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Restaurant Review: Mulligan’s at Valley Ridge

Location: 11618 Valley Ridge Park NW
Website: http://www.valleyridgegolf.com/restaurant-info-menus/

Unbelievably, having lived in this community for the last 22 years, I have never been to this restaurant located in the Valley Ridge Golf Club.

I came here on September 28 with a friend from my undergrad at the University of Calgary, Patricia. It was great catching up with her over a simple, but good meal. That is not to say I didn’t have my issues, but generally speaking, it was a pretty good experience.

I ordered the steak sandwich with yam fries and Patricia had the Cobb salad. Because I was doing a review, I also got a creme brulee for dessert.

Under advisement, I ordered the yam fries extra crispy and that was a very good decision. I love my fries more on the crunchy side rather than soft. When I first sliced into my steak, the temperature was perfect, but as I progressed to the middle of the steak (and the thickest part of the steak), it got to a point where it was too rare for me to eat. The seasoning was simple, but delicious and I like to see the grill lines my meat (or a nice sear/crust). While the steak looks small in the picture, it was definitely more than enough for me with the onion rings, yam fries, and garlic bread. I really enjoyed the compound butter, but because it was so long ago and the menu has changed on their website now, I can’t remember exactly everything that was in it.

Unlike at Van Gogh, the other restaurant in our community, Patricia was happy with her salad. While I didn’t taste it, it looked a lot better than what I had been told that the salads at Van Gogh had devolved into: lettuce and tomatoes sliced as though it were meant for tacos. I’m extremely disappointed that this is what Van Gogh has become as it had once been one of my favourite restaurants to go to (and it was conveniently located within walking distance from my house).

The creme brulee was a little disappointing. I went to go break through the sugar crust on the top, but it was literally just floating on top and kinda just caved into the custard below when I went for it. Flavour wise, it was pretty standard for a creme brulee, although there was a lot of whipped cream.

In terms of close restaurants within walking distance, this place is significantly better than Van Gogh (though i would like to go try again and see where they’re at now. I haven’t been there for several years), but still not the best that I’ve had.

My big problem is the service. There were maybe two other tables of people and yet my water glass sat empty for the majority of the meal. This only bothered me so much because my throat started to hurt from all the talking I was doing and the server kept walking past our table and not topping up our waters until asked. I don’t know if it’s unreasonable to be holding golf courses to a higher standard, but that’s exactly how I feel when I walk into a golf and country club. But also, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to expect the waitstaff to fill my glass when it’s empty, especially when there are almost no other people in the restaurant.

Clearly there were issues and a big one for me is the service. If that’s not good, it really affects how I feel about going back to the restaurant. Of course, the food has too be good too and I think it was just okay. Based on this experience, I probably won’t be going back. However, given that there are two choices for restaurants in this community, I’d probably take this one over Van Gogh. I’d rate this place 2/5.

Steak Sandwich with Yam Fries
Cobb Salad
Creme Brulee

Restaurant Review: Caltons Chinese Restaurant

Location: 14, 5010 – 4 St NE
Website: https://www.caltonschineserestaurant.com/

A lot of time has passed since we were actually here. Unfortunately, I’ve just been too mentally exhausted to be able to get to reviewing this restaurant until now.

We dined here on September 8 for dim sum and September 9 for my mom’s birthday dinner.

For dim sum we ordered the siu mai, shrimp stuffed eggplant, turnip cake cubes in XO sauce, gailan with braised beef, shrimp rice crepes, beef tripe, har gow, fried noodles, Chinese doughnuts wrapped in rice crepe, bean curd wrapped rolls in soup, and the congee on special that had bean curd, preserved duck egg (or century egg), and pork (that was like $2 (?) because we had reached a specific dollar amount with our other others. I can’t the price exactly remember since it was so long ago, but I know it was cheap).

The congee was the first to come. It was a decent size and within the first few bites, I felt my heart and insides warming up (ginger will do that). Now, I’m not the kind of person who really likes congee because at home that’s what we have when we’re going on a “cleanse” or when we’re sick, so the memories of it are not the greatest. I don’t know if it’s part of getting older, but some days I find myself craving congee now. However, there’s a difference between the ones made in restaurants compared to the ones we make at home. For one, the ones in the restaurants are more heavily seasoned than when we make it at home. We shared this congee between the four of us (because that’s usually how Chinese meals are eaten, but also we had a lot more dishes coming and no one wanted to just fill up on congee), but this portion size could easily have been consumed by one person. The congee was well seasoned and not overpowered by the ginger, as is often the issue I have with ginger. Ginger is such a strong flavour that a little goes a long way. This congee was unique in that it had bean curd in it. That’s not something I’ve ever seen, but then again, my go to congee if we eat out is the century and pork. I mean, this is essentially the same, but the bean curd (because it’s tightly rolled up into a two bite package) provides a different, more hearty and meaty texture that you normally wouldn’t get from ground pork or a century egg.

