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Archive for December, 2018

Restaurant Review: Pure Contemporary Vietnamese Kitchen and Bar

Location: 815 8 Avenue SW
Website: https://www.purecontemporaryvietnamese.com/

Pure Contemporary Vietnamese Kitchen and Bar or Pure CVKB was first introduced to me by my sister. I had been eying the place ever since and tonight I got to try this place out with my coworker and friend, Taylor.

Our first impression of the place was amazement. We both really loved the ultra modern aesthetic of the place. Of course, we had both looked at the menu numerous times before we came here and I was pleasantly surprised to see that they offered vegetarian options on their menu. This was in fact one of the conditions as Taylor is a vegetarian (okay, technically pescatarian, but vegetarian when possible). We had actually been debating whether we should come here or go to Tamarind (not to be confused with Tamarind the Indian food restaurant in the Panorama area, which is also excellent, but I haven’t had a chance to dine in, I’ve only ever gotten take out and I only write reviews on in restaurant experience of the food) as Tamarind offered a completely vegetarian and vegan menu. However, we ended up settling on Pure CVKB because it was closer (not by much, but it was kinda cold and we’re both kinda lazy).

The menu at the restaurant is different from the menu online in that the menu online is for SkipTheDishes, so some of the things they offer for dine in don’t do well for delivery and as such, have been removed from that menu. The ones that will hold up are on both menus. What caught my eye first, when I opened the menu, was the “small plates” heading. I’m a sucker for the tapas style or sharing small, appetizer sized bites because I want to try everything and tapas sized dishes allow me to do that. That’s the same reason why I love dim sum and Sushi Boat. After much hemming and hawing, we both ended up ordering the items we had initially picked before we set food in the restaurant. Taylor ordered the Vegetarian Vermicelli and I had the Grilled Ultimeat Feast. Now, I don’t know if that is just a play on how much meat this dish came with or if they spelled “ultimate” wrong. Either way, there was a lot of meat, but not to the point that I couldn’t finish it or felt sick eating it. All vermicelli dishes contained scallion confit, cucumber, carrots, herbs, and peanuts. The Vegetarian Vermicelli had a vegetarian spring roll (cabbage, mung bean, carrot, and mushroom), fried tofu, bean sprouts, and a sauce (wasn’t sure what kind it was as it wasn’t the usual nuoc mam, but a darker, soy sauce like sauce). The Grilled Ultimeat Feast contained beef, shrimp, chicken, and a spring roll in addition to the above ingredients that all vermicelli dishes contain and came with a nuoc mam sauce. I really liked that the cucumber and carrots were sliced to look like noodles (long and string-like) because it mixed well with the vermicelli allowing an equal distribution of carrot, cucumber, sauce and noodle in each chopstick full.

This place definitely elevates the basic comfort of Vietnamese food to a fine dining level, which should be expected as it is in downtown. I appreciate that it has catered its approach and decor towards such clientele. As some of you may know, depending on what kind of restaurant I’m in, my mannerisms change and usually in fine dining places, I kinda turn into a snob. This place is actually a balance between casual and fine dining so it’s a great place to have a get together with friends (and chat for an hour without them trying to kick you out, although that may have been because they weren’t super busy tonight) and I didn’t act like a snob tonight (haha).

Next time I come, I definitely want to give those small plates a try and I definitely want to try the all you can eat wings night (I think Val said that’s Wednesday nights?). Service was great. We were seated promptly (we also happened to be the first people in the restaurant at like 5 PM) and our waitress was attentive throughout the meal. Even after we finished eating and had paid the bill, she came by and offered to top off our waters.

Based on this experience, I would give this place a 4.25/5.

 

Grilled Ultimeat Feast
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Restaurant Review: Seanachie

Location: 5909 Signal Hill Centre SW
Website: http://calgarysbestpubs.com/seanachie/

I’d like to start off by saying that Seanachie is part of a chain called Calgary’s Best Pubs which includes Dixon’s (Millrise), Kilkenny (Brentwood), Limericks (on Macleod Trail), and Joyce (Mission), which means that each of these locations have the same specials and share the same menus.

