This Sh*t's Delicious

Exploring the world through cocktails, shit hole restaurants, and UrbanAg

Tag Archives: vegetarian

The Best Veggie Burger Recipe Ever (and no, it doesn’t involve tofu) @songsonglol

Alright, I am back after a long hiatus. The whole A-Cocktail-A-Day didn’t really pan out once I got back from Vancouver. I had several epiphanies during my storm chasing trip, the big one being about blogging more, so I jumped on to the the first thing that popped into my head, which was cocktails.

I really like cocktails. But I like blogging about other things too. There’s so many hole-in-wall restaurants that I would like to review. So many people to interview. A single-minded focus on cocktails would be great, but it isn’t the only thing I want to blog about.

Cocktails are still going to be the focus, but just not everyday. I am going to aim to blog everyday, just not only about cocktails.

With that in mind, here’s the first blog post of the week. I organized a BBQ with some friends on Sunday. The weather was a bit shitty, but the food was really good. Song, one of my long-time friends from Engineering was kind enough to make me (?) some veggie burgers. Song’s one of those gifted home chefs that makes her own recipes from scratch. She would be the one “thing” I would bring to a deserted island so I could have gourmet food everyday while waiting to be rescued.

Veggie Burgers (unedited – makes approx. 8 burgers)

Ingredients:

2 cans lentils, rinsed (green or yellow)
1 can six bean blend, rinsed
1.5 cups fresh herbs (loosely packed; mostly basil, carrot top, and a bit of cilantro, but parsley is good in it too!)
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 egg
2 cups shredded vegetables (I used one carrot and like 4 tiny beets and a small jalapeno, but whatever’s around works. I’ve made them with apples and zucchini before.)

Bread crumbs (I think it was nearly 2 cups I needed)
Oil (as needed)

Instructions:

1. Combine 1 can of lentils and 1/2 can of beans into a food processor with the herbs, garlic, cumin, and egg. Blend until it becomes a smooth paste.

2. Transfer the paste into a large bowl. Add the remaining lentils and beans along with the shredded vegetables and 1/3 cup bread crumbs. Stir until well combined.

3. Form into patties.  Pour additional bread crumbs on a plate or shallow dish. Take patties and press them into the crumbs to coat.

4. Fry them on the stove top over medium heat until golden on both sides.  Use oil in the pan liberally.

5. You can eat them after you fry them or store them in the fridge / freezer for a BBQ later!!

———

That’s it! The best thing about these burgers is the sheer amount of protein you consume. I am not really a big fan of those tofu veggie burgers as they often taste rubbery or quite frankly, are pretty bland and tasteless.

Song also likes the chunky texture you get by combining whole beans along with the pureed stuff, but if that’s not your thing, you could puree everything, I suppose.

A great compliment to the burgers was the sweet, tangy Carolina sauce that Song made from the original recipe. The only difference was she didn’t add any white pepper and switched olive oil for butter.

I ended up mixing the Carolina sauce with a little bit of Mango Fire hot sauce and it was absolutely gorgeous.

Let me know how you like this recipe!

NYC ExTRAVELganza! Part 3: Sweet Dreams

Ouch!  This article has been sitting in my “to finish” pile for months, but I’ve finally just gotten around to putting the pictures in – hopefully all of these places are still around!  This last article in the series covers the dessert/sweets places that I visited last September, as well as the restaurants that I remember most fondly.

Petit Abeille Petite Abeille on Urbanspoon – The “little bee” is a nice little shop with a surprisingly big behind, equipped with charming checkered tablecloths and floors and old-world sensibilities. If you want a little taste of Belgium, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start – Tin-Tin comics, Belgian waffles, and an extensive Belgian beer menu make it abundantly clear which country inspires this place. Turns out that there are four of them in NYC, though I went to the one close to Union Square for breakfast – the waffles were crisp and delicious (even if the strawberries were a little tart for my taste) and the coffee nice and robust. Recommend!

