Restaurace Kulový Blesk – Praha, CZE


Restaurace Kulový Blesk
Sokolská 13, Praha 2
Czech Republic
Tel: +420 721/420 859

Beer is central to the lives of Czechs to a degree that few, if any, countries can match.  One recent study shows that per capita, Czechs drink the most beer in the world, and it’s not all that close. They consume 20% more beer per person than the second place country, Ireland, with Germany a close third. I’ve always liked Czech pilsners that is far and away the most popular style with their dry, bitter clean flavor.  I still remember the revelatory experience of trying Staropramen on tap for the first time at the outstanding pub Lucky Baldwin’s in Old Town Pasadena in the mid-90s. I finally understood what the inspiration was for all these American beer giants whose main purpose appears to be selling lifestyle or image rather than flavor.

Like in many European countries, however, the beer industry is dominated by a small handful of national (to international) brands such as  Pilsner Urquell, Budweiser Budvar, Krušovice, Gambrinus and Staropramen  (I prefer Budvar and Staropramen from the above list).  I knew from a past visit that there are smaller, local breweries. Years ago I had visited the generally well-regarded tourist trap U Fleků which showed to me a different side of Czech beer, and on a recent visit I figured I’d try to learn more about the small artisinal producers in a country with a rich brewing history. A quick search led me to Restaurace Kulový Blesk, which is a fairly easy 15 minute walk (or one metro stop ride) from Wenceslas Square in central Prague. They pride themselves on a fairly extensive selection of beer only from small Czech producers.

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The Crow and Gate Pub – Cedar, BC


The Crow and Gate Pub
2313 Yellow Point Road

Nanaimo District, BC
(250) 722-3731

In 1972, the government of BC relaxed truly some truly Victorian liquor laws to allow neighbourhood pubs to operate for the first time in the province. The Crow and Gate made local history when it became the very first of such establishments. Jack Nash, Sussex native and the former owner, built this place as a labour of love — importing timber beams, furnishings, windows, memorabilia, and other objects to provide the raw material to build a truly authentic southern English pub. He provided a sort of template of how neighbourhood drinking holes could be built and run.  Soon it became a local favourite.

Since then, however, the big factory breweries such as Molson’s and Labatt’s have managed to use their hegemony to infest just about every neighbourhood in the province with cookie cutter pubs serving their swill. Things are definitely getting better now in the urban areas with the recent ascent of modern microbreweries and “gastropubs”….but for the rest of the province, Big Brewery mediocrity still rules.

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London Pub – Vancouver, BC


London Pub
700 Main St.
Vancouver, BC
(604) 684-7732

A year ago this week I was in London, UK.  So fitting that I should visit a gastropub that has taken that city’s name in its title.  Nestled in a restored corner space of a brick building on the southern edge of Chinatown along Main Street, this still relatively new establishment seems to have a carved out a niche for itself with a loyal and locally residing customer base, judging by how busy and loud it got during the course of my stay.  Large, spacious, things to do like some pool tables, video games and big screens to watch sports, it has none of that commercially produced feel of say a Boston Pizza, but rather feel just like the work of some folks who wanted to create a place to hang out, have some suds and meet up with friends for some pub grub.  My kind of joint…

The London Pub while first and foremost a watering hole, did have some food on the menu to peruse from and with nothing in my stomach after a long day of work, we figured something to munch on would be good.   Looking to split something more substantial the the listing of smaller appetizers shown, we opted to try one of their pizza’s, 11-inch I believe.   The barbecue chicken seemed to be the most appealing and substantial of the lot, so that’s what we ordered from the personable young lass who was assigned to our table with the high stools.  Fairly chewy and softer textured dough and on the sweeter side with the sauce, gourmet pizza it is not, but for someone who was in need of some sustenance, it fit the bill just fine.  Size-wise, more than enough for the pair of us.

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Refuel – Vancouver, BC


Refuel
1944 W 4th Avenue
Vancouver, BC
(604) 288-7905

[This report is from an outing from this past fall – it had been sitting in the incomplete queue for a while, various travels led me to leave this aside until now, apologies.]

