The scent and sizzle of meat on the grill, a chilled summer drink in hand, and the lively chatter of friends – nothing beats a good, old-fashioned Argentine asado. In Argentina, asado is not just a way of cooking meat; it is an art form and a way of life. Lucky for us, we don’t have to travel too far to get a taste for Argentine cuisine and experience the legendary asado. At Charbar, the Argentine wood-fired grill introduces the authentic Argentinian method of barbecuing and is guaranteed to please even the biggest of barbecue fanatics by serving Alberta beef at its absolute best.
Located in the Simmons Building in the East Village, Charbar is led by the award-winning chef, Jessica Pelland, and owned by chefs John Jackson and Connie DeSousa of CHARCUT. Having a team of culinary superstars behind its operation, it’s no wonder Charbar has received a lot of attention since its opening!
The Argentinian inspired restaurant emphasizes on sharing plates and family-style dining. On the menu, you can find small plates that are meant to be shared, with almost half of the options being vegetarian friendly. Besides the wood-fired parrilla grill, the open kitchen also has an extensive raw bar featuring fresh, sustainable, west coast seafood. One thing worth mentioning is that the restaurant makes dry-cured and dry-aged meat products in house!
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Chef Pelland’s rustic-cooking style is reflected in the decor of Charbar. The hardwood floors, high ceilings and exposed brick walls work great together in providing the space with an airy and warm ambiance.
Covered in shaved parmesan, the fried sourdough balls ($9) was a sensational starter to kick off our dinner party. Its crisp golden exterior and soft doughy interior reminded me very much of the Brazilian cheese bread from Pampa. The herby flavours infused in these bite-sized dough balls paired beautifully with the creamy marinara sauce.
Roasted clams ($16) was another fantastic starter. Fresh, briny and full of ocean flavour, these just-off-the-grill clams were the taste of summer themselves. The lemony, herb-flecked mixture melted into the briny juice to create a delicious, effortless sauce – perfect to dip chunks of grilled sourdough into!
From the fire pit
For the main, the four of us ordered a wood fire grilled half chicken ($29) and ultra dry aged porterhouse steak ($96) to share. Dry-aged for 67 days, the 32-oz porterhouse steak had a crusty, crunchy, well-browned exterior surrounding a core of perfectly pink meat. We appreciated the contrast between charred crust and the deeply beefy flavour; however, the meat wasn’t as tender and juicy as we expected. I anticipated a more buttery texture, but it yielded a tougher, chewier bite instead.
The wood fire grill gave the chicken a wonderful smoky flavor and crisp skin. Topped with chimichurri sauce, the meat delivered a flavorful kick to the tastebuds. Nonetheless, the sauce didn’t manage to rescue the dry meat within.
Along with the main, we added on traditional Argentinian cream corn ($14) and beef fat fries ($8). Beef fat didn’t really give the fries any discernible flavour, but did make the fries a bit more greasy. The sweet, gooey cream corn took us on a taste adventure with full on taste and texture in every bite; but the cheese was a little too much, making the whole dish tasted unbearably salty.
With all the hype built up around Charbar, expectations are always high. I appreciated the restaurant concept and was thankful of the chefs for introducing Argentinian cuisine to Calgary’s food scene. That being said, the quality and uniqueness presented in the main dishes were a little disappointing. I felt that the restaurant didn’t do justice to the amazingly flavours that Argentinian cuisine has to offer and tenderness of the dry-aged steak.