On the other hand, I can’t forget that it has the best crab cakes my grandmother has ever eaten.
Chef Baker may have more changes for the menu in the coming months. I look forward to seeing what she has in store.
1. It may be the case that marzipan doesn’t mean to be inedible at all, but is simply restless in its desire to please, always taking on new shapes in the doomed hope that some final configuration will magically make it taste good. Maybe marzipan is the tragic hero of the dessert kingdom.
The Round Table
WHAT IS IT? 20Ten City Eatery
WHAT IS IT FOR? Lunch and supper.
WHAT ARE THE HOURS? Monday-Friday, 11:00 a.m. to close; Saturday, 5:00 p.m. to close. On Sunday, all is a teal-tinged darkness.
DID I MENTION 20TEN HAS AN ALL-NEW EXECUTIVE CHEF? I did, but it bears repeating. UK import Francesca Baker now heads the kitchen, with Sarah Lembke and Melissa Eberle as sous chefs.
WAIT, IS THAT AN ALL-WOMAN TEAM IN THE KITCHEN? You bet.
THAT’S PRETTY COOL. Yes it is.
“ON FLEEK”? IS “FLEEK” EVEN A WORD? Look it up. I’m not here to answer idle questions from lazy fleek skeptics.