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!