Foodosophy Restaurant Update – September 2008

Foodosopher Restaurant Update: September 2008

In many ways, reviewing restaurants is unfair. As bloggers, and people, we often forget that this is someone’s livelihood, life savings, and blood, sweat, and tears we are impacting and influencing. With a bad experience, we can send a restaurant on a downward spiral to bankruptcy. I am not implying that we are powerful enough to have one bad review sink a restaurant, but like they mention in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Tipping Point”, there are some people who function as a nexus of opinion – people who drive trends that others follow. One bad review can lead other people to be more critical of their own experiences, which can ripple through the entire community.

Real publications, like the NY Times, often have their reviewers visit a restaurant several times. This provides the best sampling of experiences, so one can formulate a more balanced opinion – either positive, or negative. It allows for some small inconsistencies on any given evening to be balanced out by a more just perspective.

At Foodosophy we try hard to be fair, and provide a balanced view. We try as often as possible to dine again at previously reviewed establishments. We’ll post updates on these restaurants every so often, especially if things have changed, so you have a more accurate view of how a restaurant is doing.  Let us know if you think this is a fair approach, or if there is something we could be doing better.

1. Southern Spice – Calgary

Have visited several times since. They have a new menu, and business has been busier. Last time, however, service was terrible. Drinks were forgotten, it took 45 minutes just to get a soda, food took a very long time. Came out inconsistently as well, in a very spotty manner.

It was a Friday, and the restaurant was busy. The lady apologized when we went to pay (over 2 hours later), saying she hadnt expected to be swamped like this. However, she also failed to adjust the bill, or provide any sort of comp. Which is my generally expected form of remedy when an experience goes bad.

Food is still good. I’d just go when they arent as busy, or expect things to take a while when you do go.

2. Pho Kim – Calgary

I’ve probably had the 17A, Special Spicy Beef Flank Noodle Soup fifteen times since the review. It’s very consistent. Only one time was it a bit watery, and lacking the richness of flavour that is the hallmark of the soup. It was late on a Wednesday, about 45 minutes before closing, so im willing to forgive the one incident. It was also abnormally slow to come out that day, so it wouldnt surprise me if they had to fire up the dish from other soups and tried their best to create a fascimile of it.

3. Bow Bulgogi – Calgary

The lunch special has gone UP again! I believe it’s 10.95 now. No longer the best deal in town, it is still of excellent value. Lots of food. Great flavour. The “emperor” has also retired. Things seem to be running smoothly though. No real hiccups. The serving sizes have dropped a bit, but it could’ve been the days we were there. It has always been wildly inconsistent that way.

4. Pho Dau Bo – Calgary

Still clean. Still good. Their closing hours are a bit irritating to me (they close early!), but the Sate soup is still as good as always. Tried a clear soup, and it was decent as well.

5. Gold Wonton – Calgary

Been here several times, including a visit with Shokutsu and friends. The price is still quite reasonable, and it’s the freshest, best hot pot in town. When you go, expect to spend a few hours lounging and catching up. It’s a great social experience. The AYCE is the best way to go. And we really enjoyed the Sate broth.

6. Transcend Coffee – Edmonton

Hands down my favorite coffee shop in the province, Transcend has overtaken Phil and Sebastiens. Not for any differences in quality, but primarily on selection, and price. Edmonton is very lucky to have them. I’ve managed to turn a few friends into coffee snobs through the excellent, patient, service at Transcend. If you like coffee, you’ll like Transcend. Just don’t add sugar and cream – you might as well be drinking THo’s at that point.

7. Little Italy Cafe – Calgary

Following a Calgary trend, their prices have gone up as well. However, still a very manageable 8.95 to 11.95 for pasta specials. They don’t seem to run out as often anymore. And things are a bit more efficient, unless you show up during the dead hours (2-4pm). Piero is married now. That’s about the only differences i’ve noticed.

8. New York Bagel Cafe – Edmonton

Still my favorite eggs benedict… possible anywhere. They are still slow – mayhap even slower over the summer when one of the regular girls was on vacation. Things take their sweet time, and they were hitting about 90 minutes from sitdown to eating on Saturdays and Sundays.  Still worth the wait though.

9. Mucho Burrito – Edmonton

I’m not sure if the first time i went was an abberation (there were about 5 people in line in front of us), but the lineups have been significantly busier since i’ve been. They havent cheaped out on any of their ingredients, and things are still large, and tasty. I know they are a “chain”, but it’s a lot of tasty food for a good price.

10. Red Sea Fish and Chips – Calgary

Went backagain. Not quite as good of an experience. The Haddock was quite poor. The Cod was excellent -definitely the fish of choice. Don’t get dressing – gravy and loads of herbs – on your fish, or on your fries. The fries were a little underdone. And they were empty. They mentioned they are much busier in the fall and winter. Let’s hope they get busier, and be a bit more consistent.

11. L’Epicerie – Calgary

Their prices have dropped a bit and stabilized at something reasonable. They have gotten over new store hiccups and are operating efficiently. They have phenomenal customer service – what service should be in my mind, but in this day and age, is exceptional. They stand behind their product, and they let you sample everything. You have to be patient though – they can be understaffed, so sometimes it’ll take a bit to get to you while they finish serving the customers ahead of you.

