Cream of the Crop: We announce the 2010 winners of our annual Where to Dine Awards
By Laura Pellerine and Dan Leahul, Photography by Jason Dziver
For our second annual Where to Dine Awards, we gathered an expert panel of local foodies and critics to name the best in Calgary’s wining and dining scene.
Over a night of great food and drink, they deliberated and debated before putting things to a democratic vote. These are the results, we think you’ll be happy with the outcome.
Karen Anderson, owner of Calgary Food Tours, City Palate columnist and resident “food finder” for CBC Radio ’s Homestretch
Linda Garson, creator of food and wine club Vine and Dine, as well as the CBC’s food and wine pairing expert
Catherine Caldwell, a local food writer
Don House, founder of IDMG, Vice Chair of the Salut Wine & Food Festivals, Interim Chair of the Alberta Culinary Tourism Alliance
John Manzo, Associate Professor of Sociology at the U of C, and avid food blogger
Scott Pohorelic, Culinary Instructor at SAIT
John Gilchrist, our contributing editor and local food critic
Best Canadian Regional & Overall: River Café
John G: “Everything about it works—from the arrival across Prince’s Island to the sun-washed deck and the house-grown herbs, to the food, wine, service, the fireplace and an owner who cares relentlessly—Sal Howell. It’s a destination for locals and visitors alike and sets standards for how other restaurants should be.”
Best Ambiance: Alloy
John M: “What makes Alloy unique and without par in its ambiance is its unexpected setting in an industrial strip northeast of Chinook Centre. It is an oasis of cool with a gorgeous sheltered garden patio in a building that screams midcentury modern.”
Best Bang for Your Buck: Una Pizza & Wine
Karen: “Since opening it has consistently hit all the right notes. It’s soul satisfyingly good, especially when paired with Calgary’s most accessibly priced but tasteful wine list. My favourite thing on the menu is the mushroom pizza with scamorza and grana padano cheeses, arugula, and truffle oil on a crispy but toothsome crust.”
Best Bistro: Petite
John M: “Petite is a bistro in its truest sense, a tiny space offering good value but impeccably prepared dining. One can eat here comfortably alone or in a small group, in jeans or dressed up; the service will be outstanding and the food delicious.”
Best Brunch: Diner Deluxe
Linda: “The queue outside should tell us everything we need to know: great food served with a healthy side order of panache. It’s comfort food at any time of the day and for any occasion.”
Best Chinese: Leo Fu’s
John G: “For over two decades Leo Fu’s has consistently served the best Chinese food in the city—high quality, always tasty, frequently innovative. It serves the less-common dishes of Mandarin and Szechuan cuisines, both with great sauces and perfect preparation. I like the Szechuan dumplings, the General Tso’s chicken, and even the green beans.”
Best Dessert: Brûlée Patisserie
Karen: “Brûlée is devoted to turning fine ingredients into edible art. They are unique for their use of fresh flowers and fruit to decorate their creations. My favourite thing is the lemon mascarpone tart filled with sweet tart lemon curd and topped with fruit.”
Best Fine Dining: Rouge
John G: “Rouge has consistently offered high-quality food, wine, and service since they opened. And it just keeps getting better. The setting in the historic Cross House, the dedication to local and seasonal ingredients, and the creative preparations. Whatever the chef is preparing fresh that day is bound to be excellent.”
Best French: L’Epicerie
John G: “Although it’s tiny and mostly a deli, Dominique Moussu’s dedication to all things French is admirable. And he’s such a great cook, with French ingredients—Comté cheese, flageolet beans, etc.—that are hard to find. His lunch sandwiches are fresh and oh so French.”
Best Gourmet Burger: Rocky’s Burgers
Karen: “From the moment I first stepped up to this parked bus and received a warm ‘Hello,’ to the love at that first beefy bite of the handformed burger, I felt completely at home. It is so important to have these unpretentious gems.”
Best Greek/Mediterranean: Tazza Deli & Grill
John M: “Calgary drowns in Lebanese places, but Tazza esteems itself with some of the tastiest and most carefully constructed Middle-Eastern treats in town. The meat is impeccable; beautifully seasoned and piled high on a pita topped with your choice of veggies.”
Best Hotel Dining: Chef’s Table
John G: “The Kensington Riverside Inn is a boutique hotel with a dining room that’s a destination in itself. The open kitchen allows you to watch chef Jeff Park create his lovely dishes. With its seasonal approach I’d go with whatever the chef recommends that day.”
Best Italian: Bonterra
John G: “Chef Glen Manzer has created a menu that spans both traditional and contemporary Italian dishes. This is no fettuccine alfredo joint. This is a place for wild boar pate, calamari with currants and almonds, and prosciutto-wrapped trout. The Panzanella salad heightens leftover bread to new elegance.”
Best Indian/Pakistani: Mango Shiva
Catherine: “The contemporary Indian menu helps re-define the cuisine here. Where else do you see lamb-kebab sliders, five-spice seared duck or pork vindaloo on an Indian menu? The braised pork vindaloo adds more variety and dimension.”
Best Pub: Wild Rose Brewery
Don: “Some of the tastiest, unique handcrafted beers in Alberta with a menu of home-cooked specialties at the Taproom. Great staff with deep knowledge about the world of beer. My favourite menu items are the Simple Simon market pies paired with Wild Rose Brown Ale.”
Best Service: Vin Room
Catherine: “From the moment you step into Vin Room, you’re taken care of with a smile and professional acumen. This two-storey former bicycle shop has some cozy corners for sampling at least 70 wines by the glass, and the staff are knowledgeable too.”
