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Category Archives: Restaurant Review

Sushi for breakfast: Eating the world’s freshest fish from Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market

If you are seeking the freshest seafood on the planet, look no further than Sushi Dai, located at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. Tsukiji is the largest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world, and pretty much everything caught in the area will be sold through here. This is the same fish that is eventually sold to restaurants across Tokyo, so the seafood is that fresh. sushi daisushi dai

Having it for breakfast is almost not an option, since it is usually a 2-3 hour wait in line to get into the 12-seat restaurant. We woke up at 3AM on a Friday to make sure that we would get into the fish auction, which is held every morning here at Tsukiji. They only let about two groups of 50 people each in to view the auction, so its better safe than sorry. Rows of frozen tuna will be first inspected for quality and size, and then for 20-30 minutes, each slab is auctioned off for thousands of dollars, before it gets portioned off and sent to the winning restaurants. My friends and I didn’t even hit the lineup for Sushi Dai until about 6AM, and I don’t think we got inside until 8:30-9AM.

sushi daisushi dai

The four of us all got the Chef’s choice. At 3900 yen (about $40 CAD at the time of this writing), you get 10 pieces of nigiri chosen by the chef, one roll, and one nigiri of your choice. It sounds like a lot of money for 12 pieces of sushi, but the entire meal is really filling, and the quality of the fish is completely worth it.

sushi dai

Everyone is seated right in front of the three chefs working. Not only are you entertained by the work of art that is created in front of you, but the chefs are humorous and engaging, chatting with every customer. They are definitely used to tourists. Each sushi is made one at a time: the chef makes it, places the single piece on your plate, and waits for you to finish before the next one is made. There is the standard fare, like fatty tuna and shrimp. And there is stuff that is just uncommon here in landlocked Alberta, like mackerel and sea urchin. If you’re wondering exactly how fresh some of this sushi is, well the clam is still moving when the chef places it on your plate. Back home in Alberta, squid at a sushi restaurant is usually tough and hard to chew. Here, your teeth slices right through like butter.

sushi daisushi daisushi dai

Was the 3 hour wait worth it? Definitely. But if I ever return to Tokyo, I don’t think I will do it again since there are plenty of restaurants at Tsukiji of almost equal quality. Maybe I am too impatient. If you already plan on visiting the fish auction, you might as well swing by Sushi Dai right after.

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Paloma Family Restaurant: Calgary’s Answer to Shitty Latin American Cuisine?

Summary: A great little family restaurant tucked away in a NE strip mall with friendly service and decent food.

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Paloma’s been on my hit list for a while. Most people have given up on Mexican food in Calgary, but I have not. In my quest to find that one little Mexican restaurant that can, I continue on. Paloma is not a "true Mexican” restaurant in that they serve up a range of Latin American dishes, but the focus is definitely on Mexican food.

When we finally made it there on that blistery day, Richard and I were pretty bemused to find that the restaurant co-existed with a lounge/bar right next to it. Kinda like Africana Eatery and Cheers Pub which is a full-blown restaurant….with a pub on the side. Things were looking promising…

The interior was pleasing but ultimately typical of authentic restaurant that no longer fall in the "hole in the wall" category.

Paloma Interior

The best word I can use to describe it would be "chintzy". It wasn’t overly gaudy, but at the same time, it wasn’t anything to write home about. It was the like the whole place was designed for short people. You looked up one foot and the decor changed from the typical hacienda to just a black ceiling with piping sticking out. There was also a giant 55" flat screen TV in the corner showing static to simulate that authentic Mexican taqueira feeling. The funny part was that there was TV in the exact opposite corner that was working just fine!

