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 dessert - 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 dessert, I chose chocolate brûlée - not to be confused with chocolate crème brûlée, as brûlée simply means the top of the dessert 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 dessert!), but its location means that is highly, highly unlikely until someone convinces me their entrées have been significantly improved.

Sugo Caffe Italia on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 22

Globefish Kensington: ****

So, after living in Calgary for 10 years, I finally managed to try Globefish. I know, hard to believe. Here's the rundown.

The location - Globefish has locations in Kensington, Chinook and Marda Loop. We went to the original one in Kensington, and while on Sunday night the wait for tables wasn't an issue, parking sure was.

The food:

  • Gyoza - gyoza was pretty good, and a nice offset to the rest of the meal

  • "happy crunchy" - probably one of the best "new style" rolls I've ever had. Highly recommended! Though I don't see it on the online menu, so not sure if it was a special.

  • Toro sashimi - I recently discovered toro (tuna belly) and I must say I am in love. Toro can be hard to find, so I was really happy to see it on Globefish's menu, and in sashimi form no less!

  • Salmon sashimi - I was impressed with both quality and portion sizes of Globefish.

  • Spider roll - trying to get away from our usual spicy salmon / tuna rut, we had this. Not bad, but nothing to write home about.
One thing of note - we ended up ordering one of the rolls later on in the dinner, and it took forever to get it. So I would suggest ordering everything you want right away, and ordering plenty!

Overall, Globefish really is all it's cracked up to be - delicious food and plenty of convenient locations.

Globefish Sushi and Izakaya (Kensington) on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 19

San Fran / Napa Round-Up

SF/Napa's sheer number of restaurants in a very short timeframe is what prevented me from writing them up before, so here's the quick and dirty:

Fleur De Lys: *****
Fleur De Lys, Hubert Keller's masterpiece, is probably the best restaurant I've ever been to. The ambiance, the service, the food... Amazing. Wagyu beef and duck we had was perfect, and dessert was heavenly - from fleur burger 3000 to souffle to strawberry mouse to petit fours... Perfection.
Fleur de Lys on Urbanspoon

Gary Danko: **
Gary Danko, San Fran's supposedly #1 restaurant, was frankly a disappointment. The space is incredibly cramped - you can tell they're trying to fit as many tables as possible. Service is quite discriminating - if you're young, prepare to be overlooked. The cool menu feature is that you can order anything as a main or an appetizer, but that doesn't make up for the fact that they used butter lettuce in a salad. Butter lettuce! Conclusion: if you want to be seen, go to Gary Danko. If you want great service and you're on the younger side, take your business elsewhere.
Gary Danko on Urbanspoon

Sanraku : ***
Sanraku is a nice basic sushi restaurant, whose best feature is that it's close to everything. The interior is a bit bare, but the sushi is good and reasonably priced, which is what matters. I also like the fact that the menu is more on the classic side - I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to sushi.
Sanraku on Urbanspoon

Celadon: ****
Celadon is a centrally located restaurant in Napa (then again, what isn't centrally located in Napa?). Its partially closed in patio is great, and the food is really good. It seems like most nice restaurants in Napa Valley are located in Yountville, and if you're staying in Napa, it's nice to have the reasonably priced option of Celadon.
Celadon on Urbanspoon

Napa Valley Wine Train: ****
I highly recommend the wine train - the food is decent, but what really matters is the beautiful views you get. Plus when else do you get to have a multi-course meal on the train? It seems like something out of a James Bond movie or an Agatha Christie novel. A wine train lunch is a great way to spend the afternoon.
Napa Valley Wine Train on Urbanspoon

Bottega: ***
Bottega is Michael Chiarello's massive establishment in Yountville. It almost feels like an Earl's due to sheer size and younger waiters, but the food is definitely elevated. Wine list is extensive, including some of Chiarello's own wines. We loved eating outside, and the goat cheese panna cotta was to die for! To sum up, the food is great, but you might want something that feels a bit less mass market depending on your personal preferences.
Bottega on Urbanspoon

A bunch of great experiences, and next time we're in the area, we're getting those reservations at French Laundry, and definitely trying Michael Mina. Can't wait!

Thursday, June 16

Double Zero Pizza: ***

Double Zero pizza is Calgary's newest pizza place replacing Tangerine on Stephen Avenue and 3rd Street. The owners kept most of the layout as far as bar / walls go, but naturally the dance areas got replaced with more tables. There's also shelves along the back wall, displaying canned tomatoes and double zero flour, the restaurant's namesake. There are a lot of TVs allowing you to watch the game while chowing down. Finally, pig statues are all over the place, which I'm not so sure about - I thought CHARCUT had an unspoken monopoly on pig decorations in Calgary.

Onto food & drinks! There's a decent drink list, and it was somewhat heartwarming that Double Zero actually has house wines, which you can order by the glass, half bottle or bottle. I got the house white, Giorgio & Gianni Pinot Grigio, and was pleasantly surprised.

