My friend L invited a group of us to Zen 8 in the Cowboys Casino, near the Saddledome. He’s invited me a number of times over the years, so I finally gave in and said yes. L is a regular at the restaurant and got us a wicked deal on a Chef’s tasting menu. The evening was definitely entertaining, and I would recommend it if you have friends or family coming in from out of town. There are 4 Teppanyaki stations set up where the Chef can cook for you and entertain your group. It gets pretty dark in the restaurant since there is a lot of fire as part of the show!
I’m typically not a fan of casino’s and therefore do not typically visit restaurants inside of casino’s. I’ve been to Las Vegas twice and never pulled the lever on a slot machine – I sure don’t need to start now. I really dislike smoking, and that lingering stink of stale cigarettes never leaves these Canadian casino’s; thankfully you only have to walk through a little bit of the casino to get into the restaurant. I was told there is underground parking but it was too cold, wintery and I was too impatient to figure it out – I parked a few blocks away on the street for free.
Dinner started with a salad. We were told that all of the ingredients in the salad were imported from Japan. I’m not sure if I believe it, nor do I support such excessive travel of ingredients across the world, but alas, it is what it is. The salad was just okay. I wasn’t a huge fan of the balsamic based dressing but the duck was pretty tasty.
When I go out for sushi I typically stick with rolls or actual sushi rather than sashimi. When a plate of sashimi was put in front of me I wasn’t really that thrilled. Often I find the fish to be too mushy or too stringy or too fatty. But wow, this was the best sashimi I’ve ever had. Maybe it’s because I haven’t had it very often here in Calgary, but this dish of sashimi was beautifully plated and it all tasted delicious. If this is the quality of the sashimi at Zen 8 all the time, I would find my way through the stinky casino just for this!
Before the main course the lights were dimmed and we were given a show of fire, drumming, and my friend bought everyone a shot. I can’t show you all of the fun or else you won’t be able to experience the delight when you go there yourself! Here’s a brief glimpse:
The Aki Bomb shot was accompanied by a lot of drumming on a very large Japanese drum on wheels and some shouting back and forth between the drum player and our group. When directed, we pulled the chopsticks apart, the shot of spiced rum dropped into the Red Bull below, and we chugged. It turned out to be surprisingly good!
I was lucky enough that the butcher block of meat was placed right in front of me (great photo op!). Look at the marbling in this baby! We were told it was Kobe beef – and it very well could have been if it was imported from Japan (check out this article for more information). It could also have been Wagyu beef which is plenty fine by me. The menu does say Kobe Ribeye – an 8oz portion is $160! Grilled on the flat top, this beef melted in my mouth and was a total delicacy. You might be thinking “What the heck, Tanya – why did you eat this if you’ve stopped eating beef?” Well, my friends… I just couldn’t turn this down! With only two bite sized pieces it sure wasn’t the end of the world for me.
We were also served lots of mixed vegetables, grilled on the flat top, along with bite-sized cuts of the beef and pork tenderloin as they were cooked. There were two sauces – one for the veggies and one for the meat, and both were quite tasty. We were each served a small bowl of rice which was a good way to enjoy the sauces. As the Chef cooked the meat throughout the evening he would place a couple pieces on each of our plates. It was a slow eating evening, which was a nice change from our typical way of stuffing our faces. It also gave my friends plenty of time to drink a whole lot of warm sake (which, by the way, Zen 8 pours from a temperature regulated warm sake dispensing machine!).
We were also served a tasty mango dessert – yum!
All in all, I’m very glad I finally tried Zen 8. It’s definitely the kind of place to go with a large group of people – it’s entertaining and the food was quite tasty.