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.

July 19, 2014

What's on the Menu in Calgary

I'm in the vast and varied Canadian province of Alberta now, taking in some great sights, food and drink. Our first stop was Calgary, a boom town set between the prairies and the tall peaks of the Canadian Rockies.

Perhaps predictably, in a hard-working, hard-playing town full of cowhands (this year's Calgary Stampede ended just before we hit town), ranchers and oil and gas tycoons, you'll find ambitious and adventurous chefs who are feeding them. 

At Catch, 34-year-old executive chef Kyle Groves tends to a rooftop garden, a beehive and a network of local farmers and seafood suppliers to create seasonal menus built around the daily catch. It seems foolhardy to create seafood-themed restaurant in a landlocked province, yet when it opened 12 ago under chef Michael Noble, Catch was named the best new restaurant in the country. Since then, it has retained its edge and become something of a factory for up-and-coming kitchen talent, all while weaning Calgarians off their beef-centric diets. 

Chef Groves shows off  beautiful Lethbridge shelling peas.
The night we visited, Groves, a native son of Calgary who trained in Scotland and at two Michelin-starred restaurants in London,  had on hand fresh, sweet shelling peas from a farm in nearby Lethbridge. One of his favorite ways of serving them is grilled and salted, to be eaten out of hand edamame-style. He also loves the organic Lethbridge rhubarb he gets. One favorite use is to juice them with a bit of lime, combine with sliced jalapeno, balance with a little honey, and throw in some fresh humpback shrimp, scallops and hearts of palm for a delicious ceviche.

All the seafood Catch serves is certified by the Vancouver Aquarium's Ocean Wise sustainability program, similar to America's Marine Stewardship Council's designation.  Oysters are flown in from both East and West coasts, and Catch has started to share its daily shipment of seafood with customers. Arrivals are posted each week day on Twitter, and customers can call in to place their order, which will be filleted, de-boned, or de-bearded before pick up. Like any good fishmonger, they also offer cooking suggestions and answer questions. Over the years, Groves has seen locals' growing willingness to venture beyond the safe choices of salmon and halibut to embrace more challenging sea fare like gooseneck barnacles, octopus and razor clams.

Edamame-style grilled shelling peas, smoky and delicious.

Mushrooms every which way!
Mushrooms in Alberta are some of the best we have tasted, and sous chef Jenny Kang impressed us with this dish of grilled king oysters, morels braised in clarified butter and tempura-stye deep fried shiitake, served with little orbs of Fairwinds Farm goat cheese ricotta and a fresh pea puree. 

Oh, and for a chef, here's the joy of living in these northern latitudes, where at the height of summer it can stay light until close to 11 pm: After dinner service,  Groves can go for a 10K run along the Bow River. I didn't have the heart to ask how it fares through the short days and long nights of winter! 

Stay tuned for more on Calgary and beautiful Banff...

July 2, 2014

Hello, Columbus, Part Two

A year ago, I visited Columbus and was impressed with its emerging food and drink culture and the enticing selection of vendors at the centrally located North Market.

Last week I dropped in on the city for the second time. It was kind of like when you revisit relatives and find a confident young adult in place of the gawky teenager you remember from before. In this filled-out version of Columbus, there were great coffee houses, brewery-restaurants galore, Korean joints, fried chicken and ramen, too. 

Rick Harrison Wolfe, director of North Market and my guide to the good-tasting nooks and crannies of Columbus, noted, for example, that in the three years since he's been back in the city, the number of food trucks has leap-frogged from three to fifty. There are suddenly eighty breweries in the state of Ohio, plus well-attended beer and wine festivals (twenty-one Ohio wineries will be at the latter this year; who knew?)  that help boost interest in those growing industries. 

Rick Harrison Wolfe, keeping tabs on the Columbus scene
from his perch at North Market.

In addition to The Columbus Dispatch's food and drink quarterly Crave and of course Edible Columbus, I spotted another food and drink spin-off quarterly on this visit, Stock & Barrel, started by city magazine (614) Columbus. Intriguing fact gleaned from this publication: brewer Scott Francis of Columbus Brewing Company, the first microbrewery in the city, started a side business opening breweries for country clubs. This is not something you'll find in Brooklyn.
Outside view of North Market

And inside, where you can buy goat shanks and hearts.

Heading up to Wolfe's office, I passed a cart carrying goat shanks from the vendor Bluescreek Farm. Specializing in locally grown grass-fed beef, hog, lamb and goat, Bluescreek also offers whole-animal butchering and sausage-making classes. Jamie Smith, daughter of founders Cheryl and David Smith, told me that the restaurant Alana's Food and Wine near Ohio State University has driven demand with its delicious braised goat shank dish, and it seems that the classes have been a good way of converting students to believers in whole animal cooking. In this interesting Nola Studiola post, Jamie talks about the student who cooked stuffed boneless lamb breast as a result of taking several Bluescreek classes and doing its "butcher for a day" program. Let's see if this dish pops up on our neighborhood nose-to-tail restaurant menu!

View from the bar at Seventh Son Brewing Co. 

OYO refresher in a Mason jar.
I especially loved the concept at Seventh Son Brewing Co., a bright and airy indoor-outdoor brewery/bar in the city's Italian Village district. Since it doesn't have a kitchen, a different food truck parks outside every night, so you can order good, cheap grub to buffer the effects of a personality-filled beer and cocktail list. The night we were there, it was hot and savory Dutch Indonesian food from Aromaku. The above cocktail of OYO Honey Vanilla Bean vodka (from Columbus-based Middle West Spirits) was a winner, too.