Here in land locked Alberta most everyones idea of Japanese food consists of Sushi or Edo but if you look around a little and are willing to open yourself up to a new experience you can find an amazing little spot located along the very popular 4th street in Calgary that goes by the name of Shokunin.
Shokunin loosely translated to english means craftsman and here in this well put together but small restaurant you will truly find a craftsman in Chef Darren Maclean. He is bringing together a fabulously unique Japanese pub experience with adventurous, delicious sharing dishes and drinks. Everything in this great space has been well thought out from the modern decor with a hit of Japanese art to the dishes that the chef spent days with a local artisan searching out just the right clays and glazes for. At first glance the menu is a little intimidating using many traditions japanese words and descriptors so we thought that our best chance at checking things out would be to try the Omakase, a 5 course chefs menu ($65) that highlights the best of what they do here.
We picked seats at the “chefs bar” with nothing but a clear piece of glass between us and the authentic japanese grill (where they cook most everything over a Japanese White Oak that the chef brings in directly from japan)
and where we could watch the chef and his team do their magic.
Our first course was a beautiful Hamachi nigri with fresh wasabi. The hamachi (the fattiest part of the tuna belly) was thinly sliced and then lightly seared with a torch just to bring out the fat and flavour. I loved seeing the fresh wasabi as I have only seen the processed version and this is the only place in Calgary that you will find the fresh real thing. It is similar looking to a ginger root however it is green and much much harder according to the chef who was wonderful enough to listen to our chatter and answer all of our questions. The wasabi was fresh ground on a wooden board and added to the top of our hamachi. This was a delicious one bite starter. The hamachi melted in my mouth and the fresh wasabi was the perfect amount of freshness and spice combined. It even disappeared before I was able to grab a snap shot of it!
Our next course was a Duck Tataki with foie snow. Thinly sliced cured duck with an amazing vinaigrette. The care of spice and “umami” that is added to the dish had us both wanting to lick the plates at the end.
Our third course was the special of the day, local asparagus tempura with kimzu (a beautiful egg based sauce that is created similarly to a buerre blanc sauce with egg yolks and japanese vinaigrette instead of butter) and sautéed chantrelle mushrooms. The tempura was light and crisp and I really loved the sharpness that the vinaigrette added to the sauce.
Now it was time to head on to the Yakatori. Yakatori consists of a variety of skewered items cooked on the grill with different seasonings and sauces. Along with the skewers came a side bowl of rice, a selection of house japanese style pickled accompaniments including carrot and egg plant and a soy egg dip (the egg yolk is added whole to the soy and spices and when you are ready, you mix it together to form a delicious creamy dip for your Yakatori).
We enjoyed the shiitaki mushroom that had a great savoury and smoky flavour from the grill and spices,
the chicken hearts (which were very flavourful and much like perfectly cooked beef),
chicken tail (also known as the popes nose or the chicken butt as I like to call it) they were wonderfully crispy and juicy,
and the chicken thigh with a teriyaki sauce.
Our dinner ended with a dessert of miso and yuzu creme brûlée. The addition of the miso to the dessert was excellent, it made the dessert less sweet and added a nice savoury quality to it that both of us really enjoyed. The sugar on top was perfectly browned and crisp and was the perfect way to end this great dinner adventure.
With so much more on the menu to discover we couldn’t resist trying several of the craft cocktails including one served in a smoked sphere and several of the sakes that are served at the restaurant (many of which are exclusive to Shokunin). You can even add the Sake pairings to your chefs menu dinner for $40.
We also couldn’t resist getting one more of the specialties and ordered the Scallop Isoyaki. A large bay scallop grilled directly in its shell with soy and butter then topped with bonito flakes (dried, cured and paper thin slices of tuna) which is then presented at your table on its own mini grill. This was an amazing treat, sweet and salty with a bit of smoke from the grill. Similar to but so much better than a scallop and bacon dish!
Overall I would highly recommend that you adventure out of your comfort zone and try everything on the menu here. If you don’t know what the menu means don’t be afraid to ask or be intimidated as Chef Darren has created an environment that is open, inviting and completely unpretentious. Wander in and belly up to the bar or cozy into a table for an amazing Japanese pub experience!
Enjoying a little corner of Japan in the city, I am Your Everyday Foodie!