Quite the charming interiorNothing says Belgium like waffles!

 

Max Brenner Max Brenner on Urbanspoon – For those with a full set of sweet teeth – Chocolate by the Bald Man! It’s a pretty stylish place that’s still reasonably casual, and might be a good date place if it wasn’t chock-full of noisy tourists 😉 This place is surely diabetes in disguise – diabolically delicious! I ordered a frappe, which oddly came with a metal straw – I’m not sure if it was just a mental thing but it seemed to impart a metallic taste to the drink. The frappe was also on the edge of being too sweet, though given that it was the dulce-de-leche flavour that only makes sense.  They offer a number of sickeningly sweet indulgences, including a giant chocolate-filled syringe!

[Ohnoes, no pics!]

ChikaLicious ChikaLicious Dessert Bar on Urbanspoon – My first thought when I heard that this was a place that served a 3-course prix fixe menu for dessert only – too rich for my blood. But in reality, it’s a sweet little place where the diminutive but charmingly stoic owner/chef Chika makes you your dessert as you watch while seated at the bar. It was pretty cool to see the fresh figs get chopped up and the crème brulee torched in front of me. The “sous” chef (or whatever you might call them for a dessert bar) was an intense guy who beat the whipped cream as if it had committed crimes against humanity. The lemongrass panacotta and cantaloupe sorbet were both very nice, though I don’t remember much about the petit-fours that we had at the end.

Chika and her sidekick prepare the desserts while you watchEver seen a creme brulee like this?Why are these called petit-fours when there are only three? ;)

 

Big Gay Ice Cream Truck Big Gay Ice Cream Truck on Urbanspoon – One of my friends was adamant that I check out the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck, so luckily we happened to see it parked around Union Square one afternoon (Union Square seems to be a pretty popular hangout for the food trucks).  I was REALLY hoping to get an ice cream cone covered in Trix cereal, but unfortunately they only had flavours like the Salty Pimp (soft serve impregnated with dulce de leche and coated with sea salt and chocolate dipping) and Bea Arthur (crushed wafers and dulce de leche).  I ended up going with a wasabi peas cone, as it sounded pretty interesting, but unfortunately the wasabi peas were tres bland.  Far from fabulous, I’m afraid.  Soft serve is what it is, though, so if you’re looking for your fix of ice cream with a twist it’s worth checking out.

Their flavours are loud and proud

 

Dirt Candy Dirt Candy on Urbanspoon – Kiran had been wanting to try a place that dealt in “molecular gastronomy” so we went to one of the more affordable places that offered something resembling that – a cute-as-buttons vegetarian gig in the lower east side called Dirt Candy. It’s a tiny, tiny, place with 7 tables that seat 20 people max (I think 18 more typically). The menu seemed simple enough, so we ordered one of everything – literally! – to split between the three of us. That worked out to four-and-a-half appies, four mains and four desserts – which turned out to be just about right for three strapping young lads such as ourselves. The appetizers came out super fast, which is always nice. I don’t normally care too much for cornbread-like substances, but the hush puppies that we had were MINDBLOWING – not too dense, nicely crispy and accompanied with a lightly-sweet maple butter that complemented it perfectly. The mushroom “pate” was decent, if a little subtle for my tastes – but the mushroom “calamari” on top of the celery salad that we also got was downright terrific. It still didn’t make me like celery, but the baby celery bits that were spread around the plate made me smile. The deep fried cheese curds on the salad prompted Matt to swear to find a recipe for them. A couple of the appetizers were less impressive – there was a red-pepper soup which seemed rather watery (though I only tried a couple spoonfuls) and a “BBQ pork carrot” bun which confirmed to me that sometimes meat just can’t be replaced with vegetables.

