Chow Down in Cowtown is an (almost!) weekly account of Calgary’s most awesome eats from Ceci n’est pas un food blog.
“Anju” is the Korean term for what we have come to know as “tapas”, “mezze” or “Izakaya-style eating”, depending on the cuisine you are most familiar with. Basically it is used to described small dishes meant to be shared among friends over a few drinks.
Anju is also the name of a tiny, two-storey house that has been converted into a restaurant (main floor) and lounge (second floor) that serves anju as well as a few more substantial dinner dishes with a bit of a fusion twist.
My friend Tiffany and I went last week before heading to the MBF concert. (amazing!) It had been a long day at work for both of us, so we both decided to start with one of the restaurant’s quirky cocktails, many of which feature soju, a Korean rice-based liquor. Tiffany ordered Unconventional Ways ($8), Anju’s take of a snowball, while I had the Rebel ($11), a mojito-like drink. Instead of the usual rum, the drink featured soju, as well as PAMA, a pomegranate liqueur, which I felt muted the usual mint and lime that I’d expect from a mojito, but it was yummy and refreshing anyway.
The easiest way to get a sampling of Anju’s offers would probably be the Anju Platter ($20), which features three or four of the dishes as specials of the day – unfortunately the pickings on the platter didn’t appeal to us that evening, so we were left to our own devices. Somehow, our decision-making skills were on fire that night and we quickly decided on grilled Japanese eggplant ($4), yam fries ($5), kimchi pancake ($5), oxtail soup ($15) and lettuce wraps ($15). The $15 items are considered entrees, so they both came with complimentary bowls of rice.
The Japanese eggplant was cooked well – not too greasy, not too raw – and were quite spicy. Tiffany almost finished her bowl of rice just to try to get rid of the spicy flavour! The only quibble I have about them is that for some reason the dish is served cold.
The yam fries were a little raw, but Tiffany and I polished almost all of them off anyway because a) they’re yam fries and b) they came with a delicious spicy mayo dip.
The kimchi pancake was definitely one of the highlights of the night – usually I’m not a huge fan of kimchi by itself because I find it very overpowering. Here, the kimchi was very subtle so it gave it just the right touch of sour, spicy and savoury notes to the pancake. The crisp outer layer gave way to soft insides that had a bit of gummy quality to it – courtesy of rice flour, I think. It definitely helped that the pancake was served fresh from the pan and piping hot.
The oxtail soup was great for warming our bellies on that cold evening. The meat was simmered to the point where it was very tender and fell right off the bone – of course, it helped that it is a pretty fatty cut of meat as well! The broth was swimming with greens, seaweed and glass noodles, though it was a little on the salty side (as soups at restaurants tend to be).
The lettuce wraps are a dish that involves quite a bit of decision-making! They can come with your choice of Berkshire pork belly, chicken, short ribs and tofu. If you choose chicken, you then have another decision to make – spicy bbq, teriyaki, lemongrass, or seasoned? I ended up choosing the lemongrass chicken, which was a solid choice. The lettuce wraps also came with slices of raw garlic, jalapenos, and gochujang (a sweet and savoury fermented bean paste). My favourite add-on, however, was the Thai basil that was poked in as the same bowl that held the tall leaves of romaine lettuce (not very flexible – my “wraps” were quite open-faced), it gave the wraps a very different flavour profile from ones I’ve had elsewhere.
The service at Anju is friendly and our dishes came out quite quickly. I also liked the separation of lounge and restaurant on two separate floors so you can choose between the louder, more casual environment for a few after-work drinks, or the quieter restaurant area for a full meal. I would definitely go back again for either of those cases – I would love to try all the other anju on the menu, plus their neat-sounding desserts (which we didn’t have room for this time).
507 10 St SW
Calgary AB T2P 2B8