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

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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