Anju, where have you been all my Calgary life?

I am so excited to write my first review giving you the dirt on dining out in Calgary.  The restaurant  chosen – Anju Restaurant and Eecha Lounge.

So, where do I start?  Well, I mind as well just give it you straight.  I heard about this place a couple times over the last six months from a random person or two in passing, plus one not so random person whose opinion to be totally honest I don’t generally listen to.  See, we are very different people – he the name dropper type; me the quiet wait in line even if I know everyone that works there type.  Nonetheless, I never discount trying new food at a new restaurant – it’s like my crack.  Only thing, this restaurant wasn’t all that new.  Turns out it’s been around for approximately two years.  Where have I been, hidden under a rock?  I clearly need to get out more often.

Anyways, I finally had a night off and decided to check it out; and to my disappointment it was a Sunday (pretty much my only day off if that) and it was closed.  No big deal, I’ll go in a few months on my next day off – sad I know.  I made a reservation on a Wednesday evening for 8:30 PM, later than normal but I had a busy day and my dinner date is a night owl so 8:30 PM is like normal people having dinner at 3:30 PM.   We arrived to find this cute little heritage looking house – a good start.

We went in and, I have to say the set-up from the front was a little awkward, (not shocking as it was a house at some point) but the host(ess) stand sat right at the front door, which was also very hidden from the actual restaurant.  As we walked in at about twenty after eight, a family of six and a couple sat waiting.  We stuffed ourselves in a corner out of the way and waited for the host(ess) to come and greet us.  We waited, and waited, and waited; about 20 or so minutes went by and nothing – huh, we both thought.  But, we were determined to stay.  Why you might ask?  Well because in that 20 minutes of waiting we did have a menu in hand and our mouths were watering, jaws wide open.  We weren’t about to walk away, and good thing because right at that moment – a young gentleman came up and greeted the guests in front and behind us.  I felt as though we were invisible that night, however we’re not really the pushy type so we quietly said excuse me let him know we had a reservation and within a minute or so we were sat at a able just around the corner in front of the kitchen.

You might think, from the start of this review that it was going to be another disappointing dining experience…you’d be wrong.  In fact, the rest of our dinner was SO great – to be honest, I could have cared less about waiting at the door.  On top of that, our server, who ended up being pretty fantastic was working obviously shorthanded with an expected party upstairs, so I’ll cut the guy a break.

Are you getting antsy?  Ok, more talk about food.  To begin we had a dozen oysters with kimchi vinaigrette and the spicy Broeck Farms pork belly tacos. Oysters are oysters, of course some are better than others but the kimchi vinaigrette that accompanied them was amazing.  It had just the perfect amount of heat, tang and spice.  The pork belly tacos were nothing short of amazing.  The pork belly was perfectly cooked, crispy just on the outside and melt in your mouth on the inside.  The asian slaw had a nice mix of sour, sweet and spice with a gochujang aioli to add – and we did, a lot. Seriously, if I could have ensured no one was watching, I think we both would have drank it out of the ramekin it was in.  Gochujang, if you’ve never had it is a fairly traditional Korean condiment (made primarily out of  red chili powder, glutinous rice powder, fermented soybean and salt); and it is incredibly flavourful.   Next up we were really looking forward to the braised oxtail tortellini, and to our grumbling stomach’s disappointment they were out.  I guess that means I’ll just have to go back again.  So instead, after the server described an item neither of us would ever have chosen – the crispy tofu with sauteed kimchi and citrus aioli; I have to tell you from the passionate description alone – we were sold.  And…thank goodness for that.  Being a meat lover I really had no interest in it and if I ate there a hundred times I would probably still never have ordered it.  But, it was literally an explosion of flavour and texture in your mouth, not to mention colour on the plate.  The tofu cubes lightly dusted in a breading with a little lemon pepper seasoning were crispy on the outside and held their weight  on the inside. For something I really have no interest in eating, they were little bites of deliciousness!

Finally after a little break, (filled with wine of course) we had our last two savoury items – the calamari with kafir lime and citrus aioli along with the Korean style marinated steak with fingerling potatoes.  Maybe the only real disappointment in the meal was the calamari and not because it wasn’t good, just because it wasn’t any different or any better than your average breaded and fried calamari.  The steak however was as tasty as can be, and to go with it – the fingerling potatoes were perfectly cooked with a dipping sauce of some sort on the side.  I can’t remember for the life of me what it was other than it was heaven in a little cup.

Then, after all that we decided (even though neither of us are really dessert people) to try the black sesame crème bruleé.  Wow – it was unlike anything we had ever had and it was really really good.  The nice sugary crust  with the addition of the toasted black sesame seeds sent it to at least a step above your regular bruleé.  An all around pretty sweet finish to what was truly one of the most flavorful, fun, creative meals I have maybe ever had; at least over the last five years.

I think the only criticism that some might have, is possibly that the citrus aioli, gochujang paste and kimchi are overused.  Honestly, I could see that and at first bite the thought crossed my mind.  However, they are used so differently in each of the dishes they take part in – I think the Chef actually does a phenomenal job of reusing similar or same ingredients.

<a href=””><img alt=”Anju Restaurant &amp; Eecha Lounge on Urbanspoon” src=”; style=”border:none;width:104px;height:15px” /></a>


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