This Sh*t's Delicious

Exploring the world through cocktails, shit hole restaurants, and UrbanAg

Beakerhead: Engineered Eats

What’s this? A new blog post? No, your eyes are not deceiving you – after having the privilege attending the Beakerhead Engineered Eats sneak-peek on Monday, I felt obligated to dust off the keyboard and give it a plug. After all, a food-based event for a grassroots festival in Calgary based on art and science pretty much pushes all of my buttons!

What better symbolizes food + science than sous-vide?

Of the seven Calgary restaurants who are participating in the 5-day-long Engineered Eats program, five of them were present at the sneak-peek – Mango Shiva, Charcut, Taste, Raw Bar/Yellow Door and Muse (the last of whom hosted the event). Each had brought a special concoction or two featuring science-y “molecular gastronomy” techniques – be it gels, foams, sous-vide, caviar, etc. – and in keeping with the Beakerhead theme, most of the dishes and cocktails were assembled in a creative and artful manner.

Looks like a lot more than "just 3 ingredients" to me ;) (Muse's description says it's just tomato/basil/watermelon)

To start off, I hit up Muse’s table for their “tomato and watermelon inversion” (my description, not theirs). It was a daintily put-together mini-salad, featuring tomato, watermelon and basil in numerous combinations meant to f*ck with your mind 😉 Indeed, what appeared to be a scooped watermelon ball had the vegetably-tartness of a tomato, and the meticulously-crafted watermelon slice was of course an intensely-flavoured tomato bomb (the cucumber rind was a perfect choice!). Even the watery sauce with sprinklings of dehydrated buckwheat modelled the innards of a tomato remarkably well. Muse also offered a cocktail of sorts, a Tequila Sunrise push-pop. Utilizing a dollop of sous-vided fruit gel and topped with slushy ice, their cocktail was also an inversion of sorts (this time a thermal one!) – the mix of cold and hot sensations is a fascinating one, though the leakiness of the push-pop device proved a little problematic.

Modernizing an ancient cuisine

The strong aroma of Indian spices was difficult to miss, as Mango Shiva’s chef doled out portions of delectable chicken tikka and gol gappa on demand. There always seemed to be a bit of a lineup by the Mango Shiva table throughout the night, but it was worth the wait – the succulent, yoghurt-tenderized chicken tikka was well complemented by the balsamic caviar, mango puree and mint-yoghurt chutney. The deconstructed gol gappa/panipuri featured artfully transformed chutneys in the form of yoghurt balls and tamarind spaghetti, and the traditional flavoured water (or in this case, a less-traditional herbs-and-vodka mix) was to be taken as a shot rather than poured into the shell. All of the components are reconstructed in your mouth for a complex mosaic of flavours.

More than meets the eye

Taste offered what was likely the most humble-looking offering, with their “gazpacho-on-a-stick”. But the appearance of the minimalistic beige rectangles simply increases the shock value of the explosive flavours that arise upon putting the jelly into your mouth – it’s a full-spectrum savoury sensation. My one criticism of the gazpacho was the size of the serving – it basically filled my mouth to bursting. Who eats soup by the bulging mouthful? Kent tried to bite his and ended up dropping the rest of it on the floor (though admittedly they were kind of melting due to it being really hot in the restaurant). I think a portion half to one-third of the size would make it the ideal amuse-bouche.

All it needs is a fat straw!Hollow ice spheres for cocktails should become a new thing

Perhaps one of the more delightfully-themed dishes at the event was the Tom Yum Bubble Tea, by Raw Bar – presented in a shot glass, the tom yum soup was jazzed up with “pearls” made up of tomato caviar and currant tomatoes (which Muse also used in their dish). The floating cilantro and flower petal just added to the tropical feel. Raw Bar’s cocktail was also a smashing hit – literally! An aromatic kaffir-lime based drink featuring Vietnamese cinnamon spray and jalapeno bitters (if I’m remembering correctly), the presentation of the cocktail left many impressed – the cocktail was injected into a hollow ice sphere, which is subsequently smashed with a hammer and pin. Too cool!

Foie and brioche - just a touch of sorrel to round out the fresh lightness

Last, but definitely not least, the venerable folks at Charcut put some modernist twists on classic favourites – foie gras and brioche. Both are normally extremely rich foods, but with a little magic foaming action they were transformed into a light, airy, yet flavourful bite. The brioche was apparently foamed before it was cooked, then microwaved – sounds like something even an engineer could cook 😉 Served with the light sweetness of cognac-soaked peach and apple jelly, the foie and brioche could almost double as a dessert. Charcut’s “Autumn in Cognac” cocktail was demure but delicious – cognac plus one other fortified wine whose name escapes me, topped with a little vanilla-apple foam. Not as flashy as the other cocktails perhaps, but I think I liked the flavor of this one best.

You can check out all of the above and more from today through Sunday – in addition to the five restaurants at the sneak-peek, downtownfood and Candela are also offering science specials. Be sure to check out the other Beakerhead events as well! Many thanks to Wendy for setting this all up and extending us an invite 🙂

-Richard

Review of Jonas’ Homestyle Hungarian Restaurant

Summary: Jonas’ offers hearty, home-cooked Hungarian meals right in the heart of downtown Calgary.


Does Erős arouse you? Some say spiciness is an aphrodisiac

Nothing warms the body on a cold winter’s night like a hearty Hungarian stew!  Or so we hoped, when we decided to check out Jonas’ Restaurant one chilly evening after work.  Despite being a weekday, they were booked solid – luckily, the hostess was able to squeeze us in before one of their reservations.  The place felt more like a mix between a museum and a grandmother’s house than a restaurant – traditional Hungarian folk dresses were presented along the walls (and even up front on a mannequin!), and kitschy ornaments and Hungarian-language books filled the shelves.  There was even a Hungarian language guide printed on the drink menu!
The basket of bread that came out before the meal came equipped with the rather unusual side of spicy green chilies.  This is a working man’s bread – dense and filling, but not exactly what you’d call flavourful.  We probably could have used more chilies.

  Now my Hungarian friend's addiction to spicy food makes sense

The menu here is pretty basic, with a handful of soups and salads and a double handful of mains, along with a daily special.  There aren’t really any appetizers other than the soups or the salads, but that’s fine – because the entrees here are designed to cure hunger.  The entree portions are generous and they were delivered faster than a typical restaurant would be for just starters – though the fact that we had to be in and out in under an hour might have factored into that. I went with the Marhapörkölt tarhonyával, which I ordered by the English description of "Beef stew with egg drop noodle", since I didn’t have the slightest inkling how it would be pronounced in Hungarian.  I wonder if something was lost in translation – as the "noodles" that came with the dish didn’t resemble any noodles that I’ve ever had in the past, being basically a bunch of dots. They made a pretty good side for the beef stew though, as they held the sauce very well and had a pleasantly springy texture (like a firmer quinoa).  The beef, much like the bread, was strictly utilitarian – not the tenderest or juiciest, but in enough quantity to satisfy your day’s needs for protein and then some.  The sauce, though, had an interesting tanginess to it that saved the dish from being overly flat.

Yes, those round things are the "noodles"

Crepes are the name of the game for dessert – filled with anything from nuts & chocolate to jam to cottage cheese.  For that homemade touch, they put sprinkles on everything!  Even the bill is written up by hand – and touched up with a little whiteout, in our case ;)  At $100 for the 3 of us, it wasn’t terribly inexpensive, but with plenty of leftovers available we at least got our money’s worth in calories.