They do slow and steady business, but im a bit concerned at the lack of volume. Manuel Latrouwe is finally reopening (i poked my head in there today. It was looking really good), and hopefully that will drive a bit more business. And if you’re the lady who got upset and huffy and stormed out yelling they had lost your business because they did not have a bathroom, please don’t bother going back. It’s, for all intents and purposes, a deli. Get over yourself.

Sage Restaurant, River Cree Resort and Casino – Edmonton, AB

Sage Restaurant
River Cree Resort and Casino
Whitemud Dr. and Winterburn Rd, Edmonton, AB
(780) 484-2121

Alberta is known for many things, principally among them are oil, mountains, and beef.  However, while I see the economic impacts of oil, and can visually measure the mountains, I often fail to comprehend the “Alberta advantage” when it comes to beef. In a province that has the reputation for producing some of the best beef in the world, I have always had difficulty finding a great steak, outside of buying one at a butcher shop and BBQ’ing it at home. Many restaurants tout their AAA Alberta beef, other restaurants shamefully import USDA Beef to serve to unsuspecting customers. In general, most of the beef is good. But it is not the world-class beef that I have always expected in a province that has plentiful room, feed, and fresh water.

I will try and avoid a diatribe, but I would like to point out that when you are determining the quality of the beef, the grade isn’t everything – it only refers to marbling. Breed, how the cow was raised, what it fed on, exercise, how it was slaughtered, how it was butchered, and how it was aged all have a significant impact on the end product. Unfortunately, very few places serve hormone free, naturally raised, grass fed, dry-aged beef. In general, most restaurants in Alberta don’t. Too costly. Sage isn’t one of them either. So to compare apples to apples, we need to compare standard steaks. Wet aged. Typically grain-finished. Where the only significant variation is in the marbling. This is where Sage excels.

Sage is located on the Enoch reserve on the western edge of Edmonton. Located inside the River Cree Casino, turn right from the main entrance. If you turn left, you end up walking 4/5’s of the way around – it’s a big circle after all! It immediately stands out against the backdrop of slot machines, tables, and smoke. Yes, smoke. While the rest of Alberta is smoke-free, apparently civic laws don’t apply on the reserve. Thankfully, smoking is not allowed in the restaurant, but some wafts of smoke do drift into the restaurant. If you are sensitive to smoke, aim for a table as far away from the entrance as possible. However, this is really the only detriment to an otherwise classy and modern design.

On my first trip to Sage, I was very impressed with their available starters and salads. Solid winners, and classic steakhouse dishes with a twist, their menu has constantly changed- unfortunately in many cases for the worse. My favorite appetizers are gone. But what’s left is still solid, if you need that much food.

I’ll typically start with a salad instead – easier on the system before you put down 16oz of beef. On this day, it was an endive and frisee salad, with walnuts. Perfectly dressed, crisp greens, this was an excellent salad. Most of their salads are.

But let’s get serious here – it’s about the meat. Their catch phrase is “Steak. Seafood. Fresh.” For me, when you’re in Alberta, you’re really here for one thing. Can you see the ocean? No. I guess that leaves steak. Canadian Prime beef – also known as AAAA. Canadian Prime is the top 0.7% of all beef in terms of marbling. Compared to USDA’s 2%, not many cuts make a Prime rating.  I have to acknowledge that they also offer USDA dry-aged beef, Wagyu beef from Washington State, and Alberta AAA. Prime only comes in Strip and Ribeye. It would be a waste in tenderloin (which is AAA). It’s better if you order the Canadian Prime. It’s local.

Perfectly cooked, Canada Prime striploin. Medium-rare really is medium-rare – warm, and red throughout. Rare is too cold – the fat still hasnt “melted” into the meat. You want pink? Order medium. You want it cooked through? Go buy a piece of cardboard and save your money. This steak is loaded with flavour – great marbling through out ensures a nice even flavour. It tastes better than your average Alberta steak. You really can taste the difference.

While everything is essentially ala carte, their side dishes are excellent as well. Typical steakhouse style, truffled mac and cheese, rich mashed potatos, asparagus, and mushrooms populate the menu. They are decent value – and it’s worth getting one or two to share. Just note that butter is the primary ingredient in most of them.

Aside from the steak, what really stands out for me is the service. I’ve had professional, consistent service there every time. Never too intrusive, but around enough that all my needs are met. In my latest visit, I was there for a special occasion. I had requested a chocolate-based dessert brought out as a surprise when i made my reservation. They followed my instructions to a tee. More impressively, the dessert was not even on the menu – they had made it special. And it was excellent.

Excellent service. Good steaks. Sounds like a winner yes? Well, I wish they had a better aging program. And that they served exclusively Canadian beef. And the smoke is annoying – i won’t argue that. But like so many things these days, it’s about compromises. And in this case, the pro’s outweigh the cons. If you’re going out to eat a steak, this is the best location to do it in the Edmonton area. If you’re looking for the best Alberta has to offer, come on over for a BBQ. Im taking reservations starting at 7pm 🙂

Sage Restaurant (River Cree Casino) on Urbanspoon