CUCINA Bistro - Best Birthday EVER.

Hours: 7 am - 10 pm

Reservations: No

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Coffee, Dinner, Saturday Brunch, 

Likelihood to return: 5/5

Food/Coffee: Food  4.5, Coffee 4.5/5

Chillness: 5 chill chairs

Highlights:  Reverse Affogato, Vitello Tonnato (Sous Vide Veal)

It is unfortunate that it has taken so long for me to edit and write this entry.  It is very fitting that this would be nearing the last restaurant I write about in Calgary.  Why?- you ask; because it is almost certainly my new FAVOURITE restaurant in Calgary.

When you dine out, it is a complete experience; ambiance, service, and amazing food.  We had a great birthday meal, my family and I just loved it! Although I may be biased, I have easily gone back about four times in two weeks to get my fill prior to moving away.

Cucina is the new venture by the owners of Teatro, lead by Chef John Michael McNiel (twitter: @zeolobsterboy).  Cucina bistro is warmly lit, furnished with vintage pieces from around the world, and boasts an open kitchen with a rotisserie, pastry case for daytime, and TWO beautiful crafted Lamarzoco espresso machines.  As if that were not bling enough.  There is a story behind almost every piece used in the restaurant; for example, the long dining table is an old cheese board used to age wheels of cheese, the bathroom doors are from a Welsh schoolhouse.  I can't believe how much I love this place!

I feel like this restaurant fills a niche that Caglary has long been waiting for.  The rustic, warm, home & hearty feel is absolutely quaint, not to mention the food is solid.  Where can you get food of this calibre and quality, and finish with a very decent cup of coffee?  As is the trend in many restaurants in our city, Cucina uses locally sourced ingredients.  You will see many of their suppliers & producers listed on the menu.

We started off the meal with some cocktails, and I was overzealous to try the coffee.  So I ordered a cappuccino and Mum, a Pimms.  I have heard such great things about the coffee at Cucina, not only do they use Phil & Sebastians (P&S) beans, but they take their coffee quite seriously.  The Cucina staff have been studying hard and working closely with espresso bar training from my good friend, Chris- a trainer at P&S.

The staff were warm, friendly and professional at Cucina.  A member of our party mentioned that "They have never experienced such genuine service at a restaurant, it made them feel comfortable and at home."

On to the PRIMI

Market soup was Minestrone.  

We also partook in Romaine Insalata - topped with Crispy Prok belly a zing from the anchovy & lemon-parmigiano vinaigrette (Grana Pandano).

Vitello Tonnato - Sous vide veal topped with tuna confit emulsion, fried caper, arugula. This is unreal, unexpected, and a very good display of chef's style.  It combines flavours that you wouldn't conventionally expect.  The texture of meat cooked in this method, under a vacuum sealed pouch, yields very moist results and seals in flavour.  The veal has texture soft like sashimi, which is why the emulsion is so ridiculous.  The salt in the emulsion is complementary to the crisp arugula leve and crunch of the capers.

Chicken Liver Parfait - consisted of liver hidden under a layer of butter to prevent oxidation.  It comes with a side of sour cherry cipollini jam (sweet, tart, richness - perfectly balanced).

Beef Tartare - now, Mom loves tartare, always has.  But the recent scares of E.coli had her second guessing.  After a series of questions, we decided perhaps it was still safe to try.  There is always risk in life, just don't want to pay for it with my own kidneys ;)

- local Silver Sage beef, that is apparently slaughtered at a provincial facility, more cipolini, and brassica mustard also made in Calgary.  - only complaint here is the house chips could have been a tad crispier

SECONDI

Pork & Rabbit Meatball Papperdelle - I had been craving Teatro Pappardelle for weeks, if not months, at this point.  If you haven't seen what they can do, see what I mean in the previous Teatro Posts. (Teatro 8-course Tasting, Teatro by the Plaza) I know, it sounds terrible [eating Rabbit|; and to be honest, I think it is a slightly risky choice to put on the menu.  We still aren't the most adventurous eaters in Calgary, but risk it anyways! The fried basil, as you can see is used mostly for garnish.  But, the flavours of the dish were traditional with a touch of gamey rabbit. The meatballs were moist and full of flavour - definitely a solid choice!

