This Sh*t's Delicious

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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

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[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

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.

[Cool Sh*t] The Mother of All Hot Sauces–aka How to Get an Anal Ring of Fire & Love it

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IMG_0006In my ever expanding quest to find the best and greatest hot sauces, I have sampled many a generic department store hot sauce – everything ranging from Frank’s Hot Sauce to Colon Cleanser – only to face constant disappointment. Most hot sauces found at Co-op, Safeway, or Superstore are usually either a) not hot enough, or b) are just too bland – they simply don’t pack the emotional punch. The only hot sauce to date that I can respect (and that can own my ass) is that Sri Racha hot sauce that gets commonly served at the pizza-by-the-slice places. But even then, my body’s gotten so used to it that I no longer experience the coveted anal ring of fire.

On my way back from ‘boarding at Lake Louise last week, I had the sudden brain flash to stop off at the Grizzly Paw to stock up on some delicious local, hand-crafted sodas and beers. As I walked into the store, I got momentarily distracted with all the cool Grizzly Paw merchandise. Turns out it was a serendipitous distraction as my eyes immediately gravitated to the “hot sauce” corner. “What’s this?” you say. Since when did The Paw start selling hot sauces? I don’t know, but did I really care? With awesome titles like “Acid Rain” and “Grumpy Bear”, I couldn’t resist taking a look…

To be honest, I was pretty sceptical: after years of disappointment, I roll my eyes at warnings like “This hot sauce is extremely hot. Use at your own risk.” Really? I bathe in this shit, biaaatch, I am pretty sure it’s not that fucking hot. Nevertheless, I turned over the hilariously titled hot sauce called “Alberta Crude” to examine the ingredients: tomato paste, jalapeno peppers, habanero peppers, peri-peri peppers…wait what? Habanero peppers? Surely, you jest? My eyes deceive me…

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But, no, it turns out my eyes hadn’t deceived me. The ingredient list indeed contained habanero peppers, one of THE highest ranked chilli peppers on the Scoville Heat Index. The HI on these babies range anywhere from 325-570,000…and I finally found a hot sauce made out of them.

I was pretty excited at this point, to say the least. I took a look at the other offerings and settled on “Mother of all Hot Sauces” as my second choice. This one had even more AWESOME warnings like “Not for people with heart or respiratory problems” and “Give yourself a natural high…without working out or pumping iron!!”

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YES.

I sped home and eagerly opened up the bottles. My initial instinct was to dump a whole bunch of Mother of All Hot Sauces (MoAHS) on my samosas, but common sense prevailed. You respect the habanero, no matter how much heat you think you can handle. So, I dropped a dash of MoAHS on a spoon and gave it a taste…

SH*T! THIS FUCKING SH*T IS HOT! My mouth and throat started burning instantly. I could feel sweat pangs forming on my forehead. My eyes started watering slightly and I felt the onset of a small headache. And this wasn’t the kind of heat that goes away after an instance. It stays with you, burning a hole in your throat and stomach. You don’t drink water to quench heat like this – you have to go straight for milk or yogurt!

Unfortunately, MoAHS is so hot that your taste buds can’t really process any other flavours – your brain just gets overwhelmed by the sheer intensity of the heat. This isn’t necessarily a pleasant sensation (as you might have figured out by now), but it is worth the $5 I spent on the bottle. I suspect that as my taste buds eventually get used to the heat, I will start tasting the other inherent flavours present in this potent creation.

Next up was Alberta Crude. The warning signs on the label were slightly less frightening: instead of being “extremely hot”, this one was only “very hot”. Haha. I tried this one by itself as well and was actually rather pleased by its mellow (er) heat index. My taste buds could detect hints of other flavours – the overall effect was that of a smoky, sweet BBQ sauce with more kick to it than a regular BBQ sauce. It went really well with the samosas I had at home, especially as the tangy notes in AC were reminiscent of tamarind chutney that samosas get traditionally served with.

