Anju is a lounge located in downtown Calgary that specializes in Korean style tapas. It’d been quite a while since I’d been back to Anju. I tried it for the first time several years ago when it first opened and thought the food was just ok. I had heard some great things about it over the past couple of months so I was curious whether things have improved. Recently, one of the visiting Chowhounders from Vancouver tried it and was particularly impressed with a couple of the dishes. I trust his palate and for him to be impressed, it speaks volumes as good Asian food is so plentiful in Vancouver. Armed with a cheat sheet of his favourites, I thought this was a perfect opportunity for me to re-visit Anju again.
My friend and I decided to order a side of spicy Kimchi ($3) to start. Kimchi is a traditional fermented Korean dish made of vegetables and various seasonings. The most popular type of kimchi is made with baechu (napa cabbage). I liked that this kimchi at Anju had a good crunch and the perfect balance of spice and acidity. It was the perfect palate cleanser in between dishes.
Based on my fellow Chowhounder’s recommendation we ordered the Grilled Norway Mackerel with Lemon and Wasabi Soy ($9). The mackerel was well-seasoned and perfectly grilled. The meat was flavourful and tender while the skin was crispy. The wasabi soy added an interesting flavour to the fish. Initially, I wasn’t used to dipping the grilled fish in the wasabi soy as I typically associate wasabi in soy sauce with sushi and sashimi. But in this case, it really works. My friend and I really enjoyed it and we would definitely order this again on our next visit.
Our second dish was the Panko Breaded Crispy Tofu with Sautéed Kimchi and Citrus Aioli ($8). This was also on the list of favourites from the Vancouver hound. My friend and I agreed this was definitely a winner and our favourite dish of the evening. Usually, I’m not a fan of tofu but this dish really works. It was the perfect combination of flavours and textures in every bite. I like the contrast of the crunchy, flavourful sautéed kimchi against the crispy panko breading and the soft, silky tofu inside. The creamy citrus aioli provided the perfect balance against the spiciness of the sautéed kimchi. There were eight pieces to an order and I could have easily eaten the whole order myself.
We also tried a half order of the Sunworks Chicken Wings ($7 for half order; $13 for full order). Since there were many flavours (gochujang, teriyaki, sesame honey garlic, spicy serano soy, sweet chili, salt & szechuan pepper) to choose from for the chicken wings, we asked our server for a recommendation. He recommended the gochujang and it was a winner! The Vancouver hound had mentioned the wings were just “ok” but I think it’s really dependent on what flavour you choose. I would definitely recommend the gochujang as it gave the wings a slightly sweet, spicy flavour. Gochujang is a fermented red chili soybean paste often used in Korean cooking both as a marinate and as a condiment. The wings were deep-fried till they were perfectly crispy and then tossed in the gochujang sauce. These were basically hot wings but with a Korean twist. I thought they were really delicious and tasted a lot better than the typical hot wings that I’ve had.
Since the Vancouver hound raved about the Oxtail Tortellini with Soy, Truffle Oil, and Grana Padano ($10), I really wanted to try this dish. My friend wasn’t much of a beef/oxtail eater so I had the whole order to myself. The oxtail filling was rich, melt-in-your-mouth tender, and flavourful. The tortellini itself was really light and actually reminded me of wonton skins. Overall, this dish was well-seasoned, tasty, and beautifully presented on the plate.
My friend ordered the Lettuce Wrap with Grilled Chicken ($15). For the chicken, she had a choice of garlic, spicy bbq, teriyaki, or lemongrass seasoning. My friend chose the lemongrass. We were surprised at how tender, moist, and flavourful the chicken breast was. We could taste the delicate flavour of the lemongrass in the chicken. The lettuce wraps were served with sprigs of thai basil, thinly sliced chili, crispy fried shallot slices, and samjang. The crispy fried shallot slices added a nice crunch to the lettuce wrap while the thinly sliced chili added just the right amount of heat. The samjang is a thick, spicy paste typically used with food which are eaten wrapped in a leaf in Korean cuisine. A bite-size piece of the grilled meat is first placed in center of a lettuce leaf along with rice, kimchi or other banchan (side dishes) and topped with samjang and is then wrapped up and eaten.
The service at Anju was top-notch. We didn’t think that we needed to make reservations for dinner on a Tuesday evening but surprisingly, we were wrong and the whole main floor was booked. The staff was nice enough to accommodate us by opening the upstairs area and seating us there. Overall, I was impressed with both the food and the service on this visit. I’d definitely go back to Anju again but this time I’ll make sure to make a reservation first.
507 – 10 Street SW