Best Cocktail-Forward Dining in Calgary
At these places, the cocktails and food are equally good.
photograph by jared sych
Pan-braised smelt with sofrito and clam vinaigrette paired with The Wallace cocktail at Proof.
House-made pickled eggs, roasted cauliflower and pork belly steam buns top the list of things to order at Proof. It may seem counterintuitive to ponder a food menu at a cocktail bar, but the fact is, those small bites with big flavours sometimes draw more attention than the spirits, syrups and bitters that get shaken and stirred behind the bar.
“We have a very talented chef,” says managing partner Tony Migliarese. “People say, ‘Oh my God, not only are the cocktails great, so is the food.’”
Chef Justin “Tino” Longpre puts a lot of thought into Proof’s small plates, focusing on a variety of delicious bites that don’t require cutlery and that don’t take up a lot of space on the table.
The idea that alcoholic elixirs ought to be accompanied by excellent eats isn’t entirely new — after all, fine wine has been paired with gourmet food for centuries. What’s fresh is cocktail-forward dining; the practice of matching craft drinks with elevated bar food.
The trend is also different in that it’s not exactly dining. The crispy gnocchi and oven-roasted olives with almonds, for example, aren’t meant to be a meal; rather, their powerful flavours, shared between friends, are intended to either balance or match the main attraction, which is the contents of the glass.
A prime example of this relationship is Proof’s Laura Palmer cocktail, best sipped while eating the steam buns. After a bite of the soft bun, which is stuffed with unctuous pork belly, seasoned with a hit of spicy kimchi and sprinkled with salty peanuts, revive the palate with a swallow of the drink’s refreshing, bourbon iced-tea goodness. Then, relish the contrast and repeat.
The evolution from a cocktail focus to a well-rounded dining approach shouldn’t come as a surprise; after all, patrons have an expectation of good food nowadays.
“If you’re going to put all this care into cocktails, you’re not going to put out crappy food. We don’t shy on the quality of the spirit, nor do we shy on the quality of what’s in the food. Plus, if you’re tossing back cocktails, you need food to absorb the alcohol,” says Migliarese. “It’s an all-encompassing experience.”
As a bonus, it’s also usually more cost-effective than a full-fledged dinner with drinks.
1302 1 St. S.W., 403-246-2414, proofyyc.com
Drink | Chairman of the board.
Eat | Duck Reuben.
813 1 Ave. N.E., 403-454-5808, cannibale.ca
Drink | Sayulita sour.
Eat | Cured tuna and fois gras.
119 12 Ave. S.W., 403-206-9565, rawbaryyc.ca
Drink | Key lime surprise.
Eat | The Maui ribs.
1530 5 St. S.W., 587-349-2585, ricardoshideaway.ca