Each day of the week has a different special and we chose to go on Friday, which meant Fish and Chips.  Besides getting the special, Alex and I opted to order the Salt & Pepper Calamari and Pickle Spears.

When I hear “salt and pepper,” I automatically think about the Chinese dish where it’s salt and (chili and bell) pepper, so I was very interested in seeing their take on it.  When the dish came out, it looked like a normal calamari dish, so I guessed that the salt and pepper had already been mixed in the batter, although, that’s what I would normally assume batter is seasoned with, so that wasn’t anything really new or innovative.  The calamari was served with a tzatziki sauce and breaded and fried banana peppers.  I always love red onions, lemon, and banana peppers with my calamari because it provides a strong taste to cut through the heavy, deep fried calamari.  As is often the case with deep fried seafood is that I wish that there was one more lemon wedge to squeeze over the calamari because I could barely detect the lemon.  The Pickle Spears was more of a last minute craving.  The cider dill dip that accompanied the deep/flash fried pickle spears has got to be one of my favourite dips I’ve had to date.  It has all the creaminess I love in the dill dip from State & Main, but the cider makes the dip thinner and a little bit more ranch like in its consistency, but gives the dip some much needed acidity.  However, it isn’t overly sour (like a punch in the mouth), which is perfect for me since I do like a little bit of acidity, but I’m not at the level of eating a lemon.

The fish and chips was a little disappointing.  For starters, it looked a little sad all alone on the skewer (the two piece fish and chips looked a little less sad, but then it would have been too much food and I wouldn’t have been able to finish the fish. I was already struggling and I didn’t even finish my fries, which were also disappointing).  Again, there wasn’t enough lemon so I resorted to dumping way too much malt vinegar on my fish.  The acidity was fine, but even with the copious amount of vinegar I added, the batter still felt thick and greasy and I ended up removing it and just picking the fish out.  Of the fries I did have, the crunchy ones (naturally) were my favourite.  The tartar sauce was really good, but after so much deep fried food, I had to lay off on putting too much on my fish.  I usually dip my fries into the tartar sauce, but the rich on rich on rich from appetizer to entree was just too much and I ended up just dipping the fries in ketchup and unfortunately the remainder of the tartar sauce went to waste.  The “creamy coleslaw” was also super sad and somewhat of a disaster.  It definitely wasn’t creamy, but it wasn’t like the acidic coleslaw either.  It was something in between and really weird to me.  Hands down, Olly Fresco has some of the best non-restaurant coleslaw I’ve had.  The best restaurant coleslaw still has to be Tony Roma.

Overall, the appetizers were average, what you’d expect for pub food.  I was really craving deep fried pickles, so those felt like they were exceptionally good.  The entree didn’t really measure up.  But despite all that, I would be willing to give this chain another go.  I definitely want to try out their steak sandwich and their shrimp po’boy.

Service is what you’d expect from a pub.  The wait staff are a little more hands off, which allows patrons to chat a little more.  So obviously, don’t come here expecting to be in and out super fast (except maybe lunch service?), but they’re not super slow either.  In other words, I think that we had a good amount of attention from our waitress.

Based on this experience, I’d give this place a 2.25/5.

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Seanachie Interior

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Back: Pickle Spears; Front: Salt & Pepper Calamari

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One Piece Fish and Chips

Meal Plan Box Review: Good Food

Website: https://www.makegoodfood.ca/en/pricing

This is the second meal kit I’ve decided to try.  This box was selected next, not only because I received a 50% off coupon in the mail, but of the meal boxes that a coworker and friend of mine had sent me (coupon codes for discounts wherein the person who recommends also gets a credit to their account), this one had the most appealing menu for the week in question.

