When describing the prowess of Teatro Ristorante, one word comes to mind: timeless. The restaurant has been the crown jewel of the Calgary culinary scene, the crème de la crème for diners and critics alike, since it opened its doors onto Olympic Plaza in the early 1990s. Throughout the years, the walls of this iconic establishment have been home to some of the industry’s best, proving that no passage of time has affected its sky-high standards.
Teatro and its parent Teatro Group, which has grown to encompass multiple culinary outposts in Calgary, is celebrating 25 years in 2018. Hospitality runs through the veins of its Italy-born proprietor Dario Berloni, with stories of his charming character often shared amongst Calgarians who have encountered him. He bought Teatro’s iconic sandstone building (once the Dominion Bank Heritage Building, built in 1911) in 1982 and opened up the restaurant in 1993. The name is fitting for an establishment of this calibre; it means “theatre” in Italian, evoking images of grace, performance, and artistry. The fact that the restaurant is right across the street from Jack Singer Concert Hall, home to the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, also doesn’t hurt its reputation as a destination for those who seek a refined cultural experience.
Despite being a large 250-seat room, Teatro’s ambience feels intimate; it takes diners away from the mundane landscape of downtown Calgary and into another world. Its classical pillars, imported French gates, elaborate embellishments, and lofty 22-foot ceilings make for a magical place in which to dine. And while the decor is the face of Teatro, the food remains its heart. Distinctively Italian, the menu includes approachable pastas and pizzas along with luxurious meats, from duck to pork belly. The to-die-for tiramisu is a Berloni family recipe, coming all the way from Italy’s Marche region on the Adriatic coast. And the ode to the Berloni family doesn’t stop at the sweet desserts: a bright yellow portrait of Berloni’s wife, painted by local artist Chris Cran, hangs on one wall.
Before the rush of regular service, an intimate group is treated to a special breakfast created by one of Teatro’s first executive chefs, Michael Allemeier. Just one of five Certified Master Chefs in Canada, Allemeier whips up a roasted halibut with shellfish cioppino broth. Although Allemeier eventually left Teatro to become the executive chef at Mission Hill Family Estate Winery in the Okanagan, he has since returned to Calgary to take on the role of culinary instructor at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, and fondly remembers his time at Teatro from 1998 to 2003. “That was a really exciting time for Calgary,” he says. “It was really starting to grow and develop.” The first time he dined at Teatro was alongside John Bishop (of Vancouver’s iconic Bishop’s, where Allemeier was head chef at the time) during a winter blizzard. “I came to Calgary a couple times and looked around and there were some really great things happening,” he explains. “The economy was on fire, there were lots of corporate offices in place—and these are things you really need to build on in order for a good restaurant to really have its way with things.”
For Devin Morrison, director of operations, Teatro has been home for 17 years—and he “one million per cent” considers Berloni a personal mentor. After moving from a small town in Ontario to pursue a skateboarding career in Calgary, Morrison, a self-described “skate rat,” came to Teatro looking for a simple busboy job at the age of 16. “This was always the place,” he says, emphasizing “the.” He was hired, and although he was often travelling to far-off places like Barcelona to skate, Berloni always supported Morrison and helped him grow within the Teatro family—from busboy to server, bartender to supervisor, and eventually to his current role, in which he has seen the business grow in more ways than one.
In 2009, Berloni decided to expand, and over the years Teatro Group has seen the addition of six Calgary establishments. First came Vendome, a charming European-style cafe nestled in Sunnyside, one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods. Then came Cucina and Eat, both stylish and delicious joints loved by the downtown Calgary crowd, in 2012 and 2015 respectively. One-part Italian bistro, one-part grab-and-go cafe, Cucina offers a menu that boasts fresh fish dishes and authentic pastas, such as tagliatelle duck confit served with asparagus and pistachio-orange pesto.
Capuccini came next in 2015, and finally, in 2016, Royale and Alforno Bakery & Café opened their doors. Located on Calgary’s bustling 17th Avenue at the base of Mount Royal, Royale is Teatro Group’s spot for French flair; if in the mood for browned-butter ravioli or steak and frites, this is the place. For vegetarians, the restaurant does a beautiful plated tasting of chickpea panisse, wild mushrooms, and beetroot molasses that is very memorable indeed. And in the Eau Claire neighbourhood there is Alforno, the light-filled hub for Teatro Group’s in-house baking program. Nearly 150 pounds of flour are used per day here to create beautiful breads and pastries that are served both at the cafe and at the company’s other restaurants. Enjoy fresh macarons and tarts by the space’s grand fireplace, a great spot for cozying up in the colder months.
Along with its high level of execution (both in terms of food and service) at every establishment, one of Teatro Group’s most admirable qualities is its dedication to nurturing new talent. Corporate executive chef Matthew Batey, who is in charge of overseeing the chefs at every property, becomes noticeably excited when he talks about this. “We fundamentally believe in the craft of delivery,” the Victoria native says inside Cucina, while serving up U-10 scallops with pickled rhubarb and cucumber, baby potatoes, and salsa verde. “We are young and dynamic.”
Karen Kho is one such person who cut her teeth with Teatro Group before breaking out on her own. The co-owner of European-style deli Empire Provisions is a former operations manager at Teatro, and says she teaches Berloni’s philosophy of quality-first hospitality in her own company. “Teatro was a stepping stone for me to get to where I am now,” she says. “And I don’t think I would have done what I’m doing today if I hadn’t worked here.”
Underneath a new glass pendant by Vancouver’s Bocci, a celebration for Teatro Group’s 25-year legacy is underway at the restaurant that started it all. The room is glistening, and the wine—from Teatro’s striking cellar that carries an impressive global list with nearly 10,000 bottles—is flowing. This is a night to applaud the chefs, servers, barmen, sommeliers, dishwashers, and managers who have contributed to the group’s longevity. The Calgary culinary scene has the Teatro Group to thank for some of its brightest stars, and that will remain one of the company’s greatest successes.
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