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

Restaurant: Teatro - Part 4/4
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

**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 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.

Calgary Teatro (16)**Dungeness Crab Risotto5.5/6 (Excellent!)

  • Buttered asparagus, lobster bisque, yuzu foam (sample size portion, but $33 a la carte)
  • Oh my. This was so rich and indulgent. I loved it. I’m not sure if I could have a whole plate… oh, who am I kidding? I could have a whole plate.
  • It was creamy, buttery and full of flavour. It was sophisticated comfort food and it was only missing shaved truffles.
  • The rice was al dente, but I’m not sure what grade they used. It looks stiff and clumpy, but it was actually okay.
  • It was made with white and green asparagus for texture and colour, and perhaps finished with mascarpone.
  • I’m not sure why they used asparagus though since the spring vegetable’s prime season is in April.
  • White asparagus is more delicate and from Europe and sometimes it is jarred and pickled, but these didn’t taste pickled.
  • I’m not sure where the green asparagus was sourced.
  • For the time of year (September) I expected a different ingredient especially if they believe in sourcing seasonally and locally.
  • On the other hand, I could overlook the asparagus because it was still an excellent risotto and the lobster bisque really took it to the next level.
  • There were chunks of dungeness crab throughout and before the risotto was plated there was some lobster bisque underneath.
  • The lobster bisque was well reduced and it tasted like an intense lobster and mushroom broth. It was the definition of umami.
  • It was rich with flavours of mushroom, soy and lobster shell crustaceans, and it was savoury, tangy and delicious.
  • It was perhaps a touch salty, but I have a high tolerance for salt so I didn’t mind.
  • It was topped with a yuzu foam which was well made with a bright citrus acidity.
  • The foam had body and it kept its shape. It is very rare to find a foam as well made as this one.
  • It was frothy, but it had flavour and it just brightened up the dish and helped ease the richness.
  • This was good enough that I would order this Dungeness Crab Risotto a la carte.

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

  • Market Price - About $34
  • I didn’t get to try much of this so I can’t comment, but I was happy to see a crispy skin served with the fish.
  • Being from Vancouver we get lots of fresh Steelhead Trout, so I can’t say I appreciate it as much, although it was tender, flaky and moist.
  • Steelhead trout is very similar to salmon, and both are easily confused.
  • I like my trout undercooked, and this was fully cooked but not dry.
  • The lemon foam was a bit too bubbly and thin so I wasn’t keen on the execution, but at least it wasn’t runny. I preferred the texture of the yuzu foam.
  • I think the side was a braised fennel and kale salad, which happened to be a side for many of the mains so it got too repetitive.

Calgary Teatro (23)Scallops alla Plancha4/6 (Very good)

  • Parsley crust, marinated eggplant, wilted greens, parsnip puree $38
  • It was a bit small for a main course even at a fine dining restaurant. It was bordering a small plate.
  • Again, I get spoiled by seafood being from Vancouver so I might not have valued these scallops as much, but they were still very good.
  • The scallops were tender and seared rare which is how I like them.
  • I prefer a more even sear on both sides, but this was seared 70% on one side and kissed on the other which is quite common.
  • The parsley crust on the scallops was not crispy though and I always prefer a crispy crust.
  • The crust was a Gremolata which is an Italian chopped herb condiment made from lemon zest, garlic, parsley and olive oil.
  • This had some parmesan cheese and/or bread crumbs, but it still didn’t crisp up.
  • It was served with wilted kale and cherry tomatoes and I think those components could be more imaginative.
  • The parsnip puree was very buttery, rich, savoury and sweet, but it was also just parsnip puree which is not too challenging.
  • I love a good puree (and this was an excellent one) so it was fine that it was not challenging, but since the kale and tomato was a bit ordinary, I was just hoping for more.

Calgary Teatro (25)

  • The marinated eggplant was marinated with balsamic and it was juicy and meaty.
  • It looked like squid with the criss cross pineapple cut, or Vietnamese squid cut, and it allowed for more marination and caramelization during cooking.
  • It was acidic, savoury ,and well marinated and the texture of the rare scallops.
  • As much as I love eggplant, I might have exchanged this for pork belly, grilled squid, or octopus, because as a main entree it lacked substance.

