An exchange of info through social media brought my attention to Yardbird, part of a three outlet group run by expat Calgarians Matt Abergel and his sister Tara Babins who opened 5 years ago. All I know is that Matt has always worked in Japanese kitchens and came here via Vancouver and New York. Then it turns out that Anna’s producer had planned to go to Yardbird after meeting Matt at a wedding last summer, fate in the form of yakitori. We agree to meet around 8.
Earlier in the day, we had “mastered” the subway system, a way to always get to know the bitty better and take more control that only relying on taxis. Feeling smug, we looked on a map and charted our path and scoffed at the notion of a short walk to the restaurant. As it turns our, the last street before our destination is “Ladder Street” thus named after the fact that climbing the hundreds of steep steps is kinda like climbing a ladder a dozen or so floors. The best part is that halfway up, when you realize just how far it is to go, there is a funeral parlour in case you cash in prior to filling up on drinks and chicken parts. The benefit is that once you climb the mighty stairs, you can eat and drink all you like without guilt.
This is a modern, dialled in, chef driven place that puts high priority on fresh ingredients, skilled cooking and attentive service. Homemade pickles, a spin on a Caesar salad, corn tempura, a tasty White Ale from Japan and a bottle of white make for a solid welcome. For charcoal grilled Yakitori skewers, we go to chicken oyster (the nugget attaching thigh to backbone that chefs hoard for themselves), thigh and leek, tail and chicken meatball that we dip into an egg yolk enriched tare sauce (like teriyaki). We boost these small plates with Korean Fried Chicken and Brussel Sprouts with caramelized, black and dehydrated garlic. Matt joins us to talk shop and we have good laughs with Kenneth Chan, a guy who has really good English until I realize that he moved here recently from Chicago, heh heh, sorry. Staff are really friendly and every one on board is certainly into their job, from keen servers who have the confident swagger that assures you that they like the product to warrior line cooks, hell bent on getting the yakitori just right despite the surface-of-the-sun sort of heat beaming out of the binchotan charcoal grill that forces them to wear napkins on their faces like bank robbers. That takes dedication. Certainly a very impressive operation, I marvel at the challenges that one would face opening and running restaurants here, great stuff. Chatting with Matt, he tells me of the mentorship he benefitted from working for great Japanese chefs – he has taken the cooking skills from his masters and blended it with an open, cooperative management style, looking to others for their strengths and trusting people to do their job. I taste his Apricot infused Shochi from a massive glass jar, floral and just slightly sour, a nice end to a lovely evening, then we take a cab home while I silently curse those stairs on Ladder Street.