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

Olives Restaurant Deli & Lounge – Calgary, AB


Olives Restaurant, Deli, and Lounge
1129 Olympic Way SE
Calgary, AB T2G 0L4
(403) 984-5000

Olives Restaurant, Deli & Lounge on Urbanspoon

Putting a restaurant in an area under redevelopment is a high risk, high reward proposition. New entrants into the neighbourhood are hoping to be the first to capture the loyalty of the shifting population, resulting in long term, steady, profitable business. However, neighbourhoods don’t always redevelop as planned. Things start and stop. In Calgary, The East Village is a good example of a neighbourhood that hasn’t exactly gone according to plan. Restaurants that rushed to get into the area ahead of the curve are paying the price.

Olives, from the Hotel Arts Group,  is a trendy, modern restaurant and lounge that is moving in ahead of the curve in the new Arriva building in Victoria Park. With a tremendous number of expensive high density buildings planned for the area, a restaurant featuring “innovative” Italian cuisine seems like the perfect fit. Approachable food that would appeal to the population at large. Based on the limited amount of parking for a 200 seat restaurant, mostly street side, I’m assuming this was not intended to be a “destination” restaurant, but to serve the local community. While the total impact of the financial crisis yet to be determined locally, the situation in Victoria Park is tenuous at best. Will the community of high income patrons ever move into the area? And can they survive with an expansive 200-seat space until it happens? It could, but for me, it would depend on the food.

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Upon entering the restaurant, my first thoughts were “impressive”. For me, Olives is a beautiful space. My dining companions found it a touch cold and impersonal, but the modern look combined with a fine attention to the small details works for me. Right down to the tile work in the bathroom and the decorations on the wall, they’ve done a  fantastic job of setting up a functional space that pleases. The only drawback is the extremely high ceilings, which do leave the space feeling a bit empty when it is not completely full of patrons.

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In terms of the food at Olives, there is a lot to say. First off, the menu is a manageable length, something I definitely applaud them for. Too many restaurants these days have a menu that is difficult for the kitchen to manage – sacrificing quality and efficiency by trying to be all things to all people. They’ve made some concessions from the Italian influence in some of their selections, but it’s an appropriate compromise for a menu that features 9 starters, 5 pastas, and 6 entrees.

Our meal starts with a selection of olives, bread, and olive oil for dipping. The bread and olive oil were satisfactory but not exactly memorable. The olives, however, were a great selection of well-preserved olives at the height of their flavour. In the interests of full disclosure, I would like to mention I’m not an olive fan. Dislike them really. No matter how hard i’ve tried, the tastes are too bitter on my palette. These olives were edible though. In my world, that is something extremely memorable.

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We started with the highly recommended grilled squid appetizer($12), served with artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes, asparagus, and a salsa verde. The squid was perfectly cooked, with a nice combination of tender, and bite. However, i wasn’t thrilled with the dish overall. The squid lacked the characteristics that make grilled squid great – a nice smoky char with a light taste of the ocean shining through. It was overdressed in a salsa verde that lacked balance, not enough acidity, and while the artichoke was a great complement, the tomatoes and asparagus added very little to the overall dish. It felt like a salad with squid, when i felt the squid should have shined instead.

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Next dish was one of their two flatbreads($12) – Chorizo with roasted red tomato, provolone, and Italian parsley. Well baked, there was a nice blend of ingredients topping a well baked crust. I found it a touch too doughy for my own personal preferences, as I usually like my flatbread to be a bit thinner, but the crust had a nice blistering to it, and a satisfying bite. Well executed. My only complaint was it arrived warm and not hot.