Unlike Hello Fresh, GoodFood is a Canadian company headquartered in Montreal and founded in 2014.  If I forgot to mention in my review of Hello Fresh, they’re a German company.

Like Hello Fresh, GoodFood has three plan options: Easy Prep, Classic, and Family.  The Easy Prep Basket is, as its name denotes, meant for a dinner done quickly and is the most expensive, priced at $13.33/serving.  The Classic Basket can be purchased as vegetarian or regular and is priced at $11.33/serving and $12.33/serving respectively.  The Family Basket is the cheapest priced at $10.88/serving (based on unit price).  However, unlike the other two baskets that have the choice between 2-4 recipes and 2 or 4 servings, the family is 2-4 recipes for 4 servings, which makes it, easily the most expensive box.  We chose to go with the Classic Basket, four recipes and four servings, but with the discount, it brought it down to an affordable amount.

I liked that I could choose a weekend delivery date as opposed to with Hello Fresh, which only allowed for weekday deliveries.  This was convenient because, even though the food comes in an insulated box with ice packs, I would much rather be home to receive the delivery (and even though I said leave on front porch, I can at least check once in a while to see if it has been delivered, even if they do ring your doorbell, just to make sure it isn’t being stolen).

From the Classic Basket we ordered the Brazilian Chicken Stew with Toasted Coconut Rice, Fresh Spinach Rotolo, Pan-Seared Gnocchi with Crispy Bacon, Peas, Lacinto Kale & Mascarpone Sauce, and the Seared Steaks with Lemon-Oregano Potatoes & Roasted Zucchinis.  Our plan was to space out the pasta, do the gnocchi on the first day and the rotolo on the last, but as you will find out later in this review, that’s not exactly how it happened.

When I unboxed the ingredients, I was really happy to find that they had fresh gnocchi, but the clumping had me concerned that I wouldn’t be able to separate the individual gnocchi…how right I was going to be. We did start with the gnocchi on the first day and it took me 45 minutes to prep all the ingredients.  It didn’t help that I had cut myself pretty badly a couple days prior (cut my index and middle fingers on my left hand and the bleeding wouldn’t stop for an hour).  This recipe really tested my patience.  Normally, I like to cook things that have quick chemical reactions.  So, I’m really terrible at waiting for fat to render or cooking vegetables on the stove top that require some time to steam.  Everything was going well until I put the gnocchi in the pan.  The first few gnocchi fell off easily and I thought, okay, this isn’t going to be too bad, but as time went on, I got really frustrated and went with a “create a size” approach to the gnocchi.  I was really annoyed that they thought it would be ok to put it in the box without oiling or flouring them or separating them in some way to prevent sticking to each other.  The gnocchi was able to get some colouring on tasted amazing, the others…not so much.  Those were more like pasta mush.  The sauce was surprisingly good, but you know, when you fry things in bacon fat, it’s gonna be delicious.  I do like that they made a bottle of demi-glaze to include because after making that sauce I looked up how to make my own demi-glaze and that would have taken forever to make!  The kale was very nice in here, especially since I’m not huge on leafy green vegetables except for lettuce which I just eat on the side of everything I make anyways.  The only grievance I had was not with this recipe, but with kale in general.  It is such a pain to have to cut the leafy part off and into smaller pieces, but it is definitely worth all the time to do it because it was delicious.  Peas and bacon are a classic combo and the mascarpone was a really nice addition to elevate that sauce.  I will definitely be making this sauce again.  If not for gnocchi, it would work for pretty much any pasta dish.

The second dish we made was the Seared Steak.  Since Val loves lemon potatoes, I let her make them extra lemony (like the ones she loves at Van Gogh’s, a restaurant in our community).  Turns out, she made them so lemony I wanted to die.  I have never tasted something that was so lemony that it went bitter.  To be fair, it also had lemon zest, which is a little bitter in and of itself.  The steak itself could have been sliced more consistently (one piece reminded me of a slice of cheesecake, haha).  It definitely would have made it easier to cook.