Felt like it was my birthday

Kiran’s Thoughts

I am ashamed to admit that I have been living no more than two blocks from Jonas for around 10 years but didn’t have the time to check it out. Part of the reason was the "Oh, it’s right there. I can check it out later!" mentality and part of it was their extremely inconvenient opening and closing hours (they close at 9 pm on Fridays and Saturdays and are not open on Sundays). Indeed, pretty much everytime I have walked by the restaurant, it’s been closed!

Nonetheless, Richard, Kent, and I finally managed to head out there in early January 2012 (we are only 11 months late, but better late than never) to check out this Calgary institution to homestyle Hungarian cuisine. 
As soon as I walked in, I instantly felt like I was transported back to a small Eastern European restaurant that only locals know about.This tiny restaurant reeks of authenticity. It’s almost like you are sitting in an extension of their home that invited you to for a night out. In fact, it’s such a throw back, their webpage is still hosted on Homestead! WTF!

Nothing shows off costumes quite like a mannequinI like the little box container made out of a Big Rock box

The proprietors have also done a nice job setting the ambiance. There’s classical opera playing in the background and the walls are adorned with what I can only assume are Hungarian gypsy clothing. There’s also Hungarian cultural references such as ornaments, toys, and even a language book artfully arranged around the place to give the place a relaxed home feel.

Paprikash isn't just for chicken!

Our waitress expressed a huge surprise when I mentioned that I was a vegetarian…which was immediately followed by skepticism that I would be able to polish off two, TWO pasta dishes. I ended up going with the one that sounded the most enticing in -20C weather: the mushroom paprikash (aka goulash) with dumplings and the cabbage pasta. The former is the national dish of Hungary, the vegetarian version being a stew or soup of veggies (especially potatoes), seasoned with paprika and other spices. It was a good choice: the stew was hearty and warming and the sauce creamy without being too thick. The cabbage pasta was also very hearty and filling without being too plain or boring.

"Not too plain" says Kiran

I also got a chocolate and nut-filled crepe for dessert. This one was a bit of a miss for me. I didn’t like the texture and the not-sweet-enough filling reminded me of Chinese desserts that always leave you wanting for more.


Kent’s 2 Cents

So I ordered the cabbage rolls, because what’s more Eastern European than cabbage rolls?  Perogies perhaps, but this ain’t the Ukraine.  Anyways, when I got the cabbage rolls I thought at first that they didn’t have any meat in them.  Oh wait, turns out they were actually ALL MEAT.  I got absolutely manhandled by that pair of rolls – pretty much could only finish one.  Come to this restaurant if you’ve got something to prove.

Bask in the glory of the Cabbage Roll!

Summary

Jonas’ will make you feel like you have Hungarian grandparents that are set on making sure you put some meat onto those skinny bones.  Don’t expect to find anything too complex here – just wholesome, filling fare.  Beware that beers aren’t cheap here ($8 for a Löwenbräu) – but they go so well with the meal that it’s hard to resist.  If you’re looking for a place that warms the heart along with the stomach, Jonas’ is a solid choice.

-Richard

  Kiran Richard
Ambiance 4.5/5 4/5
Service 3.5/5 3.5/5
Taste 4/5 3/5
Authenticity 5/5 4/5
Value 3/5 3.5/5
Total: 20/25= 80% 18/25 = 72%

Jonas' Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Spaghetti vs. Samurai – Review of Carino Bistro

Summary: Stunning fusion between Japanese and Italian/French cuisines, but vegetarians may be disappointed.


They do not, to my knowledge, have Japanese wine though

When Kent mentioned that he saw an Italian/Japanese fusion restaurant on Edmonton Trail, I wasn’t quite sure how that would look.  Ramen with red sauce?  Miso risotto?  Sashimi on crostinis?  I must admit, I was hesitant – but I should have realized that the Japanese know how to do fusion ;).  In fact, Carino manages to meld Japanese and European cuisines in a far more harmonious manner than I had imagined possible, resulting in one of the most unique and refreshing food experiences that I’ve had in a while.

November 025Carino (titled after the “Italianized” form of the owner’s name, Toshi Karino) has taken over the spot where AKA winebar was once located, keeping most of the interior decor, but with clever new logos.  With its heavy Italian presence and penchant for ethnic restaurants, Bridgeland is the perfect character match for this little bistro.  Hell, Carino even serves brunch ;).

The wine list is pretty varied, with an decent selection of predominantly European wines.  I’m not much of a wine person, normally, but being in a “wine bar” I felt almost obligated to imbibe in a glass.  The Evening Land pinot that I settled on turned out to be quite interesting, with an almost cinammony finish.  For me, though, the food menu merited far more attention than the wine list.

We ordered a helping of gnocchi as an appetizer, as it seemed like an ideal dish to share.  The classic stuffed pasta came adorned with shavings of cheese and green onion and pork belly, and was delicately sauced in an Asian-style broth.  Normally, the combination of cheese and Asian food make my stomach turn, but Carino manages to make it seem perfectly natural here – the sumptuous combination of pasta and broth evoked memories of pasta soup from my childhood.

November 031

The next appetizer was even brothier – which is probably not something that you’d be expecting of a seared foie gras dish.  The daikon and asparagus were tender and juicy, though the foie itself wasn’t quite as flavourful as I had hoped, though its crispy exterior and oozy centre made for an interesting texture.  There was hardly enough foie to eat with the amount of toast that they provided alongside the dish, though the bread ended up being handy for soaking up the remaining broth.

November 035

I went with the mentaiko pasta for my main dish, which was a cleverly crafted concoction of seafood and spaghetti.  The dish struck an almost perfect balance between Japanese and Italian flavours – black seaweed, edamame, garlic, and a hint of spiciness (chili-based, not wasabi) – with perfectly prepared shrimp and scallop.  It took me a moment to realize that in place of tomato sauce, the noodles were coated in a fine paste of roe.  This is the f’in TSAR BOMBA of fusion dishes 😀 Make sure to get a glass of water with this though, as it is quite salty.

DSC01472

Kent and our friend Maria ordered dishes that seemed to be more rooted in a European style, with splashes of Japanese ingredients and preparation – shown below are the “Miso Chicken Supreme” and the uniquely styled Milanese stuffed pork cutlets, both served over risotto.  I finished it off with a yuzu sorbet – nicely refreshing with the sprig of mint provided.  Yuzu seems to be all the rage these days, possibly because it spans the spectrum of citrus flavours or possibly because it sounds exotic.  Kumquats are gonna be jealous.

One thing that I found noticeable across all of the dishes was the astounding fusion of not only taste, but appearance – I was impressed how they were able to make each dish look both Italian/French and Asian simultaneously.

November 038DSC01468DSC01470

Kiran’s Take

Quite honestly, I was pretty skeptical going in. Ordinarily, I am a big fan of fusion restaurants, but Italian and Japanese? Get outta here! Still, I went in with an empty stomach and empty mind.

First off, the décor. What about it? Nothing much really, except that it’s exactly the same as AKA Winebar, down to the uber-trendy black chalkboard paint where it’s hip to write down your menu. The only thing’s that’s changed is possibly the high chairs in the back of the restaurant were replaced with regular height tables and chairs. In fact, we were seated at the exact same table when we ate at AKA Winebar earlier this year. Perhaps, Karino (the owner) wanted to put in more effort in the food and drinks menu?

