start with a bowl

river cafe

The perfect lunch

A confession.  I don’t love going to restaurants.  I would rather go to markets, buy great ingredients, and cook them at home.  When I do go out I want to be surprised by dishes I haven’t made before with awesome local ingredients, and great ambiance.  Oh, and a great rosé wine helps too. 

When I was in Calgary I was working nights which made it challenging to go out to great restaurants, so I decided that lunch would be the plan.  I asked my delightful new friend Kevin if he would join me and we set the date. 

The River CaféRiver Cafe

You may not know this, but right in downtown Calgary is an island. Prince’s Island. A beautiful, lush, verdant, goose filled island.  And on this island is the River Café.

Change has been my theme this year and the River Café is a restaurant that is all about change.   From its meek and humble beginnings as a seasonal café where you got hot dogs with your kids, a glorious culinary paradise has flourished.  If you want to read more about the history of the River Café, click here.



rose wineThe meal was amazing.  We started – as one always should – with a glass of rosé.   A beautiful French Tavel.  Next came a fresh and vibrant wood fired flatbread with tomatoes, asparagus, fresh herbs, and fior di latte.  When it came to entrees, the menu had so many delicious choices, I was having a hard time deciding, but I let common sense guide me.  When in Rome, as they say.  In Calgary I learned that Alberta beef really is a thing.  It’s just that much better than what we get in Ontario.   Every time I ate beef in Alberta I had a revelation.  So, although the trout tempted me – as trout always does – it was beef all the way.  This beautiful steak was served on a bed of grain risotto with an eggplant puree, and asparagus.  And I wasn’t the only one who knew it would be awesome.  Kevin chose the same entrée.  We both knew it was the best choice.


 flatbread - river cafe  Alberta beef - river cafe

Now, I said I don’t love going to restaurants and here I am rhapsodizing about the River Café.  One of the reasons I loved it so much was the ambiance.  Ambiance is so important.  When I am cooking for friends at home I can control the lights, the music, and the décor so as to encourage conversation and laughter.  I mean that’s the real point of sharing a meal with a friend right?  You want to talk and laugh and learn more about each other.  So often in restaurants there are so many distractions that get in the way.  But not at the River Café. The rustic and natural décor was so welcoming.  The din was perfect.  And the light…the light was beautiful.  Sitting in the middle of downtown Calgary I was surrounded by green trees, water and sunshine.

The perfect setting

As we ate and talked and laughed, I thought about what a perfect lunch it was.  I said to Kevin, as the server brought out the dessert menus, that the only way to improve upon this meal would be if it ended with a rhubarb sorbet.  No sooner were those words out of my mouth than the lovely server told me about their homemade rhubarb sorbet. 

rhubarb sorbet - river cafe

Let’s be clear here, I had never actually tasted rhubarb sorbet.  In fact, I’d never seen it or heard of it before.  I only said I wanted it because I had been craving rhubarb for three months and never found it in the market in Calgary and because it was a beautiful warm day and a sorbet seemed light and cool.

So for me, the heavens opened up and sang because this restaurant knew what I needed before I did . 



The sorbet was perfect.  As was Kevin’s panna cotta in rhubarb syrup with mint oil.

      panna cotta with rhubarb syrup - river cafe

Maybe I have been too hard on restaurants.  Maybe I need to get out there more.  What made me so happy about this experience was that the elements of a meal with a friend that I cherish were so beautifully delivered.  The perfect restaurant experience is so much more than good food and for me the River Café will remain in my memory as a lovely afternoon, a perfect lunch, a wonderful new friend, and a beam of sunlight in a glass of rosé.

sunlight and rose

lunchrhubarbriver caferose wine

Amy • August 5, 2016

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