Calgary Teatro (22)Alberta Rack of Lamb - 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)

  • Peperonata, roast shallot, swiss chard, soft polenta $43
  • This was another more ordinary main and I think it could have been more creative.
  • The lamb was good, tender and likely sous vide since it was so evenly cooked and medium rare throughout.
  • It was slightly gamey, but not as gamey as New Zealand lamb.
  • The cut wasn’t as clean and it was a pretty fatty lamb, and flavour wise it was natural and simply seasoned.
  • It didn’t have much of a crust, spice rub or herby flavour, and it was just a well made local lamb that you could also find elsewhere at a nice place.

Calgary Teatro (20)

  • The sides and components were quite traditional and the Peperonata only used red peppers.
  • Usually Peperonata is sliced instead of diced like it was and I was hoping for some yellow peppers, garlic and fresh herbs in the sauté.
  • There are many versions of Peperonata, but this one just seemed a bit plain.
  • The swiss chard was just in a tight clump on the side and the roast shallots were soft and well caramelized, but overall the dish lacked pizzazz.
  • The creamy soft polenta I actually loved and it was cheesy, creamy and served hot.
  • The highlight of this dish was actually the lamb jus which was served on the plate, but also in a gravy boat served on the side (in the background of the photo).
  • The lamb jus was well reduced, glossy, syrupy and rich with lots of butter.
  • It was savoury and a bit tangy and made with good red wine and stock.
  • I was drinking it like a shot and it was quality lamb jus with a luxurious mouthfeel.

Calgary Teatro (19)**Daily European Rotisserie – Prime Grade Alberta Beef Rib-Eye - 5.5/6 (Excellent!)

  • Market Price – About $50
  • When in Calgary… eat beef.
  • This was my favourite main and it felt like a main. It was complete.
  • Being from Vancouver, I don’t get beef this good that often, so I naturally valued it more, but regardless it was still an excellent rib-eye.
  • The rib-eye is my ideal cut for steak and it has the most flavour because of the fat.
  • It is not as tender as the tenderloin or mignon, but flavour wins and this was still tender.
  • The grill marks were beautiful and I should have got a cross cut photo, but it was seared rare as requested.
  • The beef jus was as good as the lamb jus and it was well reduced and made with good wine and beef stock.
  • It was syrupy with lots of butter to give it that smooth texture and gloss, and it tasted like a demi-glace.
  • The side was braised kale again with cherry tomatoes, so it was repetitive since it was the side to almost all the other mains too.
  • The other side was a mushroom risotto which was amazing!
  • The mushroom risotto was on par with the Dungeness Crab risotto and it was creamy, rich, decadent and full of mushroom flavour.
  • Everything on this plate was excellent so I didn’t mind it being more traditional.
  • It wasn’t “steak and potatoes” and it was worth ordering again and recommending.
  • If this was my one Alberta steak experience (which it wasn’t, but if it was), I would be satisfied and impressed. It was a solid benchmark.

Calgary Teatro (29)When it came to desserts there was a bit of a show. The pastry chef is Gary Dong, who I didn’t get to meet, but I always respect places who invest in an in-house pastry chef. One of their signature desserts was not listed on the menu, but it’s the dessert that always comes with Chef’s Tasting Menu. Apparently people come to Teatro just for this dessert, so I had to order it.

The dessert was liquid nitrogen ice cream, which was a molecular gastronomy trend from the early 90′s, so the concept wasn’t anything new. However I can see its appeal if people have never seen it or tried it, but otherwise I consider it gimmicky.

It’s fun seeing dessert made before your eyes and the whole interactive component, smoke and theatrics makes it special, so I appreciate it for reasons outside of the final product itself.

Calgary Teatro (31)I’ve never been keen on liquid nitrogen ice cream and I’m particular with what I look for in ice creams – see my ice cream article. I would rather have ice cream made the old fashioned way with proper technique, but I guess the two methods can’t be compared.

Liquid nitrogen ice cream is more about the show than it is about producing a quality ice cream made with proper texture and consistency. It doesn’t show the skill of a pastry chef, so I prefer another dessert. On the other hand, in the context of liquid nitrogen ice creams, this one was perhaps my favourite version of it.

