I was delighted to be invited by Parker PR to Shokunin’s second anniversary and new menu launch! I still hadn’t visited Shokunin despite their booming popularity and reputation as the home of Calgary’s first omakase (surprise tasting menu), so this was a perfect opportunity to try them out.
We were greeted with welcome cocktails (“Naomi Rides Dragons” – Japanese whisky, sake and salted Japanese wine syrup with lemon) and our own pairs of keepsake chopsticks! I was impressed before we even got through the entranceway.
Before I get too into things, I’ll fill you in on the biggest changes with the new menu. By popular demand, Shokunin is now offering all-day ramen (or “noods”) with chasu pork, egg, scallions and nori.
They’re also serving Calgary’s first sustainable Ocean Wise sushi menu! This one makes me particularly happy, because so many of the popular cuts for sushi and sashimi are really problematic when it comes to sustainable fishing practices. I get it – restaurants exist to give the people what they want, and the people want copious amounts of tuna belly, regardless of the ecological cost. Shokunin keeps things sustainable by offering only market sashimi. It’s so smart to create a menu like this with the flexibility to strictly serve responsibly harvested seafood.
While on the topic of Ocean Wise, let’s talk about the fish! Shokunin seemed focused on fresh and appetizing varieties with beautiful plating.
Another wonderful element – Shokunin claims to be the only restaurant in Alberta serving genuine, fresh-grated wasabi rather than the neon green horseradish paste we’re all so used to seeing squeezed out of a tube or piped into a floret on the plate. And as we learned at our fancy dinner party with my dear Edmontonian friends, the true Japanese style is for sushi to come pre-dressed with wasabi, so this was cool to see in action tonight!
Once we were able to squeeze our way past the sushi and sashimi station, we ended up at a table covered in fried, savoury dishes. Before we get to this bit, I need to talk about umami. For those of you who aren’t hip to the term, umami is the Japanese word for savoury, and it’s considered the fifth taste after salty, sweet, bitter and sour. Umami occurs naturally in meats, mushrooms, soy/tofu and a bunch of different cheeses, veggies and species of fish. Now that I’ve over-explained what it is, I can tell you that the fried snacks at this table were all high on the umami scale. Snacks like the absolutely luscious okonomiyaki (savoury pancake covered in lots of fun sauces and toppings), chicken karaage (salty, juicy fried chicken), spicy fried tofu with a sweet and spicy ginger sauce, squid tempura (reminiscent of Chinese-style salt and pepper squid) and my surprise favourite, chicken skin chips. The chicken skins were tender, crispy and completely delicious.
I’d love to show you pictures of all of these, but honestly as soon as a plate was set down, the partygoers descended! Pictured above, for example, is what was left of a steaming fresh plate of chicken karaage. In the time it took me to switch on my camera, more than half of the plate had been snapped up by eager chopsticks on the prowl! The staff could barely keep up with all of the (extremely satisfied) guests as plates were set down, polished off and cleared in moments. I guess that’s one of the ways to know you’re at a good party!
And speaking of the party – the drinks! Matt and I started out at the Matsu Kaze tea station to try some premium Japanese matcha brewed fresh by the bowl. First, you heat the bowl by pouring in some boiling water and swirling it around. You then discard this water, then scoop in some fine matcha powder with a long, thin bamboo spoon called the chashaku. Next, you use a chasen, or bamboo whisk, to rapidly swish hot water into the matcha powder until it’s dissolved. After that, the tea is ready to serve at a very drinkable temperature!
This grassy matcha was smoother and richer than I expected after so many experiences with that bitter matcha aftertaste – a sign of low quality, according to our instructor. This was definitely something I’d have again at a future visit to Shokunin.
We also had to try the exclusive Shokunin beer brewed by Ol Beautiful Brewing Co. (Watch for their taproom opening soon in Inglewood!) This beer is particularly cool because one of the ingredients is rice! This beer was inspired by the Shokunin love of sake and it was very cool to see sake ingredients incorporated into a fantastic local brew.
The beer paired so well with all of the diverse Japanese foods we tried tonight, including the Alberta bison tataki. Picture sweetly marinated, thinly sliced ribbons of seared rare bison steak washed down with a light, smooth beer. You try to tell me that’s not a perfect after-work snack!
Our last station (and perhaps my favourite) was hosted by Sake Gami and featured three premium imported sake varieties. All three were excellent and I don’t think you could have chosen a favourite incorrectly. When we asked (and nodded knowingly as the next couple also asked) if you’re supposed to sip or shoot our little half ounce pours of sake, the rep advised to “drink it the way you drink wine” – take that as you will.
It was great to see so many people eagerly jammed into this tiny space to celebrate Shokunin’s (2016 4 St SW) second anniversary and menu launch. I definitely recommend stopping by to check out their cool drinks menu or to share a bunch of snacks with friends. There were a number of vegetarian- and pescetarian-friendly options and the staff all seemed to knowledgable and excited to talk about their menu. Though we snuck out of the packed house too early to catch Chef Darren’s cooking demo, we left extremely satisfied and anxious to come back for some of our new favourite foods!