These two restaurants are doing right by Alberta’s prized protein
by Diana Ng and Linda Garson
Herbivores aside, everybody in this city can appreciate a well-prepared steak, whether they’re dining at home or out at a restaurant. From old faithful Caesar’s Steakhouse to Vintage Chophouse, Charcut and everything in-between, it’s almost impossible to sit down at an establishment in this city, pop open a menu and not see (at least) one steak dish.
There’s no denying that Calgary’s food scene has come a long way from a simple steak, starch and vegetable go-to dinner, but Alberta beef will always be a prominent ingredient here no matter what hipster-chic food trend is passing through.
Here are two steakhouses doing right by Alberta’s prized protein. Blue, medium-rare, medium, whatever your preference may be (hopefully never well-done though), these guys have got you covered.
“We have the best steak in town,” proclaims Rick Chuk, owner and chef of LeVilla Chophouse.
Whether it’s at the traditional, rustic flagship location in the city’s west end or at the newer location in the young and hip Mission area, Chuk serves up award-winning steak to carnivorous diners in aptly-named Cowtown.
Having trained in Hong Kong’s five-star Mandarin Oriental Hotel, and honed his craft at Calgary’s Buchanan’s Chop House and Whisky Bar for 17 years before opening the successful and celebrated LeVilla on Sirocco Drive, Chuk is now focused on showcasing Alberta’s specialty in the trendy neighbourhood.
With unpolished overhead beams and a formally set up dining room, LeVilla’s Sirocco Drive location delivers an authentic steakhouse experience with conventional offerings like crab cakes, prime rib and rack of lamb that earned it multiple kudos, including a nod on Breakfast Television’s steak week last year.
Compared to its older sibling, Chuk’s second restaurant is notably more laid-back – with cushy booth seats and wooden trim around the space – while still sticking to a traditional steak-forward menu that includes perennial favourites like lobster bisque, steak salad and crispy potato galette. Since quietly slipping into the dining scene last October, the new location has been quickly gaining momentum and developing an identity.
Calgary is definitely no stranger to steakhouses, many of which are institutions that have become part of the city’s culinary backbone – Caesar’s, Vintage, Wellington’s. So, what makes LeVilla stand out? Beyond the placement of the restaurant and the absence of steakhouses outside the downtown core, Chuk credits his personal touch and expertise in the subject that puts his steak heads and shoulders above the competition.
“I cook almost every steak that goes out,” says Chuk, proudly, about the offerings at the Mission location. “I can give you the best steak in the world, but if you don’t know how to cook it, it’s not going to be the best.”
That, and the unique cut of bone-in beef tenderloin that’s not offered anywhere else in the city. Chuk designed the cut such that it combines the best of strip steak and filet, and retains more flavour than a regular tenderloin. The proof (not in the pudding, in this case) is on the plate. The fact that many diners polish off the 12 oz steak without batting an eye is a testament to the success of this rare cut.
“A lot of people think it’s too much, but it’s so good that you finish it before you know it,” says Chuk.
LeVilla aims simply to make outstanding steak. It’s not the place for the latest “it” ingredient or technique in cooking. But, it’s the perfect place for self-induced meat sweats.
Simple food done extremely well – that’s how things are done at the Trib.
It’s also the philosophy of Executive Chef Ian Smith, “I let the product speak for itself. We have the best beef and we don’t mess around with it. We just treat it right, and accompany it correctly with things that lift the beef instead of hiding it,” he explains.
Originally from Manchester, and gaining most of his chef experience in Nottingham, Smith left England and immigrated to Canada just ahead of the recession in 2008, to give his family more opportunity. He arrived in Canmore, working at Murrieta’s, before moving to Calgary and continuing as a Murrieta’s chef here. A year as sous chef at The Trib followed, leading to his current position three years ago as Executive Chef, now also for the newly opened Swine and Sow, on 6th AvenueSW.
On pedestrianized Stephen Avenue, The Trib occupies the refurbished heritage building that was once the offices of the Calgary Tribune newspaper. Upstairs, in the lounge, you can relax round the large central bar – a great place for drinks and conversation, appies and entrées – while the lower level is a more intimate, formal dining room with semi-circular booths, wine bottle-lined walls and a welcoming fireplace. There’s a ‘secret’ private dining area for around twelve people down here too.
The Trib’s menu changes with the seasons, “Calgary only has two seasons, so we change it twice a year,“ laughs Smith. But whichever season, he’s a fan of locally sourced food. “The hard part is finding the right product and after that it’s easy,” he says. “Our meat is from Lethbridge, we pull from local growers and suppliers for vegetables, cheeses and produce. During the summer, when we do our tableside roasts, our chateaubriand and our bone-in rib eye, instead of serving 100 percent veg, we’ll put up a plate of Hotchkiss tomato salad, just dressed lightly, seasoned, with olive oil and some shaved parmesan, and people go nuts about it. They go ‘wow, we wouldn’t have thought of serving this with a roast, but it works so well’.”
He’s excited to be entering into a partnership with another local producer for beef too, ‘Top Grass’, from just outside Drumheller. It’s his comfort zone, as 100 percent grass fed beef is all he’s used to.
Smith has been watching the changes in the Calgary restaurants over the last five years, “A lot of chefs in the town have pushed the boundaries, which is good to see. I just want to see Calgary get a restaurant with a Michelin star, that’s what I want.”
But we’ve become more adventurous too, and are willing to try more out-of-the-box cuisine and different methods of cooking, giving him a bit more scope. He couldn’t really use any elk or bison at first: even though he tried, no one would buy it, so he paired beef with game and now diners are loving it.
The dish that brings a smile to Smith’s lips is his Elk Wellington. “It’s on the menu as an appetizer at the moment, with an apple and parsnip puree,” he says, “but I’m probably going to switch and put it back as an entrée. It could end up as our signature dish here; it sells like crazy and I’m pretty proud of that.”
Photos by Ingrid Kuenzel