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Maru Review

At first I thought it was called Maru 02, but then I realized that the "02" = Maru in KoreanShort Take: Coming from a non-expert, this place seems like the real deal for Korean food and liquor – if you want to try more than just BBQ (though they have that too), check this place out!

I’ve spent a fair amount of time on 11th Ave in the past, and often wondered what lay behind the wall of green bottles in the little place kitty-corner to the Keg and District (which you probably all already know is amazing).  Turns out it is Maru, a Korean restaurant/soju watering hole.  I haven’t had a lot of Korean food in the past (mostly the stereotypical Korean BBQ and kimchi), so I was interested in trying something different.

Bottles of soju are so cheap they use them to build the walls.Stepping into the joint, I was impressed by the clean style and earthy features – trendy, but humble (how Asian!).  I also noticed that the TV was showing Korean music videos, the speakers were playing K-pop and the place was pretty much filled with Koreans (or paraphrasing Kiran, "Koreanese people").  Now if only they would broadcast games of Starcraft on the TV…

We were seated by a server who didn’t seem to speak too much English and were immediately served cold green tea to start.  Kiran marvelled at the metal chopsticks, which I thought were a nice touch even though there didn’t seem to be BBQ grills directly at the table.  A cursory glance through the menu revealed a host of foods that I had never seen before (pork spine? wtf). Most of them seemed none too cheap – until the server informed us that several of the items were meant to be split between two people.  Turned out that it was even happy-hour, and that large hot-pots could be had for $20 per person!  As the big dishes all had meat and Kiran is a vegetarian for no good reason other than habit (bitch, I got principles –Kiran), we ended up getting separate meals and did not take advantage of the happy-hour for our food.  We did, however, take advantage of their happy-hour soju pricing (I think it was $10-12 for a bottle, vs $17 normally).

Doing shots of Jinro (a brand of Soju as well as a famous SC2 player!)When the soju first came out, we were rather unimpressed by its size ($17 for just a beer bottle?) – that is, until we noticed that it was 20% alcohol.  It tasted like a grassy, watered-down vodka – inconspicuous enough that you could probably easily get f*cked up drinking it without even realizing it.  Good stuff!

Our server brought out several complimentary appetizers to start – all of them were fresh and delicious, and just enough to get the tastebuds going.  As we nibbled on the tasters, I watched several fantastic-looking dishes pass by on their way to other customers – amongst them sizzling hot plates and steaming hot-pots piled with mountains of meat and vegetables.  I could barely wait until our main dishes came out!

I had ordered sundae to start (a sausage, not an ice cream dish, sadly), as the menu had described it as a "traditional Korean sausage."  Little did I know it was actually a blood sausage!  It was quite an interesting dish – the sausage being filled with cellophane noodles in addition to blood and with pink seasoning salt on the side – but since I’m not a huge fan of blood sausage, I could only finish half of it.

Top to bottom - Dbuk bok ki (spicy noodles), sundae (blood sausage), mushroom bulgogiMy main course was the beef-and-mushroom "rock bowl" hot pot, served with white rice.  The beef was pull-apart tender, though there was still a fair amount of gristle (typical for the type of beef they use I think), while the broth was very tasty.

Kiran had ordered spicy noodles – "Not white-person spicy – brown-person spicy" – which he confirmed at the time of ordering to be vegetarian.  However, it was apparent that there was something lost in translation when the server brought out his meal and asked "do you eat fish?"  Turns out the dish was loaded with fish patties and dumplings.  Luckily, they were able to quickly whip up a new batch of noodles with only vegetables and rice cakes.

Kiran’s Thoughts

I generally enjoyed our outing at Maru. I was pretty impressed by the decor inside the restaurant, especially as it s a pretty plain-looking establishment from the outside. I remember feeling soothed once I was inside. The floor-to-ceiling windows also let plenty of natural light in. Whoever planned in the interior did a pretty good job.

Surprisingly enough, there was a pretty decent variety of vegetarian options – so many, in fact, that I had a hard time choosing. I was flip-flopping between a couple, but finally settled on the spicy noodles. As Richard alluded to earlier, even though I had mentioned that I was a vegetarian, my dish came out with a whole bunch of sea food in it. In retrospect, I should have remembered that in Southeast and Eastern Asian cuisines, the concept of “vegetarianism” doesn’t really exist like the way Indian/Western cultures understand it. I have been burned on several occasions before in a similar fashion during my days in Brunei and Singapore.

