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

Saturday, March 3

Why YOU Should Love Buckwheat

I love buckwheat in pretty much every form possible. The bonus is that it is actually really good for you! And it is very versatile:

  • You can eat it plain as a side dish - just follow directions on the package (for some reason, I would say buckwheat that is sold in grocery stores usually turns out very mushy - try finding a nearest Russian store and buying it there). Bonus: if you didn't add too much salt to it, chilled buckwheat is awesome the next day as a breakfast - just add milk as if it was cereal! (warning: try a little at first, I've been told it's an acquired taste).

  • Soba noodles - I am sure you have seen plenty of soba dishes on Japanese restaurant menus! These noodles are generally made with a mix of buckwheat and wheat flour and can be bought even at Superstore. There's tons of recipes - both hot and cold - for example this chilled salad.

  • Lastly, you can buy buckwheat flour (usually at organic / health food stores) and make crepes! There are a ton of recipes online, I had this specific one I want to try - with pears! And I would say it was a success. Here is the recipe. I made no modifications really, except I replaced creme fraiche with greek yogurt. I promise, even if you are not a pear fan, you will love this (brown sugar, what can I say)!

  • Monday, February 27

    I am aliiiiiive!

    Hello everyone! I am about to start posting again!

    What has inspired me to come back? Well I did get questions from (the very few) people I've told about this blog, and of course there's the fact that people have been commenting on posts! I honestly can't believe someone - who is not my mom - has actually read my less-than-coherent rants.

    Plus, Big Taste is almost upon us, which means I will have lots to say! In terms of new restaurants, I will be trying Il Sogno and Ox & Angela's.

    Of course, in the last 8 months or so I have tried a bunch of new restaurants in Calgary (Wurst, Fleur de Sel, Borgo, Model Milk) and elsewhere (the highlight being Jean-Georges in NYC. Oh. My. God.), so we will see if I can dig up some memories (and pictures) and write something up. And, of course, recipes! I will be trying more recipes and sharing my successes and failures.

    Thank you for reading!

    Tuesday, June 28

    La Hacienda: ***

    For some reason, every time we eat Mexican it's a match to the death for our eyes vs. our stomachs. Spoiler: our eyes usually win.

    We went to La Hacienda, the Mexican restaurant on the grounds of Scottsdale Fairmont Princess early enough to snag a table on the patio with a fire pit in the middle. It was a bit windy, but not enough to prevent us from having it lit and being the envy of all the passers-by.

    Drinks-wise we, of course, opted for margaritas - we ended up trying a bunch, but my hands down favourite was El Pina Diablo - pineapple with chile infused tequila - amazing! I do have to mention though - we ordered a number of different margaritas, but one that we did not order (La Hacienda) made it onto our bill - intentional or not, we'll never know - but I would double check your bill.

    Then came time for appetizers. We ordered the trio of ceviches and queso fundido, which we thought was a reasonable amount (it wasn't), but they also brought out chips and salsa even before the appetizers arrived, sealing our fate of extreme obesity in the near, near future.

    Chips and salsa were quite good - luckily I didn't eat too much before they brought us the trio of ceviches. Now, I expected 3 small portions, but instead we got what I can only describe as 3 soup bowls full of ceviche. The ceviches were camarone (shrimp), mahi mahi and tuna, and I would say my favourite was the mahi mahi, although they were all good.

    And then it was time for queso fundido, which is basically a skillet of melted cheese (oaxaca, chihuahua (yes, chihuahua is a cheese apparently) & gouda to be exact), served with salsa and tortillas. Yes please. I have never met a melted cheese and bread combo I did not love (okay, that's a total lie - melted , and this was no exception. We decimated queso fundido, which in retrospect is probably the reason why by the time the mains arrived, I could barely move.

    I ordered tampiqueña, a skirt steak, which came with potatoes au gratin and enchiladas smothered in mole, and I could barely have 2 bites, although they were tasty. My other half got through about half of his meal, filet a la parilla - beef tenderloin with cheese enchiladas, and that was a struggle. Good for him I guess?

    No matter how full I am, I always get desert - and this time we got cinnamon churros, which were excellent. I could have skipped the meal and just had a few orders of those instead!

    To sum up, the ambiance is great, the food is tasty - just remember to skip appetizers if you're not there with a bunch of people, or you might not be able to get up from the table!

    La Hacienda on Urbanspoon

    Saturday, June 25

    Sugo: **

    I've been meaning to try Sugo, an Italian restaurant in Inglewood, for a while, but the timing just never seemed to work out. Finally I got a chance to have dinner there recently - and as much as I wanted to like it, the place just did not rise to the occasion.

    One amazing thing I do have to mention is the affordability of Sugo's wine list. They actually had a bottle of prosecco for $20 cheaper than the exact same bottle at Catch. Impressive!

    Another good thing was Sugo's antipasti - marinated olives, smoked duck, various Italian meats and cheeses - it was all delicious. Then again, most of it wasn't cooked, but bought.

    Unfortunately, dishes cooked and conceptualized in-house failed to impress for the most part. The pear, prosciutto and blue cheese flatbread was completely dominated by the blue cheese, lacking a complexity of flavour. All of the mains seemed to come with roasted florette of cauliflower, asparagus and beets on the side - not that any of these are a bad thing, but 1) very reminiscent of a chain restaurant and 2) are the exact same flavours really appropriate to be on the side of a chicken dish, and a steak dish and a lamb dish? I didn't expect them to be, and they weren't.

    I ordered the roasted chicken with parsnip and yellow carrots and basil aioli, half-expecting the heavenly chicken I got at FnB - so really, it's my own fault for having my expectations be so high. How can I describe it? Well, for one, herb overload. Roasted beets that came on the side were basically covered in thyme (why would you want to mask the roasted beet flavour, I do not know); the carrots and parsnips came in a sort of gratin (minus the cheese) wherein the thin slices of both vegetables were layered together with more herbs - and no carrot flavour to be found; and the chicken was smothered with what I'm assuming to be the basil aioli, which tasted less like an aioli and more like pure basil purée. The chicken itself was juicy enough, but not terribly flavourful on its own (even the skin!), as it was supposed to rely on the basil aioli I was trying to avoid. Yeah, not impressed.

    Grilled hanger steak with boar prosciutto wrapped scallops and gorgonzola was equally underwhelming, and while the half lamb rack with grilled prawns drew no real complaints, the only thing on the table that was fought over was the fusilli with chicken and cherry tomatoes, a dish that cost half the price of the other entrées and had twice the flavour - probably because the chef did not overthink it.

    For desert, I chose chocolate brûlée - not to be confused with chocolate crème brûlée, as brûlée simply means the top of the desert was torched. Underneath the crust was an extremely rich chocolaty cake - well somewhere between a mousse and a fondant - no complaints here.

    I would probably come to Sugo for drinks and antipasti (and desert!), but its location means that is highly, highly unlikely until someone convinces me their entrées have been significantly improved.

    Sugo Caffe Italia on Urbanspoon