If it weren't for the new logos and very Japanese owner/staff, you'd think you were still at AKA winebar

Fresh off my return from Singapore/Brunei, I found Kent and Richard to be poor substitutes for my real Asian friends. Looking for the comfort of a drink, I turned my attention to the Drinks menu and was further disappointed to not find any sake. The wine list was short (and sweet) and there was the usual Kirin and Sapporo, as well as a couple of Japanese whiskies that I noticed on the shelf, but nothing more Japanese apart from the latter. I found that extremely strange and bizarre, especially considering Karino was the former Wine Director at Teatro. Nonetheless, I was at a part-Italian restaurant, so I decided to go with a dry German Riesling ($10).

Surprising that the meat-dish risottos had edamame, but the vegetarian one didn'tThe food menu wasn’t any more uplifting. There were pretty much no vegetarian options on the menu apart from the Mozzarella Agedashi and Caprese Salad. None of the mains were vegetarian, so I ended up having to just get a vegetarian risotto with a side of steamed Japanese veggies (I don’t why steaming or braising veggies is so huge in Eastern Asian cuisines). On the plus side, for the non-vegetarians out there, the menu looks pretty interesting. There were no pure Japanese dishes, but plenty of mash-ups that any culinary DJ would be intrigued by. I would highly encourage you to check-out their menu.

I took a bite of the steamed lotus and gobo root and was instantly hit by how well-steamed (if there is such a thing) it was. The delicate and subtle sweetness of the accompanying sauce married well with the veggies. I was impressed; a good start to the dinner. I eagerly scooped a spoonful of risotto and was…instantly reminded of these chicken-fPresentation of the vegetable dish was quite humblelavoured chips I had had as a kid growing up in Brunei. What the hell? At this point, I came to the realization that even though the dish had no meat, the chef probably used chicken stock to make the risotto. In retrospect, how Asian. It was kinda similar to getting served fish as other Asian restaurants even after expressly mentioning that you are a vegetarian.

Regardless, I finished the dish without much fanfare. Although it was well-prepared, it was nowhere even close to the risotto you can get at Sugo. The latter is light and fluffy and creamy all at the same time without sacrificing any of the richness. A high bar to meet perhaps, but not any different from how your first girlfriend becomes the standard by which all other girlfriends get judged by.  Overall, I wasn’t too impressed by the food as the lack of any creative vegetarian options put a dent in my experience.

Summary

It’s clear that Carino is making some waves in the Calgary food scene, and for good reason. John Gilchrist rated the Kobe-beef burger amongst the top 10 best burgers he’s had in his life. He also gave it 9 out of 10, which is pretty high praise.  Not all of the dishes may live up to such high standards, but I would certainly put the mentaiko pasta and gnocchi up there.  Vegetarian options are as limited as any fully Japanese restaurant, however, and the relatively minimalist preparation means that the meat or seafood is often a vital component to each dish, and cannot be easily replaced by a veggie substitute.

Bring a thick wallet if you think you’ll be drinking – the majority of wines-by-the-glass run $10-12, and there are more than a handful of bottles that run into the triple digits.  Pricing for the appetizers and mains seem fairly in line with other upper-scale casual restaurants.

All-in-all, the good execution and sheer uniqueness of the cuisine make this a worthwhile visit for the curious epicuriean.

-Richard

Ranking

Kiran Richard
Ambiance 3/5 4/5
Service 3.5/5 3.5/5
Taste 3/5 4.5/5
Originality 4/5 6/5
Value 3/5 3.5/5
Overall 16.5/25 = 66% 21.5/25 = 86%

Carino Japanese Bistro + Wine on Urbanspoon

Istanbul Review: A Turkish Delight

This week we collaborated with our guest writer Joanna!  It’s always nice to be able to share good food experiences with new people 🙂 –Richard

Istanbul 087

One of my philosophies in life has always been that food brings people together, and I happily got to witness that philosophy in action the other week. My friend Nick and I had been at an Awesome Calgary pitch night when we first met Kiran and Richard. Warm and wearing some pretty hilarious t-shirts, we instantly hit it off (obviously you’ll need to ask them if the feeling was mutual – if not, then I revoke my first comment ;)).

After some discussion about said hilarious t-shirts and the projects we were working on, we eventually get on the topic of food. I light up at the mention of food. Kiran and Richard were kind enough to invite us out to eat, since talking about restaurants had left us all with a grumble in our belly.

Now, I didn’t know if these two guys were just awfully friendly people or if they were actually putting up a rouse to murder me in a dark alley, but I threw caution to the wind. I’m glad I did. We end up at a quaint Turkish restaurant called Istanbul. As soon as we entered, we were treated to a bunch of patrons keeping the small space lively. Our waiter tries to teach us Turkish – Kiran and Richard do much better at it than I do. We decide to order a bunch of food to share, and during the meal, Kiran and Richard whip out there phones to take notes. It’s at that point I know sh*t just got real.

You can just tell how lemony these things are by looking at themYaprak Sarmasi (Stuffed grape leaves) – The first appetizer to come out and it’s piping hot. I feel the only way to describe it is a neatly packed bundle of flavour. The filling is moist and has a tangy kick to it. It has a very nice consistency to balance out the grape leaves, which are on the firmer side. The only issue I had here was a little film of greasiness on the outside of the grape leaves.

Mucver (Zucchini bites) – Deep-fried but soft in the inside with a blend zucchini and spices, this one hits the spot for me. You must dip it in cool yogurt to get the full experience. This was one of my favourite parts of the meal – it had a nice outer crust and the inside has those warm familiar spices that are representative of Mediterranean cuisine. This dish got us to talking about how sometimes it’s difficult for us to recall names of spices, but our palates have a much better memory. One of the spices must be parsley ;)

What do you get when you combine the previous two dishes?Kabak Dolmasi (Stuffed zucchini… I see a trend…) – My main dish was a stuffed zucchini, almost like a cabbage roll. It came with a side of rice medley, salad and yogurt sauce. As you can clearly tell, I was on a zucchini fix that night. The zucchini was tender and the stuffing of rice and ground beef was very similar to that of the stuffing in the grape leaves. It was slightly on the bland side, and I cannot deny I was a little disappointed in myself that I didn’t get a kabob. The flavourful yogurt sauce did bring the meal together and counteracted the mild blandness of the stuffed zucchini.

Richard’s Notes

So what is Istanbul? (other than "Not Constantinople")  Among other things, it is an absolutely fantastic Turkish restaurant on 4th Street W and 40th Avenue (roughly) in the central north of Calgary.  We arrived fairly late (just a half-hour before closing), but there were still a couple of groups of people wrapping up their meals and the staff was more than willing to accommodate us. "We’ll stay open as long as you want to stay – 1am, 2am, no problem, we just sleep in the back!" our cheerful host stated (not quite sure if he was joking or not).

Beans, beans, the magical fruitBeing pretty hungry, we decided to sample several appetizers, which turned out to be a good choice as they were all excellent.  The yaprak sarmasi (stuffed grape leaves) came out super-fast and piping hot – greasy, flavourful, fragrant (like a nice tea) and savoury with a tangy kick.  Next up was the mucver – described as a zucchini patty on the menu, it was crispy and cumin-ey, reminding me quite a bit of Indian pakoras.  Finally there was barbuny pilaki – a hearty, traditional dish made up of red beans in a zesty tomato sauce.  It seemed very Italian in style to me – loaded with garlic, carrots and bell peppers, and a sauce that was un poco piccante.  It was even served with oregano bread!  Anyone who’s a fan of beans would be served well to give this dish a try.

