Top 11 Dishes of 2011
Hi Everyone. Just wanted to wish you all happy holidays and all the best in the upcoming year.
I know I’ve been absent for quite a while, but i thought i’d throw out a small thank you to anyone from Alberta still reading. It may seem like we are a Vancouver-centric blog, but we started with Albertan roots, and it’s a part of the blog that is still very important to me. To be honest, the evolution, or de-evolution of the blog is more because the non-Vancouver based writers have been negligent in their duties. I wish I had more to offer than that, but I don’t.
With changes in my life, i’m not likely to be back in Alberta anytime soon. This snapshot in time reflects how i feel today – and while it may not stand the test of time, I hope it serves you well in the near future. Please consider this a small offering from me to you – for everything you bring to Foodosophy, and to recognize some of the quiet greatness that exists in the city of Calgary today.
Calgary Hot Plate Restaurant
714-5075 Falconridge Blvd NE
“Kebab and naan,” he says, “that’s all I ever get”.
Just that alone got me to agree to having a quick dinner at this little place in the heart of Calgary’s East Indian community. Coming in from the bristling December winter cold, the aromas alone were a much needed welcome. Order at the counter, scan the specials board along with the regular menu sheet. Simple process and setup. Sit down and wait…
Out comes the warm square bowl of Chicken Qorma – with some good sized chunks of breast meat braised slowly in a combination of spices to create a velvety yogurt curry. A definitive spicy kick to this mixture, instantaneously you feel the heat rip across your tongue along with the intoxicating flavors. The accompanying huge plate-sized rounds of freshly made naan at first seem like a little much, but soon you’re ripping them apart and wondering if you might run out.
2310 4 St SW
This is going back a short little while but I was in southern Alberta just as the Royals were visiting and the city was gearing up for the Stampede. Hectic times to be sure and the weather was cooperating (although I’ve heard its become cooler since I was in town). It made for a few social outings, including this visit to a seemingly popular wine spot/lounge/restaurant on busy 4th street called the Vin Room. As it was already around 7pm by the time we arrived, and the 2nd floor patio was full of people aside from a row at the narrow counter directly facing the street until a booth opened up, that’s where our night began. Here’s my view.
In hand was a glass of the 2009 Schug Sauvignon Blanc (Sonoma, United States). Whenever I drink wine or beer, I like to start things off light and this variety hit the spot with its bright and lively flavours. I’m no oenophile but I’m sure others would enjoy this refreshing wine as well. The wines-by-the-glass service they had here must have included at least over sixty types, broken up in their listings by various taste profiles, perfect for easy selection. The food menu was noted as being complementary of the wines as well, although by the time we had a few rounds, our minds began wandering elsewhere on this street to get our eat on, and we ended up not ordering a single food dish.
Dairy Lane Cafe
319 19 St NW
Nestled on a quiet street situated close to a residential neighborhood (from what I could see behind the parking lot of the building where the car I arrived in was parked), the Dairy Lane Cafe was our choice for an impromptu lunch just ahead of the madness which is the start of Stampede. As such, I was quite surprised to find a packed inside seating area, as well as all the available spots being taken up on the uncovered tables situated on the sidewalk in front of the building.
It didn’t seem like it was anywhere near any walk up traffic from the office worker crowd, but yet still busy at the noon hour. Scanning the relaxed attire of those eating already, it was clear to me that this was a casual, homey spot for clean honest grub for those who might more often than not, just live around the corner – some younger ladies who seemed to be out for a bite to eat with their girlfriends, to some guys who obviously fell into the hipster genre given their tight fitting attire and attitude, as well as strangely enough, some rougher dressed fellows who if I were to assume from the paint on their overalls, were some tradesmen on break for something to eat while on the day job.
The spot came recommended by locals and was described to me as a throwback to simpler times and with operators very keen on the whole “produced local” attitude, and knowing where their ingredients came from. The space was not very large inside and staffed seemingly by just two busy servers. Some large framed pictures hung on the wall reminded me of a by-gone era in rural Alberta, catching my eye enough to snap a photo myself. If I were to compare the looks and feel of this place to anywhere in Vancouver, I would say something like Aphrodite’s Organic Cafe & Pie Shop in Kits comes to mind.
