Restaurant: Teatro - Part 1/4
Last visited: September 13, 2013
Location: Calgary, AB (Stephen Avenue)
Address: 200 8 Ave SE
Transit: EB 7 Av S@ Centre St LRT Station
Phone: (403) 290-1012
Price range: $50+ ($32-45 mains)
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
Food: 4.5 (based on a la carte menu)
- Since 1993
- Executive Chef: John Michael MacNeil
- Fine dining/upscale dining
- Chef’s Tasting Menu available
- Seasonal menus
- Local/international ingredients
- Special occasions
- Extensive wine list
- Reservations recommended
- Lunch: Mon. – Fri. : 11:30 am – 2 pm, 5 pm – 11 pm
- Dinner: Sat. – Sun. : 5 pm – 11 pm
- Twitter: @TeatroCalgary
- See - Teatro’s full post (Parts 1-4)
I had two precious dinners on my own during Follow Me Foodie to Calgary, so I had to make them count. I knew what was on the itinerary so I didn’t want to overlap, but I also knew I wouldn’t be getting the full dining experiences at Feast of Fields, Top Chef Canada Dinner at River Cafe, and “The Really, Really, Long Table Dinner“. The events featured a good variety of chefs and restaurants but I knew I would only be trying a couple courses from each one, which wasn’t enough to satisfy my curiosity. I already had one dinner reserved for NOtaBLE (owner and chef Michael Noble is one of the culinary godfathers in Calgary, and we have mutual friends in the industry), so I only had one dinner left – and I made it at Teatro.
There were at least 10 restaurants I wanted the full experience at, but Teatro was on my radar before I even got on the plane. I was looking for a fine dining experience and I was contemplating a few options, but eventually went with my gut. It wasn’t because Teatro is one of Calgary’s highest rated fine dining destinations, or that it was celebrating its 20 years, but it was actually because I’ve been sort of stalking the chef – creepy, I know.
I wasn’t really “stalking”, but just Twitter creeping and his work caught my attention quickly. Chef John Michael MacNeil‘s dishes were sophisticated, progressive and playful. His plates were simple with few components, but each one well considered for. The execution was modernist without coming across as gimmicky, and it was interesting. I put it on my Calgary wish list, and the opportunity finally came.
Teatro means “theatre” in Italian and the ambience is grand and perhaps stuffy, but the open kitchen and high ceilings give it air. I admit the open kitchen was a bit of a turn off and it wasn’t because it was open, but because it was huge. I immediately thought “mass produced” and the restaurant was busy so I assumed the food wouldn’t come out tasting personal. At times it might have been missing that personal touch, and it can feel corporate or just like any other big fancy restaurant in a wealthy city, but the personal service I got at the bar translated into the food and overall experience.
Despite trying four appetizers, four main courses, and three desserts, I do not feel like I got the full Teatro show. At Teatro, the Tasting Menu is the way to go if you’re looking for an unique experience. It’s a special menu representable of chef and it’s normally what I would order at a restaurant of this caliber.
Unfortunately Chef MacNeil was away and I couldn’t order the Chef’s Tasting Menu without participation from the whole table. However there was a gentleman beside me dining solo and he was enjoying the Tasting Menu, so I just had to live vicariously and in jealously from a distance. Although I ordered a la carte, which was less exciting, I still left with a memorable dining experience worth recommending. I don’t know about consistency, but the team held down the fort.
Teatro is celebrating its 20th year and while some call it “old news”, I wouldn’t. It is a classic for fine dining in Calgary and it is associated with corporate accounts and special occasions, but it is relevant to today’s culinary scene.
When I brought up Teatro to Calgarians with trusted palates it was usually a “you should go” or a “he’s the only one I would trust with molecular gastronomy”. It is not even that I am a fan of molecular gastronomy since most of the time it is in the wrong hands, but I appreciate the science and art behind it. When it is done with proper application and purpose, it’s fascinating. There were modernist techniques for some of the items, and the Tasting Menu would have featured more, but the ones on the a la carte menu were not overly ambitious.
The restaurant has Italian and Mediterranean roots, but I didn’t identify it as an Italian restaurant. There were some Italian dishes, but also lots of French and Pacific Northwest ones. It had a traditional French backbone with buttery rich sauces and refined techniques, but there was also some Canadian and Asian inspiration and modern execution.
The menu had all the things that “needed to be there” – the Caesar, the beef tartare, the family recipes, and dishes that have been there since it likely opened, but they were updated. They were re-interpreted by Chef MacNeil and presented with modern style. The menu items do not seem to change often, but the components and details change with the season, which is the philosophy of the restaurant and chef. The items were not far from what their regulars would know, but just refined to the tastes of generations today.
As a well established restaurant it sits comfortably without feeling dated. The a la carte menu sounds ordinary and it may not offer items you could not necessarily find somewhere else, but the food was elegant, polished and reliable. It was approachable and safer than expected, but it tasted excellent which is most important and I could confidently recommend some dishes. For the capabilities of the chef and kitchen team, they could push the a la carte menu harder and be more creative, but it was still enjoyable. Chef MacNeil’s passion came across even without him in the kitchen, and I look forward to trying his more adventurous and innovative Chef’s Tasting Menu.
On the table:
2010 Ridge Vineyards Three Valleys Zinfandel, Sonoma County, USA (About $22/glass) - This was a premium wine they opened for another event and I was lucky to have them offer it by the glass. It was medium bodied with flavours of black cherry, plums, figs, oak and spice. See more about it here.
To be continued…
… sneak peek…