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Restaurant Review: Araxi

Location: 110 – 4222 Village Square, Whistler, BC
Website: https://www.araxi.com/

Writing restaurant reviews had begun to lose their appeal. It had just become another mundane task, tedious, another “chore.” I had hoped that of all the writing I did, this would never happen to the reviews I wrote. As a matter of fact, I’m haven’t written the review for Tokachi and I’m not sure if I’m going to do a full review or if I’m going to just do a quick/short blurb on my Facebook page and call it a day. After all, it was more of an all-you-can-eat experience rather than a “fine dining” one. Then I happened across Araxi. From the minute that Alex suggested we make a day trip to Whistler, this restaurant has been on my mind. Ever since having heard of it on a season of Hell’s Kitchen, it’s been a dream of mine to try a “Gordon Ramsay” restaurant. I’m not sure if it’s still considered a Gordon Ramsay restaurant, but to dine at one of his restaurants has always been a dream of mine. Araxi, at its core, is the reason I began writing these reviews in the first place. Dining here has reignited a passion within me again.

When I mentioned this restaurant, I never expected to be going so soon, so when Alex asked me this morning if I wanted to go here, I had to keep myself from screaming out. Though I gave the calmest, most nonchalant answer I could manage, the foodie in me couldn’t keep quiet. I had perused the menu, as per usual, and I knew that a restaurant of this caliber would not be cheap, but I also knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I would not regret it. On a whim, I decided to check if there was availability at the restaurant for today and I don’t know if it was luck, but there was time. I can’t express enough how much I love modern technology when it comes to booking reservations. With a touch of a button, I made a reservation here through OpenTable. OpenTable is by far my favourite platform for booking reservations. The app is so user friendly for changing times, dates, and party sizes and for cancellations.

After a couple hours of exploring the town site, we headed down to the restaurant, arriving approximately fifteen minutes early for our five o’clock reservation. However, the dining room and dinner service doesn’t begin until five, so we were shown to the bar until our table was ready. We were seated at the bar and presented with three drink menus, all fairly comprehensive. Alex ordered a Wartsteiner non-alcoholic beer, her boyfriend, Alex ordered a raspberry lemonade, substituting water for soda, and I order the Perfect Wave, a non-alcoholic cocktail containing grapefruit, lime, lavender, and soda. The raspberry lemonade had a freshness to it from the sprig of mint used for garnish. The Perfect Wave was a little heavy on the lime and the only hit of grapefruit I got from the drink was in the bitterness of the fruit. In my first sip, I was greeted with an overwhelming punch of lavender, the kind of punch that makes you think, “Hello!” This drink is certainly not shy in its flavours and while it all seemed overwhelming at first, it really grows on you as you continue to drink it. Along with our drinks we were given some truffle popcorn. I absolutely love truffle, so this was delicious to me. However, I can’t say that this is the best truffle popcorn I’ve had to date. That honour goes to Evoolution with their butter truffle popcorn. The creamy, saltiness of the butter in Evoolution’s popcorn beats truffle salted popcorn.

Having seen the prices of the a la carte items and having seen that there was an option for a prix fixe menu for Araxi’s 37th anniversary, we decided to go with the prix fixe. Alex and I both ordered the Albacore Tuna Poke and Alex (bf) ordered the Jumbo Prawn Cocktail as starters. The menu advertised the Poke as crispy yam noodles with albacore tuna, sockeye salmon, green onion, Japanese pepper and spicy poke sauce. I can’t say that that sauce was spicy, but it certainly was aggressively seasoned. The tuna had a melt in your mouth quality and the salmon was bright and firm on the palate. Though it wasn’t mentioned on the menu, the poke was accompanied by a seaweed salad. Alex thoroughly enjoyed the salad and in my first bite, my tastebuds rebelled. You could definitely taste the sea in that salad. But as the meal went on, the salad grew on me. It was the perfect compliment to the salinity of the soy and the pure flavour of the fish. The Jumbo Prawn Cocktail is exactly what you’d expect of it. The prawns were paired with a house prepared cocktail sauce and accompanied by a salsa verde and spring pickles (assorted pickled veggies). While the cocktail sauce was of a higher quality than what you’d get out of a jar or even at some of the other restaurants, I personally don’t find this dish to really be worth it. The spring pickles were an interesting addition to the dish. Based on the flavour profile of the pickles, they don’t really complement the prawns or cocktail sauce. They felt slightly out of place within this dish, almost as if they were added as an after thought to the plate to justify the cost (on the a la carte menu, 4 prawns is $19.50).

While we waited for our mains, we munched on some bread. The presentation of the butter wasn’t like anything I had ever seen before. It was somewhat reminiscent of an egg, but the colours of yolk and albumin were reversed. On the one hand, it’s just bread and butter, but on the other, the warm bread, the slight chew of it, coupled with the unique presentation of the butter, in a way, elevated it.

