G I LC H R I ST
Fish and chips dredged in a chickpea batter. Korean fried chicken bathed in a spicy gochujang sauce. Miso-glazed halibut on soba noodles with citrus-dashi broth. Mozzarella agedashi with ume paste and basil tempura. Scallop carpaccio with sesame oil and ginger.
Call it Asian fusion or contemporary Asian or even modern Canadian. Whatever the name, the East-meets-West combination of Asian and European ingredients and techniques is one of the big trends in the culinary scene across North America these days. And it’s a style that’s influencing chefs and new restaurants around Calgary.
The chefs and restaurateurs come at the idea of Asian fusion from different angles. Toshi Karino of Carino combines his Japanese heritage with years of experience working in the wine industry and in Italian restaurants. Ergo the mozzarella, lightly floured and fried agedashi style, like tofu.
Darren MacLean of Down- townfood says that his sesameginger scallop carpaccio is modern Canadian because our culture draws from around the world. He simply puts the cultures together on his plates. Roy Oh, born in Edmonton to Korean parents, has one foot firmly planted in Korea, while the other walks the streets of Calgary. His soon-to-be-reopened Anju will feature his own version of KFC (Korean fried chicken) on a menu of contemporary Asian dishes. (More on Anju in a later column.)
Jason Chen, chef at the newly launched Lava Dining, trained with chef Dave Bohati at Rush after arriving in Calgary from Taiwan. He then continued his tutelage with Bohati at Market before opening his own place to serve the likes of halibut with soba noodles. (More on Lava soon, too.)
And then there’s Rohan Anand, born in Shillong, India and trained in India’s Hyatt hotel group in both French and Indian cuisine. It was only natural for him to open a French-Indian fusion restaurant in Calgary. It’s Saffron Mantra at 6219 Centre St. N. (403-475-1999) in Symons Valley Square.
Anand launched his restaurant in what had been a sports bar, also a natural progression since he had been head chef in Brewsters’ Foothills location prior to opening his own place. Working on a shoestring, he and partner Gurpreet Singh Dhaliwal scrubbed the pub clean, installed new kitchen equipment and opened their 130-seat restaurant a few months ago. It’s a simple look, light on decor, but spacious and spotless.
Anand’s menu includes the chickpea fish and chips, a whole fillet of cod dipped in a chickpea and Himalayan beer batter and crispy fried. Served with mint tartar, tamarind chutney and pickled fennel, it’s packed with Indian flavours. Many of his other dishes combine the same sensibility. Calamari is coated with a coconut and lemon grass curry glaze, and spice-rubbed Cornish game hen is charbroiled and served with a lingonberry chutney.
And a chicken tikka flatbread is topped with smoked tomato chutney and mozzarella. There’s some fine ideas and execution in this food.
Saffron Mantra also has some