Kiran’s Take

The waitress brought out the standard green salsa with tortilla chips. The salsa was actually quite delicious with a nice spicy kick to it. We ordered guacamole as an appetizer as well, and unlike the one at Fine Diner, this one was actually good. Maybe just as good as the one at Anejo. I found myself licking the bowl clean with my fingers, so that’s usually a good sign. It was the right amount of tangy and salty. Perfect.

salsa, green salsa, authentic mexicanbest mexican, best guacamole, calgary

Paloma actually had a surprisingly large amount of vegetarian dishes. I wanted to try Chilaquiles which is kinda this deep fried goodness of tortilla chips topped with cheese, onion, and salsa, but for some reason, they were "out of it". Which doesn’t make sense…who runs out of tortilla chips in a Mexican restaurant? Anyways, I ended up ordered enchiladas for 13.95. At first it seemed pricey, but it was a good sized dish that came with rice and refried beans on the side. It was a hearty meal. There was nothing out of the ordinary about the meal, but at the same time, I was stuffing my mouth with all that delicious salsa goodness. For a shitty -20 deg C Calgary night, it was very satisfying meal.


 

Richard’s Ruminations

For some reason, we have gotten into the habit of going to restaurants shortly before closing hour – in the case of Paloma, we strolled in around 8:30 while a large Spanish-speaking group seemed to be wrapping up a banquet of sorts.  Upon being seated, our Colombian waitress asked us if we spoke Spanish, as she didn’t have much confidence in her English – but it turned out to be passable (certainly orders of magnitude better than our Spanish).  The decor was an odd mix of pseudo-classy and 80’s ethnic restaurant – strangely charming

While we perused the menu, we were served some chips and house salsa – a nice smooth green salsa with a good kick, served severely chilled.  We ordered a guacamole to start, which turned out to be a great decision – garlicy, oniony and bowl-licking good.  I was having a little trouble deciding which main dish to pick out of their vast selection, but in the end decided on the Puntas de Filete a la Mexicana con Tequila – fajita-like dish comprising of sautéed steak tips, peppers and onions.  It was quite the mouthful to say, and as it turned out, many mouthfuls on the plate.  Unsurprisingly, rice and beans came as standard sides – the rice was quite nice, but the beans unremarkable.  The beef for my fajita was sadly mediocre, being overdone and with little flavour – though the peppers and onions were done very well, which helped salvage the dish.

December 4 008

While I wasn’t that impressed with my fajitas, the menu is varied enough to make me want to give it another shot in the future.

Summary

Paloma is like an upgraded version of Rico’s Tacos…if Rico’s Tacos managed to not get shot up in 5 years (we think it’s a front for selling drugs…but hey, the food is good, so who cares, right?). Like most ethnic restaurants, Paloma offers a huge and varied menu, so I wouldn’t mind going back to check out their Chilean dishes. While the food itself was nothing overly exciting, I had a pretty delicious and filling meal. Paloma is no Anejo, but it’s certainly no Julio’s Barrio either. The secret is in the salsa …

Ranking

Criteria

Kiran

Richard

Ambiance 3/5 3.5/5
Service 4/5 4/5
Taste 3.5/5 3.5/5
Originality Authenticity 4/5 4/5
Value 3.5/5 3.5/5
TOTAL 18/25 = 72% 18.5/25 = 73%

Paloma Family Restaurant on Urbanspoon

SO Much Tequila, Thanks NAFTA! An Intimate Review of Anejo, Calgary’s Newest Mexican Restaurant

Summary: An upscale casual Mexican-themed restaurant in Mission serving up delicious food along side Canada’s largest tequila menu. Prepare to be impressed.

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When I heard the newest kid on the restaurant block was a Mexican-themed restaurant from the owners of The Living Room, I was immediately intrigued. Calgary doesn’t have too many (good) Mexican restaurants in the first place, much less upscale casual ones, so I had to check it out. And it was worth it.

DSC01496Kent and I showed up on a bustling Friday night (Richard bitched out at a work xmas party) to their newly opened Mission location. Even though it was miserable weather, it was pretty hard to miss the only restaurant on the street, nay Calgary, with a huge flower-adorned skull next to the restaurant name.

We had to line up for about 10-15 min. before getting seated as the place was packed, but the restaurant has a pretty wide indoor "staging area" so you don’t have to freeze your ass off in winter. The restaurant itself was a Anejo,  Mission, Calgary, Mexicobit too dimly lit for my liking but maybe they are going for the lounge effect. The wall immediately to the right is adorned with Mexican artwork and the wall on the far back with all kinds of awesome tequila. Overall, the feeling is that of an upscale restaurant for a classy dinner date or a lounge where you can hang out with your mates and get trashed on expensive tequila. Either way, it works.

