Look out, Calgary — there’s a nouveau shérif in town. Avec Bistro, located on 11th Avenue and Fifth Street S.W., brings more than just superb French cuisine to the table. With professional, personable service and a space that pops with personality, you’re in for a real treat.
The people behind Avec are an impressive bunch, including Calgary fixtures like Jackie Cooke, Michael Lazarowich, Gail Norton, Kirk Shaw and chef Darnell Japp. Beyond possessing decades of experience, this group’s passion for food and wine is contagious.
Making reservations for 7:30 on a Friday night, my husband and I are warmly greeted and seated at a cozy two-person table. Our focus quickly jumps to the staggering amount of detail in the room, designed by Connie Young. Large-format, vintage-inspired photos feature local folks from Calgary’s food community (including a take on Helmut Newton’s “Bunny”). The bar’s wood slat millwork is absolutely stunning.
Cooke, a noted Calgary sommelier, arrives to chat with us about the bar menu, a nicely curated list of bar snacks, cocktails and a sumptuous wine list. I order the simple and fresh Champagne with St. Germain elderflower liqueur ($12.50). My husband opts for “Grounds for Divorce” ($12.50) made with Hennessy Black cognac, Forty Creek whisky, Peychaud bitters, Regans orange bitters and sugar. We’re both thoroughly impressed.
To go with our cocktails, we order two of Avec’s bar snacks — the toast points with white bean purée and truffle, and the marinated olives ($4 each). If you’re looking for a spot to stop after work for tasty drinks and affordable snacks, this is one of the best bets in town. The white bean purée is amazing — velvety and smooth with just the right of amount of truffle flavour. This dish is an incredible value.
From the appetizer list, we select the beef tartare ($14). This classic bistro dish combines minced raw beef, capers, cornichon and Dijon mustard. Topped with crispy shallots and egg yolk drizzled on the plate, the result is a fantastic blend of flavours and textures. My only (minor) issue with this dish is that it could have done with a few more toast points.
For dinner, my husband gets the steak and frites (12 oz, $25) with peppercorn sauce (add $3). Prepared sous vide (a method of cooking that uses sealed plastic bags placed in hot water below boiling point to slowly cook a cut of meat), the flatiron steak is finished with a light grilling and topped with shallot butter and veal jus. It’s the best flatiron steak I’ve ever tasted. The flavours are delectable and the side of peppercorn sauce enhances the steak without overpowering it.
The accompanying fries are great too. Prepared shoestring style and crispy, they are served with the Avec aioli, a mix of Korean spice and mayo.
I have the duck confit for my main ($25). Served on a bed of al dente white beans and spinach, the tender, fall-off-the-bone duck is scrumptious. The addition of stewed sour cherries offers a nice contrast to the richness of the duck.
Just when we thought the meal couldn’t get any better, we decide to finish with the recommended chocolate terrine ($8). Topped with a salted almond brittle, and accompanied by a salted caramel sauce, the dish perfectly balances rich and sweet with savoury and salty. I was a little tipsy by this time and wrote “fancy Skor bar” in my notes. In hindsight, I can assure you this was much better than a “fancy Skor bar.”
If I haven’t sold you on Avec, then I’m lousy at what I do. This is an awesome spot where you can expect great service, a knowledgeable, approachable team, and impeccable food. Ooh la la.