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Feb 7, 2008 12:20 PM

river cafe, still one of the best?

I have only been here once a few years ago. Having recently moved back to the city I have decided to go here. I am coming from Toronto, where I ate of a few of the top reviewed restaurants there. Is it worth it? Or will I get a better food experience elsewhere for a lower price?

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  1. River Cafe remains my favorite place in Calgary. The food is interesting, very well-prepared, and exploits regional and seasonal ingredients. Service is exemplary. And the location is great, of course. I just wish they would ditch the current decor, which reminds me the White Spot. There are a handful of other consistently good places in town (not including Capo, in my experience), but none beat RC, at any price.

    6 Replies
    1. re: ChrisA

      Chris A:

      I too enjoy River and have not been disappointed during any of my visits.

      I have not been to many White Spots if any [apart from the cafeteria line on BC Ferries and maybe one at Vancouver airport ], what is the connection to River? Has the former adopted a fishing / hunting lodge motif a la Montana's?

      1. re: Bob Mac

        I confess I haven't been to a White Spot in a long time, but I recall them as having a contrived rustic vibe, with various knick-knacks and such dotting the walls. Much like River Cafe's pseudo-rustic crap everywhere, not to mention those horrible chairs. Of course, the food, service, and location completely trump the lousy (to my taste) decor, but I don't think I'm going out on a limb in opining it could really use a little renovation in the interest of elegance.

        1. re: ChrisA

          Well I went on Friday. The food was good, but the experience was disappointing because of the service. Our entrees were delayed at least a half an hour, while the tables all around us got served. Our server did not notify us of anything amiss until most of that time had gone by. When our food did arrive it was put down in front of us without a word, perhaps this is just my preference but since I ordered over an hour ago, in this case almost two, I may not remember everything that is on my plate. Also on our way out the hostess was too busy chatting to get our jackets so we had to fish them out ourselves. There are restaurants where fantastic service is not expected but I did not think that the River Cafe would be one of them.

          1. re: ChrisA

            It's not pseudo-rustic. It's rustic, but fine, and I pray they do not change a thing.

        2. re: ChrisA

 Is this the current decor? If so it seems a bit dated but at the same time in keeping with the rustic feel imho.

          Edit: Odd, that was supposed to post in response to Chris A's comment about the decor.... oh well.

          HBOO: I'm sorry to hear your meal was delayed. The least any resto should do in that situation is notify you of the delay, apologize and if it's warranted at least offer to comp dessert or something. It sounds to me like River Cafe is suffering from new-staff don't-seem-to-give-a #@mn-itis. I don't know if you've brought your experience to their attention or not but fwiw you can submit feedback/reviews via their website:

          1. re: maplesugar

            i agree - those chairs are utterly atrocious.

        3. I was there a couple of weeks ago and I think it is still the best restaurant in the city. I have been there at least a dozen times over the last year or so and it has never been anything less than first rate. The menu is always imaginative and utilizes the best of local and organic ingredients. Service was attentive but not overbearing (I hate that) and there are some great deals on tthe impressive wine list as well. Highly recommended.

          1. I was there last in September, having been to Muse the week before, and River Cafe really suffered in comparison to Muse both in terms of food and service. It was disappointing as every previous time I'd been there I was really impressed, with the quality of the service even more than the food. We were waiting for our (reserved) table for four for over half an hour as they were apparently too polite to ask the two people who were lingering on at the table to move to the bar. Instead they had us sitting at the bar, trying not to glare too much at said couple! Maybe it was because I was heavily pregnant at the time, but we were not especially interested in drinking that night (sitting up on the bar stools was also a challenge), so it was annoying. I expected that they would comp us the pre-dinner drinks (based on previous experience there when we were comped dessert because of a mix-up in the kitchen that delayed it by only 15-20 minutes) but they did not. The front of house person seemed less well trained than our servers have been, and (IMO) didn't deal appropriately with the lingering couple or with us.

            1. I have been to the River Cafe many times and have never been "wowed" by the experience. There have actually been times where I didn't care for what I ordered. This has never happened to me at Il Sogno, Capo, Rouge, Fleur de Sel or Divino. IMHO, there is better food to be had at that price point...but River Cafe has many fans. But, it does have probably the best location in town....

              2 Replies
              1. re: shopwinedinefine

                I would entirely concur. Admittedly, River Cafe has the best ambience in the city but I have never had a steller evening there. There are a number of other restaurants in town IHMO that are far superior.

              2. Has anyone had the brunch there? How was it?

                1 Reply
                1. re: Jasz

                  I've been there a couple times in Nov/Dec for lunch and went last Monday for dinner.

                  River Cafe is better than it has ever been.

                  The lunch menu has gone through a total shift (in addition to the monthly changes) and is vastly improved. The Guinea Leg with bacon wrapped corn bread is probably one of my favourite things from all of last year to eat - and the Bison Brisket is an exceptional dish as well.

                  Dinner at River Cafe is not quick and I'm not sure what policy there is, but I think they are unlikely to bounce an early seating that lingers - Sorry to hear you were sat at the bar well pregnant - I totally can understand that being frustrating (both the bar, the seats and so on). Having been bounced out of my table as an early seating at Wildwood - it's not a great ending to a dinner.

                  We enjoyed veteran service on Monday for dinner and everyone was impressed with their entrees - The new vegetarian dish - hedgehog mushroom stuffed empanadas was a big improvement on the quinoa stuffed apple. It would be a great appetizer if you split it with someone.

                  The lamb - which I thought in the past was maybe a bit light on the plate, now comes "two ways" the evening cut which is usually roast lamb leg or sometimes short loin; comes with a lamb and quince tourtiere which was deadly. That's exactly the "extra mile" that River Cafe goes to.

                  I had the feature Guinea breast which had potatos and roast squash with ethereal creamed kale. Guinea has more fat under the skin then chicken, and less than duck - and it had been rendered down on the grill to crispy happiness. Much like Divino's crispy chicken but with the deeper taste of guinea hen.

                  Desserts also saw the return of house made ice cream pairings and the feature apple pie was the kind of thing you'd expect - generous, rustic, perfectly executed - a change in the right direction after last year - where the desserts had taken on "French" airs - but not always impressive flavours - I haven't had the new chocolate dessert but I hope it outperforms the last year - which saw great things when the single sourced cocoa first came on the menu - but faded into a sad, dry little curled up square later in the year.

                  Irishgirl - I think they'd be keen to make it up to you - and if you ever feel the evening going awry - just ask to see the manager or the sommlier (always a senior staff member) - and let them know how you want things to be. It's too much money to not have a stellar evening.

                  Jasz - Brunch is great - like lunch it's a tremendous dollar value - compared to the unreal hotel ripoffs - you get all the ambience, the location and for a few dollars (literally) more than diner deluxe - you can have reservations and enjoy a languid, overindulgent brunch. Be sure to order the daily baked goods (muffins / scones etc) for the table as they are fresh daily.