Sunday, November 10, 2013

Brava Bistro - Calgary, AB

I had the pleasure of meeting up with some of my closest girlfriends this weekend. Due to all our busy schedules, we had some difficulty finding a reservation and ended up with a 9:00 reservation at Brava Bistro. Our common love for food meant that each of us, secretly, couldn't make it that late without having some sort of "snack", and when we finally came clean with each other we all had to admit that we were more in the mood for appetizers than a full meal. We decided to share the lobster gnocchi, mussels, seared scallops, burrata & tomato salad, croque monsieur flatbread, lobster poutine, and a sundae for dessert. Favorites were the lobster poutine (with a shellfish butter sauce to die for) and the mussels in a white wine & cream sauce. The flatbread and the salad were a bit pricy for the portion size, and although tasty were otherwise unmemorable. Brava Bistro has a classic, intimate decor perfect for a romantic dinner or other celebratory occasion. The food is excellent, and I would be happy to return for a special occasion although the prices are a bit out of my range to become a regular occurrence.

Brava Bistro on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 14, 2013

Smorgasburg - Brooklyn, New York

One of the joys of being out East is the ability to drive south and hit New York, unlike driving south from Alberta and hitting Montana. We drove down to New York City for Thanksgiving weekend and decided to check out Brooklyn. It was a beautiful day and the waterfront was full of people just like us, enjoying the weather and posing for photos.

We headed over to Smorgasburg, a giant all-food market that happens every Saturday and Sunday (note that the Sunday location has been moved from the Tobacco Warehouse to Pier 6). Although I've been to food markets before, Smorgasburg easily blew them all away with the sheer number and diversity of vendors. Of the items we tried, standouts were the Bacon Cheddar Blue from Milk Truck Grilled Cheese, and the White Peach Ginger Ale from Heartbreaking Dawn's 1776 Beverage Co. brand. I was disappointed by Asia Dog (small portions, with very regular weiners and toppings that didn't really complement each other) and Jack's Chedbred (the cornbread was quite dry). Best value went to Handsome Hank's Fish Hut ($8 for three large pieces of fish and coleslaw), and the one item I saw everyone else eating but couldn't find room in my stomach for was an ice cream sandwich from The Good Batch.

Lobster Roll from Luke's Lobster (on the way to Smorgasburg)

Spicy Tuna Nachos from Takumi Taco

Buffalo Wings from Dan & John's Wings

Maple Bacon Cornbread from Jack's Chedbred

The Wangding (Chinese BBQ pork belly + onions) and the Sidney (Thai style relish with mango + cucumber + red onion + cilantro + crushed peanuts + fish sauce) from Asia Dog

Bacon Cheddar Blue from Milk Truck Grilled Cheese

Classic Sandwich from Handsome Hank's Fish Hut

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Beer Revolution - Edmonton, AB

Recently I met up with some friends at one of Edmonton's newer pubs, Beer Revolution. Though new to Edmonton, the Calgary location has been open for some time and I remember hearing my brother rave about the pizza. Our only criteria that day was a place with a patio to enjoy the 29 C weather, so Beer Revolution it was. I'm not a huge beer drinker, so I can't really comment but from the long lists proudly displayed on screens around the restaurant, Beer Revolution seemed to have a good variety. My main concern (as always), was the food. We settled on pretzels and two pizzas, the Blazing Saddle (blackened steak, bacon, banana peppers, cheese, onions, cajun remoulade, horseradish aioli, and seasoned arugula) and the Alice (crimini, shiitake and porcini mushrooms, fontina, truffled olive oil, walnut basil pesto). It was quite a wait before the food came out, giving us ample time to catch up with each other. Bavarian pretzels (sea salt, caraway spice, grainy mustard aioli) were first to the table, fresh and warm, served with an equally delicious aioli. Unfortunately, the pizzas did not fare as well. The Blazing Saddle was extremely heavy and one-note in flavor, while I couldn’t taste much of either the truffled olive oil or pesto on the Alice. The crust was nothing special, and the toppings which sounded so delicious on paper turned out to be nothing special in taste.

