Bistrot Du Coin – Washington, DC


Bistrot Du Coin
1738 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, DC
(202) 234-6969

During short, non-leisure trips I’m often forced to put my interest in eating out and trying new things on the backburner due to various reasons, including unfortunate hinderances such as lack of free time and fussy travel companions. But there are those occasions when my interests do find a fortuitous match and I meet like-minded folks who know a good meal when they see one, and are willing to seek them out. A well travelled businessman, who was born-and-raised in the DC area introduced me to Bistrot Du Coin, which turned out to be the gastronomic highlight of my trip.

The sweltering heat of the DC summer did put a bit of a damper on my dinner experience as the inside was absolutely packed and the air circulation was minimal at best. We were seated on the upper floor overlooking the main dining area below, which perhaps made the stuffiness seem that much worse. With the boisterous crowd and plentiful tables full of wonderful smelling food, it felt part American overindulgance and part French bistro casualness.  I was so insanely hungry after another long day that I was willing to put up with the discomfort as long as the food was satisfying, and thankfully it was.

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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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Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse – Calgary, AB


Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse
294-115 9 Avenue SE
Calgary, AB
(403) 246-3636

Ruth's Chris Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

I’ve been sitting on this review for a while, as it never seems to be the right time to bring it up, but i’ve decided to bite the bullet and post it. Ruth’s Chris. I’ve been called a traitor for eating here. By my best friend no less. Ruth’s Chris, in my opinion, is one of the most controversial restaurants in Alberta. In the middle of Canadian Beef country, stands this iconic US chain serving…USDA Prime Beef? Regional protectionism aside, you have to admit that you’d be surprised if there was a place trying to serve Canadian beef in Texas. Other than the thought of oil dollars and population expansion in Alberta, i’m not sure why they ventured into Alberta, but it makes for interesting discussion that they did.

Ruth’s Chris was founded in New Orleans, and has expanded into a global empire of “fine dining steakhouses”. They sell themselves on two key things – the temperature that they cook their steaks at (1800 F), and the corn-fed, US beef that they serve.  They have a standardized, high end look, and pride themselves on their service, the decor, as well as high quality beef.  The prices certainly match the image. Service is designed to be high end – but it has a tendency to be a bit overbearing. Especially the sneer when tap water is ordered.  A little more laid back would be appreciated on my part.

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In terms of a menu, it’s all classic steakhouse. Big meaty appetizers and salads, beef entrees, and the obligatory entrees for those who don’t eat beef (seafood, lamb, chicken, veg option). I havent looked, but i would guess they would have cheesecake and creme brulee on the dessert menu.

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Lloyd’s Patty Plus – Calgary, AB


Lloyd’s Patty Plus
202-255 28 Street SE
Calgary, AB
(403) 207-4455

What’s in a name? When you discuss a food-related strip mall in the East off 28th Street and Memorial called Short Pants Plaza, I will hazard a guess and say nothing. No matter how hard i’ve tried to research the origin of the name, it’s nonsensical designation continues to mock me. “You don’t get me”!

When it comes to Lloyd’s Patty Plus, located in Short Pants Plaza, the name means something. This establishment, run by the friendly Mr Lloyd and his lovely wife, Mrs Lloyd, make Jamaican Patties.  Plus, they occasionally make coco bread and other Jamaican specialties. Lloyd’s Patty Plus.  Appealing to the logical mind.

I remember when i was first introduced to him. He seemed larger than life in his sterile white lab coat, hair net, and big friendly smile. When you stop by, because inevitably, you will, take a bit of time to chat with him. He has some interesting facts and tidbits that are always interesting. He has a lot of thoughts on his home country of Jamaica as well. Stories i always love to hear about.

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Jamaican Patties are the Caribbean equivalent of meat in pastry.  Made with a distinct yellow color created by the addition of turmeric, these flaky pies are stuffed with a variety of fillings. In Jamaica itself, they typically carry a wide range. At Lloyds, it’s chicken, and beef, in regular and spicy versions.

