Here’s another one from Calgary’s Avenue Top 10. According to their panel culinary experts, this is the second best restaurant in Calgary.
Raw Bar is an establishment that fixated on a few key ideas and took them as far as they could go.
Judging from my experience there, these ideas were:
- Asian Fusion
- Waitresses in really tight black dresses
Now I have no complaints with any of the above, but Rar Bar is an example of how you can definitely have too much of a good thing.
The restaurant is decorated like an up-scale lounge or one of those post-modern clubs that seem like a good idea until you actually walk in.
Giant, sky-blue, mushroom shaped pillars dominate the interior, along with a seemingly random scattering of potlights on the ceiling. In the light of day, it seems a bit much, but I’m sure it’s much nicer at night with everything dimmed.
Service was attentive, but very intrusive. There seemed to be a total of four servers for our table, ranging from the hostess who poured our first round of drinks and gave us the menus, to the server who actually brought out our food, to the two other waitresses who stumbled over pouring water every 10 minutes. To top it all off, our water changed at random between still and sparkling.
It’s clear that they’re trying very hard to make us feel welcome, but having to pause the conversation every few minutes for someone to top off your drink is beyond awkward. To make a bad situation worse, the waitresses insisted on walking behind each of our seats and pouring over our shoulders…
Yeah, I don’t know.
We all ordered the “Chef’s Family Collection” and had the crab and mango salad roll to share.
The dishes came out in a seemingly random order, but we didn’t care too much.
I’ll go over each of the dishes briefly.
Spicy Pulled Pork Steamed Buns
These were actually pretty wonderful. Now I’m not sure if the menu changed or if they subbed in other items, but the buns were like tiny Vietnamese subs, with a slab of pork belly and lightly pickled vegetables on a light and faintly sweet steamed bun. It’s like a cross between a dim-sum char sui bun and a Bánh mì.
Crispy Taro and Mango Slaw
Not a bad idea, but the entire dish suffered due to the hard and bland mangos. Dressing was sparse, and you were left crunching on tasteless veggies and even blander taro.
Crab and Mango Salad Roll
I had high expectations for this one, but once again the unripe mangos dragged the dish down. It was also over-acidic, and the acid completely drowned out the flavor of the crab. Each bite gushed cold vinaigrette/lemon juice.
“Artisan” Romaine Lettuce
Surprisingly, this was pretty damn good. Romaine hearts were drenched in oil and ginger soy sauce and tossed on a hot grill for just long enough to blacken the edges.
It’s hard to describe, but it had the consistency of very lightly poached lettuce, with a faint smokiness from the grill and an oily/umami kick.
Altogether very palatable.
Char-Grilled Hanger Steak
This one was another hit. The meat was grilled beautifully to medium rare, and the combination of the apple jus and kimchi sauce gave it just enough tartness, without drowning out the flavor of the meat. Apples and kimchi are a tried and true flavor combination and I’m happy to see that the chef isn’t trying to improve on something that’s already delicious.
Squid A La Plancha
For those too lazy to Google, ‘a La Plancha’, it means to pan fry or griddle fish or meat. In this case, Raw Bar grilled the squid.
I personally liked it, but it wasn’t much of a hit with my companions. The squid was cooked well and wasn’t rubbery in the slightest, but freshness and lack of seasoning may have been an issue as it tasted quite strongly of..well…squid.
If you enjoy things like tomalley or raw oysters, I’m sure you’d enjoy this.
So it’s been like a month since I’ve been to Raw Bar and my notes could have been better…
I’m sure there was some sort of cheesecake involved (those rectangular things), and I’m almost certain it was mango flavored. From what I remembered, nothing too special, and was a bit cloying for my tastes.
The white ball in the middle was some sort of sherbet. I remember it was delicious, but can’t tell you much more than that.
In the end, I’m glad I went to this place.
The service was strange, the food was hit or miss, and it wasn’t cheap, but it was nice to see that Asian fusion wasn’t just a passing craze.
Fun place for a date? Yeah, sure.
Second best restaurant in Calgary? Definitely not.
Step up your game, Avenue.