Wednesday, October 29

Vendome Café: ****

I finally checked out Vendome this past weekend to see what the fuss is all about. Vendome, of course, is a coffee and wine bar just on the edge of Kensington in Sunnyside that serves all the meals and drinks you need and even has live music on Thursdays. Unfortunately the weather was not conducive to seating on the sizable patio, but we did enjoy lunch and some (non-alcoholic) beverages. When we got there, the line was out the door, which made me a bit nervous about getting a seat but Vendome has ample seating (I’m looking at you, Analog) and from what I can tell the line-up is more a function of how quickly the kitchen can turn out the food. Having ordered our food, we found a table with church pew seating and a view of the dumpster (less terrible than it sounds actually – and very much hipster approved) and sipped our drinks while waiting for the food. Cappuccino was good, the tea they offer is Mighty Leaf which is always welcome, so Vendome definitely has you covered on that end.


We ordered a Duck Confit panini, which was delicious if a bit greasy, and Bacon Mac & Cheese. Now first of all, that is way too much food for two humans. I would recommend ordering a half panini, but then again, is there such a thing as too much duck confit?.. I certainly don’t think so. The panini also came with a little dish of apple jam to dip it into, which was a nice touch. I loved the way caramelized onions worked with the duck, and my only complaint was the fact that it probably sat on the counter for too long and was a touch less hot that I would have liked. To be fair, I have recently discovered that I am very sensitive to not hot enough food, so take that with a grain of salt. The Bacon Mac & Cheese was also quite tasty, with vegetables attempting (in vain) to balance out the unhealthiness (and hence deliciousness) of bacon and cheese sauce. It came with a side salad (ha, as if I will waste the precious space in my stomach for that!) and what they billed as “toast” which was a piece of herby bread that was quite dense and didn't seem toasted to me. Having been defeated by our meals (thankfully there’s always takeout containers), we enjoyed a couple of macarons for a sweet finish. The cherry one that I was looking forward to the most actually didn't have much of a distinct flavour, but chocolate orange was lovely.

The verdict on Vendome? Good drinks, excellent food, lots of seating – what’s not to love?

Vendome Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 26

Canon: *****

So, continuing on with Seattle theme – let’s discuss Canon!


I have been to Canon a couple of times now, and it really doesn’t disappoint. Great ambiance, great drinks, and they will not allow it to be crowded. It might be tiny, but you can actually breathe, which is nice. If you must get in on a particular night (and you must) they even take reservations. For $25 per person, which will go towards your bill, they will hold a table for you. No brainer!

While last time I was there I didn’t have any food, we did try a bunch of cocktails, Banksy Sour (essentially a scotch sour with an imaginative presentation), Milk N’ Cookies (for those of us in love with peaty, peaty, peaty scotch… and cookies), Zombie For Two (braaaaaaaaiiinzzz! that is all), Cubed Old Fashioned, and many more. Negroni Experiment is also highly recommended. I’ve had food at Canon before and it’s been quite tasty as well, but let’s be honest, I come for the cocktails.


What I also really love about Canon is how it’s literally wall to wall bottles – even in the bathroom. Now it might be for space saving or design reasons (most likely both) but the effect is great. Check that place out!

  Canon on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 24

CSA PSA

If you haven't heard about it, CSA - Community Supported Agriculture - is all the rage among organic food lovers, hipsters and anyone else concerned with food quality and/or supporting local businesses. The premise of a CSA is that you buy into a farm for the season, and for (in my case) 15 glorious weeks you get a share of the produce that they harvest! And yes, you can do it in Calgary - just check out http://www.csaalberta.com/



This year, I signed up for Billico Junction's CSA. Billy is located in Lacombe, and offers pick up in Calgary. My choice was due to a number of factors, the main ones being convenient pick up location and the fact that they had a fruit option as well.

So for 15 weeks I was on my own personal version of Chopped... What am I getting this week? How could I possibly combine these ingredients into something tasty and original? Those were the question I answered with varying degrees of success.

Here is the rundown of some of the veggies I got to eat this harvest season:
  • Spinach
  • Radishes
  • Kale
  • Fava beans
  • Basil
  • Onions
  • Zucchini
  • Broccoli
  • Green Beans
  • Spaghetti squash
  • Potatoes
  • Corn
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Turnips
...and for the fruit:
  • Strawberries
  • Honeyberries
  • Saskatoon berries
  • Rhubarb
  • Raspberries
  • Black currants
The best part of it was being able to eat and cook with produce I haven't cooked with in a long time or in some cases ever, such as spaghetti squash, raw pumpkin, fava beans, black currants and honeyberries. Knowing you are, albeit in a small way, helping out a local farm is awesome too. Through the CSA I was also able to buy organic local honey and eggs, and had the option to buy meats as well. 

