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New Kids on the Block

YYC Food and Drink Experience is in full swing, with restaurants across Calgary showcasing highlights of the city’s ever-burgeoning culinary scene.

Among the most hotly anticipated in the festival’s line-up of epicurean events was the sell-out collaborative dinner between Bar Gigi and Francine’s, two fledgling restaurants pioneered by the industry’s most promising bright young upstarts.

Francine’s has been the talk of the town since its preliminary opening in late January as a nightly pop-up out of Meat and Bread. Pioneered by the dream team that ensured the success of nearby Major Tom, chef Garrett Martin, and bar manager Nate Wry,  Francine’s transforms a sandwich shop into a bustling pocket-sized French tavern. Think house-made honey butter chips stacked as high as the Eiffel Tower with Bayonne ham, lashings of comté cheese, a melt-in-the-mouth steak au poivre swimming in creamy toasted garlic peppercorn sauce, and arguably the best martini you’ll find in Alberta.

Welcoming not-yet-open but already much-hyped Bar Gigi to the pass, the sell-out experience at Francine’s offered a sneak peak into what D.O.P alumni Alessandro Chinea, Jaden Kanomata, and Kayla Blomquist will be rustling up in their shiny new kitchen. Occupying what was formerly 9th Avenue North East’s Halibut Hut, the 20-seat space is set to open later this spring, becoming the latest in the growing trend of micro dining spots.

  “It’s all about bright, high acid food”, says Blomquist, who is building a wine list, she says, out of aspirational bottles she lusted after during her backpacking trip to Europe after graduation. While her quips were jocular, the dishes offered up by Chinea and Kanomata were quite serious. Highlights included their delectable marinated honey mussel with Calabrian chili vinegar, pickled shallot, and cilantro, and a florescent green dill beurre blanc slathered skate wing topped with parsley and fried capers. If “bright” and “high acid” were indeed the goals then the team certainly delivered with finesse, leaving a mouth-watering teaser of what’s to come.

For their part, Francine’s delighted their evident hoards of existing fans with new experimental menu items, created specifically for the two-evening engagement. Martin’s buttermilk fried chicken cordon bleu nugget with pickled mustard seeds and burnt lemon was nothing short of outstanding, while Wry’s cheekily named “So Much for the Afterglow“,  made with Calgary local Last Best Afterglow gin, plum vermouth, lemon sherbet, ginger, and sparkling wine was an effervescent victory.

Calgarian gastronomic enthusiasts seem to have just one question: what of Francine’s permanent brick-and-mortar? All eyes remain on Martin and Wry as they prepare to open their wider concept “soon”. Rumour has it, it could be as early as this summer. Très excitant!

 Rebecca Felgate