Chorney-Booth: Annabelle's Kitchen is Marda Loop's new Italian neighbour

Leslie Echino, owner and operator, and Chris Joyce general manager at AnnabelleÕs Kitchen pose for a photo on Thursday, October 3, 2019. Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia Calgary Azin Ghaffari / Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia Calgary

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Calgary has all kinds of restaurants: fancy dining rooms fit for the most important of celebrations, grungy pubs that serve nachos and wings, mom ‘n’ pop noodle houses, trendy lairs pouring $20 cocktails — but sometimes one yearns for the comfort of the kind of neighbourhood restaurant that serves good honest food without any pretension or hullabaloo.

Local restaurateur Leslie Echino, known as the force behind Stephen Avenue fine dining staple Blink and its adjacent Bar Annabelle, saw that the Marda Loop/Garrison Woods area was in need of the kind of top-notch restaurant where customers can pop in every week without worrying about overstaying their welcome or breaking their budgets. Echino knew she wanted to do something substantially more casual than Blink and seeing as Italian cuisine is her personal family favourite, she opted to go full-on red sauce-style Italiano (albeit with some modern twists).

Leslie Echino, owner and operator, and Chris Joyce general manager at AnnabelleÕs Kitchen pose for a photo on Thursday, October 3, 2019. Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia Calgary Azin Ghaffari / Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia Calgary

The brand new Annabelle’s Kitchen doesn’t have red checkered table cloths, but they wouldn’t be entirely out of place in the cozy 50-seat restaurant. Designers McKinley Burkart transformed the space formerly known as Anew Table (and San Remo Ristorante before that) into a pretty space full of suitably feminine touches and just a hint of ’80s nostalgia. It’s a comfortable place to share a bottle of wine and some small plates or dig into a big dinner with the whole family.

“I just wanted something that was comfortable and open all day, every day,” Echino says. “Not too intimidating or expensive, but with a kind of high-end quality.”

A margherita pizza from Annabelle’s Kitchen on Thursday, October 3, 2019. Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia Calgary Azin Ghaffari / Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia Calgary

In contrast to the more polished menu at Blink, Annabelle’s chef Brian Diamond (formerly of Il Sogno and Rouge) has gone with a Nonna-inspired menu of share plates, with a bit of fresh flair. The opening menu has a full slate of antipasti, with dishes like classic meatballs with tomato sauce and polenta ($15), velvety whipped ricotta topped with wildflower honey and olive oil ($13) and a halved roasted eggplant stuffed with Parmesan, stracciatella, and cherry tomatoes ($14). Naturally, there are pastas (all freshly made in house), including a spaghetti carbonara ($17) and rigatoni in a butter tarragon sauce ($20). Do not miss out on the pizzas: the kitchen has somehow unlocked the secret to perfectly crispy thin crust dough, which is topped with goodies like lamb sausage, asiago and tomato sauce ($20) or potato, zucchini and white sauce ($19). The portions are sized for sharing.

Pictured is roasted eggplant at Annabelle’s Kitchen on Thursday, October 3, 2019. Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia Calgary Azin Ghaffari / Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia Calgary

Echino has earned a very solid reputation as a wine expert, thanks to Blink’s famed wine list, which carries over to Annabelle’s Kitchen. While there are some pricier bottles on the list, Echino has chosen plenty of cheap and cheerful gems, all priced between $9 and $13 for a glass pour. The drink list also features classic Italian cocktails, all priced at a very reasonable $12.

Annabelle’s Kitchen is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week for lunch and dinner service. The restaurant is located at 3574 Garrison Gate S.W. and can be reached at 403-454-0268. The restaurant does not do delivery, but it does do take-out so that customers can stop in and make a connection when they pick up their food. Feel free to grab an Aperol spritz while you’re waiting.

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Speaking of pasta, the inaugural Pasta La Feasta (say it out loud) festival kicked off yesterday and runs until October 25. In celebration of National Pasta Month, this new event is a fundraiser for the Alex Community Food Centre. Nine local restaurants have signed up to create unique pasta dishes and $3 from each dish will go towards funding programming at the Food Centre.

Participating restaurants include Bread and Circus, Model Milk, Donna Mac and Teatro. Pasta lovers are encouraged to try all nine pasta dishes. Anyone who is able to handle all of that carb loading will be entered in a draw to win tickets at the second annual East Side Dario’s dinner at Teatro on October 25, which will also serve as the official closing ceremony for the festival. For more information, reservations and a full list of participating restaurants and their dishes, visit pastalafeasta.ca.

Finally, let’s all raise a glass to Sultan’s Tent, which just celebrated 30 years of serving high-quality Moroccan food in Calgary. The iconic tent-themed restaurant first opened on 17th Avenue SW on October 6, 1989 and was a revelation for Calgary diners looking for a special night out (full disclosure: one of my first dates with my now-husband was at the original Sultan’s Tent location in the late ’90s — his love of flavourful food clearly won over my young heart). In 2006 the restaurant relocated to 4 14 St N.W., where it remains to this day. In 2015, longtime chef Houssine Ismaili bought the restaurant from its three original owners and continues to produce some of the city’s finest Moroccan cuisine. Any restaurant is only as strong as its customer base, so do pop into Sultan’s Tent soon for a celebratory tagine.

Elizabeth Chorney-Booth can be reached at elizabooth@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @elizaboothy or Instagram at @elizabooth.

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