Restaurant Review: Shokunin

>> Friday, February 19, 2016


There has been lots of buzz leading up to the opening of Shokunin, the newest creation by Chef Darren MacLean. I was extremely sad to see DTF (Downtownfood) close last year since it has always been one of my favorite restaurants, so I could not wait to visit his new establishment. Based strongly on traditional Japanese small plates, yakitori (a specialized charcoal grilling technique) and late night ramen, Shokunin definitely tries to bring a bit of Japan to us here in Calgary.

Atmosphere: Edgy dining room with a beautiful feature wall and an open kitchen where you can witness all the grilling action.

Price Range: Mid $10s - $20s

 
Food & Sake: After perusing the menu we decided to start with a couple small share plates, the first being the Braised Daikon made with 4k farms ground pork, shredded ginger, sesame paste and sansho oil. Served in a broth, I enjoyed how soft and tender the daikon was, literally falling apart when you put your fork in to it. It reminded me of a warming Asian style soup.

Next was the Karage Okamiitsu aka deep fried chicken thighs served with a yuzu aioli. The chicken itself was nice and crispy on the outside while remaining moist and tender on the inside. We didn’t find that the yuzu was quite tart enough and the added extra squeeze of lime over the chicken and aioli really helped round out the flavours.

 
We couldn’t go to Shokunin and not try their yakitori, essentially skewered meat grilled over traditional Binchotan charcoal which gives it a slightly smoky charred flavour. I found the lingering taste of the charcoal to be lighter in flavour than what I had in Japan which I actually preferred. It wasn’t overwhelming, often the case if not grilled correctly. We ordered the Shiitake and Chicken Thigh to start. The chef also surprised us with the Chicken Neck (deboned) and the Chicken Butt (daily special). I enjoy all types and cuts of meat but not typically the butt, however I was pleasantly surprised! It wasn’t overly fatty, instead the grilling gave it a nice crisp outer layer and the fat added to the flavour. My favorites were the shiitake, chicken butt, chicken neck and then the thigh in that order.

We decided on a couple more small plate items and added the Roasted & Sake Steamed Eggplant with a sweet miso sake glaze and toasted black sesame with negi. The eggplant itself was super tender and falling apart similar to the daikon which benefitted well from the salty sweet glaze.

Our last small plate was the Squid Tempura made with tender Humboldt squid, sansho pepper, ginger salt and served with a side of spicy mayo. I really loved this dish, the Humboldt squid is super tender and the sansho pepper gave it a lingering spiciness that was just perfect. It was vaguely reminiscent of the salt and pepper squid that the chef served at this last restaurant, but I found this dish to be even more memorable.


To end the evening we ordered the White Miso Crème Brulee with fresh yuzu peel and black tea walnuts. It’s always a treat to see a savoury ingredient used in a dessert and the miso works well here. The saltiness did a good job of mellowing out the dessert since crème brulees can often become very heavy and overly sweet for me. I found with this version I was able to keep going back for more. The yuzu flavour was again light but it did come through with the black tea walnuts adding the extra textural crunch. The size of this dessert if also perfect for sharing, if you don’t eat it all yourself first!


A main feature aside from their food is their sake menu, specially imported from Japan and can be sampled in its natural form or in their specialty crafted cocktails. The chef suggested that we sample the Kozaemon “Goddess” Junmai sake that evening to pair with our grilled meats. The sake itself was light and smooth, perfect to mellow out the smokiness of the charcoal. I highly recommend trying cold sake if you haven’t done it before. They typically only serve sake warm to mask the lower quality sakes, so like other alcohols sake should ideally be enjoyed slightly chilled.

My Picks: Squid Tempura, Yakitori (Shiitake, Chicken Butt if available)

 
Overall: The food at Shokunin transported me back to Japan and reminded me all the great flavours I enjoyed while I was there. It was really refreshing to see yakitori done in the traditional method and as I was sitting at the bar looking at all the delicious food being prepared in front of me, I couldn’t help but notice the amazing broth boiling away for their daily ramen and can’t wait to go back and try their ramen noodles (offered after 9pm)!

Shokunin
2016 4 Street SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 229-3444
Website: shokuninyyc.ca

Shokunin Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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