Sunday, 26 April 2015

#MyCalgary - Añejo Restaurant

The #MyCalgary premier post is finally live! I had the amazing opportunity to partner with Añejo Restaurant, a staple in the Calgary foodie scene and home to the city's best margarita. Open for three years this September, Añejo continues to pull in large crowds on a daily basis due to its authentic Mexican inspired cuisine, vibrant environment and a tequila collection that rivals most. With 200+ different types of tequila and a menu filled to the brim with bold, vibrant dishes that transports you to the sunny shores of Mexico, Añejo has quickly become known as the face of 4th street. 

It is for these reasons, and more, that I chose Añejo to be the face of #MyCalgary's first post. The atmosphere created within its walls is one that truly emanates Calgary's welcoming spirit. The entire staff go over and beyond to ensure that every experience is a unique one, and the diverse crowds that flock to its doors speaks volumes to the experience Añejo has come to be known for. I have put together a multifaceted post that touches on Añejo's menu in the Dish on the Food portion, sheds light on the brain behind the culinary wonders through an interview in the Chat with the Chef and discusses the overall feel of the restaurant in the Complete Package. 

My goal by the end of this post is to make you fall in love with this uniquely authentic restaurant the same way I did when I first walked through Añejo's doors.

The Dish on the Food

Añejo's menu is a culinary masterpeice. It takes aspects that are unique to Mexican cuisine and puts an ingenious spin on them, creating favourable and adventurous dishes. Browsing through the menu, it is easy to appreciate the thought and culinary prowess that went into creating it. Each dish is more unique than the last, taking you on a mouthwatering culinary journey. Chef Matt Davidson, Chef de Cuisine at Añejo, was gracious enough to prepare three meals for me to try out. Let's just say I left the restaurant as one happy camper! 

Dish 1: Guacamole

Guacamole, to me, is a signature Mexican dish. It is one that brings back so many memories of late night BBQs with friends back in my undergrad years. It is the prototypical Mexican dish and one that readily comes to mind when discussing this cuisine. I, like many others, have tried numerous variations of this Mexican staple, but this one is by far the best one I've had to date.My favourite part of this dish is the fact that it is made table side! You literally see the fresh ingredients magically combined to form the freshest guacamole ever. Comprised of cilantro, jalapeños, onions, tomatoes and limes alongside the main player, avocado, and served with a side of tortilla chips, this dish alone will keep you coming back for more. I really appreciate the fact that this dish was kept simple, relying on the fresh ingredients to do the work. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it is the perfect dish to share with your table (or keep to yourself because it's just that good!).   

Dish 2: Tuna Pokè

Yellow fin tuna, soy sauce, chilli and guacamole - these are the ingredients that make up this unique dish. Originally a Hawaiian dish, Chef Matt transforms it, adding a Mexican flare. I kid you not, I could live the rest of my life eating this dish alone. There are so many levels to this dish, with the saltiness of the soy sauce combining perfectly with the spice of the chilli and the authentic freshness of the guacamole. Top it off with some fresh lime juice and you have a flavour packed and robust dish that you really won't want to share with anyone! 

Dish 3: Añejo Mole Chicken

I personally have never had Mole; however, I have watched my fair share of Food Network specials to know that this dish is as authentically Mexican as it comes. Served over chicken, carrots and Mexican rice, this rich, flavourful sauce makes this dish second to none. It is so jam packed with flavour that every bite introduces a new taste to explore. I found my self taking my time while eating this dish as it deserved to be enjoyed one bite at a time. Chef Matt's skill truly comes out in this dish as it takes culinary prowess to create a dish that people continuously order based on a meat, such as chicken, that people eat every day. I comment the chef in a big way for this dish and I recommend you try this the next time you visit Añejo!

A Chat with the Chef

I had the opportunity to sit with Chef Matt Davidson, Chef de Cuisine at Añejo Restaurant, and discuss some of his culinary influences as well as get to know him a little better. His passion for the restaurant and the food that he serves to Añejo's customers really came through during the interview, and his warm, welcoming personality perfectly summed up the feel of the restaurant he is so proud of. Here are some of the answers he gave during our interview so you too can get to know him a little better:

Q. When did you first know that you wanted to be a chef?
A. I would have to say it’s when I got my first job as a dishwasher at Chili’s in Southcentre Mall here in Calgary. I thought it was really cool watching all the line cooks in line. I had massive amounts of respect for them in their fancy chef coats making so much food so fast. I instantly fell in love with the atmosphere of the kitchen so I decided that was what I wanted to do!

Q. What is your all-time most memorable meal?
A. I’d say it was at a small restaurant on a beach in Mexico and I had a margarita the size of my head in one hand and the server just kind of dropped this huge platter of seafood down in front of us. Right there it clicked for me that there was more to cooking than the fancy French stuff I learned in school. I realized that there is a whole world of different cultures and cuisines that I could learn.

Q. What four ingredients are necessary in your kitchen and why?
A. This one was hard! I would say agave nectar and lime juice because balancing the acidity in food is a really big part of Mexican cuisine and it is something that I’ve had to learn to adapt to over the past three years. Dried chili, which is something I would never have used before I started working at Añejo, where as now, I couldn’t imagine living without them.  And then finally, salt because any chef who doesn’t have that as one of their top four isn’t worth their salt!

Q. If you could prepare a meal for anyone, who would it be and what would you make?
A. Marie-Antoine Careme. He is the forefather of French cuisine and he pretty much shaped the way French cuisine is viewed today. So if I could I would make the most complicated French meal I could possibly think of. To have the chance to sit down and talk to somebody from way back then about how things have changed and what’s new would be an interesting experience.

Q. Who is your biggest supporter?
A. I would say my boyfriend. I’m lucky to be with someone who understands that I will never be at a family function and I will never do anything Friday and Saturday night except be here at the restaurant. He’s always there when I need someone to talk something through with or form an idea and he is willing to tell me that some of my ideas are really stupid.

Q. Tell me 3 things that you consider to be your cooking strengths.
A. I would say organization because it’s a very important factor if you’re trying to run a line or manage a team of people. You have to maintain organization in all aspects of the kitchen. The ability to keep calm in any situation. Kitchens can get very chaotic and sometimes tempers run high and you have hot stuff flying everywhere, so it’s really important to keep a level head the entire way through. And willingness to learn from absolutely anybody. Even if I hire a dishwasher, if they have a better way of doing something, I take that opportunity to learn from them.

Q. What is the one condiment you cannot live without?
A. Sriracha! I put sriracha on absolutely everything. We don’t even use it in any recipes here at Añejo, but I keep a case in the back just so we can all put it on the food that we eat.

Next time you're at Añejo Restaurant, feel free to say hi to Chef Matt and ask him if he finished that margarita the size of his head!

The Complete Package

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Añejo Restaurant. The feel of the restaurant is laid back, fun and colourful and the staff is absolutely amazing. The architecture alone is breath taking, with a vaulted skylight that brings in natural light and fills the space with warmth. Añejo managed to keep the original architecture of the landmark 4th Street Rose building, including a stunning brick wall and natural, wooden accents. The dark walls create an intimate space where good food and good times are always in abundance.  

Añejo has quickly become one of my favourite spots in town. I recommend it to everyone I meet not only because of the stellar food and service, but because of the inviting environment. If you are ever at Añejo during Halfy-Hour, between 3-5PM when all margaritas, tequilas and Mexican beers are half priced, be sure to come on over and say hi! Maybe I'll share some of my guacamole with you!