Little Grouse On The Prairie is great but I have a quibble

Restaurants | by David Sullivan

Little Grouse On The Prairie
167 3 Ave S

When they phoned to confirm my reservation, Little Grouse on the Prairie said my table was only good for two hours.

When my wife and I sat down to our table, our server politely reiterated the same sentiment — there’s another reservation at 9:30 PM, so they want us out in less than two hours. I thought it a weird comment, and it seemed to make more than one table feel unwelcome.

Let’s talk about the meal and go back to this.

This was my second visit to Little Grouse on the Prairie and cuisine-wise, both visits have been excellent. It’s a cute, intimate place with an open kitchen concept that seats about 30 people.

You can either order Alla Famiglia (‘family-style’), where the chef chooses the dishes for you, or you can order a la carte. The first time there with friends, we ordered our own dishes instead of sharing. All four of us ordered the same thing, the Tagliati di Manzo, a dish of beef with balsamic and arugula, and on the side, the gnocchi.

The beef was cooked to the perfect doneness, full of flavour and tenderness. While it was fantastic, the gnocchi was not the Italian gnocchi you may be thinking of (the server was smart to mention this). Rather, it was a Roman semolina gnocchi, similar in taste and texture to polenta, and smothered in a delicious pomodoro sauce and mozzarella.

That was a great experience, but it was the second trip that blew us away. It was just my wife and I, and the menu is divided up into courses like an authentic Italian meal, so I decided we’d chose a few different dishes to share, which was a brilliant move. I hope my wife knows how lucky she is to have married such a clever, worldly, and handsome man. (She doesn’t).

After ordering a delectable, boozy Bijou, we started with the charcuterie, a selection of cured salamis and prosciuttos. They were sliced incredibly thin, giving them a wonderful silky texture.

Next up were seared scallops with carrot and buckwheat crumble. In my experience, scallops are often iffy. Little Grouse on the Prairie’s take on this seafood delicacy was one of the best I’ve ever had, perhaps with the exception of Le Bernadin in New York (whose chef, Eric Ripert is thought of as one of the Gods of Seafood, walking the Earth amongst us mere mortals, so Grouse is in excellent company).

From the primi menu we chose a tortellini, stuffed with kale, shallots, and walnuts, all lovingly blanketed in a subtle sage brown butter sauce. The pasta was amazingly fresh, bursting with tones of walnut and kale.

Lastly, from the secondi menu, we ordered duck two ways; a sliced breast with a sort of salsa, almonds, and also a confit leg. The breast was a little tough, but the leg was tender and juicy. The dish also came with chickpea fritters, which were crispy and golden on the outside and creamy inside.

So, let’s just say that other than some slightly overdone duck breast, there are very few restaurants executing food at this high level in Saskatoon.

And yet, to hearken back to the start of this review, you’ll remember that we were told we’d have to leave in two hours. We heard other tables being told this, in fact, the server told a table they might not want to order the Alla Famiglia if they were “slow eaters.” We also heard the young couple next to us apologizing to the server because they went over time and had to forgo dessert.

Ironically, it took at least a half an hour for each dish to come out. After a few drinks on empty stomachs, we were ready for the next course, but the kitchen wasn’t ready to send it. This was our experience both visits — we sat around for an inordinate amount of time waiting for food.

Restaurants like The Hole in the Wall expect you to stay for several hours and enjoy each other’s company (and buy more wine!). This pace of service doesn’t work as well at Little Grouse, because they’re giving you a ‘here’s your hat, what’s your hurry’ treatment. Like that young couple, we didn’t feel comfortable staying for dessert as our time was up by that point in the meal.

To add insult to injury, there were several tables that had been sitting empty for a good while when we were expected to vacate, so it’s hard to believe they were actually booked.

Look, I get it; it’s a small restaurant and you need to turn over enough tables to make it profitable. But guys, you’re in the hospitality industry. The customer is there to escape their world, to spend time with family or friends, wining and dining, forgetting their troubles. Turning over tables is the responsibility of management and staff — not the customer. In this case, it seems like the kitchen is executing too slowly. Regardless, ‘time’ was made into such a big thing, even the day before we showed up, that it cast a stressful pall on the entire dinner.

Any restaurant passing the buck to their customers need to adjust their thinking on the meaning of the word hospitality.

But enough grousing! The service was attentive, the atmosphere was lively, and better yet, the food at Little Grouse on the Prairie was exquisite. We will be back again, and soon, to (quickly) partake of the high standard of fresh, delicious fare.