This Sh*t's Delicious

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Get a Spade, Plant Some Shit: A Candid & Oft-Hilarious Conversation with @downtownfood Chef Darren MacLean on Modernist Cuisine, Life & Urban Agriculture

There is no king or queen of urban agriculture in Calgary, but if there’s one guy who’s making waves, it’s Chef Darren McLean who recently converted a barren and life-less rooftop above his restaurant downtownfood into a full-blown permaculture ecosystem. The urbanag project, while not the first of it’s kind (Rouge has one), is intended to educate and start a conversation about our food systems.

I finally found some time to sit down with MacLean and dig a bit deeper into his story. Warning: MacLean is a fast-talking, passionate, no-holds barred kind of guy. He’s an interesting blend of humility, charisma, and the “let’s get shit done” attitude that Calgary is famous for.

I have tried to capture his essence as much as I can. So, if you are easily offended, then well, in MacLean’s own words, you can go fuck yourself.

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Tell me a little bit about yourself

I am just a cook who’s trying get by (laughs).

I have been cooking professionally for about 7 years but started at Ricky’s when I was 13 as a line cook. I grew up in Calgary mainly but have always been around farms and rural cultures around Innisfail and Alberta.

I went to university for Finance, realized didn’t like too much, so switched my focus back to cooking.

What is your inspiration behind downtownfood?

We wanted to bring something new and exciting to the city. We keep our menu small and very interesting. There are no super-safe items. I try to bring out the natural flavours in the ingredients we use.

The vision behind downtownfood is that it is an amalgamation of food that occurs downtown. The heartbeat of any city is the food downtown – we are trying to encapsulate the essence or soul of what downtown food should be.

Our lunch menu is very street food-esque. For instance, our burger comes with a free strawberry milkshake – we don’t tell you it’s coming with one, we just surprise you with one. If you want chocolate or strawberry, then quite frankly, you can go fuck yourself cause it’s only strawberry for me.

What is your definition of “interesting”?

That’s a very interesting question. I want to do things that are new and different, something that you haven’t seen before. I like to challenge conventional notion of what certain foods are and get people talking about food in terms of where it came from, and so on.

Sounds like you are integrating a little bit of molecular gastronomy into your food.

We do. We cure our own bacon; we spherify and foam ingredients when it makes sense. Absolutely.

But technique for technique’s sake is a waste of time. If the technique works and adds to the plate, then I am all for it. But I don’t want to put a bunch of fucking spheres and foams on a plate just cause it’s cool to do.

If it doesn’t taste good, who cares what it looks like. It’s the flavours that preserve memories.

So you prefer the term “modernist cuisine” to “molecular gastronomy”?

imageFood should have soul. You have these chefs who are very technical and their dishes look beautiful. But if it tastes like a fucking paper bag, who cares? Molecular gastronomy has developed into modernist cuisine. Everybody can spherify – it’s not a secret – we can take it now and apply it to modern cuisine as it makes sense.

Modernist cuisine essentially is a portrait of the latest and greatest techniques of the 20th century. It is still rooted in classical cuisine and if you don’t understand the latter, then the modernist cuisine is a waste of time.

It’s cool. It’s really cool. But man, nature did it best. Why mess with it?

Give me a brief description of the urban agriculture project you started at downtownfood.

It’s a 2000 sq. ft. roof top space that we have converted into a permaculture ecosystem. We partnered up with REAP (Respect for Earth & All People), Greengate Garden Center & Alberta Beekeepers Association to create this ecosystem in a barren dead zone.

We have two beehives, solar drip irrigation, a rain catch and 36 pots amongst many other things. There are no artificial pesticides in use – it’s all natural compost.

This isn’t just a bunch of hippies getting together to plant some seeds and grow food. We have meticulously thought about it as a system all they way down to plant spacing and the plant arrangement.

That’s quite a massive undertaking. What inspired this?

You know, growing vegetables has become so foreign to us. Sixty years ago, there were no supermarkets. If you told someone you were growing veggies in your backyard, they would give you this wtf look. In a whole generation, we have managed to entirely disconnect ourselves from the food system. That’s not right.

I am an activist. I want to change the food system from the inside by leading the conversation and getting people to understand where our food comes from.

What kind of reactions have you gotten from people?

The groundswell of support has been amazing. I have random people living in skyscrapers above the garden who love seeing things grown in a barren dead space. Random people tweet me or drop off their plants for the rooftop garden.

Did you envision this as a community project from the start?

I am just an ideas guy who gets shit done. Quite frankly, I don’t understand the fundamentals of growing food. I just called up Greengate and started chatting with them. They got so excited, they donated everything.

People wanna eat real stuff man. Get a strawberry from Broxburn Farms and compare them with the California shit that is artificially ripened. You will know what real strawberries taste like.

How does one get started, especially if you live downtown and don’t have a backyard?

Get a planter, fill a box, and plant some shit.

If you get stuck, go to Greengate Garden Centers, tell them what you want, and they will know what to do. Start small with one thing at a time.

So what’s your long-term vision for this project?

I want to become a node in the community. My vision is to help people understand the culture of food and where food comes from.

In 6-7 years from now, I want to spearhead a food stop in the inner city. It’s essentially like a food bank, but instead of getting canned food, the needy get hot, freshly prepared meals from locally sourced ingredients.

I want to take half an acre out somewhere in the inner city and feed people. I grew up poor. My mother worked two jobs to support us. I ate a lot of canned food growing up.

Food is a fundamental human right.

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MacLean was kind enough to provide me a sample of his watermelon salad. I am not going to into the details of what was in it – you can go to his restaurant and find out yourself – but suffice to say, I *got* his philosophy and passion. The entire dish tasted like watermelon – that was the singular focus of the dish and it was executed well.

Watermelon is so fucking delicious – why would you want to change it and make it taste like anything else?

Brilliant.

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!

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. 

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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

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

Boozin’ it up Kiwi-style 1: Pomona Traditional Apple Cider

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Pomona apple cider is second in a series of alcoholic drinks that I bought when I was over in Nz for a holiday. This drink is also brewed by Monkey Wizard, the very same brewery that I blogged about earlier when I reviewed their Wheat Ale.

I was actually more excited about this drink than the wheat ale –which turned out to be quite disappointing – even though I hadn’t tried it out at the brewery (no open bottles). The selling point basically was:

“All mainstream market ciders are shit. You need to try ours.”

Sold.

Here’s the lowdown:

IMG_1953Appearance: golden hue tinged with red. Clear in appearance, although it is supposed to be unfiltered…I didn’t notice any sediments

Aroma: apple-y

Taste: mellow, smooth, tangy with a clean finish. Bottle fermented so there wasn’t any of the sharp, pungent feel of forced-carbonation ciders like Strongbow. If you didn’t know any better, you could be fooled into thinking this was fruit juice. If you want a summary on bottle fermentation, check out out previous post here.

Palate: to be honest, I didn’t really taste much other than apples!

Monkey Wizard claims that the cider is unfiltered, unpasteurized, and fermented using only the wild yeast found on the apples. Riwaka (the town where the brewery is located) was pretty much over run with apple orchards, so I don’t doubt the claim that the cider apples have been cultivated over generations specifically cause they lend themselves well to be turned into cider.

Summary: a refreshing summer drink than can be surreptitiously fed to kids cause they won’t know the difference. Haha.