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Edmonton’s Bundok: An out-of-sight culinary gem

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Bundok’s name riffs on the term boondocks, which means “a far-off place.” It’s thus ironic that this compact eatery is tucked away downtown, a couple of blocks between Jasper Avenue and the brand-spanking-new Rogers Place. It’s even a little hard to spot it from the street, as construction equipment and scaffolding at the base of an adjacent condo building obscure sightlines. All of that notwithstanding, Bundok is worth seeking out, for this inventive eatery is quietly building a name for itself.

On this hot night in early summer, a little steamy Solange is soaring toward Bundok’s high ceiling. A towering bookcase behind the bar sports assorted bottles of liquor, artwork and strategic lighting. If you look carefully, you can spot a few clever references to Bill Murray. Across the narrow room is the compact open kitchen of Chef Ryan Hotchkiss (ex-Bar Bricco).

Bundok’s concise menu changes frequently to reflect ingredient availability. Wines lean toward France and the Okanagan. A brief cocktail list is worth investigating – La Lumière ($14) shines with chartreuse, lime and gin – and an intelligent beer roster includes a local favourite, Red Deer-brewed Pesky Pig pale ale ($7.50).

Dinner begins with fried chicken skins ($8). Yes, they are as indulgent as they sound. Here, buttermilk-marinated chicken skins are dusted with secret seasonings, fried and then dressed with droplets of sweet mustard. Each indulgent bite is as crunchy as a potato chip and twice as satisfying. Chicken liver tartine ($9) and beef tartare ($14) are just as rich. Tiny cubes of pear jam dot the swirled surface of the tartine and prevent the dish from becoming too heavy. Although the beef tartare could use more salt, the clean, sweet flavour of the meat shines atop slices of house-made baguette.

Lighter fare appears on Bundok’s menu as well. Grilled Asparagus ($13) is a clutch of toothsome spears, but the real star of this dish is a deep-fried egg. This unusual, exquisitely creamy spheroid is dusted with tiny egg yolk flakes that add notes of butter to both egg and asparagus. Gnocchi Parisienne ($21) are nothing like their Italian cousins. The French version swaps out potato for choux pastry; the cloud-like result is downright dreamy. A light mushroom sauce includes fungi of the cremini and shiitake variety. A few spinach leaves and a sprinkle of bread crumbs keep everything from becoming monotonous.

Dessert demonstrates tremendous restraint. It would be easy to go overboard with garnishes for a narrow wedge of chocolate hazelnut cake ($9). Instead of egregious whipped cream and tired zig-zags of caramel sauce, Bundok adorns its cake with a few measured dollops of dulce de leche and a small quenelle of whipped cream. It’s all the cake really needs, for the deep intermingling of dark chocolate and toasted hazelnut is meant to be the centre of attention. Citrus posset ($9) is a veritable work of art. Perfect cubes of posset (itself a concoction of cream curdled by the addition of citrus) are topped with slivers of fresh fennel and tiny mint leaves. It’s like a plate of gems, just as Bundok is a gem hidden in plain sight.