Next came the siu mai. These are pretty typical in terms of taste, which is a good thing. When you go to dim sum, there is an expectation for things to taste a certain way. While restaurants do typically put their own spin on things, they have to be careful not to deviate too far from the recognizable image and flavours of the siu mai. Caltons did not put their own spin on it, flavour-wise, but size wise, I felt like these were slightly larger than the average siu mai. What I like from a siu mai, when I bite into is that the meat is firm. This tells me that they didn’t cheap out cut the pork with fat. I’m not saying that there’s no fat in there (I mean, have you seen the things?!) , but there has to be a good balance. Too much fat and it leaves the mouth feeling like it’s been coated in fat, too little and the siu mai is dried out in the steaming process.

The shrimp stuffed eggplants followed. This is one of my all time favourite dim sum dishes and probably one of these least healthy. Generally speaking, eating out isn’t known for being healthy, but these are especially. The shrimp paste is stuff inside of slices of eggplant and deep fried, then it is drizzled with a black bean sauce that is also swimming with oil. The perfect eggplant is one that has a little bit of crisping around the edges, a little bit of chew in the skin and tender fall away flesh. The shrimp should have a little spring in it when you bite into it and the sauce should be balanced to provide that perfect amount of umami flavour to round out the bite.

The turnip cake cubes in XO sauce is another favourite, especially with my sister. She already loves turnip cakes, but this variation, that emerged quite recently, I feel (maybe within the last 5-8 years), is something else. In case it wasn’t clear, it’s not actually turnip, but daikon. The cake itself isn’t 100% daikon, but it is cut with rice flour to make it more of a “cake” consistency. It is often mixed with dried shrimp and chinese sausage to add flavour. This dish is much of the same except that the cake has been cut into cubes, each pan-fried to give it that wonderful crispy exterior and smooth, soft interior that is now bite sized. The variation in this dish is that it is then stir-fried with XO sauce which is a spicy dried shrimp and scallop sauce. XO sauce is one of my favourite sauces for food to be prepared in. Green beans and shrimp top that list.

The next dish is a favourite of my dad’s. Actually, it’s the braised beef part that he loves. We seriously cannot go a meal out at a Chinese restaurant without some kind of braised beef hot pot (though now, he will occasionally go for a different hotpot or settle for a chicken dish). Now imagine the beef from those hot pots poured over gailan, the braising sauce drizzled all over the vegetables. It’s truly an experience. This works well with gailan especially because of its hearty, firm stalks, the beef doesn’t overpower it texturally. The tender beef provides a wonderful, textural contrast to the crunch of the gailan.

I think the shrimp crepes came as the biggest surprise to us. We’re used to variations made on many dim sum dishes, especially at the high end/expensive dim sum places, but I’ve never seen it done like this. There were shimeji and wood ear mushrooms, peas, and carrots in addition to the shrimp. Usually, if the restaurant is feeling “fancy,” the most I’ll find are golden chives, so this was a welcome addition. I have to say, this is one of the best shrimp crepes I’ve ever had. I mean, I do love the traditional ones that just have shrimp, but when that’s what you expect and this is what you get, it makes it all the more special. Normally, the only “crunch” you get from this dish is the shrimp (unless the shrimp aren’t fresh or they use shrimp paste instead. I don’t know if I was clear in my previous reviews about shrimp paste, but there are two kinds. One that has a very fish smell used in sauces and the shrimp paste that is more like a meat patty or meat ball consistency. I’m talking about the latter in this context). I had never considered including wood ear mushrooms in here, but it’s absolutely genius!

The har gow and beef tripe came at the same time. The har gow were pretty standard. The wrapper was thin and slightly sticky, as it should’ve been and didn’t tear when picked up. This preparation of tripe is not my favourite, but it is a favourite of my sister’s. As many know, tripe is the stomach lining of a cow. I know that this is a very polarizing dish; some people love it and others absolutely hate it. I am definitely in the former camp. This preparation uses Sichuan peppercorns and has a thicker, darker sauce. I still love the texture and flavour of this dish (except for when I bite into a peppercorn because then my entire mouth goes numb and I can’t taste anything), but I prefer my tripe with the onion and ginger.

