Raw Bar gets a makeover

Although best known for great cocktails Raw Bar at Hotels Arts has recently undergone a makeover — the space and the menu — and changed its name to Raw Bar by Duncan Ly who is the talent behind it. One of the city’s finest executive chefs Ly’s menu pays homage to his Vietnamese background featuring new interpretations of the cuisine.

Visiting on a brutally cold Wednesday night my girlfriend and I decide to skip rush hour traffic and pop in for dinner. The first to arrive at 5:30 we have the massive room to ourselves before folks start trickling in.

Gone are the red and purple hues of the previous space. The new décor is bubbly and bright — painted in sky blue with hints of taupe and white. It’s not my favourite look but then again I’ve never really been a fan of this room. The Barbapappa-like columns in the centre of the space are a little too “funky” for my taste.

With a drive home ahead of me I opt for a mocktail. Our mixologist suggests a blend of hibiscus and cucumber ($5.50). It’s a refreshing drink that features a nice balance of sweetness with a crisp clean finish.

Moving on to the menu we can’t resist a selection from the roll category. The crispy sweet potato and ginger spring rolls ($9) are perfection. Wrapped in a light and crunchy exterior the sweet potato filling is smooth and creamy with lovely pops of vibrant ginger. Add the fantastic peanut coconut sauce into the mix and we have a winning starter.

We also order the chili marinated prawn salad ($15) from the small plates section of the menu. Almost everything about this salad — from the ribbons of mango and papaya to the spicy crushed peanuts and garlic sauce dressing — is delicious except the shrimp. Keeping in mind we are eating shrimp on -30 C day in Calgary we take it in stride but it is on the fishy side.

For my main I try the grilled 8 oz. AAA NY steak ($27). Topped with a fragrant herb salad and seasoned with a soya beef jerky sauce the steak is cooked to a nice medium rare but there’s a lot of fat and gristle to get through. I like the flavour the sauce and herbs bring to the steak but it’s not enough to get me to order this dish again. Fortunately the garlic braised gai lan and local roasted potatoes are absolutely stellar.

My friend decides on the beef short rib steamed buns ($16) — a fantastic choice. Served on a large plate that features a steamer basket with four steamed buns plus a dish of sweet short rib prepared with sautéed onions and peppers the dish is DIY at the table. Adding a dollop of the accompanying chili aioli the resulting “sandwich” is tender tangy and filling. A great value at 16 smackers.

We end our respite from the cold with a lovely dessert of coconut tapioca pudding ($9). It’s my favourite dish of the night. The light-as-air tapioca is served with a scoop of tamarind ice cream and fresh slices of pineapple. I love the light coconut flavour of the smooth tapioca — it works perfectly with the sweet-and-sour tamarind ice cream and nutty flavour of the crunchy puffed black rice. Topped with pretty edible flowers this is a great finish.

There were a few minor flaws with our food at Raw Bar by Duncan Ly but overall I enjoyed the experience. The service was friendly and helpful our dishes were beautifully plated and I loved the inventiveness of the menu. I’ll definitely be back — only next time I’ll skip the steak and go with the pad Thai.