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Tag Archives: Kensington

[Hidden Gems] Vendome Cafe: Not Your Average Hipster Breakfast

Summary: Situated in the historic Vendome Block in Sunnyside, this deceptively spacious cafe is a visual feast on the inside and the outside. Oh, and the food is fucking delicious too.

The past two months have been a process of “discovering” some of the best hidden gems Calgary has to offer. Whilst Vendome might not necessarily be unknown, it is definitely “hidden.” For one, when I showed up at 10 am to meet Shane and his soon bride-to-be, Tara, there was hardly a line-up. We were through ordering our food within 7 min. of getting there and were seated within 10 min. This was refreshing compared to the epic wait times one experiences at the more well-known joints in Bridgeland like OEB, Blue Star, or Diner Deluxe that are over-crowded with dirty hipsters. It could also be that we went on the May-long weekend, but I am choosing to believe otherwise.

Walking in, you are immediately greeted with a long spacious hallway that serves as the kitchen and the ordering area. There’s also tons of space to line up so you aren’t standing out in the cold if it is a busy weekend. The large blackboard is neatly broken down into four different categories depending on the mood you are in. You pay for your food right after ordering, which is brilliant, cause then you aren’t stuck in another line after your meal or waiting for your extremely busy server to take payment.

The exterior of the building was restored to its historic appearance in 1989 and I loved the contrast between the old and the new. It is also much more spacious than it looks from outside. There wasn’t a table for 4 in the main hallway, but there was plenty of room around the corner with a table for 4 just waiting for us. This section of the cafe was even cooler as it had the look and feel of a contemporary modern art gallery with large mirrors and paintings on the white facade. There was also plenty of natural light let in by the large windows that further enhanced the bright and airy feel of the place. I later found out that Teatro and Vendome have the same management and that this wing was added at a later stage – which helps explain the “contemporary” feel to this side of the cafe.

I ordered the vegetarian eggs benny which came on a toasted ciabatta (or sourdough, I can’t remember) bun with olives, red peppers, zucchini, and tomatoes, served with a side of home-style potatoes. The presentation was absolutely gorgeous, and if we still had the “Plating” category, this would have gotten 4.5/5.

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I also ordered an additional side of toast that came with mango chutney:

Shane ordered the gorgeous-looking French toast with caramelized bananas and cream:

And Tara ordered eggs sunny side up:

To say that I was blown away with the first bite I took would be an understatement. The combination of the roasted veggies with the hollandaise sauce and eggs was mind-blowing. I love it when all the flavours come together in your mouth to create this indescribable (for me anyways) cornucopia of tastes and flavours. Amazing. The hollandaise sauce was light and airy, but I could have used a bit more tang: it wasn’t necessarily as memorable on its own. The home-style fries, however, didn’t deliver the same impact as the main dish. While not bad, there was nothing really memorable about them that stuck in my head.

The side of toast with mango chutney was interesting. It was sweet yet tangy and reminded of mango nectar boiled down to a thicker consistency. I didn’t ask Shane and Tara to type up what they thought of their food, but I am pretty sure they enjoyed their food just as much as I did.

Summary

I had a great time at Vendome. Of all the breakfast/brunch places I have checked out, this my favourite of them all. You can’t beat/find ambiance like this elsewhere in Calgary and the combination of delicious food and quick service put it ahead of the rest of the pack. A definite MUST try!

Ranking

Kiran

Ambiance 5/5
Service 4.5/5
Taste 4/5
Originality 4.5/5
Value 4/5
Overall 22/25 = 88%

Vendome Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Kol3 Review

I’ve always thought that Calgary had a pretty decent Vietnamese food scene, but one of my friends constantly laments the lack of places that serve “real” Vietnamese food (presumably, stuff that she gets at home).  No doubt, while there is a pretty good variety of bun, pho, and Viet sub places around the city, you won’t find many places in the city that explore the many uniquely Vietnamese dishes outside of these mainstays.  Kol3, just behind the Kensington Wine Market on 12th St., looks to kick the trend and carve out its own niche by specializing in banh xeo, a savoury Vietnamese crepe.