The fried noodles are pretty standard too. The kind we get is essentially a toss up because it’s like whatever vegetables they have get thrown in. So sometimes I’ve seen this prepared with bok choy, other times, as in this instance, there’s broccoli. The only things that are pretty standard are the sauce, shiitake mushrooms, chicken, and shrimp. Sometimes it’ll have char siu in it too. If it wasn’t clear in my other reviews (or if I haven’t mentioned it), I love noodles. These ones especially because they are fried before the sauce is poured over them and some of the edges are still crunchy. I love crunchy, but also the sauce soaked noodles are equally delicious.

For those who know me, I get easily bored aka I have the inability to stick to just one food, that’s why buffets are so great (and terrible) for me. Actually, I don’t like buffets at all, I’d rather tapas or dim sum or sushi (small plates of really good food). The whole point of eating out for me is to enjoy the entire experience: food, atmosphere, and service. Maybe I’m a bit of a snob in this way, but if I’m going to be paying money, I’d much rather pay a little more for someone to bring my food to me than for me to go get it on my own. Besides, I’m really bad when it comes to buffets because my eyes are often bigger than my stomach and I always end up with way more than I can eat and it goes to waste. The only way I’m able to eat a whole dish is if there is variety in flavours and textures. Flavour-wise, my favourites are the ones that either hit every flavour profile or are some combination of sweet and savoury. Texture-wise, there isn’t too much variation, but I cannot eat a dish that is all one texture. It just feels like too monotonous.

Lastly, we got the bean curd wrapped rolls in soup and Chinese doughnuts wrapped in rice crepe. The former is a favourite of my mom’s and the latter a favourite of my sister’s. While the bean curd rolls look healthy, they’re really not. The rolls are deep fried before they’re steamed and put in soup to keep them from falling apart during the steaming process. The rolls are often filled with pork, wood ear mushrooms, and carrots. The broth is always light, but packed with flavour. It’s also one of my favourite dishes. The Chinese doughnuts wrapped in rice crepe are a dim sum staple. Again, this plays on the textural contrast of crunchy and soft. It is often served with a thinned out peanut butter and hoisin sauces. Some restaurants will put the sweet soy sauce on the side, but others will pour it on for you before they bring it to the table. I think I’ve only seen this at one place, but they had a sesame sauce, which was different. Sesame has such a fragrant quality that lends itself well to both sweet and savoury dishes.

We returned the following day for dinner. For dinner, we had the complementary house soup (lai tong), abalone with a chicken’s foot, crispy skinned chicken (za ji gai), green beans with shrimp and chicken in XO sauce (or something similar, as I was told that was not XO sauce), a lobster hot pot, and fried oysters.

It’s always interesting to see each restaurant’s take on the complementary house soup. Sometimes it’s really good, a lot of the time it’s just meh. But sometimes, it’s downright awful. Especially when you find a vegetable in the soup that has mold growing on it. There is literally no recovering from that because the entire pot soup is now completely tainted. Luckily, that didn’t happen here. It was pretty unremarkable, but for something that is complementary, I don’t have any complaints.

The next dish was the abalone. One of the best things I’ve ever had. Abalone is a delicacy and the fact that it (and the chicken’s foot) were the only two things on the plate (we each got a plate), definitely made it feel that way. The presentation was a little odd, but the flavours were all there. The only issue is eating that giant chicken foot with a fork, knife, and chopsticks proved to be impossible. We did the best we could because the braising liquid/sauce was amazing and I’d feel bad wasting not eating something that had been so exquisitely flavoured. There was a fair amount of sauce on the plate after we were done with the chicken’s foot and abalone, but as I said, it would be a shame to waste something so delicious, so we all put some rice on the plate to soak up that sauce for us to continue enjoying.

The abalone was followed by the crispy skinned chicken that my dad loves (I told you we couldn’t get away with not having a chicken dish!). This one is pretty standard too. If it’s good, there’s not much to be said about it. The only time anyone “notices” anything is when its bad…or served with pringles (seriously, what the hell!!). The chicken was moist and the skin crispy. I think of all the chicken dishes my dad likes to order, this is probably my favourite (the contrast between moist, tender chicken and crispy skin probably has something to do with it).