We proceeded to order appetizers - calamari with green onions and capers; beef carpaccio with mushroom salad; marinated beets with goat cheese, grapefruit, basil and pistachio. Beets were my favourite out of the the three - well cooked and well balanced. Calamari was tasty but not spectacular, and beef carpaccio could use a bit more acid. I would say that all three of the dishes could stand to be simplified.

Finally, it was time for the main event - the pizzas! We got:

  • Speck with mozarella and arugula - incredibly delicious. Arugula and cured meats is one of the best combinations on a pizza.

  • Salami with goat cheese and olives - also very good, if a touch too salty.

  • Confit chicken with fontina and grilled eggplant - not that great, but I enjoyed the texture.

  • Spinach with potato and egg - that was just not good. Not sure if the egg was overcooked, but that was just not flavourful. If you want an incredible potato pizza, go to Una.

The crust on all pizzas was incredibly delicious, which is of course important. However, I do have to say the pizzas were a bit small for the price. Double Zero's location will get it a robust lunch and after-work dinner crowd, but both Una and Famoso give you a better bang for your buck. The lunch crowd at Double Zero could dry up though if the wait for the pizzas we experienced becomes a rule - it was fine for a dinner, but certainly wouldn't be okay at lunch.

Overall, it's a good start, and certainly a great concept for the location, but Double Zero has a bit of work to do ironing out the flavours and timing. For now, three stars, and I will definitely come back for lunch!

Double Zero Pizza on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 13

Russian "Pancakes"

Russian breakfast food has to be one of the most unhealthy - and incredibly delicious - things around. Hence, there's nothing better on the weekend! here's one recipe:

Russian "Pancakes" with Apples aka Olad'i (makes 15 fair sized ones)
3 eggs
2 tbsp sugar + more for sprinkling
2 cups milk
1 tsp baking powder
1 pinch salt
1 tbsp oil (anything flavourless, like canola)
2 cups flour
3 apples - sliced very thinly, about 2-3 mm

Break up the eggs in a large bowl, and whisk in sugar, milk, baking powder, salt and oil. Once the mixture in uniform, slowly whisk in the flour until the batter is the consistency of a sightly thin yogurt.

Once that, heat up the pan on medium high (make sure it's not too hot or you pancakes will be slightly burnt (that doesn't stop anyone from eating them). Ladle enough to form a slighly oblong shape (it will take you a few tries before it works - should be about 3 to a 12" pan). What you do is ladle them one at a time, give it a couple seconds to just set around the edges, and lay the apple slices on top (as per picture below!). Once the pancakes have browned on the bottom, flip them carefully and cook until the apples have caramelized. Remove from the pan, and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Done!

Friday, June 10

Tilted Grill: ***

Tilted Grill is the new "street food and casual steak" restaurant in the 4th Street and 18th Avenue location where BLVD used to be. No matter what your interpretation of what "street food and casual steak" is exactly, the patio is a great draw, plus it's nice to see the space occupied. Street food, in Tilted Grill's view, isn't mystery meat, but street food you would get in different parts of the world. Exciting! In the end, however, I had high expectations but Tilted Grill just didn't deliver.

We sat on the patio, and were quickly handed the drink and food menus. There is a very decent selection of beers on tap, from Sapporo to Mill Street, and the wine selection was also not bad, with quite a few sold by the glass, and the prices quite reasonable. The food menu had a lot of interesting options, but was woefully misspelled at times (I noticed at least 2 instances). Come on guys!

We started with the Gogi sliders, the Korean BBQ version of the American classic. They were not terrible, but definitely not flavourful enough. There was a slight spice kick, but not enough to call themselves Korean, or BBQ for that matter. There also were thin carrots on the plate, and seriously, Tilted Grill, you cannot give me a supposedly Korean inspired dish, and put carrots on the plate, and have it not be spicy, delicious kim chi. That's pretty much a crime.

At this point, I would like to mention that the service wasn't the quickest - the empty plates sat on our table for a while, and a couple (not our) waiters walked by without so much as an inclination to clear them. I get that everyone has their specific tables, but this really isn't how it's done.

Finally, we got our mains. The short rib burger, which sounded delicious, was way too dense (although the flavours were good), and my carne tacos tasted pretty good at the start (although a bit too easy on the lime), but got cold way too quickly, which definitely did not suit the flavours as far as I'm concerned. The sides, apple slaw and yam fries, weren't too bad. Then again how do you screw that up!

In the end, I see what Tilted Grill is going for here but it's just not doing it for me. Two stars for the food, and with added major points for breathing new life into the woefully underutilized BLVD patio, I ended up giving them three stars, aka I would eat here if I'd been drinking on the patio for a couple hours and got hungry.

Tilted Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 8

"Snack" Post

Okay, I know I've been totally delinquent in updating this blog, but life has been super busy! Here's some food pics to hold you over. In other news, Connie gave me a hearty attack earlier this week by almost getting kicked off Top Chef Canada. Not cool!