Subtly flavoured lemongrass soda - dry indeed

Kol3 greets you with a clean, friendly and simple interior, with bright colours and hand-written menus on the wall.  Banh xeo features prominently as the main style of dish on their menu, though they do also offer a few appetizers and desserts, as well as pho.  Though they have the “traditional” banh xeo (with pork, sprouts and shrimp filling), they also offer a variety of fusion-flavoured fillings such as basa fish, “breakfast” (eggs and bacon), and bacon cheeseburger.  Their soda selection is also quite interesting, with lemongrass, rhubarb, blood orange, and lavender sodas being among those that you can choose (though they seem to be light on the calories – read, sugar – which may or may not be down your alley).

We decided to start with the ginger wings to start, which turned out to be an awesome choice.  Seasoned with chilli, ginger, and green onions, they were juicy, meaty, and damn good (though they work out to cost ~$1.10 per wing so they aren’t cheap – still worth it though).  Soon after we mopped up the wings, the banh xeo came out.

Vegetarian banh xeo with tofu

“I can’t believe how big this is!” (That’s what she said –Kiran)  The crepes were definitely generously sized (or at least plated to appear so).  All the dishes came with mesclun salad and fish sauce on the side, save Kiran’s (which came with “Vegetarian sauce”, NOT fish sauce, the server adamantly clarified).  As I had ordered the bacon cheeseburger banh xeo, mine also came with ketchup (of course).  The salad was crisp, fresh and went well with my meal, though some of the others thought it was an odd pairing.  The banh xeo itself was as tasty as it looked – crispy exterior and with a good mix of ingredients on the inside (mine came loaded with pickles, onions, tomatoes, bacon, cheese and ground beef).

The service was good (though there aren’t very many tables in the venue so that shouldn’t be hard), and they didn’t mind us lingering at our table long after we finished eating.  How many places have a waitress who will take the time to chat with you on the finer points of sci-fi television? (I think she was a bigger geek than any of us).  Apparently they are also looking to get a liquor licence/bar soon, though it seems like that has been the case for some time.

Kiran’s Thoughts:

Vietnamese coffee - the equivalent of 4 shots of espresso and half a cup of condensed milk to kick your ass

The interior space has a bright, airy feeling to it, no doubt helped by the large wall-to-ceiling windows that let plenty of natural light in. It is complimented by the bright, neon coloured furniture, as well as the two-tone neon green/white paint. All in all, Kol3 has a contemporary feel to it that reminds me of “Japanese.” What specific aspects of Japan the interior reminds of isn’t clear, but I will leave that up to the readers.

As usual, like any good Vietnamese/Southeast Asian cuisine joint, Kol3 had the standard single vegetarian crepe option (with vegetarian fish sauce) and nothing else. Our server didn’t know what was exactly vegetarian about the vegetarian fish sauce, except that it was and that worked for me.

My crepe was crispy but moist and was filled with tofu, bean sprouts, spinach, and onions. It also came with a mint and arugula salad on the side. The salad had no real function IMHO, except to serve as a palate cleanser and to add $$ value to the plate. That said, every component of the salad and the crepe were fresh and that greatly enhanced the taste. The “fish sauce” added a very tangy finish to every bite, and without it, my crepe would have been fairly bland.

To be honest, my favourite part of the menu was the delicious Vietnamese coffee. It wasn’t the drip-style Vietnamese coffee in a strictest sense of the category, but it had the 4 shots of espresso and a generous helping of condensed milk. It was a strong and bold yet balanced in its acidity. The finish wasn’t astringent and the bitterness wasn’t overpowering. A word of caution though: I was up until 3 am that night and was the most productive I have been in a long time.

Kol3 is a great addition to the Calgary crepe scene. Everybody gets excited about French crepes, but they don’t realize that Indians (and Vietnamese) have had crepes on their collective menus longer than the French have been around (though who knows, maybe banh xeo was inspired by the French like several other Viet dishes? -Richard), so it’s great that Kol3 is trying to highlight other aspects of SEA cuisine.

Kent’s 2-Cents:

These wings ain't cheap, but they whoop the llama's ass

Short and sweet – I really enjoyed Kol3. Its a place I’ll be visiting again to try out the other variations of the banh xeo. The restaurant itself is clean, modern, and reminiscent of an Apple store. Kol3 isn’t really going for the authentic Vietnamese theme in either food or decor, but they have some really good ideas without taking too much away from the original crepe. Pro tip – Nuac mam (fish sauce) is pretty much impossible to screw up, and it makes anything taste good.