Overwhelmed by how awesome these hot sauces were, I sat down at the computer to do some research on the interwebs. I knew that The Paw didn’t make the Hatari brand of hot sauces; their selection was limited to the beer-infused Grumpy Bear brand that they made in-house. Turns out there is an entire website dedicated to these hot sauces. This isn’t some mom & pop operation, it’s actually an entire line of hot sauces, bbq sauces, and dried spices that you can buy online or at retailers. BUT best of all….

IT’S ACTUALLY MADE IN CALGARY! What the what…?!IMG_0030

Turns out “Sam”, the owner of the Hatari Bros. brand, was born in Africa, but eventually settled in good ol’ Calgary, Canada for some reason and has been pumping out his potent creations throughout Canada and US. Even the name “hatari” is a Swahili reference to a chilli pepper discovered in South Central Africa…though I wasn’t able to find any references to this particular hot pepper in my quick 1 min. Google search. Also, Acid Rain, which is one of the milder hot sauces, was actually an award winner at the Fiery Food Challenge, 2000. Damn, Hatari Bros. hot sauces have been around since then? #fail.

The next morning, as I was peeing, I felt a tinge of burning sensation at the tip of my penis. All was good in the world again. Order and balance had been restored. Although slightly peeved that I didn’t know about such an epic creation right in my own city, I am nonetheless proud that some of the hottest hot sauces known to man are made in Calgary!

Good eatin’!

-Kiran

Good food, good times at Borgo Trattoria

Summary: a trendy, hip, yet casual place to hang out for morning coffee, lunch, dinner or post-dinner drinks with a great selection of tapas-style appetizers

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Borgo Trattoria is the latest restaurant offering from Owner/Executive Chef Giuseppe di Gennaro of the now-defunct Capo Restaurant in Inglewood and is tucked away in Mount Royal Village Shops, just off 17th Ave SW. The great thing about Borgo is that this place is open all day…literally. According to the website, the coffee bar/lounge/restaurant starts its day at 0830 and ends somewhere around mid-night (presumably…the website just says “till close”). So, basically, they are open for morning coffee, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, AND late night snacks….pretty ambitious!

I am not complaining though, as YYC needs more late night hang-outs like Model Milk where you can get good food and drinks. It also helps that the interior is gorgeous and is a visual feast. We went after work on a Friday night, but judging by the pictures taken by other bloggers, the place looks gorgeous in natural daylight. The high ceiling creates the impression of a wide open space even though there is a bar right smack in the middle of  the establishment. The coffee/alcohol bar can be viewed from all corners of the restaurant which further lends to feeling of spaciousness. There is also a semi-private area tucked in behind the bar that is available for private parties.

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Kent and Richard got there at around 1800 and had to wait about 30 min. for a table. The place was pretty happening by that time and had a great vibe and excitement. It felt like we were transported to some other place instantly like NYC or some other big city.

We were seated in a spacious booth and each given a paper copy of the menu. The concept at Borgo, if you haven’t heard by now, is family-style shared meals. They have four different menus: lunch, dinner, dessert, and cicheti (small bites). Most of the appy’s are priced per piece, meaning you can order as many or as little as you want to share amongst a group of friends.

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Kiran’s Judgement

The vegetarians at the table ended up ordering risotto cheese fonduta ($2 pp), bruschetta ($2 pp), eggplant fritta with fennel yogurt dip ($7), sauteed mushrooms ($8), and finally, grilled foccacia with balsamic vinegar in olive oil ($4) to start. This was a large amount of items, but we were sharing between four people, so it wasn’t really that substantial.

Biting into the risotto cheese fonduta “balls” was equivalent to biting into a little fluffy cloud: a deep-fried, creamy, cheesy, extremely delicious piece of cloud! Must try!

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The bruschetta was delicious but felt a bit flat. The crostini was a bit too thick for my liking and the “bruschetta” was just a piece of tomato on top of the buffalo mozzarella.

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Eggplant fritta was very addictive, especially with the fennel yogurt dipping sauce. The crispy exterior gave a very satisfying crunch every time I bit in to it.

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The sautéed mushrooms smelt delicious, but ultimately didn’t live up to it. The sauce was creamy but not too rich and was perfectly seasoned though.

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Last but not least was the focaccia bread which was very soft and perfectly salted. The mark of any good restaurant is the bread they serve, and in this case, Borgo definitely delivered.

