Restaurant Review: Carino Japanese Bistro and Wine

>> Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The weather outside today made me want to crawl straight back in to bed and sleep away the next 4-6 months.  I believe the bears are on to something there.  Unfortunately, humans just keep pushing onwards, so the least we can do is warm our stomachs with good food and in a surrounding that elicits comfiness. That's how I always found the little winebar just off of Edmonton trail.  So I was glad to have heard that it didn't shut down, but instead now houses a new restaurant that serves Italian food with an asian flare.  What better way to excite your tastebuds in to forgetting the foot of snow awaiting you outside?

Atmosphere: Occupying the space that once was AKA winebar, the interior remains intimate, warm and cozy.

Price Range: Mid $10s - $20+

Food and Wine: The menu was very focused featuring a few items for appetizers, entrees and sides, which always helps the decision making process.  My friend and I both really enjoy the traditional tofu agedashi and was intrigued by their version of Mozzarella Agedashi, guessed it...mozzarella instead of tofu. After my first bite, I was surprised at how fresh the mozzarella tasted and it was nice to get the slight crunch of the crispy outer deep fried shell.  It was very light and not heavy at all, I especially liked the plum jelly on top adding that bit of needed tartness. A nice start to the meal.

Next we tried the Seared Foie Gras, served with braised daikon overtop a light dashi broth.  The daikon was extremely sweet and infused with dashi flavour due to the broth.  Perfectly cooked, it just fell apart when cut in to.  I didn't even really need a knife.  It was the same with the foie gras. Seared just enough to caramelize the outer layer, but still remaining soft and silky on the inside. Perfect over the pieces of toast that came with the dish.

Our shared main was the Lamb Ribs.  It came with different Asian vegetables, creamy mashed potatoes and a lovely au jus.  The ribs themselves were fall off the bone tender.  They were a bit fatty, but they are ribs after all.  The mashed potatoes were a perfect accompaniment to the ribs, there to soak up all that wonderful au jus along with the veggies. I could eat this dish all to myself, so I definitely would recommend ordering a side or two if you're sharing.

We had the Gnocchi with Pork Belly as our side, you can never have too many carbs in a meal.  The gnocchi was soft and fluffy while the pork belly brought the much needed seasoning.  Our pork belly was a little underdone making the dish a little oily. I would have preferred them to be a bit crispier but that's because I also really like crunchy bacon bits. 

For dessert, they had a special on that night just for the autumn season and we decided to give it a try.  The Pumpkin Duo came with a pumpkin pudding and a profiterole filled with pumpkin cream served with a side of vanilla ice cream.  The pudding was smooth and creamy with hints of cinnamon and spice.  I enjoyed the whipped cream and chocolate on top as well, adding a nice bitter flavour to accent the pumpkin.  I wasn't as much of a fan for the cream puff. The dough was a bit more dense, but I did enjoy the pumpkin cream filling.  As for the ice cream, you can never go wrong with serving a dessert to me a la mode!

The server was great assisting us with our wine choice that evening because our first selection was no longer available. We ended up on the Acien Pinot Noir to start off our meal and it was the perfect pairing for our lighter appetizers. Medium bodied, you can really taste the abundant cherry and chocolate flavours in the wine.  The light tannins finishes off with a silken mouthfeel and hints of strawberries.  I highly recommend this wine with pasta or lighter to mid fare. If you'd like to have your wine aerated, Carino has an amazing decanter which is quite the experience.  Be sure to ask if you're intrigued.

My Picks: Seared Foie Gras, Lamb Ribs

Overall: It's always interesting to see Asian and European influences in the same dish on one menu, but I've always found it to be a successful marriage of flavour even though the cooking styles are so uniquely different.  Carino is no different.  Combine this with a warm and inviting atmosphere that the owners bring forth and you can definitely hide yourself away here in the midst of our cold Calgary winters. 

Carino Bistro and Wine
709 Edmonton Trail NE
Calgary, AB
(403) 984-7534

Carino Japanese Bistro + Wine on Urbanspoon


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