For our mains, Alex ordered the Alberta Beef Tenderloin Steak (for an additional $15), Alex (bf) ordered the Paradise Valley Pork Tenderloin Duo, and I ordered the Miso Marinated Wild BC Sablefish. All three dishes were plated beautifully. Sablefish, also known as black cod or butterfish, is one of my favourite fish, but it is also one of the most expensive fish because of its amazing texture. As one of its alternate names indicates, it has an intensely rich buttery taste. Sablefish is a delicate fish, prone to becoming rubbery when over cooked. This is the fish I want served at my wedding. The Sablefish is served with daikon radish, baby bok choy, shaved scallions, shiitake mushrooms and a smoked tuna lemongrass dashi broth. The mushrooms had been properly infused with flavour, I assume from the dashi, and wonderfully succulent. It was unfortunate that the first of my two piece of fish was slightly overcooked. It wasn’t horrible and not a consistency that was disagreeable to me because I didn’t even realize that it was overcooked until I dug into the second piece. While the second piece wasn’t as severely overcooked as the first, it was still more cooked than I was used to and more than I would’ve like. It had lost much of its flaky smooth quality that defines it. In the past, I have had bad experiences with ordering pork, primarily with it being underdone (and still pink inside. I know that you can eat it with some pinkness, but it’s still not something I’m overly comfortable with) or overdone (and dry). I have to say, the pork duo was the most surprising dish of this evening with how absolutely amazing it was. The dish was a roasted pork loin, smoked pork belly, sweet onion soubise, brandied cherry jus, Rootdown Farm rainbow chard and hakurei turnips. The pork belly was the best thing I’ve ever tasted in my life. It simply just melted in your mouth. It was actually so good that my head started spinning. The loin was impressive, but paled in comparison to the belly. Don’t get me wrong, the loin was very good. It wasn’t under or over cooked. It was tender and the natural juices remained within the cut of meat. The dish actually came with brandied cherries, not just the jus. Like the lavender, the brandy really announced itself. The Steak was served with roasted fingerling potatoes with thyme, asparagus, charred baby onions, red wine sauce and chimichurri. Sure, it seems ridiculous to be ordering Alberta beef in BC, but the masterful preparation of this cut of meat at Araxi is second to none. The chef’s handling of the beef is nothing Alex has ever enjoyed before. Throughout the meal, she couldn’t keep from remarking on the tenderness of the meat. There was almost a melt in your mouth quality about it even. Alex even mentioned that she typically doesn’t enjoy chimichurri, but she quite enjoyed it.

Last but not least, dessert. There were three desserts and three of us, so naturally we ordered them all. I had the strawberry + pistachio nougat glace, Alex had the Araxi ‘Harmony Ridge’ Chocolate Tart, and Alex (bf) had the House Made Petits Fours. Alex and I ordered coffees with our dessert; she had an Americano and I had a macchiato. I’m glad that Alex² chose their dessert first because I was really struggling with what I wanted, but in the end, I think we all ended up with desserts that best suited us. The Glace consisted of Fraser Valley berries with frozen pistachio parfait and lemon-basil chiffon cake. The smell of the strawberry coulis waifed off the plate, seriously stirring my appetite. It was a light dessert and didn’t make me regret my entire life as most desserts often do with their richness and sweetness. The fresh strawberries were firm, but very sweet and I don’t know what variety of mint this restaurant uses, but it’s a very minty mint. It’s delightful! Alex’s Chocolate Tart was dark chocolate ganache in a sweet pastry crust topped with chantilly cream and accented with fresh raspberries. From the one bite I had, I thoroughly enjoyed it as it wasn’t nearly as sweet and rich as I had expected from a chocolate ganache. The bitterness of the chocolate was absolutely perfect to me. I didn’t even need the coffee to cut through the sweetness as I often have to do. The Petits Fours consisted of a financier, chocolate, fruit jelly and salted caramel. It also came with hazelnut chocolate bark and a blondie. I’d have to agree with Alex that the fruit jelly was one of the best things on the plate. I didn’t try the salted caramel or the hazelnut chocolate bark, but was informed that the salted caramel contained flecks of sea salt dispersed within. The financier was almond (I believe) and was very light in its flavour.

This place had impeccable service, a perfect balance to the impeccable food. As I mentioned earlier, Araxi reignited a passion in me that I thought no longer existed. If I could afford to eat like this every day, I would, but I suppose that would remove the “special” element from it. I will acknowledge that it is expensive, but I would say that this place is worth every penny. The best thing I find with fine dining restaurants is that there’s lots of courses, but I never walk out of the place feeling like I’ve eaten too much. I would 100% come back to this restaurant and would rate this place 4.75/5 (which is probably the highest rating I’ve ever given, on par with Teatro’s).