IMG_0453All throughout this gastronomical tour of Italian cicheti, the service was perfect. Our server was on top of things and was very helpful and patient with our questions. Everything came out almost immediately and nothing was missed.

After demolishing all the cicheti, we had room still for pasta, so we went for the tomato and mozzarella gnocchi…which turned out to be the major disappointment of the night. The sauce was extremely salty. I love salt, but this was too much even for me. I couldn’t eat more than one or two bites at a time. I thought I was the only one but everyone at the table felt the same.

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Not wanting to offend the chef, we enquired if the the gnocchi was supposed to be that salty, which sounds like such a stupid question, but I am no food critic, so I didn’t want to look like a fool. This seemed to set off a chain of events which ultimately led to the manager reproaching us for not informing the kitchen earlier on. This was fair: in retrospect, instead of being polite, we should have informed the kitchen right away. We didn’t really want more food (which he offered) either, so it was all good.

Richard’s Notes

When I hear “Trattoria,” I think of a small, family style Italian restaurant, but Borgo is a trendy, modern-themed locale that kind of reminds me of Model Milk in its lighting and white bricks.  The black-and-white film projected on the wall and factory/industrial elements all added to the chic feel – expect to see plenty of yuppies here.

The main menu fits on a single sheet – though in this case, the piece of paper is tabloid-sized and double-sided, so there is quite a variety of small eats, pastas and meaty mains to choose from.  They even have a sort of “charcuterie” section with meats and cheeses. 

An initial glance suggested that prices weren’t too bad, but our waitress warned us that “everything is small… very small.” Turns out that her warning was fair for a few of the dishes – for example, the wafer-thin scallops, which probably weighed less than the ink on the menu (though they still packed a surprisingly good amount of flavour).  Some of the dishes though, like the mushrooms and the pasta, I thought were quite reasonably sized.  Plus, the sodas are only $2 a pop, which is quite a good deal for a place like this.

As for taste – well, it was all over the map on the evening that we were there.  The mushrooms were very nice, with the aroma of truffles and cream, but the bruschetta was rather mediocre (hard, thick bread, not very flavourful) and I wasn’t the biggest fan of the foccacia (it’s on the dense side, and was served barely above room temperature). 

Even the pasta was bipolar – in addition to the gnocchi, Kent, our friend Song and I also shared the paccheri maccheroni (in essence, giant, tube-shaped pasta).  The pasta had a nice springy texture, the shrimps were crisp and juicy, and the bit of panko sprinkled on added an interesting dimension to the dish.  Alas, it was also salty as balls – this wouldn’t be a dish suitable for people with hypertension.  I’m not sure if it was an off night, or if it’s commonly like that, but we couldn’t finish the pasta as a result and I was gulping water for the rest of the night. 

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I finished with a couple scoops of sorbetto, almond and lemon – they were decent, though the almond one was a bit sandy (I think almond makes a better gelato than sorbetto).

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Service was a bit oddball as well – it was adequate (if a bit slow) earlier on in the night, but for some reason after we spoke to the manager about the saltiness of the pasta our waitress appeared to get banned from our table (in any event, she never came back).  It was an awkward situation to say the least.

 

Summary

Despite the uneven food, I was pretty impressed by the service quality. None of us were expecting Borgo to not charge us for the gnocchi, especially as we ended up eating over half of it, so I give kudos to the manager that night. Kent’s attempt at tipping was dismissed (this was the most bizarre part of the whole night), but it would have been unconscionable if we didn’t leave a $20 tip for the service and reversal of charges. 

At the end of the day, the food was hit and miss, with some of the appy’s being great and other’s not as much. There’s nothing on the menu that would entice me to come back for dinner, but that said, Borgo would be an amazing place for morning Illy coffee (and freshly baked goods) or late night eats after a play or movie. Borgo seems to have garnered a lot of negative reviews for their service, but this could have been due to the initial growing pains. Most of the established bloggers such as Dan’s Good Side and Chocolate & Ginger though, don’t seem to report any problems with service or food quality.

