Friday, June 26th, 2009 at 11:47 pm

Destination Dining: Culina Highlands

Two years ago I celebrated my birthday at Bacon. And while it wasn’t exactly déjà vu, my choice of Culina Highlands this year did naturally allow for some reminiscence.

I have been meaning to make it to Culina Highlands since interviewing proprietor Cindy Lazarenko back in October soon after it opened. Unfortunately, the location isn’t terribly conducive to my usual principle of geographic dining – eating near the site of where I am, or where I have to be. I made an exception this time, and asked a few girlfriends to join me for dinner on a Friday night.

I had made a reservation over the phone (I found out only after that Culina subscribes to Open Table), and received an e-mail reminder of our date two days prior – a good use of technology in my book. When May and I arrived at 6, we were promptly seated at a table in the half-full restaurant.

Though some things had been shifted since my last visit, the space was still impossibly tiny. Our table, situated in the centre of the space, was flush against a wall, while our chairs were nearly touching the party seated behind us – the nimble servers should be commended for being able to navigate the tiny passageway in between. Lack of elbow room aside, I do like the intimacy a small room creates, heightened in Culina by the graphics of Ian Craig, funky light fixtures, and rich wall colours. I also love the bright blue bookshelf by the open kitchen, which were showcasing Jam Lady spreads and Kerstin’s Chocolates’ Chocophilia.

Interior (shot taken in November 2008 – furniture has shifted since then)

Due to a time mix-up, Annie and Janice didn’t arrive until 6:30. The servers were really patient with our table until our entire party arrived, but once we had all been settled with menus, they did let a little too much time pass before inquiring about our order.

I had heard so many good things about the Kalyna Platter ($20) that I couldn’t pass it up; Annie agreed with me. May and Janice decided on that night’s special – PEI mussels in a Thai curry sauce ($20). Setting up too much food for myself, I added the day’s soup ($7) – mushroom with duxelle – as an appetizer.

My soup arrived promptly, with a beautiful floating crostini and garnish. The crunchy, savoury bite was actually my favourite part of the dish, though the soup itself was as soothing as I was hoping for. The soup had a nice base with a kick from something I wasn’t able to identify.

Mushroom Soup with Duxelle

The Kalyna platter contained a deceiving amount of food: two Kubassa halves (pan-fried to a crispy ideal), an assemblage of lazy cabbage rolls (the rice had an aromatic, robust flavour), and four perogies (I am slowly realizing that I can’t distinguish between good and great perogies). Both May and Janice liked their mussel dish (and the toasted baguettes that easily soaked up the broth). I should note that all dishes were plated with care – presentation seemed to be a kitchen mainstay.

Kalyna Platter

PEI Mussels in a Thai Curry Sauce

When we received our bill, we made a double take at the yellow cut-out placed underneath the bowl of mints. Annie realized it was a sheet meant to be burned at altars honoring those that have passed, and not, as she put it, “a Chinese doily.” Though we weren’t offended at their mistaken use of the papers, we thought it best to inform the staff. They said that they would alert management.

“This is not a Chinese doily.”

I was also able to make use of the Original Fare VIP card I picked up a few weeks ago – I applied at their booth at the City Centre Farmer’s Market, and will be getting a gift certificate for 2% back from my Original Fare expenditures at the end of the year. A pretty good deal if you ask me!

We had an enjoyable time at Culina Highlands (though it would be hard not to when the base of our experience was good conversation), and we didn’t encounter anything that would prevent a repeat visit. My only wish is still for nearby attractions – for all the charm in the neighbourhood’s quiet streets, there still isn’t enough of a draw for me to make an exclusive trip for a stand alone meal.

Culina Highlands
6509 112 Avenue
(780) 477-2422
Lunch: Tuesday-Friday, 11am-2pm; Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday 5-10pm; Brunch: Saturday & Sunday 10am-2pm

  • nanu

    So, did you like the Kalyna Platter then? My other half had it a while back but didn’t think it was anything spectacular. On the other hand, my chicken breast was the best meal at our table.

    As for nearby attractions…I hope not!!! I grew up in Highlands and its charm are its residents and quiet, leafy streets. A handful of shops is just right for this neighbourhood. Besides, there is enough going on at Northlands and Rexall throughout the year that would be an excuse to dine at Culina Highlands.

  • Michelle

    I think I was a member of the party seated behind you that evening! I’ve been to Culina Highlands twice now and have enjoyed both meals thoroughly. On the most recent visit I had the roast chicken breast with garlic mustard sauce, buttermilk biscuits and cranberry chutney – so good. And I have to say I love the intimate atmosphere in that restaurant.

  • Thanks for the review. I haven’t been to either Culina yet but am looking forward to visiting both, hopefully in the near future.

    What’s the red grated-looking stuff under the kubasa?

    The Red Ox is kind of out of the way as well, but I still think it’s totally worth going there. If a restaurant is good enough it’s worth the trip!

  • Nanu – I agree with your other half – the platter was good, not great. I don’t happen to go out to Rexall or Northlands all that often, so Culina Highlands would be out of the way for me.

    I guess the thing about “destination dining” is relative, as Red Ox for me would be on the way home, while anything north of downtown wouldn’t be. But then again, it depends on where I’m planning to be :).

    Isabelle – the grated stuff is beets.