- Annabelle’s Kitchen
- Location: 3574 Garrison Gate SW, Calgary
- Phone: 403-454-0268
- Website: annabelleskitchen.ca
- Price: $7-22
- Rating: 3.5 stars
You’ve probably never heard Calgarians say: “Let’s have dinner in Marda Loop tonight!”
Can you blame them?
Sure, the neighbourhood – and its neighbouring neighbourhood, Garrison Woods – boasts the original Original Joe’s location and a handful of charming casual spots such as the Belmont Diner, Nho Saigon and Village Ice Cream, but not much else. For one of the city’s “trendy” areas, I’ve always found its lack of good food surprising.
This past year, downtown restaurant owner Leslie Echino (Blink, Bar Annabelle) took over the former Anew Table space. In the late summer, the space was reborn as Annabelle’s Kitchen, a contemporary Italian eatery that residents of the area and diners seem to be loving.
Designed by Walker McKinley of the design company mckinley burkart, the space boasts a relaxed European style and is just as chic as anything you’d find competing for patrons on 17th Avenue. Its exterior is a bold teal colour, helping it pop on a quaint block that’s lined with shops below and apartments above. Looking at it from across the road, the strip feels quite European as well, if only for a moment.
The bistro-style setting offers plenty of tables and a small, white marble-topped bar boasting a mirror backsplash that helps the 40-ish seat restaurant feel larger than it actually is. The large black and white tiles bring my mind to sketched stairways of M.C. Escher while the Aperol Spritz marquee sign in the front hallway hints at good times ahead.
And they certainly are.
From a start of bubbly spritzes or stiff White Negronis passed to you at the bar by a cheerful bartender to a sweet finish of dunking warm zeppoles in a chocolate marmalade sauce, there is little to fault here at Annabelle’s.
Known for her wine expertise, Ms. Echino offers a stripped-down wine menu that boasts plenty of interesting vintages by the glass. Behind the bar, there’s an interesting array of gins.
Chef Chris Dewling made a name for himself at Blink before leaving to work at Deane House. It’s nice to see the chef return to his fold, so to speak, and having plenty of fun with Italian fare here.
In particular and for starters, his take on a caesar salad is superb. A mix of bitter radicchio, crisp leaves of baby gem and romaine are tossed in a rich, garlicky anchovy dressing along with crispy-fried artichoke, focaccia croutons and parmesan. Vibrant colours and tremendous textures make this leafy green dish stand-alone satisfying.
The buffalo mozzarella, arugula (listed on the menu by its British name, rocket) and orange salad proves fairly delectable as well with its zealously salty olive tapenade, although the cheese is surprisingly firm. Perhaps not an overly fresh portion on this particular evening.
Looking for a bit of warmth on a winter’s night? There is plenty of comfort to be found in the kabocha squash arancini. Once sliced open, the lightly breaded golden orbs topped with squash purée offer an indulgent and creamy filling of nicely cooked rice. The pecorino cream sauce ladled onto the bottom of the dish makes each bite extra warming.
House-made pastas are also impressively prepared. The dough for the campanelle has kale incorporated into it and as such, boasts a striking green colour alongside blistered cherry tomatoes and clams in a light white wine and garlic sauce.
Strozzapreti is always a perfect sauce-catching vessel of a noodle and works happily with ground pork and caponata sauce here. Topped with a dollop of whipped ricotta, this particular dish is good till the last scrape of your spoon across the saucy plate. This is what you want to be eating when it’s -30 outside.
The pizzas, although not really traditional Italian in preparation, put forward a pleasant flavour and slight crunch once you hit the crust. And as a quick aside, I’d recommend getting a side order of the aforementioned pecorino cream sauce
Ever a sucker for Hawaiian pizza, the “Baby Love” is a clever and delicious reinterpretation of the Canadian classic. Thin shavings of mortadella with dehydrated pineapple slices, Asiago and mozzarella top a thin crust covered lovingly with a simple tomato sauce. Garnished with crushed pistachios and torn basil leaves, this is a refined take on a classic that I highly recommend ordering.
Tiramisu always calls out to me from the menu of Italian restaurants much like the One Ring does to Frodo Baggins. Unable to resist, it’s placed on our table beside an order of zeppole (Italian mini doughnuts, essentially) that have been dusted with cinnamon sugar and are served with a subtly orange-infused chocolate sauce and marmalade.
The amaretto-spiked tiramisu is lovely with its otherwise traditional preparation and velvet texture. It disappears quickly while each bite of the warm, fluffy doughnuts brings me back to sunny days on the Calgary Stampede midway ... if only for a fleeting moment.
Welcome to the neighbourhood, Annabelle. I hope you stay a while.
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