  Fit for a caliphNote: not the recommended method

The menu here is surprisingly expansive, so it was difficult to settle on a main dish – but in the end, I decided to go with the kuzu kebab – marinated, tender lamb cubes served shish-kebab-style.  And my god, were they tender!  I was feeling pretty full after our appetizers, but after tasting one bite of the kebab I had no trouble scarfing down every last bit of that succulent, perfectly spiced meat – they don’t even give you a knife with the plate, because you won’t need it!  They don’t fuck around with the presentation here either – it comes out on a seriously stylish skewer.  The bread, rice and salad were all quite nicely done as well and made for appropriate accompaniment.

The Turks have their own twist on Arabian-style teaEmphasis on the "Limon"
After stuffing our bellies, we were offered a Turkish hand cleansing cologne – it seemed to be essentially a bottle full of the stuff that makes wet-naps wet.  Why waste all that paper and packaging when you can get all that lemony cleanliness directly?

Kiran’s Thoughts

Istanbul’s been on my hit list for a very long time. I don’t know where I heard about it or how it got into my list, but I am glad that it did. Walking into Istanbul, we immediately noticed a large family of middle-eastern descent just wrapping up their dinner. Always a good sign to see ethnic locals in any restaurant. Despite walking in 30 min. before closing, the owner/chef didn’t put up any fuss and we were seated right away.

What is everyone checking out?Ah, of course

The interior was fairly functional. It was neither the "hole-in-the wall" dive that shit-hole Korean restaurant Don Day epitomizes, and neither is it classy, upscale or anything similar to those. It simply is. Neither good, nor bad. And random. On our way out, we were delighted to discover on of those old school fortune-telling machines near the entrance. Of course. Why not.

On to the food. I was a bit disappointed with the menu as I was expecting a plethora of vegetarian options. However, the menu was heavily tilted towards meat-based options, with most of the vegetarian options relegated to the starters and salads. I guess I was expecting a menu similar to Persian or Moroccan cuisines, where vegetarian dishes are a-plenty (I think you’ve forgotten what Persian cuisine is like 😉 – Richard). Maybe this is a Calgary thing?

Simple salad, wasn't half badI loved the stuffed grape leaves. The subtly-spiced rice was so delicious that you couldn’t just have one. If there were 10 pieces there, I would have popped them all into my mouth. It also helped that for some reason, the oily coating reminded/smelled like ghee (clarified butter). I can never say no to ghee. The zucchini patties reminded me of Indian potato cutlets, primarily cause of the cumin. I didn’t really enjoy the crispy exterior texture, and to be honest, it tasted a bit burnt. The dipping sauce was delicious, but overall, this starter was a bit of a miss. The Choban Salata (Shepherd’s salad) – tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, green peppers, lettuce, and parsley all tossed with oilve oil and delicate herbs – was lemony and tangy with lots of parsley…just the way I like it. The lettuce tasted a bit stale (we did walk in before closing), but the salad was cold and refreshing enough that I could ignore it.

Most of the vegetarian options are appies or pastries

I ended up getting a pide or the Turkish-version of a pizza for my main course. Sebzeli kir Pide came with mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, onions, and green peppers, but the best part was the crust, which was essentially a phyllo-based, melt-in-your-mouth turnover. The toppings themselves were a bit plain – I would have preferred bolder flavours – but there are people who probably enjoy a dish more for the texture and plain veggies. Where the pide shined was in it’s value – for $11, it was big enough to feed at least two people. Indeed, I took home the leftovers and ate it for lunch the next day.

Summary

Overall I think this little spot is a hidden gem. It had an authenticity to it and had a no-fuss kind of menu. They stick to what they are good at, and it shows. Reasonable prices for the amount of food you get – I’m not going to lie, I gobbled up my leftovers as soon as I woke up the next day. Breakfast of Champions!

-Joanna

  Richard Kiran
Ambiance 3.5/5 3/5
Service 4.5/5 4.5/5
Taste 4.5/5 3.5/5
Authenticity 4/5 4/5
Value 4.5/5 4.5/5
Overall 21.5/25 = 84% 19.5/25 = 76%

Istanbul Restaurant Ltd on Urbanspoon

NYC ExTRAVELganza! Part 3: Sweet Dreams

Ouch!  This article has been sitting in my “to finish” pile for months, but I’ve finally just gotten around to putting the pictures in – hopefully all of these places are still around!  This last article in the series covers the dessert/sweets places that I visited last September, as well as the restaurants that I remember most fondly.

Petit Abeille Petite Abeille on Urbanspoon – The “little bee” is a nice little shop with a surprisingly big behind, equipped with charming checkered tablecloths and floors and old-world sensibilities. If you want a little taste of Belgium, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start – Tin-Tin comics, Belgian waffles, and an extensive Belgian beer menu make it abundantly clear which country inspires this place. Turns out that there are four of them in NYC, though I went to the one close to Union Square for breakfast – the waffles were crisp and delicious (even if the strawberries were a little tart for my taste) and the coffee nice and robust. Recommend!

Quite the charming interiorNothing says Belgium like waffles!

 

Max Brenner Max Brenner on Urbanspoon – For those with a full set of sweet teeth – Chocolate by the Bald Man! It’s a pretty stylish place that’s still reasonably casual, and might be a good date place if it wasn’t chock-full of noisy tourists 😉 This place is surely diabetes in disguise – diabolically delicious! I ordered a frappe, which oddly came with a metal straw – I’m not sure if it was just a mental thing but it seemed to impart a metallic taste to the drink. The frappe was also on the edge of being too sweet, though given that it was the dulce-de-leche flavour that only makes sense.  They offer a number of sickeningly sweet indulgences, including a giant chocolate-filled syringe!

[Ohnoes, no pics!]

ChikaLicious ChikaLicious Dessert Bar on Urbanspoon – My first thought when I heard that this was a place that served a 3-course prix fixe menu for dessert only – too rich for my blood. But in reality, it’s a sweet little place where the diminutive but charmingly stoic owner/chef Chika makes you your dessert as you watch while seated at the bar. It was pretty cool to see the fresh figs get chopped up and the crème brulee torched in front of me. The “sous” chef (or whatever you might call them for a dessert bar) was an intense guy who beat the whipped cream as if it had committed crimes against humanity. The lemongrass panacotta and cantaloupe sorbet were both very nice, though I don’t remember much about the petit-fours that we had at the end.

Chika and her sidekick prepare the desserts while you watchEver seen a creme brulee like this?Why are these called petit-fours when there are only three? ;)

 

Big Gay Ice Cream Truck Big Gay Ice Cream Truck on Urbanspoon – One of my friends was adamant that I check out the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck, so luckily we happened to see it parked around Union Square one afternoon (Union Square seems to be a pretty popular hangout for the food trucks).  I was REALLY hoping to get an ice cream cone covered in Trix cereal, but unfortunately they only had flavours like the Salty Pimp (soft serve impregnated with dulce de leche and coated with sea salt and chocolate dipping) and Bea Arthur (crushed wafers and dulce de leche).  I ended up going with a wasabi peas cone, as it sounded pretty interesting, but unfortunately the wasabi peas were tres bland.  Far from fabulous, I’m afraid.  Soft serve is what it is, though, so if you’re looking for your fix of ice cream with a twist it’s worth checking out.

