On a Wednesday night in downtown Calgary, I would expect restaurants that are offering promotions like Wing Wednesday & Wine Wednesday to attract the large dinner crowds. However, on the inconspicuous Wednesday that I visited Model Milk, there was not an empty seat in the house. This is truly a testament to what Justin Leboe and his partners have created here – a beautifully transformed space that gives diners a comfortable atmosphere with a creative focus on both food and cocktails alike. From the general manager Geoff Lang to Chef Eric Hendry, down to every staff member, each detail is carefully thought out and taken care of, while providing a very hospitable and friendly demeanor.
Model Milk has long been a go-to staple for impressing a date, amazing clients, wowing out of town diners – well you see a theme here. With this being my last review of 2015, I thought I would try my hand at rating a restaurant I’ve held in high regard for so long.
The dining space is split into 3 levels, each one offering a different dining experience. The main dining room on the first floor provides a more intimate feel, whereas you could pull up a chair right in front of the open style kitchen on the second floor, or enjoy dinner with a larger group on the third floor while looking down at the entire restaurant. The space has a very warm feeling with a mixture of rustic flare; from the big brick wall to the large light fixtures, down to the extensive vinyl collection. The staff seems to take turns at treating diners to a wide variety of tunes courtesy of the record player on the third floor.
Model Milk uses over 100 local suppliers and focuses on building and sustaining these local relationships. One example of that would be saving vegetable scraps from their weekly service for the pigs at Broek Pork Acres. The menu features all these local ingredients in a variety of unique ways, while constantly changing to highlight seasonal items.
I’ll confess that I ended up making two trips to Model Milk, as I was told I didn’t try some of their most noteworthy dishes the first time around. On the first visit, I met up with a few friends to enjoy some cocktails, the Fricassee of Calamari and Nashville Fried Chicken – a dish I knew I had to order. On my second visit we ordered the Salt Roasted Beets, Shrimp & Grits, and the Puffed Gouda Cheezies.
The calamari hit the table and it took a few seconds to re-adjust my expectation. When you think of calamari, you think of battered rings and tentacles. This dish however was the furthest things from that thought. Tubes of meat arrived covered in a delicious red oil that added a hint of spice to the dish. The calamari was cooked perfectly, it was not rubbery at all and maintained a little bit of a bite. The garlic croutons provided a much-needed textural component while the edamame lightened things up and the guanciale adding some much needed fat into this dish. I also remember finding some slivers of garlic – a great addition to any dish! This was a great start to the meal and would be a very appealing squid dish for those that aren’t typically a fan of this particular sea creature.
The Nashville Hot Chicken was turning heads as the waitress brought the dish to our table. The chicken, which was fried in pork fat, had a delectably crispy exterior while staying perfectly moist on the inside. The seasoning on the chicken was spot on with a strong punch of smoked paprika adding that little kick. The dish came with a very non-traditional take on waffles, the buttermilk waffle batter was fried into mini cakes. However, that left the cakes somewhat oily but still had that fluffy texture synonymous with waffles. The peanut coleslaw was not too heavily dressed and had just the right amount of seasoning while offering some freshness to clean the palate. Working in conjunction with the fantastic pickles, which offered a nice acidic kick, these sides cut through the richness of the entire dish. This was a fantastic take on fried chicken and something I wish they would keep on their menu year round. The Chef travelled all the way to Nashville to ensure the authenticity of this dish, I guess it’s time to book a trip to Tennessee.
The salt roasted beets arrived at the table and I was in awe of the beautiful plate. The beets were tender and well seasoned, while the sunflower puree added a nice creaminess to the dish. There was a crunchy texture that was provided by the puffed amaranth, while the the elderflower vinegar added a nice touch of acid. The dish was so wonderfully balanced and seasoned that I could easily devour an entire bowl!
The puffed Gouda Cheezies might be my new favorite bar food. This dish is pure, unadulterated Gouda which is made over a 5 day process that involves many different manipulation of the cheese that I have never seen. What you end up with is a crunchy “chip” that provides a huge punch of Gouda flavour. For those who like cheese, this is the perfect snack to go with your cocktail.
The last dish I tried was the shrimp and grits. We were informed that there was an egg yolk in the middle that we had to ensure was mixed throughout the dish before taking a bite. This dish featured an immense amount of shrimp flavour throughout, which came from the perfectly cooked shrimp, along with a shrimp consommé. I anticipated this dish to be a textural nightmare but the grits maintained a good “al-dente” bite to them, a welcomed surprise as I’ve had some bad experiences with mushy grits in the past. The dish as a whole was very creamy, while the broth managed to lighten it up to just the right level. Another dish that was skillfully balanced and left me craving more.
Model Milk is definitely a preferred destination for when you are looking for a fantastic meal with an atmosphere to match. In my two visits, I struggled to find anything wrong with my experience. The service was fantastic, as my server knew every dish inside out, and as my review above indicates, I was a huge fan of the food. The only downside I can think of is the steep prices, however for an upscale take on locally sourced food I think it’s well worth the price. That being said, I will have to rank Model Milk a perfect 5.0 on Zomato, as my experiences were just that stellar! If you haven’t been able to visit Model Milk, I think you should look to change that! I will have to return for their weekly Sunday Supper, where every Sunday you can enjoy a four course dinner for $40 per person.
Happy Holidays to my readers! See you all in 2016!