Putting on special events is something that a restaurant can do to draw some attention to itself and cut through all the clutter of marketing hype and word-of-mouth buzz generated among regular patrons and prospective new customers.  With so many ways to do this, I think a lot of them are really lost when it comes to pulling off a creative concept. Refuel, with its strong pedigree from its previous incarnation as Fuel, and the strong reputation of its lead man Rob Belcham, have found a way in recent years to conduct an annual event that has now led to a trio of seatings in a single night to commemorate a pig-fueled anniversary celebration.

This year for the Whole Hog Dinner, they brought in a partner to compliment their set course, family-style meal by adding some cask beer creations from the local R&B Brewing Company.  This even involved the participation of some of the brewers themselves who were responsible for concocting the brews that were on hand this particular evening.  They were as follows and recommended pairings with each of the three food courses that were served.

1. Lemongreass sungod ale

2. Oaked raven cream ale

3. Bacon stout

The experienced beer drinking fellows in our group had favorable comments on the course one paired lemongrass ale.  In fact, many noted they wished they’d just stuck to that for the other two pints they had instead of following the recommendations and falling victim to the curiosity factor.  Especially when it came to the bacon stout, which had a hint of the pork product, but frankly felt weak overall.  The thoughts on the cream ale were that it wasn’t creamy enough too.

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Russian River Brewing Company – Santa Rosa, CA


Russian River Brewing Company
725 4th Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
707-545-2337

A few years ago, I unwittingly developed a taste for American IPAs.  From years back I enjoyed the IPA from Bridgeport, the rather enjoyable brew pub in Portland, OR whose killer app is the aroma from its non-stop pizza ovens combined with a variety of decent beers.  But for whatever reason, a couple of years ago, I went from occasionally enjoying an IPA to suddenly finding it to be my favorite style of beer – well, provided it’s a west coast IPA, which I find to be cleaner, more focused and stylish than its Pacific-removed brethren.   The recent evolution of IPA (as the story goes) took a step forward when Vinnie Cilurzo, then at Blind Pig in San Diego, jacked up the regular IPA with even more hops, and balanced the extra bitterness with more sweetness from malt, which inevitably led to more alcohol. And thus the double IPA was born.  <Cue the manna from heaven sound effect.>   Now Mr. Cilurzo is co-owner (with his wife) of the Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, CA, smack in the middle of California’s touristsorry, wine – country.

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Guu in Aberdeen – Richmond, BC


Guu in Aberdeen
4151 Hazelbridge Way
Richmond, BC
(604) 295-6612

I’ve come out and said it before but my personal desire to explore the full realm of the Vancouver izakaya scene is not exactly the strongest.  Again, its not that they are bad or a terrible bastardization of this unique genre of dining out found in Japan, but that the context is lost on me and my memories of many izakaya outings overseas has ruined me and thus nothing will ever compare.  I’m sure I’d say the same for other specific segments of popular national food from around the globe if I had the similar depth and breadth of experience such as say in the diverse Liguria regional cuisine of Italy or the so called ‘rainbow cuisine’ that is reputed to be available in Southern Africa.  Any transplanted replica outside of those regions would just seem, well, how can I put it… “off”?

I suppose I should relax this hesitation I feel whenever I hear the names of well known joints such as Hapa, Kingyo, and so on.  Believe me I’ve tried.  And a pair of visits to the Guu chain should be proof that I’m not all that stubborn in my beliefs.  This particular post is about the Aberdeen location, found in that shopping mall in Richmond best known for drivers in the parking lot who feel that there is nothing wrong with holding up a long line of cars just to secure a precious parking spot near one of the mall entrances.

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Calgary Roundup – June 2010


Without significant commentary or respectable photographs to complete more solo posts on establishments visited earlier this month on a trip to Calgary, I thought I’d quickly sum up a few thoughts on a trio of places to wrap up this busy week…

Breakfast, drinks and an unfortunate lunch…

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House of Wings – Burnaby, BC


House of Wings Restaurant And Lounge
7155 Kingsway
Burnaby, BC
(604) 540-6465

Sports on big screens + beer + wings.  A trademark trio of any proud joint that offers the key staples that satisfy the average athletics loving, red-blooded Canadian male when out for some drinks with the boys.  Throw in some pretty girls as service staff and a win for the home team, and you pretty much have paradise.  Yes, men are easy to please.

