Monday, November 24, 2008

Chef's Table, Calgary

Executive Chef Theo Yeaman has cooked in some interesting-sounding places I have never eaten at in Canada and has done a stage at the Fat Duck in Bray, where I have. His restaurant, Chef’s Table at the Kensington Riverside Inn, was just named the fourth best new restaurant in Canada by AirCanada’s enRoute magazine. It would appear I get all my best tips from airline magazines these days.

Let’s get the quibbles out of the way first. The table was booked for 8.15pm, but I wasn’t seated until 9pm. There are two dining rooms, one with a fabulous open kitchen, the other with a fabulous…open fireplace. I was sat in the latter. Now, I recognize that being dateless in Calgary on a Saturday night is probably reason enough to throw yourself in the Bow River, but the restaurant staff didn’t help matters by seating me, back to the rest of the room, next to the fire. Talk about being a social pariah. Luckily I was moved, without having to ask, when I took out my camera.

The service was a bit wonky all night. I like informal; I don’t like being asked how my food is tasting when I have a mouthful of it or trying to give some feedback on a dish and being asked if I have eaten monkfish before. But I know I can be a right old grumpy-pants at times, and these are minor compared to some delicious, bold pairings and flavours that made up most of my meal and service that is friendly and warm.

First up, an amuse bouche of a teeny two-bite Forme D’Ambert tart, just warm from the oven and formed from deliciously short pastry. Next, an earthy turnip and apple soup, with perky texture and sweetness from some candied walnuts. Yes, they called it a veloutè and yes, it’s not 1998 anymore, but who cares about menu anachronisms when the food’s this good?

A Queen Charlotte scallop with blood orange foam, edamame, salmon roe and orange segments really shouldn’t have worked, but did. The Heidi Schrock Weissburgunder which paired it showed the skills of the sommelier and a wine service and kitchen that are working well together. Yeaman’s food uses striking flavours and it’s good to see that the wine service is up to the task.

The fish course was the only bum note of the evening. The preparation was interesting; roasted Atlantic monkfish with beef jus and a take on cassoulet with some cannellini beans and pancetta, but the fish was mealy and poorly cooked. It’s a shame that the quality of the fish and the execution let the dish down, because I’m often bored to death by the fish course on a tasting menu and this was genuinely interesting.

Then, deep breath, an “intermezzo” of blood peach sorbet with a dash of prosecco. I was ready to be all scathing (seriously, when was the last time you were served a sorbet in the middle of the meal? Were you wearing legwarmers at the time?) but the sorbet had bags of flavour and I liked the deconstructed Bellini thing that was going on. So I stopped complaining and embraced my inner Irene Cara.

Next up, Ewenique farm lamb saddle with panella, roasted eggplant and a thyme jus. Served with a 2005 Poggio di Sotto Rosso di Montalcino, this was Italy on a plate. I’d never heard of panella before (and my interweb research suggests that it’s traditionally a Sicilian chickpea fritter, rather than the chickpea and polenta purée I was served) but how lovely when you learn something new from a menu. Especially when it tastes this delicious. The lamb was just fab, although any pun as good as Ewenique is going to get me on-side from the get-go.

Finally, some doughnuts with a compote and an exceptional custard. I would have lingered over the lingonberries, but the table of dentists next to me were getting kind of graphic, so I brushed off offers of a cappuccino (a cappuccino? At 11pm? Do I look like a hairdresser?) and made off into the night.

Best meal I’ve had in Calgary? By a long shot. Good enough for me to go back soon. The tasting menu changes fortnightly. This could be the beginning of a beautiful thing.

Chef’s Table is at the Kensington Riverside Inn, 1126 Memorial Drive N.W, Calgary. Call 403.228.4442 for reservations.

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