Sunday, February 27

Small Plates, Big Hopes

Recently, Calgary has been taken over by the new kind of restaurant – the “small plate” type restaurant.

Side note 1 – okay, maybe it’s not “recently” per se, but I noticed it recently… in the last year in any case.

Side note 2 – philosophical question: what is more pretentious, “tapas restaurant” or “small plates restaurant”? Tapas is not really appropriate unless you are serving the traditional or at least Spanish-inspired tapas, yet “small plates” just sounds… obnoxious, holier-than-thou (or at least more-cultured-than-thou).

Back to the food!

We tried Home Tasting Room a few weeks ago, after I looked at John Gilchrist’s top ten Calgary restaurants for 2010, and, to my horror, discovered that I’ve only tried two! Not that I agree with Gilchrist all the time, but at a minimum I do want to try them (next on my list – Notable. And Una, yes I am yet to try Una, but then again Famoso’s did damper my excitement for pizza places). But I digress yet again. There were four of us, so we tried quite an array of food, including:
• Potato & Roast Pepper Salad – um… potato salad. That’s about it.
• Gnocchi – mmm! Then again add mushrooms to pretty much anything, and I’ll be there with bells on
• Scallops – quite good. I generally distinguish only two types of scallops: “crappy” vs “delicious”, and my “delicious” standard is quite high, as I dislike things that are too fishy, chewy or mushy, which is 99% of scallops out there.
• Duck pate – probably the best dish of the bunch.
• Cheese tasting – quite good, lavender honey has a very particular taste which I was not a fan of, but others certainly were
• Charcuterie tasting – excellent, probably one of the better charcuterie platters we’ve had in the last while (sorry Petite – I still love you!)
• Italian cake – they sold it to me because it had coconut, but unfortunately beyond the frosting it was just dry-ish cake. Eh.
• Crème brûlée – freaking amazing. Seriously.

Overall, we enjoyed the food, and I especially enjoyed the fact that it wasn’t super tight, which also seems like the new trend in Calgary – restaurants the size of my living room, and let me tell you, my living room is small.
Home Tasting Room on Urbanspoon

Speaking of restaurants the size of my living room, we went to Taste this weekend. We showed up right after 6PM or so, which is pretty damn early for us, because we had CPO tickets at 8PM (talk about pretentious, ha!). Taste doesn’t take reservations, and at 6PM, we barely got seats at the bar. So good on them for filling seats! The place is seriously tiny, but I actually enjoyed sitting at the bar because we got to watch the kitchen. Holy crap that kitchen is small. Like, seriously small. From what I could figure out, they try to make a few of the same dish at a time, so you never know when you’ll get your food, but it does come at a steady (though slow) pace. In about an hour and a half, we managed to get wine (they only have 6 whites and 6 reds on the menu each month), and five of the “small plates”, which was actually a decently sized meal:
• Gnocchi – excellent, love the texture of the gnocchi and truffle oil made the dish sophisticated
• Red pepper bruschetta – it is actually deconstructed bruschetta, so you get crackers, pieces of roasted red pepper, a whole roasted garlic and shavings of parmesan. Delicious, but quite messy and too much work for my taste.
• Pork Belly – what can I say, it’s pork belly. Fried pig fat. The red pepper gastrique underneath was excellent, but scarce. Good dish to make sure you don’t leave hungry.
• Beef tartare – a bit underseasoned, but that might also be a function of it not being properly mixed, because some bites did taste good, yet some were quite bland.
• Tuna tartare – best dish of the night, loved the wasabi cookie and this tartare was expertly seasoned, although I would have liked it to be diced a bit more finely. A quick note on my sudden affinity for tartare – I rediscovered Muse recently and oh my god the tartare there is amazing. I seriously want to go back and order it for appetizer, main and… okay maybe not dessert. But seriously. Go to Muse. Eat the damn tartare.

With our bill, we got two mini cupcakes which unfortunately had espresso buttercream on them (I don't think Taste offers a real dessert menu), so my other half got to have both, but apparently they were quite good. In the end, the food was good, and the prices were quite reasonable.
Taste Restaurant on Urbanspoon

I liked both Home and Taste; however I wouldn’t outright classify them as a four-star on my scale, more like between three and four stars, because even though I enjoy the “small plate” concept, it just doesn’t feel like a real dinner. A quick meal before the theatre or the game, or a double date, or even a first date, but it just doesn’t feel like a real “night out” on its own. Maybe it’s just me (okay, it’s very likely it’s just me)…

PS One noteworthy thing that happened while we were at Home was one of the patrons put her napkin on a candle and it caught on fire. While everyone was kind of in shock for a few seconds, one of the waiters ran over and threw the flaming napkin over to the kitchen (luckily it’s open concept there) and they let it burn out on the stove burner. Definitely a memorable date for those people!

PPS – and a completely useless insight for most people, but I found it fun – both Home and Taste use KitchenAid Professional series mixers. Take that Artisan! I love my lever.

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