River Cafe (Calgary) – A must-see when you dine in Calgary.

I like lots of restaurants in Calgary. Some are expensive. Some are cheap. I try not to discriminate. If there is one place  you must go in Calgary, it is River Cafe. It isn’t my favourite place to eat nor is it the finest dining experience. However, it has the most unique menu and I honestly feel that it captures what is unique about Calgary.

This post summarizes a series of 3 meals I had at River Cafe. Their menu is seasonal and constantly changing. By the time you go, the menu may have changed and you won’t be able to sample some of the lovely food you see here.

The interior makes you feel like you are in a cabin. It isn’t cheap/old feeling like Chez Piggy in Kingston but it feels clean and tasteful. In the winter, it glows with warmth. The only problem: the bathrooms are pretty horrible. Small and not particularly clean. Oh well.

J and I came to River Cafe on a beautifully sunny Saturday morning for brunch. It was pretty empty, especially considering that the Calgary Folk Festival was taking place.

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This is the Tomato Salad (Fairwinds Farm Goat Milk Ricotta, Highwood Crossing Canola Oil) for $12. So many tomatoes, so many colours, so many flavours. A very delicious dish. Refreshing and certainly not too heavy or oily.

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This is the special of the day: wood-grilled bison sirloin with scrambled eggs with hashbrowns, grilled zucchini and Saskatoon berry sauce for $20. Very very tasty. The sirloin was cooked beautifully, juicy, warm, and tender. It had some distinct gaminess but it was not overpowering. The scrambled eggs and hashbrowns were simple but executed well. The Saskatoon berry sauce rounded out the savoriness well.

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This is what was left of the Bowl of Raspberries with Fresh Peach Ice Cream for $9. I was too slow with the camera. It was eaten by the I even remembered to shoot a photo. It was wonderfully light, smooth, and refreshing.

On a different day, we went to River Cafe for dinner.

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This is the Wood Grilled Albacore Tuna Tatake (Pickled Fennel, Ponzu Gel, Puffed Wild Rice, Dashi Broth) for $14. The tuna was smokey without being burned (I recently had an awful ahi-tuna steak which was basically charcoaled). The puffed rice was an interesting texture. This was a bit expensive for how much fish you got.

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This is the Fish and Game Platter (Candied Trout, Duck Rillettes, Walleye Roll Mop, Cured Bison, Pork and Game Terrine, Pickled Egg, Grilled Apple, and Turnip Relish) for $21. Lots and lots of smoked meats. Generally pretty tasty but not the best game platter I’ve had. I was happy to taste anything but there wasn’t one thing I wanted seconds of. I’d pass on this dish to be honest. Their platters change seasonally and I’ve had one a few years ago that was wonderful.

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This is the Driview Farm Lamb (braised lamb and quince tourtiere, honey buttered turnips, mint). The meat was cooked well but there was nothing particularly unique about the dish. I wish that I had been more adventurous with my selection and I wish that they had been more adventurous with their product.

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I don’t know exactly what this is. I didn’t eat it but it is pretty.

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Again, I don’t know exactly what this is but liked the presentation.

With some close friends, we went to River Cafe for a 4 course menu. It was simply amazing.

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This is the Tomato Salad again (Fairwinds Farm Goat Milk Ricotta, Highwood Crossing Cold Pressed Canola Oil). As I mentioned above, a delicious start to the meal. Refreshing, light, and tart.

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This is the Wood Grilled Tuna Tatake again (Pickled Fennel, Ponzu Gel, Puffed Wild Rice, Dashi Broth). On my second tasting of this dish, I became more aware of the uniqueness of its flavours. Yes the tuna was tasty and yes it was smokey. But it was the garnishes that really impressed me. The dashi broth was very clear and salty. The ponzu gel was wonderfully tart and the puffed rice really added a nice texture to the dish.

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This is the Roast Sablefish (Green Lentils Cauliflower, Dungeness Crab). Only the girls selected this as their main. The portion size was huge. I don’t really like fatty fish (like bass) so I didn’t really like the taste but J really enjoyed it. The meat was slippery and fell apart with her fork. The crab was buttery and savory. Tasty but not my cup of tea.

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This is the Pasture Raised Pork Chop (Creamed Maitake Mushrooms, Cannellini Beans). I didn’t get a chance to try it but I can say it looked delicious.

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I had the Mushroom Dusted Olson’s Bison Striploin (Brown Beech Mushrooms and Barley Risotto). Wow. Again the bison was cooked very beautifully with the flavours of the mushrooms and the inherent gaminess showing through. But what I really liked was the barley risotto, especially after soaking up all of the bison juice. What a wonderful dish!

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On to dessert. This is the Macerated Fresh Strawberries (Lemon Custard, Lemon Balm Ice Cream, Honey Sponge Cake, Candied Pumpkin Seeds). A very refreshing way to end the meal. I loved the tartness of the Lemon Custard as well as the smoothness of the ice cream.

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This is the Hacienda Iara Single Plantation Chocolate (Chocolate Caramel Tart, Hazelnut Crust, Strawberry and Venturi Schulze Balsamic Ice Cream. I didn’t like this dish quite as much. The chocolate tart was dark but a bit bland. It was disappointing especially when compared right next to the strawberries above. I’d say the strawberries were enthusiastic. This dish was understated.

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Finally, this is the special dessert of the day: sticky apricot toffee pudding. Very rich without being too sweet. It had such a lingering taste that filled your mouth with toffee goodness. It was warm and comforting. I really enjoyed this.

Overall, I really like River Cafe. After my 4 course menu above, it really is now one of my favourite places to eat. The only reason why it isn’t my favourite place to eat in Calgary is because some of their dishes are hit and miss. Overall though, my experiences are positive and you must come here if you want to say you’ve eaten food unique to Calgary.

River Cafe, 200 Barclay Parade South West, Calgary, AB, (403) 261-7670, www.river-cafe.com
River Cafe on Urbanspoon

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~ by Russ on September 1, 2009.

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