Rock pot soup!There's something fishy about the toppings on these noodles...

The dish was certainly worth the wait, however. It was spicy as fuck! The only way I could finish this dish was downing every bite with water – I think I went through a couple of litres! Being the cocky muthafuckah I am when it comes to spicy food, I boldly proclaimed to the server to ramp up the spice factor on this dish. The kitchen did not disappoint. And as my ego was on the line, it wasn’t like I could leave the dish unfinished, especially after I had specifically asked for it to be as spicy as possible!

Spicy enough for you, Kiran?The very surprising thing about the noodles was that there was despite the overwhelming spiciness, there was a great flavour to the whole dish. I personally thought it was an amazing achievement to bring that level of flavour to the dish despite the overwhelming spiciness. The rice cakes were my favourite part as each bite was chewy and full of kick-ass flavour. Definitely something that I would order again, but probably scaled back on the spiciness.

Despite the confusion, I thought the service was pretty good. A quick scan through Urbanspoon yielded the usual reviews complaining about the service level. I take these with a grain of salt as typically the reviewers over-inflate their bad experience and don’t take into account the language and cultural barriers that lead to the confusion.

I would definitely recommend this place to someone looking for some authentic Korean food.

Summary

Overall, I’m not sure if Maru has much broad appeal (other reviews on Urbanspoon suggest that it doesn’t), but its vast unexplored menu and wall of soju has me itching to go back again.

-Richard

  Richard Kiran
Ambiance 5/6 5/6
Service 3/6 3/6
Plating 5/6 4/6
Authenticity 5.5/6 6/6
Taste 4.5/6 5/6
Value 5/6 4/6
Overall 28/36 = 78% 27/36 = 77%

Maru Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

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Review of The Himalayan (Nepalese Cuisine)

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Summary: A great date place / family restaurant for those looking to try a fusion of Indian/Chinese cuisines, friendly service, and more importantly, good food.

Calgary has a dearth of Nepalese cuisine, so when Kent found a Groupon for this restaurant, it was a no-brainer.The Himalayan is tucked away in a tiny strip mall in the west end of 17th Ave, but don’t let the location and outer facade fool you. It felt like we had stepped into another world as soon as we had walked in – the interior is in complete contrast to the exterior. The owners have clearly put a lot of thought and effort into tastefully decorating the place. The mood lighting, in addition to enhancing the ambiance, accentuates the Nepalese inspired artwork on the walls. Definitely a great date place, if you don’t mind the families.

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Upon seating, we were immediately greeted by our very friendly server. While shooting the shit with him, we found out out that his father was a former part-owner of the other Nepalese restaurant in town: Everest Kitchen. However, due to irreconcilable differences, they had decided to part ways. It will be interesting to cover Everest Kitchen as part of our next outing and compare the differences between the two establishments.

Nepali cuisine is a very interesting mix of Indian/Chinese fare and is reflective of Nepal’s geographic location nestled between the two Asian giants. The intermingling of these two ancient cuisines is clearly evident in their offerings and reminded me of Hakka cuisine, which is Indian/Chinese cuisine hailing from the East Bengal region of India. Our server, being related to the owners, was very knowledgeable about the menu and was able to steer us through the vast offerings.

Kent and I didn’t order anything to drink but decided to get the mouth-watering momos ($6) as appetizers (while waiting for the perennially late Richard). The latter are a traditional Nepali dumpling made from a mixture of vegetables, mozzarella cheese, and “Himalayan spices and herbs” all wrapped and steamed in shell made from flour dough. That is a lot of words to describe a delicious little appetizer – I could eat this sh*t all day and not feel satiated. The outer shell was moist but not too sticky. The vegetable filling was delicious but a tad salty. The tomato sauce was milder than I would have liked as the momo filling definitely overwhelmed the sauce. Overall though, highly recommended. Definitely, a “must try.’

I ordered the Himalayan Roasted Eggplant ($13) tarkari as my main course. Tarkari, of course, is the Nepali version of curry, but not as liquid-y. Richard ordered a thuk-pa and Kent went with an old standby dish, dal (lentils).The tarkari dishes came with a side of naan and rice. Our dishes took a long time to arrive so we were comp’d with a side of papad served with sweet yogurt and mango dipping sauces. The sauces were sweet and tangy and provided a great contrast to the savoury papad.