Araxi Exterior
Restaurant Interior
Bread and Butter
Albacore Tuna Poke
Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail
Miso Marinated Wild BC Sablefish
Paradise Valley Pork Tenderloin Duo
Alberta Beef Tenderloin Steak
Strawberry + Pistachio Nougat Glace and Macchiato
Araxi ‘Harmony Ridge’ Chocolate Tart
House Made Petits Fours
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Restaurant Review: Kabuku

Location: 414 3 St SW (Downtown location)
Website: http://www.kabuku.ca/tabid/10640/Default.aspx

The first time I heard of this restaurant was through work. I had booked several reservations at this location for my lawyer and it appeared to be one of his favourite places to go. Eventually, I did end up eating here, but the first time doing so was with a client. Today, I had the opportunity to return with my sister.

As this place is situated in downtown, the prices reflect as such. However, I strongly believe that the preparation and presentation of the dishes warrants such steep pricing.

We ordered the orange bay scallops, an assorted tempura, tempura avocado, goma-ae, gyu sashimi, tamago sashimi, inari nigiri, a volcano roll, and the sushi/sashimi lunch special. The sushi/sashimi lunch special came with rice, miso soup, and a house salad which was dressed with a ginger vinaigrette and consisted of one piece each of ebi, salmon, and tuna nigiri, one piece of unagi sashimi, two salmon, two Atlantic salmon, two blue fin tuna, and a spicy temaki.

The two salads and soup arrived first. On the surface, they didn’t look like much, but once we dug in, we were pleasantly surprised. The first time I came here I had ordered the goma-ae before and it had not disappointed. This time, it lived up to those standards. As Val mentioned, it was almost as if the spinach had been marinated in the sesame, as the flavour permeated throughout every leaf. It was a little bit on the salty side, but it was bearable. The highlight of the dish was the nuttiness of the sesame; it really came through. The house salad, though ordinary in appearance was quite hearty. The lettuce leaves were sturdy and held the dressing quite well. As it turns out, this ginger vinaigrette dressing was a little saltier than the sesame dressing and made the goma-ae seem significantly less salty. But again, it wasn’t so salty it was unbearable. In fact, I hardly noticed it with the house salad. Perhaps that could be attributed to the acidic element within the dressing. Both salads were served cold, which was a welcome change to the room temperature salads I was accustomed to. Unfortunately, I’ve been having some issues with sensitivity and the cold caused some issues with my teeth which affected my ability to completely enjoy my meal. The first thing I noticed about the soup was the slice of white mushroom floating on the surface. I voiced my observation just as Valerie broke the surface of the soup, dredging up the expected tofu and seaweed from below. However, what we didn’t expect to find were more white mushrooms and enoki mushrooms. I love mushrooms and really appreciated this small touch to make their miso soup unique in comparison to the other sushi restaurants I’ve been to. According to their menu, the miso base is further enhanced by the use of a fish broth to better develop the flavour of the soup.

The soup and salads were followed by the tempuras. I ordered the avocado tempura because I was curious and Val had mentioned trying some at Globefish in Kensington, which she had thoroughly enjoyed. Avocado develops a very different taste and texture after been coated in batter and deep fried. While it didn’t taste bad, I don’t think I’ll be ordering that one again. According to Val, it’s paired with a different sauce at Globefish Kensington, which works better than the warm sweet soy sauce that is often paired with tempura. The assorted tempura was a good size containing two piece of yam tempura, two spears of asparagus (cut in half), two whole white mushrooms, two pieces of broccoli, and three pieces of shrimp. I would have preferred the yam to be a little softer, but other than that, I have no complaints about the dish as a whole. Overall, the batter on the tempura was very well done. The ratio of vegetable/shrimp to batter was well balanced and didn’t leave an excess of oil on my palate.

