Our first visit to Cerezo Cafe & Bar certainly wasn’t our last.  We’ve gone back for more lunches and had a lovely Mother’s Day Brunch this year with my parents, and we’ve been spreading the word about this hidden gem to anyone who would listen.  The one meal we hadn’t yet tried was dinner and the experience was even dreamier than that first time we stepped foot into Cerezo back in January that I just had to write about it.

We headed over there for a late dinner one Thursday evening.  Mark’s work day had been particularly uninspiring and we were both tired of eating chicken with brown rice and vegetables (our diet staple for the past couple of months), so I suggested giving Cerezo’s dinner menu a try to lift our spirits.  When we got there, only a handful of tables were occupied and we welcomed the relative quiet of the space.  The interesting thing about Cerezo is that it turns into a full-service restaurant for dinner, while it operates more like a cafe/casual eatery by day.  Their dinner menu is a fascinating fusion of tapas-style items and some larger entrees and in the end we settled on a couple of “shareables” and one of their specials.

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Whenever there’s a pork belly dish on a menu, I can’t help myself but gravitate towards it.  Cerezo’s version is a Thin Sliced Soysauce Braised Pork Belly, served beautifully with a fine dusting of toasted sesame seeds, thinly shaved green onions, and a sauce made with the braising liquid.  This is what I can only describe as true foodgasm.  I have found the ultimate pork belly, the pork belly to end all pork belly dishes.  Each slice was melt-in-the-mouth tender, moist, and perfectly seasoned.  The green onion gave each slice a fresh bite, while the sesame seeds provided a nice contrast in texture.  My god, this is exactly what I imagine pork heaven tastes like.

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Continuing on our meatfest theme, our next share plate was the Yakiniku Short Ribs (grilled beef short rib with original sauce marinade), neatly presented around a stack of lightly dressed cabbage.  The short ribs really reminded me of childhood summer BBQ’s full of Korean-style marinated beef short ribs (“galbi”) and it was a welcome nostalgic moment.  Each rib was grilled to perfection and well-seasoned, but surprisingly the real star of this plate was the cabbage.  I never thought cabbage could taste so good.  Oh, lowly cabbage, how I have wronged you over the years and thought you to be boring and pedestrian.  BUT NO.  Cerezo has worked their magic on the humble cabbage, which was dressed in a light and refreshing soy-based dressing.  CABBAAAAAGE.

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The star attraction was this gorgeous Striploin Tagliata with Japanese style Beef Jus and Peperonata Mashed Potato, one of their specials (can you see the protein-heavy theme we have going here?  We sorely missed pork and beef).  When it was set down at the table, our eyes grew wide because this plate was a thing of beauty.  “Tagliata” is an Italian sliced steak, typically served with Parmigiano Reggiano, arugula, and roasted potatoes.  Cerezo’s interpretation certainly has its signature Japanese flair and originality.  The striploin was cooked to about a medium-well; normally I prefer my steaks medium, but their preparation actually worked really nicely.  Each slice was tender, juicy, and well-seasoned.  The pile of lightly dressed arugula provided a welcome freshness and bitterness that balanced out the richness just perfectly.  As for the pepperonata mashed potato, this was a pleasant surprise.  Smooth, silky, and creamy mashed potato with a beautifully rich roasted pepper flavour, it was a complex balance of sweet and savoury that rounded out the plate.  This was exactly the pick-me-up, manly super protein meal that Mark needed to boost his spirits.

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I’m never one to turn down an opportunity for dessert, so we settled on the Lemon Tart served with House-made Vanilla Ice Cream.  This is not just dessert; it’s a work of art.  Our server apologised that this took so long to get to our table, but good god, I couldn’t complain.  The plate was rimmed with squares of fresh pineapple and dusted finely with icing sugar.  The lemon filling was refreshing with that unmistakeable lemon brightness, encased in a not-too-sweet crust.  Their homemade ice cream had a lovely vanilla flavour and you really can’t go wrong pairing any kind of pie or tart with a scoop of ice cream.  We polished off every single item on that plate, even all the pineapple pieces.  I figure if they go to all that trouble to make it all pretty, the least we can do is eat every edible morsel available.

By the time we were winding down, we were the only table left.  One of the cooks came to chat with us and it was nice to get to know her background and what led her to Cerezo’s kitchen.  Originally a nurse from Japan, she started apprenticing under the Head Chef, who used to work at numerous fine dining establishments before heading the kitchen of Cerezo.  It’s an interesting change of career for her, but she spoke passionately about the food and we could really feel how connected she was to her job.  I mentioned that we’d tried their brunch previously and she asked if I’d tried their hash potato (which I had, super awesome by the way).  She mentioned that it took them NINE MONTHS to perfect the recipe.  Nine months!  It’s basically like their potato baby.  That is true dedication to their craft and the meticulous attention to detail that I so admire about them.

While we were settling the bill, we also chatted with a couple of other staff members.  They seem to be a close-knit team and they told us that they bounce new ideas off each other for future menu items.  Their spirit of camaraderie and genuine friendliness are incredibly refreshing and heartwarming.  Not only does Cerezo have excellent food, they have excellent people.  It’s that whole package deal that really sets them apart from some of the other restaurants in Calgary and we’re excited to continue going back to discover what other amazing goodies they can come up with to delight our taste buds.

CEREZO Cafe & Bar
1002 Edmonton Trail
Calgary, AB T2E 3K2
Phone: (403) 250-8894
Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Cerezo-cafe-bar/120321404785668

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