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Kiran’s Thoughts

Given the vastness of the vegetarian offerings at The Himalayan, I was hard-pressed to select just one dish to order. Now I know what most people feel like when they go to a restaurant. Ordering something off a menu is typically a simple affair for me, given that I usually have only one or two options. I was sorely tempted to order something I knew would taste good, but in the interests of expanding my mind and palate, decided to go with the roasted eggplant tarkari. It turned out to be not such a good call. The dish was flavourful with a sweet and sour finish, but in general, too salty. The eggplant was also unevenly cooked as some pieces were tough when chewing. The salad accompaniment was just a filler with the ingredients not being very fresh. In fact, I seem to have been so disappointed with this dish that I didn’t even bother to take any photos.

The dal, on the other hand, was an excellent call on Kent’s part. It was a perfect dish for a cold, rainy day like it was that particular evening. It was perfectly spiced, with just the right amount of salt and spices. You could tell it was clearly home-made from a family recipe. The combination of dal and naan, although not typical, was what I needed on that cold, clammy day.

The Himalayan didn’t seem to have much in the offering for desserts, but Kent and I decided to go with server-recommended cassava root cake. This turned out to be a delicious choice. The cake itself had the texture of oatmeal, but was spongy like, well, sponge cake. The drizzle of chocolate and raspberry sauces only served to enhance the dish overall. My only complaint was it was a bit too small: Kent and I managed to destroy the dish in two seconds. But it was worth it.

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Richard’s Ruminations

Namaste, b*tches. I wasn’t too sure what to expect from their place after seeing the questionable aesthetics of their website,(yeah, it’s pretty fucking terrible; crashed my browser once – Kiran) but it turned out to be quite a pleasant venue. After ordering drinks, I perused the menu looking to see if they served yak. Sadly (or happily?) no, but they did offer quite a large variety of Nepali dishes, including several with shrimp (which I found slightly amusing considering Nepal is rather landlocked). I had originally intended to try the mis-mas rice (a mixture of rice, saffron, raisins, and meat), however the waiter rather vehemently turned me away from it, stating that they were working on removing that from the menu (yikes!). Instead, I settled for a mutton thuk-pa, a noodle soup with carrots, cabbage, parsley, onions, chilli, and small chunks of mutton.

Mutton Thuk-paThe starters were pretty good in general, with the papad standing out in my mind as being particularly tantalizing. To me, it tasted like a mix of Indian-style lentil crackers and Chinese-style fried puffed-rice crackers. My main course (thuk-pa) was simple but decent, though the flavours/textures evoked thoughts of cheaper fare – the meat reminded me of cha siew (Chinese BBQ pork) and the vegetables in the soup made me think of instant-noodle ramen packs (though I imagine the vegetables in this soup were actually fresh and not reconstituted from dehydrated husks Winking smile). I also had a pineapple-coconut juice, which is a tropical-paradise-dream of a drink – I would definitely recommend this drink, and I’m not even much of a fan of coconut.

I was greatly impressed with the service and speed that the food came out, though we did arrive before it really got busy -  I’m not sure if they would have been quite as attentive with twice the crowd.

Kent’s Two Cents

I really enjoyed the Himalayan, and its a shame there aren’t more of these Nepali restaurants in the city. The service is exceptional in this family run restaurant, mostly staffed by native Nepali who can explain what’s on the menu. Ever since eating dal bhat (lentils & rice) everyday for a month in Nepal, I have considered it to be healthy and hearty comfort food. The Himalayan makes a good dal, but it wasn’t what I originally expected. Its consistency is on the watery side like a soup. I always thought it was supposed to be like a stew or porridge. Not really a bad thing, it still tasted great. Now if only I could make this stuff properly at home.

Summary

I am glad to see another ethnic eatery getting its sh*t together and share its culinary offerings with the rest of Calgary. Although I was disappointed with my own dish, I really enjoyed the two vegetarian options that Kent had ordered. There are far too many options to choose from to visit this place only once. Although this is contrary to my own personal philosophy, the Himalayan might just be the one place that I could see myself visiting again. The friendly and knowledgeable server also helped. In short, this is a great date or family outing place that shouldn’t be missed.

Peace out.

-Kiran

Ranking

  Kiran Kent Richard
Ambiance 4.5/6 5/6 5/6
Service 4.5/6 5/6 5.5/6
Plating 4/6 4.5/6 5/6
Authenticity 6/6 5.5/6 5/6
Taste 5/6 5.5/6 4.5/6
Value 5/6 4.5/6 4/6
Overall 29/36 = 80.5% 30/36 = 83.3% 29/36 = 80.5%

The Himalayan on Urbanspoon