Bairro Flame Grilled Chicken – Calgary, AB


Bairro Flame Grilled Chicken
B1-1919 31 St SW
Calgary, AB T3E 2M8
(403) 984-2604

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.

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Pho Thai Hoa – Vancouver, BC


Pho Thai Hoa
1625 Kingsway
Vancouver, BC
(604) 873-2348

Pho Thai Hoa is one of the best and most well known Vietnamese restaurants in Vancouver. It has a lot of competition along Kingsway – Vancouver’s version of little Saigon. Pho Thai Hoa differentiates itself from most of the other Vietnamese restaurants in the area with its clean premises, extensive (and nicely photographed) menu, and generally good food. It is known for its good pho and other Vietnamese classics. Now it is doing something new for this town: a hot banh mi with grilled meats.

Now, I am perhaps presumptuous in my pronouncement that hot banh mi is a recent phenomenon here in Vancouver. After all, I have certainly not eaten at all the Vietnamese places in town. However, in my explorations along Kingsway, known to be on a cutting edge of authentic Vietnamese food, this is the first I have seen this. More recent second-hand reports from others indicate that there are a few places that serve a grilled meat banh mi – but none seem to be attempting it to this scale. Is it perhaps grilled fillings are really only possible in a full kitchen – something a typical banh mi joint does not usually have? Also it is somewhat unusual for the pho-centric restaurant to be serving banh mi.

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Las Tortillas – Calgary, AB


Las Tortillas
2-4100 Marlborough Drive NE
Calgary, AB T2A 2Z5
(403) 273-3555

May 2010 re-visit post here

Original post below:

In Mexico, tortillas are considered a staple food. Typically made from Masa (corn flower) and not the flour tortilla that is common in Northern Mexico and the US, much of Mexican cuisine is shaped around the “lowly” tortilla. These flavourful corn wrappers deliver dishes from tacos, to tortas, to enchiladas, to tortilla chips. Sadly, their usage in Calgary has been generally limited to the bland, less nutritious version, the flour tortilla, mostly because the only corn tortillas available to us have been imported at great cost, and are usually less than fresh, or previously frozen. Mexican food is also definitely lacking in this city. Thankfully, there is a new option in Calgary – Las Tortillas.

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Las Tortillas is a small Mexican grocery store in NE Calgary that makes their tortillas by hand. With a small tortilla press, they make stacks and stacks of fresh tortillas, which they sell for $5.20 per kg. A Kilo usually means 30-36 tortillas.

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Longview Steakhouse – Longview, AB


Longview Steakhouse
102 Morrison Rd
Longview, AB T0L 1H0, Canada
(403) 558-2000

In honor of Stampede, I thought I would write about another favorite Alberta pasttime – beef. Alberta is well known for its beef, but in Calgary, I’ve found that more often than not, the beef fails to live up to its reputation. However, in the heart of cattle country, one gem really stands out from the rest, and really demonstrates the quality of Alberta beef – Longview Steakhouse.

With a population of 300, this small village lies roughly 45 minutes south of Calgary in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Longview is probably best known for the beef jerky that they produce, but the Longview Steakhouse is working to change that. My understanding is they are run by a Moroccan family with two classically trained chefs, but i’ve never been able to confirm it. However, the quality of the preparation and plating speak to some excellent skills.

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The structure is not much to look at – very nondescript. In fact, the first time i went, I found it difficult to discern from the surrounding buildings. The interior isn’t much either to be honest. It is clean, simple and straightforward though.

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Wild Rose Brewery and Taproom – Calgary, AB


Wild Rose Brewery
Bldg AF23,#2 – 4580 Quesnay Wood Drive SW
Calgary, Alberta T3E 7J3
(403) 720-2733

Wild Rose Brewery on Urbanspoon

My personal philosophy puts a premium on balance. I believe that balance is one of the key elements in all aspects of life. This doubly applies to food. and drink. The flavours in a dish, the beer that you drink, people find things that are in balance to be more pleasing, and harmonious. Philosophically though, i’ve always wondered. Can a place that focuses primarily on wine, or beer, still serve great food? Do places excel at both? Or does an establishment that focuses most of their energy on producing great beverages, have a limited amount of energy to spend on the food? Wild Rose Brewery in Calgary is an interesting case study.

Wild Rose Brewery is great at brewing beer. Located in the Currie Barracks complex, they are a craft brewery that produces a variety of beers served across Alberta. They maintain a taproom that fronts their brewery, allowing patrons to sample their current production lineup. With some highly regarded and award winning beers,Wild Rose is doing some exciting things.

