Dark Too Soon
Just before it got too cold, I took a girlfriend visiting from Vancouver out on a “food crawl.” There are so many good restaurants in Saskatoon these days that instead of spending all our time at one spot, I figured we could have one course at each of several locations throughout the night.
It was an enjoyable evening overall, but also full of disappointment and teachable moments.
We started on Broadway, and got off to a roaring start at Sushiro. We sipped a cocktail and sampled some of their fantastic ceviche, as well as the evening special — tempura acorn squash with rosemary miso gravy — which rocked our worlds.
We then moved across to Duck Duck Goose (for fantastic fried cauliflower, date and blue cheese crostini and a champagne cocktail). Along with being right across the street from one another, the reasoning was that these are my favourite places for appetizers in the city, so it only made sense to start with them.
What I failed to realize at the time was that these are also virtually the only two serious food-focused restaurants in the city that stay open late. Bummer.
We’d apparently started our journey too late, hitting our first restaurant at 7 pm on a Saturday night. We spent about an hour each at Sushiro and Duck Duck Goose before heading across the street to Weczeria, thinking we’d have our main course there, around 9:15 — only to discover that the kitchen had closed.
I’d like to tell myself that there were other factors at play here, considering Weczeria’s unfortunate permanent closure less than a month later, and I’m sure that had something to do with it. But my girlfriend’s reaction at the time was, “I can’t believe they closed their kitchen at 9pm on a Saturday!!”
I’m pretty sure we could have gotten something from Calories had we stopped in, but I was worried we’d only have access to dessert or their “Anytime” menu items, and we were looking for more than that. I also confess I didn’t allow myself to be proved wrong, because I couldn’t bear another disappointment so close on the heels of being rejected by Weczeria, so we decided to walk over the bridge to downtown.
It was a lovely night, and the view of the city from the bridge was beautiful. We tried one more higher end restaurant (Leyda’s) that also closed at 9 pm, although by this time it was 9:45 and I was really only stopping in to see if a friend was working, rather than expecting them to feed us.
Instead we headed for 2nd Avenue, and that worked — food was at hand! But while fun and enjoyable, it was a little more on the pub side of things than the dining experience I had hoped to plan. We absolutely enjoyed our meatballs at the Bell and Whistle and we finished off our night with sticky pork ribs, short rib poutine and a Blanche de Chambly at Congress. It was all delicious — just not exactly what we’d been looking for initially.
You can definitely have a fun night of sampling food and drink in Saskatoon these days, and I’m all for that, but what’s on offer still raises an issue for me: for a city trying to become more metropolitan, there’s a pretty broad gap between the 5:30 special-occasion/fine-dining dinner crowd and the late-night pub-hopping crowd.
What if we don’t want to eat bar food (even if it is really good gastropub food) at night? What if we want to stop somewhere and not focus on the drink (which is easy to do with all the fabulous beer-focused pubs and cocktail establishments) and have some really good food-focused food (not go-with-your-drink-focused food) at a later hour?
This may seem like a narrow distinction, but howmany people in Saskatoon fall in between the dining crowd and the pub crowd? As my friend from Vancouver will attest, her city has entire neighbourhoods that cater to late night foodies. They’ll be open until at least 9 pm on weekdays, and at least midnight on weekends.
Right now, Saskatoon choices for that kind of experience are Sushiro and Duck Duck Goose (and thank gawd for these two fabbo restaurants). But there’s room for more, isn’t there? Saskatoon continues to grow up as it grows outward, and the next niche to fill is a nightlife that’s as much about food as it is about drink.
I just noticed that Ayden Kitchen and Bar says they’re open until 11pm on weeknights. Could this (another Vancouver import, I might add) be the start of a new trend? For my own sake, I hope the rest of the city is with me. Late nights can mean more than pub food (which I repeat again, I love and cherish when I’m in the mood for it), and dinner reservations can happen later than 6 pm.
I’m not suggesting that Saskatoon should suddenly aspire to be Vancouver. But there are many lessons on how to develop a vibrant food culture from cities who have already arrived — and filling the gap of late-night eateries is one of them. And I know that if we’re asking restaurants to stay open late, then we diners have to do our part to patronize them.
As for our “food crawl,” I guess we should have started earlier — or maybe we should’ve gone to Sushiro/Duck Duck Goose last. But their appies are also the best, so we went there first.
Maybe we should have just settled in for the night, accepting that these are my favourite places to eat in the city and leaving it at that: do one course at Sushiro, cross the street and do the next one at Duck Duck Goose, the next at Sushiro, the next at Duck Duck Goose, and so on.
That could work — butI’d much rather have more choice. Let’s pick it up, Saskatoon.