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The dish I was most looking forward to was the ravioli ($21). Well-prepared ravioli, while simple to prepare, I find to be very comforting on a chilly day. These ravioli were filled with marscapone and truffle parsnip, served on a bed of asparagus and topped with a wild mushroom cream.  Unfortunately, it was the dish that disappointed the most. Once again, the dish arrived a bit cool. The pasta itself was very good – silky, not too thin, but not too thick. I like a little more yellow “richness” to the pasta, but this was more an indication of the quality of the egg yolks rather than the preparation. The filling was conceptually good, but fell short in practice. Creamy smooth texture with a nice hint of truffle oil. The wild mushroom sauce was a bit underwhelming, but the asparagus was good. The issues with the dish were twofold. First, the overall texture was too soft – it was what my friends call “old people food”. A piece of crispy pancetta, or even a fried sage leaf would bring about a bit more contrast. Secondly, the flavours were mild, and to be honest, a bit bland. Parsnip, marscapone, brought very little to the table. Truffle oil, while nice, isn’t the predominant flavour im looking for in a dish. Traditional raviolis where the filling is milder are usually accompanied with a more robust, or brighter sauce. In this case, the wild mushroom sauce fell flat. It did nothing to accentuate the ravioli. Just provided some creamy texture. It was not a poorly executed dish, but I feel poorly conceived – the flavours failed me on this night.

img_3077_filtered The surprise of the night was the steak ($40). Dry rubbed Black Angus Rib Eye with caramelized shallot and mushrooms, served on a bed of pancetta mashed potatos. Succulent, tender, and perfectly cooked to medium rare, this rib eye was a revelation. Great flavours that accentuated the beef, a fine cut, served on my favorite preparation of mashed potatoes – pancetta, heavily buttered. I like some heavy cream in there too, but only on holidays! This was an excellent steak.

I got to try a piece of halibut ($32) too, and it was very well prepared as well. Moist, nice rich flavour well-basted in butter, without taking away from the flavour of the fish. The size would’ve disappointed me, as it was a small 5-6oz serving, but that’s why I didn’t order it.

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We finished with a couple of desserts. The chocolate and pistachio torta with pistachio gelato ($10) was good. Beautiful presentation, the torte had a rich, chocolate flavour that pared well with the pistachio. A touch dense, i enjoyed it nonetheless. The other dessert was a tiramisu ($10), which while I didn’t get to try, was assured was excellent.

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In most reviews I’ve read, Olives has been universally lauded. While there are a lot of very good aspects to them, I would not sing their praises as much as other people have. They’ve put together a solid menu, and the kitchen staff do an excellent job of  executing on the food. Some of the dishes are a bit conceptually flawed, and the portion sizes can be a touch small. The value was ok, but at these prices, I’d probably rather eat at Divino or Blink. They are, overall, consistently better. However, when you look at the experience on its own merits, I have to say, I enjoyed myself. Service was good albeit a bit slow, the food was well-prepared, and other than a few disappointments, it was a decent experience overall. I probably won’t go out of my way to go back, but I wouldn’t be upset if I found myself in the area and dining there again. The key question is, will the patrons needed to keep them afloat do the same until the Victoria Park revitalization is complete? I’m not sure. I think they have some challenging times ahead.

Olives Restaurant, Deli & Lounge on Urbanspoon

Captain Scotts Fish and Chips – Calgary, AB


Captain Scotts Fish and Chips
76-55 Castleridge Boulevard NE
Calgary, AB T3J 3J8
(403) 280-0009

Captain Scotts Fish & Chips on Urbanspoon

Today is more about food, than than any “osophy”. For some reason, i have writers block. I feel repetitive. Any other blog writers ever encounter this? Any solution that doesn’t involve emptying my bottle of gin?

I’ve been exploring the NE a lot lately – mostly because it’s one of those areas I find i’ve neglected for too long. Lots of interesting places – ethnic and otherwise – a drive into every neighbourhood yields a new adventure.

I’d first heard mention of Captain Scotts when involved in a discussion about Captain’s Fish and Chips. I kept confusing the two, and couldn’t keep them separated. It’s located in the same mall as Nirvana, Bombay Sweet House, The Village, and a variety of other East Indian eateries. Makes it a bit easier to find – it definitely sticks out like a sore thumb. 

