Lonely Mouth Bar
Location: 528 17 Ave SW, Calgary
Cuisine: Contemporary Japanese
Atmosphere: Sophisticated, but lively
Drinks on offer: Sake, cocktails, wine, beer
Best bets: Pickled cucumber, milk buns, chicken wings, udon, miso cod, scallops, shochu vesper (cocktail)
Vegetarian friendly? Yes, but not overly vegan friendly.
Additional info: Open from 12 p.m. to late, seven days a week. Happy hour from 3 p.m.-5 p.m., Mondays to Fridays.
Does 17th Avenue really need one more restaurant?
This is a question I frequently ask myself every time it’s announced that an eatery is under development on the Calgary street that, often, feels like it may burst if another establishment opens its doors.
With an overpopulated street of food and drink options comes plenty of closings and reimaginings. And that is exactly how one of Concorde Group’s newest restaurants sprang to life.
The space that housed the fledgling Ox Bar de Tapas for years before shuttering in late 2019 re-emerged at the tail end of 2021 as Lonely Mouth Bar. The sake-focused bar offers a mix of traditional and inventive Japanese cuisine and, since opening nearly six months ago, it remains a hot ticket on Calgary’s competitive dining strip.
While the layout of Lonely Mouth leans heavily on the bare bones of its space predecessor (and ones before it), it does offer up a vibe all its own courtesy of the restaurant group’s go-to interior experts at the much-sought-after Frank Architecture and Design. A sky-high wood-panelled front door leaves a striking first impression followed by a slick south corner bar and north corner kitchen. The main dining area, separated by a wooden screen divider wall, is chock full of textured blue banquette backs with warm-hued leather benches, thick-corduroy pink chairs, big lantern lighting and more.
In other words, it’s a pretty cool space. One that lends itself nicely to a see-and-be-seen night out with friends or for an impressive date, but perhaps not a casual dinner with the extended family.
From a myriad of funky sake and cocktail options to hand rolls, sashimi and inventive Japanese-style (and/or inspired) creations, the menu here presents many reasons to come back for repeat visits.
The humble size of most “salty snacks” on Lonely Mouth’s menu mean one can order a smattering of dishes – followed by hand rolls – before segueing into mains. Standouts here include the pickled cucumber, which arrived in the form of baby cucumber chunks sliced into an accordion-like effect and dressed with a bright ginger dressing. A true epitome of refreshing, this crunchy vegetable dish could easily serve as a palate cleanser at any time throughout a meal here.
Then there’s the soft, pillowy milk buns served with a slightly nutty, koji-cultured butter and wisps of crispy nori. A glutenous plate that helps soak up the appropriately boozy, but dynamic shochu vesper, a Japanese-inspired version of the classic martini made with cucumber-infused vodka, shochu and the white wine aperitif quinquina blanc.
I’ll have (and did have) another.
Chicken wings do not necessarily jump out at a person while perusing the menu of a contemporary Japanese eatery, but on my second visit to Lonely Mouth, I gave them a try. The marinated chicken wings coupled with a pleasantly light, shattery tempura batter and a tangy yuzu ranch dip make for one heck of a memorable bar snack.
Were these (unexpectedly) some of the best wings in Calgary? I would certainly say so.
Ask a Calgarian who’s been to this restaurant what their highlight of the meal was and most would proclaim the kake udon (udon soup) thanks to the noodles being made in-house on the daily. It’s a procedure that is uncommon in Canada and first in Alberta, so it feels justified to be impressed with the thick and toothsome noodles that arrive at your table, swimming in a piping hot dashi with scallions, togarashi, crispy bits of tempura and yuzu zest.
The zest of the Asian citrus fruit is akin to tasting sunshine. It’s powerful, taste-bud-commanding, yet never overpowering. Rooted in Japanese cuisine, you will find yuzu peppered throughout the menu here, but it puts its best foot forward with the udon.
Lonely Mouth’s tempura offerings run the gamut from prawns and soft-boiled eggs to yams and shistos, nothing out of the ordinary and tasty enough with the light, golden batter. Likewise, the hand rolls don’t disappoint or overly impress, but rather flavourful fillers in between your snacks, udon and main dishes.
The Alberta beef hand roll, with fried garlic, black garlic and scallions, is a subtle homage to tartare (or I interpreted it as such), so perhaps a best bet in this category.
Head chef May Ng and executive chef Tomo Mitsunno aren’t playing around with their beautifully presented sashi platter accompanied by light and dark shoyu. High-quality cuts of seafoods like scallops and bluefin tuna speak for themselves here.
Composed main plates like the wonderfully seared scallops, nestled into a mix of kombu, miso-dressed turnips and a buttermilk green sauce and a sake-marinated miso cod with mizuna and radish salad in a goma dressing further reinforce that the seafood game at Lonely Mouth is a strong one.
Like most people, I am by no means a sake expert, but did thoroughly enjoy the descriptive nature of the sake menu here as well as the front of house’s array of sake cups and pouring vessels to provide some fun approachability to a subsect of the liquor world that can often feel intimidating. I am now smitten with the Fukucho Yuzu Lemon Sake, an offering I can only describe as a sake version of limoncello. There’s that yuzu “sunshine” effect again!
“Kuchisabishii: when you’re not hungry, but you eat because your mouth is lonely,” reads the restaurant menu.
That’s exactly how I felt as I spooned into a warm sweet potato fritter topped with miso caramel and a cool miso gelato at the tail end of a beyond-filling dinner.
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