Their flavours are loud and proud

 

Dirt Candy Dirt Candy on Urbanspoon – Kiran had been wanting to try a place that dealt in “molecular gastronomy” so we went to one of the more affordable places that offered something resembling that – a cute-as-buttons vegetarian gig in the lower east side called Dirt Candy. It’s a tiny, tiny, place with 7 tables that seat 20 people max (I think 18 more typically). The menu seemed simple enough, so we ordered one of everything – literally! – to split between the three of us. That worked out to four-and-a-half appies, four mains and four desserts – which turned out to be just about right for three strapping young lads such as ourselves. The appetizers came out super fast, which is always nice. I don’t normally care too much for cornbread-like substances, but the hush puppies that we had were MINDBLOWING – not too dense, nicely crispy and accompanied with a lightly-sweet maple butter that complemented it perfectly. The mushroom “pate” was decent, if a little subtle for my tastes – but the mushroom “calamari” on top of the celery salad that we also got was downright terrific. It still didn’t make me like celery, but the baby celery bits that were spread around the plate made me smile. The deep fried cheese curds on the salad prompted Matt to swear to find a recipe for them. A couple of the appetizers were less impressive – there was a red-pepper soup which seemed rather watery (though I only tried a couple spoonfuls) and a “BBQ pork carrot” bun which confirmed to me that sometimes meat just can’t be replaced with vegetables.

What is dirt candy, exactly? Vegetables, of course!The lighting was VERY red and VERY dark - perfect for mushrooms?NEED MORE MAPLE BUTTER FOR THESE PUPPIES

A lot of the dishes seemed to be designed in a manner where meat/seafood would normally be found, in fact – besides the “pate,” “calamari” and BBQ buns, there was a tofu dish that could easily have been fish instead, and a smoked cauliflower & waffles dish that was a clear homage to chicken & waffles. It takes some real chops to fashion up dishes that contain only vegetables and have them stand up to their meat-bearing counterparts. For the most part, I’d say they succeeded – of the mains, my only disappointment was the gnocchi with chard, garlic granola and fig jam. It smelled like garlic heaven, but unfortunately I didn’t think the taste lived up to the smell – while there were some killer flavour/texture pairings (chard + garlic, granola + jam, garlic + cheese + gnocchi) I didn’t enjoy it so much when mixed all together. Oh well, taste is a subjective thing! Desserts ran the gamut from weird to wonderful – my least favourite being a very clever but unfortunate tasting watermelon-radish sorbet, with my personal favourite being the seriously solid pea and mint “Nanaimo bar” ice cream sandwich. There was also a straightforward but well executed pudding topped with popcorn, as well as a rather interesting beet chocolate cake.

I had to use flash because it was so dark, but this was "calamari" and saladTofu, with copious amounts of shizo and cucumberCorn dish not mentioned in text - grits, deep fried egg

Whew!  Well you can tell based on the space I’ve given this piece relative to the others that I really enjoyed this restaurant!  Another thing that I enjoy immensely is the absolutely hilarious blog that Amanda Cohen, the chef/creator of Dirt Candy, maintains at http://www.dirtcandynyc.com/ (if you ever want to start a restaurant of your own, make sure you are familiar with the oil rig scam!).

Amanda Cohen is from Canada <3, so here's tributeYessir, we finished everything to the last bite!

 

Les Halles Les Halles Downtown on Urbanspoon – This turn-and-burn French restaurant was once run by Anthony Bourdain, so it seemed like a good place to check out as a traveller.  The venue was bustling when we arrived, with wait staff that seemed to be made up of people from every corner of the Earth.  Service was stellar, with a server seemingly ready to swoop in and refold your napkin anytime you stood up from your table (though I’m used to sub-par service in Calgary, so maybe this is just the norm at any restaurant of note in NYC).  Without Kiran there to induce meat-guilt with his vegetarian visage, Matt and I were free to order dishes to satisfy our inner carnivores – starting with country-style pate, and ordering – what else – NY sirloins for mains.  The pate came out immediately and was absolutely delicious – well spiced and well salted – though country-style chunkiness surprised me, as the pates that I have had in the past had all been blended to be mousse-like.  The mustard that came on the side wasn’t even necessary.  The fries that came out with the steaks were some of the best fries that I’ve ever eaten – just the right mix of fat and potato, fresh, and perfectly crispy.  And mayo with the fries?  My arteries screamed no but my tastebuds quickly overruled them.  As for the steak – incredibly smooth, juicy, and flavourful – I couldn’t ask for more in a steak.  The salad was alright, but honestly I couldn’t care less about that given the quality of the rest of the meal.  To finish it off, we ordered a crepe Suzette – because honestly, who doesn’t love flambee’d shit?  It was quite citrusy and left my mouth with a little tingly sensation, but we ordered it mainly for the show anyway.  A fitting last meal for an incredible trip!

Pate tastes better than it looks - way betterFlambee away!Nothing quite satisfies like a great steak

 

A ten day trip, with 21 places to write about – I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of the smorgasborg that is New York City.  If you’re ever in NYC, hopefully you’ll have the chance to check out these places and enjoy them like I have.  I am sure I will be back again sometime in the future – so if you have any further recommendations on places to check out, be sure to let me know!  If you missed them, you can find part 1 (American food) and part 2 (Asian food) through the links!

These fake postcards are all pictures I took!

Cheers,

-Richard

YYC Food Bloggers Bake Sale!

poster_feb5_web

The poster says it all! Come on down to Casel Marche today or tomorrow to fatten up on delicious treats courtesy of YYC’s food bloggers, and help out Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids while you’re at it!

More information is available on the Facebook event page.

NYC ExTRAVELganza! Part 2: Asian Invasion

While New York City is undoubtedly a mecca of good ol’ American food, it also has a wealth of restaurants that draw their inspiration from international sources – from Venezuela to India to Japan, and everywhere in between.  For whatever reason, we ended up eating at a lot of East Asian places, which was fine by me because almost all of it was friggin’ delicious.  If I ever find myself living in New York, I’m sure it won’t be too long before I begin to resemble this guy.   Here are some highlights:

Republic Republic on Urbanspoon – I wouldn’t have expected a place called “Republic” to be all about Southeast Asian fusion cuisine, but with the Red-Star moniker I guess it’s a reference to the myriad of “republics” that make up that region of the world. From what I remember the food was pretty solid, though I just had a sashimi salad.  They have a very generous “happy hour” – from what I remember, the only evening hours that aren’t encompassed by happy hour are 7-9pm (don’t quote me on that).

Xi’an Famous Foods Xi'an Famous Foods on Urbanspoon – Looks like a hole-in-the-wall, but has its own merchandising! There were Mandarin speakers abound, so you knew the place had the approval of some actual Chinese people – and indeed, the food was pretty damn good! The fresh, hand-cut noodles (or hand-torn, it almost seemed) were nicely springy and the broth was very tasty (even if there was barely any meat in the soup). Pretty good value for NYC from what I could see – one of the few places that we ate at that ran under $10 per person, including a (non-alcoholic) drink.

Many lambs sacrificed their lives so people could enjoy these delicious bunsWe hogged 3 out of the 6 or so seats insideMmmm, spicy noodle soup!

Korilla Korilla BBQ ( Mobile Truck) on Urbanspoon – The food truck made famous through television (and accusations of cheating), Korilla is for some reason tiger-striped instead of gorilla-themed (but hey, it stands out!). We happened upon it when having a pint at The Lot (a nice, if pricey, beer garden/food truck hangout that also featured wine on tap!) This isn’t the only Korean taco truck in the city, but it’s the only one I tried – I really like the concept, but I kind of felt the execution was off. The sauces were good, but the meat and tortillas were rather poor in my opinion. Maybe my perceptions were biased by the fact that I was still more than full from our meal at The Park just minutes earlier.