I returned a week later to try out the 4 for $4 happy hour specials with a friend, available from 4-6 Monday to Saturday. Having skipped lunch, we opted to try all four specials - pretzels, ribs, truffle fries, and a six-inch personal pizza. The pretzels were as I remembered them - soft, warm, and delicious. The BBQ beer ribs (beer & apple butter BBQ sauce, green apple, beer mustard) came out somewhat cold, but overall had good flavor. I particularly enjoyed the tart sweetness of the green apple. Surprisingly, the best bang for our buck went to the truffle fries - a huge cone of mixed regular and yam fries that we could not finish, served with a white truffle aioli that was decent but lacking in any truffle flavor. The disappointment for me was the personal pizza - maybe it's my poor math skills to blame, but six inches was actually quite a small portion and the pizza was nothing out of the ordinary.

Overall, I think Beer Revolution is a great place to grab a beer and relax after work. The servers are friendly, the atmosphere is relaxed, and the general feel is a bit trendier than nearby Brewsters. However, although the food is decent, I do think it is a bit pricy for what it is, and certainly nothing impressive in terms of taste or value.

Beer Revolution Craft Beer and Pizza Bar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Quick Eats: Menyatai Ramen - Calgary AB

Just a quick post today. Because my work shift just happened to give me a three day weekend, I decided to drive down to Calgary. Every time I come back I love Calgary more and more, but I also feel increasingly out of touch. I took the C-train for the first time in years today, and was amazed - not for the reason you think, but because the way I remember it in high school, there was no air conditioning and no electronic sign telling you which stop was coming up next or when the next train was coming. Actually, the last time I took the C-train regularly was before the Crowfoot station was even built - wow, reminiscing makes me feel old.

Not sure how I got off on that tangent, because today's meal really had nothing to do with the C-train at all. I had a craving for ramen and was about to head out to my go-to place, Muku, when I remembered another new(ish) ramen restaurant - Menyatai Japanese Ramen, also in Kensington. It's located off Kensington Road, and is a quaint little space decorated with bright colors and creative chandeliers. Very cheerful. I really liked the atmosphere, so it's unfortunate I didn't like the food a bit more. I wasn't too hungry so I just ordered takoyaki for myself which was entirely average, nothing special. My brother ordered the shoyu (soy) ramen with extra pork which was even more disappointing. All I could taste in the soup was one flavor - salty. Well, soy and salty. It had none of the depth I love about ramen broth. The noodles themselves were a bit on the mushy side as well. The toppings were probably the only thing I preferred over Muku - the BBQ pork was tasty and fatty, and I liked the addition of a soft boiled egg. However, as the bowls here are $2-$3 more than at Muku, with less choice and significantly less tasty, I don't think I will be returning here to sample any more menu items.

Menyatai Japanese Ramen on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Thomsons (Revamped) - Calgary, AB

I had the pleasure of catching up with some of my best girlfriends last week when I was back in Calgary. As an added bonus, because one of my friends works at the Hyatt, she invited us to come enjoy a meal at Thomsons, the hotel restaurant which has revamped everything from its decor to its entire menu. We stopped by for the soft opening, the night before Thomsons opened to the public (it should be open now).

Upon stepping into Thomsons, the first thing I noticed was how very Calgary it was. Large pictures of cowboys and horses adorned the walls, adding a Western theme to an otherwise comfortable but unremarkable dining space. I hadn't been to Thomsons before the reno so I don't have anything to compare to, but my friend stated that some of the walls had been removed to create a more open atmosphere with an open kitchen.

Because it was a soft opening, we had been warned that the service would be slower than usual, but we also reaped the benefits of having the server be more informative than usual. He encouraged us to ask as many questions about the food and drink menus as we had, and went out of his way to talk about Thomsons new concept. Apparently the theme is local, fresh, in-season ingredients, with the menu changing as much as 30% daily to reflect the best the chef has that day.