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As was pointed out to me in an earlier post, i am certainly no expert on beer. So i will spend very little time discussing Wild Rose Brewery beer. I will say, however, that this is a fantastic brewery. Their philosophy of fresh ingredients, combined with classic brewing techniques results in some excellent interpretations. Rather than dumb down your standard beers, they brew some true interpretations of classic global beers. Their Imperial IPA is phenomenal, and seasonally, the Stout and Pilsner are must tries for me.

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Baba Ka Dhaba – Calgary, AB


Baba Ka Dhaba
3504 17 Avenue SE
Calgary, AB
(403) 207 5552

Baba Ka Dhaba on Urbanspoon

As i discovered on my recent trip, there is power in low expectations. When you have no preconceived notions on how something will be, generally speaking, you end up pleasantly surprised.  With high expecations? Well, i have to admit, my most disappointing dining experiences over the past year have either been at highly regarded restaurants, or at new local eateries that had generated a lot of buzz. Only the best made an impression. Most were quite disappointing. This may not be completely fair, but for me, the higher the expectations, the less likely I am to like the place. Sad, but true. At Baba Ka Dhaba, there were no expectations at all.

Baba Ka Dhaba is a small hole in the wall East Indian eatery in Forest Lawn, on the north side of 17th ave SE. Even knowing where it is, it is quite easy to drive by and miss it. I did several times! Baba Ka Dhaba has fairly limited seating, with 3 tables, and likely seats for 12-16 people, depending on how friendly you get. The evening i was there, the majority of the orders were take out.

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When you first walk in, there is nothing really prominent. It’s small. A bit shabby, and tiled in white. Tables are in varying degrees of disarray – we ended up bussing our own tables to get a place to sit. If you were measuring atmosphere on a scale from 1-10, it’d be a 0. That’s not a good thing.

There is a small cut out in the hastily erected plywood wall where someone takes orders. Above the cutout is the menu – what they serve is limited on each given day, an approach I have been a big fan of lately. I find the limited menu ensures better quality control. Beats trying to be all things to all people. However, be sure you are looking at the correct day – i was salivating over certain dishes that were available on a different day before i realized my mistake. Each given day has dishes from a variety of styles. Some curries, some dishes from the tandoor, some appetizers.

Service, from a objective persepctive, was actually fairly horrific. It took them 10 minutes to even notice we were at the window to take our order. One guy jumped the queue and placed his take out order ahead of us. And then it took them so long to get us our food, that the two gentleman we were sharing our table with, definite regulars and personally knew the owners, suggested we go back and ask about our food, because they were certain they had “forgotten our order”. If i had any expectations at all, or if my dining companion wasnt as easy going and affable, im sure i would’ve felt a lot more slighted. Instead, it was just another part of the experience.

We went for a diversity of dishes to get a good sampling. We each started with the samosas. Very large and fried to a golden brown, these were served warm. Overall, they were fantastic. The skins werent too thick, giving a nice crunchy bite, and the filling was loaded with flavour, yet not overly dry. Sauce and raita accompainiments were a nice touch. These are available every day.

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An order of goat curry is eagerly anticipated, and fails to disappoint. My biggest complaint with goat curry is usually the over-use of boney cuts, resulting in very little substance. These were actually quite meaty, complete with tendon, which make for a nice contrast in textures. The gravy was a bit oily, but had an amazingly rich flavour. Not overpowered with cardamon, tumeric, or cumin as many other curries are. Well balanced, and long simmered, the sauce had great complexity. It showcased the perfectly crisp Naan well too, as there wasnt a drop left on the plate when we were done.

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Lastly, we shared an order of Chicken Biryani. The meat was a bit bony, and lacked some substance, but the flavour was great, as they used dark meat, and the rice was fluffy and filling.

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Our neighbours had the fish tandoori, and offered us a few bites to try. They probably felt bad that we had ordered before them, and they were going to finish their meal before our food came. It was tender, flavourful, and well spiced. An excellent fish dish.

Now, the CHR has cited Baba Ka Dhaba for several health code violations, some which are worse than others, so you’ve been warned. Check at your own peril.

In the grand scheme of things, I think this is a perfect illustration of the power of low expectations. Good service? No. Any atmosphere? One online blogger with a better command of the language than I likened it to “eating in a urinal” – better words I could not come up with! But the flavours and the price really can’t be beat. And I was expecting nothing, other than a meal for Friday night., and instead I got a feast for the taste buds, for two people, all for $20.