What is dirt candy, exactly? Vegetables, of course!The lighting was VERY red and VERY dark - perfect for mushrooms?NEED MORE MAPLE BUTTER FOR THESE PUPPIES

A lot of the dishes seemed to be designed in a manner where meat/seafood would normally be found, in fact – besides the “pate,” “calamari” and BBQ buns, there was a tofu dish that could easily have been fish instead, and a smoked cauliflower & waffles dish that was a clear homage to chicken & waffles. It takes some real chops to fashion up dishes that contain only vegetables and have them stand up to their meat-bearing counterparts. For the most part, I’d say they succeeded – of the mains, my only disappointment was the gnocchi with chard, garlic granola and fig jam. It smelled like garlic heaven, but unfortunately I didn’t think the taste lived up to the smell – while there were some killer flavour/texture pairings (chard + garlic, granola + jam, garlic + cheese + gnocchi) I didn’t enjoy it so much when mixed all together. Oh well, taste is a subjective thing! Desserts ran the gamut from weird to wonderful – my least favourite being a very clever but unfortunate tasting watermelon-radish sorbet, with my personal favourite being the seriously solid pea and mint “Nanaimo bar” ice cream sandwich. There was also a straightforward but well executed pudding topped with popcorn, as well as a rather interesting beet chocolate cake.

I had to use flash because it was so dark, but this was "calamari" and saladTofu, with copious amounts of shizo and cucumberCorn dish not mentioned in text - grits, deep fried egg

Whew!  Well you can tell based on the space I’ve given this piece relative to the others that I really enjoyed this restaurant!  Another thing that I enjoy immensely is the absolutely hilarious blog that Amanda Cohen, the chef/creator of Dirt Candy, maintains at http://www.dirtcandynyc.com/ (if you ever want to start a restaurant of your own, make sure you are familiar with the oil rig scam!).

Amanda Cohen is from Canada <3, so here's tributeYessir, we finished everything to the last bite!

 

Les Halles Les Halles Downtown on Urbanspoon – This turn-and-burn French restaurant was once run by Anthony Bourdain, so it seemed like a good place to check out as a traveller.  The venue was bustling when we arrived, with wait staff that seemed to be made up of people from every corner of the Earth.  Service was stellar, with a server seemingly ready to swoop in and refold your napkin anytime you stood up from your table (though I’m used to sub-par service in Calgary, so maybe this is just the norm at any restaurant of note in NYC).  Without Kiran there to induce meat-guilt with his vegetarian visage, Matt and I were free to order dishes to satisfy our inner carnivores – starting with country-style pate, and ordering – what else – NY sirloins for mains.  The pate came out immediately and was absolutely delicious – well spiced and well salted – though country-style chunkiness surprised me, as the pates that I have had in the past had all been blended to be mousse-like.  The mustard that came on the side wasn’t even necessary.  The fries that came out with the steaks were some of the best fries that I’ve ever eaten – just the right mix of fat and potato, fresh, and perfectly crispy.  And mayo with the fries?  My arteries screamed no but my tastebuds quickly overruled them.  As for the steak – incredibly smooth, juicy, and flavourful – I couldn’t ask for more in a steak.  The salad was alright, but honestly I couldn’t care less about that given the quality of the rest of the meal.  To finish it off, we ordered a crepe Suzette – because honestly, who doesn’t love flambee’d shit?  It was quite citrusy and left my mouth with a little tingly sensation, but we ordered it mainly for the show anyway.  A fitting last meal for an incredible trip!

Pate tastes better than it looks - way betterFlambee away!Nothing quite satisfies like a great steak

 

A ten day trip, with 21 places to write about – I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of the smorgasborg that is New York City.  If you’re ever in NYC, hopefully you’ll have the chance to check out these places and enjoy them like I have.  I am sure I will be back again sometime in the future – so if you have any further recommendations on places to check out, be sure to let me know!  If you missed them, you can find part 1 (American food) and part 2 (Asian food) through the links!

These fake postcards are all pictures I took!