The main downside is of course not knowing what you are going to get - you might get something you don't like, or something you do like for 7 weeks in a row! I had to come up with some creative new ways to use up zucchini - which was actually great as zucchini pancakes and zucchini muffins were a hit at my house. I also tried pickling for the first time as I just couldn't eat any more roasted beets (I never thought I'd see the day...) Lastly, if you are used to the sterilized produce from the supermarket, the dirt and an occasional bug can be unnerving... But that's how you know it's really local and organic!


We will see if I feel ambitious enough to take it on next summer - I definitely plan on it!

Wednesday, October 22

Canlis: **

I’m back! Miss me? Probably not, but here I am anyway. Let’s dive in!

I must say I love Seattle – the restaurants, the bars, the atmosphere… So I was very excited to finally try Canlis, Best Splurge Restaurant according to Seattle Magazine's 2014 Best Restaurants Readers' Choice Awards. Unfortunately, the experience left me, at best, disappointed…
The ambiance is definitely “white tablecloth” – the doors are opened for you (more on that later), your coats are swiftly taken, and there is a pianist playing in the background (best not to pay too close attention to what he is playing though, or you will notice his repertoire includes Gangsta's Paradise and Redneck Woman – both lovely tunes, but perhaps not quite what Canlis is going for).

We were seated fairly quickly, and our cocktail orders were taken. What I enjoyed was that they didn’t take our food order right away – personally, it can be quite irritating when you’re not done your cocktail and your appetizer comes, so you gulp down the cocktail to be able to drink wine with your food (personal preference of course). So not sure if this was intentional or just a delay in service, but we were happy about it.

We chose to have the Chef’s tasting menu with classic wine pairing, and we went with the carnivore menu option. The amuse bouche, a trio that included a mushroom tart and a tater tot, was only okay and almost bland, especially when one hopes that the start of the meal really pops with flavour. This is also where my issues with Canlis’ uneven seasoning start. Even the house baked bread was uneven: the first ones we got definitely required salted butter, but the next time we received buns (exact same flavour – Canlis just offered 1 option) that were incredibly salty.

Another general comment is I found that the servers never really explained the dish when it came to the table. Again, it's a matter of expectations – when going to a pub, I wouldn’t expect the waiter to explain what it being placed in front of me, but when ordering a tasting menu at supposedly the most fine dining restaurant in Seattle?... Yeah, I expect some descriptions. Instead, the servers basically read out the description in the menu, even though there were clearly other elements on the plate.

The first course, “Escaroles, Olives and Anchovies”, was actually a soup, which was fresh tasting if a bit bland, until you got a bite of an olive or an anchovy and were assaulted with salt. Next it was time for the scallop course. It was visually beautiful and the best part was the grapes which definitely overpowered any scallop flavour that could have been there. I also wish the dish had more shallot to balance it out.
Next up, matsutake mushrooms with chicken liver mousse. Another beautifully composed dish, and paired nicely with a nice Riesling, but again unbalanced – the mousse, though undeniably tasty, needed something to offset it.

The calamari course looked quite interesting, with the bright orange bisque contrasting nicely with the stuffed squid, but was not my favourite flavour wise and too chewy. To be fair, I am yet to taste a stuffed squid dish that is my favourite, so let’s leave it at that. The last savoury course was pork with braised cabbage. Pork belly wasn’t ideally cooked, but the braised cabbage was delicious. I also enjoyed the what looked and tasted like cured ham (here’s where the issue of them not explaining what’s on our plates comes in).

Next, the cheesecake. Again, the grapes were the best part but overall no complaints – this was in fact Mr. Picky Eater’s favourite dish of the night. I, for one, really enjoyed the Figs & Chocolate course, but then again, I love chocolate, plus the crumble was excellent.
At the end of the meal, we got macarons, which were not the most flavourful, and of course the hefty bill. Funny thing is, after we paid the bill, it almost felt like we were an afterthought – the heavy front door that was so welcomingly opened for us when we came in was no longer held open, and the table that they got out of the way for us to sit properly originally was left up to us to move if we wanted to get out. Not the best final impression…

Overall, interesting flavours, and worth the try, but I probably wouldn’t come again. I have had much better flavoured and more imaginative offerings elsewhere in Seattle.

Canlis on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 8

Purple Perk: ***1/2

Living by Purple Perk, I suppose it is kind of a rite of passage to write a review on it. Perk is an institution in Mission, there's no other way to describe it. You would think it's been open for 20 years, but it actually was only established in 2005. Perk is always busy (I think some people sit there for, quite literally, hours on their laptops - I never understood the desire to be outside one's house for that long but it's definitely a thing here at the Perk), and its patio can fit a surprising amount of people (and their dogs) any time temperature is above 10 degrees.

