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The smoked maitake mushrooms at Bar Von Der Fels in Calgary is one of hte best mushroom dishes in the city.

Todd Korol

3.5 out of 4 stars

Bar Von Der Fels
1005A 1st Street SW, Calgary, Alberta
$6.50 to $18
European-Asian fusion small plates
Vegetarian Friendly?
The bar’s main focus is wine, but it also has a selection of spirits so most classic cocktails could be ordered
This small and cozy, but elegant wine bar has only a handful of tables, bar seats and standing room
Asparagus, baked oyster, stuffed chicken wings and maitake mushrooms
Additional Info
Does not offer dessert, only open for dinner service and closed Mondays

I feel like I owe Bar Von Der Fels an apology.

Prior to this particular evening, my experiences at the hipster-chic bar since it opened last fall have been relegated to nights filled with many glasses of wine and bowls of addictive hickory-smoked cerignola olives. The latter are sublimely buttery in texture and linger pleasantly in their smokiness but, in short, I had never opted for a proper dinner – a significant oversight on my part.

Restaurant owners Will Trow and Thomas Dahlgren run the front of house here in tandem and are the sole service staff. The two gentlemen have a superb attention to detail with service in a tiny space that seats around 20. The size of the room alone is an anomaly for Calgary, where the average contemporary restaurant hovers around 100 seats. In addition to that, the minimalist design and muted signage above the entrance makes you feel as though you've wound up in an under-the-radar wine bar in Montreal or New York. Bar Von Der Fels is truly refreshing in its anonymity. It is, for lack of a better descriptor, not "Calgary," and the city is all the better for it.

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Anomaly or not, the wine bar is not without its minor downsides. Most specifically, the obnoxious font that splashes itself across two spreads in the concept's extensive wine menu (bottles only) is peculiar at best and gets tiresome after the second page flip. Quickly brush it off and look to the metal basins resting along the bar that offer up a variety of varietals by the glass. This is where the owners' earnest wine knowledge comes into play. Inquiring about the myriad of bottles sitting there, corks popped, ready and waiting makes for a partially educational and adventurous evening whether you end up sipping on an earthy Syrah from the South Okanagan or a full-bodied French Chignin Mondeuse.

After ordering the charcuterie plate, Mr. Dahlgreen will get swiftly to work at the hand-cranked meat slicer. Empire Provisions' bison bresaola, saucisson sec and culatello fall like feathers into his palm before being arranged beautifully on the plate. Once perfectly placed, there are no accoutrements here save a finishing of olive oil, which lets the quality of the local cured meats shine. We watched this process two more times while sitting at the bar, each plate just as prepossessing as the last, proving that there can be intoxicating beauty in consistency.

In the back of house is chef Eric Hendry – the former chef de cuisine of Model Milk – who joined the team several months ago. Much like a magician pulling white rabbits out of hats with ease, the food he is able to create out of what must be the smallest restaurant kitchen in Calgary is nothing short of dumbfounding.

The baked beach angel oyster –a spin on the classic Oysters Rockefeller – sees plump and briny oyster meat sliced and sitting on top of wilted spinach and scallop floss, happily covered in a warm yuzu kosho aioli. Kosho is a spicy paste made up of yuzu, peppers and salt. When added into a classic aioli and used in this particular application, it made me realize that there can be a wide world beyond Rockefellers and their standard hollandaise.

The chef's spring spin on a Japanese gomae salad using asparagus spears in lieu of spinach is also impressive, taking big chunks of asparagus and tossing them in a white miso and tahini dressing with pine nuts and wakame. In a similar umami vein, Mr. Hendry's whole roasted broccoli with tonnato, crushed seaweed and black sesame proves that cauliflower isn't the only brassica that can shine in a one-piece.

Next, the smoked maitake mushrooms arrive in front of us, seemingly naked on a large circular plate with a small dollop of a black garlic barbecue sauce of sorts and a dusting of maple-syrup powder. The meaty texture of the mushrooms with their intense smokiness and complementing sharpness of black garlic was an unexpected winning trio which would likely appease most carnivores. This is the best mushroom dish I've had in Calgary as of late and I hope it never disappears from the menu.

The true meat offerings are scarce on the chef's 14-dish menu, but are thoroughly memorable. First, there's Mr. Hendry's plate of perfectly succulent chicken wings, mostly deboned aside from the wing tip with a healthy dose of mouth-numbing sichuan peppercorns, rice and house XO sauce and then a milk-fed veal tartare, which is a very rare preparation to see in this city. The chopped tender meat is mixed with punchy garlic scapes and rests on top of a smear of Fair Winds Farms chevre. It's topped with an airy layer of shaved parmesan, a drizzle of olive oil and grilled Sidewalk Citizen Bakery sourdough on the side.

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Rounding out a near-perfect dinner, it was a shame to finish with the plate of house-made spaghetti. The cacio e pepe-inspired portion of noodles had a crunchy interior similar to what you might experience if a college roommate had ever made you a bowl of Kraft Dinner in a rush in university.

For a menu that seems to thrive on imaginative ingredient combinations and Asian influences, it's odd to offer a lone pasta dish, and more so one that is prepared so traditionally that it can be easily compared to (essentially) identical and more skillfully executed versions across the country.

Having a dessert or two on the menu would certainly sweeten the deal in the end, but Bar Von Der Fels's innovation is undeniably and deliciously magical.

Chef Matt DeMille walks you thought making your own beer-battered fish and chips at home. The Globe and Mail
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