Tacos from Native Tongues Taqueria, Calgary
Forget beef and sink your teeth into these Calgary dishes
It may be the heartland of Canada's beef country, but Calgary has a surprising number restaurants that will make you rethink the capital of Alberta. By Jim Byers. At Shokunin I’m served halibut cheeks with a stinging-nettle sauce, and scallops that are roasted in a seashell at my table and topped with smoking bonito flakes.   At Ten Foot Henry I’m served insanely good tuna crudo topped with tiny onion strips, sesame seeds, fried capers, olive oil and chimichurri. [caption id="attachment_26365" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Head chef at Ten Foot Henry Restaurant, Calgary describes the food as "North American with a focus on veggies"; hence the heirloom carrots.[/caption] At an inexpensive place called Native Tongues I’m dazzled by roasted heirloom carrots topped with Mexican cheese, spices and lime juice.   The home of the Calgary Stampede may still be Cowtown to some, but these days the top chefs pay far more attention to sourcing the perfect oyster mushrooms than they do the finest Alberta beef. The steaks are pretty extraordinary Not that you still can’t get a good steak in Calgary. [caption id="attachment_26362" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Argentina style steak with fresh vegetable-ceviche at Charbar Restaurant, Calgary (Photo: Mack Male, Flickr)[/caption] Charcut continues to serve truly amazing cuts of meat, and their sister restaurant Charbar makes an Argentina-style steak cooked over a wood fire to go along with fresh vegetable ceviche and other treats, served inside an old mattress factory with industrial charm to spare.   It’s just one of many offering up prime cuts of beef in Calgary. [caption id="attachment_26363" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Connie DeSousa far left and her team at Charcut Restaurant, Calgary (Photo: Mack Male Flickr).[/caption] But the focus here is increasingly on locally sourced and super-fresh vegetables and fruit, served with an inventive flair that has caught the attention of food critics around the globe. Canada's top restaurant is here Pigeonhole was named Canada’s top restaurant a couple of years ago by an esteemed panel formed by EnRoute magazine, the official publication on Air Canada flights.   It was very good when I went, but I wouldn’t put it in my top five for Calgary food spots, and that alone illustrates the depth of talent in Alberta these days.   “Calgary has become a very serious player,” Ten Foot Henry chef Steve Smee told me on a recent visit. “I think something like 40 new restaurants opened in the past year, and it’s very competitive.”   Smee said he calls his menu North American cuisine, with an emphasis on veggies.   “Calgary is increasingly a cultural mosaic, a cultural melting pot,” he said. “We want to reflect that.”   “We do things in a Japanese way but with our own ideas,” said Darren MacLean, the chef at Shokunin. [caption id="attachment_26364" align="alignnone" width="1024"] “Izakaya means artisan or craftsman.... There’s an implied, social obligation to do your best.” chef Darren MacLean of Shokunin Restaurant says. For example the duck tataki with foie gras. (Photo Michael Trudeau Photography).[/caption] To his point, you’ll find Canadian fiddleheads – the furled heads of local fern plants – mixed with his halibut cheeks. He also cooks small pieces of chicken meat from the backside of the bird, which means you might hear his tiny staff working up a storm in their tiny kitchen yelling out, “Two squid. Two chicken ass!”   It’s a fun and lively spot, but MacLean is dead serious about his craft and his dedication to the concept of an Izakaya, being an informal but gastronomically correct Japanese dining spot.   “Izakaya means artisan or craftsman, but there’s a deeper meaning that says someone will perform their utmost for you and those around you. There’s an implied, social obligation to do your best.”   At the end of our meal, MacLean and I sit and talk about everything from politics to farm-to-table cuisine and Metallica versus ’90s rap tunes.   Keeping things local is a big part of the scene in Calgary. Hit the city's top patio At Bonterra, where you’ll find one of the city’s top patios, they make their pasta carbonara with wild-boar bacon from a farm near the city rather than imported pancetta.   Model Milk is a marvellous restaurant in central Calgary with an open kitchen and a funky vibe. [caption id="attachment_26367" align="alignnone" width="1024"] The industrial modern interior of Model Milk Restaurant, Calgary was once a dairy and the original brick and concrete floors are part of the slick interior. And yes the food is just as good.[/caption] The food is excellent and so are the drinks. Last time I was there I had a wicked drink with bourbon, house-made coffee/tobacco syrup and a port rinse, served in a small coffee mug with a lemon peel. It was dark, brooding and wonderful. The leader of the Calgary food scene Connie DeSousa, who has a few gallons of ink spread over her arms in a series of colourful tattoos, is one of the long-time leaders of the Calgary food scene.   