Cheers,

-Richard

[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

Review of That Schnitzel Place! A new hidden gem in Calgary

Summary: Simply put, the next Tubby Dog. Due its awkward location and limited hours, its popularity will never reach the mythical proportions of Tubby Dog. Good, ‘cause that will keep the fuckin’ hipsters out.

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The thing I love most about writing a food blog is discovering hidden gems that no one else’s heard of or knows about. And once in a while, a series of serendipitous events conspire together to bring you to such a place and completely blows you away.

Well, today was that day. Walking home from work, I walked past That Schnitzel Place (TSP). I had walked past this establishment quite a few times, but never had had the time or inclination to check it out. Luckily, my plans for post-work drinks and dinner with Kent and Richard fell through, so I needed a place to grab dinner. That Schnitzel Place satisfied that gaping hole.

The first thing that caught my attention was the big, bold “That Schnitzel Place” on red background. The next thing that catches your attention is “BIG, HOT, JUICY.” Enough said.

To the uninitiated, schnitzel’s are essentially breaded boneless meat that is tenderized and friend until crispy, golden brown. Technically, you can pound, bread, and fry anything and call it a schnitzel. I was quite surprised by how vegetarian-friendly TSP is. Pretty much every item of their menu can be made into a vegetarian version using Portobello mushrooms. In addition, there were some pre-existing “vegetarian-friendly” items on their menu already.

After chatting with the proprietor and his son (the cook), I decided to go with the Mexican-inspired Daily Special “Poncho Villa.” The latter consisted of Raspberry chipotle sauce; Havarti cheese; chilli-lime pico de gallo (with avocado, tomato, roasted corn, onion, red and green peppers); and topped with pea sprouts. I could have just as easily gone with the other vegetarian-friendly offerings, but this one just appealed to me the most.

Dave, who is one of the co-owners, decided I should also try his mushroom soup. This turned out to be the best decision of the day: I have never had better-tasting mushroom soup. I generally enjoy the earthy, neutral taste of mushroom soups, but this one had a delicious peppery kick to it. I was instantly sold. The bar was already set pretty high, and I hadn’t even seen the schnitzel sandwich yet!

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Finally, it arrived. I bit into it with anticipation and instantly heard the satisfying crunch of the breaded Portobello. I love that sound. The sweetness of the raspberry-chipotle combined with the pico de gallo to produce a combined sweet-tangy taste that was very pleasing. I loved how all the flavours combined to produce a harmonious effect overall. This Schnitzel’s Delicious (= “TSD”…This Sh*t’s Delicious…get it? ;D)! The cherry on top of the icing is the fact that TSP sells beer and wine!

Now for the behind the scenes look at the team behind TSP. I usually do this at the beginning, but elected to do it after reviewing the food once I realized how much material I had.

Dave (one of the co-owner’s) is local Calgarian born and raised here since 1951 when the population was only 89000 (wtf!). He’s truly seen Calgary grow from a small dusty, little prairie town to the hip, urban, multicultural town that it is now in a span of slightly more than half a century. His family is originally from Europe and was in the garment industry making FR oilfield clothing until competition from overseas made it uneconomical for them to operate the garment factory. Dave then went over to the company that makes polar fleece as a consultant.

ARxipVgdzamqx6-640mDave’s Calgarian roots are clearly reflected in the large very hip, urban posters that adorn TSP’s walls. I didn’t notice this initially, but each poster has TSP branding overlaid on Calgary landmarks like the Calgary Tower or the iconic Saddledome. Very cool. 

The point of the above personal history is that Dave & co actually have purportedly no prior food industry experience. They essentially knew the previous owner of the place who no longer wanted to own or run the place once his wife took ill. Dave and his co-owner saw an opportunity to own a restaurant and decided to buy the place from him. Just like that.