Best Steak: Mercato
Karen: “At $39 it is a great value for two people. It is always perfectly grilled, the seasoning of salt, topped with arugula and grilled lemon, complements the richness of the beef. The chef allows the meat to rest and reabsorb the juices and then it is presented on a wooden block with a knife to carve and share it. Enjoying a bold Italian red wine, while cozying up to the bar and watching the chefs prepare it, is just the honest simplicity I love about Italian cooking.”
Best Suburban Dining: Notable
Scott: “Chef Michael Noble’s passion is evident in the complexity of his ‘simple’ dishes. The flavours are balanced and deep—he has clearly inspired his team to respect the ingredients. I was impressed with an oxtail terrine served with pickled pine mushrooms.”
Best Sushi: Globefish
Don: “The fish quality is excellent and fresh. My favourite rolls are the Crazy Buster, Mango Paradise, Flames Combo and the Iginla rolls. In my travels I’ve had the privilege to taste some of the best sushi in the world—but I still can’t wait to come home to Globefish.”
Best Thai: Thai Sa-On
Linda: “Consistently good Thai food, the family takes time with their customers and has built a loyal clientele. The Kra Thong Thong (royal deep fried mini basket crepes topped with ground pork, chicken and corn) are two-bite delights. The best wine list for an Asian restaurant in Calgary.”
Best Wine: Teatro
Linda: “With a 34-page wine list of 10,000 bottles from over 800 labels, Teatro also invests in futures, and cellars new releases so you can not only choose which wine you’d like with your meal, but select which vintage you’d like, too.”
Quintessential Calgary: The Ranche
Scott: “The Ranche is a perfect fit. The building is historic, its location is in a stunning natural setting within a provincial park, and the menu features game animals, raised on the owner’s ranch. I love that the ingredients on the menu honour the tradition of the former home.”
Finalists: Sky 360, Cowtown Beef Shack
Worth the Drive: Eden (Banff)
Scott: “Eden is the perfect example of an uncompromising pursuit of excellence. The service team has never disappointed and the attention to detail is evident, both in the dining room and on the plates. Eden is the place to go when you want to spoil yourself.”
Best New Restaurant (Editor’s Pick): Charcut Roast House
A contemporary, sleek eatery offering simple, hearty dishes. Led by Chefs John Jackson and Connie DeSousa, the team here infuses local ingredients with Italian and French country accents. Expect to find dishes like the house-butchered and aged Spring Creek prime rib and Heritage chicken, spit-roasted over a custom-built rotisserie and charbroiler; pig head mortadella stuffed with pistachios and black truffles; pork croquettes with Gremolata aioli; and duck-fat fried poutine, with cheese curds and truffle gravy.
While many of the dishes revolve around meat, vegetarians are not left out: their slow-roasted heirloom beet salad with arugula, basil and house-made goat cheese is a delight. The result is mouthful after mouthful of succulent meats, smooth cheeses and robust vegetables.
Sustainable Seafood Award: Rouge
Since 2005, more than 2,800 restaurants across Canada have committed to making sure their seafood is Ocean Wise. This program, run by the Vancouver Aquarium, helps the restaurant industry avoid seafood life that is endangered or caught with techniques that destroy their natural habitats. This year’s Sustainable Seafood Award has been awarded to Rouge. Rouge is the first Calgary restaurant to be certified with both the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program and the Ocean Wise Program.
Chef Paul Rogalski is an advocate for the cause and regularly speaks to food industry related audiences on “The State of the Oceans,” and utilizes the Seafood Watch’s outreach program. He also distributes Seafood Watch Pocket Guides to Rouge guests to help them make wise selections while shopping at the supermarket, or for their menu selections.
Birks Silver Spoon Award: Blink
The members of Les Clefs d’Or (“The Golden Keys”), a prestigious international organization of hotel concierges, honoured Blink as a restaurant they felt consistently provided great service to hotel guests. Jill Marven, chief concierge at the Hotel le Germain and Clefs d’Or member, says Blink is deserving of the award because of their effortless dedication towards their guests: “Blink inspires the senses through unique blends of texture, taste and colour. We, as concierge, can always rely on the team at Blink to provide great service—even if a guest spills red wine on their sweater, they will be sure to have it cleaned and returned in a timely manner.”
Readers Choice Awards
We polled our readers to uncover their favourite dining spots in the city.
Visitor’s Choice: Murrieta’s Bar And Grill
Located in the historic Alberta Hotel Building, with exposed sandstone walls, an open skylight and dark wood accents, the restaurant is a stunning feast for the eyes. Luckily, the experience doesn’t stop there. A professional and sincere team of servers, who have graduated from an extensive in-house training program, expertly complement the exquisite food. The plinking of piano keys from the lounge and the 50-foot mahogany bar exude warmth and class, and their extensive wine menu makes Murrieta’s a favourite for locals and visitors alike.
Local’s Choice: Vintage Chophouse and Tavern
Consistently serving some of the city’s best steak (if you dare, tackle the 34-ounce, bone-in rib chop), Executive Chef Joel Smith creates menus with an eclectic range of dishes. Highlights include seared sesame tuna, rack of lamb, and truffle mac ‘n’ cheese served with lobster. Two certified sommeliers are on-hand to help to select a wine to perfectly complement the evening, and their New York style tavern with overstuffed leather club chairs is the perfect spot to groove-out over their live local jazz and blues acts on the weekend.