This Sh*t's Delicious

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A Cocktail-a-Day #15: The Best Fucking Chai (and chai-based cocktail) You Will Ever Have

So, yeah let’s face it, the Chai Tea Latte Mocha Frappuccino Grande bullshit you get in Starbucks is putrid. Most people don’t know what real chai is. Or that “chai” means “tea” and when you say “chai tea latte”, it translates to “tea tea latte”.

Kinda like “Sahara desert” means “desert desert”. Or “Los Angeles Angels” means “The Angels Angels”

So today, I will educate you all on how to make the best chai you have ever had.

The first step to making a good chai is to eliminate or minimize water. Yeah, that’s correct. You heard me right the first time. Water-based chai’s, while they do the trick, are simply too watered down and feel “thin”. To make real chai like they have it back in India, you need to substitute the water for milk. If you make that one change, your chai will taste 10x better.

Keep reading for the rest of the recipe.

Original Recipe (makes 1 serving)

– 2 cardamom pods

– 4 black pepper corns

– 1 tsp. grated or julienned ginger

OR

– 1/8 tsp. of chai masala powder

– 1 cup milk (low fat or otherwise; the fatter the better..haha)

– 1/4 cup water

– 1 tsp. black tea (any black tea, but Darjeeling or Kenyan varieties are best)

– sugar to taste

1. Combine the cardamom, peppercorns, and ginger in a mortar and grind roughly (if you don’t have the chai masala)

2. Combine all ingredients, including milk, water, and sugar into a saucepan. Bring to boil on medium heat.

3. Once the tea boils over (and I mean boils over the edges), simmer on low for another 4 min. until the chai turns a deep brown color.

4. Filter through a sieve and serve piping hot.

Bam! Just like that. The best chai you will ever have.

Modified Recipe

You can easily turn this into a digestive (or an early morning boozy pick-me-up) by cutting back on the milk and making up the difference in alcohol. Recipe as follows:

– 1/2 cup water

– 1/2 cup milk

– 1-1/2 oz. Amarula

– 1/2 oz. Kahlua

Follow the same procedure as above. Filter the tea and stir in the Kahlua, Amarula, and sugar. Let it cool down naturally or in the fridge.

Serve over ice.

Discussion

The delicious combination of ginger and cardamom is by far, the best way to wake up in the morning. There’s simply nothing else that beats it. Except for maybe some equally delicious coffee from Phil & Sebastian.

Making the chai with milk makes it fuller, thicker, and “luxurious.” In Hindi, the phrase “kadak chai” is used, which means “strong tea”. The full meaning of the word “kadak” is lost in translation, but if you want some kadak chai, this is the only way to do it.

I found adding the Amarula and Kahlua changed the taste profile of the chai, but not so much so that I couldn’t taste the cardamom anymore. It definitely tasted better chilled, over ice than when it was served hot, so I would try it that way.

Let me know how you guys make out!

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

Japanese Knives & The Art of Cutting Like a Chef

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I love knives. They are so…sexy. There’s a quite beauty in these sleek and sexy knives that just makes them just dangerous enough that you want to play with, but not something you want to sleep with. These knives definitely aren’t the $20 Ikea blades that you pick up cause a “knife is a knife”. Knife-making in Japan is a centuries old (samurai swords, anyone?) family tradition where the knowledge and skills are passed on through generations and apprentices dedicate entire lifetimes to hone the art of making the perfect blade.

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The premiere location to get knives in Western Canada (and maybe the whole of Canada) is Knifewear down in good ol’ Inglewood, Calgary. Going into that store is like going to MEC – you know you are going to come out with something cause you “really need it”. I don’t think I have ever walked out of Knifewear (or MEC for that matter) without purchasing something. It simply cannot be be done.

The last time I went into this store, I was looking for something in the $150 range, but ended up walking out with a Suisin INOX Honyaki that cost double that. Traditionally, Japanese knives are forged from carbon-steel which provides the hardness necessary to hold a razor-sharp edge. However, carbon-steel is prone to rusting, so these knives require more care and proper-handling. Often, the carbon-steel inner core is “sheathed” by sandwiching it between outer layers of software stainless steel. These knives have the advantage keeping their sharpness but are protected from rusting, so don’t require as much maintenance.