What makes this whole story even more amazing is how well put together this whole enterprise is. TSP is very well branded for a couple of retirees with no prior food industry experience (to be fair, maybe the co-owner does – I didn’t ask). From the matching t-shirts at the front counter to the website design, everything screams “meticulous” – branding is clearly at the forefront of the owners’ mind (intentionally or not). In fact, TSP reminded me a bit about Jelly Modern in that when you walk into JM, it is quite clear everything has been thought about twice and is a labour of love. This is no fuckin’ mom-and-pop operation, that’s for sure.

My only nitpick would be that I was hoping that menu was home grown considering family has European roots, but it appears that the menu was designed by a chef who also comes up with ideas for Daily Specials regularly. The chef (external, 3rd party) is the brains behind the menu and does the daily prep work, leaving the actual cooking and assembly to Dave’s son. But does this really matter? This sh*t’s delicious, so who gives a fuck?

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Closing Remarks

It’s not often that I come across a hidden jewel that none of the bloggers have heard of before. Most of the traditional blogs wouldn’t cover a place like this anyway as they mostly focus on the big-name restaurants. But TSD’s always held the opinion that it’s the small and hole-in-the-wall establishments like Canada Dosa Corner, Tu Tierra, and now TSP, that truly define the very fabric of a city. I am truly honored to be the first second yyc food blogger to review this place. Miss Foodie’s Gourmet Adventures has the honour of being the first.

Ranking

Kiran
Ambiance 4/6
Service 6/6
Plating 4/6
Taste 5.5/6
Originality 5.5/6
Value 4/6
Overall 29/36 = 81%

 

That Schnitzel Place on Urbanspoon

Maru Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kiran’s Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

-Richard

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

Maru Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Review of Canada Dosa Corner

Canada Dosa Corner (CDS) has been on my hit list for a long time. It fits every definition of a hole-in-the-wall place (HITW). In a seedy part of town? Check. Ethnic clientele? Check. Almost hilarious lack of attention to detail and decor? Check. Owner and chef from original country? Check. I could go on. To say that I was excited to check out this place would be an understatement.

CDS’s claim to fame is their ginormous dosas (crepes) made from rice flour and are a staple of South Indian cuisine (kinda like pasta for Italians). Unlike most French crepes, dosas are a traditionally savoury dish served either plain or stuffed with meat or potatoes and eaten with sambar (vegetable broth).

We sat around and twiddled our thumbs for a few minutes before our server came out. He was short line cook from Bangalore, India whose family has been in the catering business for generations. I ordered the Mysore Masala Dosa and Idli-Sambar whereas Kent & Richard ordered Minced Goat Dosa and Sri Lankan Lamb Curry. In addition, Richard ordered Mango Lassi while Kent & I decided to stick with Sri Lankan chai.

Kiran’s Thoughts

I have been eating dosas since I was a kid and was excited to finally find an authentic South Indian eatery as opposed to the saturated North Indian fare that one typically finds in Calgary. I couldn’t resist ordering Idli Sambar (steamed rice cakes) for my appetizer. Like dosas, I have been eating idlis like a good boy since I was 5 and was anxious to compare them to the ones my mum makes at home.  The Mysore Masala Dosa came stuffed with mashed potatoes, onions, green chillies all cooked in aromatic Indian spices. All dosas came with the standard sambar and two assorted chutneys.

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As you can tell from the above picture, these dosas are frickin’ massive. Believe it or not, that’s the way they are made back home. When your portions get this big, it is pointless to maintain any decorum by using utensils – I dug in with my hands, using my fingers to tear the dosa into smaller chunks and dipping them into either one the sambar, onion chutney, or tomato chutney.

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IMG_0031.CR2The dosa was exactly like my mum makes it – mix of crispy and soft with just the right amount of salt in the batter. The stuffed potato also was perfectly done. The prize, however, had to go to the sambar. It was everything I could ask for – a perfect blend of spicy, salty, tangy, and umami. It was like being transported back to a food stall in India with every bite. Absolutely fabulous.

