One thing about leaving Vancouver to come to Calgary, which used to be quite painful for me- is the food scene. It can’t be said enough, Vancouver has a pretty amazing food scene. There are so many fantastic options of places to eat and what’s more- a large portion of places in Vancouver fit into what is loosely termed as Holistic– aka natural & organic food, local & seasonal when possible and sustainable/environmental. Although the list is quite large and constantly evolving as new places open up, some of my favourite places to splurge in Vancouver are: East is East (on Main St), The Acorn, Heirloom, Nuba, Shizen Ya, Six Acres, Bandidas, Vij’s, Nicli Antica Pizzeria, Via Tevere Pizzeria, Gorilla Food, Blue Water Cafe & Aphrodites. Honestly, the list goes on, but these are just a few of my top at the moment!
I’m not exactly living in central Calgary– being at the ranch in the countryside means that it is quite the trek to ‘pop into town’ for a meal or a cup of joe. So, I try to plan ahead and figure out where I am going to go beforehand. Thus, it’s usually been easier (especially if I’m not alone) to go to somewhere familiar where I know the food is good and I know how to get there. However, this time around (on this trip) I’ve decided to expand my horizons and really give Calgary a chance. So far, it’s done pretty good.
Calgary has grown (and is consistently growing) a lot since I was younger, and along with this growth– the city is becoming more up and coming in regards to shopping & dining. Great news! It seems that Italian food is a big hit in Calgary. A lot of the top restaurants offer food that is within that genre of cuisine. One particular restaurant that I always heard about, and always wanted to go to, is River Cafe. The thing about it though, is that it is located on Prince’s Island Park, a beautiful park that is located right downtown Calgary. You are only able to access this park by foot (or bike), so no driving or parking. Without ever investigating, I always just assumed that it would be a bit of a hassle with my family- to get to this fantastic restaurant (especially when I wasn’t doing the driving). So, this time around– I decided that I was going to put in the effort and figure this out (by the way, suuuuuper simple).
Another major factor in this decision process is that I had the privilege of meeting the owner and creator of River Cafe and Boxwood Cafe, Sal Howell (virtually) while I was attending the Jiivala Holistic Entrepreneurship Program (hereafter JHEP) back in Vancouver (you can read my testimonial for this program here. Sal is a great friend to Sherry Strong, the owner and mentor of JHEP- and agreed to conduct an interview about being a successful entrepreneur of the top restaurant in Calgary (River Cafe is a recipient of countless awards). Not only does Sal have two incredibly successful, beautiful and thriving restaurants, she also has a beautiful family and is amazingly humble and generous. What a role model. I was very inspired by listening to her speak about her story and her life. SO, long story- short (ish)– I had to check out River Cafe.
Fortunately, this September has been the 11th best weather in September in all of Calgary’s recorded weather history. Again, great news! So, one day for lunch my wonderful mother and I decided to take the trip (more like I was driving and didn’t give her much of a choice) into downtown Calgary to visit the River Cafe. Parking at the Eau Claire Market Cineplex parking lot (large & easy to get to), we strolled across the quaint bridge into Prince’s Island Park- following the well marked signs to River Cafe. It was the late afternoon, and I was very hopeful that we would be able to score a spot on the patio overlooking the River, in the beautiful summer sunshine.
This may sound pretty mushy-gushy and cliche, but I honestly could tell from the moment we walked across the bridge that this was a very special place. Sal obviously has a knack for finding great spots to open up a restaurant, as both River Cafe and Boxwood are in really special locations. The restaurant is very simple and rustic– which lends to it’s classic and cozy feel. You can tell that the prices are definitely not going to be cheap, however- as with most holistic businesses, price is in correlation with quality. As most holistic health practitioners will agree- it’s much more effective to spend the money on the quality than spending the money on the medical system years after when you are suffering from illnesses and imbalances.
