DARREN MACLEAN’S TICKETED TASTING BAR is virtually hidden behind a discreet doorway inside Nupo, his larger and far more accessible, vegetable-forward restaurant in the Alt Hotel Calgary East Village. Inside, you’ll find a dramatic room, heavy on black, with a striking Douglas-fir bar set with just four stools on each of its two perpendicular counters. All sightlines align with the kitchen and its central black marble work surface, which functions as MacLean’s main office Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Eight stools, three nights, one seating means 24 covers per week. Those scant numbers mean that two-month blocks of reservations released on Tock tend to sell out in an hour. MacLean is an estimable chef, and of his three restaurants, Eight is the most personal. He’s known primarily for his Japanese-inspired cooking, but here his culinary preoccupation is with Canadian identity, which, for him, is polycultural. Indigenous cooking has an important role in the program. But there are influences from other cultural groups, from Calgary’s Korean community to Quebec’s French and also our 40,000-strong local Goans, whom you can thank for a recent goose vindaloo. Ingredients are emphatically Canadian. Fish and seafood might come from Fogo Island or Haida Gwaii, but most other ingredients are from nearby, as in having been sourced from MacLean’s own farm south of the city, where, along with the vegetables, he raises Tamworth-Berkshire pigs and beer-mash-fattened ducks and geese — and even finishes retired dairy cows to a prime state of Galician-style beef.
The best farm-to-table fine-dining experience in the world.”