Mango Shiva Indian Bistro and Chai Bar – Calgary, AB

Mango Shiva Indian Bistro and Chai Bar
218 8 Avenue SW
Calgary, AB T2P 1B5
(403) 290-1647
Open Mon-Sat 11am-3pm, 5pm-10pm

Progress: advancement. gradual improvement or growth or development.

As any city like Calgary grows, there are many changes that occur. Sometimes, this can be viewed positively such as the influx of new people, ideas, and cultures. Sometimes, it can be viewed negatively, say through rising crime or the demolition of old character buildings to make way for new skyscrapers. Whether or not this is progress, is a personal value judgement. So when the building that originally housed Mango Shiva was torn down, to make way for a skyscraper, I figured that would be the end of the slightly upscale East Indian eatery that was Mango Shiva – a restaurant that housed some fond memories for me.

Well, Mango Shiva is back. Moved from their original location next to Cowboys, down onto Stephen Avenue into the heart of the downtown core, they’ve been reincarnated as an Indian Bistro and Chai Bar. Definitely an upscale location, the new room is impressive in a modern sort of way – dark woods, polished surfaces, shiny fixtures. You know, progress.

Now the original Mango Shiva was always a bit different from your average Indian restaurant. Their decor seemed slightly more upscale – everything seemed cleaner, if not a bit eclectic. They used higher quality ingredients, service was a bit better, and of course, prices were slightly higher as well. But it was always a safe choice. You heard few complaints about Mango Shiva.

The new Mango Shiva has taken the original concept, and accelerated it by ten. Not only is the decor very modern, but service is excellent, the ingredients are very fresh, and of course, the prices are slightly higher. Menu items have a modern interpretation to them. Progress.

I was there on a Friday for lunch, and I showed up right as they opened. “Do you have a reservation?” i was asked. Whoops… didnt think i’d need one. The realities of downtown dining that i’ve forgotten. I was politely told they were completely booked, but would be happy to serve us at the bar. Works for me.

Everything is ordered ala Carte, same as usual. The bartender, who was our server, was patient, polite, and friendly. Finally, my dining companion chooses the butter chicken – a choice i’m thrilled with, because i get to try it without having to eat an entire order myself – I am, after all, not the biggest fan of butter chicken. I choose the lamb chops. We get a couple orders of naan and rice as well.

Butter chicken ($17) is a good staple to use for comparison from restaurant to restaurant, as it’s as ubiquitous as pho sate, or ginger beef. The Butter Chicken at Mango Shiva is good. Not done in the traditional way I am used to, their modern interpretation has all the great elements of butter chicken – the richness, the depth of flavour, and the tenderness – just highlighted differently. They used whole pieces of chicken, that have been clearly marinating for a long period of time. There is an excellent balance of flavours – pepper, cumin, citrus, coriander, garlic and ginger, with the pepper, cumin, citrus and coriander flavours being most dominant. Not a lot of heat though. The sauce has a nice depth of flavour, and a heavy dose of butter/ghee. It’s definitely a thicker, more tomato-emphasized sauce, but together, they work well.

The lamb chops ($22) are good as well. Tender, though with a slightly dried out texture, the cardamon, cinnamon, pepper, garlic, and cumin flavours blend really well with the slightly lean cuts of lamb. Topped with a dizzying array of vegetables and nuts, the lamb is combined with a forgettable sauce, though still satisfying. The toppings bother me a bit as well, as they take away from the lamb. They seemed to be placed without any specific purpose or reason.

The rice ($2.50) and naan ($2.50) are decent. Nothing exceptional, nothing noteworthy. Fairly small sized servings for the price though (two orders of naan pictured).

Overall, Mango Shiva is a newer, updated version of what they’ve always done; good service, good modern interpretations of classic Indian food. Everything about it is very safe and familiar. Of course, the drawback to this is the food, while good, is safe and familiar. If i was to classify Mango Shiva as a restaurant, I would say it is the place to go when you are craving Indian, and on a blind date, corporate lunch, or taking your significant other’s parents out for dinner. It’s a nice room, nothing too adventerous, and you know what to expect. You won’t go wrong. While I generally prefer to be more on the risk-taking side of dining out, especially when talking about Indian food, there is certainly a reason, and a need for this kind of dining. Mango Shiva fills this niche quite nicely. Not exactly progress, but a good thing nonetheless 🙂

Mango Shiva Indian Bistro & Chai Bar on Urbanspoon

Dairy Queen (Stadium Location) – Calgary, AB

Dairy Queen – Stadium Location
2126 Crowchild Trail NW
Calgary, AB T2M 3Y7
(403) 282-4947

Let me break from tradition and recognize the fact that this post is a little weak. But with Shokutsu in town, and us hitting every restaurant and bar we can humanly get to while keeping our jobs, neither of us are in peak writing condition. But I still feel this is a valuable public service announcement.

Once a month, a group of friends and I get together to try a new restaurant. Each month, a different member picks a new place to try. Hole in the wall places, fine dining places, everything in between – no type of restaurant is excluded. Often, when we are finished, we have a craving for something sweet. Strangely enough, typically, it’s Gelato, or more often than not, a Blizzard. There’s something good, tasty, and nostalgic about softserve and candy blended together.

When you start to hit most of the Dairy Queens around Calgary, you quickly come to one realization: not all Blizzards are created equal. Many places skimp on toppings. Some places have a more limited menu. And more often than not, most Blizzards are runny, gloopy, and melting.