The next to arrive were the orange bay scallops and volcano roll, inari nigiri, and tamago and gyu sashimi on one plate. The volcano roll was another item I had on my first visit. The spicy sauce is among one of the best I’ve had. It provides just the right amount of heat. Since I don’t typically use soy sauce, I often rely on the sauce(s) that comes with the roll and too often I’m left wanting. This was not the case with this roll. Like the miso soup, Kabuku put a twist on their tamago with the addition of shiitake mushrooms. To be honest, I didn’t know that to expect from a tamago sashimi. I ordered it primarily to avoid eating more rice than was necessary. I think in recent years, I’ve been able to develop both my palate and tolerance when it comes to raw fish and meat and today I was “brave” enough to order the practically raw beef sashimi. Unlike tataki, it is unseasoned, save for some pepper, green onion, and ginger, but to be honest, it didn’t need more than that. The pepper, green onion, and ginger helped to enhance the taste of the beef, which was very clean. I didn’t really realize that, like sashimi and sushi, the gyu sashimi is meant to be enjoyed with a splash of soy sauce. According to Val, the sweet soy is more complementary. I would very much like to try this the next time I order gyu sashimi. The inari was fairly standard of sushi restaurants. However, they didn’t put in too much rice, which I was very happy about and they neatly folded and tucked in the excess inari making a very pretty and clean presentation. My only quip about this is that there weren’t sesame seeds mixed in with the rice in the inari, but other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The orange bay scallops were ordered more out of curiosity. This dish was described as bay scallop tempura and diced fresh orange tossed in an aioli sauce with tobiko. While the dish was delicious with the crunch and pop of the tobiko, the creaminess of the aioli, and the sweet, freshness of the diced orange, I agree with Val’s sentiment that it could have done with a touch less of aioli. It honestly felt like the scallops and orange were swimming in it.

The last dish to come was the sushi/sashimi entree. Like the inari, they had kept the rice to a minimum. Even Val’s original concern about the temaki containing too much rice was unfounded; they had found the perfect ratio of rice to spicy tuna to greens. While the sashimi was thinly sliced, it was of the highest quality. The only complaint about this was that the unagi was cooked a touch over; therefore, it was a little stiff going down rather than the smoothness I’m used to from eel. As this was an entree, it also came with rice. However, with everything we ordered, there was enough rice between the rolls and nigiri that the bowl of rice remained untouched.

Service was excellent. Empty dishes never sat on the table long, teacups never remained empty long. The servers, whether we were their table or not, checked in periodically to make sure everything was still okay (not to the point where it got annoying).

I know I haven’t really be consistent in the past regarding accessibility and I apologize and am trying to be better and notice these kinds of issues. In terms of accessibility, it’s a little bit difficult. There is a step up in order to access the front door of the restaurant and the back way through the connecting building is a little narrow.

My overall assessment is that I would definitely come back, but because of how expensive this place is, I’d have to come here in moderation. Based on this experience, I’d give this restaurant a 4.25/5.

Restaurant Lights/Interior
Left to right: Goma-ae, house salad, miso soup
Assorted and avocado tempuras
Top: Orange Bay Scallops Bottom (starting at the 12 o’clock position, going clockwise): tamago sashimi, volcano roll, inari nigiri, gyu sashimi
Sushi/Sashimi Entree

Restaurant Review: Prego

Location: 200 Barclay Parade SW
Website: http://www.pregocalgary.com/

Another delightful evening catching up with Carmen over a delicious meal. For those like me, who had no idea, this restaurant is located on the second floor of the Eau Claire mall.

Carmen prefaced the meal (on our walk over) with a comment to the effect that this restaurant used to be so much better in the past. Even with that, I went in with a critical mind, as I often do for these meals.

We started with the Gamberi Agrodolce – jumbo shrimp sautéed with cherry tomatoes and spinach, dressed in a balsamic reduction. My biggest concern with cooked spinach is that it will get overcooked and become chewy and develop this taste/texture that I can’t describe in English (I know the word in Chinese, but that doesn’t help me here). I generally don’t like cooked tomatoes because they become quite mushy when warm, but I don’t mind eating them when they are featured in dishes such as this. The dish was well seasoned and the olive oil and balsamic reduction was great for dipping the bread into.

For our mains, I ordered the Spaghetti Carbonara and Carmen had the Vitello Piccatta. I think I’ve only ever had Spaghetti Carbonara like once or twice before, so while I knew what ingredients went into making one, I didn’t really know what to expect from one. Based on knowing the ingredients, I was able to imagine the flavour profile and this dish met all my expectations. The sauce was creamy and there was a good ratio of bacon to noodles. The sauce was a little more runny than I’m used to, but it’s great for dipping bread into, which I love to do with my pasta. The veal was very thinly pounded (scallopini), topped with sautéed mushrooms and dressed with a lovely light lemon and white wine sauce. This was my first time having veal prepared this way and it was really good. The mains come with seasonal vegetables and a choice of either pasta with a tomato basil sauce or roasted potatoes. Carmen opted for the potatoes since I had offered to share my carbonara.

For dessert, Carmen ordered the dessert of the day: a lemon white chocolate cheesecake and I had the chocolate pâté. Due to Carmen’s allergies, the cheesecake came without the berry compote, but regardless, Carmen expressed that she really enjoyed the dessert. The chocolate pâté was nothing like I’ve ever had before. The best way I could describe it is a slightly heavier version of frozen mousse. It was everything the menu promised. It was heavenly, but to be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever had a dessert as luxurious as the ones that I had at Famoso. I still dream about that panna cotta. Of course, I had to get an espresso with my dessert. Coffee and dessert have kinda become my thing. The espresso came with a piece of biscotti, almond, I believe it was. The biscotti was delicious, both by itself and dipped into the espresso. This is one of the things I would certainly order again.