Kent & I decided to start off with the guacamole and tortilla chips while figuring out what to order from Anejo’s extensive tequila menu, which according to the server, is the largest in Canada (that’s when you know you have kinda made it as a city). The food menu, which was quite extensive, offers a more contemporary twist on traditional Mexican cuisines while still retaining some of the authentic flavours and customs. For instance, the guacamole was served in a lava-rock mortar and prepared table-side as we were watching. It’s also got the only restaurant in Calgary (maybe Western Canada?) that serves cactus in a salad. Awesome.

Anejo, Mexican, Mission, CalgaryWhile waiting for our appetizer, we went through the pretty massive tequila menu. For those who don’t know much about tequila other than the Jose Cuervo crap you shot as a university student, there’s five distinct types: blanco,  joven, reposado, and anejo. Blanco is the clear tequila that most people are familiar with; joven is a mixture of blanco and reposado,  reposado is any tequila that’s been aged for a minimum of 2 months, but less than 12 months in any oak barrel; and anejo is tequila that has been aged for a minimum of one year, but maximum of three in small oak barrels. There’s also the extra-anejo which is aged for a minimum of three years in oak barrels, but that tends to be not as common…and way more expensive.

Anejo, Mexican, Living Room, Mission, Calgary The guac is the best we have ever eaten. Made fresh at the table in a lava-rock mortar, the only way to top this is for the staff to fly you to an avocado farm and hand feed it to you. Its fresh.  Never has there been guacamole this good in Calgary – flavoured with nothing but serrano/jalapeno salt, onions, and tomatoes, and lime juice, this was nothing if not finger-licking good. Seriously. I was literally scraping the last bits of guacamole in the mortar with my finger and licking it dry – it was that good! My only complaint was that there wasn’t enough dip for the amount of chips given.

Kiran’s Judgement

Anejo, Tequila, Reposado, Blanco, Mission, Calgary, MexicanAnejo offers three 1 oz. drink flights. I ordered a "Vertical Flight" which means I got to sample one type of tequila (resposado) from three different distilleries (Asombroso, Excellia, and Baluarte). The cost of a flight is the total of each drink minus a $4 discount, so depending on the drinks in your flight, it can get expensive pretty quick.

I loved my flights. My favourite was definitely the Excellia which had a hint of sweetness and went down real smooth. My palate isn’t developed enough to pick up other aromas and flavours, but I am working on it (while writing this article ;D). It’s too bad Excellia isn’t sold at my local Co-op otherwise I would have bought it by now!

For the main course, I went with veggie tacos and chills rellenos. The former came with six, SIX different types of salsas and hot sauces. I was too wasted by the time the food came out to remember the names…all I remember is I couldn’t have enough of the hot sauces and the salsas. I rolled my eyes when the server was emphatic about the salsas packing a punch, but I take it back. I was pretty impressed by the amount of heat AND flavour each salsa or hot sauce packed. If that wasn’t enough, Anejo’s Executive Chef also has a house GHOST PEPPER hot sauce which I was super-impressed with – it wasn’t crazy hot like the store-bought ones and at the same time, packed lots of flavour. Hats off, sir.

Salsa, hot sauce, piquante, mexican, anejo, missionSalsa, hot sauce, piquante, mexican, anejo, mission

The chills rellenos was also pretty fantastic. I have never had one with rice before, so it was an interesting take on it. The rice had too much bite for my liking, but apart from that, it was a tasty and well-made dish. I have now had chills rellenos from every Mexican restaurant I have been too, and this one, IMHO, is the best out there. Well done.

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Kent’s 2 Cents

I’m not much of a tequila drinker and was hesitant to try their high-end selection. I tried the "Horizontal Flight" where I got to try blanco, reposado, and anejo varieties from one distillery (Centinella). Although I couldn’t tell much of a difference between reposado and anejo, I can definitely confirm that its better tasting than the nightclub tequila shots, which I’m pretty sure is just low-octane gasoline. I’m moving up in the world.

I was very impressed with the selection of sauces for the tacos – all made in house and there was something for everyone. A few forgiving ones, but mostly very hot and enjoyable. The ghost pepper sauce was incredibly spicy, but in a way that still had flavor and didn’t burn your digestive tract.

