Picking up the menu for a meal out – or even perusing online first to really whet the appetite – is one of the best parts of eating at a restaurant. In that moment, there is a particular type of anticipation, a specific joy in reading the descriptions and finding that dish which makes you stop because nothing else will be more tempting.
Once ordered, once savoured, once reminisced on later, it becomes clear that the next time the chance comes, it will be ordered. And you won’t even need to look at the menu again.
While I relish trying new things and discovering dishes that often become favourites, there are some times when only one choice will do.
Here are five dishes I can’t get enough of.
Fried Chicken Sandwich at Blue Star Diner (809 1st Ave. N.E.)
In the quickest summary, I am in love with this sandwich. The chicken is juicy and tender, breaded and fried to a nice crust and then topped with pancetta, lettuce, tomato, a slathering of aioli and some pickled onions to offset all that rich deliciousness.
The kicker? A slight drizzle of honey for a hint of sweetness. Perfection.
Char Siu Doughnut at Pure Contemporary Vietnamese Kitchen + Bar (100-815 8 Ave S.W.)
Stuffed bunwich may a more accurate explanation for this dish that combines the requisite hot, sour, salty and sweet flavours of tender pork shoulder, pickled vegetables and a spicy sriracha aioli and tucks them into a thin, sesame seed-crusted bun.
Norvégienne at Suzette Bistro (2210 4th St. S.W.)
Let’s be frank, you can’t go wrong with any of the buckwheat crepe (or galettes, as they are actually known) at Suzette in Mission, but I come back time and again to this one filled with sautéed leeks and draped with coral-pink slices of smoked salmon.
Le 1608 Cheese Souffle at Whitehall (24 4th St. N.E.)
It’s a cheese soufflé, yes, so it is requisitely light and airy. But it’s double-baked so it has a slightly toasty crust, which gives a lovely and unusual texture. And that second round in the oven has a lovely after-effect. Namely, that a puddle of rich, gooey, nutty cheese surrounds the soufflé itself. Treat that part like a fondue and swipe pieces of bread through the melted cheese for full, delicious effect.
Bison Tartare at River Café (25 Prince’s Island)
The tumble of tender cubes of bison are rich and meaty, but it’s executive chef Matthias Fong’s twist on an otherwise traditional dish that sets this tartare apart. There is a crunch from canola, oats and puffed red fife, the light bite of wild garlic and then bright tangy pops from mustard and pickled Saskatoon berries with it all rounded out the coolness of smoky cucumber.
Gwendolyn Richards is a Calgary-based food writer and the author of Pucker: A Cookbook for Citrus Lovers. She regularly contributes to Avenue magazine, the Calgary Herald and is the restaurant writer for Where Calgary. She believes burgers are one of the finest food creations and can often be spotted eating them while wearing her signature red lipstick and patent shoes.