Sadly The Lot on Tap might not exist anymore, seeing as it is no longer on the High Line websiteDid these Koreans get lost in Mexico? Not quite as tasty as it looks though

Ippudo Ippudo on Urbanspoon – Apparently this ramen place in the lower east side is a pretty big deal, because the first night we went there was a 2-hour wait (we didn’t actually stick around to verify the accuracy of that estimate though). We did wait an hour the second night we went, but were able to kill the time at the bar with some very tasty (if pricey) pork buns and plum wine at the bar.

That's quite the bowl collection you got there, lady!Sake in a box!  Quite customaryNothing beats a nice firm bun stuffed with hot juicy meat

Instructions, in case you don't know how to eat noodles!Is that meant to be some sort of tree in the background?

Perhaps it is because this is the first time I tried this style of bun but I think I liked it more than the much more lauded ones at Momofuku Ssam Bar – the nice light, sweet bun with a bit of may and slightly spicy sauce combined with the super-fatty pork belly is just a great combo. The décor is modern but still very interesting, and with servers ranging from modest and polite Japanese to loud and spunky Japanese. The gyoza chicken wings were hot as Haphaestus (temperature wise) and brimming with juice (excellent!), and the ramen broth is incredible – nodogoshi is noodle nirvana! Unfortunately Matt had to leave early, but fortunately for me I got to eat the remaining half of his order of samurai ribs, which were killer. We finished up with a crepe cake, which is just like it sounds – a big stack of crepes held together with whipped cream. All in all, worth the wait!

Looks like it's straight out of JapanOMG wings stuffed like dumplings!!!They have at least one vegetarian dish, if you're into that sort of thingTonkotsu is the classic pork broth ramenHow many crepes does it take to make a cake?

Num Pang Num Pang on Urbanspoon – This sandwich place close to union square serves sandwiches along the lines of some sort of Southeast Asian country (Cambodia, it seems?) – the takeout window always seemed to have a few people hanging around it so we figured it would be worth checking out. I had a porkbelly sandwich, which was one greasy motherfucker – the “meat” was probably 80% fat, and was dripping like Jabba the Hutt. The wetnap that was provided didn’t even come close to cleaning my hands afterwards, but it was pretty delicious, with some interesting flavours emerging from the pear and Viet sub toppings that were loaded into the bun. I also had the rootin’ tootin’est root beer that I’ve ever had (ie. it had a very rooty flavour), though I don’t remember what brand it was.

Apparently, this place is just called "Sandwich" (in Cambodian)Look at that f*cking grease in the box... and I hadn't even taken a bite yet

Momofuku Ssam Bar Momofuku Ssäm Bar on Urbanspoon – This was one of the $$$ier places that we went, but graciously subsidized by Matt. The Momofuku name seems to be a great success story for its creator David Chang, and based on the Ssam Bar I can see why. They have the coolest (ha ha) ice cubes ever, and hey the food ain’t half bad.

86 Porgies left? (whatever those are...)Everywhere does long benches now for some reasonMomofuku's magical ice cubes! (Plus Kiran's shocker)

We started with some pork buns which surprisingly I enjoyed less than Ippudo’s (maybe because they were less fatty), but they were excellent nonetheless. There was also some bread with lard “butter” – great stuff, though basically tastes like the lard packets that you get with Nissin beef ramen. Matt had ordered us the “Bo Ssam” special – which is something like 4 lbs of the tenderest, melt-in-your-mouth pork butt that you’ll ever have. Eat it up in a fresh lettuce wrap with some absolutely exquisite kimchi (you can even mix in your own raw oyster) – fuckin’ top notch. Definite Recommend, if you got the bones.

Fall off the bone, baby!Good food, good conversationOnly the freshest pickled ingredients here!You call that a wrap? THIS is a wrap!This swan has some disturbing looking bulges coming out of it... better put it out of its misery

Spice Market Spice Market on Urbanspoon – This trendy place in the meatpacking district came as a recommendation to Matt from none other than Lynn Crawford! The lighting is pretty low so you don’t have to worry too much about how underdressed you are compared to everyone else in the restaurant, and the décor somehow manages to look distinctly “Asian” without being a direct ripoff of any particular cultural style. The place seemed pretty classy but the staff was very down-to-earth, and both servers (we had a seamless transition from one to another over the course of the meal) were really friendly and knowledgeable about the food. We started with a couple drinks at the bar while we waited for a table – I had a cherry old fashioned, which was surprisingly sweet but not bad overall.

Did we come underdressed, or was everyone else just way overdressed?Ah, makes me miss the days of the old EmpireHe who controls the Spice, controls the universe

They kick it off by giving you complimentary papad, which was pretty good and comes with a kickass sauce. We grabbed a number of seafood dishes for our meal, since seafood seemed to dominate the menu – black pepper shrimp (nice level of spiciness, depth to it that reminded me of black bean sauce, and a mild moistness in the dried pineapple that accompanied it combined for a great dish), lobster roll (sushi-roll-like in consistency, with a nice tangy sauce but not the best dish of the night), steamed snapper (beautifully moist, mushroomy and minty), and laksa (perfectly done scallop, silky smooth throughout, and plentiful amounts of sweet succulent seafood – nice soup (if a bit light) and beautiful noodles – this dish was absolutely divine!). Something that we ordered came with free white rice (always a plus in my books!), but we also ordered a ginger fried rice that had a nice scallion-rich flavour – and the egg on it was done perfectly medium, which is my metric for a good line cook. We also ordered some eye-wateringly hot wings, that revoked memories of an Indian-Schezuan dish that I once had in Bombay – impressively, there were still some extra tangy flavours that shined through the heat. Kiran had to order a dish of vegetables with the wing sauce (which the restaurant graciously whipped up as a custom order!) just to see what we were raving about! Yeah so this review ended up way longer than I expected – but what can be said, this place was straight up amazing and justified a minor essay. Highly recommend!

This wasn't quite the lobster roll that I was looking forI gotta figure out how to make laksa, 'cause I don't know of where to get it in YYCCustom order of spicy wing sauce veggies, comin' right up!Sometimes a simple fish dish is all you needThese wings were so red-hot that I had to dial back the white balance to compensate!

 

And that’s a wrap!  Next time we’ll be finishing things off with part 3: Sweet Dreams!

-Richard

A Fistful of Ramen: Shikiji Review

Kent and I decided to meet a few friends for dinner before a movie one cold winter evening, so we rushed on over to Shikiji after work. We showed up promptly at 5pm to a completely deserted restaurant – but trendsetters that we are, soon found ourselves leading the evening charge to fill up on noodles and sushi. By the time we left, the place was about as full as you could expect for a Wednesday night – a busy restaurant is a sign of a good restaurant! (though I did recently experience one exception to this rule…)

Pound that sesame!The décor is pleasant, if pretty typical for Japanese restaurants in Calgary – though they have some interesting table elements like garlic chips for snacking/garnishing and sesame seeds that you can grind up into a powder yourself. Another unique touch is the use of reusable laminated order forms where you us a dry-erase marker to record your sushi order, rather than the typical pencil-and-paper system – I’m not sure if this actually benefits the environment in any appreciable manner, but their heart is in the right place!

As we perused the menu, the waiter cheerfully informed us that they also offered a special seafood ramen that was not listed on any of the menus. I wasn’t in the mood for ramen that day, but it did sound rather intriguing – more the reason to come back in the future! No, my attention was fully focused on the unagi don (rice bowl with BBQ eel) – nine solid ounces of sweet, succulent eel! I absolutely love unagi sushi, so I couldn’t go wrong with the unagi don, right?

