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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

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Weekend Food Truck OVERLOAD (Part 1)!!

The Lilac Fest weekend was definitely a food truck extravaganza. Summer time is almost here and Calgarians were yearning to get out and get some time in the sun.

The first event one was Calgary’s “newest food festival” Eat Real YYC, which according to Casel Marche, the organizers of the event is:

“…a one-day indoor and outdoor revolutionary feast of community and good eats will feature many Calgary food trucks, restaurant pop-ups, food stations featuring local products and food artisans, and wine tasting.”

I saw a lot of twitter posts tagged with #stickittotheman in association with this event, but to be honest, if you can afford to shop at the grocery store in the building, then you probably are The Man; you are definitely not part of the 99%.

The “real food” festival turned out to be no more than a bunch of food trucks parked on 24th St (at least, by 3pm when we arrived –Richard), which was alright, cause that’s what I was there to check out.

BLAM!WICH ~Heroic Eats

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She is BACK!

After a winter hiatus, Margie and the team over at Blam!wich are back. And they are better than ever.

Pearl’s been retired, but they have replaced her with someone better. With a bigger interior and more room, the Blam!wich truck is better equipped to serve the masses and dish out those awesome blam!wiches.

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Although they were done for the day, Margie was kind enough to make a Speedy Gonzales just for me! Homemade spicy black bean burger, spicy & tangy pico de gallo topped with melted cheddar….you would have to be insane to say no that.

And the bread…oh so good. It sounds stupid to rave about the bread, but I don’t think I have had bread quite like this before. Perfectly toasted for that delicious crunch on the outside, yet soft and moist on the inside. I raved to Margie about this and I was on the money: apparently, she commissioned an 80-year old European baker to custom-bake this sandwich bread for her. You can definitely taste the difference with this bread – it adds a whole another dimension to the overall taste and experience. The Speedy Gonzales is definitely a worth successor to last season’s ratatouille-based vegetarian sandwich. Good job, guys!

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Stay tuned for an update to the original ride-along for another behind-the-scenes look at Blam!wich’s new truck.

Spud Mobeel

Although I was pretty satisfied after that heroic blam!wich, my eyes were immediately drawn to the spiral fries that everyone was trying to stuff their mouths with. 

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Something potato-based is perfect for a food truck as it is quick, simple, and makes the perfect snack. To me, that’s what street food is all about. Spud Mobeel has a long line-up of potato-based offerings – all grown in Alberta -  starting with the respectable French (Freedom?) Fries to the awesome “spiral dog.” I couldn’t get a photo of the spiral dog as it was already sold out, but imagine the spiral potato below, with a hot dog stuck through the inside on the skewer. It’s like one of those ship-in-a-bottle! Brilliant!

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Apparently, the white cheddar topping was the most popular that morning, so that’s what I went with. It turned out to be a good choice. What I didn’t like was the extremely crispy potato spirals. It was like eating chips off a stick, which was with odds at what my mind had visualized: softer, more French Fries like texture. In addition, the spirals weren’t cooked towards the bottom, so it was weird transitioning from the super-crispy to partially uncooked at the bottom.

It wasn’t that the spiral wasn’t good…more like I didn’t like the chips-like hard crunch of the spirals. Maybe this is your thing, and if so, I would encourage you to try it. Next time, I am going to try something else.

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 Wrap-up

With the number of food trucks set to hit 30 by this summer, there is going to be an increased scrutiny on the quality and novelty of the food being sold. Now that everyone and their aunties and uncles are getting into the food truck business, the quality is going to get diluted as folks seek to capitalize on the market. I don’t think more choice is bad – in fact, I think it’s great – but it does also bring out the more mediocre offerings.

Stay tuned for part 2 of the food truck update!

-Kiran

Blam!Wich - Food Truck on Urbanspoon

Review of WURST Restaurant & Beer Hall

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Summary: Looking like it could be a great overall addition to the YYC food scene, Wurst deftly navigates the line between classy and casual while bringing a classic alternative to the traditional watering-holes in Calgary.


Despite the rain a couple of weekends ago, Kent and I decided to join up with Kiran and head on over to Wurst, the questionably-named, German-inspired restaurant/beer hall that has taken the place of Wildwood in the district of Mission.  I had been meaning to check this place out for some time, though I had mistakenly thought that it had opened in April when it, in fact, was opening the same weekend as Craft – it was like two Hollywood blockbusters going at it for the opening weekend box-office title!

DAS BOOT! (or Stiefel, to be proper)

Much like Wildwood, Wurst has both a main floor and a basement with different styling and demeanour – the upper floor is classier with tablecloths and lighted trees (putting the garten into biergarten), while the lower floor is a boisterous beer hall with benches, barrels, and boots of booze.  No joke – for the price of $25 (though the website says $30?), you can have a 2L boot of beer, just like in Beerfest!  As we walked in without a reservation, we were relegated to sitting around a barrel in the basement – not the most comfortable of situations – but we were at least promptly served with some beer!  The waitresses were dressed in mock-Bavarian-beer-girl outfits (they were actually T-shirts), and while the service was quite average, it was a vast improvement over Craft that day (I personally thought it was excellent considering how how packed the place was –Kiran).  Unfortunately, Wurst had the same problems as Craft: of the 20 draft beers that they have on the menu, only three were available!  It was as though there was a mini-prohibition going on in the city or something (good social media marketing, poor planning, or are Calgarians just getting ready for Stampede? –Kiran).

