Story by Jody Robbins
CALGARY, ALBERTA — When a restaurant creates buzz in Calgary, it’s natural to think diners are raving about the steak. Not so with Muse.
After re-inventing itself earlier this year under new ownership, the restaurant introduced a seasonal menu that features hamachi, sturgeon, duck breast, lamb, porchetta and not one mention of steak. If you’re thinking it takes some brass prairie oysters to only occasionally serve beef in Cowtown, you’re right. The big question is, why?
“There are a lot of steakhouses in Calgary who do it right,” admits new owner Heather Wighton. “We don’t want to serve what every other restaurant in the city is serving. We want to lead.”
That’s a bold statement and so far Muse has lived up to its ambitions since Wighton and Stephen Deere took over. An overhauled wine list, new chef and inventive style of cuisine are driving fans to push Muse into the upper echelons of public voting for the 2013 Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada awards.
“It’s great to see Calgarians supporting us. There are tons of great restaurants in this country, and it’s an honour to be recognized by our customers who enjoy our food,” executive chef JP Pedhirney says of his restaurant’s current third-place ranking in the national poll.
Prior to Muse, Pedhirney cooked at the Michelin-starred Blackbird in Chicago, and also prepared dinner at the heralded James Beard House in New York. While his cuisine freshens the decade-old restaurant, fans of the “old Muse” will find the same circus motif, along with a few minor cosmetic tweaks in the intimate dining nooks. The commitment to quality service and fine dining is still here, too — it’s just been enhanced with an air of bonhomie following the update. Dining here is about enjoying yourself, having a laugh and being excited about the food.
“The food is almost whimsical — but still very serious in terms of quality,” notes Heather Hartmann, a recent diner.
Tempting Tastes at Muse
Serving up New American cuisine in a lofty atmosphere, Muse will make you feel as comfortable in your jeans as in a suit. It features an innovative a-la-carte menu and five- and eight-course chef’s
tasting menus — multi-course experiences comprised of a cornucopia of flavours.
Start with what’s touted as the best foie gras tourchon ($16) in the city, or try the popular hamachi ($16), thin slices of yellow tail spanked with red chili and togarashi.
Ward off any lingering chill from winter with Rutabaga soup ($12), an explosion of textures and tastes that hides a pickled pearl onion and succulent piece of crispy chicken skin in its velvety broth.
Modern techniques melded with classic preparation styles means you’ll still be able to recognize what you’re getting on the plate — as evidenced by a middle course of Bruniose potato. Think of it as potato risotto, topped with a sous-vide egg and bacon gel. It’s a hearty dish, yet not overpowering.
For lighter fare, go for grilled Vancouver Island sturgeon with beet ribbons and borscht consomme ($37).
Tempted to skip dessert? The eight-course tasting menu presents a cheese, dessert and chocolate course, so arduous decisions can be avoided. But if choices need to be made, you can never go wrong with chocolate. Especially when it’s a dark chocolate and praline millefeuille, whose savoury layers are smothered in milk chocolate sauce and dusted with candied lemon zest. Go ahead, lick the plate. It’s pretty relaxed in here.
“Muse is vastly different than anything else out there. Most restaurants like to think they’re doing something unique, but Muse actually is. Sure, there are familiar elements, both high (caviar creme fraiche) and low (borscht), but it’s the fact that chef Pedhirney put them together in not only the same meal, but in the same dish that stands out,” says Hartmann.
Class and Comfort at Muse
Along with a lack of beef, you’ll also find there’s an absence of the language you’ve likely heard in every restaurant you’ve dined at in recent years. Ubiquitous pledges of seasonal, local and organic fare won’t be heard at Muse.
“Of course we follow slow principles, but do we really need to promote that? Shouldn’t food just be that way?” asks Wighton.
Those are good questions. With such an etiquette at work, Pedhirney knows he can source the best ingredients. The kitchen’s focus is on unique preparation styles that enhance the fine-dining experience. So far, the change has been a success. If you’re hankering for light atmosphere and original fare when you visit Calgary, you’ll be more than amused by Muse.
More About Muse
Location: 107 – 10A St. N.W., Calgary, AB (see map below)
Contact: 403-670-6873; Email: email@example.com
Reservations: Available online: www.muserestaurant.ca/reserve-a-table/
Tasting menus: Five-course: $85; Eight-course: $110.
A la carte: Entree prices currently range from $32-$38. View the menu here.
More About Voting for the 2013 Top 50 Restaurants in Canada
Public voting: The Canadian public can email their votes to firstname.lastname@example.org until the April 15, 2013 deadline. Voters will be eligible for the Foodie of the Year Contest, which includes round-trip airfare, luxury hotel stay and dinner for two at the Top 50 restaurant of their choice.
Judges: The 34 members of the Vacay.ca Judges Academy vote for up between 5-10 restaurants and award each of their selections a weighted value. The public votes are added to the judges’ votes to determine the Top 50 Restaurants in Canada. Results are published at the end of April.
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Note: Photos courtesy of Muse Restaurant