Service was excellent. Our server had a quality I expect from a fine dining establishment and it certainly felt like we were at a higher end place despite its location and the view from our window seat. The view left much to be desired and the food was good, but not excellent. I’m not sure that I would return here again, but I might stop by for lunch as I’ve been told that they do a fast lunch service.

Based on this experience, I’d give this place a 2.5/5.

Restaurant Interior
Gamberi Agrodolce
Vitello Piccatta
Spaghetti Carbonara
Lemon White Chocolate Cheesecake
Chocolate Pâté
Espresso with Almond Biscotti

Restaurant Review: BoRi Korean Restaurant

Location: 3616 52 Ave NW

An impromptu family lunch brought us out to this restaurant here. This restaurant replaced the previous Korean restaurant that used to be here and I have to say I like the new changes. The tables feel like they’re much larger than they used to be, which is good considering they have a self-serve, all you can eat side dish bar.

Like the previous Korean restaurant that stood here, they had a lunch box option. However, under this new management, the lunch boxes are better organized and contain much more food for an affordable price. Each lunch box includes soup, salad, a spring roll, honey fried potatoes, shredded ribbons of fish cakes/fish tofu, a protein of choice, and of course, unlimited sides. The price of the meal is dependant on the protein chosen. All dishes with the exception of the short ribs ($15) and salmon teriyaki ($13) are $11. In regards to the offering of number of side dishes, I would say that it’s perfect. There’s just enough selection for variety, but not too many that it would put a strain on the chefs in the kitchen to have to prepare for restock.

For side dishes, this restaurant offers kimchi (of course, how could you not offer a staple of Korean cuisine, daikon, sweet potato salad (sweetened with sugar, not using sweet potatoes) and sesame bean sprouts. We’ve tried making the sweet potato salad at home but didn’t have the right kind of mayonnaise and we didn’t add nearly enough sugar. This restaurant’s interpretation of the dish included a sprinkling of shredded carrots and sweet corn. This, by far, is one of my favourite, new side dishes (this isn’t a side dish I’ve seen until the just recently and I’ve frequented Korean restaurants for years). The self-serve area also has miso soup, rice, salad, and coffee. While the lunch boxes already contain rice and salad, the self-serve bar offers additional rice and salad for people who want or need more. There is only one soup available for selection and it is served in a rice cooker (presumably to keep it warm). Green onions and tofu are on the side for you to add in as much or as little as you want, but there was no seaweed either in the soup or as an add in. So essentially, what I got was miso soup with onions and no tofu.

I ordered the marinate beef short ribs, my mom got the salmon teriyaki and my sister and dad got the spicy chicken lunch boxes. In addition to that, we got one order of Jap Chae (Jap Che on their menu) as well.

Even at $15, I’d say that the lunch box has more than enough food. I ended up actually packing up half of it to go (probably because I had the noodles too). The beef wasn’t too chewy, but as with short ribs, they’re still kinda tough in some places. The spring roll was nothing special, a cabbage and carrot filling with what tasted like tonkatsu sauce on them. The fried potatoes with honey on them were pretty good, kinda reminiscent of the sweet glazed garlicky fried potatoes that I loved as a side dish at some of the other Korean restaurants I’ve been at. The fish cake strips are pretty standard, which makes me think that it’s a commercial product that most restaurants would buy in rather than make in house (I don’t know know what goes into making these, but I’m thinking it’s a lot of work!). And finally, the salad is to die for! From what we (read: Valerie) could figure out, the sauce is made from vinegar, pureed carrots and onions, and some kind of sweetener (probably just sugar water). The chicken and salmon were both pretty good too. The chicken was moist and the one piece I had wasn’t that spicy and the salmon was cooked all the way through but not dry.

The noodles were also pretty good. The dish is slightly on the salty side, but still delicious. if not a little inconvenient for a few reasons:
1. Metal Chopsticks
2. Extreme length
3. Slippery noodles
4. Elasticity of noodles

I would 100% come back here again! The service and food were both very good and the pricing definitely helped. Based on today’s experience, I’d give this place a 4.25.

Restaurant Exterior
Lunch Menu
Side dish self-serve bar
Miso, Rice and Coffee
Side dishes
Marinated Beef Short Ribs
Spicy Chicken

Restaurant Review: Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria

Location: 125 Stewart Green SW (Westhills Towne Centre)
Website: https://famoso.ca/

When the place first opened, I had heard so much about it. The place was always packed, which I took to be a good sign, but one day, my dad tried it and said that it was horrible and as such, we never got the chance to try it out as a family. I’m not the kind of person who would dismiss something as important as food based solely on someone else’s opinion. I would keep it at the back of my mind, certainly, but I wanted to form my own opinion of the place. I waited and waited and today, my patience was rewarded.

