Calgary·Food and the City

Big Taste a 'unique and affordable' way to explore Calgary food, says Julie Van Rosendaal

The Big Taste is a more than week-long food festival that involves almost 100 eateries.

Almost 100 eateries offering fixed price menus from $18 to $65

The Big Taste kicks off this week, offering a sampling of fixed menu options at more than 90 restaurants, such as Bridgette Bar, which is serving this pizza. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

Every March, Calgarians are encouraged to get out and explore all there is to eat in the downtown core.

The Big Taste is a more than week-long food festival that involves almost 100 eateries and runs from March 2 to 11. The annual event is organized by the Calgary Downtown Association, who enlisted a range of participants this year.

Familiar Calgary standbys will be taking part, including Buchanan's Chop House and Whiskey Bar, the Unicorn, Booker's BBQ Grill and Crab Shack and Cilantro Restaurant, which has reopened following a 30th birthday makeover.

At the Big Taste, chefs are testing out new dishes and although the menu is fixed, there are typically multiple options for dinner, such as these two pastas at Cardinale in Calgary. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

Newcomers are joining the festivities, such as the Wednesday Room, Bread and Circus, Belle Southern Kitchen and Bar, Elwood and the Rabbit and Donna Mac.

All are offering prix-fixe, multi-course lunch menus for $18 and $28, and dinner for $28 or $40, with some happy hour specials and more elaborate gourmet menus priced from $55 to $110.

B.C. wine is back

Of course, there will be wine — including bottles from our next-door neighbours. Following the premier's announcement suspending the ban on B.C. wine, the British Columbia Wine Institute reinstated their sponsorship of the festival this year.

"The Wines of British Columbia have been a proud sponsor of the Big Taste for many years," president and CEO Miles Prodan said in a statement.

"After having to reluctantly step back from this year's festival, we are thrilled to have the opportunity to once again share and celebrate B.C. Wine with our Alberta friends. We look forward to working with Calgary restaurants again, and we are thrilled that Alberta consumers once again have the choice to enjoy B.C. Wine, as they have long done."

Although the menus are fixed, each restaurant offers a few choices.

For example, at the new Elwood and the Rabbit, which is in the historic de Waal building in Bridgeland — a space that previously housed Whitehall Restaurant — menu options for their three-course Big Taste dinner are elaborate.

Mushroom Welsh rarebit, left, and a beets and buttermilk salad, right, at Elwood and the Rabbit. (What's Good Photography/Elwood and the Rabbit)

These include a mushroom Welsh rarebit, which is near-burnt bread, foraged seasonal mushrooms, stilton fondue, beets, buttermilk salad made up of chewy sticky beets, beet pudding, spiced beet puff, rye and fennel crumble, tender greens and buttermilk espuma, gnudi with caper and olive pomodoro sauce and a 10-day dry-aged cheeseburger.

Try out new spots

The Big Taste provides a unique and more affordable way to get out to try a few new spots. You can preview each restaurant's menus on the Downtown Calgary website before making your reservation — and peruse the dozen special signature events that naturally revolve around food.

Disclosure: I'll be MC'ing two of those events: a walking and tasting tour of Klein/Harris, Murrieta's Bar and Grill and Thomsons Restaurant on Thursday, March 8, and an interactive dinner at the Tastemarket by SAIT on Saturday, March 10.


Julie Van Rosendaal

Calgary Eyeopener's food guide

Julie Van Rosendaal talks about food trends, recipes and cooking tips on the Calgary Eyeopener every Tuesday at 8:20 a.m. MT. The best-selling cookbook author is a contributing food editor for the Globe and Mail, and writes for other publications across Canada.