Honyakis are hand-forged from one single material such as high-carbon steel (carbon steel is the traditional material of choice) which is very hard. Because of this, they are difficult to forge and sharpen, which translates into a a higher price. Also because of high hardness honyakis are more prone to breaking, chipping and cracking. It took about 20 years for Junro Aoki (the designer of the Suisin line) to perfect the technique to sharpen these knives. On the positive side, they can be sharpened to incredibly thin and sharp edges that will hold for a very long time. The advantage of using stainless steel is knives that are super-light and just as sharp as carbon-steel knives. They are also corrosion resistant, and thus, easier to maintain.

The knife pictured in the photos in this post is the Konosuke Sakura and is hands down the most beautiful knife I have ever seen. These knives are similar to Honyakis in that they are also forged from steel but are capable of holding an edge similar to carbon steel knives, keep their edges, are easy to sharpen, and of course, don’t rust. This particular cherry blossom pattern is unique to Konosuke knives.

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So, the point of the lengthy digression is that when Knifewear had a 2-for-1 deal on knife cutting skills, I jumped at the opportunity. There’s no point owning a Ferrari if you drive it like a mini-van.

Some of the more basic tips for keeping your knife sharp are:

  • Don’t ever throw them in the dishwasher
  • Wash and dry the blade by hand after every use
  • Do not cut through bone
  • Use only plastic or wooden cutting boards; never cut on glass, marble, or granite as they are harder than the steel
  • Use the top of the knife to clean things of the cutting board, not the cutting edge
  • Hone your knife after every use using a ceramic honing rod, not a stainless. If it’s a Japanese knife, hone it at a 15 deg angle; European ones at 22 deg.

We also had hands-on lessons on how to baton and julienne veggies, how to dice onions without breaking out into tears like a 12-yr. old, and how to cut herbs to ensure the retain their flavour (the trick is to NOT chop like a madman).

My favourite tip was that for cutting veggies, a nakiri is the way to go as it has a straight edge which prevents the “vegetable accordion” effect that you get from using the traditional curved edge blades that don`t cut all the way through to the bottom.

So, the next time you are in Inglewood, make sure you check out Knifewear. If nothing, you will gain a deeper appreciation for knives as works of art.

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

[NEW DISCOVERY] Gravity Espresso & Wine Bar in Inglewood

 Summary: A neat new addition to the Calgary food scene that serves up all kinds of delicious brews (alcoholic & non-alcoholic alike) and could easily serve as a space for modern art.

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I love Inglewood. Every time I go there, my spirits are automatically uplifted. I found myself in the neighbourhood yesterday again shopping at ESPY for new threads (definitely check this place out –it’s the next Banana Republic) when I stumbled upon the “Now Open” sign for Gravity. It was the perfect time for an afternoon pick-me-up, so I took the opportunity to explore this new addition to the Inglewood family.

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DSC00116The best thing about the most popular cafes is the ambiance (in addition to the coffee, of course) and Gravity does not disappoint. The interiors are a bit dark, if not moody, and has a “quiet” ambiance about it. With large pieces of art from DaDe hanging off the walls, Gravity almost feels like a Nuevo art gallery with high ceilings, hipster baristas, and a full-on chalk board menu that’s all the rage nowadays. To be honest, the high vaulted ceilings give the entire place the ambiance of a library, which to me is not a bad thing at all…I love libraries (Dan of Dan`s Goodside also has a pretty hilarious description of the ambiance here).  Gravity also hosts weekly open mic nights every Sunday and features musical guest every Wednesday.

In addition to serving the traditional caffeinated fares, Gravity also serves wine, beer, and if you are feeling real Russian, premium vodka. They have just applied for a patio permit with the City, so come summer time, you can look forward to chilling outdoors with wine or beer from Village Brewery until midnight on weekends.

Calgary-20120605-00302I personally needed a caffeine and sugar boost, so I ordered a macchiato and cheesecake (no point drinking coffee if you are not complimenting it with something sweet).