At the end of the day, any restaurant that is willing to eat the cost of a dish is serious about it’s service quality and reputation. Combined with the excellent service, the lively ambiance, and of course, the food, Borgo is a great place to share an evening with friends and family.

-Kiran

Ranking

Kiran Richard Kent
Ambiance 5/6 4.5/6 /6
Service 5/6 3/6 /6
Plating 4/6 5/6 /6
Taste 4/6 3/6 /6
Originality Authenticity 5/6 5/6 /6
Value 3/6 2.5/6 /6
Overall 26/36 = 72% 23/36 = 64% /36 =

Borgo Trattoria on Urbanspoon

Review of Jacqueline Suzanne’s Weekend Brunch

Summary: a mediocre brunch experience that left me wanting for more.

IMG-20111217-00054I love Inglewood, especially all the boutique restaurants, art galleries, and stores that have opened up in that area of the last 2-3 years. I always knew Inglewood was cool, but it wasn’t until my field assignment – where I would rotate in and out of Calgary on a two on, two off basis – that I truly got to explore one of our oldest neighbourhoods. Having finally gotten the chance to explore that community in greater depth, I “discovered” all the cool restaurants like Nectar (now Without Papers), Sugo, Bite Groceteria, and of course, the subject of the current blog post, Jacqueline Suzanne’s.

I had managed to secure a brunch-for-two groupon a couple of months ago, so figured a lazy Saturday morning after the company Christmas party would be a great time to check out Jacqueline Suzanne’s brunch offerings. The usual deal is a three course brunch for $25 that you can get anytime, but in this case, the offer was $25 brunch for two people.

IMG-20111217-00055JS is a bistro, but the ambiance inside is quite different from all the bistros I have been to in my life. Most bistros have a light and airy feel, with plenty of windows to let natural light in. However, JS was quite dark; the interior is perhaps more suited to a romantic evening dinner than a weekend brunch. It was a cloudy but bright day outside, so the contrast was even more jarring. Honestly, I personally felt that I had inadvertently walked into a gypsy fortune teller’s lair. My gf better described it as “charmingly antiquated”…

Nevertheless, we were here for the food, not the ambiance. Although we didn’t have any reservations, we were seated pretty quickly and without much fuss. As we had a groupon, we had to choose from a pre-set three course breakfast menu. M. and I got the “Breakfast Martini” for our first “course”, which ended up being a delicious choice. I am a big fan of boozy starts to the day…something I picked up in NYC this year where bottomless mimosas seem to be de rigeur during weekend brunch.

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We then headed straight to the main course, which consisted of typical fair such as eggs benny, crepes and/or French toast. Our server seemed pretty new/inexperienced, so he had a hard time time with the menu – he either didn’t know or wasn’t sure about what was in the dishes. We just ended up ordering the vegetarian eggs benedict with hash-browns on the side. Our plates came out without much delay and looked pretty tantalizing. I have never eaten eggs benny before, esp with Hollandaise sauce, so I was looking forward to it.

The dish was adequately plated. It also tasted quite adequate; to be honest, I don’t remember much about it. It came with a slice of watermelon, which in retrospect, was out of place and AND season. All in all, it was tasty, but nothing overtly memorable.

At about this time, the place began started filling up rapidly, and subsequently, the service level started dropping rapidly. After what seemed like an inordinate amount of time, I finally managed to wave down our server to ask about their dessert offerings. M. got crème brulee and whereas I went with a chocolate cheesecake. Unfortunately, I forgot to take photos in my excitement as this was probably the best tasting part of the meal. It was positively heavenly. I had a taste of M’s brulee: silky, smooth, and just the right amount of sweetness. The cheesecake was also pretty delicious, but once again, unmemorable.  

At right about this time, we made the executive decision to pay our bill and get the hell out as we didn’t want to get stuck at brunch rush. I had to pay $10 for both our coffees in addition to the groupon – I guess that’s pretty standard nowadays for unlimited refills. It just hurts when it’s mediocre coffee.

