Jasper Avenue became home to a heavy hitter recently. The British Columbia based Cactus Club opened its doors right across from the old General Hospital at 111 Street. This is the 25th Cactus Club in a chain founded by Richard Jaffray and guided by Executive Chef Rob Feenie. They must be doing something right.
If I had to pigeon-hole this type of restaurant, it would fit into the Joey’s/Earl’s/Moxie’s genre, but before anyone throws a dart my way, let me explain: The space is big, the clientele is young urban trendsetters, the decor is modern, dark, chic, and the menu is “globally inspired” (a common phrase amongst larger restaurants). What sets the Cactus Club apart is the execution of the dishes and the quality of ingredients used.
Each Cactus Club location features a few different items than its closest sibling. The menu for the Jasper Avenue location can be found here.
I’ve eaten at the west end Cactus Club a handful of times and stick with the tried and true celeriac soup, rocket salad, the J.D. BBQ burger, or the jambalaya rice bowl. At the downtown location we zeroed in on all the new items: the kobe-style meatballs, the tuna sushi cones, the Bengal chicken curry and the roasted lamb pops.
You might think three meatballs for $12 is pricey, but these are big balls. Big, juicy, fluffy, tasty meatballs resting in a light tomato sauce and dusted with grated parmesan. Divine.
The tuna sushi cones ($4.50 each) are gorgeous soy paper wrappers filled with slightly spicy ocean-wise albacore tuna, avocado, cucumber, pickled ginger, tempura and topped with sprigs of micro cilantro. So fresh and flavourful, you will be sorry if you only order one.
The succulent, saucy Bengal chicken curry is rich, creamy and perfect on a chilly night. The basmati rice is loaded with slivered almonds (maybe over-loaded) and comes with a generous portion of naan bread.
I have a beef with New Zealand lamb. My lamb beef just about caused a war on Twitter last year, but I’ll say it again: we shouldn’t be ordering lamb from New Zealand when this country produces extraordinary lamb – a lot of it right here in Alberta. My plea to restaurants: please, please, please support our Canadian lamb producers. Is it more expensive? Apparently it is, but if that’s the case, it will always be that way if we don’t demand more of it. Putting my soapbox aside, I will say this for the lamb pops at the Cactus Club: They were great. Dammit. They were very good…but that still won’t stop me from begging restaurant owners to use Alberta lamb. The only downside to this dish was that the curry sauce the lamb came with was the same curry sauce used in the Bengal chicken curry. Kind of makes it hard to talk about different dishes in a review when the flavours are the same.
So, on to dessert:
I could see myself heading to the Cactus Club for a nightcap and dessert after the theatre or performance at the Winspear. These desserts were Fan.Tas.Tic. And, I’m not much of a dessert lover. Both are rich enough and large enough to share, but you might not want to.
I give the Cactus Club two curry-smeared, chocolate-covered thumbs up. It’s big, and it’s a chain and for those two things, it’s bound to piss off some people. Some patrons will find the smallest of faults because Rob Feenie is a celebrity chef and celebrity chefs have targets on their foreheads. If he can keep managing his restaurants with what appears to be an iron fist, this Cactus Club location should be around for a while.
My CBC restaurant review of the Jasper Avenue Cactus Club can be heard here.