Gravity serves Phil & Sebastian coffee, which I am increasingly growing fond of. I love their storefront off of 33 Ave SW in Marda Loop and it always pleases me greatly to see a local outfit make it in the food industry. The macchiato was great – even though the sweetness of the cheesecake overpowered the espresso, it did not taste acrid. The brew went down smoothly and was rich. I am not a coffee drinker usually, but find myself increasingly drawn to it. I can’t really pick up any of the subtle flavours that a more experienced palette can pick up, but in general, coffee is a much more complex beast than wine in many ways.

The cheesecake comes in these cute containers with open lids that are topped off with a strawberry-rhubarb (?) compote. The latter was tangy but the cheesecake wasn’t too sweet, so the tanginess didn’t really help to cut down on anything. Generally speaking, I am not a big fan of these compotes as I find they ruin a perfectly good cheesecake. Next time, I am going to have to remember to tell them to leave it off.

In addition to desserts, Gravity also sells entrees like panini, soups, and cheeseboards if you are looking for a more substantial meal. I went back the next day for lunch and ordered myself a roasted vegetable + cheddar panino and a cappuccino as I wanted to have a taste of their lunch menu.

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The panino was delicious: the natural sweetness that roasting brings out in vegetables (zucchini, cauliflower, red peppers, and onions combined really well with the saltiness of the cheese and butter. All the flavours – sweet, salty, bitter and umame – came together really well, and I was pretty vowed when my brain realized what had just happened. The bread was also perfectly done, albeit a bit softer than I would have liked it, but I am just nitpicking. The cauliflower was also a bit crunchier than I would have liked.

The cappuccino was a bit disappointing, however, and that`s likely because I was drinking it while eating the panino. I found the cappuccino to be bitter to the point that I was reminded of the after-taste left in my mouth from drinking hoppy IPAs. There was also a persistent astringent after-taste at the sides of my tongue even though I cleansed my palette with water several times. The coffee had great body though: smooth and creamy, it had a very silken texture which I loved very much.

In reality, I should have asked for the cappuccino to come out after my lunch…I don`t know why these cafes serve you your coffee first if they know you have ordered lunch. Seems a bit backwards, but hey, live and learn. I will have to try their cappuccino at another time without food.

Summary

I enjoyed my time at Gravity. It’s got all the essentials a hip, urban cafe needs: art gallery modernist feel, good coffee and desserts, art hanging off the walls, and of course, hipster baristas. Pretty soon, they will also have a patio to enjoy the great Calgary summers with local beer and wine up till midnight. Keep an eye out for it…

Ranking

Kiran

Ambiance

4.5/5

Service

4/5

Taste

3.75/5

Originality

3/5

Value

3.5/5

OVERALL

18.75/25 = 75%

Gravity Espresso & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

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

[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

Mighty Fine Breakfast @MightySkillet

Summary: a solid breakfast that will refuel your soft, puny body after a night of hard partying in your friends’ mom’s basement


Now that we are bonafide ballers after 5 years of working as engineers, we at TSD like to refuel our bodies with a solid brekky after a hard night of partying it up in Richard’s mom’s basement.  This week I felt like checking out @MightySkillet, as it was a gorgeous Sunday morning and they were parked right at Central Memorial Park.

Prepare to have your breakfast cooked by the power of awesome!

I ordered the vegetarian version of their Eggs Benny for $8, whereas Richard and Kent ordered the Corned Beef Kraven and a Fistfulla Benny, respectively. While waiting for our orders, we started shooting the shit with the owners/chefs. Turns out they were line cooks at a bar/restaurant in the neighbourhood. The owner of that restaurant approached them to start a food truck but they didn’t like the deal he offered, so the guys at Mighty Skillet decided to strike out on their own. The rest as they say, is history.

Kiran’s Few Words

The interesting and most obvious thing about Mighty Skillet is the size of their truck. I think this has got to be the tiniest food truck I have seen to date…I guess these guys have nothing to prove. Haha. Jokes aside though, like all other food truck owners, they were amazed at how quickly and easily they were able to receive their permits from the City.

