Sadly, yours truly is currently on forced exiled in the wintery tundra of Alberta, specifically the freezing cold city of Calgary where a few minutes of prolonged exposure to the outside elements can result in some unpleasant, numbing sensations on your skin and extremities. Winter in the prairies is not my cup of tea, despite my past of living in these brutal winter conditions for many, many years.
Perhaps taking a cue from the stalled offensive machine of the local National Hockey League club that is mired in a seven game winless streak, the below zero temperatures have seriously stunted my drive to explore the city’s culinary scene, and the changes wrought since I last lived here. But as fate would have it, sitting on the top of a pile of magazines in my hotel room was one that had the bold faced text trumpeting “Calgary’s Best Restaurants”. With a publication date of January/February 2010, it was fortunately not an out of date rag. Exploration in the comfort of my hotel room – perfect!
As I settled in, I began perusing the magazine, beginning with this note from the editor. Again, the mention of a respectable crew of commentators from the city was noted as those being responsible for the rankings inside. Fair enough, “let’s hear it” I thought, and I moved to the pages deeper in the approximately 80-page piece, seeking the wisdom of those “people who know Calgary’s restaurants inside and out”, and read about their choices for the “establishments that they felt would make a lasting impression of Calgary for visitors like (me)”.
Now I will say that some of the suggestions and “best” ratings in various categories like “best hotel dining” (Chef’s Table), “best ambiance” (River Cafe), and “best bistro” (Diner Deluxe) seemed fine and reasonable. Safe picks, but solid choices. However, others had an obvious skew by folks who might not be inclined to venture too far into the authentic zone of some ethnic cuisines (best Chinese: Silver Dragon?, best Indian: Mango Shiva?), or perhaps even lack any personal exposure to other cultures and cuisines through international travel or life experiences.
But it was this one below that really made me chuckle hard and wonder about the overall reliability and accuracy of this “first-ever” version of this publication’s restaurant awards.
Sakana Grill, seriously?!?!?
While its no secret that some cuisines in this city are quite sadly represented/underrepresented when they even exist, sushi being one of them, I can confidently say that there are much better choices for this category’s top “prize” here. We at foodosophy have personally enjoyed the likes of Wa’s, Blowfish (when Chef Mitsuno was at the helm), and Zipang (sorry no direct post available here – Foodosopher should put down his nigiri long enough to write about it). So to read that Sakana (means “fish” in Japanese) Grill, a watered down representation of Japanese cuisine, and a grill to boot, would be chosen as the best, is really hard to fathom. As for the bit of accompanying text, it completely through me for a loop. Because…
a) Atlantic Canada has never in my mind been thought of as a bastion of Japanese cuisine, let alone quality sushi
b) I’ve never ever read a review that talked about the taste of wasabi being a crucial factor to making the writer love a restaurant, almost sounding like it was a dish in and of itself. And I think most who have tasted wasabi (either the widely available fake kind or the real deal) would say it has “punch”.
c) What the heck is a “sashimi house”???
These types of restaurant awards, rankings, listings, etc. are always a tricky thing to both create and evaluate. However, one would hope that critics chosen would have some semblance of knowledge when it comes to what makes a cuisine good. Differences in opinion are great. Completely missing the point is something else.
For readers with our own personal tastes and viewpoints, any sort of “list” can result in some strong arguments for and against. Some stand out more than others on either end of the balancing board. And while most fall into the realm of opinion, I have to say, some really bewilder. As this Sakana Grill one did.
I think in these cases, its important to speak up – provide countering opinions and offer up others for consideration, as I’ve tried to do with this post, than to just blindly accept what others write. After all, these are the “experts” that represent your city. Most people I know usually like putting their best foot forward.
As the saying goes, you may disagree with me but I will defend your right to disagree…