After a relaxing day of pedicures, facials, and shopping, Alex and I headed to Famoso for dinner. The restaurant was practically empty when we arrived (probably because it was a weird time) and we seated ourselves. We promptly perused the menu and decided on an eggplant parmigiana as a starter. We both chose to do the 7″ pizza with a caesar salad side.

I started with a drink. Something I’ve never tried before: a raspberry ginger beer. After a few sips, I decided that ginger beer isn’t for me.

Originally, I was going to be adventurous and try out the Spicy Thai Pizza, but under pressure, I defaulted to my usual, the Funghi. Alex went with a classic Margherita. When the pizzas came out, there was no question that the Funghi pizza contained white truffle oil. Even though I knew there was truffle oil (as this is my go to pizza, but also, the menu indicated that there was truffle oil), the smell still caught me off guard. It made me worried that the dish would be overpowered by the taste of white truffle oil; however, the taste was not nearly as strong as the smell (thank goodness). The salad was very lightly dressed, almost to the point that I couldn’t even detect the dressing. My personal preference when it comes to caesar salad is for it to be dressed a little more aggressively and be a lot more garlicky. I know that that much garlic isn’t for everyone (especially if we have to go back to the office and/or to a meeting afterwards because if I have to do either of those things I’ll go easy on the garlic), but the level of garlickiness in Van Gogh’s caesar salad (if they still make them the way they do, since I haven’t been back in like a year) will always be my benchmark for a good caesar salad.

The highlight of the meal ended up being dessert. We ordered four. Alex got the affogato with the salted caramel gelato and a tiramisu, and I ordered a mango (the seasonal flavour) sorbetto and white chocolate panna cotta.

All the desserts were composed with perfection in mind. Each bite was absolute luxury. I started with the mango sorbetto because it has the potential to melt. BEST. SORBETTO. I. HAVE. EVER. HAD! It was so fresh that I could almost taste the texture of the mango. Alex started with the affogato for the same reason. I’ve had affogatos before (at Made by Marcus) and I can say definitively that pistachio gelato is not a good choice to use in an affogato because of its delicate flavour, it gets lost against the strong espresso flavour. The salted caramel is a much better choice for an affogato. Although I’m not typically a fan of salted caramel, its strong flavour is a great pairing with the espresso and it is absolutely delicious. I think, following that same vein of thought, the salted caramel dark chocolate would also be delicious because chocolate and coffee are a classic pairing. Then came the panna cotta and tiramisu. The panna cotta was to die for. The creamy texture was perfection. I don’t consider white chocolate a chocolate, more like a block of fat and sugar, but absolutely loved it in this preparation. The chocolate slivers shaved on top and strawberry coulis provided just the right touch to balance out the flavours in the dish. The tiramisu was equally excellent. There was no question that it had been composed with mascarpone.

My overall experience was extremely pleasant and I would gladly return here. Next time, I hope to try the Spicy Thai pizza. Perhaps we’ll make it here after nine after archery one day (1/2 priced pizzas!) . Based on that experience, I would give this place a 4/5.

Restaurant Interior
Restaurant Interior
Raspberry Ginger Beer
Eggplant Parmigiana
7″ Margherita with Caesar
Funghi with Caesar
Going clockwise from top left: affogato with salted caramel gelato, tiramisu, mango sorbetto, and white chocolate panna cotta

Restaurant Review: The Gateway

Location: 1301 16 Avenue NW (SAIT Campus Centre)
Website: https://saitsa.com/gateway/menu/

Unlike The Den, which I tried out in my final year of my university career, I didn’t get to try out The Gateway until after I graduated.

Alex and I decided that this would probably be the best/most convenient place for dinner as we would be proceeding to the Jubilee Auditorium to watch Rigoletto shortly after. It also happened to be one of the last days of Advanced Polling and seeing as I live pretty much in the middle of nowhere, voting on actual election day would prove to be a bit of a challenge.

It wasn’t crazy busy when we arrived, but it was fairly packed. Given that it was a Friday afternoon, that was to be expected. It was nice that there was a live band playing, but made it difficult to have a conversation, which again was to be expected.

What I liked about The Gateway over The Den was that there were large windows in the establishment, making it feel less enclosed and dungeon-like.

After a week of eating a lot of deep fried foods, I wanted to go a little lighter, but considering where we were, lighter isn’t really a thing. I decided to go with appies instead of mains for this dinner.

We ordered the fried pickles to share and I got the roasted poblano and artichoke dip and the bacon bomb trio. Alex ordered the saucy cow.

Our orders came out pretty quickly, considering how many people there were in the place, so I was pretty happy about that.