Idli is typically had as an appetizer/breakfast, but is a time-consuming dish to make as the rice cakes have to be steamed. The idlis were piping hot when they came out, fresh out of the steamer. They were a tad stickier than I am used to but were fluffy and moist.  The idli also came with the standard thoroughfare of sambar, onion and tomato chutney. IMG_0055.CR2

The only issues I had with CDS was the relatively poor service and the off-putting taste of the chutneys. There was a moment in time where the server completely forgot about us and we had to ask him a couple of times to refill our water. Also, the Sri Lankan chai that Kent and I ordered turned up towards the middle of the meal instead of the beginning…or even the end. As for the chutneys, I just wasn’t a big fan of them. They had a weird off-putting taste which I can’t describe that completely turned me off them.

Richard’s Ruminations

The place smelled delicious even when standing outside in the parking lot – that was surely a sign of good things to come!  Entering the restaurant, we were surprised to see that it was completely empty, given how much hype this place has been getting (though there were a few tables with reservation placards on them).  Like many an ethnic restaurant, they had sweets prominently displayed in glass cases, which caused some excitement in the group (not for me though; I’m not a fan of Asian desserts in general).  The menu, on the other hand, sparked my interest substantially – ultimately, Kent and I decided to split a goat dosa as well as a Sri-Lankan lamb curry.

The curry came out first, quite quickly (probably one of the few things that is slow-cooked and hence already made – the waiter made sure to inform us that they freshly cook virtually everything upon order).  The curry came with rice by default (as it should, IMO), a nice change from many places where prices for curry may seem deceptively low if you don’t take into account the extra rice order.  The lamb was melt-in-your-mouth tender and the depth of spices was terrific, though there were a lot of bones in the curry.

Then came the dosas.  These things were f*cking huge!  They were literally the length of your torso and looked like they could feed a small country.  The crepes themselves were thick (for a crepe) yet crispy, with decent filling and a few nice chutnies on the side.  I also ordered a mango lassi, which ended up being kind of plain tasting.

Kent’s Two Cents

Everyone, this place is effin amazing. South Indian/Sri Lankan cuisine is hard to come by in Calgary. The dosas are gigantic and could be ordered on its own if you are looking for a meal for yourself. And if you are not that adventurous, the more well known Indian dishes are also excellent. It might be my favourite place in the city for butter chicken, and I NEVER order butter chicken at an Indian restaurant (its equivalent to the California roll for sushi for me). The service could use a bit of work depending on the server, but that is mostly due to miscommunication and a language barrier. Don’t let that stop you from visiting Dosa Corner, everything there is absolutely delicious.

Summary

It is hard not to see why CDS was recently crowned as the hidden jewel of Calgary 2011 by Avenue Magazine. Although the service was ok, and the location out of the way, CDS is an must for everyone looking for a taste of authentic South Indian cuisine. This is definitely where the real locals eat. I took a huge dump the next with a solid ring of fire around my anus and that’s how I knew it was good times. Thank you, CDS!

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Ranking

  Kiran Kent Richard
Ambiance N/A 4.5/6 4/6
Service 3/6 4.5/6 3/6
Plating 6/6 4.5/6 6/6
Taste 5/6 6/6 10/12
Authenticity 6/6 6/6 6/6
Value 5.5/6 5/6 5.5/6
Overall 25.5/30 = 85% 30.5/36 = 85% 35.5/42 = 85%

Canada Dosa Corner on Urbanspoon

Kol3 Review

I’ve always thought that Calgary had a pretty decent Vietnamese food scene, but one of my friends constantly laments the lack of places that serve “real” Vietnamese food (presumably, stuff that she gets at home).  No doubt, while there is a pretty good variety of bun, pho, and Viet sub places around the city, you won’t find many places in the city that explore the many uniquely Vietnamese dishes outside of these mainstays.  Kol3, just behind the Kensington Wine Market on 12th St., looks to kick the trend and carve out its own niche by specializing in banh xeo, a savoury Vietnamese crepe.