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The decor is clean and simple. You order from a counter in the back, and sit in a cafeteria like setting. While there is nothing notable about the interior, there isn’t the oily residue on table surfaces and walls that places a little less meticulous often have.

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In terms of a menu, it’s very simple. A wide variety of fish, including Cod, Haddock, Halibut, and Boston Blue, and a bunch of seafood choices – shrimp, scallops, clams. They have some salads and desserts, but to be honest, in a restaurant where everything is deep fried, neither of these really appeal. Prices are pretty reasonable – 1pc fish and chips start at $6.95.

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Unfortunately, the fish is pretty poor. The fish was dry,there was too much batter on an otherwise small piece of fish, and the oil had a definite funk to it. Old oil that really needed to be changed. Condiments came in plastic packages – tartar by Heinz. The coleslaw was slightly mushy and mostly cream – no acidity, no flavour.

On the plus side, the fries were excellent. Fried in what i would guess is a different fryer (no fish-smell contamination), they are crispy, hot, and toothsome. With malt vinegar on every table, and a generous amount of salt, they were an excellent order of fries.

No matter how good the fries are, fish is a pretty critical component to fish and chips. While i may go back occasionally for the fries, i’d skip the fish. Captains, in Brentwood, is much better.

Captain Scotts Fish & Chips on Urbanspoon

Nirvana Sweet House Restaurant and Hall – Calgary, AB


Nirvana Sweet House, Restaurant, and Hall
#1009-5075 Falconridge Blvd.NE
Calgary, AB T3J 3K9
(403) 590-9797

In a highly competitive world, restaurants are always looking for an edge. Lots of new restaurants try and upscale old ideas, usually to mixed success. Classic cuisines are classic for a reason – they work. They taste good, they have the benefit of being tried and true.

In Castleridge, an area dense with East Indian eateries, there is one that stands out from the others. From the owners of Bombay Sweet House, on the back side of Castlebridge Mall, is Nirvana. While most of the eateries in the area are rustic, simple eateries that have basic food, presentation, and decor, Nirvana provides a different concept. Aiming for a high-end look, they’ve combined traditional Indian decor with a slightly modern, western look. Their goal with the menu is high-end Indian, with traditional dishes and ingredients.

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The interior is a mix of modern and classic. One room, surrounded with pillars, is open, airy, and in many ways, cavernous. It is clearly used for banquets, as the vast spacing between tables makes it an uncomfortable dining experience. The second room is a well appointed room decorated in a more traditional “palace-style” Indian decor. This is the room used for service during regular restaurant hours. Spacing is still a bit awkward, but it does the job. I’ll be honest – as clean, nice, and tidy that it is, I don’t like the space. It’s definitely more banquet hall than restaurant. Each table is too detached from the others. I’d prefer a more intimate environment.

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The food is your typical tour across India. Dishes that represent Northern, Central, and South Indian dishes. Geared for producing banquets, the ala carte menu is extensive, with roughly 90 items.  Prices are actually quite reasonable – a great place to try a wide variety of dishes.

During my first visit, they had a buffet. They’ve since cancelled it, and it’s tough to compare buffet to ala carte service. However, my general  impressions of the buffet were that it was good quality, well spiced, and well prepared.

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On  a second visit, we ordered strictly ala carte. Murgh Makhni (butter chicken), tandoori platter, paneer e shola, saffron pulao, and naan.  I’m not a huge fan of butter chicken, but it was pretty decent. Good tandoori flavour, a nice rice butter sauce. A touch dry, but otherwise quite enjoyable.

The tandoori platter was good, but not specifically memorable. A mix of chicken tikka, paneer tikka, tandoori prawn,  fish tikka, and kebab, the paneer tikka was probably my favorite. The prawns were dry, the fish tikka was quite good flavour wise, but quite dry as well, and the rest don’t really strike much a chord with me.

