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Feb 16, 2007 06:17 AM

The Good Life in Calgary: Eight

My husband and I had the pleasure of dining at Eight last night to celebrate Valentines Day. And I do mean pleasure!

Eight is located at 1530 5 Street SW and connected to The Mercury on 17th Avenue. There isn’t a lot of parking other than street parking but we are lucky enough to live close enough that we could just walk over. There is a lot on the west side of 5th street across from the restaurant where you can park in the evenings. There is a large terrace area out front that looks like it would be a lot of fun in the summer. The restaurant itself is absolutely gorgeous. It is very modern with huge lampshade chandeliers, spectacular woodwork and trendy lighting. That said it is a bit dark for reading the fine print on the menus but as I age I find that to be an issue more and more. It was very romantic for Valentines Day. Do not miss the bathrooms – they are lovely. I like the big square white sinks. The stalls are quite narrow but there is a separate handicapped bathroom.

The layout has a quite a club feel to it. It has a row of tables in front of a long bench at the front and a few huge elevated booths. There is also a long bar with chairs – not barstools, for dining at the bar.

The service at Eight was excellent. I have honestly never felt so well taken care of. During the course of our meal our waiter Colin took excellent care of us but we also met the manager Shelley, the sommelier Kelvin, and the chef himself, Kenny Kaechele. The staff were well trained, professional, friendly and it was a real treat to have such a great team of people taking such good care of us.

I started the meal with a glass of New Zealand Pinot Noir and then had a glass of white wine with my meal. The bartender, the waiter and I the sommelier all helped me select a nice Sauvignon Blanc to go with my dinner and then, after my meal arrived, checked by to see if the pairing was to my liking! A very nice touch. Eight doesn’t have a huge selection of wines by the glass but the ones they do have on offer were excellent. The prices were very reasonable and I think most people will be tempted to order a bottle of wine with dinner.

Ok now to the good stuff – THE FOOD! We were served an amuse-bouche right away and it was very good. Beautifully presented on a small square white plate was a cube of seared tuna crusted with fennel and coriander and accompanied by a lovely light avocado mousse. My husband doesn’t care for “raw fish” so I got to eat his too! Yum yum!!! A silver bowl of warm olive sourdough from Charlie’s Bakery was served with a sweet little dish of Greek olive oil, butter and aged balsamic vinegar. Very good quality products too – the olive oil was very light and clear and the balsamic was thick and rich – just the way I like them.

The menu offers a good variety and it was difficult to choose. My husband ordered the Bacon and Egg salad for an appetizer and I started with the Chili Lime Prawns. They were beautifully cooked, with just the right amount of spicy kick and a very soft warm Szechuan sauce on the side. There were eight prawns which for an appetizer is huge! My husband said that his salad, which included a whole soft poached egg, was wonderful. Fresh greens, nice blend of flavours and a very generous serving. I was very tempted by the Organic Salmon entrée but in the end decided on the Ravioli with lobster and saffron corn cream sauce. My husband ordered the lamb loin and was very impressed. He said that it was a very nice cut of meat and perfectly cooked. I have to say my husband ALWAYS orders lamb when we dine out together and he commented that his lamb at Eight was the best he has ever had. The portions were perfect, large enough to fill you up but still manageable – we both cleaned our plates. My ravioli was gorgeous and fresh and I am pretty sure I had a whole lobster worth of meat on my plate. Apparently, the ravioli is a very popular customer favourite and I can certainly see why!

While we were enjoying our meals the chef came out to chat for a bit. It was lovely to meet him and pay our compliments in person. Kevin seemed very relaxed and was happy to chat with us for a few minutes. We can only assume that he runs a very organized kitchen as the restaurant was quite busy with lots of Valentine’s couples enjoying dinner. He recommended a chocolate trio from the tasting menu to my husband and in fact made sure that that was exactly what he had. Kenny was right – it was a beautiful dish and it must have been really tasty as hubby was unwilling to share even one small bite! I hate to say it – especially on Valentines Day, but I am not a big chocolate fan and he said that it would be a shame to waste any on someone who would not truly appreciate it.

Now the only negative I have to say about the entire evening was the hostess. She seemed about twelve to me and I hope it was her first night – she certainly seemed lost and confused. When we arrived she greeted us, confirmed our reservations and then without a word, walked away. We weren’t sure if we were supposed to follow her or not. We soon discovered that we were and she showed us to a booth and took my coat. The booth is elevated and quite narrow and the table wasn’t centered properly in the booth and I struggled getting up and in but the hostess was long gone. The servers in the area jumped in right away to move the table. I am not sure it was even our table as it was set for four. As the serving staff cleared away the extra settings the hostess returned and took away the extra menus and the wine list as well. She spent the rest of the night clomping around, looking lost and like she didn’t have enough to do.

