FOOD | French-influenced regional.
VIBE | Calm, relaxed, professional.
DECOR | Creaky-floored Victorian restoration.
DISH | Duck breast with sunflower-seed butter, charred eggplant, bok choy and sunflower shoots.
BONUS | A summer stroll through the garden.
The summer of 2001 was not an easy one for Paul Rogalski and Olivier Reynaud. They’d left significant jobs at La Chaumiere to open their own restaurant and had sunk their savings into The Cross House. Their task was to elevate a middling, Continental-menued restaurant in a historic Inglewood house into a world-class dining destination.
Open only a few months, and after costly renovations to the century-old house, the partners were almost broke.
But then a few people began to notice the change. And then a few more. And they told some friends about this new place with uncompromising standards, locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, a talented chef and professional service.
More people came. Soon the bank account turned black and the partners breathed a sigh of relief. Then they changed the name to Rouge, re-painted and renovated some more. They even brought in kitchen help to give chef Rogalski a break.
Then, in 2010, Rouge landed on S. Pellegrino’s list of the Top 100 Restaurants in the World and all hell broke loose. Reynaud and Rogalski had to hire a staff member just to handle the surge in reservations from locals and international travellers alike.
More chefs came and went, each adding their own tweaks to Rouge’s stellar kitchen. The Great Flood of 2013, lengthy flood mitigation in the area, the closing of the Zoo bridge and shifting economies each added a nick to Rouge’s character.
The partners remained unswayed. They even opened a second restaurant – Bistro Rouge – up the hill west of Sarcee Trail to broaden their market.
Through all the physical, economic and staff changes, and now with chef de cuisine Brian Diamond onboard, Rouge has been indomitable. Lamb tartare with pickled garlic scape aioli, smoked egg yolk, farro crisp and goat feta is just one of many appetizers on the winter menu. Smoked Brant Lake Wagyu teres major (shoulder tender) steak, parsley root, hay ash cavatelli and sauce Prigueux is a reimagining of an Alberta beef dish. For dessert, think corn brle with husk meringue and bourbon peach, turning the familiar brle on its head.
Local ingredients, many of which come from Rouge’s own garden and beehives, play a prominent role at Rouge, as the kitchen pushes the boundaries of Canadian cuisine.
Fifteen years on, Rogalski and Reynaud are feeling more comfortable but not the least bit complacent. They remain as committed and as focused as ever, keeping Rouge atop the best of Calgary’s restaurants.
1240 8 Ave. S.E., 403-531-2767, rougecalgary.com