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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.

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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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Review of Los Chilitos Taco & Tequila House

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The early spring winter storm that had Calgary by its balls finally blew over leaving behind a nice sunny day. I had been eyeing Los Chilitos on 17th Ave for a while now, primarily because I am a huge tequila fan. Richard hadn’t had lunch yet, so it didn’t take too much cajoling to get him to relinquish his right hand…off the computer mouse…and come join me on this beautiful afternoon.

Walking into Los Chilitos is like being teleported to a casa in Mexico (maybe one that fancies gaudy decorations -Richard). This restaurant has arguable been the most successful of all ethnic eateries in capturing the essence of the home country. The tiny interior itself was a nice mixture of kitschy and cool – the favourite by far was the portrait Jonathan Goldsmith of The Most Interesting Man in the World fame.

Los Chilitos was surprisingly busy for a Sunday afternoon. There were only two waitresses serving all the patrons, and it was clear they were understaffed – it took our waitress a good 10 min. just to take our drink orders and we caught her taking drink orders from patrons who were seated later then when we came in.  Not cool.

IMG_0173.CR2As this was a “tequila house,” we decided to go with straight shots of tequila like the locals do in Mexico and chase it down with sangrita – a mixture of fruit (and vegetable) juices that varies in recipe across establishments. According to the menu, everyone outside of Mexico who shoots tequila with salt and a lime wedge is a bitch and only worthy of denigration. Lesson learned.

 

IMG_0175.CR2It was hard to choose from the large selection of blanco, anejo, and reposado tequilas offered on the menu (there are 25!), but we both ended up ordering reposados, which is essentially tequila that has been aged for a minimum of 2 months (but less than a year) in oak barrels. Being a big fan of tequila, the prospect of trying out something sweeter, more complex, and subtler in taste appealed to me, and I wasn’t disappointed. The only disappointing part was the sangrita, which quite frankly, was probably V8 and nothing more.

Food

IMG_0182.CR2Being only the two of us, Richard focused on ordering the main course, whilst I focused on the appetizers and dessert. The two items that caught caught our attention right away were “Jalapenos Rellenos” ($6.95) and “Totopos.” The former was an interesting take on stuffed jalapenos. These jalapenos were cut in half and stuffed with a mixture of beans and goat cheese, instead of the standard cheese stuffing, and topped off with a generous drizzle of honey-chipotle dip and toasted almonds (tasted more like peanuts to me -Richard). Cutting into the jalapenos created a sweet-savoury gooey goodness of goat cheese, beans, and honey-chipotle sauce  – pretty hard to say “no” to. However, the almonds added little in the way of taste, except to add an additional dimension to the texture. Also, the runny goat cheese was weird as it oozed more like water instead of being thick and creamy.

 

IMG_0197.CR2Next up was the Totopos which was tortillas served with pico de gallo with optional sides of guacamole and four salsa samplers ($9.95). Unfortunately, while tasty, the pico de gallo was just not on the same level as when had in Mexico. This was disappointing as it is a hard dish to screw up – the secret lies in the quality and freshness of vegetables. Same went for the salsa – while good, the samplers simply didn’t have the oomph that I was expecting. However, that said, their take on the concept of salsa was interesting and warrants further consideration.

Richard’s Take

First thoughts – the sangrita totally surprised me, as for whatever reason I was expecting sangria (fruit punch with wine), but this one was definitely more on the savoury side (like a Caesar).  I quite enjoyed the Aha Toro reposado, which was smooth and sweet when sipped – pretty decent for a budget tequila.  I was rather tempted to order the taco sampler – which comes with one taco filled with each of tIMG_0187.CR2he 7 different meats on their menu – but ended up settling for just the regular taco plate (4 tacos).  I still wanted to have some variety though, so I ordered carnitas (pulled pork), chorizo (sausage), mixiote (chicken and prickly pear!) and pastor (adobo pork and pineapple).  The meal came out in a reasonable time given the number of full tables, and the food certainly looked fantastic.  Unfortunately, the taste of the food was mixed – though the tortillas were nice and soft (to the point of almost falling apart) and the cilantro fresh and flavourful, the meat was rather dry across the board.  I was surprised that even the chorizo seemed dry as normally it would be on the greasy side.  The rice and beans ended up being quite good (and I’m not normally a fan of beans), with just a nice touch of heat to add some depth.

Dessert – KiranIMG_0221.CR2

To round off the meal, I ordered the very Latin tres leches cake ($6.95; literally, “three milk cake”). While the origins of this dish are disputed, the gastronomical brilliance of combining evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream cannot be. Having had home made tres leches in the past, passing up on an opportunity to try Los Chilitos’ home made version seemed egregious. Biting into the cake, I was immediately struck by the moist and fluffiness of the sponge cake. It was sweet, but not overwhelmingly so. The only complaint would be that it was unevenly moist – some regions of the cake were super moist and  sweet, whereas others were not as soaked.

Summary

Los Chilitos has all the right things going for it – great location; authentic ambiance; and great choice/variety in food and tequila. The only let downs, albeit major ones,  were the service and consistency of the food. While food was great, it wasn’t the greatest and left us lacking for more. In terms of value, I paid the same for the trio of tequila, appy’s, and dessert as Richard did for his main course, so it’s certainly not cheap on the wallet. Overall though, it is definitely a place worth visiting again, especially to sample their tequilas.

Ranking

Ambience 5/6
Service 3/6
Plating 4.5/6
Taste 4/6
Authenticity 4/6
Value 4/6
Overall 24.5/36 = 68%

Los Chilitos Taco and Tequila House on Urbanspoon