G I LC H R I ST
Next week, Chinatown rings in the year 4712 — the Year of the Horse — on the Chinese calendar. There will be loads of family activities and big dinners throughout the weekend and many of them will be held in newly renovated restaurants throughout the downtown community. Chinatown is back on its feet following last June’s flood and many of its shops and restaurants are brighter and shinier than ever.
During the flood, century-old basements filled with water as 2nd Avenue S.E. became part of the Bow River. Businesses were knocked out for weeks or months. Even restaurants that weren’t directly affected lost power for days, forcing them to remove all food and beverages from their businesses. Some had insurance, others not. Rebuilding has been slow and a number of places remain closed while renovations continue.
But the flood has also spurred a rebirth in Chinatown. Before the flood, many of the area’s restaurateurs who opened their businesses during the 1970s’ and 1980s’ boom had been thinking of retirement. So in the past few months, ownership changes have seen a younger generation taking over some places while others have sold to new entrepreneurs from mainland China and Hong Kong. And with new owners come new ideas and different kinds of foods.
One place that’s been ahead of the curve on change is Calgary Court at 119 2nd Avenue S.E. (403264-7890). A Hong Kong-style restaurant, Calgary Court has been serving modern Hong Kong food for a few years, straying from the classic Cantonese style of Chinatown.
But when the Bow filled Calgary Court’s basement, it was out of operation for months. Now open again, Calgary Court will greet New Year’s customers with a bright new dining room lit with LED lights, what executive chef Paul Yung calls “fancy” new post-flood bathrooms and a menu of both traditional and modern Hong Kong dishes.
Yung describes modern Hong Kong cuisine as a collection of pan-Chinese flavours and styles combined with western influences. So you’ll find a baked pork chop in tomato sauce on spaghetti. But instead of an Italianstyle tomato sauce, he infuses his with Chinese spices and at the same time marinates the pork chop in vegetable juices and red bean paste. Other dishes are described as coming in a “Portuguese” sauce, a creamy, mildly spiced sauce from the former Portuguese colony of Macau.
For a New Year feast at Forbidden City (999 36th Street N.E.), Yung’s menu will showcase dishes representing wealth, like the “prosperous abalone combination” and long life such as the fried noodles with crab roe. From the contemporary side of Hong Kong there’ll be deep-fried mahi mahi and macadamia nuts with a champagne cream sauce and baked free-range chicken stuffed with barley and truffles. Yung pulls flavours and ideas from all over the world to create his dishes.
Calgary Court and Forbidden City are two of seven local restaurants in an international group called Taste of Asia. (Some of the others are Misai, T. Pot and Pebble Street.) Taste of Asia also owns about 30 more restaurants in Hong Kong. Yung is executive chef of the entire group and travels frequently back to his hometown of Hong Kong, bringing fresh ideas back to Calgary.
Thi Thi, one of Chinatown’s great Vietnamese submarine sandwich shops, is also back in business. At 209 1st Street S.E. (403-265-5452), the ground-floor takeout cafe filled with water and river sludge last June. So when things dried out, owners Hoa Nguyen, Hoa Tran and Binh Nguyen tore everything out. Closed for a couple of months, Thi Thi reopened with everything new from electrical and plumbing to flooring and kitchen equipment. It looks better than it ever has and the subs are just as good.
Meanwhile, Rosetta and Joyce Chan’s Try Again Beverage House at 111 3rd Avenue S.E. (403234-0666) weathered the flood without damage, the water stopping just a few doors away from their basement bubble tea shop.
The Chans have been brewing bubble teas in Calgary for over 14 years and are local pioneers in the tapioca pearl and fresh fruitjuice business. Their shop was closed for a couple of weeks as Chinatown waited for electricity to come back on. Then they had a few tough months while customers, unsure whether Try Again and other Chinatown businesses were open, slowly returned.
But now with more businesses opening and the Year of the Horse upon us, Chinatown is hoping to “gallop into prosperity” in the New Year.
RESTAURANT GUIDE TO
AND BEYOND IS AVAIL-