The paneer e shola were good, but the chick peas were a bit overcooked, and the flavour wasnt well balanced. Too much bitterness. Rice and naan were standard,

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The owners of Nirvana bill it as “one of the finest establishments and first one of its kind in North America taking East Indian dining to another level”. This is a bit overstated, and Nirvana Sweet House is an overly ambitious project that doesn’t succeed on so many levels. While definitely clean, it is a cold, impersonal, and sterile space. The food is of good quality, and traditionally prepared, but fails to meet the billing of taking East Indian dining to another level. If i had to take the girlfriend’s conservative parents for Indian food on a first meeting, this might be the kind of place  i’d go. The friendly, albeit slow service is good, it’s clean, and the food is decent. On any other occasion, I’d probably pass. It’s too bad really, as the food is good, and reasonably priced. It’s just not a comfortable place to eat. I’d rather eat at the Bombay Sweet House.

Nirvana Sweet House Restaurant and Hall on Urbanspoon

Choklat – Calgary, AB


Choklat
1327A 9th Avenue SE
Calgary, AB T2G 0T2
(403) 457.1419

Inside a fairly unassuming storefront in Inglewood, just south and east of Spolumbo’s, magic happens. That storefront houses Choklat, one of Canada’s two Chocolatier’s that make their own couverture. Soma Chocolatemaker in Toronto is the other one.

What difference does this make? All the difference in the world. From “Bean to Bar”, Brad Churchill sources the cacao right from the producer. This provides Choklat with the maximum control over their end product – ensuring that every step of the manufacturing process is controlled. In researching the chocolate industry, I’ve come to better understand how rare this is – and I for one certainly appreciate a chocolatier that seeks out the best ingredients possible to make the best possible product.

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Inside Choklat’s small building is a very clean and sterile production facility. There are some couches to sit on, a few displays, and otherwise, it’s just counter space, and room for them to work. On any given day, you can watch them temper chocolate, dip truffles, or a variety of other chocolate making tasks.

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Since they’ve opened, they’ve had the same products available. Bars in 43% and 48% milk, and 70% dark, made from Brazillian and Venezuelan Criollo. Though my memory may be failing me, i believe one of their milk chocolates may be a combination of forastero and criollo. Don’t quote me on that. The box is long gone.

Criollo comes from the Spanish word Creole – meaning indigenous, native, authentic. Criollo makes up a small part of the overall cacao crop, and is renown for it’s quality, and wonderful taste characteristics – strong aromas, mild tannins, slightly bitter. Most of the best chocolate uses Criollo.

While their milk chocolate bars are good, it’s the quality of the dark chocolate that really sets them apart. When I get people to try their dark, their first objection before they try is typically “too bitter”. Cocoa solids are bitter, but the 70% refers to the combination of cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Cocoa butter, which is expensive, is generally the element that is removed in cheap chocolate, and replaced with an inexpensive fat. So when you get a cheap 70% dark chocolate, it’s usually a high quantity of cocoa solids. Choklat’s combination of solids and butter makes for a silky smooth, fruity, very slightly bitter chocolate. Don’t rule out dark chocolate before you try it.

Their dark chocolate bars come in 3 types – Brazillian, Occumare (a Venezuelan Criollo), and the “limited edition” rare Porcelana. They each have their own tasting characteristics, notably the Porcelana which has strong red wine, slightly tannic, dark fruit quality. Try them all to find the one you like best. In blind taste tests, generally Porcelana has fared best amongst my group of friends. But for the price, I generally prefer the Occumare on a day to day basis. For those curious, bars sell for $5.99 (when they first opened, they sold at $4.99). Limited edition Porcelana sells for $9.99.

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Choklat also makes bon bon’s – truffles with a variety of fillings, dipped in milk or dark chocolate, and rolled in a different finish. They are made fresh to order, so these truffles are really as fresh as you can get – and you can definitely taste the difference!

My only real issue with Choklat is a lack of a point of sale system. For those wanting to use credit card, they use computers linked to paypal. Not a huge deal, but for those in a rush, it can occasionally be inconvenient.