Luckily, we arrived just before the lunch hours were finished, with a few hours until dinner service began. As a result, we were able to get a great spot right on the patio in the perfect amount of sun (although my mum and I did slightly argue over who would get the great sun spot. Actually, no- usually we would argue but I decided to sit this one out and graciously gave her the sun spot;)) The menu at River Cafe is really perfect. Large enough that there are ample options for all tastes, but not too large that you get lost in it. Glancing over it, you can really tell that key elements like local & seasonal foods and natural, fresh ingredients are foundational factors taken into play during the construction of the menu. Both of our eyes immediately jumped to the ‘Poplar Bluff Beets’ dish on the appetizer section and I couldn’t help but steal a glimpse of ‘chanterelles’ under the flatbread section of the menu (the Saskatchewan Chanterelle Flatbread- Roasted Corn, Chevre, Smoked Oyster Pea Tendrils). Done! We shared these two dishes. Looking at the menu, you can tell that the chef, manager and owner really do love food. Each dish is beautifully written, depicting a colourful & creative picture in your mind (while also playing with your senses) of what may end up on your table. Another great part of River Cafe (that a lot of places do, but I think it is important and shows that the business is creative, evolving and passionate) is they do daily features and specials.
Both dishes were absolutely stunning. The Poplar Bluff Beets were so creative, it was almost too good to be true. It looked like a fantastic dessert, to be honest! Who would’ve thought to combine roasted beets with a savoury walnut sorbet! Amazing. For me, I am almost always in a corner when chanterelles are on a menu. I just have to have them. One of my favourite foods by far is traditional Neopolitan pizza– and specifically, mushroom (Al Funghi) pizza. To date, my favourite pizza is the Pizza Al Funghi at Nicli Antica Pizzeria in Gastown, Vancouver. Their dough is sensational (thin, soft & made in a traditional neopolitan pizza stone oven), the mushrooms are meaty and abundant (variety and portion) and the cheeses are carefully chosen to enhance the flavours of the mushrooms and herbs. Yummmm, my mouth is seriously watering right now. Anyways, I was pleasantly pleased (not surprised) when the flatbread arrived at our table, to see beautiful, meaty pieces of chanterelles decorated on the pizza’s top. The icing on the top (which is always a fantastic surprise for me) was that they topped the flatbread with fresh, juicy pea shoots. For me, you can’t eat a pizza without some fresh, bitter arugula, watercress or pea shoots on top. So good.
Alongside a glass of delicious Malbec red wine, I was feeling thoroughly satisfied at this meals end. For me, dessert is never really even an option. Whether or not this is a result of my strict rules against sweets that I had since a young girl, which trained my palet- or I just have never been so much of a sweets person– I tend to steer clear of eating a dessert at the end of a meal. From a nutritional point of view– this tendency is very much in congruence with Food Combining rules (check out this link from fantastic blogger ‘My New Roots’ on some great nutrition in depth details on proper food combining secrets). In a nut shell, sugars/sweets/carbohydrates are digested the fastest in your digestive system.
Thus, in order to practice proper food combining and supporting an efficient digestive system- it makes most sense to eat your sweets (simple carbohydrates) before eating your protein or fats. If you save your sweets till after your meal (especially a meal heavy in fat and protein), those sweets sit at the top of your stomach and colon, fermenting- while your body works hard to digest the heavy proteins and fats. Nutritionally aside, our palets do become quite trained by what we eat a lot of. If you eat a lot of sweets, your body becomes adjusted to it’s flavour and your brain develops cravings for these foods. By not really ever eating sweets or desserts– I rarely crave sweets and desserts.
Now, that being said- my mum has a typical love for chocolate (as do a lot of people in this world). So, needless to say- the dessert menu spoke volumes to her. I was happy to entertain this, because I was interested to have a look and see what was featured and how they presented sweets into their cuisine. Deciding to not resist temptations, we ordered the Theo Organic Chocolate Pate. I was most intriuged by the name, and was excited to see the creativity of this dish. As you can tell from the photo below, this dish was pretty ridiculous, and well….. I had to have a bite and try it out for myself. Unreal. Definitely recommend this for all those chocolate lovers out there.
All in all, a wonderful experience- fantastic service, great food and an amazing, charming spot in the heart of Calgary’s downtown center. I have since been back again for dinner and my goodness- I am going to now have to visit for a weekend brunch. Stay tuned for more reviews on my food journey in Calgary. I highly recommend you take a stroll into Prince’s Island Park and check out River Cafe. A word of warning– if you are looking to go for lunch or dinner, make a reservation. This spot is no secret and gets incredibly busy and booked up. If that doesn’t speak to it’s magnificence, then I don’t know what will;)