If i was to try a well regarded restaurant for the first time and experience the same things, I’m not sure i’d be as understanding. But when it comes to Baba Ka Dhaba, they get a pass. I would highly recommend you try the food, the flavours really are fantastic. If you feel a bit nervous, get take out. It might explain the loads of people i saw eating in their cars, who would occasionally come in and order more naan. I thought it was a hot date location, but im starting to think, maybe they’re onto something…

Baba Ka Dhaba on Urbanspoon

Earls (Bankers Hall) – Calgary, AB


Earls Bankers Hall
A1, Level 1-315 8 Ave SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 265 3275

Earl's on Urbanspoon

In a regrettably meek attempt to try and stem the tide against the utter disappearance of our Alberta correspondence amid the Foodosopher’s current international travel-induced hiatus, the following is a report from one of his many home bases, Calgary.

Bankers Hall.  The name alone should tell you something about how stuffy, boring and just downright plain vanilla the food offerings are here.  Set in the heart of downtown, the pair of office towers makes its mark for its distinct architectural design, and is one of the most notable skyscrapers that you can see as you drive in from the airport, so you’d think there would be some promising offerings for a light meal.  Aside from perhaps the quality offerings of the Sunterra Marche – who I know better from my past interactions with the business savy Price Brothers based in nearby Acme, who know what they are doing when it comes to fresh, high quality ingredients – you are left with some restaurant choices that submit to providing Asian fusion, basic Chinese, some sad looking sushi, a place that is trying to pass itself as being Japanese, and then the omnipresent chains including Burger King, Jugo Juice, Starbucks, and Subway.  Safe and standard fare, probably very well accepted by all the suits up in the high towers above.

I had heard an acquaintance who lives in Calgary hyping up a meal they had at Earls just a few days prior.  Yes, that Earls.  I can still remember my first experience with it in the mid-Eighties, in all places Red Deer.  Then thinking in my naive high school years that it was an incredible joint, a place to be seen, with trumped up names given to some select branches of the chain like the Tin Palace, which catered to the supposed young and hip crowd.  Today, I’d guess it pretty much remains just that, an imaginary place where all the servers and hostesses looked like they’ve been picked out of model catalog and the masses of families, friends and couples who populate them to take in their casual cuisine and think its all fine and dandy.

The item this person raved about was the Grilled Chicken and Baked Brie on Ciabatta ($13), made up of grilled breast meat, with melted brie, roasted apples and spinach with a sweet fig jam and garlic mayonnaise on toasted ciabatta bread.  I think Foodosopher and I have exchanged thoughts on many of our mutual connections and their views on food and dining as well as personal tastes and how they gel, or not gel, with ours.  Always an interesting conversation, and thus I made this attempt to verify said person’s observations on this particular sandwich.

Presentation-wise, as it arrived at our table, I wasn’t immediately discouraged, as the side profile of the layers inside looked promising.  The sweet roasted scent of the fruit came through and the brie had begun dripping along the side of the chicken meat as if to say, “anymore heat and I’m done”.  The ciabatta though a touch tough on the outside for my personal liking, did had a good spongy feel inside as I took my first bite.  I must admit I am usually not a fan of brie, its the moldy white crust on top that gives it that unique contrast in texture and feels like a wrapper that gets to me.  But the savory softness of the cheese itself works well with the tender breast of chicken, and doesn’t fight at all with the sweet sugary compounds of the caramelized apples inside.  To say that I was quite surprised that I didn’t want to ask for another dish instead, was indeed a pleasant surprise.

My dining companion however had a disastrous experience with the Earls Bigger Better 1/2 Pound Burger ($11.50), with added sauteed mushrooms (extra $2.25).  Headlining the entire sandwich and burger section of the menu, you’d think they’d be very experienced with plating this.  But take a look at the overcooked and soaked in oil fries that came with the package.  The meat patty itself had shrunk down to a blackened hockey puck appearance and the lettuce and tomato had not gotten a thorough shaking off before being placed on top, as the bun had already begun to get really soggy inside.  I just shook my head at the sight and remarked how I really dislike it when a place boasts about a particular item and then makes a mess of the whole thing.

So there you have it, a pair of sandwiched meals that really left contrasting impressions.  Truthfully when we ordered, we were expecting the opposite result for what each of us eventually had.  I’m fortunate to have taken the gamble and submitted to confirming my friend’s review of the chicken/brie sandwich.  My table mate however, vows never to go back to an Earls again.  This was even after I reminded him of the cute waitress he kept chatting up.  Ah, a clear sign that stomachs rule over hearts.

Earl's on Urbanspoon