I started with the pickles. These are pretty standard, and as Alex said, you can’t go wrong with these. While these were good, these aren’t the best fried pickles I’ve ever had. I still have to say that Seanachie’s has the best bar food I’ve had to date. The next dish I tried was the roasted poblano and artichoke dip. It was pretty much what I expected, except for the toasted bread crumbs on top. My only wish is that the dip was a little hotter because then it would be more like a cheesy dip than a cheesy paste. Taste wise, it wasn’t bad. I liked that there were chunks of artichoke because if I ordered something that indicates that a certain ingredient in it, I like to be able to at least see it, if not also to taste it. Unfortunately, the poblano didn’t come through as much as I had hoped. I was in the mood for spicy and this dish didn’t quite deliver. The last appie I had was the bacon bomb trio. On paper it sounds really good: house ground bacon sliders with crispy bacon, root beer BBQ, cheddar, bacon mayo, and crispy fried onions on pretzel buns. When the sliders came, there weren’t any crispy fried onions or bacon as far as I could see. Instead, they were topped with lettuce and tomato. Honestly, if I could have had the crispy onions and bacon in addition to the lettuce and tomato, it would have made for the perfect balance. The veggies would’ve provided that much needed hit of freshness that the heavy slider would’ve been. Without the crispy bacon, the slider patty just tasted like pork. I haven’t quite decided if that’s a good or bad thing yet, it was just a very porky pork taste. The root beer BBQ isn’t something I’ve had before and it was a very unique flavour that I enjoyed.

Alex’s saucy cow, which is essentially a beef dip, was quite nice. The horseradish in the mayo didn’t quite come through in the bite I had, which was a little disappointing. In the past, I’ve also had beef dips buttered with garlic butter, which I have enjoyed immensely. While this beef dip was good, there were so many things that could have made it better. Another thing is that The Gateway’s “standard” fries are curly fries. Curly fries are 100% better than regular fries, in my opinion anyways. I think Alex really enjoyed them, as she prefers softer, pillowy fries rather than extra crispy like I do. They seemed a little bland and could’ve used a little bit of seasoning on them.

Overall, it was a good experience. As it’s on the SAIT Campus, the pricing is very affordable, which is a huge incentive for me to keep coming back. The food is pretty good, but having been to The Den so many years ago, I don’t think I can make a fair comparison to the food there. Each has its merits and given the opportunity, I would happily return here again. Based on this experience, I would give this a 3.5/5.

Saucy Cow (back), Fried Pickles (left of Saucy Cow), Bacon Bomb Trio (left side of image), Poblano and Artichoke Dip (front)

Restaurant Review: M Palace

Location: 10400 Macleod Trail SE

I’m glad that my parents have finally stopped caring that I take pictures of the food for my reviews, which means I get to do lot more reviews on Chinese restaurants now! YAY! Of course, that comes with it its own set of challenges. One in particular is translating some of the names of the dishes. That and trying to find the characters for the Chinese names of the dishes to maintain authenticity (they have such pretty names in Chinese that sound ridiculous in English when translated).

As many people already know (and I may have mentioned in previous reviews), Chinese food is meant to be consumed family style. It still offends me when I see people in a party of nine or ten order an entire dish and eat it themselves. THAT’S NOT HOW IT’S MEANT TO BE CONSUMED PEOPLE!!!

However, whenever we go out for dinner as a family, my dad likes to order A LOT of food. For instance, tonight we took home about 5 boxes of food home with us. For reference, we don’t normally order that much food at restaurants we frequent, usually about 4-6 dishes depending on what we get, which yields about 2-3 boxes to take home, but when we’re trying out somewhere new, my dad likes to order enough off the menu to give us a wide variety to try (because sometimes they’re not the best at preparing one type of dish, but great at another, or at least this is what I’m assuming).

As with every restaurant experience, they ask for your drink order. At a Chinese restaurant, more often than not, they ask you what type of tea you’d like. My favourite is the chrysanthemum pu’er tea, but my dad’s is 鉄観音 (Tie guan yin) which translates to Iron Goddess, which is what we get every time. While it’s rare for the tea to get cold over the course of a meal, it does happen at times (especially if you’re not constantly drinking it), the presence of a tea warmer is wonderful…even though the tea pot didn’t really sit on there right.

We began with a starter, duck neck and wing with jellyfish (鸭頸翼拼海蜇 which Google translates to duck neck wing fight…which is ridiculous…) . Duck neck is incredibly difficult to eat. It is very bony with very little meat. You really have to get in there with your hands. According to my dad, duck neck isn’t typically served in as an appetizer because it’s so bony. It’s more typically used in developing the depth of a soup base. As it was an appetizer, there was very little jellyfish accompanying the duck. The flavouring on both the duck and jellyfish were spot on, although the jellyfish could have done with slightly more seasoning and a touch fewer onions. The addition of wood ear mushrooms is also not something I’ve seen done before. It has a similar texture and crunch as jellyfish and gives the illusion that there is more jellyfish in your mouth than there actually is.

