Cross-posted from Calgary is Awesome.
I was immediately intrigued, partly because I live in the area, but after looking at the menu, I was a little unsure about the Japanese-Italian fusion concept, and none of the items on the short list (the menu is only a page long, including desserts) really appealed to me, so I never went.
A few months later, as Carino accumulated more positive reviews, particularly for their Teriyaki Kobe Beef Burger (above), I joined a few friends there for dinner, including fellow food blogger Dan Clapson, who graciously shared his photos for this post since I forgot my camera.
We went on a Tuesday night, which we serendipitously discovered was free corkage night! Since none of us had a bottle of wine hanging around, Dan went across the street to the liquor store to get us one.
We decided to order a few dishes and partake together family-style. For starters, we tried the Crab Cakes ($14) and Mozzarella Agedashi ($11).
The crab cakes were more like crab balls, surrounded by alternating little cubes of dashi and white balsamic jelly, and a dollop of tomato confit. A single slice of fried lotus root and a few sprinklings of arugula served as the garnish.
The crab cakes were quite delicious. The outside was crisp and hot, while inside, the crab meat was tender and flavourful. The tomato confit served as a fancy ketchup, adding sweetness and tartness. The waiter made sure to remind us to try the little cubes of jelly; while I think the white balsamic jelly melted too quickly for me to really get a taste, I really enjoyed the umami flavour of the dashi jelly, and the extra moisture it added to my bite of crab cake.
I was really excited to try the Mozzarella Agedashi as I am usually a huge fan of agedashi tofu at Japanese restaurants. Unfortunately this was probably the most disappointing dish of the night. The outside wasn’t particularly crispy and the mozzarella inside didn’t melt as expected.
For mains we shared the Teriyaki Kobe Beef Burger ($16), Lamb Rib Pot au Feu ($19), Mentaiko Pasta ($21) and a side of Pork Belly Gnocchi ($8).
John Gilchrist raved about the Teriyaki Kobe Beef Burger on his review on CBC, calling it “one of the top 10 burgers” he’s had in his life. Kobe beef is known for its tender, melt-in-your-mouth texture, thanks to its relatively high fat content and marbling. We ordered the burger with the rice instead of the bun, thinking that would make it easier for us to share, and were pleasantly surprised to find that the rice isn’t a pile of white rice, but actually rice that has been formed into patties and fried to create a “bun”. This for me was actually the best part of the burger; I loved the crisped outside and the chewy texture of the rice in the middle. Of course, the burger was good too, layered with sweet teriyaki sauce, grilled mushrooms and peppery arugula, but I think it would take eating a non-Kobe beef burger next to it for me to have really noticed the difference.
The Lamb Ribs were cooked in a pot-au-feu, or a rustic French stew with Japanese vegetables like lotus root, daikon and carrots cut into little flowers. The meat was fall-off-the-bone tender and the jus was very flavourful. The lamb and vegetables were served on a bed of buttery mashed potatoes that soaked up all the sauce.
The gnocchi was nice and chewy, with big chunks of pork belly. It was good, but nothing overly exciting.
I had to save the best for last in this post, and for me it was the Mentaiko Pasta.
Mentaiko, or marinated pollock roe, has a reputation for being an acquired taste, but the pasta was flavoured perfectly, with a saltiness that reminded you of the sea without being fishy or too overpowering. The spaghetti itself was cooked just to al dente and tossed with generous pieces of scallop, octopus and shrimp, as well as edamame.
Despite the odd menu, I enjoyed my experience at Carino and would be happy to go back again.
709 Edmonton Tr NE
Calgary AB T2E 3J5
Open for lunch Tues-Fri 11:30 AM-2 PM; brunch Sat-Sun 10 AM-3 PM; dinner Tues-Thu 5-10 PM, Fri-Sat 5-11 PM, Sun 5-9 PM. Closed Mondays. Free parking available in the rear in evening.