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RIVER CAFÉ: AN ICONIC CALGARY RESTAURANT

Author: Lisa Kadane

Lisa's first published travel story was about Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park. Since then, she's sought out new adventures around the province, pen in hand. From camping in Waterton to dogsledding with her family in Canmore, Lisa loves Alberta in every season.

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I can’t decide what’s better: my cocktail, appetizer or the River Café’s sublime setting in Prince’s Island Park. We’re dining al fresco on a patio that is technically in the city centre. But, this Calgary restaurant’s idyllic location is far from any traffic or after-work bustle, and the only sound that accompanies my eager knife and fork is the twitter of birdsong.

Greenery surrounds the patio’s wood railings, an arboreal canopy filters the warm summer sun, and a placid offshoot of the Bow River meanders past, creating a Calgary dining oasis. Here, sustenance comes in the form of organic house-grown salads, game sourced from local producers and craft cocktails intended to refresh and prime the palate.

After a swallow of my Amaretto Sour – garnished with a nasturtium from the restaurant’s on-site garden – and one bite of the River Café’s famous garlicky red lentil hummus, I smile at my husband. Perhaps we’ll order a bottle of Quail’s Gate pinot noir to accompany the bison striploin and free-range chicken breast. My stomach growls in anticipation – it’s going to be a great night.

Local, Seasonal Ingredients

Over the years we’ve dined both outside and indoors, where the interior is a nod to classic Canadiana style, complete with rustic wood furniture, a river rock fireplace and a bar hewn from a canoe. The River Café has ambiance to spare, but it’s definitely the food that keeps us coming back.

The restaurant has been growing much of its own produce since 1998 and nurtures an organic, on-site garden that’s tended by staff. It grows spinach, kale, squash and cucumbers, a range of edible flowers, and nearly every herb you can think of from basil to horseradish. Shrubs grow Saskatoon berries, gooseberries, sour cherries and more, for use in desserts and cocktails.

The River Café also works with local suppliers to bring in heirloom varieties of asparagus, beans and peas, as well as chicken, bison and other game. One of our favourite starter dishes is the Fish & Game Board, which features Olson’s bison chorizo, trout lox, wild boar prosciutto (so good!) and a rich chicken liver pâté that’s so decadent I could happily spread it on my morning toast.  

Well-Crafted Wines

To wash all this deliciousness down is a selection of over 550 wines from around the world, chosen for their quality, terroir and regional expression. The River Café sommelier, and the proprietor (who is herself a sommelier), favour small artisan producers for their style, philosophy and dedication in the vineyard. Perhaps most importantly, the knowledgeable servers can easily make pairing suggestions in a suitable price range.

We often order wine with dinner, but one year, to celebrate a special birthday, I brought in my own bottle and wine glasses that had been painted by a local artist. For a minimal corkage fee, staff helped me surprise my husband with one of our favourite vintages.

Tonight, as we finish our meal by practically licking our dessert plates, I know we’ll be back to the River Café to celebrate more special occasions and sultry summer nights.

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