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!
Three years ago, we stayed at Hotel Arts during a weekend jaunt to Calgary. We had enjoyed our stay for the most part, but didn’t get a chance to try the hotel restaurant Raw Bar. To be honest, from the name, my assumption was that their menu would consist of mainly uncooked items – but on the contrary, although they do offer some items such as sushi and oysters, most of Chef Duncan Ly’s dishes are in fact not raw.
Raw Bar was originally intended to be the last stop on our YYC Steak Tour, but because we had to head back to Edmonton that night, a lunch with Hala from Tourism Calgary was organized for us earlier in the day.
Interior (that peeks into the adjacent pool)
Raw Bar is quite a dramatic space, with futuristic touches and a stark red and black colour scheme. We were told the restaurant is known from their cocktails (with an award-winning mixologist on staff), and it was after noon, so we had to try one round of drinks. The menu, filled with gorgeous shots of the coloured drinks, was enticing to say the least, and I have to say, the drinks we received were exactly as they had appeared in the photos! I ended up with a Searching North, a mildly sweet combination of Mount Gay rum, peach and apricot, Turkish Urfa biber and lemongrass. Mack’s Eclectic Orchard, with rhubarb and strawberry, El Dorado rum, hibiscus flowers, peppery spice and mint foam deviated from something he would typically drink, but turned out to be light and refreshing.
Apple Cart Daisy, Eclectic Orchard, Searching North cocktails
Hala and I continued with the tour’s theme, ordering the day’s steak sandwich and pad thai with beef, respectively. Mack decided to take a break from the bovine, and chose the halibut fish and chips. To start, we couldn’t pass up the bacon and mushroom poutine.
The upmarket poutine was definitely not your down-home diner version, only lightly dressed and not smothered in peppercorn gravy. The twice-cooked fries stayed pretty crispy, but we wished a more generous hand had dealt the cheese curds. It was all right, but not something we’d necessarily order again.
Mushroom and bacon poutine
Hala enjoyed her sandwich, cooked a nice medium rare. My pad thai seemed to be an interpretation of the dish I am used to ordering at Thai restaurants, with a creamy base more reminiscent of a pasta sauce than a stir-fry. I did like the variety and proportion of vegetables included, as well as the plump and toothsome shrimp. But the beef was unfortunately overcooked and chewy.
Mack fared better with his fish and chips, served with a jalapeño tartar sauce and a grilled lemon. The gaufrette potato chips were especially crisp and easy to enjoy.
Halibut fish and chips
Raw Bar is also known for their poolside service in warmer weather. I can imagine sipping an inventive, seasonal cocktail by the water with some nibbles wouldn’t be a bad way to pass the time. Thanks again to Hala for hosting us that afternoon – it was great to catch up as it was to finally see what Raw Bar had up its sleeve.