The tequila mac & cheese came out in a very large portion. I unfortunately was not hungry anymore after having the guacamole and tacos. The cheese was rich and creamy, but it was a bit salty for my taste. The panko sprinkled on the top was a nice touch, I think it should be used on everything. I wanted to finish it, but just couldn’t by this point.

Salsa, hot sauce, piquante, mexican, anejo, mission

Summary

I think I have my new favourite restaurant in town. From classy drinks to good comfort food, Anejo has it all. Even though it was a packed house, the service was top notch and on par with the food. The fact that they are doing something different from other typical ethnic eateries always excites me. Anejo is going to do to Mexican what Mango Shiva did to Indian – upscale, trendy, and the place to be. A definite must-see!

-Kiran

RANKING

Kiran

Kent

Ambiance 4/5 5/5
Service 5/5 4.5/5
Taste 4.5/5 4.5/5
Originality 4/5 4.5/5
Value 3.5/5 3.5/5
TOTAL 21/25 = 84% 22/25 = 88%

Anejo Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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.

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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.

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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

No Monkeying Around – A Review Of MONKI Breakfast Club & Bistro

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There’s no such thing as too many brunch places. You can say that about pizzerias. You can say that about schwarma joints. And you can say that about Vietnamese restaurants, but most people would universally agree that there is no such thing as too many brunch places. At least in Calgary anyways.

So A. and I woke up early one Saturday morning to check out the newest kid on the brunch block – Monki Bistro. They are located just opposite off the Community Natural Foods and occupy a pretty cozy spot at the corner of 10th Ave and 12th St SW. We got there at 10ish and it was already packed, but luckily for us, there was room at the kitchen counter which was fine by me as I love open-concept kitchens that open up to the entire restaurant – it’s like getting a front row seat to your favourite band. We got there in good time too, cause as soon as we were seated, a huge line-up started, most of whom didn’t get seated until we left…two hours later.

"Cozy" would be an understatement when describing this place. I don’t think I have ever been to a tinier restaurant. Shit-hole Korean restaurant Don Day, by comparison, is palatial. Nonetheless, the cozy atmosphere coupled with primate-art adorning walls and large windows that let in plenty of natural light gave this place a kind of a "happening" buzz. Not quite the same happening vibe you get from OEB or Una, but somewhere halfway in between. It’s getting there.

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One of the main reasons I wanted to check out Monki was for their Banana and Frangelico cream cheese-stuffed French toast topped with Nutella and condensed milk (yes, you read that right). Who wouldn’t want to try that? However, I don’t like sweet breakfast options, so I convinced A. to order it (with empty promises of sharing my order) whereas I went with a burrata, vine ripe tomato, arugula, pesto olive oil  & balsamic panini. As soon as the server left, an absolutely mouth-watering eggs benedict dish of some sort went past us, making me instantly regret my order. Oh well, I guess I have an excuse to go back again.

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The dishes were well plated, but the stuffed French toast in particular looked like a thick piece of steak. I don’t know if others would find that comparison tasty, but that’s the first thing that came to my mind. Interestingly, based on what my eyes saw and what I had read about that dish, my mind was expecting something super-rich and sweet. However, kinda like eating dark chocolate, my taste buds were deceived and disappointed. It’s a bit of a mind-fuck, but a delicious, well-balanced piece of mind-fuck. Otherwise, you would have a hard time finishing the dish. Eating a whole jar of Nutella sounds delicious, until about your 10th spoonful. After that, you are just shitting out Nutella. A thick, gooey, dark-brown Nutella.

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Next up was the panini and this dish definitely grew on me so much so that I really enjoyed it by the last bite. The panini was a much mellower and earthier dish compared to the stuffed French-toast. Furthermore, I made the mistake of eating the side salad that came with a balsamic dressing. The latter was way too overpowering for the panini. The panini was pretty much toast after the first bite of salad – all I tasted was the texture of the bread and cheese. However, the panini gradually began replacing the taste of the balsamic vinaigrette towards the end and I really started enjoying the earthy taste of the cheese, arugula, and pesto.