Summary

I had been meaning to check out JS for a long time but was left a bit disappointed. I had had high hopes for this place but was left unsatisfied, especially with the food. It was a pretty great deal IF you had a groupon, but otherwise, $50 for brunch for two is a bit pricey in my opinion. To be fair, the ambiance and decor is a personal preference, so you can’t really fault them for that. F-log-for-thought, for instance, really seemed to have enjoyed and appreciated the space as well as the food. Anh Chu, over at icameforthefood.com seemed to have similar thoughts as myself regarding the food, although she was more apologetic in her tone for having knocked on a local, independent restaurant. Vincci over at Ceci nést pas un food blog has much better photos than my shitty smartphone ones and a much more intelligent critique of the eggs benny. At the end of the day though, the proof is in the pudding, and in this case, the pudding was only mediocre at best…

The only caveat is that my opinion is relegated to the brunch menu – the lunch and dinner offerings could be much better, but based on other bloggers’ reviews, I wouldn’t expect anything drastically different from what’s been said before. However, I don’t really plan on visiting this place again, so if you have eaten there for lunch or dinner, feel free to comment below!

Ranking

Kiran
Ambiance 3/6
Service 4/6
Plating 3.5/6
Taste 4/6
Originality 4/6
Value 3.5/6
Overall 22.5/36 = 61%

Jacqueline Suzanne's Bistro & Antiquities on Urbanspoon

The Blam!wich Ride-Along: Pulled over more people than a police ride-along

There comes a moment in every man’s life where he has to choose between sleeping in or manning up by waking up early to hang out with one of his favourite food trucks in town. A couple of Saturdays ago was that day.

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I showed up bright and early (for a Saturday) at Casel Marche where Blam!wich was going to be parked that day. It was a gorgeous but windy Fall day. Margie (owner) was already out and about getting ready to start off the day by turning on the generator:

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That right away answered one my long-standing mysteries: do they keep the engine running to power the truck? The answer (if you haven’t guessed it by now) is a no. The generator that Margie was working so hard to get started (while I was watching taking photos…haha) keeps the truck powered. It’s the most important piece of equipment out there.

Margie quickly took me inside the truck to introduce me to her line cooks Eleni (blue shirt, background) and Ashley:

The photos don’t do justice capturing how truly tiny the cooking space is inside the truck. At 6’3”, I felt like gojira walking through downtown Tokyo hell-bent on destroying everything. There isn’t really a lot of room to move and one quickly learns how to move in the most economical and efficient manner so you don’t start destroying shit. But back to that in a bit…

Margie, who is originally from Montreal (and has a degree in Art History) is a veteran of the food industry. On one of her trips out to Calgary, she fell in love with the mountains. One thing led to the other and she ended up owning, operating, running restaurants in the mountains for the next 15 years. Eventually, in Margie’s own words, every cook burns out and so did she, which led her to take an 8 year break in Marketing. The food truck pilot is her first venture back into the food industry…and she is going after it in full force!

IMG_0013Eleni, who was the head line cook that day, knows Margie from way back. She’s been in the industry since high school and has been through various roles over the past 11 years – from waitressing to culinary manager – before hooking up with Margie on the Blam!wich adventure.

Last, but not the least in the truck was was Ashley who was helping Eleni to speed up the line and cut down the wait times for sandwiches. Ashley, who’s originally from Manitoba (who’s favourite is the Tree Hugger!) kinda fell into the food industry and has been working in it since she moved to Calgary two years ago. IMG_0037

As mentioned earlier, the truck aka “Pearl” was pretty cramped. Margie and her bf picked it up in Golden from a guy who was looking to get rid of it. The duo drove it all the way to yyc, painted it themselves, got a friend to design the logo, got all the necessary permits, and BLAM!, were on the road selling sandwiches in less than a month…all thanks to the extremely streamlined City of Calgary process to get the food truck pilot going. Good job, CoC!

Challenges

The most fascinating part of the day for me was seeing the trio in action dealing with multiple orders. Prep work such as cutting veggies, cooking the ratatouille, and prepping the jerk sauces is done the night before in an external kitchen. While trucks such as Perogy Boyz and Alley Burger have their restaurants where such prep work can be done, Blam!wich doesn’t have that luxury, and hence, has to rent an external kitchen.

