It’s Friday night and my husband and I are making our maiden voyage to Yellow Door Bistro, a new French-inspired restaurant at Hotel Arts. Entering through the namesake yellow door, a life-size statue of a black stallion greets us before the hostess even has a chance to take our coats.
The whimsical décor and thoughtful architectural details make the large space seem intimate. Gently curving slatted walls break the room into three distinct dining areas featuring eclectic furniture and décor that owes a debt to classical French design.
This theme of modern meets classic extends to the wine and cocktail list, which is presented on an iPad and features a nice selection of enomatic pours, wines by the bottle, draught and bottled beer, and traditional cocktails. On our server’s recommendation, I opt for a glass of Pinot Grigio from Alois Lageder Riff ($11.25).
Shortly after our drinks arrive, our server brings a selection of delectable breads. There’s a bright red Cabernet and walnut bread, a poppy seed bread stick and a slice of thyme and caraway bread, all served with a pat of perfectly softened butter. We haven’t even ordered and already we’re drooling.
Looking over executive chef Duncan Ly’s (Chef’s Table, Raw) sumptuous menu, we decide the best course of action (pun intended) is to linger and try something from all four courses. I’m a sucker for anything topped with browned, bubbly cheese, so you know I had to try the French onion soup with caramelized onions, Gruyère cheese crouton and tender chunks of ox tail ($8). Arriving in a bright yellow enamelled Le Creuset cast-iron pot, the piping hot soup is everything you want a French onion soup to be: rich and sweet and cheesy. And it’s filling, too — I wouldn’t hesitate to come in and grab this for lunch one day. While I go to town on the French onion soup, my husband digs into the lobster bisque with foie gras cream ($10). It’s a nice take on a classic soup, with an island of meaty lobster chunks and foie cream in a smoky seafood broth, although perhaps a little on the salty side for my husband’s taste.
We’re intrigued by several of the salad options, including the warm heirloom carrot and goat cheese salad, and the baby iceberg Caesar salad (after decades of bitter greens, iceberg is due for a resurgence), but when it comes time to order our next course, we find ourselves helpless before the power of the prawn cocktail ($14). Yellow Door’s version of this ’70s classic is a carefully composed plate featuring a healthy portion of prawns on top of thinly sliced radishes, heirloom tomatoes and diced avocado on a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce. Topped with a horseradish and marinara sauce, the dish perfectly evokes a fresh steakhouse favourite of bygone years.
For our mains, my husband orders the duck cassoulet ($26). While many versions of this dish feature everything but the kitchen sink, this dish is designed to make the duck shine, offering tender sous vide Noble Farms duck breast with succulent pork belly, dark and flavourful confit leg, and a light pork rind. All of this tops the white beans in a delectable stock — an impossibly delicious take on pork and beans. Yum.
I go with the organic Heritage chicken prepared sous vide and finished with a crispy, golden skin ($24). Served with a polenta that bursts with fresh corn flavour and beautiful baby vegetables like carrots and brussels sprouts, the dish is accented with truffle jus. I love the homey feel of this dish — it reminds me of a traditional chicken dinner where the polenta replaces mashed potatoes and the truffle jus acts as gravy.
By this point, we’re ridiculously stuffed, but can’t help but take a stab at the dessert menu. My heart skips a beat when I see the word “lavender” in the description of the lemon curd tart ($8). This tangy pastry served with raspberry sorbet is topped with a soft lavender meringue and sugar sculpture. It’s a lovely marriage of artistry and sweet decadence from pastry chef Karine Moulin.
My husband’s almost as excited when he sees the scotch list. He orders the Arran “Sauternes Cask” single malt whisky ($14) served on a rock of specialized slow-melting, cold-draft ice. These little details make a big difference.
Yellow Door Bistro brings a lot of talent and experience to Calgary’s ever-evolving dining table. Featuring a fabulous array of dishes, superb service and a design concept that extends the boutique hotel’s sense of style, this is a great spot for locals and hotel guests alike.
The roasted carrot and goat cheese salad, with golden raisins, cardamom dressing and toasted almond foam. Photo by Josh Naud.