After checking out Market Collective’s 5th Anniversary event at the Mewata Armoury in July, Connie and I were keen for some sushi. It would be the first real sushi (as in, not fast-food take-out sushi!) that I’d have since returning from Finland, and since we were already downtown, I was keen to try some of the places I’d read about on UrbanSpoon.
UBU Lounge was not disappointing!
I’ll admit, we were a bit hesitant when we entered the lounge to see we were the only customers there… even throughout our visit, I think I only saw one other customer come in, but luckily we still had excellent service and good sushi in a gorgeous location.
UBU Lounge is located in the historic Grand Theatre, a building first built in 1912. In it’s heyday, The Grand (previously known as the Sherman Grand Theatre and the Sherman Grand Opera House) attracted stars like Sandra Bernhardt, George Burns, Fred Astaire, Ethel Barrymore and the Marx Brothers. Nellie McClung, Prime Minister Robert Borden, and Premier William Aberhart also spoke at political events hosted in the Theatre. It was once the biggest and best (and most modern) theatres in the Pacific Northwest. In 2004, the Grand was slated for demolition. Not far from the Grand is the towering Bow Building, and the small complex which houses the theatre along with retail and residential space is dwarfed by it’s glass and steel neighbours. Theatre Junction made a $12 million bid to save the Grand with a significant donation from Calgary philanthropist Jackie Flanagan and support from Calgary citizens, corporations, and all levels of government. The space is now known as Theatre Junction Grand, and presents new, experimental, and interdisciplinary art while maintaining the original architecture.
UBU Lounge is just one of several retail businesses on the ground floor of the Grand, including a coffee shop and their sister restaurant, the burger and wine bar Black Betty. We entered the lounge through the building’s main entrance, headed up the few stairs, went down the hall, and arrived at the dimly-lit lounge. UBU felt like a lounge with few people in it, though I imagine when it’s full it feels more like a nightclub with red lighting, an upstairs mezzanine, and high-end furnishings.
Of course, that dim lighting also meant it was really hard to get good photos!
Not just sushi
UBU Lounge specializes not just in sushi, but offers a “fresh take on traditional Asian” cuisine. While we were there for the sushi, we noticed that they had a number of other dishes if you happen to be dining with a non-sushi lover. They call their selections “Asian Avant Garde” though we didn’t find that the description or presentation overshadowed the food. (I really hate it when there’s more words on the menu than there is food on my plate….)
Still, despite the menu options, we were a bit hesitant.. after all, an empty restaurant is usually empty for a reason. We ordered one roll each to “give it a try” and realized that our worries were for naught – the food was wonderful. (Of course, this meant a second roll each was ordered to complete our meal!)
Hopefully Connie will chime in with her own experience and impressions of UBU Lounge, but just in case she forgets, I’ll try to share with you my thoughts on all of our rolls (of course, she tried some of mine and I tried some of hers!)
Roasted Duck Roll
My first choice was the Roasted Duck Roll ($15) which is a cucumber roll topped with mizuna (a Japanese mustard green), ginger, green onion and sesame oil, all resting atop a slice of roasted duck. Of course, this swayed our dinner conversation to Peking Duck, which I don’t think I’ve ever had. Really, duck isn’t something that’s part of my regular dining routine in any way… The roll was definitely good (though I could have done without the green onion…) and the duck was tender and tasty.
Monthly Special Roll
While I enjoyed the duck roll, Connie selected the Monthly Special Roll ($14 – the price fluctuates depending on the special) which when we were there was a roll featuring plum marinated salmon. I sampled a piece, and loved how the plum marinade definitely was obvious with the salmon – it gave the fish a fruity, sweet tang.
Spicy Tuna Roll
Once we’d decided that UBU Lounge was a keeper, we went for our second rolls. Connie ordered a Spicy Tuna Roll ($12) which was filled with avocado, cucumber, seven spice mix, and tempura bits. Of the four rolls we tried that night, I think was my least favourite – not because it wasn’t good, but just because unlike the others, it wasn’t really special. The other rolls had that great fusion of flavours, where as this roll was just kind of a familiar favorite. It was good, just nothing that wowed me.
The spicy roll is available in both tuna and salmon, and is topped with Serrano peppers.
Smoked Salmon Roll
For my second roll, I went with the Smoked Salmon Roll ($12) which features avocado, cream cheese, oven-dried tomato, and is topped with house-smoked salmon and a balsamic vinegar reduction. The roll was familiar, though the tomato was a unique feature that really complimented the other flavours. I loved the little tang of the tomato and the vinegar with this roll.
Like a lot of sushi, and certainly a lot of sushi fusion with exotic or expensive ingredients, UBU Lounge isn’t offering up inexpensive sushi. This is not the place to drop into for a quick bite between work and hockey practice, or the place to grab a snack if the coffee shop nearby is closed. UBU Lounge is a great place to unwind with a cocktail (or in my case, Norwegian sparkling water…) and a few friends at the end of the day, a great place for a date night with someone you want to get to know better, and obviously, a great after-theatre option. I really enjoyed it quiet, though I suspect it might have an entirely different atmosphere when busy. The prices reflect the quality of ingredients and service, so while $10-$16 per roll might be higher than some places, it’s still in line with other sushi places in Calgary offering a similar experience.
Next time though, I’ll need to bring my real camera for better photos to share!
608 1st St SW
Calgary, AB T2P4E2