When you work in the downtown core of Calgary, going for lunch can be like performing a balancing act. As you may have noticed, when you pass lines outside of restaurants and food courts around noon, you can see trays, drinks, wallets and blackberries being juggled as employees trying to grab a quick bite before heading back to the office. Time is of the essence for many young professionals downtown and many restaurants cater to this need by providing service that makes you feel like you’re eating in a revolving door. While rapid dining may be a necessity at times, it’s nice to get out of the rat race every so often and sit down for a quality dining experience. This is where Ki Modern Japanese + Bar (308 4 Ave SW) comes in.
The stylish and contemporary Japanese restaurant is located at the bottom of the Westin hotel. Ki is a haven for those of us who are looking to get away from the craziness of the office and put our phones down for an hour. The mission at Ki is to bring clientele a dining experience that marries Eastern hospitality with high end dining standards of the West. The interior of Ki is designed with clean lines and a modern Eastern aesthetic. Once you are settled in one of the many beautiful corners of the restaurant, a server quickly stops by to welcome you and to hand you a moist towelette. The most impressive part of Ki’s dining experience is the service, which is impeccably timed. The staff here seems to have wonderful intuition about how to be attentive while not seeming pushy or trying to hustle you out the door. You feel like you are welcome to spend the entire afternoon.
According to Ki’s General Manager, Adam Snelling, in the East the philosophy of dining is very much about putting faith into the establishment. When you dine in the East there is a certain trust given to the purveyor to create an enjoyable experience. Customers are asked to sit back and appreciate the beautiful presentation of the meal and the company of their dining partners. Snelling also went on to say that Ki management doesn’t necessarily hire staff based on their background in serving. Instead, Ki is always on the lookout for staff with intelligence and personality that will lend another element to the team.
Of course, when we talk about Ki we can’t forget to mention their tea. Snelling, who has had a long prestigious career in the restaurant and hospitality industry, is what you might call a tea aficionado. Snelling is incredibly knowledgeable on traditional tea service along with the many varieties of tea and their preparation. Ki’s tea list features a rotation of 9 to 10 high quality teas from Silk Road tea merchants and the staff at Ki has been educated on how to properly boil, steep and serve each of these varieties. It was interesting to learn that tea’s not all that different from wine. Like wine, tea can express terroir, meaning that soil types, climate and the location of the tea bush can all play a large factor in the flavour and aroma profiles that you distinguish. Furthermore, the characteristics of tea can greatly change depending on the oxidization, fermentation, steaming and drying of the tea leaves. Like many of the fine wines that we enjoy, some of the best teas come from altitudes of 5000 feet or higher.
Snelling was kind enough to share a few tips on how to pick a tea that will best suit your palette. For people who are newer to drinking tea, green tea is a great place to start, as the flavours are not too aggressive. Sencha green tea is highly recommended and served in many Asian restaurants. If you like Sencha but are looking to try something new, then you may want to want to try Dragonwell green tea, which is a bit more woodsy. If you’re looking for something with a bit more intensity, you can also try the Gunpowder Oolong tea that is known for its flinty and gun smoke aromas. For those big on aromatics, you can’t go wrong with Roobois, an African red bush tea that is loaded with antioxidants.
Next time you need a break from the fast pace of downtown Calgary at lunchtime, we highly recommend a stop at Ki Modern Japanese +Bar. Enjoy the delicious food, the tea, and to stop and smell the roses.
All images courtesy of Ki