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The food was good and delicious, but it lacked the "wow" factor for some reason. A. made the very insightful observation that the dishes weren’t balanced properly. So, for instance, the stuffed French-toast was delicious, but it was too much of a good thing. It could have used some hash browns or toast on the side. Same with the panini – the balsamic vinaigrette was simply too overwhelming thus upsetting the balance of the dish. If Monki gets this balance right, my gut feel is that it will become a solid hit.

When you show up to a new restaurant with a camera, the staff pay attention, no matter how inconspicuous you try to be. The main chef chatted me up during a brief lull and we got talking. Monki is run by a pair of chefs/owners/brothers who previously used to run the Italian-joint Gnocchi’s Ristorante (which has a 90% "Like" rating on UrbanSpoon.com). Apparently, one of their reasons for wanting to start a bistro was having a more stable 9-5 pm schedule in addition to cooking a different type and style of food. It also explains the heavily Italian-influenced menu.

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One major thing to note: it took us two hours from time we got seated to when we got out. Unfortunately, the food did take a while to come out. The kitchen was working pretty deftly, but they are still working out their timings and rhythm, especially in that tiny, tiny kitchen (think food truck tiny). Typically, in most brunch places, the line-ups are much longer than how long it takes the food to come out, but either way, you are looking at around 1.5-2 hours before you have paid your bill and are on your way out. Monki is no different, except here, the food takes much longer to come out.DSC00707

No one’s really heard about Monki yet, but I suspect as the word of mouth spreads and they get even busier, they will have to do a better job with getting the food out faster. Also, like most brunch places, you have to wait in line again at the end of your meal to pay before you are on your way out. This is extremely frustrating, but only Vendome has managed to find a solution for this. Either way, I am definitely looking forward to going back there to try their eggs benedict.

Ranking

Ambiance 4/5
Service 4/5
Originality 4/5
Taste 3.5/5
Value 3/5
TOTAL 19.5/25 = 76%

Until next time. PO, b.

-Kiran

MONKI Breakfastclub & Bistro on Urbanspoon

Review of ABC Restaurant (HK-style breakfast & brunch)

Summary: A cheap, quick, efficient restaurant in Chinatown that will satisfy your hunger without breaking your bank account

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I randomly stumbled upon ABC on Urbanspoon.com and was instantly enamoured by it;s apparently HK-style breakfast & brunch theme. Any place that serves instant noodles for breakfast gets instantly booted to the top of my priority list.

We got there on a busy Sunday morning in Chinatown to find this pretty packed place . I didn’t have to hang around too long before being seated. It felt a bit awkward initially being the only unshaven brown guy in a Chinese restaurant, but in general, no one stared too much – now I know how white people feel in ethnic restaurants…haha.

Service was pretty quick and efficient. To avoid confusion, you write your order down on a piece of paper a la sushi restaurants. Every order comes with a choice of two toppings. A hot drink is included in the total price; you pay an extra $1 if you want to upgrade to a cold drink. James and I ended up getting the Yin and Yang which is a 50/50 combo of coffee and tea:

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I have never had a coffee/tea mix before so was pleasantly surprised by how good it was. There was some definite hints of chicory (roasted endive roots) as far as I could tell, as that’s what Indian coffee tastes like. My parents pooh-pooh any coffee without chicory as that is what most coffee grinds in India are cut with. This is pure irony cause originally chicory was added to make up for the coffee shortage during the French Civil War – it was found to add body and flavour to the coffee.

Food wise, there weren’t too many vegetarian options (as expected) so I went with the instant noodles in a spicy szechuan soup base with mushrooms. The noodle soup looked pretty enticing with the veggies, noodles, spices, and oil all floating in a delicious turmeric-tinged harmony:

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Alas, the noodle soup wasn’t as flavourful as I would have liked it or expected it to be. I had to top it up with sambal and salt to bring more “oompf” to the the dish. I would expect a szechuan soup base to have packed more flavour and oompf.

I also got congee for no real reason except that I felt like having some and it was $2.95. It’s tough being a high-roller with so many options in front of you:

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The congee, although really plain (there were no options for vegetarian toppings), was actually pretty delicious. It was the right texture, consistency and saltiness. And for $2.95, it was large enough to fill an entire developing nation…so pretty good value for your money.