We ended up making the Rotolo as the third dish because we thought the stew would be too inconvenient to pack for lunch the next day.  Well, the Rotolo as an unmitigated disaster.  Not only did the fresh pasta sheets fall apart in the pot as we were cooking them, the Rotolo we put in the oven almost caught fire.  That one was our fault, but taste wise, it wasn’t good.  For those who are asking, Rotolo is essentially just flat sheets of lasagne noodles used to wrap a filling within and then they are baked.  It’s very similar to the idea of a cannelloni or manicotti.  The most common filling I’ve come across is ricotta.  Usually the ricotta is mixed with something; in this case, it was spinach and pesto.  I started with the ricotta and pesto and it smelled delicious.  I had high hopes for it.  But after wilting the spinach and attempting to squeeze some of the water out before adding to the ricotta, that’s when things started to go south.  I started on the sauce shortly after.  The spice mix that was provided contained thyme, basil, garlic, oregano, marjoram, rosemary and sage.  My first issue with the spice mix was that “Italian” was misspelled.  My second was that the addition of marjoram gave it the weirdest taste.  I always make a recipe exactly as instructed the first time just to try the dish as the recipe’s creator intended, after that, I can and will tweak it to better fit my tastes.  I was excited since this sauce included mushrooms.  Since this dish was completely vegetarian, the mushrooms would give a nice hearty meatiness to the dish.  However, my issue with this was that the recipe card indicated that these mushrooms in the kit were cremini mushrooms.  They were very clearly not; they were ordinary white mushrooms which are fine, but they are not the same thing and someone who didn’t know that might try to recreate the recipe and end up with mushrooms that taste and feel totally different.  Alternatively, the inclusion of the incorrect kind of mushrooms might lead to people thinking that white and creminis are the same thing or mixing them up.  After all that, I would have preferred the creminis to the white.  Even though I seasoned everything with salt and pepper (though I really wasn’t sure how much seasoning I needed because almost every step told me to season with salt and pepper and I was afraid to over season), the dish still came out bland.  When I was describing this dish to people, the majority said it sounded really good.  On paper, it sounded really good to me too.  However, now I know that I prefer my tomato sauce to the one that was instructed in the recipe.  I know that I need to squeeze out way more water from the spinach and I know not to put oiled parchment paper into the oven under the broiler.

Our final dish was the Brazilian stew.  I was quite happy with how it turned out considering my apprehension about cooking rice on the stove.  Last time I tried to make coconut rice it turned out pretty bad.  This time, I stuck to the instructions like glue and it turned out really good.  Sure it was a little wet on the bottom and there were times I was worried I’d burn the rice or that it would come out soggy or uncooked, but overall, I did much better than the first time.  The flavours in the stew were quite similar to the flavour profiles I was used to in Asian cooking, particularly the use of aromatics like ginger and garlic to develop a deep and varied flavour of the stew.  Due to the fact I was storing the meat outside in the box it came in with the ice packs and the fact that it had snowed the few days before, the centre of the chicken breasts had frozen slightly.  This made it easier to cut into chunks, but brought in the concern that the pieces wouldn’t cook all the way through.  Being both Asian and lazy, I just decided to season them in the pan as they cooked rather than to mix them in a bowl and then toss them into a pan.  This probably made for a less even seasoning, but considering that it was about to go into a bunch of sauce with the same seasoning, I wasn’t hugely concerned.  Then came the stew.  I added everything just as the recipe said, but my stew wasn’t thickening.  Even after 15-20 minutes simmering, it was still more soup like than stew like.  I knew that the spinach that I was to add at the very end out add a lot of water to the sauce so I definitely had to thicken it up before I added it in.  I started by adding a bowl of corn starch slurry, hoping it would thicken up.  It didn’t work, so I thought maybe flour would work.  I added a small amount of that so it wouldn’t clump, but it still didn’t work.  So, I went back to my original plan and made a larger bowl of corn starch slurry and added it in and it worked!  It started thickening up really fast and then I got worried it would become too thick, but after adding in the spinach, it came to the right consistency.  Although it was not in the recipe, I added cilantro along with the lemon zest and toasted coconut on top of the stew at the very end and it was delicious.  The cilantro added the much needed fresh element to the dish.  As Val said, it was similar to an Indian curry, but a lot lighter and didn’t leave you feeling bloated at the end.  I think that partially had to do with the lemon juice that was added to the sauce as well as the lemon squeezed onto the individual portion at the end.  The acidity level provided in the sauce was perfect for Val; I had to forgo that extra lemon squeeze at the end.