Choklat is a local business, that puts in the time, and effort to produce a superior product. By sourcing the best ingredients, they are able to ensure that their customers are able to enjoy some of the best chocolate available. The care and attention they put into their product really shows – and for me, i’ve bought many a bar there to share, and enjoy. In this Christmas season, this is the kind of small gift i prefer to give over a box of turtles or icy squares. The more support we can provide to local businesses that are working hard to bring us their best, the better.

Choklat on Urbanspoon

Atlas Specialty Supermarket and Persian Cuisine – Calgary, AB


Atlas Specialty Supermarket and Persian Cuisine
100-1000 9 Avenue SW
Calgary, AB T2P 2Y6
(403) 230-0990

I was asked an interesting question today. “What do you think will be the next big cuisine? Japanese has taken off. Vietnamese before that. What’s next?” In thinking about this, I realized that the food trends over the past 10 years have quite a few similarities. First off, they’re ethnic that are becoming mainstream. Secondly, they have an abundance of flavour, yet with approachable ingredients (sushi would be the exception – that was quite the shock to the North American palette, and based on how many people mean “rolls” when they say they like sushi, i’d still say it is), and lastly, they are healthier than many traditional Western and European fare. Might it be Persian? It’s possible. There are an increasing number of kabob houses starting to open – which are generally Afghani, Iraqi, or Persian. The cuisine is quite healthy, has an abundance of flavour, and approachable ingredients. We might have a winner!

Atlas Specialty Supermarket and Persian Cuisine is a combination restaurant and supermarket, definitely a combination I find odd. While you often find takeout and grocery combined, rarely do you see a nice, well appointed room combined with groceries. However, it’s easy access to some of my favorite spices like sumac, and ingredients like pomegranate paste, so i don’t mind getting my shopping done while i eat.

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As previously mentioned, the room is a clean, well appointed, comfortable affair. Much longer than it is wide, it comfortably seats 30-40. It is often completely full on weekends, when it is usually difficult to get a table. Weekdays i find are hit and miss. Sometimes, completely empty. Sometimes, you’re turned away, or encouraged to order take out. If you get a table, they are spartan, yet comfortable. No complaints here.

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Persian food has similarities to other Middle Eastern cultures, primarily Afghani, Iraqi, as well as similarities in grilled meat with the Turks. As we order, we decide to try the traditional Iranian drink doogh ($2.50) with the meal – a mix of soda, yogurt, and mint. We made the incorrect assumption that this would function similar to a lassi in Indian cuisine – quench some of the heat, while providing a flavourful and complementary balance to the food. On the contrary, we found it difficult to finish, and while it complimented the khoresht (stew) reasonably well, it killed the flavour of the grilled meat. I would not order it again.

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For food, we order a khorest – Ghormeh Sabzi ($13.99) to be exact, and a platter of grilled meat ($31.99) – koobideh, steak and chicken. The platter comes with the typical accompaniments – rice, grilled tomato and onions.

The rice itself is good. A kateh (butter-enhanced rice) decorated with some saffron color and onions,  it is both flavourful, and extremely fluffy. The richness goes well with the depth of the grilled meat. I find it’s a good balance with some of the more acidic, sweeter khoreshts, but not as good with the rich, creamier khorests. Bread would probably be a better choice for those.

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The Ghormeh Sabzi is a khoresht made of mixed greens (herbs, spinach, and cilantro), and cooked with kidney beans, meat, and citrus, to produce a fragrant, tangy, yet slightly sweet stew. It’s good, but a touch oily, and not quite enough chunks of lamb for my liking. Good flavour though.

The grilled platter has many similarities to the kinds of kebabs served in most other Middle Eastern cultures – and there’s definitely nothing wrong with that! A couple of spiced ground meat (koobideh) kebabs, generally my favorite, are excellent. Flavourful, well spiced, and nicely caramelized on the exterior. The barg (beef in this case) is good, but really just chunks of seasoned meat on a skewer. The chicken is good – flavourful, tender, and not overcooked. Easy to share, and tasty to boot, this dish is an easy introduction for people learning to appreciate other flavours.

