Pop up Anju at Test Kitchen YYC
This past weekend I finally got to attend my first ‘pop up’ restaurant. It’s sort of like having a chef’s tasting menu as you don’t really know what is coming for each course. The ‘bare bones’ menus placed at each table were just enough to pique our interest and inspire speculation. Knowing that chef Roy Oh is synonymous with Korean cuisine we dreamed up some pretty interesting interpretations for the presented menu. It was an interesting and fun night out with dinner companions Terry Lo (calgary dreamer) and his wife Wing Kee, John Leung (Masterchef Canada contestant and busy chef’s apprentice at Eats of Asia and Coop Fresh to Go Market), and new friend Lionel Charrion (pastry chef!…the best kind).
But first let’s talk about the relatively new Garth E. Brown (Brix and Morsel) concept, Test Kitchen YYC. This large non concept restaurant occupies the spaces formerly known as Ric’s Grill and Mimi’s Italian Restaurant. It’s a really cool space that changes the menu every two weeks to keep food current, fresh, and very interesting. Test Kitchen YYC also serves as a space for chef collaborations and as a place for local chefs to test out new menus or concepts. Basically its a place for foodie guinea pigs like me! I have a feeling I will be heading here for dinner quite often.
After Anju restaurant went on hiatus around a year ago, a large Korean ‘tapas’ void was all that was left. Chef Roy Oh took some time to hone his skills and collaborate with local chefs. He is intending on opening Anju (2.0) next month after stampede and is focused on giving his customers a modern, yet comfortable experience on busy 17th Ave. To prepare for the opening Chef Oh hosted a Pop up at Test Kitchen YYC on Saturday night…tickets sold out quickly and the place was packed.
We began with a complimentary house cocktail based on soju, a Korean distilled rice liquor similar to vodka. Mixed with cherry/strawberry syrup and chili for an ‘in your face’ beginning to the meal. I liked the concept but our table found that it was a bit too spicy for a cocktail as the chili regularly sunk to the bottom of the glass. I kept mine on the table for a while to let the ice melt a bit and it became easier to drink.
Then we had Spicy Oyster Shots. I don’t know if this is self explanatory…but basically it was a shot of soju, some gochujang (spicy sweet Korean condiment), and a malpeque oyster. Once I had a little taste of the liquid, I opened up my throat and let it drop. That little oyster slid down my throat so easily I was just a bit in shock. I really wanted it to last just a little longer.
For our second course, the kitchen presented a Bone Marrow Risotto. Our table had a lot of fun trying to pinpoint the components of the dish, we knew there was a fair amount of bone marrow that lent the slick richness to the dish. The balancing acid was a ‘bone of contention’ though. Was it rice wine vinegar? Yuzu? While talking with the Chef later I just had to ask and it turned out to be lemon juice…an ingredient none of us had guessed! There were other obvious ingredients like silver bait, black & white sesame seeds, and spring onion. We never did find out if there was any cheese in the dish as is traditional in any risotto dish. I did like the umami within the dish, which I suspect was due in part to the silver bait.
The next dish made me a fan of Chef Roy Oh for life though if he doesn’t put this on the new Anju menu I will consider not visiting! Fish & Chips. Seems simple enough but how many different ways can this dish be cooked? Again, we had a lot of fun speculating how the dish would appear and how it would reflect Chef Oh’s talents. My guess of Korean inspired sushi, with a bit of kimchi and a fried lotus chip on top was not even close to what was presented. John guessed the ‘chip portion’ might be taro chips and he was bang on. None of us guessed the fish portion would be a perfect halibut portion tightly wrapped in a spring roll skin and served upon a bed of Korean-style tartare sauce. Delicate wisps of spring onion, dill, what looked like tarragon (not 100% sure on that) inside a creamy aioli that was a bit nutty due to the additon of some Korean soy bean paste and topped with some Korean gochugaru.
Next on our menu…Bibimbap, that quintessential Korean dish of mixed ingredients and rice. While John extolled the virtues of Anju’s original Bibimbap dish we had no idea what could be plated for the next course. What was placed before us was more of a ‘deconstructed’ Bibimbap. My eyes started to jump around the plate as I picked out ingredients. Corn kernels, seaweed, soy and ginger marinated flank steak, bean sprouts, crisp fried rice on a smear of gochujang, and a soft poached egg. I couldn’t eat the zucchini because I have a slight allergy to it uncooked. It was okay, but not my favourite of the night as my steak was barely room temperature. I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be or not because to be quite honest, it was still tasty as heck.
On to the ‘happy ending’ as my table was wont to point out…Milk and Cookies. Hmmm any ideas on how Chef Oh would ‘Koreanify’ this dish? The milk shake kind of had an ‘oreo’ appearance brought about by the addition of black sesame seeds. I liked their sweetness and nutty flavour. Then there were the cookies…what a finish! Small warm, gooey rounds of dark chocolate which made me very happy inside…then suddenly warm! What? Oh yeah, chili chocolate and a very delayed reaction. What a great ending to a fabulous meal.
If this post makes you hungry and sad that you missed out, don’t fret! You can book a seating on Open Table at Test Kitchen YYC on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday of this week. The full new Anju menu will be presented and enjoyed by all.