Even then, the cramped working conditions don’t help, especially as most line cooks like Eleni are used to lots of counter space if full size restaurant kitchens.IMG_0018

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With multiple orders coming in at one, it’s pretty important to be on the ball – the ability to multi-task is critical. Someone like Eleni has to constantly calculate in their head which orders can be grouped together so she can efficiently get orders out in that 7 min. window.

Even little things like how the order is written down makes a difference in her efficiency. For instance, depending on who’s taking the orders, the location of the customer’s name changes, costing Eleni that extra second before registering the name and calling it out. It’s a high stakes operation in there.IMG_0078

Of course, once all the prepping and cooking are done, it’s time to clean the truck. All in all, most food truck operators are looking at 12-16 hour days after the prepping and cleaning activities are taken in to account!

I got to hang out with John (aka Margie’s bf) towards the end of my sojourn and we got talking about the cost challenges involved in running a truck. A lot of people (including myself) have complained about how much this supposedly “fast food” costs. At the end of the day, there are a lot of costs that have to be covered by that $8 sandwich: food, labour for three, insurance, rental for a separate kitchen, indoor parking lot during winter so fire suppression system doesn’t freeze up, etc. that all add up and need to be paid for.

I think the main issue is perhaps the perception that food from a truck is supposed to be fast, and more importantly, cheap. While this could be true, it often isn’t, as there is a lack of understanding around what it takes to own and operate a truck: it is essentially a mini-restaurant on wheels.

At the end of the day, if the truck ain’t working, then there’s no revenue coming in. It’s as simple as that.

Positives

IMG_0049The most positive thing about working in a food truck environment for all three seemed to be the chance to meet people from all walks of life. The constantly evolving and dynamic nature of the job seemed to fuel both Margie and Eleni. Both of them seemed to revel in the adrenalin rush of working in a high-stress, multi-tasking environment. Margie especially seemed to thrive on the high of meeting and interacting with multiple people.

What amazed me the most was how elated people looked when they picked up their orders. I don’t know if I look that happy when I pick-up my orders, but it was the most amazing thing to watch from behind the scenes. At the end of the day, that probably in itself keeps the crew going day after day.

IMG_0094Future Plans

Amazingly enough, Blam!wich plans on working through the winter, once again showcasing that the only way to take back winter is to stop bitching and doing something about it. Margie plans to buy a 10’ x 10’ pop-up tent so people can be sheltered from the wind while waiting for their orders. Pretty neat.

Blam!wich is also planning on trialing a RT Twitter ordering system. The whole idea is customers can tweet their orders in prior to getting to the truck. Margie guarantees that the sandwiches will be ready in 7 min. regardless of when you plan on getting there. So, if you pre-order too soon, your sandwich might be sitting for a while…which is not a bad price to pay for not having to stand in –20 deg C weather. Brilliant!

Summary

It was pretty illuminating hanging out behind-the-scenes and getting to know the people who make great things happen. The three ladies formed a pretty tight team – everyone knew exactly what their job was and what they needed to get done – and didn’t waste any energy or energy getting those sandwiches out. It was pretty cool to see Eleni intensely focused, popping out multiple sandwiches like Third World Country families pop out kids!

The trucks will have to step up their game eventually once the novelty wears off. Right now, people are willing to disregard the high costs and/or band reviews for the novelty of trying out truck food. Shows like Eat Street on Food Network (which, interestingly enough, contacted the City to do a piece on yyc food trucks as opposed to the other way round!) have done a great job of introducing North Americans to the concept of food trucks, but like everything, Calgarians will undoubtedly get jaded and will start getting more discerning. It’s going to be very interesting to see how new and old players evolve and adapt to an increasingly demanding audience.

Personally, I couldn’t be happier. This was one thing missing from the Calgary food scene. As someone who grew up in cities with an amazing street food culture, it is very exciting to see Calgary develop it’s own street food scene. Calgarians now have additional options to satisfy their late night hunger pangs after a hard night of partying.

After all, there’s only so many times you can satisfy your soul with pizza-by-the-slice after some heavy drinking.

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Blam!Wich on Urbanspoon