Summary

Hands down the best banh xeo place that I have ever been to!  Though, it’s also the ONLY banh xeo place that I’ve been to.  All in all, it was an enjoyable experience and one that I’m looking forward to having again.

-Richard

Rating:

  Richard Kiran Kent
Ambiance 5/6 5/6 5/6
Service 5/6 5/6 5.5/6
Plating 5.5/6 4.5/6 4.5/6
Taste 5/6 4/6 5/6
Originality 5.5/6 5/6 6/6
Value 4/6 4.5/6 4.5/6
Overall 30/36 = 83% 28/36 = 78% 30.5/36 = 85%

Kol3 on Urbanspoon

Review of Niko’s Italian Bistro

Niko’s is one of those places that you have heard of before, know it is good, but somehow never quite found the time to make it over. We were taking a stroll in Kensington when we happened to walk by Niko’s, so even though I didn’t have my camera, I couldn’t pass up the chance to check out this Kensington institution. Upon walking in, we were immediately greeted by the very friendly Niko himself, and even though we didn’t have any reservations, were seated almost immediately. Looks like we had just got in time, as 30 min. later, the place was packed…on a Sunday night.

photo 2 (4)The first thing that strikes you about this bistro is that it is an awesome date place. It’s casual and classy, but not fine dining. It is upscale, but not snooty. Floor to wall windows facing Kensington Rd, high ceilings, an elongated rectangular hallway, and mood lighting give it an air of sophistication. True to the description, there were several couples there, not to mention a high school double date, which my partner thought was cute. I was just a bit amazed that high school kids these days could afford places like Niko’s. Definitely not a place for three dudes to go to “hang out.”

Typically, I have found that any Italian restaurant worth its salt bakes its own bread. However, considering Niko’s did not offer that appetizer, we ordered their bruschetta ($8) and caprese salad ($8) to set a baseline comparison. I also ordered the prosecco ($7), a type of Italian dry white wine that is consumed an as aperitif.  Niko was pretty knowledgeable about the menu, which I suppose is a no-brainer considering he is the owner. Still, it is heartening to see the owner at the front of the house, mingling with the patrons, ensuring first hand that they are having a good time.

The prosecco was a nice balance of dry-but-too-dry and sweet-but-not-too-sweet. Although, I prefer sweeter wines (screw you, snobs), I didn’t mind this version of the drink. It was a nice mellow drink that also served well as a palate cleanser between the different dishes. The appetizers were another story. I found them to be generally underwhelming and lacking in freshness. IMHO, the only thing that differentiates a good from an ok bruschetta or caprese salad is the quality and freshness of their ingredients, especially the tomatoes. In this case, it simply wasn’t there. My favourite part of the bruschetta was the crostini, which I sadly disappointed to find out, isn’t actually made in-house.

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However, I refused to let that deter me as my partner had been here on several occasions, and couldn’t stop raving about there main course. As I am a vegetarian, there weren’t very many options that could be ordered wholesale without seriously compromising the chef’s original vision. N. was a huge fan of the gnocchi caprese ($16), so we both got a plate to share.

photo 4 (2) It turned out to be the best food-related decision I have ever made. I don’t have the range in my food-related vocabulary to illustrate just how fantastic this dish was.  From the potato dumplings that melted in my mouth, to the creamy and savoury tomato sauce, every bite was pure delight. When N. couldn’t finish hers, I was more than happy to finish it off for her. From now on, this will be the gnocchi that all other gnocchi will be compared against. Hands down, no questions about it. Well done, sir, well done indeed.

N. wanted to order some desert, and after the gnocchi-related food-gasm, I couldn’t really say no. Plus, the desserts sounded really, really good, so I was happy to oblige. I ordered the Grande Marnier Banana ($7) and N. ordered Crème Caramel ($7). It was odd to see no mention of any tiramisu on the menu though…

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The Grande Marnier was another winner. It was sublime and a very good finish to the meal. The banana slices were perfectly ripe and were caramelized just enough to bring out their flavour. You couldn’t really tell there was any alcohol in the dessert, which for me, is always a plus. My only complaint would be that the vanilla ice cream was already melted by the time it came out, which probably means that it was sitting on the counter for a while, waiting for the crème caramel to be finished. The crème caramel was delectable, although frankly, it did not come close to even touching the Grande Marnier.

