I am partaking in a journey where I will appraise every non-franchise restaurant in town and review their food as well as their service. It is an attempt to expand my mind and appetite. Simultaneously, I will also be taking what I learn from these establishments and attempting to remake them with my extremely limited skill.
My last review should’ve carried a “To Be Continued…” hook. While at Home Tasting Room, I inadvertently / intentionally let it slip that I was a foodie blogger reviewing the best restaurants in Calgary. One of the two chefs across the bar (which had previously engaged me in conversation about the telltale signs of good cafes in Florence) asked if Il Sogno was on my list.
I admitted it was not.
Said chef followed up by suggesting an amendment to my list, adding that I should ask for a specific waiter and tell him said chef had said to do so. A restaurant recommended by another chef in one of the best reviewed restaurants in Calgary? To quote Ash in Alien, “All other priorities were rescinded.”
It took me a few minutes to locate Il Sogno, nestled around small stores surrounded by other small stores. No malls, no big block retailers that I could see. Like any big city, parking was rationed to only a few stalls. The signs were initially hard to spot, but when I did, my hopes were immediately lifted. I felt I was about to walk into that Italian Restaurant in Big Night—an out of the way jewel which couldn’t be more valuable unless Kathleen Turner nestled it between her breasts. Comparing a restaurant to that masterpiece of a film Big Night has been done before, but here it may be more appropriate.
My entrance had a lot to be desired, unfortunately, as I had been without bathroom access for about four hours. I rushed in and diverted immediately to the facilities, stepping out moments later feeling like a deflated tire. I asked for the right person, dropped the right name, and was immediately directed to the right table, assumingly. I browsed through the menu until I locked phasers on the one option I always select if given the opportunity—a tasting menu, or in this case, the chef’s surprise menu. Four courses for $85, actually meaning six courses as it didn’t count pallet cleansing mid-courses or the opening amuse bouche. For those that read my review of Home Tasting Room, you’ll remember I had previously enjoyed two glasses of wine this day, which would make it two glasses this decade.
However, considering I was already spending close to a 100$ on food, I decided to opt out a third…that was until the waiter walked up and just poured a complimentary glass almost to the rim. Just like that. Ummm…alrighty then. Three glasses in as many hours, who am I, Hugh Heffner?
The decor of Il Sogno was simple, nothing terribly outlandish. Red upholstery swathing black chairs over a stained wood floor under brilliant chandeliers hanging from a patterned burgundy roof which loomed high above. The aged building is considered somewhat of a landmark at over a century old, with Il Sogno a recent arrival.
Even though the surprise menu is meant to be a…well…surprise, the eventual courses which arrived were mostly offerings off the main menu. After a lime and melon amuse bouche and the requisite bread plate, I was treated to the duck liver parfait, with caramelized shallot and caraway puree, watercress salad and pickled fennel. The parfait had a crispy sugar coating like a crème brulee. The salad was amazing. The second course was ricotta gnocchi with sautéed mushrooms, watercress, and truffle essence, and it was divine if not terribly under-proportioned. This was followed by the obligatory sherbet pallet cleanser before moving onto the beef tenderloin with pureed and sautéed vegetables. This was good albeit once again, under-proportioned. Finally, the dessert concluded with pannacotta with almond brittle, which although sounding simple, was one of the best deserts I’ve ever tried. By the end, the big question beckoning to be asked was if it was worth it?
Here is where things get complicated. Because at least two of the dishes were on the regular À la carte, I know their total cost to be at $27.90. That means the sherbet, main, and dessert have to add up to an impressive $52. Assuming the main was $32.95—which is honestly quite expensive for that dish, that leaves 20$ for desert and the pallet cleanser…and no, I’m not counting the wine. Tasting menus are generally supposed to be good values. Yes, you pay more, but with that is an additional level of effort, dishes you’d not normally get or value in the portions you do get. Six courses for the price of five, for example, but here, about the only thing I got over ordering À la carte was an unnecessary glass of wine, a sherbet pallet cleanser, and a spoonful amuse bouche. I could have saved about $20 by my guess.
Despite value under-performing, I can still say the experience was fulfilling. The service was admirable if a little stiff, the dishes I did get were all exemplary. In my initial live postings on Il Sogno, I complimented it as the White Goose of Calgary. In truth, although Il Sogno matches the PG bistro in quality of food and service, Il Sogno betters its competition with a spiffier interior while White Goose counters in a level of culinary passion rarely seen in modern restaurants. Il Sogno is a great place to visit, though my advice is stick to À la carte.
OVERALL: 8.3 out of 10