Chorney-Booth: Ryuko spreads its wings with new west Calgary location

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When Ryuko, a popular restaurant centred around the more delicate nuances of Japanese cuisine, opened in a high turnover location beside Lake Bonavista in 2022, diners in the south were thrilled to have a downtown-calibre spot close by. The restaurant quickly found itself drawing guests from all over the city, hungry for its above-average sushi offerings and signature kaiseki box meals. Ryuko proved to be such a breath of fresh air that its owners recently branched out with a second, also relatively far-flung, location in the far west neighbourhood of Christie Park.

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While Ryuko has stood out from many of Calgary’s other (also excellent) Japanese restaurants with its dedication to nuance and careful plating, it may be its management’s response to an unexpected challenge that most effectively pushed it towards a higher level of success. Just as the original Ryuko was opening, much-celebrated chef Jun Young Park (formerly of Nupo and Shokunin) was simultaneously launching his extraordinary Zushi sushi counter at the Fresh and Local Market and Kitchens just up the road in Avenida. Foodies flocked to eat at Park’s minuscule sushi bar, drawing potential fanfare from Ryuko. Meanwhile, Park wasn’t able to reach as many guests as he’d like with his tiny kiosk and limited market hours. Rather than creating a rivalry, Ryuko invited Park – who was already a long-time friend of Ryuko executive director Jase Lee – to join their fray, eventually naming him as the growing restaurant group’s executive chef.

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Executive director Jase Lee, left with executive chefs Jun Young Park and Jacob Jang at Ryuko West in Calgary. Brent Calver/Postmedia Photo by Brent Calver/Postmedia /Brent Calver/Postmedia

“We were good neighbours and good friends,” Lee says. “We got talking and realized there were opportunities to expand and collaborate. Joining forces means we can do a lot to make the local Japanese food scene stronger.”

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The new 100-seat west location is a beauty, filled with blond wood and comfortable seating. The showpiece is a lengthy chef’s bar and open kitchen, giving guests a chance to see Park and his team in action. Park plans to soon launch a tasting menu to offer an even more engaging experience for customers seated at the bar.

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The dining room at Ryuko West. Brent Calver/Postmedia Photo by Brent Calver/Postmedia /Brent Calver/Postmedia

About 70 per cent of the menu items at Ryuko South and Ryuko West will overlap, giving the kitchens at each location room to get creative with seasonal ingredients and respond to their audiences. There are plenty of vegetables, including an excellent nasu yaki Japanese grilled eggplant ($18), rice dishes like Ryuko’s popular tobiko bibimbap topped with four kinds of fish roe ($26) and two varieties of ramen ($18-$21). Fish – including that pulled from the restaurant’s dry aging chamber – rules the day at Ryuko with both a la carte sushi ($3-$30) and sushi and sashimi sets ($35-$120), with premium hon maguro and Hokkaido uni cuts available. Protein lovers can also indulge in a sablefish steak ($28) or head over to the land animal side with selections like the 30-day aged beef tataki ($18) or lightly battered chicken karaage ($16). Ryuko’s Instagram-famous nine-item kaiseki box is also available for those who don’t want to build their own meal, but it must be pre-ordered at least one day ahead ($63).

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The Kaiseki Bento Box at Ryuko West in Calgary. Brent Calver/Postmedia Photo by Brent Calver/Postmedia /Brent Calver/Postmedia

A good representation of sake is, of course, on the menu, along with Japanese-inspired beers and cocktails as well as a selection of wines, including a couple from Japan. Ryuko West is located at #3150 40 Christie Park View S.W. The restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner and can be contacted at 403-991-3208 or through ryuko.ca.

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Executive chef Jun Young Park lifts a smoking dome off the aged premium sashimi at Ryuko West. Brent Calver/Postmedia Photo by Brent Calver/Postmedia /Brent Calver/Postmedia
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The Aburi Spicy Salmon roll is seared with a torch at Ryuko West. Brent Calver/Postmedia Photo by Brent Calver/Postmedia /Brent Calver/Postmedia
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The dining room at Ryuko West. Brent Calver/Postmedia Photo by Brent Calver/Postmedia /Brent Calver/Postmedia

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A couple of months ago I profiled chef Andrea Harling and her Black Rooster sandwich shop in the Calgary Farmers’ Market West, with the promise she would be opening a full-service sister restaurant shortly. In mid-April, Harling opened the doors of The Sweatered Hen in the 17th Avenue location that formerly housed her V Burger storefront (V Burger lives on as a takeout-only service). Harling transformed the room quickly, turning a kitschy fast-food outlet into a cozy brunch spot in just a couple of months.

While the Beltline is rich with brunch and lunch options, Harling has found her niche with wholesome and homey fare made special with her chef’s touch. Expect expertly executed versions of brunch classics like French toast with the addition of roasted strawberries ($17.50) and a rich breakfast poutine ($18.50), as well sandwiches such as a robust croque madame ($20.50) and a loaded BLT ($17) served with savoury “rooster” potatoes, plus personal touches like Harling’s cheese biscuits ($5.50) made from a family recipe. The restaurant, located at 819 17 Ave. S.W., is open daily for breakfast and lunch, giving Harling the option to open in the evenings for pop-ups and special events.

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Speaking of which, Harling will be hosting a collaborative vegan dinner on May 26 featuring a group of women guest chefs as part of the spring edition of the Terroir hospitality series. The conference’s greater schedule includes a VIP reception on May 25 and a full day of programming at SAIT’s School of Hospitality on May 26, featuring demos, panels, and talks with culinary professionals from around the world. For tickets and a full list of speakers and adjacent events, visit terroirsymposium.com.

Elizabeth Chorney-Booth can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Instagram at @elizabooth or sign up for her newsletter at hungrycalgary.substack.com.

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