Calgary definitely has a taste for casual restaurants as of late, but with Valentine’s Day just days away, it’s time to think about those splashy, special occasion restaurants. “Romantic” is a subjective term, but no matter what kind of restaurant gets your heart thumping, there’s likely something in the city to fit the bill.
Popular online reservation service OpenTable recently released its list of Canada’s Most Romantic Restaurants, compiled via user reviews. Eleven Calgary, Canmore and Banff restaurants made the top 100 and Calgary was also named the No. 1 romantic city in all of Canada. In other words, OpenTable has deemed that romantic dining is “inherently part of culture,” thanks to the highest number of reservations for two, user ratings identifying our restaurants as “romantic,” and bookings on the platform for last year’s Valentine’s Day.
While I always approach these consumer platform lists with considerable skepticism, the list does include many top date spots. You’ve got, for example, the impeccably prepared regional cuisine and idyllic inner-city setting of Rouge. The restaurant was good enough for Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa to celebrate their wedding anniversary a few years back, and The Boss knows his way around the art of romance. For south siders, there’s also an appearance by Bow Valley Ranche, which boasts a similarly historic setting and an impressively extravagant menu from chef Jenny Kang (what’s more romantic than a surf and turf for two featuring an assortment of seafood and an Alberta bison striploin?).
Location says a lot when it comes to romance — OpenTable also justifiably gives props to Sky Bistro, the restaurant that sits at 2,290 metres atop Banff’s Sulpher Mountain. One has to take a cosy gondola ride to enjoy the restaurant’s thoughtful “from farm to summit” food, which comes close to matching the spectacular view.
As a food person, above-and-beyond culinary experiences are my idea of romance, which is why places like The Eden at the Rimrock Hotel in Banff figure into the list. The restaurant is an exercise in pure luxury, specializing in a multi-course tasting menu ranging from three to 10 courses, all featuring ultra-indulgent ingredients. The Calgary equivalent listed would be Q Haute Cuisine, which offers seasonal four- and seven-course tasting menus, depending on the day of the week, with a special menu for Valentine’s Day.
The rest of the Calgary-area restaurants named are all good V-Day bets (The Lakehouse, La Brezza, Oceana Seafood Steakhouse and Bar, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Villa Firenze and Canmore’s Tapas), but there are so many other dining options available to romantic souls. Who’s to say that the cosy comfort of your favourite pho place or beer and wings at a local pub isn’t romantic? Despite the pressure to spend big on Valentine’s Day, true romance is always about the experience.
My most memorable Valentine’s dinner was a couple of years ago when my husband and I cancelled a reservation after realizing that the mandatory prix fixe menu was beyond our budget. We made our way to Brasserie Kensington, where there was a pair of seats available at the noisy kitchen bar. We drank Scotch and noshed on duck gravy poutine as we watched the cooks work — the food was delicious, but it was the spontaneity (a rarity on busy Valentine’s Day) that made it romantic.
For some, that romantic experience comes from an intimate fine dining experience at Deane House or engaging with one another over a selection of shared plates at Pigeonhole or Bar Von Der Fels; for others, it’s reminiscing about a first date with a burger from Peters’ Drive-In. And if you can’t get a reservation or want to skip the prix fixe specials, go on the 15th or later in the month — love (and happy eating) isn’t dictated by the calendar.
Speaking of February holidays, the Lunar New Year fell earlier this week, but Two Penny is continuing to celebrate with a special menu. Drop into the restaurant (at 1213 1st St. S.W.) until Feb. 15 to indulge in a fixed menu of favourites and special celebration dishes. Dinner is set at $45 per person and reservations can be made at twopenny.ca or 403-474-7766.
In other local restaurant news: YYC Hot Chocolate Fest is in full swing. Running the entire month of February, participating restaurants and cafés compete to produce the best non-alcoholic or “spirited” (a.k.a. boozy) hot chocolates, with proceeds from each cup going to support Calgary Meals on Wheels. For a full list of participating vendors and instructions on how to vote for your favourites, visit yychotchocolate.com
And, for those who like their hot drinks more caffeinated, Analog Coffee is opening a new location in Westman Village. In addition to serving the signature single origin coffees that Analog fans have come to love, the new location offers fresh goodies baked on site and, a first for Analog, will serve a small selection of beer and wine. The new shop is located at 102 Mahogany Centre S.E. and opens this Monday.