As long as there have been restaurants, there has been a cycle of closures and new concepts taking over spaces. We see it across the city, but notably on major dining destination streets, like 17th Ave. S.W.
The original Melrose Café and Bar — epicentre of the Calgary Flames run for the Stanley Cup in 2004 — became Corbeaux Bakehouse, which turned into Royale and has since evolved into Porch, which completely transformed the space, taking the massive patio and turning it into an indoor/outdoor seating area, complete with swings at the bar.
Petite (which wasn’t so little) on the corner of 4th Street became Anju 2.0 before it shuttered while the building was set to undergo repairs.
And just down the street from that, Ox and Angela, a Spanish-inspired hotspot evolved into Ox Bar de Tapas, complete with new design and menu, with a focus on sherry and traditional dishes, before it too closed. RIP some of the best patates bravas ever.
This time the space has traded the tapas of Spain for the dishes of Japan with Lonely Mouth, the latest from the Concorde Group.
Literally named for the Japanese word “kuchisabishii” — roughly translated as: when you’re not hungry, but you eat because your mouth is lonely — the new spot features an ethos, esthetic and menu that is both playful and traditional.
The space has gone through yet another transformation with wooden-slatted dividers subtly breaking up the large room into two sections, but without making it feel small or closed in. The long marble bar anchors the one side with a few tables and a view into the kitchen and spot where the handrolls are made. The wood accents and paint framing the open kitchen evoke shoji screens, the traditional paper sliding doors seen in many homes and restaurants. On the other side of the room, tables with banquettes and chairs fill the dining room space.
The menu from chefs Tomohiro Mitsuno and May Ng is a scattering of handrolled sushi, appetizers, meats and fish, including sashimi, and the singular bowl of udon, which is a must-order. The bowl of fragrant, golden dashi broth is filled with fresh, thick housemade noodles that have the appropriate amount of bounce when chewed and a healthy sprinkling of tempura kasu (little bits of fried batter that soak up the broth and add some initial crunch). A truly soothing soup.
Small, thoughtful details punctuate the meal: the notched spoon that rests on the side of the udon bowl, the grated daikon in the tempura dipping sauce, the slight dusting of yuzu salt over fried slices of vegetable tempura.
The handrolls are served on small wooden boards, about four bites worth of maki in one roll. The pickled cucumber with sesame and ginger, meanwhile, is a nice contrast to the richer dishes.
Like all Concorde spots, there is a solid cocktail list — the Lonely Mouth Sour with yuzu, shochu and midori is a lovely take on a classic cocktail — but the extensive and well-curated sake list shouldn’t be overlooked. With 38 different types, from “clean and elegant” to “textured and expressive,” there is a lot of Japan’s traditional alcohol to explore.
Given the menus are numbered, expect to see different dishes as the seasons change and fresh ingredients come into play.
With so much to try, your mouth won’t be lonely for long.
Lonely Mouth is located at 528 17th Ave. S.W.