For meal kits on the market as a whole, a good point that my friend, Carmen brought up was that these are great for people who don’t already know how to cook.  The other people I hear from are the ones who say they’re too uncreative to come up with these dishes, especially after a long day at work.  I get that, but as a creative person, when I don’t know what to cook, I just google the ingredients I have and see what comes up.  That’s always a great way to come up with new recipes to try out.  But also, because I do know how to cook a little bit, going on any of these meal kit websites will allow me to peruse the recipes they have and generate my own ideas.

Compared to Hello Fresh, it was inconvenient that I had to email the support team in order to cancel my subscription, whereas on Hello Fresh I simply just had to unsubscribe.  It took them about three days to get back to me, which isn’t terrible, but it would have been easier if I could have just deactivated it myself.

As this is only my second box, I will reserve judgment on its ranking.  Once I’ve had a chance to try out other boxes on the market, Chef’s Plate (which has apparently been purchased by Hello Fresh) and Miss Fresh, I’ll do one final review ranking all the meal boxes I’ve tried.

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GoodFood box – also super heavy especially since they put it in front of the door that opens outwards and I had to kick it far enough away to open the door

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Pan-Seared Gnocchi with Crispy Bacon, Peas, Lacinato Kale & Mascarpone Sauce

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Pan-Seared Gnocchi with Crispy Bacon, Peas, Lacinato Kale & Mascarpone Sauce

Food

Seared Steaks with Lemon-Oregano Potatoes & Roasted Zucchini

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Seared Steaks with Lemon-Oregano Potatoes & Roasted Zucchini

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Fresh Spinach Rotolo with Pesto & Ricotta, Tomato Sauce & Sautéed Mushrooms

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Fresh Spinach Rotolo with Pesto & Ricotta, Tomato Sauce & Sautéed Mushrooms (oops, fire)

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Fresh Spinach Rotolo with Pesto & Ricotta, Tomato Sauce & Sautéed Mushrooms (mine was just microwaved)

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Brazilian Chicken Stew with Toasted Coconut Rice, Fresh Tomatoes & Wilted Spinach

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Brazilian Chicken Stew with Toasted Coconut Rice, Fresh Tomatoes & Wilted Spinach

Restaurant Review: Escoba Bistro and Wine Bar

Location: 624 8 Ave SW
Website: https://www.escoba.ca/

I first heard about Escoba as it was the place chosen to sorta host our welcome lunch for our articling students (a mentors, principals, and articling students lunch).  As you may well know, Italian flavours are very attractive to me.  While they do have other items on their menu that wouldn’t fall under Italian and they do classify themselves as a Mediterranean restaurant, they have some quintessentially Italian offerings such as arancini and panzanella salad.

Originally, Carmen and I were planning on going to Teatro, but as we were unable to procure a reservation, this became our next restaurant of choice.  I love how convenient it is to make and cancel reservations through OpenTable and I’m glad to say that this is one of the places that does accept reservations through that app.