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Song Huong Restaurant – Vancouver, BC


Song Huong Restaurant
1613 Nanaimo Street
Vancouver, BC V5L 4T9
(604) 251-1151

Song Houng Vietnamese on Urbanspoon

Beef Seven Ways (or to use the wonderfully semiotic term: “Bo 7 Mon“) is a truly celebratory meal. In Vietnam, Bo 7 Mon is often served at weddings and any other special occasion where the overt display of largesse and bounty is important. The Vietnamese people’s love of beef is of course famous: Vietnam’s most loved contribution to our gastronomic scene – pho bo –  revolves around beef. Bo 7 Mon is something all carnivorous aficionados of Vietnamese food will appreciate. The best examples of this experience can be found in and around the Los Angeles area…and of course, Vietnam.

Song Huong is one of the rare Vietnamese restaurants in Vancouver that offers Bo 7 Mon….actually, it could be the only one. The other two that I know about are now long gone. The last time I had this dish in Vancouver was at a restaurant which has now been annexed to become a part of Les Faux Bourgousie , the new, hip, and oddly located French restaurant on Kingsway.

Song Huong - The Spread

Bo 7 Mon traditionally starts with Goi Bo a course of thinly sliced grilled beef served on top of shredded fresh vegetables.  Then the meal progresses through a series of beef dishes which usually includes Bo La Lot, a Beef Sausage wrapped in La Lot leaf. The individual beefy items are wrapped, along with condiments, herbs and vermicelli, into a rice paper roll. Finally, you dip this little parcel into a selection of sauces prior to eating it. Other courses could include Beef Wrapped Scallion, Beef with Rice Crackers, Beef Satay, and whatever else the chef decides to present. The meal traditionally ends with a Chao Bo – a type of Vietnamese Beef Congee.

Each time I have had Bo 7 Mon, some of the beef dishes that comprised the meal varied significantly… but it always started with Goi Bo, it always included Bo La Lot and it always ended with the Chao Bo. Song Huong’s rendition of this meal is fairly typical in this sense.

Song Huong’s Goi Bo course is served on a mound of daikon, carrots, and cabbage. The cooks added crushed, toasted peanuts which added a nice crunch.

Goi Bo

Three of the next courses came all at once as our waitress set a dish of three different types of grilled beef sausage: the  Bo La Lot, another sausage which is strongly lemongrassy and yet another which is sweet and garlicky. This is where I believe Song Huong had taken a shortcut by serving three sausages instead of varying it up a little. I would have preferred just the Bo La Lot and two other types of beef dishes to provide more contrast and variety. Perhaps a Beef Wrapped in Scallion and Beef with Rice Cracker would have been perfect here. As it was served, I thought that the three dishes were far too similar in flavour and texture to be truly considered three seperate courses.

Bo La Lot et al.

The next course is yet another dish made up of ground beef. I believe this one is supposed to simulate the commonly served course of Ground Beef Wrapped in Beef Caul (the fat surrounding the intestines). I would have loved to have a real version of this dish, but alas….

Pseudo Beef with Caul

The next course, the Hotpot, consists of a tender Beef Carpaccio which you dip into a simmering broth. The beef has been drizzled with a garlicky vinaigrette prepared with Nuoc Nam, the pungent Vietnamese Fish Sauce.

Carpaccio of Beef

The broth is a light concoction of water, Nuoc Nam, herbs, onions and spices. I like to cook my beef to just rare.

Hotpot

To begin assembly of a roll, you first reconstitute the dried rice paper by dipping it very briefly into a bowl of hot water. This quick bath will turn the brittle disk into a soft, pliant crepe. Leave it in the water too long and the rice paper will be too soft and will tear when you attempt to use it. Luckily, the waitress gives you more than enough of the dry rice paper so you can practice and perfect the timing of this water bath.

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On the rice paper goes vermicelli, some herbs, the current course of beef….

Beef Parcel

…Voila!