Eggs benny out of a truck? Who'da thunk it'd actually be goodAnother cool about the Skillet is that they make their own hot sauce. Any place that makes their own hot sauce gets instant respect in my eyes. The hot sauce went especially well with the eggs benny and the hollandaise sauce. It was hot but not too spicy and it punched up the flavours quite a bit. The eggs were poached perfectly and quite well. The hollandaise sauce was light and airy, and the fact that it came out of a truck is a testament to these guys’ skills.

The only complaint I have is that the eggs benny came on a “bed” of hash browns, which didn’t look much like hash browns. At first, I was a bit confused about what I was eating since it looked like steak. But turned out it was the hash browns and they were chewy and rubber-y. It was still palatable, but definitely not the hash browns I was hoping for. Elsie Hui posted something similar to that effect on her own blog as well.

Richard’s Ruminations

Baconstrips& Baconstrips& Baconstrips& Baconstrips - $4It was a nice sunny spring morning in Central Memorial park, when all of a sudden – FUCKING THOR’S HAMMER DROPPED FROM THE SKY IN FOOD TRUCK FORM.  If you weren’t ready to rock out to heavy metal and crush 3 lbs of bacon while watching the Avengers, you would be after seeing this truck.  Actually, when we were there, the tunes they were playing were more along the lines of Best Coast and Arcade Fire, but you get the drift.  In any case, it’s a sweet looking truck, and their superhero spatulas and arms-off coveralls help round out their look (the resemblance to Holy Smoke’s uniform is pure coincidence).

These guys apparently just dropped their jobs to start up this food truck – in November.  Gutsy time of year to start up an outdoor food service in Calgary, I’d say – but it seems to have paid off, as their hard work has apparently earned them a coveted spot with two other lucky trucks right in the heart of the stampede grounds during this year’s Stampede – keep an eye out for them!

These dudes are pretty chill - important when you are cramped up in such a tiny interiorI ordered the corned beef and hash browns, which happened to include other niceties like fried eggs and fresh tomatoes.  It was a pretty solid dish – the eggs were really nicely done and the tomatoes were deliciously juicy – but the medium-cut corned beef was just alright.  The hash browns, as Kiran mentioned, were curiously dark and certainly didn’t look much like hash browns, the potato type OR the McDonalds type.  I thought they were quite nicely seasoned, but people who like a potatoey flavour in their potatoes might find them lacking.

Sadly, they didn’t offer coffee when we were there – apparently they used to have their own blend of coffee but apparently the coffee machine drew too much power for their tiny truck to handle.  Hopefully they get that worked out in the future!  In any case, their drinks were surprisingly affordably priced at $1 for a juice – not too common these days!  The meals themselves weren’t super-cheap, but the numbers seemed typical for “food truck pricing.”

Homemade hotsauce, just like my mama used to makeThis here is the hash brown - would you have known without the mouseover text?

Kent’s 2 Cents

You can trade a fistfulla dollars for a fistfulla benny. What’s not to like.

Final Thoughts

In YYC’s burgeoning food truck boom, the Mighty Skillet flexes its mighty skills in breakfast-making to make its mark on the city. 

-Kiran

Mighty Skillet Brunch Truck on Urbanspoon

Chasing Free-range Chickens at Over Easy Breakfast

Summary: if you can suffer through the wait times, OEB is worth the long line-up and chaotic billing system.

I don’t really understand why Bridgeland is turning into a mecca for breakfast/brunch joints, but every other week I find myself in another long line-up waiting for (what I hope to be) a delicious start to my weekend. As such, I ended up finding myself in Bridgeland once again on a sunny Sunday with Richard.

The insides are pretty tiny and it shows. It was bustling by the time we got to OEB. There isn’t enough room for patrons to line up near the entrance, so we were split up into two groups: one that just got there and the other for those who got there 15 min earlier than you…at the other end of the restaurant by the kitchen.

I really liked the ambiance of the place. Unfortunately, due to a technical snafu, I seem to have accidentally deleted all my photos, so a written description is the best we can do. There’s a very “cafe” vibe to OEB, with large floor-to-ceiling windows facing the street that let plenty of natural light in. There’s a large centre table to share between multiple parties and side tables for those lucky enough to have come early. The kitchen is partially exposed to the seating area so you can kinda see what the cooks are up to…which is always pretty cool in my opinion.

