Restaurant Review: Charpop

>> Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Every year it gets harder and harder to decide on a birthday surprise for my husband. I realized that eventually I’m going to run out of ideas. But this year I was extremely lucky (and inspired) to have happened upon the “pop up” restaurant concept within Calgary. What better way to surprise someone with something that I don’t even know anything about! Can’t really let anything out of the bag that way! So when I heard about the collaboration of John Jackson, Connie DeSousa (Charcut), Aviv Fried (Sidewalk Citizen Bakery) and Toronto Chef Grant Van Gameren (Black Hoof, Enoteca) were getting together for a 3 day only exclusive dining event. I pretty much stayed computer side waiting in anticipation for the resos to kick off.

Atmosphere: A tight knit relaxed space with a contemporary cool flare, especially since it was set up to be torn down in 3 days.

Price Range: Mid $10s - $30+

Food and Wine: Normally I enjoy googling up the menu before we head to a restaurant but since this was all part of the experience of a pop up restaurant (unknown location, unknown menu) it was really neat being surprised. The menu was grouped in to four different categories, small plates, large plates, sides and dessert. It was definitely not for the faint of heart (quite literally), since most of the menu contained offal (the yummy insides of different animals) ingredients.

We started with a couple of the small plates and ordered the The Original Tongue on Brioche and the Smoked Veal Sweetbreads. The texture of the tongue was very different from what I have had before and this could be due to the way it was presented, shaved very thinly. When I look at the sandwich it reminded me more of pastrami or corned beef, rather than tongue. It tasted very similar as well, except the meat was very tender, not dry at all. The accompaniments of the mayo and grainy mustard definitely raised it to a whole other level.

The sweetbreads were served in a creamy white bean and escarole sauce. I didn’t really see much of the pig skin and maybe that was what was missing in this dish. The sweetbreads were soft and creamy, went well with the rich sauce but it was missing a textural contrast. Both my husband and I could taste the smokiness of the sweetbread, which lingered at the end of the dish. It was different, I enjoyed it.

From the large plates, we decided on the Beef Heart Steak and Beef Cheeks. The heart was served overtop a chewy bannock bread, with lots of arugula and shaved ricotta. The lightness of the cheese and peppery arugula was a perfect pairing for the vinegary beef hearts. However since I love the normal taste of offal, I felt the vinegar removed a bit of the heart taste for me. My husband liked it the way it was cooked, but then again, cooking offal is extremely subjective. None the less, we ate it all up and I’m still wishing we had more.

The beef cheeks were extremely tender after many hours of braising I’m sure. Served with fall apart squash and carrots, it was a perfect stew style dish for the cold evening. My husband really liked the savory goat cheese scone, which he used to sop up a lot of the sauce. At the same time our side of Hot Vinegar Beets were served. They were sweet, with a slight tang of orange and a hint of thyme. The beets were a nice light side to the meal we were having.

At the end of our meal, I could barely wait to order dessert (which I’ve been thinking about this whole time after seeing what they were). We had to try one of each, since we didn’t get to try one of everything else on the menu (wish we had a larger group to share everything!). The Cast Iron Baked Cinnamon Bun came with a Spiced Rum and Raisin Gelato. It was a very generous size and I couldn’t be happier! The cast iron really kept the cinnamon bun warm to the last bite. It was chewy, sugary, spicy, everything a cinnamon bun should be and more! The gelato added a nice cooling break to the decadent sweetness. If Sidewalk Citizen Bakery makes these, I’m going to be back real soon.

It was nice ordering the Lavender and Lemon Poached Pears Galette because it contrasted well against the sugary cinnamon bun. The galette is served cold with a dark Valrhona Chocolate sauce. The mild lavender cream brought out the lemon in the poached pears. The chocolate was an added delight, nice and thick. It was a great with the Caffe Umbria coffee!

We couldn’t not have wine for the evening and the wine list was very much hand picked specifically for the menu. We decided on the red Mother’s Milk Shiraz. Dark purpley red in color, it wasn’t overly tannic yet still had a nice and soft acidity profile. I enjoyed the berry notes and it was pleasant on the palate.

My Picks: A tough choice but here they are:
Tongue on Brioche, Beef Cheeks, Cinnamon Bun

Overall: The meal was inspiring indeed, it reminds me that even though sometimes you think there really any way you can push it that much further. You can, there is always something out there that hasn’t been tried yet, or still new. So they surprises don’t have to stop and I hope the “pop ups” don’t either. The concept was thoroughly enjoyed by all and the dishes were amazing and unique. Can’t wait for another event like this one!



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