We were only able to choose from four appetizers, four mains, and four desserts instead of the whole menu, but that was more than enough for our party. We decided to go with one of each appetizer - steamed mussels, confit duck breast, burrata cheese with tiger tomatos, and slow braised beef cheeks. When the appetizers came out, we were stunned by how large the portions were, especially the mussels and the confit duck breast. Unfortunately, the mussels were our least favourite - the orange zest was really quite strong, and the overall taste was something I'd expect more from a light lunch than a hearty dinner. My confit duck breast was delicious - the duck was juicy and flavorful. To me, however, it was a very heavy dish that I had difficulty finishing as the duck was served with beans and bacon. Brussel sprouts added some freshness but I would recommend splitting this appetizer. For most creative, I'd hand it to the burrata dish - the plating was just so creative, with cheese curd placed inside a larger cheese "bowl" to resemble an egg.
For our mains, we ordered the smoked double pork chop, braised lamb shank, and grilled cornish chicken. Again, the portion sizes were huge, especially the pork chop and lamb leg. The pork chop was full of flavor, perfectly seasoned and complemented by tart apples. My lamb leg was fall-off-the-bone tender, but my favorite part of the dish was actually the sweet potato gnocchi it was served with. I only had a very small taste of the chicken, but my friend seemed to enjoy it. 
Despite the fact we were all stuffed to the brim, we decided to go all out on what Thomson's had to offer and ordered all four desserts on special - berry gateau (cake), pecan pie, white chocolate cheesecake, and the "grown up sundae". The plating was stunning, especially the "grown up sundae" (middle left). The pie and cake were the standouts - the cake was flavorful, soft, and loaded with sweet berries, and who doesn't love pecan pie? Unfortunately the brownie in the sundae was very rich and quite bitter. Although some may enjoy the taste of cocoa alone, I would have preferred a hint of sweetness. Although the cheesecake was good, it wasn't anything special - I wasn't able to pick out any white chocolate flavor.

Overall, I was really impressed by Thomsons tonight. The flavors were spot-on, the plating was beautiful, and the portions were very generous. However, I would prefer to see smaller portion sizes at a lower price, because I was only able to finish about half of my appetizer/entree/dessert meal. Definitely a matter of personal preference however, because I am sure true cowboys will appreciate the sheer amount of food more than a small Asian girl. I would also recommend Thomsons for those who are visiting from out of town and want to experience a true Calgary meal, because I think Thomsons has really made the effort to reflect Calgary in everything from its atmosphere to its menu.
Thomsons Restaurant on Urbanspoon
Disclaimer: Food and beverages were complimentary of Thomsons. I was not asked to write a review, nor expected to, and all opinions (positive and negative) are wholly my own.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Kami Sushi - Edmonton, AB

After Avenue Magazine's tasting event, we were all still fairly hungry. As we all live around the University area, we rarely venture that far south for sushi; since we were already on the south side that evening, we decided to pop into a small sushi restaurant that my companion and I had been to before. Kami advertises itself as a "take-out" restaurant, but it does have a couple of four-seater tables inside. Not much special about Kami's interior, though it is quite modern and clean. The menu is written on a large menu board over the ordering counter as well as on several printed copies, making it quite easy if you were visiting Kami just for a quick snack or take-out.

Our party of four parked ourselves at one of the restaurants and promptly ordered. Shannon decided to get one of the sushi combos while Eric went with a salmon roll and sashimi combo. As for myself and my companion, we decided on one of their specials, the Flaming Roll, as well as two of their regular rolls, the Amazing Roll and the Spicy Red Tuna Roll.

The sashimi were quite fresh and were a fair price by Edmonton standards. The sushi and the tuna roll were prepared well, but otherwise fairly standard in terms of taste.