Calgary Court Restaurant
119 2 Ave SE
[Note: I had a "brain fart" and posted this incorrectly and prematurely earlier today, sorry folks! Reminder to self not to blog after a night of too much wine.]
With the typical “over a hundred choices” kind of menu booklet you can find in places like this (a Hong Kong cafe), which covers off various subsections such as rice, noodles, beef, chicken, vegetables, etc., its always a chore to decide what to eat. I suggest sharing (if you’re in a group) that way you can sample everything and not be limited to what can end up becoming a single monotonous dish in terms of flavors and textures. Having said that, sadly, I usually end up ordering pretty much the same types of dishes. To change things up this time, I allowed my trusted dining companion to order for us.
Looking to have just a very light meal given the time of night, other than some simple steamed Gai Lan, a dish that I’ve frankly never heard of before, let alone tried, was our main. How do I describe this? Well, I was told it was a baked rice dish with a breaded and deep fried chicken cutlet, and topped with lemons and a thick layer of cheese. A monster of a dish! Almost casserole or baked lasagna in appearance. Frankly, I was shocked. Never had a I really associated Chinese food with such bright color cheese. As I scooped out my first spoonful, I had no idea what to expect…
Bairro Flame Grilled Chicken
B1-1919 31 St SW
Calgary, AB T3E 2M8
For me, fried chicken is one of those things im always on the look out for. I love a gooooood fried chicken. Like Gus’s, or Fremont Diner. Even the recipe in Thomas Keller’s Adhoc at Home is pretty good. But i dont want to fry chicken at home – it’s a big pain. Oil, mess, time. I dont eat it enough to warrant cooking it at home. I just want a place i can go to get my fix. In Calgary, Bairro is that place.
One day last fall, I was driving down 17th ave SE and I see a sandwich board that says ”Bairro – Flame Grilled Chicken”. I like piri piri chicken, but im not a big fan of Nando’s. It’s been dry, and boring, and lacking in complexity and flavour. I figure they might do it better, so I give it a shot.
As i pull up, it has the look of a chain. Not the most auspicious of starts.
Now that we’re rolling into the fall season and coming back from various journeys over the summer, I thought it would be a good time to do another one of these consolidated posts and provide an update on previously visited places again as a refresher. The links throughout will lead you to original posts and/or commentary on follow up visits. If in doubt if you’ve viewed them all, please do a search on the main page for all your queries…
Without significant commentary or respectable photographs to complete more solo posts on establishments visited earlier this month on a trip to Calgary, I thought I’d quickly sum up a few thoughts on a trio of places to wrap up this busy week…
Breakfast, drinks and an unfortunate lunch…
Sushi Bar Zipang
1010 1 Ave NE
Its unfortunate, but even those places that were once held in good regard – and for sushi in a place like Calgary – for me, it was Zipang out in Bridgeland – times can change. It used to be the best of a mediocre lot. ‘Big fish in a small pond’ for sushi kind of thing. On a recent return to the southern Alberta city, I made my way down to their sushi bar again for a quick early dinner, hoping that I could get an acceptable showing from them as in previous years…
Inside it was pretty packed, busier than I usually remembered it being. I guess word has gotten out that it (was) decent. I did notice that the guys behind the counter were different from the fellows who served me in the past – younger and seemingly less experienced. Families and groups of friends seemed to be the general clientele on this weekday dinner session and there was a good buzz in the room of conversation. However, once some folks departed the lack of any kind of soft toned music playing in the background reduced the place to an almost eerie environment, which could probably use some improvement.