The next dish that came out was the duck fried rice, which was a little weird because normally when you order the Peking Duck set course, it’s supposed to come out in a certain order (soup, duck with pancakes, rice). As an aside, this restaurant has four courses rather than three (most restaurants have soup, duck with pancakes, and fried rice/noodle, the duck neck and wing is an addition that they made). The rice came wrapped in a lotus leaf, but was done so in a very inefficient manner. The opening had been placed against the bottom of the steaming basket rather than the top meaning that when they brought it, they had to cut a hole in the top of it so that we could get to the rice. The alternative, of course, was simply to flip it over, (but also, I think it’s a sanitation thing where they don’t want to touch your food with their hands, which I’m totally fine with). When rice is steamed in any kind of leaves, I expect it to have a slightly more sticky consistency, as it’s usually sticky rice that is steamed. This was just ordinary rice, so while the presentation was nice, it was completely unnecessary. Taste wise, it was nothing special. There was a dark colouring from the soy sauce and microscopic fragments of duck, but it tasted to me of nothing but rice. Not even the fragrant lotus leaf flavour managed to make it in.

Next came the duck with hoisin sauce, onions, cucumber wrapped in a pancake dish. It was slightly disappointing too. While the duck was sliced significantly thinner than I’ve ever had at most restaurants and they gave us a lot of pancakes, the duck had no flavouring, they barely gave us enough hoisin for 4 wraps (we had to use it sparingly and when we asked for some more they gave us so much that it seemed pointless).

The soup was the next dish to come. While the pot it came in was pretty hot, the soup itself was not. It was lukewarm at best. This would, unfortunately be the theme of the evening. This too had their own spin on it. Instead of just soy milk reinforced with duck broth, they threw in some wontons. However, the wontons didn’t really feel like they belonged in there and with the soup not being as well developed as other duck soups I’ve had, it was rather disappointing.

At this restaurant, the Peking Duck set course meal includes two additional dishes: a gailan hot pot and a shrimp and egg tofu dish (金銀赫蝦球蒸玉子豆腐 which Google translates to gold and silver prawn balls steamed jade tofu). The gailan came first. It had, what appeared to be some kind of Chinese sausage and what smelled like salted fish (which is a very distinctive, sorta unpleasant, fishy smell). It felt a little too oily and was a little too salty for my liking.

The next dish that followed was the curry beef hot pot. If I haven’t already mentioned, my dad loves beef hot pots, especially curry. Of the beef hot pots, I prefer this one over all others. If I’m going to get beef stuck in my teeth, it might as well taste delicious and provide a bit of heat. Well, it wasn’t really spicy for me. I’m not saying it didn’t exist, but it was so faint that it was almost undetectable to me. At the restaurant there was so much food that I only got to try a small sample, the next day (today), we ate it for lunch and the sauce tastes really good over egg noodles! I know my mom prefers it over rice (and traditionally this is how it would be eaten), but as a noodle person, I would really recommend giving the noodle thing a try.

The last dish was the shrimp and egg tofu dish. As simple as it is, it’s the most delicious thing. Even this restaurant couldn’t mess it up. The egg tofu comes in a tube and is sliced into little medallions, topped with prawns and garnished with fish roe (I believe it’s tobiko) and onions with soy sauce.

As usual, we ended the meal with a complementary dessert: red bean soup. In terms of substance, there wasn’t much of it, and in terms of the consistency of the soup, too much water had been added. I didn’t have more than a few spoonfuls before I gave up.

Despite the disappointing food, service was pretty good. The food came out hella fast and there happened to be someone available whenever we needed them. Even though we had issues with temperature and the food being not as good as we were accustomed to, I would definitely come back to try their dim sum and to go to the Tea Chat Cafe (which is in the same restaurant, but on the other side). I also just looked through their takeout menu that I grabbed last night and their translation for wood ear mushrooms (黑木耳) was a little racist. I would give this place a 1.5/5 for my experience last night. It’s possible that because this place just opened they’re still ironing out the kinks, so if it’s still here in a couple months or years, I’ll give it another go (it’s where the old White Spot used to be on Macleod).

Restaurant interior #1
Restaurant Interior #2
Pretty geometric chandelier in the doorway
Duck neck and wing with jellyfish salad
Duck Fried Rice served in Lotus Leaf
Front: Duck Wonton Soup
Back: Peking Duck with Pancakes
Front: Curry Beef Hot Pot Back: Gailan Hot Pot
Shrimp on Egg Tofu

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