Subtly flavoured lemongrass soda - dry indeed

Kol3 greets you with a clean, friendly and simple interior, with bright colours and hand-written menus on the wall.  Banh xeo features prominently as the main style of dish on their menu, though they do also offer a few appetizers and desserts, as well as pho.  Though they have the “traditional” banh xeo (with pork, sprouts and shrimp filling), they also offer a variety of fusion-flavoured fillings such as basa fish, “breakfast” (eggs and bacon), and bacon cheeseburger.  Their soda selection is also quite interesting, with lemongrass, rhubarb, blood orange, and lavender sodas being among those that you can choose (though they seem to be light on the calories – read, sugar – which may or may not be down your alley).

We decided to start with the ginger wings to start, which turned out to be an awesome choice.  Seasoned with chilli, ginger, and green onions, they were juicy, meaty, and damn good (though they work out to cost ~$1.10 per wing so they aren’t cheap – still worth it though).  Soon after we mopped up the wings, the banh xeo came out.

Vegetarian banh xeo with tofu

“I can’t believe how big this is!” (That’s what she said –Kiran)  The crepes were definitely generously sized (or at least plated to appear so).  All the dishes came with mesclun salad and fish sauce on the side, save Kiran’s (which came with “Vegetarian sauce”, NOT fish sauce, the server adamantly clarified).  As I had ordered the bacon cheeseburger banh xeo, mine also came with ketchup (of course).  The salad was crisp, fresh and went well with my meal, though some of the others thought it was an odd pairing.  The banh xeo itself was as tasty as it looked – crispy exterior and with a good mix of ingredients on the inside (mine came loaded with pickles, onions, tomatoes, bacon, cheese and ground beef).

The service was good (though there aren’t very many tables in the venue so that shouldn’t be hard), and they didn’t mind us lingering at our table long after we finished eating.  How many places have a waitress who will take the time to chat with you on the finer points of sci-fi television? (I think she was a bigger geek than any of us).  Apparently they are also looking to get a liquor licence/bar soon, though it seems like that has been the case for some time.

Kiran’s Thoughts:

Vietnamese coffee - the equivalent of 4 shots of espresso and half a cup of condensed milk to kick your ass

The interior space has a bright, airy feeling to it, no doubt helped by the large wall-to-ceiling windows that let plenty of natural light in. It is complimented by the bright, neon coloured furniture, as well as the two-tone neon green/white paint. All in all, Kol3 has a contemporary feel to it that reminds me of “Japanese.” What specific aspects of Japan the interior reminds of isn’t clear, but I will leave that up to the readers.

As usual, like any good Vietnamese/Southeast Asian cuisine joint, Kol3 had the standard single vegetarian crepe option (with vegetarian fish sauce) and nothing else. Our server didn’t know what was exactly vegetarian about the vegetarian fish sauce, except that it was and that worked for me.

My crepe was crispy but moist and was filled with tofu, bean sprouts, spinach, and onions. It also came with a mint and arugula salad on the side. The salad had no real function IMHO, except to serve as a palate cleanser and to add $$ value to the plate. That said, every component of the salad and the crepe were fresh and that greatly enhanced the taste. The “fish sauce” added a very tangy finish to every bite, and without it, my crepe would have been fairly bland.

To be honest, my favourite part of the menu was the delicious Vietnamese coffee. It wasn’t the drip-style Vietnamese coffee in a strictest sense of the category, but it had the 4 shots of espresso and a generous helping of condensed milk. It was a strong and bold yet balanced in its acidity. The finish wasn’t astringent and the bitterness wasn’t overpowering. A word of caution though: I was up until 3 am that night and was the most productive I have been in a long time.

