I got an email a few weeks ago from the manager of Fire Kirin in the Avenida Mall inviting me to try a tasting menu. In return, they wanted my honest feedback. A fair deal, I figured, so southward we went. (I keep forgetting how close this is to Southcentre Mall, but I digress.)

Named after a mythical Chinese creature, Fire Kirin just opened in November. I would call it Asian fusion because chef/owner Ken is trying to update traditional Asian dishes, and not because it’s so weird and overpriced you don’t recognize anything. Jason made an apt comparison that it’s trying to do with Chinese food what Globefish did with sushi.

Fire Kirin’s most popular items right now are fried noodles and fried rice but its chef is eager to show off much more exciting food than that.

Fire Kirin, Calgary

We began with the simple, chopped Cajun prawn ($8.95) tossed in a Cajun mayonnaise sauce nestled in pretty cucumber cups. I found this very similar in taste and texture to a Japanese chopped scallop. A nice refreshing start.

The ginger coconut carrot soup ($4.95) had a nice balance of all the ingredients but I’m not sure how many people would actually order this in an Asian restaurant. Somehow I equate a soup like this with a sandwich place.

Tiffany, the manager, then brought out a soft shell crab spring roll, which isn’t on the regular menu. I loved this because of the textures from the crab, crispy spring roll skin, snappy asparagus and sweet red pepper. I think it’s a good way to introduce soft shell crab to people who have never tried it before.

The luc lac beef ($13.95) was Jason’s favourite. Chef Ken uses tenderloin and butter in the traditional Vietnamese dish, known as “shaking beef” because of the way it’s cooked in the wok. I liked the crunch (and pretty look) of the lotus root chips served with it.

Kirin seafood royale ($21.95) is the most expensive item on the menu, likely because they don’t skimp on quality ingredients like really plump mussels and scallops, as well as tender squid, white fish and shrimp. It comes in a coconut curry sauce with a side of rice. The spicy items on the menu have a flame next to them but this one should have two flames.

Fire Kirin, Calgary

Dessert is where I think Fire Kirin is quite unique. They’ve pushed the envelope in the osmanthus gelatin ($5.95), which you will either love or hate because of the texture.

Osmanthus is a gorgeous smelling flower native to warm parts of Asia. Dried osmanthus is popular in Chinese desserts. Fire Kirin has captured the flower’s sweet fragrance in the gelatin, while matching it with goji berries and lychee fruit.

The other notable dessert is their warm red bean pastry. I’ve ranted before about my distaste for Chinese desserts, especially those with beans but this pastry had just a touch of red bean paste so I could deal with it. I quite liked the pastry crust and obviously the coconut ice cream as well.

You definitely won’t find either of those desserts at any Calgary restaurant.

This is a slow time of year for a new restaurant, and Fire Kirin is one of those places run by a hard-working family that you want to see succeed. Tiffany and her cousin (who is helping in the kitchen) are still going to school, while Tiffany’s dad Ken is likely getting no days off as he works the kitchen. They’re genuinely eager for feedback and how they can improve, so feel free to give them your constructive criticism if you go.

Fire Kirin, 12101 Lake Fraser Dr SE, Calgary, (403) 278-8018. Open for lunch weekdays & Saturday 11 a.m.-2 p.m., for dinner Sunday to Thursday 4:30-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 4:30-11 p.m.

Baby notes: Lots of room for strollers and car seats; no change table in bathroom but sink counter can accommodate small baby.

Baby notes
Room for strollers: Yes
High chairs: Yes
Kids menu: No
Ambiance: Comfortable enough to bring family, big groups and still won’t disturb others
Change table: No, but sink counter in women’s bathroom can accommodate small baby.

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