Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life -

Her­alded by a mega-blast of so­cial me­dia and the spicy waft of chili-rich gochu­jang sauce in the air, Anju re­opened a few days ago.

Now hap­pily en­sconced on the north­east cor­ner of 4th Street and 17th Av­enue S.W. (344 — 17 Av­enue S.W., 403-460-3341) af­ter a hia­tus of al­most 14 months, Roy Oh’s mod­ern Korean restau­rant is pulling back its many fol­low­ers.

Oh and wife Anh Au opened the orig­i­nal Anju early in 2009 in a re­fur­bished house hid­den among the condo tow­ers of down­town Cal­gary. Only the sheer de­ter­mi­na­tion of the young cou­ple kept Anju open for the first cou­ple of years; the cre­ative menu was too non-tra­di­tional for many Korean food fans and too unusual for those look­ing for a more sub­tle style.

But slowly, culi­nary afi­ciona­dos flocked to Anju, declar­ing its gochu­jang-bathed chicken wings to be the best in town and the crispy tofu to be a near-re­li­gious ex­pe­ri­ence.

The word spread and Anju gained an al­most cult-like fol­low­ing. (Check out #An­juEf­fect on Twit­ter and In­sta­gram for more de­tail.) But the awk­ward lo­ca­tion con­tin­ued to be a prob­lem, so when his lease came up, Oh opted to close and shift to an­other space.

He looked at a few op­tions but kept re­turn­ing to the 4th Street cor­ner. It’s an L-shaped room with win­dows south and west and the op­tion of a good-sized deck onto 17th Av­enue. But it has a check­ered past. It had been a suc­cess­ful restau­rant spot for many years — the home of Il Giardino — but came up for lease when the own­ers re­tired.

At about the same time, Pe­tite, a pop­u­lar — and tiny at 28 seats — 10th Av­enue restau­rant, suf­fered a fire and opted to move in. The food was good but renos left the space dis­jointed and ster­ile and the room proved too large and un­wieldy for Pe­tite’s per­son­al­ized cui­sine. It closed short of a year.

So how does Anju keep from re­peat­ing that sce­nario? Oh has been studious about his changes. He spent the past year work­ing in restau­rants such as Model Milk to learn more about food pro­duc­tion and run­ning larger kitchens. In Anju 1.0, the tiny kitchen held him and one other cook. He knew he’d need a much larger staff wher­ever he landed.

So, Oh part­nered with Vic­tor Choy’s Con­corde Group to han­dle con­struc­tion and man­age­ment. In re­cent years, Choy has broad­ened from his orig­i­nal col­lec­tion of bars and night­clubs (the Na­tional Beer Halls, the Lo­cals, the Repub­lik, and so on) into an eclec­tic list of restau­rants (Sky 360, Palomino, the Dou­ble Ze­ros, Clive Burger, Model Milk, and more). Anju seems like a log­i­cal fit.

Choy and Oh pulled in RAD Ar­chi­tec­ture, a lo­cal group that de­signed the Na­tion­als, Clive Burger, Model Milk and the Dou­ble Ze­ros. They solved some of the space prob­lems by knock­ing down walls, cre­at­ing a uni­fy­ing de­sign and in­cor­po­rat­ing a light Korean mo­tif. The room now has char­ac­ter that’s fresh, open and con­tem­po­rary; noth­ing is over­pow­er­ing.

The open kitchen re­mains where it had been but has been re­fit­ted to serve the needs of Oh’s food.

For Anju devo­tees, the crispy tofu ($14) and gochu­jang (a condi­ment made with red chilies and fer­mented soy­beans) chicken wings ($14) are back, as is the dol­sot bibim­bap (hot stone rice bowl, $14) and the yam fries ($9). Oh melds flavours of Korea with global in­gre­di­ents to cre­ate a gochugaru (red chili pow­der)braised and caramel-glazed sable­fish ($16) and gochu­jang- and Parme­san-topped baked oys­ters ($16).

The menu is bro­ken into sec­tions of Hwae (raw), Twi­gin (deep-fried, crispy goodness), Anju (spicy, salty drink­ing foods), Ban­chan (veg­gies and sides) and large for­mat dishes. Most of the dishes are smaller — anju trans­lates as Korean small plates meant for sharing and to be had with al­co­hol — so you can try a num­ber of things at one meal.

Anju has a long list of wine, beer and cock­tails plus a half­dozen brands of soju, the dis­tilled “na­tional drink” of Korea, to fa­cil­i­tate the drink­ing part of the meal.

So the new Anju seems well con­ceived and re­sponse so far has been over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive. Anju 2.0 prom­ises to be one of the hottest restau­rants in Cal­gary this fall.

One other Anju note: Park­ing is free and abun­dant in the park­ing lot be­hind its build­ing af­ter 5 p.m. and on week­ends.


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