James decided to get the Malaysian-style Beef Brisket Curry, which was a simple dish cooked in authentic Malaysian style.

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Like my own dishes, ABC didn’t skimp out on the portion sizes or the meat. He also found it less spicier than the one he had in Singapore, and even though it was a bit on the oilier side, all the spices were well balanced and the meat was tender and moist. His only complaint was that it was on the pricier side for Chinatown. At first, I found this comment odd, but then I realized James is brown, so anything > $0 is “a bit on the pricey-side” for him…hahahaha

I was pretty disappointed though with the lack of HK-style buns or toast. That was the one thing I was looking forward to after reading about it over at For the Love Of. Maybe I didn’t know how to order, but it seems like a lot of menu items that For the Love Of or Elsie Hui talked about are no longer offered. I confirmed this with our server who mentioned that the menu had changed from the previous iteration a while ago. It appears that there has been a change in ownership, and with that, some of the more HK-themed items are no longer available.

Summary

Although ABC didn’t quite have all the items I was looking for, it was nonetheless a cost-efficient and quick meal. With the change in ownership, I don’t think it’s quite the beloved restaurant it used to be and doesn’t offer the baked goods that it was known for. Other than that, it was a pretty decent meal for the price paid!

Ranking

Kiran

Ambiance 3.5/5
Service 4.5/5
Taste 3/5
Originality 3/5
Value 5/5
TOTAL 19/25 = 76%

ABC Bakery & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Review of Clive Burger

Summary: Another hip burger joint. 

CLIVE BURGERS CALGARY 17

So. Burgers are all the rage now. They are the new pizza. There’s even an entire food blog dedicated to reviewing just burgers. Clive Burger is the latest addition to the scene that has been dominated so far by places like Rocky’s Burger Bus and Boogie’s Burgers.

Occupying the former space of Wok Box, Clive Burger aims to bring hipster cool to the latest trend in the yyc food scene. The front of the house reminded me of a sushi lounge or ramen noodle house in Japan:

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If you are in a group, you can sit in a booth that is adorned with hip burger-joint art (that`s right, I just created my own genre of art):

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I loved the interior space – it was bright and inviting – as food for me is a total sensory experience. The ambiance definitely plays a factor in the overall experience.

Calgary-20120511-00218You order your custom burger off a giant “menu” and pick your own toppings too. Kinda like Subway for burgers. I dig it. If you are feeling extra hungry or just want to carbo-load before that big 10k run the next day, you can order a “custard shake” for $5. AND if that wasn’t enough, you can wash it all down with some beer on tap (from Village Brewery; they also have other wine and beer). For the vegetarians and celiacs out there, Clive also serves up any burger 100% vegetarian or gluten-free. I approve.

Once you order, the burger goes through an “assembly line” of line cooks that construct your burger with the love and care a greasy fat guy with a cigarette in his mouth cannot possibly match.

 

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Kiran’s Thoughts

Calgary-20120511-00225I ordered the double cheese burger with the vegetarian patty along with a vanilla custard shake as I was feeling extra frisky that day. For my burger toppings, I went with friend onions, pickles, lettuce, tomatoes and Swiss cheese all topped off with hot sauce and Clive sauce.

The custard shake came out right away and it was downright sinful how good it was. Song said it was like drinking liquid egg tarts. Kent said it was like drinking ice cream.

I say it was fucking delicious.

We got our burgers to go and find a spot outside to enjoy a nice sunny spring day in the City. I eagerly bit into my burger expecting to find glory, but alas, I only tasted mediocrity. Don’t get me wrong, it was a solid burger, but there was nothing that stood out. The bun was a bit soggy, and the patty (although well seasoned) wasn’t crispy on the outside that gives one the satisfying crunch of biting into a mean burger. I liked the Clive sauce though, as it was nice and garlicky and had a mild vinegary pucker to it that I wasn’t expecting.

Overall, a pretty solid burger and and shake that satisfied my hunger.     