Saltimboca Shells - braised short rib, can you really go wrong?  The Saltimboca, which means jumps in the mouth (thanks Wikipedia), is traditionally made with veal, prosciutto, and sage.  The braised short rib, was so tender and moist, as braised should be. I've noticed braised short rib trending in the food scene in recent years.  Perhaps people are realizing how amazing this meat can be especially when slow-cooked until it absorbs all the juices and softens all the connective tissues, collagen!  When we returned the second night, I recommended this to my friend and she enjoyed it.  But both encounters, the pasta shells were baked to a crisp and similarly difficult to cut through as they had dried under the heat.

Cortes Mussel Cioppino Bianco -  Mom could not resist seafood.   This was the least favourite of the above selections, as the clams and seafood were on the fishy side.

Rib Eye - You know you are Calgarian, when you can't resist a huge slab of beef.  Dad enjoyed the 12 oz steak with crisped brussel sprout and aioli.  That night, he was having a hay day, no complaints from him and the steak was tender and flavourful.  (It's not everyday dad has no complaints)

on a second trip… we had 

Beef Osso Bucco - I learned from my previous mistake, I saw the osso bucco getting plated the first night, and realized that this was the big piece of beef that I wasn't supposed to resist as a Calgarian.  So this time, I smartened up and definitely made no such mistake!  This dish was rich and well worth however much I paid for it. HUGE portion.

Market Fish - on the second occasion, my cousin found this dish to be slightly underwhelming.  It was delicately flavoured, and well presented.  

AND now, dear … on to my favourite:

DESSERTS

Again, I was having difficulty choosing a desert.  This happens often.  So, to make the decision easier, we had all of them.

Tiramisu - this is a Teatro Classic!  It will never stray from the menu, Gibraltar may crumble, your love may fade, but this will never change.  An airy italian dessert, in this version, sans alcohol.

Reverse Affogato - Chef is all about playing mind games with you here.  Please, please, if you have never tried an affogato go to your nearest gelato store and have them doused it with a shot of espresso. Affogatos are by far my favourite treat in the whole world.  I fell in love with them years ago after my first Italy trip, but they taste like pillowy ice cream soft and full in your mouth as the espresso melts them into a heavenly dream.  I guess it could also be that they are my favourite things in the world; coffee & ice cream.  Once you have experienced a real affogato; [vanilla bean] gelato, dripping with a shot of espresso.  Then experience the geniuses of the reverse Affogato- which are, house made espresso gelato smiling in a pool of warm vanilla cream - emulsified dreaminess.  Enough said.  Had that, TWICE.

Passionfruit Mousse - Mousses are interesting, I don't tend to favour them but this foam is of a sweet, tangy, tropical passionfruit and topped with a jelly.

Chocolate Cake - This will satisfy your craving for chocolate cake.  The salted caramel icing & Chocolate icing was not as pronounced as I expected, but if you want chocolate cake this is a traditional pick.

Warm Apple Thyme Tart - Admittedly, one of my recent musings is how to incorporate herbs into sweets.  We so often see them used in savoury dishes, but the delicate use of thyme with cinnamon-chantilly cream (almost fancy for whip cream) made for a a pleasant spiced and subtly sweet dessert.

and THAT, my dear is a dinner that birthdays are made of.  Ones that leave you, not wanting, or wondering anything… haha because everything that you desired on the menu, was yours.

NOTE: I apologize for the funny colour in the photos.  I was too busy having fun, that I took them all in a low res file that can't be altered too much without distorting the image.  Embarrassing, really.

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