July 25, 2014

More Things on the Menu in Calgary

If you liked reading about what people are cooking and eating in Calgary in my last post, I applaud you (non-Canadian) readers for your broad interests and offer all of you another look at the scene there.

The one Japanese-owned place I tried, Carino Japanese Bistro, was hardly traditional and in fact pretty quirky. Owner Toshi Karino is a wine lover who's worked in the local restaurant business for years and leapt at the opportunity to take over a wine bar located a short drive north from the city center.

Toshi Karino, in front of his bistro's logo;
he's really more welcoming than his t-shirt.

Small and friendly, the place feels like any number of eating and drinking establishments you'd find throughout Japan: an abbreviated bar, an equally small dining room; this is a joint you'd feel comfortable dropping in on every night. Unlike most Japanese places, though, it comes with its own back story: "Carino" is an Italinization (I may have made this word up but you know what I mean) of Karino's last name, and the logo he selected involves  the silhouette of a traditionally dressed Japanese woman--complete with elaborate hairdo and flapping kimono--zipping around Roma on a Vespa.

Duck! Duck!! Duck!!!

As in many a Japanese casual restaurant, you'll find some great Japanese-Italian mashups, although here perhaps pumped up several notches to satisfy our extreme eating times. There's mentaiko ravioli gyoza (made with pork and spicy pollock roe), a wagyu burger with your choice of a traditional or all-rice bun, and pizza harumaki (mozarella and basil spring rolls). I loved chef Asae Yanagisawa's Duck! Duck!! Duck!! dish, which takes its name from the tale of a medieval Catholic bishop on his way to visit the Pope in Rome. The cleric sends an emissary ahead to source the best wine along his route, and when the underling identifies superior wine at a Montefiascone inn, he excitedly scrawls "Est! Est!! Est!!" on the inn door to mark it for his boss. Air Canada's in-flight magazine, En Route, an influential arbiter when it comes to dining, had the same enthusiastic reaction to Carino's duck dish, which helped land the restaurant on the magazine's list of top new restaurants for 2013.

Karino noted that the dish was several incarnations into its life on the menu, this one involving a crispy confit leg, a ramekin of silky gnocchi studded with duck and foie gras, and rosy slices of duck breast. The most Japanese element of the dish, the breast, is seared well on the skin side  to crisp it, then finished in a steamer over a mixture of soy sauce, sake and mirin.

At CharCut.

Pig head mortadella cross-section.

At the downtown magnet for adventurous carnivores CharCut, the star of the evening was co-chefs and co-owners John Jackson and Connie DeSousa's beautiful pig head mortadella, which is shaved paper thin and served with a miniature cast iron skillet filled with whole-grain mustard. Local lore has it that DeSousa can debone a pig's head in no time flat (helpful, considering how good and in-demand this dish is), and she thriftily uses the skin as the casing for her mortadella. Head and shoulder meat are ground, mixed with spices, truffles, and pistachios, brined for twenty-four hours, stuffed back into the skin and then steamed for another nine hours. It's pretty wonderful tasting.

Farm sandwich: Ewe-phoria!

Some stuff you can't get in the U.S. at Janice Beaton Fine Cheese.

I can't forget the charming spot Farm, which does a great roast chicken sandwich with cilantro slaw, pickled jalapenos, aged cheddar and chipotle garlic mayo. The chicken comes from a place called (somewhat painfully) Ewe-nique Farms in Champion, Alberta, which is better known for its lamb. Farm the restaurant is co-owned by Janice Beaton, whose adjacent shop Janice Beaton Fine Cheese must be a province-wide beacon for cheese lovers. The pretty shop is an impressive showcase for Canadian and international cheeses, and worth a detour if you're anywhere near the city of Calgary.

I've run out of time and space haven't even mentioned Banff! That will have to wait for another time and place.

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