In addition to commemorating the Stampede’s 100th Anniversary this year, Calgary also co-holds the title of Cultural Capital of Canada in 2012. As a result, Tourism Calgary is seeking different ways of marketing their city, including how to highlight their burgeoning food scene. So for two days in February, Tourism Calgary invited several food bloggers to join them for “a new take on steak”, showcasing how five local restaurants are interpreting the old standard of meat and potatoes. Mack and I were fortunate enough to be a part of this group (which included Calgary bloggers Julie van Rosendaal, Gwendolyn Richards and Dan Clapson), and took part in a junket that saw our accommodations and meals covered. It was a first for both of us, and while we acknowledge that we no doubt received special treatment (which colours the experience in a way that no average dinner could live up to), the trade-off in access to the chefs and behind-the-scenes exposure made it worthwhile. Thanks to Tourism Calgary for the opportunity!
It was a pleasant surprise to find an Edmonton ex-pat at the helm of Anju, the second stop on our steak tour. Roy Oh moved to Calgary from Edmonton nine years ago after completing his study in visual communications, with the hopes of furthering his career. But he started to find that he was drawn not to the studio, but to the kitchen. While Oh isn’t formally trained in the culinary arts, he grew up learning to cook, and as a proud second generation Korean-Canadian, food was a way to connect with his roots.
In 2008, Oh and his wife opened Anju in a refurbished house on the western edge of downtown Calgary. Their take on Korean cuisine is fresh and modern, inspired by the fact that he has a foot in two cultures. As a result, he doesn’t view “fusion” in a negative way; in fact, he embraces it as the outcome of living as a hyphenated Korean-Canadian. And Calgary is taking note as well – Anju won the award for “best small plates” from Avenue Calgary last year.
Anju translates to “tapas or a dish eaten with alcohol” – at our tasting, we learned first hand about this philosophy as our group was introduced to soju. Distilled from rice instead of wheat, soju is the Korean equivalent of vodka. It was quite smooth, and much less abrasive than vodka, though we were also provided with Sprite and aloe juice if any of us needed to take the edge off.
To enjoy with the soju, we were served a number of plates to be shared around the table, many highlighting Oh’s fusion philosophy. Malpec oysters were accompanied by a kimchi mignonette, which enhanced each bite with additional texture and a bit of heat. Braised oxtail tortellini were dressed with soy, grana padano and truffle oil – incredibly fragrant, with scallions providing a fresh pop. Anju’s version of crispy tofu was perfectly fried on the outside but silky on the inside, highlighted with sauteed kimchi and a citrus aioli.
Malpec oysters with a kimchi mignonette
Braised oxtail tortellini
Then came the chicken wings. Our Calgarian tablemates had been vocal in expressing their hopes that one of Anju’s signature dishes would be served that night, so naturally, a cheer erupted when they appeared at our table. Sunworks chicken had been lightly fried, then tossed with a potent Korean hot sauce. The wings had a nice crunch, and the sauce was definitely uncensored – we joked that it was the culinary equivalent to Botox, a natural way to plumper lips.
But this was the steak tour after all, so Anju’s grand finale was a rib eye that had been marinated in a simple mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, lime, garlic, ginger and sugar. The result was tender meat that had a slightly sweet finish. And Anju’s twist on potatoes? Roasted fingerling potatoes were accompanied by a tangy sesame aioli.
Marinated rib eye with fingerling potatoes
It was great to experience Anju’s take on steak and Korean-influenced cuisine as a whole – more than any of the other meals that weekend, it felt like the most personal. I loved that Oh has been able to merge Prairie inspirations with culinary traditions that honour his heritage. Perhaps we could convince him to move back to Edmonton one day, too.
507 – 10 Street SW, Calgary