The feeling of grandeur is hard to pull off, but that's what happens when you walk into this new, buzzworthy restaurant on 10th Avenue.
Frank Architecture and Interiors, the design minds behind Bridgette and all Concorde Entertainment Group properties, were lucky enough to begin with a bare-bones heritage building that oozed character. Plenty of exposed brick, concrete and textured, thick wood beams provided them with a great foundation for a mid-century design.
Many may reference Old Hollywood in regard to Bridgette's look, perhaps since the name invokes memories of French actress Brigitte Bardot. Or maybe it's the throwback, sexy-chic feeling its atmosphere exudes. Whatever the reason, I can't help but feel transported to a cozy, yet luxe mid-century modern home in the Alps.
From a stunning deep-green marble bar to striped banquets beside a haunting macramé art installation hanging on a brick wall, or the living-room-vibed front upper-level section with a coal-black Scandinavian fireplace that descends from the exposed industrial ceiling, there's plenty to appreciate design-wise and not a bad seat in the house.
Attention to detail goes well beyond Bridgette's interior, flooding on to the printed menus – the backs of which are primary-coloured works of art in themselves – "b" stamped ceramic mugs that hold warm après-dinner drinks and even branded matchboxes.
Starting off with sips, the restaurant's first love is clearly wine, but a thoughtful beer menu places preference on Western Canadian microbrews. The small and mighty list of six custom cocktails is liquid gold. The "Black Tie Affair," in particular, is an unorthodox combination of green chartreuse, gin, dry vermouth and maraschino in a cup that's liberally rimmed with celery salt. After several intoxicating sips I quickly realize that this is a charmingly enigmatic kind of cocktail that skillfully balances sweetness, savouriness and herbaceousness. The unique blend makes for an absolute must-order if you enjoy starting the dinner hour with a cocktail, as I do.
Chef JP Pedhirney joined the restaurant group several years ago and helped seamlessly launch the Caribbean menu at the popular Ricardo's Hideaway on 17th Avenue before delving into creating his dishes here. The cultural mosaic of a menu is peppered with techniques and flavours from Italy (hand-made pastas), France (cauliflower with espelette pepper and brioche crouton), Japan (scallops with miso butter) and the Middle East (lamb sausage with labneh and cilantro vinaigrette), to name a few. It's extremely ambitious, but in the end, it's mostly successful.
Mr. Pedhirney's wagyu beef carpaccio is already something of a signature here and for good reason. A succulent layer of thinly sliced beef is topped with shaved cremini mushrooms, crispy garlic, parmesan crisps, pan drippings and a sprinkling of minced chives. An exemplary example of an Italian classic.
The braised rabbit toast is a comparable standout, especially for a protein that's uncommon on Calgary menus. Tender, almost creamy rabbit meat rests on thick pieces of grilled sourdough underscored by a vibrant and colourful parsley leaf, pickled pepper and carrot salad. Even if you grew up with a pet bunny, having any qualms about enjoying this small plate is doing a disservice to your taste buds.
A sorrowfully mislabelled "garlic bread" can be glanced over quickly should it not be suggested – or elaborated on – by your server. Cheese curds are wrapped in dough, fried, brushed with garlic butter and finished with grated parmesan. They are delicious. A mozzarella stick's much more refined cousin, if you will.
Parts of the 40-plus-item menu do seem unnecessary, such as the lacklustre avocado toast that arrived by way of miscommunication with our server. Though it was creatively finished with a well-rounded vindaloo-spiced sunflower seed crumble, it was unexciting and tasted like it was only there to pander to a trend that is already on its way out the door. Let's hope it's not replaced with poke.
The pizza is another one of the misplaced offerings, feeling more like a "something for everyone" option than something that truly belongs with the rest of the global assortment. Ordering the beef-salami pizza topped simply with tender mozzarella and the punch of pickled chilies was reasonably enjoyable, but there are plenty of other places I'd rather enjoy pizza in the city.
We wrapped dinner in an interesting way with a clever reimagination of a nostalgic British dessert, Banoffee pie. A crispy pretzel crust is formed and filled with sliced bananas, banana custard, meringue, drizzles of rum caramel and a pretzel garnish for good measure. The salty power of the pretzel was valiant in its attempt to balance out its sugary rivals in the slice, but alas, the toothache-inducing sugar reigned supreme. Still, this is a playful creation and I'd love to see it tweaked. Slight service stumbles and menu misses aside, Bridgette has brought its A-game and has set the bar for 2017.