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This year has not seen much in the way of splashy new restaurant openings. 2023 has brought us a nice collection of casual restaurants and intimate lounges, but there hasn’t been a big, buzz-worthy spot like last year’s Barbarella or 2021’s Major Tom. Now, as the year comes to a close, a new restaurant has swept in to add a bit of excitement to the local dining scene.
The name Salt and Brick will be familiar to foodies who have spent significant time in Kelowna. The Okanagan version of the restaurant launched in 2018 (as a rebrand of an existing restaurant called Salted Brick), with a bold concept that saw the chef bringing a new menu to life every day. Co-owner Casey Greabeiel, who is also involved with hospitality businesses in Calgary including Greta Bar, had long wanted to build a restaurant in the space on 10th Avenue S.W. next door to Greta. When the unit became available, creating a new Salt and Brick made sense.
Translating Salt and Brick Kelowna, a 36-seat restaurant with a tiny kitchen, into a big city, 140-seat restaurant is not a cookie-cutter kind of process. To keep the Salt and Brick vibe, Greabeiel and his team maintained the original brand’s floral motif and exposed wood and brick décor, carving the room up into several distinct seating areas – including bar and lounge areas, an atrium dining area, and a kitchen bar – each around the same size of the original Kelowna dining room. It makes the restaurant feel simultaneously intimate and vibrant – not an easy trick to pull off.
The biggest key to Salt and Brick’s Calgary success though, had to come through hiring the right chef team. Even though the new location changes its menu weekly rather than daily, the scope of the restaurant requires significant chef power and a thirst for creativity. To hit that mark, Greabeiel and Co. hired Dave Bohati (Market, Teatro, Hawthorn) as executive chef, Alejandro Buzzalino (Vendome, Mato pop-up) as chef de cuisine, and Larissa Costella (Holy Cow, Primary Colours) as pastry chef. The three, along with a team of other familiar faces, exhibit their considerable skill in a completely open kitchen, giving guests lucky enough to sit at the chef’s bar the opportunity to experience dinner and a show.
“We’re able to cook the food we believe in here,” Bohati says. “We’re able to play. We’re able to make food that we know is going to be proper. It’s such a breath of fresh air and creates a hunger to develop the best that we can.”
Since the 15 (or so) item menu does change weekly (selections are posted on social media at the start of the week), it’s impossible to describe exactly what customers can eat at Salt and Brick, but there is some structure at play. Buzzalino has developed an excellent raw seafood program with opening week selections like unbelievably creamy sake-washed Hokkaido U10 scallops in a blood orange dressing ($18) and thick slabs of luscious Canadian king salmon ($20) – with the option to order the entire five-item menu for $95.
The rest of the first week’s menu included choices like a playful side stripe prawn toast in a yuzu ponzu with a dab of shrimp aioli, topped with locally sourced purple sorrel ($19), a generously portioned version of the Kelowna location’s signature Brussels sprouts with popcorn ($23), rich bison tartare cut with sweet beets and served with Costella’s unique coffee sourdough ($26), clouds of agnolotti filled with ricotta and topped with almonds ($26), and lamb prepared char siu-style with sunchokes and a parsnip purée ($36). It’s safe to promise unexpected, yet perfectly balanced flavours, clever plays on texture, and lots of surprises.
A splashy restaurant needs a bold beverage program and Salt and Brick delivers with smart cocktails and a strong wine list that pays appropriate respect to the restaurant’s Okanagan roots. While I do not want to spoil any surprises, guests who “ask for Charlie” before or after their meal will be assigned an appointment to enjoy quick bites and extraordinary cocktails in a separate speakeasy that may or may not be located on the premises (wink, wink).
Salt and Brick is open Tuesday to Sunday from 5 p.m. onwards. The restaurant is located at 211 10th Ave. S.W. and can be reached at 403-371-3429 or through saltandbrick.ca. Reservations are strongly recommended.
If that’s not celebratory enough, we’re now well into Christmas pop-up bar season, with a few different options this year. The original Christmas bar, Miracle on First Street, has returned to Proof (1302 1 St. S.W.) and will continue to run until Dec. 24, serving many of the same cocktails from previous years, as well as some new additions. Meanwhile, Miracle’s more tiki-oriented sister event Sippin’ Santa is in full swing over at Ricardo’s Hideaway (1530 5 St. S.W.). For something a little different, Eighty-Eight Brewing Co. (#1070, 2600 Portland St. S.E.) has once again gone into Home Alone mode, with cheeky McCallister family décor transforming the taproom and special events to be held through the season.
Elizabeth Chorney-Booth can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Instagram at @elizabooth or sign up for her newsletter at hungrycalgary.substack.com.