Every once in a while, I like to try new things.  Being a creature of comfort and familiarity, I find it incredibly hard to deviate from my norm.  When it comes to trying new restaurants, Mark and I have a fairly even track record between the awful and the unexpectedly awesome.  Sometimes the memories of the awful experiences linger longer and depending on how bad the experience was, remain a very sore point.  Which is why when we’re reminded of the bad, we often retreat to our tried-and-true hangouts.  Not such a good thing when there seem to be a ton of great food places in Calgary to discover.

JAROblue is was one of those great food places.  They closed their doors forever on May 19 after serving Calgarians for 5 years.  We were fortunate enough to make it there on their very last night, on account of a gift certificate from one of my girlfriends (she was the one who informed me to get to JARO ASAP!).

So, let’s be real for a moment.  I’d never been to JAROblue before.  I’d passed it plenty of times, mused to myself “I should check it out” a lot, and heard really good things about it from a lot of people.  But, for whatever reason, it was never a place that remained on my radar long enough to put musings into action.  Luckily, circumstances lead us to enjoy one of the best food experiences we’ve had in Calgary.

We headed to JARO on a Friday night, around 7:00pm.  When we arrived, there was already a healthy crowd inside the cosy space.  We secured a two-top near the door next to a group of Corporate-looking fellas enjoying a round of beer and wine.  The rich, dark wood of the interior worked really well with the cool, lounge vibe, and it was a-buzzing with laughter and chatter.

And horse photos.  Lots and lots of horse photos.

JARO’s menu was essentially all tapas (aka “share plates”).  I love the tapas idea because it means a party of two can enjoy a variety of things off the menu.  We had a really great server who knew a ton about the menu, so we selected our lot and waited anxiously for the food experience to begin.

First, we started off with the Warm Cave-Aged Gruyere with Herb Bread.  Mark loves himself some cave-aged Gruyere so it was an easy choice.  Not being a fan of cheese, I was all about the herb bread.

The warm, melty Gruyere was topped with chili oil.  It was like a sophisticated cheese fondue.  The bread was incredible – crispy crust, with a soft interior and a great texture.  I decided to be adventurous and try some of the Gruyere.  I admit, it was not to my tastes, but Mark thoroughly enjoyed it.  I was just happy enough with the bread.

Next, the Taro Root Chips with House Tomato Jam arrived.  Shortly before, our server had informed us that it would take about an hour for the taro root chips.  The kitchen had run out and someone was procuring some taro root, which would take a while.  However, they discovered a magical stash of taro root somewhere and out these came.

The chips were absolutely perfectly crisp and lightly seasoned.  You really can’t beat the simplicity of thinly sliced taro root, deep fried to crispy goodness.  Their house tomato jam was sweet with a hint of acidity, which went perfectly with the earthy taro chips.  Yum!  These were devoured in no time.

Continuing on, we were presented with the Honey-Glazed Pork Belly served over Radish, Fennel & Shaved Brocollini.  It’s a thing of beauty.

Easily the best dish of the night.  The pork belly was amazingly tender and melt-in-the-mouth, with a beautifully crispy, glazed skin.  The picked veggies underneath went perfectly with the fatty pork belly, cutting through the fat and giving a nice refreshing aftertaste.  The pairing was divine and I wish we’d just ordered these exclusively.  For real.

Next up, Nigella Crusted Ahi Tuna with Bonito, Candied Ginger, Mirin & Soy Reduction.

Not entirely sure what a “Nigella” is (other than the fabulous Brit who cooks amazingly decadent-looking food).  A very interesting combination of flavours that was obviously Asian-influenced.  The Tuna was really fresh and the elements complimented each other nicely.

The last of our savoury plates, the Yorkshire Puddings with Braised Beef & Horseradish.

The perfectly puffed Yorkshire Puddings were filled with the braised beef.  The beef ended up making the bottoms of the puddings a bit soggy, but otherwise it was incredibly rich and savoury.  Mark wasn’t entirely sold on the combination, but he really liked the braised beef.

To round off the meal, we ordered two desserts – Pecan & Walnut Galette with Citrus Caramel & Sailor Jerry Ice Cream and the Ice Cream Sandwiches with Chocolate Almond Cookies & the Ice Cream of the Day (I’m thinking it was vanilla bean).

First of all, what is Sailor Jerry Ice Cream?  I don’t know, but it was delicious.  The pecan and walnut filling itself was really chewy, but the crust was lovely and the caramel was a nice touch.  I’m always up for any kind of pie and ice cream.  As for the ice cream sandwiches, these were incredibly decadent.  The chocolate almond cookies had a wonderfully rich cocoa flavour and the ice cream balanced out the intensity of the chocolate really nicely.  The syrup must’ve been mint-infused and it actually worked great with the chocolate cookies (mint + chocolate = LOVE).

Our bellies were stuffed to the brim after all those plates.  What surprised me was the portion size of the tapas.  I tend to think of tapas as small bites, but these items were quite substantial in size.  We originally thought about ordering more, but it’s a good thing we stopped when we did.

By the time we wrapped up, the place was getting crowded.  Even though it was chilly outside, there were even people sitting on the patio.  I think a lot of regulars were coming by to say their last goodbyes, and really, who wouldn’t want to with such fantastic food?

I’m sad that I can no longer go back to JAROblue to have another gastronomic experience.  But I’m thankful that I finally made it there and I can add this to our “unexpectedly awesome” list.  And best of all, I think the awesomeness of the JAROblue experience had added a ton of points against “the awful” list, making those memories less and less at the forefront.

Thank you, JAROblue, for an awesome evening.

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