Chorney-Booth: The Office gets down to the business of serving beachy fare with local flair

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During the mid-afternoon and early evening, the block of Stephen Avenue between 3rd and 2nd Streets S.W. is typically crawling with office tower workers looking for food and drinks. Pop into the downtown Cactus Club or Earls and you’ll find the corporate lunch is indeed back in full force. Jeff Hanna, a longtime Calgary restaurateur, wanted to make sure this business-heavy block along Stephen Avenue retained at least a smattering of local influence by opening a new restaurant cheekily dubbed The Office.

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Business types tend to meet at reputable chain restaurants for good reason: the food is designed to be familiar so there are no unpleasant surprises to distract from more important conversations. That said, supporting local establishments is a priority for many Calgarians and visiting business travellers who don’t necessarily want the same chain dishes they can find in their home cities. Hanna, who is also behind the nearby Barcelona Tavern and is an original owner of The Metropolitan Grill, which previously occupied the unit The Office sits in today, knows this well. Even though he parted ways with The Met years before it closed in late 2022, he is intimately familiar with the space and had long wanted to get back in there.

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Owner Jeff Hanna with special guests at The Office a new restaurant located in the CORE Shopping Centre in Downtown Calgary on Thursday, May 2, 2024. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia Photo by Darren Makowichuk /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia

“When I presented the business plan, my biggest selling point was that I’m local,” he says. “I’m a guy who is from Calgary, loves Calgary, and really knows the downtown core.”

The restaurant name refers to a spot in Cabo San Lucas, though the downtown locale obviously gives it other connotations. Hanna says at least one customer, asked by a colleague to “meet me at The Office,” has found himself alone in a corporate tower while his friend sat in the restaurant with a drink ready. That said, it’s the Cabo connection that most informs the 220-seat restaurant’s breezy beach decor and menu.

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The Surf and Turf in Cali dish from The Office. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia Photo by Darren Makowichuk /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia

For the food, Hanna brought in chef Ryan Blackwell, best known for his now-defunct Elbow Room restaurant and continued involvement at Olea and Sensei Bar. Blackwell is remarkably skilled in interpreting different cuisines to make them approachable to a wide audience, which he extends to The Office’s California-meets-Cabo fare. Seafood plays a leading role, with a couple of large-format sushi rolls ($19) and a fresh and citrus-heavy hamachi crudo ($20) as well as a spring salmon and prawn entree ($38). There’s plenty on the menu for land lovers, with tacos ($12-$16.50), pizzas ($19.50-$23) and mains, including a spicy Fresno roast chicken ($37) and, for those who want it all, a Cali prawn and steak surf ’n’ turf ($55). Since this is a business crowd joint, there’s also a section of sandwiches, including a formidable burger ($19).

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The Mango California Roll dish at The Office. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia Photo by Darren Makowichuk /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia

You can’t do Cabo without cocktails and Hanna’s longtime collaborator JD Pilz is responsible for a bar program that goes heavy on the margaritas and specialty tequilas, with plenty of beer, wine, and non-alcoholic selections also available.

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The Office is located at 318 8th Ave. S.W. and is accessible via both Stephen Avenue and the Core Shopping Centre. The restaurant can be reached through theofficerestaurantandbar.com.

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The Office is a new restaurant in the CORE Shopping Centre. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia Photo by Darren Makowichuk /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia
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The Office has a mix of booths, tables and cosy, private areas. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia Photo by Darren Makowichuk /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia

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In other restaurant news, after the Fairmont Palliser opened its new Hawthorn Dining Room following an extensive renovation in 2019, the restaurant never completely found its footing, with interruptions caused by the pandemic and a few major chef changes. But thanks to a complete overhaul of the food concept and menu, Hawthorn seems firmly back on track.

Rupert Garcia took over as Hawthorn’s chef a year ago and just unveiled a new concept focused on modern Prairie cuisine. The emphasis is on local ingredients and the kitchen’s house-made sauces, pickles and preserves, with several nods to Calgary’s heritage, including elegant interpretations of the Palliser’s original clam chowder recipe, made even more luxurious with fresh seafood and a few other chef-y tricks ($16). Garcia was also able to snag the original ginger beef sauce recipe from the dearly departed Silver Inn, which he uses to make ginger beef bites from premium steak trimmings for a dish that is both refined and deeply nostalgic ($16, on the lunch menu).

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“On the menu, the dishes may look simple, but there’s a story in everything,” Garcia says.

The big guns come out with a new selection of shareable meats with various side dish options, including a 42-oz bone-in short rib ($150) and a mushroom-dusted 12-oz chateaubriand ($120) all designed to feed two to three people. The granddaddy of them all is the crown pork roast “experience.” At $475, it is not cheap, but the multi-course meal features many of the menu’s greatest hits and a bourbon and birch syrup glazed Broek Farm pork roast, all big enough to serve four to six people celebrating a special occasion in Calgary’s most grand hotel.

The Hawthorn Dining Room is located at 133 9th Ave. S.W. For more information, visit hawthorndiningroom.ca

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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The Honey Habanera Prawns dish from The Office in the CORE Shopping Centre. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia Photo by Darren Makowichuk /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia
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The Chocolate Namelaka dish from The Office. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia Photo by Darren Makowichuk /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia
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The Paloma, Mango, Pina Verde and Prickly Pear drinks from The Office. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia Photo by Darren Makowichuk /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia

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