Left to Right: Salmon Sashimi, Tuna Sashimi, Spicy Tuna Roll
Spicy Red Tuna Roll, Flaming Roll, Amazing Roll, Salmon Sushi
Tuna Sushi, and Shrimp Sushi
The special rolls that my companion and I ordered, I suspect, is where Kami's popularity (and Urbanspoon ratings!) come from. First we started with the Spicy Red Tuna roll, which consisted of spicy tuna, fish roe, and cucumber. The spicy sauce used for the spicy tuna is definitely on the spicier side of "spicy tuna" rolls, but I quite enjoyed the hot kick. If you tend to shy away from the spicier foods, this one might not be a good roll for you as I do remember consuming quite a bit of water when I first had it.

The next two rolls were the the Amazing Roll and the Flaming Roll. The Flaming Roll was offered as a special that night (Kami often has a number of "Special Rolls" which are not on their regular menu, so make sure to ask for them!) and consisted of chopped scallop, special house sauce, topped with torched salmon and fish roe. The special house sauce is essentially mayonnaise, and I wish Kami did something a little more innovative with their house sauce, but it went well with the chopped scallop. The torched salmon was a nice touch and gave the roll a unique ash flavour that you don't see in many sushi rolls. Unfortunately, the Amazing Roll was not as amazing as it sounded, as I can't recall anything particularly stand out about the roll.

Close up of Special: Flaming Roll
Kami is a quiet little shop way out in the Southern corners of Edmonton. When I'm craving something special (I quite like their "creative rolls") for a reasonable price, I don't mind making the trek out South, especially when I've eaten at Kyoto three times already earlier that week. It's definitely worth the trip and the service is friendly and fast - exactly what you're looking for if you do decide to take out from their restaurant.

Top Pick of the Night: Flaming Roll


4/5 Erics

Kami on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Quick Eats: Baguette & Co. - Vancouver, BC

When I hear the words "French bakery" and "good deal" used in a sentence together, my ears instantly perk up. While I love my pastries, they are an indulgence rather than a regular occurrence. My coworker mentioned Baguette & Co. was right around the corner from our workplace, and that they had a great lunch special. Impulsive as I am, the very next day I made sure to stop by.

Baguette & Co. is a fairly small space located on Davie St., not far from Burrard, easy to miss if you don't know what you're looking for. But a sign outside advertised the lunch special, so I knew I was at the right place. For $10, you get an Americano/tea/pop, a panini/quiche/foccacia, and any dessert. While I didn't see any quiches, the foccacias looked delicious, and the paninis had some gourmet combinations. Although debating between the chicken pesto panini and the chicken brie panini, I settled on the chicken brie (as my love for cheese is well known). The lady at the counter advised me I'd have to wait, which was fine with me as it left me ample time to choose a dessert.

Around ten minutes later, I was sipping my good-sized Americano when my hot panini came to the table. The brie was melted throughout, and the chicken wasn't overly salty though it was a bit dry. These two components alone would have made for quite a rich combination, but dried cranberries added some freshness. Overall, the panini was still quite heavy and I probably wouldn't order it again. (Note: I returned the next day (don't judge), and ordered the chicken pesto sandwich... SO GOOD. SO SO GOOD. And the mini cheesecake I ordered - amazing.)

I had to get my dessert to go as I was stuffed to the brim. There were a variety of choices including various croissants and danishes, but I gravitated towards the cold display case where there sat cheesecakes, raspberry tarts, and chocolate delicacies. I spotted one single mille-feuille (puff pastry layered with custard), and had to have it. I didn't get around to eating my dessert until a few hours later, but was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't too sweet and that the pastry layers were light and airy.

If you're in the area, Baguette & Co.'s lunch special is a great option, especially since some of the more expensive desserts cost around $5 alone. Bonus: Staff at St. Paul's Hospital receive 10% off at the Davie St. location, bringing the lunch special to only $9.40 including tax!

Baguette & Co on Urbanspoon