I was invited to an exclusive media sneak peek, before Thursday’s grand opening of Nordstrom Rack in Calgary. It’s only the second in Canada, and it’s the first one west of Toronto. Once again, YYC beats YVR in the Nordstrom department. Check it out in the latest edition of BBTV Update. Also included: Trevor Noah, Home To Win and Swizzlesticks news.
I am a sushi stickler. When you’re from Vancouver, that’s just how it is. However, with Calgary’s foodie revolution in full force, it was only a matter of time before I found a Japanese restaurant that met my standards. However, I didn’t expect the chef behind all this deliciousness to be a dude from Red Deer.Chef Darren MacLean knows how to bring the heat. After all, he used to be a topless server, slinging shooters at Cowboys! Luckily for us, being treated like a handsome hunk of meat never got in the way of Darren’s appreciation of a good piece of meat… especially if it’s Wagyu beef. Despite my headline, Shokunin specializes in yakitori. Chef Darren has been obsessed with Japanese food in general, ever since he tried Zen 8 in his Cowboys days. Now he gets to Japan six times a year to keep his craftsmanship up to par. Since Shokunin, loosely translated, means craftsman or artisan.
Darren’s down-to-earth personality drives the vibe at Shokunin. No bamboo and gently trickling waterfalls here. When you step in, it feels like a party. Chances are good some old school rap will be blaring on the sound system.To get your own party started, Shokunin has an extensive cocktail list of boozy, unexpected combos. The Clovers in Kyoto, pictured here, went down nice and easy.Then it’s time to get some tuna belly in your belly. Shokunin doesn’t offer many different types of fish — only the ones that Darren is sure are super-fresh. Note: this wasabi is too beautiful to dump into your soy sauce. It’s ground daily at Shokunin. Basically, every single item on every plate is bursting with flavor. It almost makes you want to hold off from drinking too much, so you can really appreciate everything.But then again, no Japanese dining experience is complete without some sake. Try the flight. Not only do they arrive in charmingly mis-matched cups…… but they are conveniently labeled, so you don’t forget what you’re drinking.Shokunin has tables, as well as a Chef’s table that’s cool for a large group, but we wanted to be where the action was. That glass wall protected us from the sizzle. Note — it’s warm and toasty by the grill, so it’s the perfect spot to wear your strappiest little black dress, or show off your muscles in a short-sleeved shirt, in the middle of winter. But, if you notice our scallops’ presentation, that sizzle sometimes continues beyond the kitchen.This scallop is ready for her closeup. Doesn’t this buxom beauty look like a she?At Shokunin, oysters alone aren’t aphrodisiacal enough. Caviar is added for good measure.If straight-up fish is not your thing, the diverse menu has delicious lightly battered options.Of course, once you go to this food zone, you need more drinks to go with it. Shokunin brews a lovely lager.Then, when the wagyu moment arrives, Shokunin also stocks some very nice red wine. And surprisingly sophisticated glasses. FYI, this was all part of the omakase — a multi-course menu using the best ingredients of the day.
Dessert! How many times have you had creme brulee at a Japanese joint? With miso in it, for good measure.Keep your eye on Chef Darren MacLean, because he’s about to blow up. I am sworn to secrecy, so I can’t give you the scoop, but something huge is about to happen to him this summer. This is on top of being named one Canada’s Top 50 restaurants. Visit Shokunin now, before you can’t get a reservation any more!
Tucked in between two entrances to Cowboys Casino sits the historic Dafoe building, built in 1920. Formerly home to La Vita e Bella for a decade, the restaurant’s owners have recently rebranded to Cardinale. But the Italian part wasn’t changing. It’s written into the lease — no joke!The new name was inspired by an Italian cocktail, which General Manager Graham Teare is mixing in this action shot.And boy, does he know how to mix. Lots of places in town claim they are artistes in this department, but these are some of the most delectable drinks I’ve tasted in Calgary. The flavor-forward Sage Advice, on the left, is a garden in a glass, a kaleidoscope of gin, peas, sage and more. On the right, the Suspiria combines aperol, basil, balsamic reduction and strawberries, amongst several other ingredients, to create a sweet-smelling concoction that is not too sweet (my current drink dictation).Craving a caprese salad? Get the Panzanella. It has the ingredients you want, and more, all piled onto a savory piece of pagnotta toast.I’m not one for fried cheese, so this was an accidental order (I need to start reading the fine print on menus) but this Bocconcini was the most sophisticated fried cheese I’ve ever had. If fried cheese is your jam, try this.Carbonara was calling me so strongly that I ordered the Mezze Maniche, even though my hot date had already called dibs. Major food blogger no no! However, no regrets, it was delish. Although if I could change one thing, I’d want the plate served with the egg yolk on top of the pasta. There’s something so satisfying about mixing it yourself. However, I’m sure the chef at Cardinale believes he can stir it up better. The menu here is inspired by traditional Italian cooking methods, using a combo of local produce and imported Italian ingredients not readily available in Calgary. My tastebuds definitely deferred.Dessert comes in decidedly large, decadent portions. To the Ricotta al Caffe (left) and the Gelato of dark chocolate, toasted hazelnut and salted pistachio, I recommend you say yes.But this summer, if it ever comes, and if you happen to be watching your waistline, you almost don’t need to order dessert. This Chocolate Mousse Spritz (not to be confused with spritzer – that’s with wine) is just one of six new spritzes that Cardinale will introduce this summer. Maybe in June, maybe in July… whenever the weather gods choose to grace Calgary with a semblance of civilized temperatures. These cocktails will make Cowboys people-watching from the patio even more entertaining.Don’t confuse Cardinale with that other YYC restaurant name that begins with C and ends in A-L-E, as someone I know may have done. And good to know: Happy Hour is Monday to Friday from 3 until 5. Because I see the need for more Sage Advice in my future!
Hey folks! It’s almost official… my new YouTube channel is just about ready for its close-up. In addition to the BBTV Stories you’ve already seen, BBTV will also feature a regular Update on arts, entertainment and anything lifestyle that you should know about. No “if it bleeds, it leads” here. So it makes sense that this first edition should include a story on the new pandas in town. Because who doesn’t love pandas?!
When I was invited to Hayden Block’s launch party for their second annual Whiskey Club, how could I refuse the charming southern combo of bourbon and barbecue? As a precaution, I did all interviews before the tasting began. The Club starts March 6th and there’s still room left. Watch the story for allll the drinking details.
When Saks asked if I’d like to join the media tour two days before the Calgary location opens, of course I said, I’m in! Literally. Please enjoy my video tour… just a little longer than a New York minute. That’s a Fifth Avenue reference, folks. Meanwhile, my Manhattan zip code game is strong. (The video explains what I’m talking about). If I do say so myself!