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!
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!
Strolling Stephen Avenue, when a flash of pink neon catches your eye? Don’t pass by.Instead, step inside The Wednesday Room, one of Calgary’s newest spots to dine and lounge. Fittingly, I visited on a Wednesday, only to discover a slightly secret mid-week all-day happy hour. Wine, cocktails and food discount delight. Breaking Blue Besos news: the word is now out.
Of course, in a place with a typewriter theme, words abound…… including a particular proverb that was fairly neutral until Jack Nicholson’s penchant for it in The Shining made the phrase sinister enough to drive you to drink. First stop, the darling blue divans alongside the bar, where a pair of cocktails called my name. The Rose Colored Glasses (front) is sweet tooth’s dream come true, however, it is the one I chose to eschew.
It was the Up In Smoke that really spoke to me. That mezcal had a message.And that message urged me to get some food in my belly, before the words became too blurry. The Wednesday Room has an extensive food menu, based on share plates, and two dining rooms, each with their own personality. The one downstairs may feel familiar, if you’ve ever happened upon a basement lounge frozen in fabulous time.Just to be safe, there’s another bar down here too…… stocked with every libation you can imagine.But on to the food! Armed with my usual appetite, I ate too much to show it all in this post. But my favorites included the Ribeye Carpaccio, whose chili relish offered a special sweet zing.A word of warning if you order the Pounded Prawns — the shape they arrive in defy expectations. But thankfully, not tastebuds. Delish.As if that romp-worthy rug wasn’t enough, service comes with an extra flair at the Room. When Summer expressed concern that we weren’t eating the last Crunchy Rice Cake (are you kidding?? we wouldn’t spurn that final bite of tuna tartare — we were just taking a break) I caught sight of the poetry on her forearm. Summer was kind enough to translate the Arabic. “I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” Yes, Sarah Williams, yes.
Sated on words and wonderful food, somehow we still managed to have room for dessert. The Churro came with dulce de leche ice cream and a side of cardamom hot chocolate. My hot date captured me diving into a delicious mess of dark chocolate mousse, brownie chunks, charred raspberry coulis and sponge toffee. Thanks for the photo, Maggie!After dining downstairs, pause for a moment upon your departure, and look up for the stars you love so fondly. You may be gifted with a vision of the Calgary Tower, in an unpredictable place.
After several delays courtesy of our beloved city permitting department, Two Penny Chinese is finally gracing the up-and-coming First Street foodie zone with its red door…… followed by a rounder door inside. When I attended the media launch earlier this month, the new restaurant by Thank You Hospitality Management (of Native Tongues and Calcutta Cricket Club fame) was already attracting customers, without any advertising. Just an hour after I took this shot, every table was full.I love me a good restaurant bar, and Two Penny’s gorgeous marble expanse didn’t disappoint. Neither did the cocktail that got the party started. A Pisco Disco, if you must know. Which is a gorgeous blend of pisco, tequila, rose liqueur, lemon and rhubarb bitters, for those not in the know. Including me, until I took the first sip.Now for the food porn section! I’ve whittled my massive collection of photos from this menu-encompassing meal (we tried everything except the Stir Fried Whole Lobster) down to three. Seen here, the dumplings were divine. Just be careful biting into them… all that lovely liquid inside is ready to spill.Order the Special Fried Rice and you will find a marrow-filled bone comes with it.The Roast Half Duck came with milk buns and hoisin dipping sauce. At this point, I was too stuffed to do anything except admire the Lazy Susan. Which, after much googling from different devices around the table, we realized was not invented in Asia. Although it’s not totally clear if Thomas Jefferson or the Brits should get the cred, Chinese restaurants obviously own it. Making it even easier to overeat.But wait, that’s not all. Two Penny Chinese comes with its own bar. Take the stairs down to the TeaHouse.You don’t need to wait until after dinner to find the eye of the tiger in the TeaHouse. The basement bar comes with its own munchies menu.In the interest of due diligence, I decided to bookend the beaujolais at dinner with another cocktail. The Forty Six & 2 was like nothing I’d ever tasted before. The concoction of mezcal, tequila, rosé, coffee and sichuan pepper had everything to do with it. Original delish.Thank you Cody Willis for bringing another delectable dining-scape to the Calgary foodie scene. Future patrons take note: get there early. Reservations aren’t accepted.