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Overall, the food at Atlas Supermarket and Persian Cuisine is flavourful, and quite consistent. And just as importantly, the value seems to be there. Khoreshts are small servings, but reasonably good deals, priced similar to an Indian curry. The grill is where some find it a bit pricey – $32 for a platter for two isn’t cheap, but as long as you arent a meat glutton, then it will serve 2 people comfortably. We shared the khoresht and the platter among three people, and left a little bit of food behind. Not bad for $50.

Thinking on it some more, I feel predicting the next “big cuisine” is difficult. Typically, I find the trends of the West Coast generally filter their way across slowly, which means we can usually predict Calgary’s next restaurant shift based on what is popular there a year ago. And Persian food, while somewhat popular, is a long way from sharing the same success that other cuisines have had on the coast. Calgary seems to have a bigger Middle Eastern population, so im not sure if it’ll catch on or not. Which is too bad, as the food is approachable, flavourful, and reasonably priced. Something that should easily succeed here.

Atlas Specialty Supermarket & Persian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Le Pho Vietnamese Cuisine and Grill – Calgary, AB


Le Pho Vietnamese Cuisine and Grill
36-55 Castleridge Boulevard NE
Calgary, AB
(403) 285-7830

Ok, so if you haven’t noticed, i like Pho. A lot. Im generally willing to try any Pho place twice, occasionally only once if it was terrible, even if it looks like it’ll be an unmitigated disaster.  I’ve had some bad experiences at some of my more favored places – so i want to give it a second try just in case i caught a great place on a bad day. Le Pho is a place i have to try again.

Le Pho is located deep in the heart of Little India – Castleridge Mall. A bit out of place amongst all the East Indian eateries, it caught my eye when i was on my way to Bombay Sweet House. In looking up their exact address, i realized there were 3 different Le Pho’s, with slightly different names. I’m not sure if they are all affiliated, but according to Urban Spoon, this one is affiliated with the one in the SE. Not quite Pho Hoa, but it’s described as a “chain” nonetheless.

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For what it’s worth, the decor at Le Pho was clean, and dated. In my experiences, it’s hard to judge a Vietnamese restaurant based on its decor. Nice and clean doesnt necessarily mean that the food is good (Quynh in Sunridge is a perfect example of this… what terrible food). Dirty doesn’t mean it’s bad – i’ve seen cockroaches run around some Pho shops in Chinatown, and proceeded to have a really good bowl. However, i’ve developed a 6th sense just by looking at the clientele, what they are eating, and how happy and intent they look. I have to say, Le Pho wasn’t all that promising.

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We ordered three standard tasting dishes,  goi cuon (salad rolls), a bowl of pho sate, and a bowl of bun thit nuong.

The salad rolls were excellent. The shrimp was fresh, there was fresh basil rolled inside (which i greatly prefer for texture, color, and flavour balance), and the noodles and greens were very crisp. The major issue was the skins, which were a bit tough and rubbery. But with a decent sauce, well balanced flavours of hoisin, chili, and fish sauce, these were a good start,

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The Bun was actually quite disappointing. Generally speaking, i find the quality of the Bun Thit Nuong ($8.95) in Calgary to be pretty good. In conversation with a friend today, they mentioned that they felt the primary differences came down to the sauce for the meat, and the quality of the spring rolls. This was a bowl on the smaller size, with loads of ingredients. The problem was the flavours all kind of blended together, resulting in a slightly bland flavour. Good texture though.

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The Pho Sate($8.00) was also quite disappointing as well. The broth was over MSG’d, leaving a very slightly chemically, overly salty taste. It lacked beef flavour, and the sate – well, i’ll let the photo speak for itself…it was bland and lacked any sort of peanut or chili character. The beef was actually quite good though – added rare, and sliced thin enough to stay quite tender. The noodles, however, were too firm and still all completely tangled. Overall, quite disappointing and unsatisfying.