For the starter, we chose to go with the Appetizer Taster, which allowed us to try three appetizers for $18 (or $9 per additional person).  For the Appetizer Taster, we could choose from the top five items on the appetizer menu: Escoba Spring Rolls, Prawn & Crab Cakes, Italian Meatballs, Wild Mushroom and Oka Arancini, and the Mediterranean Black Bean Croquettes.  As Carmen has a plethora of sensitivities and allergies, it ruled out all but three of the options.  Through inquiries, we found out that the restaurant doesn’t deep fry anything, everything is oven baked using olive oil.  We ordered the Prawn & Crab Cakes, Italian Meatballs and Wild Mushroom and Oka Arancini.  The Italian Meatballs and Arancini could be enjoyed as is while the Prawn & Crab cakes had to be enjoyed with the aioli on the side, as the mayonnaise used in the aioli contained an oil that Carmen couldn’t have.  We both started with the Arancini.  I was slightly disappointed as I couldn’t find the wild mushrooms or Oka as advertised in its name.  I love mushrooms and really would have loved to have been able to taste it.  I will admit that the balsamic drizzle on the Arancini was very nice and the truffle crème fraîche was quite nice.  Though I’m not sure whether it was white or black truffle, I’m pretty certain it was white, but it wasn’t overpowering as is often the case with white truffle oil.  The pepperiness of the arugula was a nice contrast to the creamy crème fraîche and Arancini.  Next we tried the Italian Meatball that had a lovely warm tomato sauce, pesto, and Parmesan accompaniment.  The Meatballs were served on top of watercrest.  I originally thought that it was arugula, but Carmen noticed the difference in the leaf shape and corrected me.  Watercrest tastes remarkably similar to arugula that I didn’t notice they were different.  Next time, I’ll have to pay closer attention.  The final component to our trio was the Prawn & Crab Cakes, which was the one I was most excited for.  While it was difficult to discern prawn from crab, the lemon-caper aioli was the best thing I have ever tasted.  That aioli was the make and break point of this component.  Carmen noted that usually crab cakes are among one of her favourite, she did not enjoy it as it was “quite fishy.”  I believe that the aioli, had she been able to eat it, would have counteracted that quite nicely.  I was also surprised at myself as I usually don’t like capers, but I loved it in this application.

For our mains, Carmen ordered the Tiger Rose and I had the Alberta Beef Tenderloin.  While I don’t drink, I like that the menu recommends wine pairing for each of their dishes for people who do drink and aren’t sommeliers (and are too shy to ask about wine pairings, but also, this makes things easier on servers).  The Tiger Rose contains pan-seared tiger prawns, asparagus & sundried tomatoes tossed in a tomato Dijon cream sauce with linguine.  I have to admit, I was eying this, but as I frequently get pasta, I decided to go for the tenderloin. I suppose I could have gone with the best of both worlds and chosen the beef tenderloin fettuccini.  I only shied away from the Tiger Rose because I wasn’t sure I was feeling in the mood for a Dijon cream sauce.  Thinking about it now, it sounds intriguing and I would definitely give it a try.   I was actually debating whether to go with the tenderloin or salmon, but ultimately went with the tenderloin.  The tenderloin was an 6 oz AAA tenderloin, served with Gorgonzola smashed potatoes, seasonal vegetables, bordelaise sauce and a foie gras butter.  Like the Dijon, I was a little apprehensive about the Gorgonzola as I was worried that it would be overpoweringly strong, as is often the case with blue cheeses, but I knew that Gorgonzola went really well with beef and the server gave me one last push by saying that her favourite thing to do when she ordered the tenderloin was to take a bite of potato with the steak.  Intrigued, I ordered it.  Unfortunately, the Gorgonzola was undetectable, which was disappointing.  I may not like how strong it is at times, but if I ordered it, I want to be able to at least taste it.  In recent years, I’ve grown to really love red peppers and I always find that it pairs really well with beef.  I was, at one point really excited because I thought I had gotten two pieces of red pepper, turns out the other was a slice of tomato…

Of course, what is a meal without dessert.  The dessert menu had so many amazing options, but again, it was the server’s suggestion that cemented my decision.  I ordered the Cookies and Cream which was amazing!  It was essentially caramel sauce sandwiched between two fluffy chocolate cakes with spiced rum, topped with vanilla ice cream and more caramel and a raspberry coulis and more caramel sauce drizzled on the plate.  The only weird thing on the plate were the microgreens under the ramekin.  A better choice here would have been mint.  If I wasn’t already so full and happy with my main, I probably would have gotten another dessert.