With the Canucks season long over, the tv sports scene is in a state of limbo, as its still early in the MLB season and football is still months away, so the likes of MMA (such as last night’s UCF 114, and the upcoming UFC 115 in Vancouver) are what keep most of these places busy with thirsty customers on a late weekend evening.  And to fill the seats before the rush, is that phenomenon called happy hour (with 37 cent wings).

With a name like House of Wings, frankly they better do a good job with these chicken appendages.  As the other wings place down the road was busy with a public fund raising event, it became the default choice for this quick stop with tee.

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KwaTay’s – Seattle, WA


KwaTay’s Restaurant and Lounge
315 1st Ave. N.
Seattle, WA
(206) 588-2070

Is there a more enduring food service concept, fraught with both lovers and haters of it, than what is popularly known as “happy hour”?  Clearly this novelty was established to generate some needed revenue during the lull of the early to late afternoon, especially for bar proprietors that also serve food who have an interest in filling their cash registers as much as possible before the night rush happens.  In some more refined locations it seems to be a dying breed, but like a pesky cockroach, it will find a place to scurry into and stay for as long as possible until its flushed out and the life is stomped out of it.

The key allure of happy hour is definitely the reduced prices of regular menu items.  Food and drink inclusive.  At times, ridiculously low that even some drab surroundings, dubious service and a sense that you wouldn’t have stepped foot inside had it not been for the prices, are not enough to deter you from walking back through the entry door.  As you can see by the spartan space pictured above, that was more dance floor than restaurant dining area, you wouldn’t come to a place like this for the ambiance.  I’m sure you wouldn’t be at all shocked to hear that this is the kind of place that offers beer by the bucket as a crowd drawing special.

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Central BBQ – Memphis, TN


Central BBQ – Central Avenue Location
2249 Central Ave.
Memphis,TN 38104
(901) 272-9377

Every Southern State (and sorry purists, I include Texas in the South – well, when it comes to BBQ anyway) believes their version of BBQ is the best. In travelling from State to State, I’ve come to recognize that the differences are not as great as they would have you believe. Yes, there are very fine differences in flavours, sauces, and ingredients, but most people would have a difficult time discerning these. These days, there has been so much cross-pollination of ideas and accessibility of ingredients, that i find BBQ is more about style, skill, and choice.

The greatest differences in BBQ come down to two key things: wet or dry, and choice of ingredient. While many people claim that Memphis-style BBQ is about wet (sauce) BBQ and pork, I found wet and dry preparations of ribs in most establishments. And while they also  serve mostly pork, there was some beef, and  there was a lot of  poultry (chicken, turkey) as well. Choice of wood, temperature, time, rub, I don’t feel there is  “regional” exclusivity any longer. I’ve even seen mesquite, traditional Texas smoking wood,  used in Memphis BBQ preparations.

So the question meat lovers need to ask is not “which state has the best BBQ”, but which establishment serves the best BBQ that they prefer.  Central BBQ is one place in Memphis trying to stake their claim.

Central BBQ has two locations in Memphis, but I was reassured by locals that the original location on Central Ave was the one to go to. As we pull up, we see a smoke shack in the back, billowing smoke into the atmosphere, a fragrant, delicious smell. Our appetites are immediately whetted.

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Toronado Pub – San Francisco, CA


Toronado Pub
547 Haight St
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 863-2276

First off, Happy Thanksgiving to all the American readers on Foodosophy. In honor of US Thanksgiving, I’ve imbibed a tremendous amount of beer. Making this post, well, a lot less verbose than my usual posts.

In honor of the beer I’ve imbibed, I would like to introduce you to Toronado – quite possibly the best pub in North America. I say quite possibly because I haven’t been to every pub in North America. But I have a hard time imagining a better pub from a beer standpoint.

