Calgary, AB – Teatro Restaurant (Fine Dining) – Part 2/4

Restaurant: Teatro – Part 2/4
Cuisine: Italian/French/Mediterranean/Canadian
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)

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6FMF Must Try!

Food: 4.5 (based on a la carte menu) 
Service: n/a
Ambiance: 4.5 
Overall: n/a
Additional comments:

  • Since 1993
  • Executive Chef: John Michael MacNeil
  • Fine dining/upscale dining
  • Euro-Canadian
  • 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)

**Recommendations: Tasting menu, Dungeness Crab Risotto, Rib Eye (Rotisserie), Caramel Ice Cream with Black Lava Salt, Tiramisu

Calgary Teatro (2)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:

Calgary Teatro (7)The featured cocktails are quite classic and the one I tried was very good, but the wine list is much more extensive and what they specialize in.

Calgary Teatro (3)Black Grape Society, Central Otago, Pinot Noir, 2011, New Zealand ($18/glass) – This wine is exclusive to Teatro. It was medium bodied, bright and acidic with dominant flavours of raspberry.

Calgary Teatro (15)Tierra Secreta, Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina, 2010 ($11/glass) – This is also exclusive to Teatro.

Calgary Teatro (4)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.

Calgary Teatro (10)Teatro Caesar4/6 (Very good)

  • Anchovy dressing, duo of parmigiano, crispy pancetta $16
  • It used to come with crispy bacon and coppa, but now it is just the pancetta.
  • I know. Are you kidding me? It’s a Caesar Salad. You ordered a Caesar Salad? I know!
  • It sounds boring and ordinary, but I had to try it. It’s a classic at Teatro and it came recommended otherwise I would have skipped it.
  • The Caesar Salad was fresh, light, fragile and elegant and it was actually very good.
  • It used only the young leaves of romaine which have a nice crisp bite and sweetness.
  • Each leaf was hand coated in a savoury anchovy dressing that wasn’t too salty, light on the anchovy, and bright with lemon juice.
  • The saltiness was from the crispy pancetta which was a beautiful quality with a good fat and meat ratio.
  • The whole thing was crisp and it was the highlight.
  • I wished the Parmigiano was shaved instead of shredded the way it was, but the Parmigiano crisps were a nice addition.
  • For a Caesar Salad I give it credit for being as different as it could while still being distinctly a traditional Caesar Salad.
  • It had quite the price tag for what it was (and about 8 leaves of romaine), but it delivered in flavour and I liked the delicate presentation.
  • I would have loved 2 whole anchovies on top, or one more component, but I still enjoyed it.
  • I’m not sure I would order it again, but I am glad I tried it.

Calgary Teatro (12)Alberta Beef Tartare –  4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)

  • Focaccia crostini, gherkin, capers, thermal egg yolk $18
  • It was another “so what?” course when I read it on the menu, and for an Italian restaurant I expected carpaccio, but again the tartare is a classic here.
  • I would have overlooked it, but since it was a recommended signature, I had to try it.
  • The beef was rich, buttery and tender to the point of being creamy and I barely had to chew it.
  • It was hand chopped, although the knife skills a bit rough.
  • The quality of beef was excellent though and I liked that it wasn’t dressed in mayo to mask its natural beefy flavour.
  • Each mound of tartare had a dollop of aioli and I could taste some dijon mustard too.
  • The thermal egg yolk was sous vide egg yolk and it was piped onto the plate and keeping the crostini in place.
  • The yolk was a gel in texture and creamy enough to mix into the tartar. It was cold, but not solidified.
  • The beef was richer than the sauces and it didn’t rely on them for flavour or creaminess which was great.
  • The tartare had some nice texture from pickles, shallots, and capers and the “caviar” (gel beads) were I think gherkin flavoured.
  • I would prefer the crisp focaccia crotini a bit thicker because they were too fragile and kept breaking, so it was hard to eat it with the tartare.
  • The parsley garnish was slightly too big, and finely cut chives would perhaps be better.
  • It was a nice accompaniment to the Caesar salad and he was inventive with both dishes.
  • They were excellent versions of classics and I could see why they are mainstays, and if anything they only switch up the components.

Calgary Teatro (9)Market Fresh Soup3/6 (Good)

  • Seasonal garnish $14
  • The soup of the day was potato and leek velouté.
  • Velouté soups are one of my favourite style of soups.
  • It was sweet and creamy and thickened with potato instead of flour, and it was a rather light velouté.
  • It was the only appetizer I was a bit underwhelmed with because I found it quite bland and it lacked depth in flavour.
  • The semi-crunchy leek garnish was nice, but other than that I can’t say it was memorable.

Calgary Teatro (14)Quebec Foie Gras Torchon –  4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)

  • Nasturtium, apricot, aerated brioche $22
  • I had to order the foie. Although I always prefer foie gras simply seared on both sides, a torchon is nice too.
  • The torchon was very traditional and it was a good recipe.
  • It was rich and buttery and I could taste the foie and not any fillers which is ideal. It didn’t taste like greasy fat or mostly cream.
  • It was smooth and consistent in colour and texture and it was well executed and well seasoned.
  • The thin slices of “apricots” were actually peaches and they were sous vide and chilled.
  • Sweet fruit always brings the umami out in foie gras and it was no different here.
  • The aerated brioche cake was a change from a toasted brioche, but it was a bit dried out and not buttery in flavour.
  • The brioche wasn’t toasted, so I don’t think it was meant to be dry, but I’m not sure.
  • There was also a honey foam, but it was a bit thin and just sweet, so I wanted more honey flavour.
  • I would have liked some honeycomb for crunchy texture or even some nuts, but it was still a very good foie gras torchon.
  • It could have been more creative and it seemed unfinished, but it was still one of my favourite appetizers.

To be continued…

… sneak peek…

Calgary Teatro (16)Dungeness Crab Risotto – Buttered asparagus, lobster bisque, yuzu foam $33

Calgary Teatro (18)Daily Market Fresh Fish – Steelhead Trout (Market Price)

Calgary Teatro (25)Scallops alla Plancha – Parsley crust, marinated eggplant, wilted greens, parsnip puree $38

Calgary Teatro (22)Alberta Rack of Lamb – Peperonata, roast shallot, swiss chard, soft polenta $43

Calgary Teatro (19)Daily European Rotisserie – Prime Grade Alberta Beef Rib-Eye (Market Price)

See – Teatro Restaurant Part 3/4!

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