Continuing in the series of Calgary’s Best Restaurants, I visited Cilantro on Monday afternoon to talk about the holdings run by Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts (CRMR.)
Lauren Webb invited me there to talk about the many holdings which they operate, and to discuss where they fall in Calgary’s burgeoning culinary scene.
For a restaurant to last for twenty six years they must be doing something right. Cilantro has a name for consistently high quality within Calgary’s culinary scene. Fads and trends have come and gone, but Cilantro – with one of Alberta’s first wood-fired pizza oven – has weathered every storm.
What is the secret to their success?
Well, I found out during this lunch hour (OK, lunch two hour) with their marketing manager.
The dining room at Cilantro is comfortable and classy. It is a welcoming space, where you feel excited to spend some time with great people. On top of their great indoor space, they also have a spacious patio to enjoy the sun and fresh air for the three months of the year where Calgary affords this luxury.
We started off with looking over the menu, talking about the staying power of Cilantro, and perusing the amusing comments written to describe the wines as part of their extensive wine list.
When it came time to start the meal, we tried two of their best appetizers: a sweet and spicy prawn creation with a caramel ginger sauce, and the beef tenderloin slices paired with dried cherry chutney and dijon.
The prawns were perfect. I love seafood, and this variation of prawns had everything I enjoy. The thinly sliced greens added colour and texture to the dish, while the sauce was absolutely delectable.
The beef tenderloin was perfectly cooked to medium rare, presented well, and also a hit. The chutney wasn’t quite what I was looking for, but the meat was perfect.
As a note, I found it interesting that CRMR sources all of their beef and elk from their own ranch just outside of Calgary. The ranch services all of the CRMR properties. This dedication to consistency and quality is truly impressive.
While we were enjoying our appetizers, I partook in Negroni week with a signature cocktail by their award-winning bartander, Dominik. The presentation of the drink, arriving in what looked like a chemistry beaker was definitely innovative. I appreciate creative touches, and this one didn’t go unnoticed.
For my main, I ordered the New Zealand rack of lamb. I enjoy ordering things that I find hard to cook on my own, or haven’t figured out a way yet to cook properly; lamb is one of these dishes.
One of the things that I love about lamb is that you can do so many innovative things with the plating. The culinary artists at Cilantro didn’t disappoint here. The intertwined lamb ribs draped over a heaping pile of mashed potatoes made for beautiful presentation. Not only was the presentation beautiful, but the flavours lived up to that high bar. The sauce was a sweet and savoury glaze, generously poured over the meat.
The lamb was fantastic, but be warned: it’s a heavy dish. I would eat this any day of the week September through snowy May, but you may want to find a lighter fare for a hot summer night.
We capped off the lunch with a espresso, before parting ways. As a couple notes, Cilantro has been at its 17th avenue SW location since 1988. It was one of Alberta’s first restaurant to have a wood-burning pizza oven imported from Italy, and that same oven is still a big part of Cilantro’s success. Four items have been on the menu every day since opening their doors: black bean mussels, rack of lamb, pear and gorgonzola pizza and the black pepper linguine. In 2012 they launched their first new menu in 22 years. The regulars missed the old selection, and so they mostly switched back. This is a testament to the loyalty their patrons have towards this restaurant, and the staying power of the quality of their food.
One last impressive note: all of the pasta is made in house, and started at 4:00 am daily. When you bite into that black pepper linguine, remember the dedication that one of their chefs took to get up and out of bed just past when bars are closing in order to bring the freshest possible pasta to your plate.
Location:338 17 Ave SW
Monday to Thursday
11:00 am to 10:00 pm
11:00 am to Midnight (full menu available until close)
5:00 pm to Midnight (full menu available until close)