Foreign Concept angus beef striploin tataki

Angus beef striploin tataki at Foreign Concept in Calgary, $16. Topped with Granny Smith apple, frisee, red onion, and Asian mustard nuoc cham.

Where's the beef? Discovering Alberta

The first leg of my Calgary adventure
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Did you know that Canadian beef — specifically, from Alberta — is significantly different from any other beef in the world? I didn't know it until I got to Calgary. And I was completely blown away.

My primary focus for this trip was to get to Calgary to visit my friend Jessie Cayabo, who does public relations and social media for various food-focused clients. No brainer, right? She pulled together a very rigorous, scenic and educational schedule for me practically off the top of her head, because she's so plugged into the food scene there.

Duncan Ly of Foreign Concept in one section of the restaurant. That's a wall of old-fasioned moon cake molds behind him.

Our first stop was Foreign Concept, a super fusion restaurant owned by award-winning chef Duncan Ly that blends various Asian ingredients and techniques, then blends again with modern (not necessarily Western) presentations. He had just changed up the menu the week that I arrived, so we got to try some of his new items. The one that blew my mind and made me rework my thinking of beef was the Angus beef tataki (above), since I could taste the beef nearly raw but with familiar ingredients. It's not gamey; Alberta beef has an intense, richer, beefier flavor that even Canadians can't quite place. Even the raw meat in the supermarket looks different — instead of bloody red, the raw slabs look almost like they're soaked in wine. (I'll tell you more about it when we get to Banff.)

Crispy preserved lemon chicken, $14. It's the lemon that's preserved, not the chicken!
And that crack seed flavor against the sweet chili sauce will get your glands working and going for more.
Butternut squash and green mango slaw, $12. You get a variety of flavors and textures with the crispy taro strips, bird's eye chili and yuzu vinaigrette.
It's a nicely creative twist on a familiar Asian salad, especially with the butternut squash lending its flavor in an unexpected way.
Ly had us try his beef tartare experiment, with diced Asian pear and cucumber and edible flowers, accompanied by housemade furikake rice crackers.
This was another dish that introduced me to the beauty of Alberta beef. There's no better way to enjoy it!
Housemade five-spiced Broek Farms Chinese bacon and white kimchi fried rice, $24. It's got shaved cremini mushrooms, citrus truffle vinaigrette, and an onsen egg.
This isn't your popo's fried rice! It tasted as decadent as it sounds, but none of the ingredients overpowered each other, so it was nicely balanced.
I can't resist anything pandan, so we had the pandan creme brulee, $9, for dessert. The macerated tropical fruits balanced out the richness, of course, in
a delicate way. 
The Vietnamese coffee parfait, $8, was a real winner! (That's not shiny ganache, it's in a coffee-colored plastic box.) This light dessert is comprised
of Kahlua, dark chocolate mousse, and condensed milk, and surprised us by not being too sweet. Definitely a keeper.

Ly's team is also the secret to his success. Executive chef Jinhee Lee is considered a rising star in Calgary's food scene, but she's already got a lot of prestigious awards under her belt; sous chef Michael Nop is also bringing home medals for his culinary accomplishments.

Foreign Concept
1011 1st Street SW
Calgary, AB T2R 1J2
403-719-7288

 

This tiny cafe is a definite must try if you're near Turner Valley.

The next day, we headed out — way out! — across the prairie to Turner Valley for one of the best burgers you may ever have. (Actually, we were on our way to a distillery, but they were closed, and Jessie realized we were near this burger joint.)

You can get a house burger for $13.95 (with fries, $16.95), which comes with grilled onions, bacon, mushrooms and cheese.
Be sure to ask for a side of gravy for $1.95. Can you tell how excited Jessie is for that burger?
Here's a close up. The 6-oz. patty is made in-house, and you can see their secret is mixing in mustard with a lot of seeds. It's good on its own, but OMG.
Dip the burger into the gravy and it's a game changer! Their gravy is made with Alberta beef stock, so even that is super rich, intense, and beefy.
Chuckwagon Cafe's recipe is simple perfection, with a beautiful savoriness. Put that gravy on everything! Marry it! 

I was thinking, Hilo people put gravy on everything. They may want to bump up their gravy game a bit with Alberta beef stock! Now I know why their poutine is so good, too.

Chuckwagon Cafe
105 Sunset Blvd. NW
Turner Valley, AB T0L 2O0, Canada
403-933-0003

 

We then drove to a little, rural cowboy town nearby called Longview so I could pick up some Alberta beef jerky for myself and for omiyage. As we arrived, Jessie commented that if we were driving through a similar cowboy town in America, we (as minorities) would probably be scared. She was right! And yet, here we were in Alberta, and it was no big deal. For the first time, I realized why so many people wanted to move to Canada after the last election.

I mean, come on. The cowboy here is Chinese! Of course we are welcome!
Just one side of the jerky store. They have so many flavors that it's hard to choose.
Alberta beef jerky is great omiyage since it's flat, packable, and affordable. Best of all, your friends get a taste of Canadian beef ... sort of.

Longview Jerky Shop
148 Morrison Rd.
Longview, AB T0L 1H0, Canada
403-558-3960

Up next: The best meal we had anywhere, in a long, long time. For more photos from this day, click here. For more photos from this trip, click here.