2611 39th Ave. N.E.
Dinner for two with drinks: $60
Signature Dish: Rob’s Hunter Chicken ($22.50)
Chain restaurants tend to rely on basic grub to be consistent across its locations but often that results in passable, but uninspired, dishes.
Cactus Club rises above that; its hiring of Rob Feenie (the only Canadian to win on Iron Chef America) to create signature dishes for the chain really pays off.
Feenie has translated his French cuisine background into clean but sophisticated casual meals, alongside the standby burgers and steaks.
The beef carpaccio ($13.50) starter is a good cut of peppercorn-crusted tenderloin with a nice grainy Dijon aioli, fried capers, and Parmesan. The accompanying crostini is delicious.
The mains really shine. Rob's Hunter Chicken ($22.50) is a gigantic, moist breast atop fresh green beans and herb fingerling potatoes. A demi-glace with button, portabello, shiitake and crimini mushrooms is cleaned off the plate.
Ravioli stuffed with butternut squash ($24.50) deserves applause, caressed by beurre blanc and amaretti and sprinkled with pine nuts and crispy sage. The addition of perfectly cooked prawns makes this the best chain dinner I've ever had.
Feenie also ups the ante on standards like the clubhouse ($17.50) with BBQ duck, pan-seared chicken and prosciutto on pecan fruit bread.
Service is excellent, something else that sets this chain restaurant above the rest.
Two couples with combined chef and front-of-house experience in some of the world's most acclaimed restaurants have opened CHARCUT in the new Le Germain hotel complex (899 Centre St. S.W.) Enjoy local, slow-roasted meats and an in-house beer steward.
Dine out Calgary
More than 80 city restaurants are taking part in the 10-day annual Dine Out Calgary event March 5-14. You can sample three-course lunches and dinners at participating eateries. www.downtowncalgary.com/dineoutcalgary.
Rising above mediocrity