Toronado is not about the decor, or the atmosphere, unless you like quirky, unkempt beer snobs in irreverent t-shirts boasting loudly after one too many, while the strong smell of stale beer wafts over each slightly sticky table. While this doesn’t make up all their patrons – it is a bit of hyperbole, certainly, and there really are a diverse number of people who love the Toronado – it certainly makes up a good percentage that will give you the evil eye when you need to slide by them and actually try and get a beer from the bar.

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Elwood’s – Vancouver, BC


Elwood’s
3145 West Broadway
Vancouver, BC
(604) 736-4301

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Along this end of West Broadway, pubs are quite well represented. Perhaps its due to the relative abundance of residential areas just blocks off on each side of this corridor, and the proximity to the University of British Columbia campus. So if you like to have a quick pint after work in your neighborhood or on the way back home from a busy day of classes, this stretch has several options for you (Coppertank Grill, The Shack, Gargoyles, The Wolf and Hound, etc.).

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Mexican Chicken Hof – Coquitlam, BC


Mexican Chicken Hof
A1-341 North Road
Coquitlam, BC
(604) 936-1444

H.O.F. Those three letters mean nothing on their own.  Unless you happen to be in South Korea and your eyes are swimming around looking at an unfamiliar language and fonts.  Especially if you are in a busy commercial zone full of restaurants, bars and other entertainment establishments in busy areas such as Kangnam in Seoul.

Derived from the German word hoffbrau meaning ‘royal or court brew’ which originates back in the days when beer was only available to the elite, its now often associated with German taverns.  The Koreans have adopted part of the terminology as their own, and in the modern day, a hof could be described as a Korean pub or drinking spot.  Incidentally, one of the very first hof’s I visited in Seoul over a decade ago was very much patterned after a German brew house, complete with huge beer steins, and delicious sausages on the menu.

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Shady Island Seafood Bar and Grill – Richmond, BC


Shady Island Seafood Bar and Grill
#112-3800 Bayview Street
Richmond, BC
(604) 275-6587

On an afternoon photo assignment taking in the sights and hearing great stories from a dedicated crew of skilled craftsmen ship builders and restorers in the picturesque, frontier seaport town better known as the Steveston Heritage Fishing Village, I decided to end my day with a self-rewarding pint.

Wharfs, piers, boardwalks… wherever they are, always seem to be a preferred base for those establishments that seem to cater to both locals and visitors alike, often with seafood and cold drinks on the menu.  Shady Island Seafood is no exception.

With a deck side view of the neighboring Fisherman’s Wharf, and a cool breeze drifting in from the water, this open section running parallel to the pathway made for a great spot for people watching.  But by then, my mind had switched off from wanting to photograph anything, and I resorted to my simple P&S camera during my meal for images of my meal.

Sticking as local as I could, I opted for a selection from Granville Island Brewing in their Cypress Honey Lager.  Crisp, clear lagers are my favorite beers.  This one was perhaps milder in tone and not as “sweet” as say other “honey”-branded beers I’ve had, so was a refreshing way for me to unwind.  I could have easily had a few more and spent more time watching folks stroll by, but alas, it was getting a bit chilly and I was without a coat.

Despite having been busy for most of the day, I wasn’t terribly hungry.  Perhaps it was the cups of coffee that I had earlier to keep me going that were keeping me feeling full.   So sticking with the stereotypical behavior of one visiting a waterside landing, I took the easy way out and asked for their Seafood Chowder.  Noted as “world famous” on the signboard, and as “mama’s award-winning” on the menu, it peaked my curiosity.

It definitely had “substance” and was very rich and creamy in texture, plenty of pieces of salmon, clams and potatoes, all encompassed in a vibrant red, slightly peppery, tomato-base.  I’ve not experienced many of these more east coast-style chowders, but I can say that I enjoyed it and will look to seek out more of them.

A fairly basic house green salad which was nothing to write home about, rounded out my small meal (not pictured).

The combination of unwinding alone and having a quiet, non-stuffing meal and the quaint surroundings led me to feeling pretty good about my light dinner.  Under different circumstances, would I have come away with such a positive impression – I’m not sure.  But for the view, the brew and a tasty bowl of chowder, I can’t say I had any complaints and would drop by again and check out their fish and chips (which seemed like a popular thing at their takeaway window).

Shady Island Seafood Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

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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