Seeing as this was my first visit, I don’t wish to be overly critical. I have noticed i’ve been quite critical of many Pho restaurants in the past, and while i hold them to high standards for quality, there is the need to try and be as fair as possible. However, if it were for anything other than research, I would probably not return. Generally speaking, these outliers of Vietnamese restaurants (those outside the principle stretch of Pho restaurants between 16th Ave N and 17th Ave S), are usually much cheaper, though still quite hit or miss on quality. With Le Pho, we have average prices, and below average food. That’s not a winning combination.

Le Pho Vietnamese Cuisine and Grill on Urbanspoon

Pho Xuan – Calgary, AB


Pho Xuan
128-920 36 Street NE
Calgary, AB T2A 6L8
(403) 204-1299

Differences of opinion are healthy. After all, no two people will always agree on the same things. Especially when it comes to taste, we really have no idea if what im tasting is the same thing as what you’re tasting. Maybe a bit too theoretical, but for me, it brings up an interesting point. How important are other people’s opinions when it comes to choosing which restaurants you wish to visit? If we assume that no two people taste things the same, then every visit to a restaurant is an independent trial/statistical event (in the sense that each time two different people go to a restaurant, it’s a new trial), and much like gambling and gamblers fallacy, it could be reasoned that it is only a coincidence that two people have similar interests in restaurants.

I’m obviously digressing, but what brought me to this point is a distinct lack of sleep, and one puzzling issue. I occasionally find a restaurant that is well regarded by a significant percentage of people whose opinions are typically similar to mine, that I just don’t like. I don’t understand why, and it bothers me. Am i missing out on something? One of these restaurants for me is Pho Xuan.

Pho Xuan is located in the heart NE Calgary, where there is definitely a bevy of good ethnic restaurants. While not as richly saturated as Chinatown nor Forest Lawn, the NE has a fair selection of Vietnamese restaurants, including a very decent satay soup at Pho Que Hoang. When critics of Pho Que Hoang started pushing Pho Xuan, I had to give it a try.

In a strip mall across the street from the former Franklin Mall (T&T), Pho Xuan is one of those places that is easy to overlook. Very unassuming from the outside, i found it hard to spot within the diversity of stores in the strip mall, including Roti Hut and LaCay Banh Mi shop. After hearing many people, including two very pho-picky friends of mine rave about it, I had to give it a try. Or several tries, based on how often i eat Pho.

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The decor at Pho Xuan is nothing to speak of, which, in my experience, usually ends up being a good thing. I can’t think of a single good Vietnamese restaurant with a fancy, well-appointed interior. It is clean, usually very busy, with a very straightforward,simple menu that is familiar to the North American diner now. Pho, Pho Sate, Bun of some sort, salad rolls, spring rolls, shakes and smoothies. While someday i’d like to see other kinds of Vietnamese cuisine make more headway, it’s still enough diversity for me on most days.

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I’ve tried the Pho Sate on a couple of occasions – and I have to say it’s pretty bad. It’s their regular Pho with some chili oil, and sa-cha type bbq sauce added. Thin, limp, without depth, it is a not the type of Pho Sate i like. However, I was told that it’s their broth for Pho Tai that is key here. So several more visits were warranted.

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While the ingredients are definitely quite fresh, Pho is about the broth, and it wasn’t really up to my standard. First off, i find it excessively oily – something i don’t usually notice, so it’s quite the exception when i do. I understand it is supposed to be oily, but i found it excessively so. Secondly, there is too much sodium, msg, or both – it’s hard to actually discern which the offending party is. The end result is the same of course, it is excessively salty. Not a lot of rich beef flavour, and not a lot of the secondary flavours that really make a broth stand out – the sweetness of charred onion and ginger, the anise and cloves lurking under the surface. Even though everyone I know loves this broth, I don’t.

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On the other hand, their Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gio, Vermicelli with grilled pork and spring rolls is excellent. The greasiness of their preparation translates better with the crisp, fresh vegetables, and the firm chewiness of the rice vermicelli. Well seasoned pork and a generous slop of nam pla results in a wonderful spicy-sweet-sour balance. An excellent bowl of Bun.