Kiran’s 2 Cents

The coolest thing for me is the fact that OEB’s eggs from free range chickens that they own on the Sparks egg farm (I couldn’t help but think of this sketch when I heard that –Richard). With that in mind, I got the eggs over easy on a toasted bagel with cherry tomatoes and avocado. I also got home-style fries on the side to carbo-load my busy day consisting of sitting on the couch watching TV.

The fries were the highlight of my dish. Perfectly salted and herbed with oregano, I can honestly say these were the best tasting fries I have had in a while. The guacamole was clearly made from fresh avocados and had a great citrus-y tang. Adding a little bit of hot sauce to the whole ensemble really brought out the flavours.

Unfortunately though, I couldn’t really taste any difference between OEB’s free-run, grain-fed eggs vs. regular store bought organic eggs. I suppose they are one and the same thing though.

My only problem with the whole experience was the payment process. For some strange reason, OEB doesn’t believe in wireless payment terminals that have become ubiquitous in every restaurant around town. Instead, you have to pay at the counter where there’s an overflow of people a) waiting to be seated, b) waiting in line to pay, and c) trying to get to the washrooms through a) and b). This whole process pissed me off, especially cause it doesn’t need to be that way. All the proprietor needs to do is build a heated overflow area outside and the problem would be solved (though to be honest, the sidewalk out front is pretty tiny too –Richard).

Richard’s Ruminations

Between Diner Deluxe, Blue Star and Over Easy (or the OEB as they seem to want to be branded as now), Bridgeland is surely the mecca for hipster breakfasts in Calgary.  Waiting times at all of these places are almost guaranteed to top an hour during peak times on weekends these days, so be sure to show up early and put your name on the waiting list!  Despite the cramped interior, waiting isn’t really that bad at OEB – you can get your coffee along with complimentary banana bread to munch on while you wait.  I agree with Kiran that they probably shouldn’t direct people to wait at the back though, as not only is that the cashier’s area, but that’s also where the “condiment bar” is located.  Not a bad place to hang out if you want to get cozy with some strangers, though!

I too liked the clean, simple interior with retro styling, though I wonder if they ever change the “menu” that seems to be scrawled in chalk on the roof.  They manage to squeeze around 10 tables into the place, along with what I like to call the “community bench.”  The staff was super-friendly, which definitely brightened my morning.  Oh yeah, the place is also fully licenced, which means you can order your coffee liquored up or try their very limited selection of beer and wine.

The menu is pretty straightforward, though with a nice amount of customization – pancakes, french toast, and waffles are fully interchangeable!  I went with the threesome of waffles, thinly-sliced ham and their much-touted eggs (ordered over-medium, which is the best way to identify a quality short-order cook in my opinion).  The waitress was eager to point out that the eggs are enhanced with keratin supplements, though amusingly she didn’t know exactly what that meant (we could hear the wait staff talking to the kitchen staff about it later).  No doubt though, the eggs are a thing of beauty, with extremely rich, brightly-colour yolks.  The waffles and ham were decent, but nothing mindblowing.

Prices are comparable to the other breakfast places in Bridgeland – that is to say, not that cheap, but you can probably get your money’s worth in free banana bread if you are feeling especially avaricious.  Between the cheery atmosphere, stellar service and quality food, I think it’s well worth both the price and the wait!

Summary

I had a good time at OEB. If you discount the horrible payment ordeal, the friendly staff, the trust-fund hipster ambiance, and the great food more than make up for the wait times. I would highly encourage everyone to check it out…with one caveat: get there early! If you want to read up on other reviews on OEB, check out Eat Your City’s review.

Ranking

Kiran Richard
Ambiance 4/5 4/5
Service 3.5/5 4.5/5
Taste 4/5 4/5
Originality 4/5 4/5
Value 4/5 4.5/5
Overall 19.5/25 = 78% 21/25 = 84%

OEB Breakfast Co. on Urbanspoon