Sausage fest!  It's like an engineering party :PGiven the storied history of its chefs (the executive chef has worked at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club, the Drake Hotel, and Bison in Banff amongst other places), I had high expectations for the food at Wurst.  The schweinshaxen (pork knuckle) immediately caught my eye, as it was one of the dishes I associate most with beer halls in Europe.  As Kent had already settled on the knuckle, my aversion to ordering the same dish as someone else at the table caused me to order the pile of bratwurst instead.  The food came out in sizzling cast-iron pans – quite a striking presentation! – and definitely looked delicious (especially the pork knuckle… mmmm, 80% fat!).  Just as our food arrived, a table opened up. However, the table that we moved to was in utter darkness – the light bulb above us emanated only the faint glow of a dying ember (to be fair though, they turned the lights down in the entire beer hall in some misguided attempt to generate ambiance and mystique –Kiran) .  As such, I wasn’t able to see what I was eating – though given that it was just a pan full of bratwurst and beets floating in some sort of potato-ey substance, that wasn’t a huge problem.  I wasn’t a huge fan of the bratwurst, actually – I thought it was too dry and didn’t pack much flavour.  Wurst’s website boldly proclaims “We’re bringing mustard back”, but I could barely taste any on my dish, despite the picture clearly showing it.  Perhaps my taste buds were just numb from the couple pints of beer.  I did try some of Kent’s pork knuckle, though, and it was all I imagined and more!

Underneath the crackly exterior lies a heart of fat, interlaced with bits of meat - mmmm!

Kiran’s Observations

I was actually feeling sick that day, but still opted to check out WURST as I was pretty jazzed about the positive reviews it was getting in twitter verse. Twitter was abuzz with mentions of CRAFT and WURST, and it was quite clear from the tweets that most people were pretty unhappy with the level of service at CRAFT. Indeed, @300rwhp confirmed that he had, in fact, been so unimpressed by the poor service at CRAFT that he left 15 min. after he got there.

Walking into WURST, I was pretty taken by the expansive space that the classy main floor took up. This was clearly the restaurant part of the establishment full of families and groups of friends. I quite liked the ambiance and felt the like the designers did a pretty good job of utilizing the existing space and incorporating it into WURST’s vision to be both a restaurant and a beer-hall.

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Walking in to the basement, I was immediately struck by the row upon row of beer steins. I didn’t realize it at the time, but according to Calgary Foodies, the steins are for sale for a low $250/year that goes to charity. Although long sold out, this is definitely one of those “cool factors” about WURST that adds to its buzz. Imagine walking into a restaurant and getting served beer in your customized stein! Pretty freakin’ cool…

The basement level is definitely where the debauchery takes place. I was immediately struck by how similar the beer hall was to the ones at Oktoberfest in Munich (there were even people breaking out into random bouts of singing –Richard). The long tables force people in smaller groups to mingle with each other, which can only be a good thing in a conservative city like Calgary where people are generally reserved. I definitely caught myself wishing that we had come in here sooner so we could sit at one of these tables and meet interesting new Calgarians. This place is definitely going to be an absolute gold mine during Stampede…!

A good place to chat to random strangers

I ordered a litre of the only German-sounding beer on the menu that night: Kolsch. It was an alright beer, nothing to get excited about. What I was really excited about was the side of egg noodles (spätzle, $7.99) that I had ordered. It was also pretty much the only vegetarian option on the menu. Digging in, the first thing I noticed was how goddamn salty it was. Having never had a spatzle before, I cannot ascertain whether this is intentional or just a misstep on part of the line cook. Either way, it was nice to have a liter of beer to down what was essentially a German-style macaroni and cheese. The menu items looked expensive at the outset, but once I saw the portions, I was a bit placated – they sure do not skimp out on portion sizes in Germany!

IMG_0194I had the chance to shoot the shit with one of the owner’s of WURST regarding the drastic differences in service quality between the latter and CRAFT. It just seemed like the WURST staff were trained better and had their shit together. I can understand running out of beer, but poor service just reflects badly on any establishment. Research shows that people are more likely to tell their friends of the bad experience or service they received than about a positive experience. I am pretty sure that CRAFT will bounce back from it’s rocky start, but at the same time, why take the chance? Why bother opening and have people turned off by poor service when you can take the time to get your shit together? Maybe, just maybe, this was a soft opening for the Stampede week and the CRAFT management wanted to iron out any kinks before The Greatest Show on Earth began. Let us hope so…

Summary

Wurst is a great alternative to the generic pubs around the city that serve the traditional mainstream brews. While the basement level definitely caters to the rowdy young crowd, older people and families will feel right at home on the classy-yet-casual main level. Wurst made a better first impression on us than Craft, though it wasn’t without troubles itself – the selection of both seating and beer could be improved over what existed during the opening weekend.  If you don’t mind dying early of heart disease, I recommend trying the schweinshaxen. For those who value their health a bit more, there is a good variety of other German-inspired fare as well Winking smile.

-Richard

Ranking

Kiran Richard
Ambiance 5/6 5.5/6
Service 5/6 4/6
Plating 3.5/6 5.5/6
Authenticity 5/6 4/6
Taste 3.5/6 4.5/6
Value 5/6 4.5/6
Overall 27/36 = 75% 27/36 = 75%

WURST Restaurant and Beer Hall on Urbanspoon