The food and service at Escoba was exceptional!  Our server not only wanted to know what Carmen was allergic to based on what she could think of by looking at the ingredients listed on the menu, but wanted to know all her allergies and sensitivities in case they weren’t listed and in case there was any cross-contamination.  I got to learn a lot about processes and ingredients and I really like to be able to learn about my dining experience, especially as  a restaurant reviewer.

I would definitely come back here.  It’s a great date night spot.  Based on my experience here, I would rate this place a 4.5/5.

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Sign

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Projected sign

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Restaurant Exterior

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Restaurant Interior

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Cork Wall (behind me)

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Appetizer Teaser (left to right): Wild Mushroom and Oka Arancini, Prawn & Crab Cakes, and Italian Meatballs

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Tiger Rose

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Alberta Beef Tenderloin

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Cookies and Cream

Restaurant Review: Shinjuku Ramen Noodle Bar

Location: 120, 639 5 Ave SW
Website: https://www.shinjukuramennoodlebar.com/

Since NaNoWriMo just concluded, I’ve finally got some time to write up some reviews.  I went to Shinjuku with my friend, Alex (who has been my primary food adventure buddy as of late) back on November 8 after a United Way work event.

After a really long week, it was nice just to sit down and enjoy a comforting bowl of warmth.  We each ordered two appetizers in addition to our ramens.  Alex got the Age Gyoza, Chicken Karaage, and the Tonkotsu Black, while I got the Takoyaki, Geso Calamari, and the Chicken Paitan Ramen.

Having grown up on a particular kind of Chinese dumplings, the flavouring in Japanese gyozas is not particularly appealing to me.  I also may have been scared away from gyoza because my first experience eating them, the meat filling was almost completely raw.  While Japanese gyozas don’t appeal to me in the same way Chinese dumplings do, this doesn’t mean they’re not good, but only that they will never be as good as the ones I grew up on, partly because of the nostalgia/familiarity of the ingredients, but also because of the depth of flavour I’m used to in my dumplings.  Just as an aside for context, the ones I have at home are not homemade, but the best brand we’ve found are Ling Ling or Siwin dumplings at Costco and they come with a savoury soy sauce vinegar dipping sauce.  Regardless of where the dumplings are from or which culture they originate, the dumpling wrapper must be thin and I prefer mine to be pan-fried rather than simply steamed.  These gyoza met my requirements for a crispy exterior, but like I said, the seasoning on the inside was just a little too bland for my taste.  The dipping sauce accompanying the dumplings, a chili gyoza sauce, had a strange taste to it that neither Alex nor I particularly enjoyed.  The Chicken Karaage wasn’t terrible, but it also wasn’t great.  It was sort of run of the mill fried chicken (sorry I didn’t get a good picture of it, it’s just in the bottom corner of the picture of the calamari).  The batter was fairly light, but not as light as it should be.  In my opinion, the best Chicken Karaage is still Gyu-Kaku’s.  The sweet chili dipping sauce was also fairly ordinary; the kind you’d find from a bottle at the supermarket.  Tonkotsu broth is often advertised as being the best ramen broth out there because of its smooth, richness, but I have never really enjoyed its appeal.  I’ll acknowledge that it is creamy in a way you wouldn’t expect from a pork bone broth, but nothing spectacular.  I know that some people would disagree and say that’s exactly what makes it so amazing, but of course, you all know, my reviews are subjective as are everyone’s tastes.  The Tonkotsu Black consists of a homemade pork bone broth boiled for more than sixteen hours, topped with fresh house-made pork chashu, marinated soft-boiled egg, bamboo shoots, fresh green onions, and sesame seeds. The broth is made extra rich broth by the addition of a seafood based broth and contains black garlic oil with noodles, topped with wood ear mushrooms and garlic flakes.  Shinjuku also offers a gluten-friendly version of this dish for those who are so inclined.  I’d also like to point out that Japanese chashu is very different from Chinese style Char Siu and that, while they have very similar names, they are two different things.  I point this out because the first time (many years ago), when I had ramen for the very first time, I thought that Japanese chashu and Chinese Char Siu were the same thing and ended up being very disappointed and I don’t want any other unsuspecting foodies to be fooled the way I was.  Typically, I’m not a huge fan of bamboo shoots because of their particularly strong taste (that might have more to do with the fact that they have been canned than with the shoots themselves), but also, bamboo shoots contain cyanide.  Another interesting fact, since wood ear mushrooms have been added to the ramen, which I might add, isn’t super common, is that wood ears are also blood thinners.  Black garlic, I’ve been told, has a very unique and different taste from ordinary garlic, but I don’t think I had enough of the black garlic oil in my bite to notice a marked difference.