Mavericks Dining Room and Lounge
Calgary Stampede Grounds
Large scale gatherings and events of the commercial variety are usually an impersonal affair. Interacting with strangers, in big crowds amid long hours of making introductions and face-to-face networking result in meals being forgotten about until your stomach growls in protest. Fortunately (or perhaps not) often tied to these shows and meetings are facilities to feed countless individuals on-site, mainly latching onto the captive audience who is seeking out convenience in order to get back to the work at hand. At a recent one, I was faced with this dilemma of being shepherded into the closest and easily accessible mass feeding zone on the Calgary Stampede Grounds. For $21.95, the lunch buffet at Mavericks drew a long lineup through the 11am – 1pm time period, resulting in at least a ten minute wait time just to get to the front of the line and seated.
On this particular day, the all-you-can-eat menu was: soup, salad, AAA carved Alberta roast beef, penne chicken alfredo, barbecue beef ribs, Swedish meatballs, teriyaki chicken, and baked lasagna. After being led to our table and announcing that we were all-in with the buffet, we made our way down to the main floor and got into yet another queue for the feast. Given the huge dining contingent, I would have figured they would have expanded to accommodate at least a pair of routes through the heated-up food pans, but alas it looked like how it is set up on a normal capacity day. I think this helped explain why there was a lineup to just get in, despite the obvious sight of unoccupied tables.
While there is still general interest in checking out the new hot spots as well as venturing into random finds, it seems lately there is a draw also to those places we’ve been to before that were either eye opening on first glance or generally consistent in subsequent visits that keep bringing us back. Here’s a few more updates on previous foodosophy write ups…
Gnocchi’s Ristorante & Dining Lounge
1238 – 8 St. SW
I was introduced to Gnocchi’s during a business lunch a few years back, and it continues to be a favorite spot to enjoy a glass of wine and some fantastic food while we pretend to work over the lunch hour.
“The trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later you’re hungry again.” George Miller.
As we are usually only here for lunch, we tend to skip appetizers in favor of a bottle of wine – but we decided to splurge today and start with the Italian sausage in a mustard brandy cream sauce. I can’t repeat some of the inappropriate comments made by my colleagues over how amazing this sauce is, but trust me – it truly was fantastic, and there was not a drop left anywhere in sight.
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!
Sadly, yours truly is currently on forced exiled in the wintery tundra of Alberta, specifically the freezing cold city of Calgary where a few minutes of prolonged exposure to the outside elements can result in some unpleasant, numbing sensations on your skin and extremities. Winter in the prairies is not my cup of tea, despite my past of living in these brutal winter conditions for many, many years.
Perhaps taking a cue from the stalled offensive machine of the local National Hockey League club that is mired in a seven game winless streak, the below zero temperatures have seriously stunted my drive to explore the city’s culinary scene, and the changes wrought since I last lived here. But as fate would have it, sitting on the top of a pile of magazines in my hotel room was one that had the bold faced text trumpeting “Calgary’s Best Restaurants”. With a publication date of January/February 2010, it was fortunately not an out of date rag. Exploration in the comfort of my hotel room – perfect!
As I settled in, I began perusing the magazine, beginning with this note from the editor. Again, the mention of a respectable crew of commentators from the city was noted as those being responsible for the rankings inside. Fair enough, “let’s hear it” I thought, and I moved to the pages deeper in the approximately 80-page piece, seeking the wisdom of those “people who know Calgary’s restaurants inside and out”, and read about their choices for the “establishments that they felt would make a lasting impression of Calgary for visitors like (me)”.
Eclair de Lune Bakery
1049 40 Avenue Northwest
I first caught wind of Eclair de Lune when I went to Debra’s Chocolates for the first time (Debra’s is now Epiphanie Chocolate on 11th Street SW). I didn’t realize there was a bakery on Northmount – in fact, I didnt even realize Northmount Drive intersected with 40th Avenue (they both run east-west except for this one stretch). It boggled the mind a bit, but i finally found it. A small, north facing bakery with a simple sign – Eclair de Lune.
The interior of Eclair de Lune is small – barely fits their displays. A cooler, a coffee station, and a few display cases. Most of the space is filled to the brim with pastries and baked goods. There are constantly people baking in the back. Facilities look tight, but they make due.