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Model Milk: Calgary's newest hot spot opens

The view from the loft overlooking the main dining area.
The view from the loft overlooking the main dining area.Heather Hartmann

Recently, I was invited to attend the media opening of Model Milk, the newest venture of Chef Justin Leboe, of Double Zero Pizza, formerly of Rush.

Model Milk is named for it's location in the historic Model Milk building on 17th Avenue SW.
Model Milk is named for it's location in the historic Model Milk building on 17th Avenue SW.Heather Hartmann

The restaurant is named for it's location in the Model Milk building, probably best remembered for the last few decades as Victoria's on 17th Avenue. In terms of atmosphere, compared with Leboe's other ventures, Model Milk is much more like Double Zero than Rush. It's a rustic-chic space spread over multiple levels, with a bar on the main floor, a dining room steps up from that, an open kitchen above that, and another smaller dining space in the loft overlooking the other levels.

The menu focuses largely on what's seasonal and sustainable and thus is subject to change, so much so that there isn't even one available on the website. At the opening, they offered a diverse range of dishes, and I expect the day-to-day menu will remain much the same. A definite standout for me was the shrimp and grits. I'm a lover of southern food and all things Paula Deen, and my own kitchen is one of the few places I can get grits in Calgary. Model Milk's version was good and cheesy as traditional grits should be, but more interesting because of a chorizo emulsion instead of the typical bacon.

I'm also a huge fan of tuna, and their white tuna crudo delivered. It was drizzled with a ham hock vinaigrette, and not overly oily, which was appreciated. Obviously, attention was paid to sight as well as taste, as it was served individually portioned in soup soons.

The care taken with the presentation of the food was most evident in the calamari fricasee, which Cheryl and I both initially thought was pasta at first glance. We were looking confusedly at each other, because the pieces of squid were cut so exactly, and so uniformly that they looked like noodles. It was mind-blowing. Someone has Olympic-level knife skills in that kitchen. The preparation was impressive as the presentation, as the squid was tender and the tomato/chili/guanciale mix was flavourful without being overwhelming.

Sadly, I didn't get to try the burger (though there was one listed on that night's menu) but I did enjoy the fries, which were served in paper cups - again with the presentation! Thinly cut, but not shoestring, they were dressed with manchego and chives, which blended into almost an aioli when added to the hot fries.

Though I can't swear that any of these items will be on the menu if you head to Model Milk, I can recommend you try them all if you do. Be warned you may have to be early, persistent, and possibly patient too, because though Leboe and Co. removed most of the seating for the opening for a cocktail-party atmosphere, it's not a large space. Now that the chairs are back in, it's going to be tough to get into them, courtesy of the food, the buzz and a reservations-only-for-groups-of-six-or-more policy.

For more:

Model Milk
308 17 Avenue SW
(403) 265-7343

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