Regardless of this minor distraction, I can’t wait to go back. I would definitely make reservations ahead of time and expect a lively crowd from The Mercury on Friday and Saturday nights. The food was outstanding and the service truly exquisite. All in all we had an excellent evening and it was excellent value as well – our entire night was only $135 plus tip. Try Eight yourself – I am sure that it will make your short list of favourite restaurants in Calgary – it certainly made mine!

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  1. Thanks, higgi! I avoided ei8ht when it first opened because I didn't trust the ability of a curtain (no matter how heavy) to block the smoke from the Mercury, but we live in a happier world now. Very nice review. Only thing missing are prices, but this being Calgary, I can imagine. :)

    Is the menu at the resto available at the Merc, or they completely separate kitchens, or what?
    Anybody know?

    1 Reply
    1. re: John Manzo

      Menus are similiar but seperate, same Executive Chef

    2. The prices were extremely reasonable. I don't remember too many specifics but I do recall that my Lobster Ravioli was $22. As I said, our bill for our entire meal including 2 glasses of wine, 2 appetizers, 2 entrees, 2 desserts and coffee was $135. For fine dining, in a fine atmosphere, from one of Calgary's finest chefs, on trendy 17th Avenue SW, this is a pretty fine!

      1 Reply
      1. re: higgika

        Rereading a bunch of excellent reviews for inspiration, i stumbled across this one that i had bookmarked ages ago. I had been to Ei8ht when it first opened to mixed success, so when a friend of mine suggested going there, i was eager to try again.

        We went on a Thursday night, fairly late (around 8:30pm). I like dining at this time of night, typically because the rush is over and service is much more relaxed. As I entered, they were down to 4 or 5 tables.

        I can't possibly describe the space better than Higgika, so read above. I like the space... trendy, but fairly minimalist. Banquettes were comfortable. Nothing to complain about.

        Surprisingly enough, i wasnt in much of a meat mood. This is a very rare occurence. Autumn, for some reason, always brings on a soup craving. The soup on the menu was roasted garlic and spinach, with prosciutto. My friend, who doesnt eat pork, got it without.

        The meal started with an amuse - complments of the kitchen. It was a chilli-lime prawn - not overcooked, with excellent char and flavouring, and a nice sauce. The soup was better than it sounds, and it sounds pretty tasty to me. Great blend of flavours, a nice simplicity to it, it was clear and concise. For $8, it was a very large bowl. I was pleased.

        I had the aforementioned Ravioli (with lobster, saffron corn cream sauce at $20) as my entree, while friend had the tenderloin. This was fantastic VFM. The ravioli were perfect squares, with a nice filling. Probably a bit too perfect for me, as i prefer the rustic, hand cut squares slapped together. Nothing to complain about, just a personal preference. The sauce was a nice balance with the fresh pasta. The lobster, while plentiful, was only average. A bit too rubbery for my liking, and not sweet enough. But overall, a good dish.

        The only real beef i had with the evening was the per glass wine price. I paired a Prosecco Rustico (Nino Franco) with the soup and ravioli, which went well. But at $9 a glass, the markup seems pretty expensive on a Nino Franco.

        The service was impeccable. The server checked with the kitchen to ensure there wasnt any pork in any of the sauces, emulsions or other accompainments, and dilligently reported back. This is definitely a rarity. Fresh cutlery was brought promptly. She was there when we needed her, and wasnt there when we didnt. I can't compliment service any better than that.

        Overall, it was an excellent experience. I've been down on fine dining for a while, but even though everyone considers ei8ht to be fine dining, i find it less pretentious than that. The focus falls squarely on the food. And with the rare combination of good food with good service at decent prices, it's worth checking out.

      2. Eight replaced their curtain with an actual glass wall, allowing for a smoke free dining room, about 6 months ago. Also, to answer a question, the full dining room menu/tasting menu is available in the lounge upon request at dinner.

        Mercury does have its own menu as well, but there is crossover and similar theme from the Eight menu. Both spaces are served by a central kitchen and it's brigade.

        1. I'm happy to hear that it was good - I live in the neighbourhood as well and have been to Mercury a couple times for drinks. I had concerns about the restaurant because the overflow of Mercury went into Eight on the weekend and that turned me off a bit. I love the look of their patio too - I look forward to a glass of wine out there when it warms up.

          The best part of the washrooms is the skinny mirror - it's a great boost to your evening to suddenly loose 15 lbs when you look in the mirror! :)

          thanks for the review!

          1. Good review...and with regard to your comment on the hostess...ALL restaurants in Calgary are having a hell of a time finding good help. The labor shortage is really hurting service levels in town right now so you kind of have to roll with the punches! Cheers.