She runs the show at Charcut, where there is, of course, a strong emphasis on meat, as well as perfectly cooked veggies and inventive desserts.   A couple of years ago she took me on a tour of the Calgary Farmers’ Market. [caption id="attachment_26361" align="alignnone" width="1024"] You can spy Calgary's top chefs sourcing their ingredients at the Calgary Farmers Market (Photo: Mack Male, Flickr).[/caption] “I buy most of my beef from Silver Sage and I get cheese from Sylvan Star,” she said, pointing to a couple of the stalls.   DeSousa waxes poetic over the parsnips from Innisfail, Alberta as well as the purple potatoes.   “I love working with their carrots; they’re super-sweet. And I love the rhubarb here. I like to cook it down and serve it as a compote.”   DeSousa says Calgarians are well travelled and that they “want to try foods they’ve had in other parts of the world.”   As someone who has been Calgary’s chef of the year, and as a foodie who has worked with such culinary stars as Alice Water of Chez Panisse in California, she knows her stuff.   “People think of Montreal and Vancouver and Toronto for food, but we want them to think about Calgary, too.” var axel = Math.random() + ""; var a = axel * 10000000000000; document.write('');  
Heli-hiking the stunning Canadian Rockies
Hike with all the wonder, but none of the effort aboard a helicopter. Seemingly insurmountable monuments to nature’s beauty, the furthest reaches of the Canadian Rockies were once off-limits to all but the boldest of adventurers.   But now there’s an easier way to ascend and experience all this natural beauty up close: by helicopter. [caption id="attachment_20645" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Taking stock atop a Canadian mountain.[/caption] In summer and spring, world-class hotspots such as Lake Louise, Jasper and Mount Charles Stewart, represent fantastic opportunities to experience Canada’s wilderness in comfort.   You’ll see waterfalls, mountain flowers and you might even catch a glimpse of an eagle. Mountain-top picnics, ice fishing, zip lines and rock climbing are all available. Get going: [caption id="attachment_20646" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Helicopter hiking is great fun.[/caption] Sightseeing helicopter tours run year-round, but hiking-specific tours generally run mid-June to late September. Fly and hike with Canadian Mountain Holidays (canadianmountainholidays.com). Location: Take heli-hiking tours from Banff, Canmore, Lake Louise and Calgary. Trips can be as short as a few hours or up to six days, with expert guides and overnight stays in mountain lodges. [caption id="attachment_20648" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Heli hiking in Banff National Park, Alberta.[/caption] “Hiking just got sexy.” – Rob McFarland   <<Previous | Next >>  Return to the ‘100 Things to do in Canada Before You Die’ countdown var axel = Math.random() + """"; var a = axel * 10000000000000; document.write('');
Why Edmonton’s Fringe Theatre Festival is a rite of passage
Dive into the cultural waters of Edmonton's Fringe Theatre Festival. 
Spend a white Christmas at the Chateau Lake Louise
Are you dreaming of a white Christmas? Well, we have the perfect place. No matter which part of the world you hail from, the idea of a traditional white Christmas has such universal appeal that it really must be experienced at least once in your lifetime. [caption id="attachment_21008" align="alignnone" width="1500"] An ice castle on Lake Louise[/caption] And the Christmas festivities laid on each year by the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise really do take some beating.   It’s everything you’ve been imagining and more: endless free ice-skating on a gorgeous frozen lake with the crouching mountains as your backdrop; traditional sleigh rides tracing the lake’s edge while snuggled beneath blankets; roasting marshmallows under the stars; making maple syrup sugar pops poured straight into the crisp white snow; ice castles; barn dances; snowshoeing; Christmas tree and stocking decorating; Christmas Eve choirs and carolling; delicious Christmas Day brunches, lunches, dinners – and of course a visit from Santa himself . [caption id="attachment_21009" align="alignnone" width="1500"] The gorgeous Fairmont Banff Springs[/caption] It’s no wonder the historic building is absolutely booked to capacity at this very special time. For many it’s an institution; for you it may be that first, most magical time. Get going: Make your White Christmas dream a reality at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise (fairmont.com/lake-louise) with Adventure World’s Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Christmas. Or take up a special offer from Fairmont. Location: The closest international airport is at Calgary, or you could do a 2.5-hour scenic drive from Calgary. “The experience of walking out onto the frozen lake and looking back at the Chateau will freeze into your brain forever.” – Steve Madgwick   << Previous | Next >> Return to the ‘100 Things to do in Canada Before You Die’ countdown var axel = Math.random() + """"; var a = axel * 10000000000000; document.write('');