Like most, if not the whole meal, the Takoyaki was pretty ordinary as well.  The only thing I remember was that there were a lot of bonito flakes, but they also tasted and looked more like the frozen takoyaki from a box rather than made in house.  The Geso Calamari was very crunchy and it was different to have it paired with the sweet chili sauce rather than a spicy mayo, as it typically is presented.  I think in this situation, I preferred the sweet chili over the spicy mayo because mayo on already deep fried food, while it is delicious, adds another level of heaviness that the sweet chili doesn’t bring.  In fact, the sweet chili presents two additional flavour profiles that I feel enhanced this dish.  According to Shinjuku their tori paitan ramen is a thicker, creamier chicken broth.  Personally, I enjoy chicken broth because of its clarity and pure flavour.  I love nothing more than a boiling bowl of chicken broth topped with green onions; simplicity at its finest.  So, how does one get a creamier, thicker chicken broth you ask?  Shinjuku’s answer?  Add seafood broth, of course! Shinjuku’s chicken broth consists of a home-signature ramen made from a higher temperature and robust boil into a thick and cloudy chicken broth for twelve hours, topped with sous vide chicken breast chashu, marinated soft-boiled egg, green onions, and sesame seeds.  Like the Tonkotsu Black, the Chicken Paitan Ramen also contains bamboo shoots and wood ear mushrooms, but the Chicken Paitan contains sweet corn which the Tonkotsu Black does not.  I have mixed feelings about having corn in my ramen.  On the one hand, corn is delicious and I’ll eat it in practically any form, but on the other, corn in a bowl of soup is so easily lost.  Especially since they are more dense than the soup and sink to the bottom.  What’s strange to me is that I’m perfectly okay with eating poached eggs (on eggs bennies and whatnot) and raw eggs (as in cookie dough or Orange Juliuses that I make at home), but a soft boiled egg in ramen makes my body very unhappy.  I’m not sure if that’s because the eggs aren’t made fresh to order or not because I don’t even know if they are.  I also take issue with the phrase “chicken breast chashu” because in my mind chashu is pork (a conception formed by the Chinese Char Siu).  It definitely didn’t feel like it had been sous vided (not that I know what something that has been sous vide tastes like), but even if it had, it seems a waste to drop it into soup after all that work.  Honestly, it just felt like boiled, sliced chicken breast.

Overall, Shinjuku was good, but I’m not sure that I would return here again.  I’m very picky about my noodle soups and I feel like this place just didn’t measure up.  Maybe it was my choice of ramen and if that’s the case, then I’m more than willing to take recommendations and try coming back here again.  The service here was pretty good.  The server struck a good balance between being attentive to our needs and leaving us to our conversation, which I appreciated.

I think I would rate this place, 2/5.

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Age Gyoza

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Takoyaki

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Geso Calamari (and the Chicken Karaage at the bottom corner)

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Tonkotsu Black

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Chicken Paitan Ramen

 

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