Rice Roll

One area that Song Huong  differentiates itself from other Vietnamese restaurants in town is in the quality and variety of their herb plate – Rau Song in Vietnamese. Those who have eaten in Vietnam will be familiar with this sight: the big mound of wild herbs and leafy greens on a platter placed in the middle of your table at the start of your meal. Over the course of the meal – the diners incorporate the various herbs into the dishes in varying proportions to add flavour and to vary the experience.

To me, the Rau Song provides Vietnamese cuisine  with much of its appeal: the food is at once intensely savory and crisply fresh….and it is highly interactive. Song Huong provides you with an abundant selection of unusual greens such as Rau Ram, Fish Mint, Spearmint, Vietnamese Balm, sliced Plantain, sliced Banana Heart, Vietnamese Pickled Scallions – along with the usual Mung Bean Sprouts, Lemongrass, Leaf Lettuce, Tomatos,  Cucumbers and Purple Basil.

Herb Plate

And finally the last course: Chao Bo…Vietnamese Beef Congee. The congee had a nice rich flavour and texture rivalling the best Cantonese congees in town. I can detect some spicy notes which probably means that the chef used some of the Pho stock. And the meal is now nicely rounded off.

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Overall, it was a very satisfying experience, despite the shortcomings I had mentioned. It is a great deal for about $25 CAD – the meal could have easily fed three of four diners (…there were only two of us).

As an aside, I should mention that Song Huong is a very good Vietnamese restaurant. The proprietors are ethnically Hue – from central Vietnam – an region known for its distinctive cuisine. If you aren’t feeling so carnivorous, you can try their Pho or Bun Bo Hue.

Song Houng Vietnamese on Urbanspoon

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

Capri Pizza and Steakhouse – Calgary, AB


Capri Pizza and Steakhouse
1704 Edmonton Trail NE
Calgary, AB
(403) 276-8918

You see them everywhere – the ubiquitous steak and pizza joint. They dot strip malls and store fronts all around your city, and it’s likely you’ve never eaten at most of them. After all, they’re all the same right? Tacky decor, plain beef and decent pizza for inflated prices, other than the guaranteed steak sandwich special on some night of the week when things are decidedly all too quiet, and the VLT’s are the only action in the house. Mediocre food being passed off as fine dining. Why would you bother – been to one, been to them all.

Capri Pizza and Steakhouse, from the outside, is one of those places. On the corner of the TransCanada and Edmonton Trail, this institution has been around since 1976. One of those places that you always drive by, but never been into. And somehow, are always busy. They serve garlic bread with every order, prime rib is always the special, and they grill your meat on an indoor grill where you can watch.

In order to appropriately evaluate Capri, there are several important factors you have to weigh. FIrst and foremost, is the beef. Serving Alberta beef of no discernable marbling, it does taste pretty good charbroiled. Definitely wet aged, most cuts are fairly generous, tender, with a reasonable flavour. A bit under seasoned, the beef is still otherwise ok.

Second is the sides. With each steak comes garlic toast, your choice of potato, and some veg. All good classic steakhouse sides. Sides usually (not in this case), taste better than the meat itself. These sides were decent.

Lastly is the price. When you’re paying for ok beef, and decent sides, what you want are decent prices. 16oz T-bone is $23.75. 12oz NY Strip is $23.75. 15oz sirloin: $22.75. Filet – 8oz, 24.75. You determine for yourself if this is a decent price or not.

Put it this way – i’m not sure I would ever go back. There was nothing wrong with Capri, and the steak was even pretty decent. The Prime Rib was tremendously underseasoned and underwhelming, but the T-bone was pretty good. The sides are fine. The service is fine. The utilitarian decor is fine. The prices are fine. Everything is fine. But that’s not enough for me to spend my hard earned dollars there. I’ve been to a few of these kinds of places, and I really do feel like I have been to them all. And while that might be a bigger indictment of me, rather than Capri, that’s fine. I still wouldn’t go back unless I had to. Which is too bad really, because I was really hoping to have my socks blown off. And they just didn’t succeed at that.

Capri Steak & Pizza House on Urbanspoon