I don't think humans were meant to consume this quantity of eel in one sitting

The don came out in a rather unassuming bento box, but when the lid was removed the entire eel was displayed in its char-grilled glory. Unfortunately, it does seem like there is such a thing as too much of a good thing – while the eel was relatively smooth in texture, it was a lot firmer and chewier than I was expecting and I soon tired of it after eating a little over half of it. 9oz was definitely overkill for me – it probably would have been better to share it rather than eat it as a singular dish.

That being said, the rest of the food ordered for the table was pretty awesome – from the “autumn roll special” sushi (salmon and tempura sweet potato) to the gargantuan, steaming bowls of chilli-goma ramen. Perhaps it’s because we got there before there was much of a crowd, but most of the food came out really fast (save for the unagi-don, which as the menu warns, takes 15 minutes to prepare).  While they do some decent sushi, Shikiji’s really best known for their ramen, so Kent’s got more the say on the noodle situation below.

It was winter, but luckily they still had the Autumn Roll on the menu

Kent’s 2 Cents

Sure, you can make yourself a bowl of instant noodles for about sixty cents, but that requires intense physical work. You actually have to get water from the tap, put it in the kettle, and wait for at least 3-5 minutes! Pretty outrageous if you ask me. Luckily, there are a few places around town that serve a big cozy bowl of ramen or udon.

Probably the most awkward spoon ever inventedShikiji is priced at the higher end as far as noodle soups go. The chili goma ramen weighs in at almost $15. But in return, the ramen comes with pork, bamboo shoots, and shitake in a chili sesame soup broth. Oh and it has noodles. It is actually quite big, and is fine as its own meal. The spoon is a big wooden ladle, which is also pretty neat. As for the taste, I like. The chili sesame broth is flavourful, rich and salty, which was perfect for surviving the sub zero temperatures that evening. Some might not like the salty broth, but I slurped up half the bowl after the main contents were consumed. Hello high blood pressure. The noodles were fine, not soggy or mushy. People don’t typically get blown away by good noodles (especially when you really just taste the broth and other things), but when they suck people notice. So they were fine.

The only other ramen place (in Calgary anyway) I can compare is Muku on 14th Street. Muku is definitely cheaper, but it is not as flavourful or as enjoyable as Shikiji. And they don’t give you a big wooden ladle either. The Calgary ramen/udon community needs to step it up and catch up with the five bajillion Vietnamese pho houses in the city. I didn’t try the sushi, but it looked nice. I’ll come back.

Chili goma ramen!  This is what Goku gets his special powers from

Summary

Ok, so it isn’t Japan where you can get a bowl of delicious ramen for $2, but in Japan they don’t usually serve you eels the size of your forearm or a bowl of noodles weighing as much as a small baby.  Shikiji delivers some pretty creative and reasonably sized takes on a variety of Japanese dishes, and is definitely worth a visit if you’ve got a hankering for some ramen and some cash to spare.

^_^ – Richard

Ranking

  Richard Kent
Ambiance 5/6 5/6
Service 4.5/6 4.5/6
Plating 5/6 5/6
Taste 5/6 5/6
Authenticity 5/6 5/6
Value 4/6 4/6
Overall 28.5/36 = 79% 28.5/36 = 79%

Shikiji Japanese Noodles and Sushi on Urbanspoon

NYC ExTRAVELganza! Part 1: America, F*ck Yeah!

New year, New York!  Actually, this trip was from last September, but as I am a procrastinator extraordinaire, I just now got around to compiling all my notes into an article – however it turned out to be so much content that I decided to break it down into a three-part series.  Kiran and I went to visit my friend Matt in NYC, and naturally food was a big part of the trip – luckily for us, Matt had lived there for several months already and had a number of stellar recommendations for places to try.

Writing a full review about each of the places that I ate at would take an eternity, so I’ll try to keep things in bite-sized pieces!  This first article covers all the classic American food joints that I had the joy of sampling – burgers, hot dogs, pizza, pastrami – all the greasy goodness that you could hope for, and more!

The Smith Smith on Urbanspoon – My first dinner in NYC was at a place in the east village called The Smith – classic American food in a trendy setting. It seemed pretty busy for 9:30PM (though I would soon learn that this is the norm in NYC) but we were still able to grab a seat reasonably quickly. The short ribs were the fattest that I’d ever seen and were absolutely delicious – though unfortunately I only got a taste because Matt had ordered that (I had the “sticky ribs” – St. Louis style – which were pretty good but not mindblowing). The grits here are like eating pure butter with a bit of cornmeal thrown in (a bit rich for my taste), but the biscuit was really quite good (and I don’t even like biscuits normally). The waiter had no idea how to describe the Rare Vos beer that I ordered though – at least he could have told me that it was from Belgium!

[Sorry no pics! As if this page wasn’t long enough already…]

Luke’s Lobster Luke's Lobster on Urbanspoon – There’s not many times that I would be willing to put down 16 hard-earned bones for a sandwich the size of a hot dog, but the lobster roll from Luke’s convinced me to do it – twice! Even though they’re expensive as fuck, they are goddamn delicious – they pretty much fit an entire lobster’s worth of meat (though there’s no tail meat – so multiple lobsters worth of claws) into the nicely toasted bun. This place also introduced me to the wonders of pairing pickles with crab claws, as well as the sweet sweet taste of sarsaparilla (one of many Maine root sodas that they offer). Their Lower East Side location has a punk rock/maritime thing going for it, though they also have a food truck kicking around NYC that I saw but didn’t have adequate stomach space to try. Highly Recommend! (if you aren’t a dirt-poor student, a vegetarian, allergic to shellfish, or for some godforsaken reason someone who dislikes lobster)

Somethin' stronger? Sarsparilla!LOBSTER MAGNET

Park Park on Urbanspoon – Just off the highline in the fashionable Chelsea district, this spacious place has a classy lounge atmosphere from eras gone by (except filled with hipsters). The Old Fashioned that I got at the bar wasn’t the greatest nor the cheapest, but helped kill the time while we waited for an actual seat (it seemed to be pretty understaffed, given that it seemed like 1/5 of the tables were empty yet it still took us 20 minutes to get a table). I greatly appreciated the fact that their free bread was banana bread, but wasn’t a huge fan of the degassed water that they had as the table water. I ordered some brisket and eggs, which wasn’t too bad and reminded me of Chinese-style anise-heavy braised brisket. The smoked salmon on bagels was really solid as well – perfect proportion of toppings (capers, arugula, cream cheese, onions) and the bagel itself was nicely toasted. I had a bite of Matt’s burger and was instantly converted to being a proponent of medium-rare burgers.

Their burger is solid thoughPark lox and capers - sexy!Looks simple, tastes simple (brisket)

Papaya King Papaya King on Urbanspoon – Apparently papaya joints are a big thing in NYC, with joints like Grey’s Papaya featuring in several shows. Papaya King claims to have started it all, and Kent said it was a must visit – so visit I did! Can’t say I’m the biggest fan – the papaya juice was pretty good, except for the tasteless, pasty dregs at the bottom, and the hot dogs were among the worst that I’ve ever had. I honestly think that I might have preferred the free cook-your-own hotdogs that you can get at paintball over these. The onions were in some kind of bizarre red sauce and the buns were “toasted” to the point of dryness. I quite liked the various motivational signs, nutritional information and propaganda that they had inside though.

The ORIGINAL Papaya King!I don't know why New Yorkers seem to love these thingsYou can get juices other than papaya too, but why take a chance?