Richards’s Ruminations

Burgers, beers, Battlestar Galactica.  This is what you can look forward to grabbing at the slick-looking Clive Burger on 17th ave (ok, maybe not Battlestar [That’s only at Dickens pub during Sled Island -Kiran]).  There seems to be a bit of a burger boom going on in Calgary these days, much in the way that thin-crust pizza places have been all the rage in the past few years.  Clive Burger punches in with their own sustainability-focused take on the classic burger joint, proudly touting their organic food sources and offering fully-recyclable or compostable containers and utensils.  Even the straws and stickers are biodegradable apparently. In fact, they don’t even have a "trash" container within the store.  The simple line cartoons and modern minimalistic design make it seem like a place that would fit in nicely in Vancouver.

For some reason, they have an absolutely enormous staff – perhaps this is only apparent due to the open-kitchen layout, but maybe they are also big on the social sustainability and are looking to generate as many jobs as feasible ;)  Even though their staff is substantial, this isn’t exactly a "fast" food joint – burgers are freshly prepared, and they can take quite some time to come out.  Luckily, the cashiers issue you a buzzer that vibrates when your food is ready to pick up, so you can sit and sip your beer with your friends instead of having to huddle around anxiously at the pickup counter.

Visually, the burgers sort of resemble the ones from Shake Shack with soft round buns and nice ruffly lettuce, though unlike Shake Shack the toppings selection is vast, arguably even better than Five Guys.  They offer everything from $6 plain singles up to a $17 monstrosity with 3 patties, bacon and a fried egg to boot. There’s also a good range of hipster beers in tallboys and cans, plus a delicious custard shake which is like drinking a liquid mix of egg-tart and ice cream.

I went with a single cheeseburger and an order of fries to share – and it’s a good thing that I was planning on sharing, because it ended up being a pretty crazy amount of fries! (Be warned that there is only one size of fries offered, so better show up with a friend or a huge appetite if you plan on ordering them).  Deliciously fried in peanut oil, they struck a nice balance, being soft but with a tenderly crisp skin – I could easily eat them on their own, but they also came with ketchup and Clive sauce for dipping.  As for the burger – well, you might want to change out of your dress clothes before eating here because it is MESSY!  Maybe it’s because I ordered every free topping except for sauerkraut, but it was oozing goodness from all sides.  The meat was nice and hefty and the topping fresh, so all-in-all, it was edging on excellence – though given that the burger’s appearance reminded me of Shake Shack, it also made me think that the burgers could be even better if cooked medium-done (these were definitely well-done)

Kent’s 2 Cents

Model Milk’s chef is involved with Clive, so it has to be good.
Well, they definitely didn’t fuck around. The beef is some sort of free range, organic wizardry where the farmers feed the cows caviar and Thai massage it to death, creating a pretty satisfying patty. You are free to add on all sorts of fresh toppings, with no additional cost. And like the fries, I think they use peanut oil on the patties too. Heart attack right? Well not really. I found the single & double patty to be just enough to make you full, but not too much to feel like ass immediately afterwards. Just make sure to share the order of fries with a friend or two, its a big serving.

Clive is also doing their part to slow down the destruction of Earth. Compost and recycling have their separate bins. The forks, knives, and other packaging is biodegradable. So you can head back to your Ford F-350 after the meal and feel great about yourself for at least an hour or two.

Summary

We went back to Clive after a night out at Sled. To our delight, we discovered that they are open till 3 am on Fridays and Saturdays. This is awesome as it’s a sign that Calgary’s finally growing up – any large city worth its salt has late night offerings other than Denny’s and Humpty’s – and has options other than 3$ pizza.

I am ambivalent about this place. It’s pretty hip and cool, and the milkshakes are downright mind-blowing, but I found the burgers alright. Richard and Kent found the burgers delicious, so I guess that evens things out.

At the end of the day, after a hard night of partying, this is a great place to grab a bite and chill out with your friends.

Ranking

Kiran Richard Kent
Ambiance 4/5 4.5/5 5/5
Service 3.5/5 2.5/5 3/5
Taste 3.75/5 4.5/5 4/5
Originality 3/5 4.5/5 4/5
Value 4/5 4/5 4/5
TOTAL 18.25/25 = 73% 20/25 = 80% 20/25 = 80%

Clive Burger 17th 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