I’m still a bit perplexed that I don’t like the soup nearly as much as everyone else does. I keep going back hoping it’ll be different, as in the real world, you can’t really measure a restaurant experience with statistical analysis – there are just too many variables involved in the entire experience. However, until the day i finally reach an epiphany, i’ll have to keep saying, I don’t really understand what all the fuss is about with Pho Xuan. The Pho just isnt that good. Maybe Bun Xuan would be a better name! If you try it (and bring cash, as it’s a cash only establishment) and find that it suits your tastes, don’t tell me. I don’t think i need to know yet another person who likes it when im just not getting it.

Pho Xuan on Urbanspoon

The Regency Palace – Calgary, AB


Regency Palace Restaurant
328 Centre St SE
Calgary, AB T2G 4X6
(403) 777-2288

Buffet. Hot pot. Dim Sum. Banquets. Most  Chinese restaurants leave no potential profit unturned, and yet somehow, even in their bid to be all things to all people, they usually manage to turn out some pretty decent food. To me, very few chefs can rival the versatility of a Chinese restaurant chef. The sheer scope of the menu they must know inside and out,  the sheer numbers that Chinese banquet facilities are expected to service quickly, and the renown pickiness of Asian diners makes for a very high pressure situation. One where when restaurants fall, they can really collapse badly.

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The Regency Palace is one of the premier banquet facilities in Calgary. Able to accommodate up to 700 people, it is often used for Chinese weddings and other celebrations. Most of the time i’ve been to the Regency has been for such events. And the food is usually quite good.

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On a recent week night, some friends and I decided to partake in their hot pot deal/meal. For $24.95, you get all you can eat (AYCE) hotpot, and buffet. When i arrive at 7:30pm, i wasnt quite prepared for what I saw. A completely empty restaurant, with the exception of one two top, and our own table. It was completely desolate.

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Now i’ve been here before on a weeknight, and while it is never extremely busy, usually there are a decent selection of people. The food we’ve ordered off the menu has been ok, but no where near the quality of their banquet food. I’m not sure if the lesser chefs work on the quiet weeknights, but it’s never as good. This weeknight, with everyone getting the all you can eat hotpot and buffet, we don’t get a chance to order off the menu.

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Hotpot ingredients are taken from a self-service bar. The hotpot “bar” has an extremely wide selection of food, of varying qualities. On the positive side, they put out fairly low quantities and refresh fairly often. Popular items are turned over fairly quickly, resulting in some fairly fresh ingredients. On the downside, due to the vast selection of ingredients, many are left sitting on ice for hours on end. In a quieter location, i generally prefer the Gold Wonton method – they bring out whatever is ordered, rather than self service. With a large selection of ingredients, and sauces, they definitely have a very comprehensive list of ingredients available.

Unfortunately, the Regency Palace has only one kind of broth, which is fairly mediocre. Not a lot of flavour, but it doesnt detract from the ingredients either.  Service is very attentive, though the staff to customer ratio was a bit ridiculous.

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The cooked food bar is something completely different. Something straight out of University memories of Foody Goofy and 7.95 AYCE buffet, the food is poor, much of it deep fried and breaded, and while the selection is vast, the food is barely edible. I choked down a few dishes, hoping without hope that I would not be charged a “waste” charge on my plate for all the uneaten food. Thankfully, I was not.

Overall, for $24.95, even with the extensive variety, this is not a good deal by any stretch of the imagination. The food quality is fairly poor, and the buffet would fit the “avoid at all costs” category for me. It’s unfortunate, as they really do do a decent job of serving banquet food. However, if you’ve been to a wedding at the Regency Palace, and were thinking of trying it out for dinner – don’t. You’re better off trying somewhere else. Neither the menu, nor the hotpot deal are really all that worthwhile.

Regency Palace on Urbanspoon