Shake Shack Shake Shack (Madison Square Park) on Urbanspoon – Can you get more American than burgers, fries and milkshakes? Shake Shack was one of the places that I received recommendations for from multiple people, and for good reason! We went to the original one in Madison Square Park, and while the 55+ person lineup looked a little concerning it moved at a pretty good pace (took about 30 minutes from entering the line to receiving our food). Worth it? HELLS YES. The meat is absolutely amazing – done a tender, juicy medium – though the buns are only alright. The ripple-cut fries were pretty solid too, with just the right crispiness – and though the shakes are rather pricey the creamsicle one is rather delicious. I’m not sure if it tasted so good because we had to wait so long for it, but if so maybe this is party of their strategy!  Highly Recommend!

Mmmm, mmmm, medium :)Nice day for a stroll in the park... WHAT'S THAT, SHAKE SHACK?!?!Those big deep-fried things are portabello mushrooms stuffed with cheese!

Katz’s Deli Katz's Deli on Urbanspoon – Another one of those famous places where lineups are de rigueur – they got lots of neon signs and a strange “one per person only!” ticket ordering system for all your kitschy needs. When you look at their menu, you might think “$20 for a sandwich and a soda? You gotta be kiddin’ me!” But you should probably plan to split it or come with an athlete’s appetite, because the pastrami sandwich here comes loaded with what seems like a solid pound of succulent meat. Smooth, moist, thick-cut and perfectly salted – THIS is pastrami! Plus they give you an entire cucumber AND and entire pickle (quartered, of course) – so all in all it even turns out to be pretty decent value!

This must rival Schwartz's Montreal Smoked meat sandwiches for meat:bread ratioThis was at ~3pm - is it ever NOT busy?

Crif Dogs Crif Dogs on Urbanspoon – Brooklyn’s answer to Tubby Dog? Ok, I guess they’ve been open for longer than Tubby Dog, but sorry dudes this is one where I think YYC does it better. Not to say Tubby Dog is some sort of gourmet joint, but when it comes to the toppings Crif Dogs looks somewhat tame in comparison. We went to the Crif Dogs in Williamsburg (not sure if they’re all the same), which was all hip-hop and hot dogs (well plus the dozens of Star Wars figurines for which I must give major kudos) – seemed cool enough, but unfortunately the hot dogs are NYC style (read: tiny sausages). I ordered the BLT dog, which wasn’t bad but wasn’t anything special – basically, it was exactly what it sounds like, a hot dog with bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo. The late 80’s/early 90’s videos that they were showing on their TV were kind of cute though.

Even bacon, lettuce and tomatoes cannot make a happy dog out of NYC frankfurtersWho doesn't love arcade tables? Crif is stylin' at least

Grimaldi’s Pizzeria Grimaldi's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon – Unlike Kiran, I enjoy doing super-touristy things, so I dragged Matt along to check out this famous symbol of NY-style pizza. There was a pretty healthy-looking lineup when we arrived, but fortunately we cruised through in around 35 minutes – not too bad since I’ve heard people will often wait over an hour to get a seat. They really play up their Italian background here, with a seriously Sicilian-looking doorman and the motto “I’m gonna make you a pizza you can’t refuse.” As for the pizza – yep, it’s pretty damn good. Piping hot, delectable cheese and great crust – the only downside is the somewhat steep price. We ordered 2 toppings for each half of the pizza, though they charge you the same price for each topping whether it’s for the whole pizza or half, so the toppings cost almost as much as the base price of the pizza itself. Fortunately, they are reasonably generous with the toppings so perhaps they give you the same amount of toppings either way and just concentrate it on half of the pizza. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to compare this to other coal-fired institutions such as Lombardi’s or Patsy’s, but regardless I’ll give Grimaldi’s a thumbs up (as long as you don’t mind tourists).

Gracious doorman or mobster bouncer?  You decide!Kiran saw this line and said "fuck it"Pizza worth it's wait in minutes

 

Whew!  That’s it for this episode – tune in next week for part 2: Asian Invasion!

-Richard

Review of Don Day: The Gritty Underbelly of Korean BBQ

Are you sure this place isn't called "On Ay?"

Summary: abound with Asian crews of all ethnicities and the very definition of “hole in the wall”, Don Day delivers on the ambiance, but doesn’t shine as brightly in the food arena.

As far as hole-in-the-walls go, Don Day certainly looks like it should rank amongst the seediest – just a block down from the "Crack Macs", with a sign with 1/3 of the letters missing and the steamy, delicious smells of meat and grease emanating from its cramped interior.  Sounds like the perfect place to feature in our blog!  Kiran, Kent and I stopped in for a quick bite and a bit to drink a while back, though we didn’t have enough time for a multi-course meal.

Glorious 7th Ave

We were probably the only non-Koreans thereUpon taking our seats/stools around the crusty table/BBQ pit, we perused the picture of food mounted along the wall – there were some rather intriguing-looking dishes, including what appeared to be a rack of bacon.  I made a mental note that we would have to come back to try that!

As usual, Kiran opened with a question about vegetarian options, which prompted the waitress to turn around and march out the front door (that had to be the most confused I have ever seen a server –Kiran).  Luckily, she did return, though bringing with her the unfortunate news (for Kiran) that none of the soups were vegetarian friendly – all of them have either a meat or seafood base (although, to be fair, the mark of an authentic Asian restaurant is the lack of vegetarian options –Kiran).  Kent and I decided to split the Gam Ja Tang – Pork and Potato soup – while Kiran ordered some sort of omelette that resembled the egg that you occasionally find on sushi (and it turned out to be pretty delicious – nothing spectacular, but delicious nonetheless –Kiran).

Thank god for the ketchup!The soup came out mere seconds after ordering, indicating that they probably have huge quantities of it stewing in the back.  It didn’t have quite the same foliage as the picture of it, sadly, but there was definitely a good helping of meat.  If you’ve ever eaten the meat off of a soup-bone that was used to prepare a broth or stock, you’d have a good idea of what this pork was like – melt-in-your-mouth tender, but without much flavour as most of it was boiled into the soup.  The worst thing about the soup was that there was only a SINGLE potato in it – I must admit, normally it would be impressive to have a dish with more meat in it than all of the vegetables/starch combined but when you’re sharing a dish (which is almost a requirement, given how ginormous it is) you don’t expect to have to fight over the potato.

There are at least THREE potatoes in this picture!Looks spicier than it is

A handy tip for handling your soup, if you happen to order it – DON’T hold on to your metal bowl while you are filling it with boiling-hot soup!  Kent had to learn this the hard way.  There’s a gas stove provided so that you can keep your soup boiling hot for the duration of your stay, which is something my dad would certainly appreciate (he loves his food piping hot).

Jinro time, muthaf*ckersOf course, a visit here wouldn’t be complete without some Korean spirits – so we grabbed a bottle of soju as well as a bottle of yellow rice wine to try out.  The rice wine was actually surprisingly pleasant, and quite sweet (rice wine is made from rice, koji, ginseng, ginger and other Asian ingredients I don’t know how to pronounce; it tasted like watered down horchata to me -Kiran). The soju, as usual, was insidiously subtle in taste but higher in alcohol content than you would suspect.

All-in-all, Don Day has some decent soup and looks like it would be a solid place for Korean BBQ as well – just make sure you don’t wear your work clothes when you come, because you’ll never be able to get the grease out (unless you are a greasy motherfucker like Richard in the first place – then it wouldn’t matter –Kiran).

-Richard

Ranking

Richard
Ambiance N/A But awesome
Service 3/6
Plating 5/6 For the stove!
Taste 3.5/6 Soup only, BBQ not rated
Authenticity 6/6
Value 4.5/6
Overall 22/30 = 73%

Don Day Korean on Urbanspoon