I alternate between going there every time my refrigerator is half-empty and avoiding the place for months (okay, maybe weeks). I almost never stay to eat in, and I am sad to admit I have never tried breakfast there (too busy! Plus Yann's is so, so close), but I have managed to sample most of Perk's sandwich and, of course, dessert menu.

Sandwiches - served with vegetable chips which aren't half bad:
  • Thai Beef - probably my favourite of the bunch. The spice is quite nice, and I enjoy the rice noodles and the vegetables.
  • Fontina & Capocollo Ham - quite tasty, and a great alternative to overpriced lunch selection at the neighbouring Mercato (sorry Mercato, I love you, but every time I pick something up there for lunch I feel robbed afterwards - it doesn't help that I could never just walk into Mercato and walk out with just a sandwich - much easier to do at the Perk!)
  • Cuban Pulled Pork - I also enjoy the pulled pork, salty and delicious (the pickle is a nice touch) but to be honest I think I overdosed on it at this point - so my advice would be not to order it every time!
  • Vegetarian Panini - roasted veggies with goat cheese on pumpernickel sounds like a fantastic idea, but something in its execution just leaves me cold - I am thinking too much onion.
Desserts (we all know why I really go to the Perk):
  • Chocolate cake - chocolate cake was the reason I first tried the Perk. I don't know how they do it, because it sits on the counter, sliced (granted, under a glass dome) all day, but it is incredibly moist and delicious. Even if you are a chocolate lover, you will have to share if you want to be able to get up from your seat.
  • Cheesecakes and pies - Perk offers a variety of these, and all the ones I've tried have been quite good. My favourite is Oreo cheesecake! Speaking of Oreo, this is fantastic: Oreo truffles.
  • Cookies - quite tasty, especially the ginger one - fair warning though: the size approaches pizza cookie standards (I've always wanted to try one of those, but somehow I don't think it's going to taste as good as it does in my head. Speaking of sizes, have you noticed Tim's cookies are now normal size? I don't know whether I should applaud them or be outraged).
  • Espresso brownie - probably the only thing in the world that has coffee in it that I enjoy. Not exaggerating. Normally I am extremely sensitive to addition of coffee, but in this case I am just unable to notice, and what's left is a tasty, tasty brownie.
Overall, Purple Perk is an excellent neighbourhood coffee place and great for a quick bite and some people watching. If you don't reside in Mission, come and check it out!
Purple Perk on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 6

Playing Catch Up: Wurst; Petite

There have been many fantastic restaurants I have tried in Calgary over the last few months, as well as, of course, some less fantastic ones. Over the next few weeks, I will be playing a bit of catch up and rating these restaurants.

Wurst: ***1/2

Not going to lie, ever since Wildwood closed its doors and rumours began swirling that the new venture was to be backed by the people behind Bison and Mercato, I was more than a little impatient to see what goes into this sizable space. It turned out to be Wurst, a German inspired restaurant / beer hall, though of course you cannot take that seriously – the stein lockers, the boots, the eagle logo bearing a sausage and a beer mug – it’s a little bit over the top… For one thing, Wurst is far too nicely decorated to be a beer hall (though long tables help with the ambiance). What amazes me is how popular this place has been – I mean, there are regular lines, and Wurst, in its essence, is a pub / restaurant! I am impressed.

Onto the food: Wurst offers a variety of German & Austrian inspired dishes – from schnitzels (which are actually quite decent) to giant hunks of meat (you should see the roast pork knuckle, Schweinshaxen) to, of course, a plethora of its namesake, wurst, served with sauerkraut (I am yet to try sauerkraut that’s better than my mom’s, so can’t really judge this particular version fairly), braised red cabbage (always a good choice) or even on its own. Meat is all well and good, of course (and true to its German roots Wurst favours pork – though there are plenty of other options) – but I knew why I was here: spätzle. Note on pronunciation: where I was in Germany, it was pronounced [shpets-leh], not [shpe-tsel]. Still drives me up a wall when I hear it differently! Pronunciation, of course, has nothing to do with taste, and spätzle at Wurst was passable, especially for North America. The rest of the food was quite good, and this marked the first time I consumed beer with a somewhat up market dinner – I love me some Weiss! I am glad more and more places in Calgary are serving it (though I think it will be a while before anyone here dares to mix it with banana nectar – a surprisingly tasty combination!).

Lastly, dessert. We ordered the black forest cake, and let me tell you, I have eaten a lot of black forest cake. I love black forest cake. I have a bottle of kirsch at my house for sole purpose of baking black forest. However, when I took a bite, all I could taste was kirsch – and by that point I had been drinking for a couple hours! Now, this was when Wurst just opened, so I am hoping they tweaked the recipe – it was actually difficult to eat (we powered through it of course).

The verdict: I enjoy Wurst: the food is tasty and the atmosphere is lively – it is a bit too loud for a nice dinner out though. To be very selfish, as much as I love to see it doing it well, I hope the popularity goes down a bit so that it is possible to get in on a whim.