Summary

Niko’s is a great place for a date or for a family dinner. The casual but sophisticated ambiance, great food, and excellent service make it a worthwhile visit. Don’t miss out on it!

Ranking

Ambiance 5/6
Service 5/6
Plating 4.5/6
Taste 4.5/6
Authenticity 5/6
Value 4/6
Overall 28/36 = 78%

Niko's Bistro on Urbanspoon

The Bottle House Beer Parlour

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It was the first nice sunny day of spring and it was hard to turn down Travis’ offer to check out the year-old Bottle House at the corner of 10th St & Memorial Dr NW in Kensington. It was one of those places that had been on my “to check out” list for a long time, and the idea of having a couple of cold beers while the sun was still up was an appealing idea. So, off we went to the cursed corner of the Kensington NW, where 5 different restaurants have tried to make it in the past 9 years without any success.  IMG_0188.CR2

The interior was a pleasant mix of sports bar and pub, with several large screen TVs to the left above the bar. The very friendly staff gave us our choice of seating and immediately put down a couple of menus in front of us. The bar itself is an elongated hallway with couches, high tables, and regular tables on the right, with plenty of room on the left to walk around. Overall, the place has a casual yet classy kind of feel to it, and I wouldn’t hesitate to bring a girl here for some pre-dinner drinks.

Being “thirsty,” we immediately gravitated towards the beer menu and ordered a nice cold pint of “What the Huck” from the BC Fernie Brewing Company, which was $5.95 during happy hour. The latter was a huckleberry wheat beer with a nice fruity aroma that went down nicely. It would be my be my beverage of choice on a hot summer day or with spicy Indian food. Note though that the Beer Parlour beer menu is largely Canadian, so if you are looking for a more international beverage menu, you don’t have a broad range of choices.

IMG_0189.CR2With the drinks taken care of, we turned our collective attention to the task of ordering some food. I was pleasantly surprised by the variety and creativity of the dishes on the menu. Food ranged from pub staples such as Caesar salad, sweet potato fries, and soup to funkier items such as Whiskey Bourbon Pulled Pork. In addition, they had a decent selection of burgers with catchy names like “The Street Fighter Burger” (6 oz. Peruvian street burger) and “Hoser Burger” (Alberta beef + Canadian back bacon). Neither of us were too hungry, so we opted to order nachos instead. That being said, I definitely want to come back to try out some of their mains as well as their brunch offering on the weekends as The Bottle House has all the hallmarks and makings of a “gastro pub.”

The food arrived and we got down to serious business. The most notable item in the whole assemblage had to be the salsa. Being a connoisseur of spicy food, this salsa immediately took me by the balls; my heart and mind had no choice but to follow. It was the most delicious combination of roasted tomatoes, onions, etc. that were simmered together for 24 hrs. to produce a combination of bold taste that wasn’t overwhelmed by the spiciness. This salsa made the dish and I am definitely going to vote for it at Kensington’s Sun & Salsa Festival. My only complaint would have been the relative lack of cheese on the nachos. I like my nachos smothered with cheese so I don’t have to ration it, like I had to on this plate.

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The one thing that left an impression on me was the friendliness of the staff. One of the waitresses called over Perry, the owner of the bar, who was kind enough to explain the whole salsa-making process. We also got to talkingIMG_0185.CR2 about how that specific corner was cursed. Many restaurants have tried to make it there over the past 9 years; all of them have failed, which doesn’t make any sense considering the prime location of the spot. The Bottle House itself is going to be a year old pretty soon, and Perry has some big plans for the 1st b’day party….something to do with free booze and live music. Hmmm…

Summary

The Bottle House is the new (er) kid on the block, with plenty of punch to pack. The owner’s got all the basics right: large, eclectic beer selection; friendly staff; prime location; and most importantly, good pub food.

Time and public will tell if it will become a Calgary mainstay, but I am keeping my fingers crossed. Meanwhile, don’t be afraid to saunter over to this little gem for some after-work good times. I definitely plan to check it out in the future, especially their brunch offering.

Ranking

Ambiance 5/6
Service 5/6
Taste 5/6
Plating 4/6
Originality 4/6
Value 4/6
Overall 27/36 = 75%

The BottleHouse Beer Parlour on Urbanspoon