For my friend’s 32nd birthday, we decided to celebrate at Charcut Roast House. For pre-birthday drinks, we stopped by the Calgary Tower, only to find out that the Sky 360 restaurant was booked solid for the night. Fortunately, the hostesses were empathetic to our cries of disappointment (or just wanted us to stop crying), and managed to fit us in for drinks. Despite Danni’s assurance (our server) that we could take our time, we didn’t want to overstay our welcome. So after we finished our bubbly flutes of prosecco and took a quick gander at the picturesque view of downtown Calgary, we were off to our next destination.
We arrived early for our reservations at Charcut. This wasn’t a problem for their well-trained staff. From what we saw that night, this restaurant works like a well-oiled machine. Immediately upon arriving, we were whisked away to our table. I don’t know how Charcut does its hiring, but everyone is on their A-game, from their celebrity chef, Connie (she made my friend’s day when she came by to wish my friend M, a happy birthday), genuinely friendly hostesses, our awesome server, Michaela, to the staff wiping down the seats after guests finished dinner. I was even impressed with the location of our table. Our section was situated in a semi-secluded enclave with a view of the chefs at the front kitchen working their magic. I also preferred the dimmer lighting at our section compared to the brightly lit section near the entrance. After all, at my age, natural light can be most unforgiving.
Michaela recommended an appropriate wine for the night of feasting (Tempranillo, Emilio Moro, Ribera del Duero) – which turned out to be a suitable choice to sip while munching away at the Charcut platter. The wine was light, lively, yet dry –it didn’t over power any of the flavors of some of the more subtle meats that we sampled.
If you appreciate quality meat, you’ll dig the Charcut platter. The platter contained several different types of cured meats: pig head mortadella, kielbasca sausage, bratwurst, pork terrine and milk fed piglet ham. The crostini (toasted bread) was an ideal accompaniment to the meats – it was crumbly in texture but not dry like a cracker – so that it melded well with meats. The pink mortadella arrived in finely sliced sheets. I have a penchant for mustard, but I’m sure that by slathering grainy mustard on both the mortadella and piglet ham, it took away from its more subtle flavours. The bison double smoked kislebasca sausage was sliced into bite-sized pieces, and mixed with pickled onions. I loved tasting the sausage and the tang of the vinegary, crunchy onions all at the same time. The terrine of pork was presented as a rustic slab; mild in flavour, firm in texture, I particularly liked the sweetness added by the jam that was drizzled on top of the terrine. We all thought the Spragg Farms Heritage pork bratwurst was the best of the bunch. The sausage arrived sizzling away on a black iron pan. Grilled and crisp on the outside, juicy on the inside, it was a dense sausage with a thick grind and a nice fat to meat ratio. I love the pickled preserved jalapeno that was served alongside the bratwurst – smooth, crunchy and with a manageable heat, this pepper warmed me through and through.
The next platter that we ordered consisted of the butcher steak; duck fried poutine with truffle oil and a watermelon salad. From the moment our forks touched the poutine – we turned into a pack of ravenous wolves. While it’s not uncommon for me to inhale my food, I was surprised to see J and especially M – who’s a dainty eater, go at it. I found out later that they thought if they didn’t keep up with me, I would have eaten their share. I guess they aren’t as clueless as they look. The poutine was amazing – the milky white curds were warm and melted all over the still crisp fries. The truffle gravy was rich, salty and sumptuous. Every time I forked a fry, I would get that lovely, gooey cheese string stretching from the plate to my mouth.
As for the Spring Creek butcher steak, this is one of the greatest steaks I have ever eaten. The steak itself was cooked to a perfect medium. Soft and tender, the taste of the steak was so good you just wanted to slowly chew out the flavor. I also liked the combination of the chimichurri, fresh arugula, and crisp matchstick potatoes with each bite of the steak.
Michaela recommended the watermelon and cucumber salad. Visually, it was almost too pretty to eat, layered with cucumbers, slices of watermelon, snow white feta, and pea shoots. The citrus in the marinade, the mildness of soft feta, the tiny bursts of fresh mint, the sweetness of watermelon, and the cool slices of cucumbers, this fruity salad was refreshing and rocked with its fusion of flavours.
We didn’t plan on having dessert – we had another destination already planned. But I’m so glad we tried the Valrhona milk chocolate parfait. Michaela brought over a complimentary dessert for the birthday girl, along with birthday bubbles – prosecco topped off with a sliced strawberry. The gesture was not lost on M – she really felt the staff at Charcut went out of their way to make her day extra special. Once again, I found that dessert was one of the best I’ve tried, and I’m not a dessert person. The mixture of sea salt caramel, crumbly ovaltine crunch, and dark chocolate crumble was irresistible. We even waved our spoons in salute to Chef John. He uncomfortably acknowledged my awkward attempt at flirtation. Hey, just because I’m old, it doesn’t mean I’d be good at it.
Hopefully we will get Michaela as our server again, particularly as she was tolerant at our, at times, raucous behaviour. We were loud, but thankfully, not as loud as the man at the other side of the restaurant that let out a deafening yell. M’s birthday fell on the night UFC was in town, so I’m guessing everyone downtown was feeling a bit rowdy. The woman sitting next to us certainty didn’t look impressed with the constant flashing of our cameras (at least the other type of flashing didn’t occur), as well as my insatiable and cheesy desire to “cheers” at every opportunity.
Charcut spoiled us for any other restaurant by setting the standard so high. I can think of a dozen restaurants that are more expensive and that don’t offer the “Charcut experience”. In fact, we were planning on celebrating our friend’s recent work promotion in August by having a dinner at Rouge, but after this meal, we’d rather sample other items on Charcut’s menu. To be continued… part two of the Charcut saga.