Kol3 is a great addition to the Calgary crepe scene. Everybody gets excited about French crepes, but they don’t realize that Indians (and Vietnamese) have had crepes on their collective menus longer than the French have been around (though who knows, maybe banh xeo was inspired by the French like several other Viet dishes? -Richard), so it’s great that Kol3 is trying to highlight other aspects of SEA cuisine.

Kent’s 2-Cents:

These wings ain't cheap, but they whoop the llama's ass

Short and sweet – I really enjoyed Kol3. Its a place I’ll be visiting again to try out the other variations of the banh xeo. The restaurant itself is clean, modern, and reminiscent of an Apple store. Kol3 isn’t really going for the authentic Vietnamese theme in either food or decor, but they have some really good ideas without taking too much away from the original crepe. Pro tip – Nuac mam (fish sauce) is pretty much impossible to screw up, and it makes anything taste good.

Summary

Hands down the best banh xeo place that I have ever been to!  Though, it’s also the ONLY banh xeo place that I’ve been to.  All in all, it was an enjoyable experience and one that I’m looking forward to having again.

-Richard

Rating:

  Richard Kiran Kent
Ambiance 5/6 5/6 5/6
Service 5/6 5/6 5.5/6
Plating 5.5/6 4.5/6 4.5/6
Taste 5/6 4/6 5/6
Originality 5.5/6 5/6 6/6
Value 4/6 4.5/6 4.5/6
Overall 30/36 = 83% 28/36 = 78% 30.5/36 = 85%

Kol3 on Urbanspoon

Easy Vegetarian Thai Green Curry Recipe

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I had been craving Thai food for a while, so when I stumbled upon Rasa Malaysia’s Asian-themed food blog, I knew I had hit the jackpot. I am a big fan of Thai curries and was pumped to come across a green curry recipe, which is the spiciest of them all. Unfortunately, like all Southeast Asian (SEA) cuisines, this one was chock full of meat which didn’t work for me as I am a staunch vegetarian (although really, I have no ethical issues with animal culling for meat consumption).

I love this recipe as it is super-quick to make (30 min. max), hits the spot for spicy and flavourful food, and believe it or not, is quite nutritious with all the veggies inside. Here’s my modified recipe (click here for the original):

1/2 lb. winter squash cut into 1” cubes
2 tbsp. Mae Ploy Thai Green Curry Paste
1 473 ml can coconut milk
1/2 bag Europe’s Best Imperial Blend frozen veggies (with bamboo shoots) 
3 kaffir lime leaves, split and thinly sliced (optional) 
1/4 cup Thai basil leaves
1 tbs. palm sugar 
2 tbs. vegetable oil

I replaced chicken with winter squash as the sweet-tasting squash would compliment the spiciness of the dish. The recipe’s original author calls for Mae Ploy brand as it is supposed to be the best; I was able to track it down in T&T without any problems. I made sure it was a paste that didn’t contain any fish sauce (there were many other brands with fish sauce in the paste) and also eliminated fish sauce from the actual recipe itself. I was too lazy to get additional kaffir lime leaves as the paste is supposed to contain some.

Here are the directions:

– Peel and evenly cut the squash into 1” pieces and roast for 15-20 min. at 375 deg F

– Heat oil in a wok and sauté the 2 tbsp. of green curry paste over medium heat until fragrant

– Add 1/2 the can of coconut milk and stir until evenly mixed

– Add the diced squash after roasting and cook for 5-10 min. until the pieces are soft enough

– Add remaining coconut milk and the frozen veggies. Add palm sugar.

– Stir evenly and bring to a boil.

– Cook until all the veggies are thawed and soft.

– Add basil leaves, stir, and remove from heat.

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That’s it! Mmmm…this is some tasty sh*t! Pretty spicy, so you might want to temper it with some delicious coconut-milk rice. I just use regular rice as I find the combination of coconut-milk rice and curry a bit rich.

Thai curries are akin to pasta – you get the biggest bang for the buck in terms of costs + time input vs. taste + satisfaction output. Can’t get better than that.

Have fun salivating!