Bistro Alma – Calgary, AB
at Hotel Alma, University of Calgary
169 University Gate NW
Hotel dining is always sure to conjure up some strong images. High priced. Extravagant preparation. Fine service. But often for me, hotel dining is a last resort when I’m traveling, as I’ve often come away unsatisfied or feeling ripped off. No matter where I am, I’d prefer to venture out of my hotel without a clear path of where to go to eat and try to sample whatever I can that strikes my fancy by walking the streets. Surprisingly, I’ve never gotten lost on these unplanned wanderings and have always been able to make it back to my accommodations.
However, there is one factor that limits this kind of free style activity… the weather.
Particular when its winter.
And on the prairies.
Without proper clothing or a mode of handy transportation to protect yourself from the harsh elements, it completely derails any sense of food adventuring I might have. Hence, the decision to eat at the hotel.
While stationed for a few days on the campus of the University of Calgary, I was provided with free lodging at Hotel Alma. A relatively new place (open since last October) that functions as both a student residence on the lower floors and a hotel for the public on the upper ones. Very much dormitory-style, the rooms are tiny, though nicely designed with a “Euro” flair and are perfectly suited for the business visitor. Pictured above was the view from my single window. Brrr, chilly cold, I know!
Interesting, the Bistro Alma located on the first floor also was the venue for the free morning breakfast for hotel stayers. Nothing major was changed at all between meals, other than the laying out of the buffet in the a.m. and the turning on of a large display screen partially obscured by some dangling string lighting at night to give it a sort of club-feel.
A word of advice. Even though you are indoors, I suggest you dress warmly as the completely glass walls do not help retain any heat and you can start feeling chilly immediately after removing your coat.
As you enter the space, on the right is the open kitchen area, that is dominated by a large display for baked goods and desserts. It suggested to me its more place to have a hot drink and a sweet snack, more cafe than diner. I could not really see a distinct cooking area, so I was immediately cautious that the menu would be more “heat and eat” than actual food preparation by the staff. Two individuals were on that night, an older man who had a Ned Flanders look and personality about him, and a younger cuter girl who was likely a student working a part time job. At least with the latter, there was something nice to look at, if pretty brunettes strike your fancy.
A trio of bruschetta (toasted French bread): a) tapenade, capers and goat cheese. b) roma tomato with basil and parmesan. c) portobello mushrooms with balsamic vinegar. The one shown in the middle was version a). Definitely had the essential elements that one associates with a tapenade, the harsh hits of garlic, aromatic herbs, the tang of some lemon juice and the saltiness from the olives. On this last item, I admit I’ve never been a fan. I think foodosopher is the same. I managed to eat the whole piece but still find that I don’t enjoy puréed, chopped or whole olives. Surprisingly, the usually distinct flavour and smell of goat cheese was completely lost in there. Not sure if that is a good thing, as I’m not a huge lover of that ingredient either. The other two were okay, with probably the balsamic mushroom topped one being the most satisfying among the three.
To close out my meal, I opted for this so-called “Chicken Fricassee“, that was served in a pleasantly flaky pastry shell. Inside this tower was a thick creamy mixture of diced chicken breast meat, button mushrooms and red bell peppers. A touch on the bland side unfortunately but adequately edible. Heat-wise, it could have been warmer, so I was wondering how it was made even thought it took a while for it to come out. The side salad was better than your typical mix of greens and was paired with a balsamic vinaigrette.
As eluded to earlier, this meal was by default. Had I had a car, I would have gone out in the city and hit up one of my usual Calgary haunts or perhaps tried out something new. Alas, this was not the case on this evening. Perhaps another time Calgary, as I know I’ll be back eventually…