WURST Restaurant and Beer Hall on Urbanspoon
Petite: ***

I cannot describe how much it saddens me to give Petite only a three-star rating. Petite deserves better (or maybe, my expectations were so high I got disappointed). I had been to Petite back when it was, well, petite (I promise, this is the first and last petite pun). I loved it all – the cramped kitchen, the tiny tables, the chairs stacked over the entrance, the food – most memorable, for some reason, being the charcuterie platter. Then, of course, Petite had the fire, and ended up closing down before I got a chance to go again, so I was pretty excited to see that it was opening just a few blocks away, on the corner of 4th Street and 17th Avenue! I watched as the construction went on, and was getting progressively more impatient (to be fair – Petite ended up opening pretty close to the original announced date, unlike some other restaurants – I am looking at you, Boxwood. And you, Fuze. RIP Fuze).

We got in probably a week or so after opening, which coincided nicely with my birthday – thank you Petite for thinking of me when you chose your opening date! I had some concerns with how they could possibly make such a large space feel cozy, and those concerns weren’t unfounded – while I am sure a lot of thought was put into the décor, the glass separators on top of the booths give the room a decidedly Denny’s flavour. The kitchen is still open, but you can’t really see it from most tables, which of course is the whole point. In short – the interior gets a weak pass.

But how’s the food? The food is still tasty – you can’t go wrong with the tartare, and the tenderloin is always excellent. What I also like about Petite’s menu is there’s always a fish on it that I like, be it char or cod or something else entirely. One note: we did have to wait. and wait. and wait for the mains though. In the end, it was worth the wait, and they were still working out the opening kinks at the time (though I’ve heard similar concerns since).

What I really like about new Petite, though, is the set menu Sundays. I do love cooking on Sundays – it’s nice and uninterrupted for the most part, but once in a while it’s just too much work, and it’s great to have this option. The set menu is 3 courses for only $40, and you would think that it would be some small portions of things no one wanted, but no – the one time we went they had veal cheeks as a starter, and the portions are more than healthy (I couldn’t even finish my second course… not if I wanted room for dessert anyway). Plus, there are two options for each course which means if there’s two of you (and your dining companion is willing to share) you can try everything! Yet another plus side – Sundays just aren’t as popular and service issues were completely absent this time.

As giddy as I am about Sundays at Petite though, it just isn’t what it used to be and has lost some of its charm in that fire, so I am forced to give it only a three-star review. There are just too many restaurants now that I would go to before Petite, on both 4th & 17th.

Petite Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 4

Ox & Angela: ****

Big Taste is upon us everyone! My first stop this year - Ox & Angela for lunch.

The restaurant takes up the relatively large space vacated by Bungalow and is decorated in a tasteful but slightly quirky style - classic chocolate wood tables paired with funky white plastic (surprisingly sturdy) chairs, an island separating the diners from the busy kitchen, and artfully mismatched mirrors decorating a wall. The place was shockingly busy for a Sunday, especially considering most people wouldn't even know Ox & Angela is open for lunch. But I digress (as usual)!

I've been told that I must try a cocktail here so I opted for a Bellinissima, a fantastic take on Bellini with a sugar cube melting away at the bottom. Highly recommend it! Then it was time for starters - the options on the Big Taste menu were soup and salad, so of course had to try both. The soup was quite delicious, served in an adorable clay pot - the beans complemented the savoury broth quite nicely, and it is always a treat when you get to break a poached egg into anything. The salad had frisee, arugula, walnuts and a mountain of machego cheese - nothing bad to say about it, but it wasn't anything particularly memorable either.

Onto the mains! I ordered the vegetable paella, and it was very good. As much as I love all the seafood that normally goes into the dish, the best part of any paella is the saffron rice, so I knew I wouldn't miss the proteins in this particular case, and I was right! The trout we tried was also fantastic, flavoured with green olives and capers. I am normally not that big a fan of trout, but flavour was excellent (presence of skin also helped). Lastly, the patatas bravas, which were served as the accompaniment to the mains - basically home fries with smoked paprika ketchup and garlic aioli. I find that smoked paprika can be overwhelming, but deployed in this manner it was heavenly. I am definitely appropriating this idea and using it next time I want to add some kick to roasted potatoes (I love adding wasabi powder to roasties - it gives them a surprising hint of flavour).

We finished the dinner off with the excellent orange and almond tart - just the right size to finish off the meal, and almonds added a great bit of crunch. A note on the size of the lunch itself - it was massive. Come hungry, and schedule time for a nap afterwards! The selection of teas was a bit disappointing (only three kinds, and all flavoured!), but that's a relatively small nitpick. Other than that, I was very pleased with my kick off choice for Big Taste this year, and I will be back for dinner!

Ox & Angela on Urbanspoon