Regina’s top restaurant deserves my first five-dog review

Photo: Darrol Hofmeister

Restaurants | by Aidan Morgan

Skye Café and Bistro
2903 Powerhouse Drive
(306) 352-7593
5 out of 5

This is the review I’ve always dreaded writing: the five-dog, full marks, happy-face review. In the six or seven years since my editor looked me in the eye and said, “Hey, I think you could write funny stuff. What do you know about food?” I’ve feared the day when I’d have to commit fully and give a restaurant the highest score possible.

I’m glad Skye Café & Bistro, the creation of chefs Louise Lu and Milton Rebello, made it so easy for me.

But first I’m going to get my few criticisms out of the way so I can focus on the sheer pleasure of eating at Skye.

ISSUE #1: THE HOURS The restaurant is not open on Monday, which means Fish & Hash ($18) and Short Ribs Benedict ($19) and Chilaquiles ($16) are not available whenever I want them. Nor have they installed a chilaquiles duct that scoots piles of pulled chicken and tortillas to me at the press of a button. Is it a serious oversight? Yes. Yes it is, indifferent universe.

ISSUE #2: ZERO-POINT ENERGY Chef Lu made Skye Cafe’s plates and mugs. She also painted the vine patterns on the windows and, obviously, creates exemplary food. But neither she nor Chef Rebello have invented a machine that generates clean energy out of thin air. For two people who seem to be a living refutation of the second law of thermodynamics, this astounds me. Maybe they’re keeping it in the back?

Those are my very serious criticisms of a critic.

And now, on to the review.

The first thing to note about Skye Café is the beauty of the space. Reginans will remember the Science Centre location from past restaurants such as Zest, but Rebello and Lu have remodelled the space and made it feel larger and airier. Essentially one long room (with a reclaimed barn door that can close off an area at the end), Skye is filled with soft light and muted creamy colours. Until recently the patio outside was lined with a garden full of herbs and varieties of tomatoes, all of which end up on plates (now that the season has turned, many of the potted herbs have moved indoors).

The lunch and brunch menus are a curious mix of cuisines, with Indian, Mexican, Asian and southern U.S. items, but they can probably be boiled down to “stuff that the chefs really like.” Despite the international fare, Skye Café is committed to finding local (-ish) producers for many of their ingredients, including produce from their own garden.

The Fish & Hash ($18) is based on a dish that the chefs encountered in a New Orleans diner years ago. I have no idea what the inspiration tasted like, but Skye’s version is spectacular. Fingers of buttermilk-fried catfish are cooked perfectly over sliced pan-fried potatoes, with a savoury coleslaw and tartar sauce on the side. The flavours are pleasing, but it was the dish’s textures that won me over, with the pebbly crunch of batter giving way to firm but melting flakes of catfish — and beneath it, the miracle of potatoes done just right.

The Chilaquiles ($16), a tall mound of corn tortillas with spiced refried beans, pulled chicken, queso and a fried egg, was completely unexpected and resembles nothing else on the menu (or anything else in the city, really). Unlike so many Americanized (Canadianized?) Mexican dishes that overload the palate with heavy cheese and spices, the taste of the chicken and beans was subtle and earthy, with tangy notes from the queso. Traditional chilaquiles tend to be spicier than Chef Lu’s version of the dish, but I suspect Skye has curbed the heat on some of their recipes to make them more palatable to a Prairie audience (they may be happy to accommodate any diners who want to burn their lips off, though. Just point at your lips and say “I don’t need these things anymore.”)

photo: Darrol Hofmeister

Suppers at Skye are of a different order than their lunch and brunch menus, and are currently limited to Friday and Saturday night, with only 25 tables per night served. Book well in advance.

I tried the very first evening, and it was everything that I expected.

The supper menu is a prix fixe affair, with a choice of first course, entree and dessert for $45–$49, depending on your choice of main. I went with the Duck Confit French Onion Soup to start, which arrived with a puff pastry on top instead of the traditional bread-and-cheese covering. The broth was salty and rich but not heavy with duck fat as I thought it might be, with chunks of duck meat settled among soft onion strips. My fellow Knight of Appetite chose the Roasted Beet & Chevre Ravioli — to our shared delight, the ravioli shells were literally thin wrappers of beet around a chevre filling.

For the main course I went with the Mustard and Pistachio Crusted Rack of Lamb ($49), which came with a potato corn hash, green pea and mint puree and a ginger port reduction daubed onto the plate. I’ve never been persuaded that mint jelly is all that great with lamb, so having the mint flavour muted by the pureed peas was all right with me. The lamb itself was as tender and savoury as lamb gets.

A few people at the table tried the Beef Duo, an arrangement of short rib and tenderloin with creamed potatoes and au jus spiked with horseradish. The short rib stole the show for me (a well-braised short rib is my favourite cut, with the possible exception of beef cheeks), but the smoked mustard-crusted tenderloin was, as the kids say, delicious. Or maybe they say delishuz? I don’t know what the kids say.

Dessert was a choice between a Citrus Rouge and a Bailey’s Creme Brulee. I opted for the rouge, which consisted of a scoop of lemon blood orange ice cream atop a sphere of meringue and a square of vanilla bavarois, the whole finished off with a tableside pour of raspberry consomme. The ice cream had a slightly grainy texture, but the sharp citrus flavour was so on-point that I didn’t care (others who had ordered the same dish didn’t have issues with the ice cream’s texture). Mint leaves pinned under raspberry slices made for a pretty garnish, but also added some powerful flavour to the consomme (or so I heard from other Knights of Appetite around the table — pure mint gives me flashbacks to a torturous afternoon I spent on the slopes of a volcano in the Philippines, one side of which was a field of mint).

To sum up: five dogs and no regrets. Skye Café & Bistro is the restaurant Regina needs and possibly even deserves.

The Round Table

WHAT IS IT? Skye Café & Bistro

WHEN IS IT? 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday-Friday (lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m.); 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday-Sunday (brunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m.); Friday and Saturday evenings.

WHAT’S IT FOR? Lunch, brunch, weekend supper; also catering.

HOW MUCH AM I IN FOR? Lunch and brunch items range from $12-$16 on average; supper starts at $45-$49, with wines going for $7.50-$13 per glass. I went with the Henry of Pelham Pinot Grigio ($9.50/glass) and I regret nothing.

WHAT’S GOOD, AIDAN? I enjoyed everything I sampled, but the standouts for me were the Chilaquiles, Fish & Hash, Short Rib Benedict, and the Rack of Lamb.

WHAT ELSE MIGHT BE GOOD? So many things. The Asian Spiced Pork Belly Steam Buns ($14), the Cuban Sandwich ($15), the Savoury Waffles with Cajun Fried Chicken ($16), plus the variety of sweets on display. Plus everything else. Really, everything I’ve tried has ranged from respectable to fantastic.

I’M A VEGETARIAN. Well la-di-da, Mr. Ethical Goblin. May I direct you to the Eggplant Nicoise ($45) or the Skye Rice Bowl ($14), as well as most of the sweet and savoury brunch options? The rice bowl comes with a crispy papadum, which is a great reason to order any dish.