If you remember the old Dairy Queen commercials, the true test of the Blizzard is to turn it upside down – proving that it was mixed properly, and is thick enough for their “Gold Standard”.

The best Dairy Queen in town (for a Blizzard) used to be on Kensington Rd, at the location that is ironically enough Amato Gelato. Once that Dairy Queen shutdown, the title was inherited by the Stadium Location of the Dairy Queen. They make a great thick Blizzard with a decent amount of toppings. After many disappointing Blizzards, whenever the mood hits, this is the location we go to. Consider yourself warned – the next time you’re in the mood for a Blizzard, make the trek here from wherever you are. If not, you might just be wearing that Blizzard on your shoes.

Alberta King of Subs – Calgary, AB

Alberta King of Subs
22-7196 Temple Drive NE
Calgary, AB T1Y 4E8
(403) 280-4234

In many discussions with my friends regarding our first visits to Montreal after the age of majority, I have found a startling number of similarities. Drinking on Crescent street, bagels, drunkenly stumbling down St. Catherines, St. Denis, late night sausage and demi baguette, and of course, the institutions of Schwartz’s, Dunn’s, and the now deceased Ben’s. While i’ve heard many an impassioned argument regarding the best of smoked meat, let’s be honest. Fueled by liberal drinking laws, late night forays, and a slightly questionable (read: young) palette, there really was no going wrong. Smoked meat was pretty good at all of these establishments. Future visits have been clouded with the strong memories of the past. This was where i passed out, this was where X stumbled, this is where she ate 7 kosher pickles on a dare. Good times, but it might not be the most objective view of smoked meat.

In all these discussions, somewhere along the way, purists seemed to feel that Montreal Smoked Meat only tastes good in Montreal. Alberta King of Subs would disagree with that assertion.

Located in a small strip mall in the NE on Temple Drive, far away from the urban centre is Alberta King of Subs. I know they are ostensibly a sub shop, but i’ve tried their subs. Soggy bland sub buns, flavourless tomatos and lettuce, i’d give them a pass. The hidden gem here is the Montreal Smoked Meat. Imported from Montreal, this is pretty good quality stuff. They also carry two other authentic Quebec products that are worth trying – the poutine, and spruce beer.

Poutine ($6.25), voted by the BBC as the unhealthiest food on the planet, is served traditional style. Fresh cut fries, gravy made from beef drippings, and cheese curds. The fries are a great fresh cut fry – and the cheese curds are fairly fresh. Not squeaky fresh mind you, but i never liked them that way anyway. They have a great flavour and melt well. The gravy is definitely made from beef, but i find it a touch salty. Finishing a regular poutine requires some serious effort here. I usually finish anything that touched cheese, and leave a few soggy fries, and copious quantities of gravy on the bottom of the tin.

As for the smoked meat itself, it has some great qualities. I typically order the King’s Smoked Meat Platter ($13.75), which is a smoked meat sandwich, kosher pickle, coleslaw, fries, and a drink, and upgrade the fries to a poutine for a few extra dollars. In terms of the sandwich, the meat is freshly steamed, and hand cut, you definitely get a great mouthfeel. I’d prefer it cut a touch thinner, but there is always a bit of inconsistency with something done by hand. The meat itself has a wonderful flavour, and is served appropriately on rye, with mustard. One option i wish they did have was the choice of fatty or lean (I definitely prefer cuts off the point of the brisket, which is the richest, fattiest end).

Im really not sure if Alberta King of Subs can compare with Schwartz’s or Ben’s (RIP!), as my memory is clouded with good memories. Looking at it as objectively as possible, I would agree with the purists and say that the smoked meat isnt quite as good. However, what Alberta King of Subs does do is present a good Montreal Smoked Meat sandwich in Calgary, something most other cities outside of Montreal fail to do. Atmosphere, which is part of the overall experience, just doesnt match up to the history and the legends that surround Montreal’s best. But when you have a craving for Montreal Smoked Meat and some good ol fashion poutine, and Calgary is your location, Alberta King of Subs is worth the trip.

Alberta King of Subs on Urbanspoon

Bloggers get better service? A poll.

I was taking photos at a restaurant today, my dining companion patiently waiting as i tried 4 or 5 different angles, when some other patrons and serving staff peered over at our table. No one said anything, but you heard the whispered question “what is he doing”?

My dining companion asked me – “you reviewing this place or something *laugh*”, like it was a good joke. Uhh, no, just taking pictures for my blog. The server’s eyebrows arched a bit, the other table shrugged and went back to their meal, and life returned to normal.

While the service at this establishment is generally excellent, we noticed that the server would patiently explain each course, and would frequently stop by to top up our waters. A beer we didnt like was comped. Now im sure it may have all been coincidence because we were sitting next to their station, but over time, i’ve noticed that many servers seem to be a bit more generous with their time when after i’ve pulled a camera out.

I generally try to be discrete, but in many open concept rooms, i find it extremely difficult and give up. Whenever possible, i prefer to palm my camera, and only take pictures after our server has left the vicinity. However, any observant server would notice pretty quickly. And while I feel a bit guilty, I prefer to get good photos, then have cell phone photos. I have always wondered though, what impact this photo taking has.

My question for all our readers is this: do you think, when you break out a camera, or take notes on a meal, that you generally get a better level of service? Should bloggers, to try and remain as impartial as possible, do everything within their power to hide their photo activities?

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.