Calgary Teatro (30)The black lava sea salt used to sprinkle on top of the caramel ice cream.

Calgary Teatro (33)**Caramel with Black Lava Salt Ice Cream - 5/6 (Excellent)

  • Included in the Chef’s Tasting Menu.
  • It was extremely rich and creamy because it was made with almost, if not all, whipping cream.
  • A lot of liquid nitrogen ice cream I’ve tried in the past does not freeze hard enough, but this one held its shape.
  • It was a bit too cold for ideal ice cream serving temperature, but I liked the chew it had.
  • It tasted like a Werther’s Original candy in ice cream form and it was buttery and decadent.
  • The texture was inconsistent due to the method it was made and parts of it were chunky.
  • It wasn’t as salty as the one from Village Ice Cream (local favourite), and I liked it better here despite the inconsistent texture.
  • Salted caramel isn’t anything new, and I find it a played out flavour combination, although still good.
  • In this case the black lava salt was the new cherry on the sundae and they made “salted caramel” something worth talking about again.
  • It was just the right balance of sweet and salty without being too much of each, and the one scoop was just enough.

Calgary Teatro (34)Sticky Toffee Pudding4/6 (Very good)

  • Vanilla ice cream, raspberry encapsulation $12
  • This was described as “everything you want a sticky toffee pudding to be”, which was true, but I also found it too homestyle and traditional for Teatro.
  • It was a very good sticky toffee pudding, but with nostalgic desserts like these, there is always something to compare to.
  • The sticky toffee pudding was warm and a bit chewy and it was caramelized all around.
  • It was a bit sweet for me, but I still enjoyed it and it was very moist and rich.
  • Raspberries aren’t in season so I wouldn’t have minded a fall or pear encapsulation, or some fall fruit, but I could overlook it.
  • The encapsulations were well made with a burst of tart and sweet raspberry coulis inside.
  • The vanilla ice cream was okay and a bit bland and there was no vanilla bean.
  • It sat on crispy meringue wafers, but the scoop for the ice cream was a bit rough.
  • I would have loved banana chips, pecan crumble, or something more flavourful and creative to match the toffee pudding rather than meringue.
  • For this style of restaurant I was expecting a quenelle for the ice cream, although I appreciated the bigger size scoop to match the size of the pudding.

Calgary Teatro (35)**Tiramisu6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • Berloni family recipe $12
  • This was my favourite dessert and it was best shared especially after a multiple course dinner – and I have a sweet tooth and big appetite.
  • I know you can find Tiramisu everywhere and it’s nothing necessarily special, but here it was exceptional.
  • I love Tiramisu so naturally I should like this, but I am also super picky with it because I like it so much.
  • I’m often disappointed with Tiramisu, but this was the best version of it I’ve had since Italy and I hate saying “best” anything.
  • It was everything I wanted in a Tiramisu and more and it wasn’t too sweet.
  • It is a dessert that doesn’t like to be messed with and it’s eaten as a trifle for good reason, so I’m glad they didn’t change it too much from the original concept.
  • It was well whipped, super fluffy, very rich and creamy, and yet airy light in the mouth.
  • The lady fingers were at the bottom and they were moist without being soggy.
  • It was chocolaty with a hint of espresso and all the flavours were well absorbed and layered.
  • There was even added vanilla bean to one of the layers which gave it a floral and aromatic quality I loved.
  • I could taste the mascarpone and they didn’t hold back on it. It was almost the thickest layer and it never is since it’s the priciest ingredient.
  • There wasn’t any rum though, which is a bit taboo for a tiramisu, but they were trying to make it for all to enjoy.
  • The texture of it was just so beautiful and calling it “dreamy” seems cliche, but this was what I would call a dreamy dessert.
  • The only thing is, is that I preferred it served in a different glass that didn’t taper so I would have even amounts of each layer.
  • It was very traditional, but also better than what grandma would make. It was refined without being pretentious.
  • I get excited just looking at the photo again and I still think about it to date, so I know I really loved this. I would come back just for this.
  • For a restaurant of this caliber I was surprised there were no petit fours at the end of the meal, but I got to try some of them at The Really, Really, Long Table Dinner.

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