The green beans and lobster hot pot came at the same time. The green beans were very similar to the XO ones I love, so I automatically loved this dish. I was really excited about the lobster hot pot because I love lobster (I prefer it to crab actually), but was unfortunately disappointed. The lobster meat had already started to break down and there was a very distinct rotting seafood taste. This hot pot had the potential to be one of the best dishes, comparable to the abalone, but alas. Unfortunately, I don’t remember much of what was in the lobster hot pot as the taste of the lobster pretty much spoiled the dish for me. I vaguely remember that there were konjac noodles…maybe?

The other dish that was surprising to me was the fried oysters. Normally, I don’t like oysters because the consistency and flavour don’t agree with me. I actually almost posted this review without mentioning this because I completely forgot we got this. The best oysters I’ve ever had. The fact that I ate them was a surprise in and of itself to my family. It’s nothing super special, but they were very fresh and didn’t have a fishy taste. It also helped that this was in an XO sauce (this one was the XO sauce dish, I believe).

The best thing about birthday dinners at Chinese restaurants (in particular my mom’s birthday because that’s generally what she wants) is that my dad splurges on quite a bit of seafood and makes it feel special with dishes we don’t normally get.

As with all Chinese restaurants, the meal ends with a complementary dessert soup too. Red bean is the most common and that was the case here as well. I used to feel like I had to eat all of everything that was put in front of me, but as I grew older, I learned I didn’t have to, so I almost never finish my dessert soup anymore. The only exception is if it’s a very good taro tapioca coconut soup. It’s got to be one of my favourite finishers for a meal.

Despite the hiccup with the lobster, we’ve always had good experience with this restaurant. It is a little far for us, but that’s the thing with my dad, he doesn’t care how far he has to go for good food, which I appreciate. Service is pretty good for a Chinese restaurant. i would definitely come back.

Based on this experience, I would give this place a 3.5/5.

Caltons Exterior
Caltons Interior
Caltons Interior
Caltons Entrance (Interior)
Interesting Lights

Dim Sum

Bean curd, century egg, and pork congee
Siu mai
Shrimp Stuffed Eggplant
Turnip Cake Cubes with XO sauce
Gailan with Braised Beef
Shrimp Rice Crepe
Front: Tripe
Back: Har gow
Chow mein
Front: Chinese doughnut wrapped in rice crepe
Back: bean curd wrapped rolls in soup

DINNER

Complementary House Soup
Abalone with Chicken’s Foot
Top going clockwise: Crispy skinned Chicken, Lobster Hot Pot, and Green Beans in “XO” sauce
Fried Oysters
Complementary Red Bean Dessert Soup

Restaurant Review: Heartland Cafe

Location: 46 McRae Street, Okotoks, Alberta
Website: http://www.heartlandcafe.ca

Built in 1902 by the Baptist Church, this restaurant, in someways, is still recognizable as such. A building with history is something that always catches my attention, but having been converted to a restaurant, it’s the food that ultimately influences my decision to return or not.

On a warm Saturday afternoon, I ventured down here with a friend for lunch. As lovely as it would’ve been to lunch on the patio, I didn’t fancy getting into another fight with a wasp. Lunching inside was a great decision because it gave me the chance to admire the architecture and decor that made the restaurant what it is.

We ordered the Baked Brie as a starter to share, I got the steak sandwich, she got the Thai Duck Bowl and we split a six-layer chocolate fudge cake for dessert. Before my visit to River Cafe yesterday, I had never had brie. Today would be my first time trying a baked brie. The brie was served with a raisin and walnut chutney, red onion jam, and crostinis. I honest to God could’ve eaten this entire plate on my own. I never figured that raisin and/or walnut could be used to make a chutney, let alone taste so good! But the star on that plate was the onion jam. I can’t even begin to describe what an experience that jam was. It was incredible! After this experience, I’m definitely going to be including a baked brie with onion jam on my next cheese board. My only complaint was that there probably weren’t as many crostinis as I would’ve liked. I ended up having to put a lot of chutney, jam, and brie on each piece of crostini. The Thai Duck Bowl was delicious, but I don’t think I would be able to eat this entire thing on my own. It was a little on the sweet side, but I think if the lime had been added, it would’ve helped to cut through that richness. The steak sandwich came with a choice of soup or salad as a side. I chose to go with the tomato basil soup as my steak sandwich. The steak, though it looked small was more than enough. It was topped with chimichurri, caramelized onions, and arugula. My only wish was that the garlic bread was a little more garlicky, but the size of the bread was perfect. The side tomato basil soup was more like a pasta sauce. It was amazing, but near the end I wondered if I could actually finish it because of how thick and aggressively seasoned with oregano it was. We finished the meal with the most luscious chocolate cake. When I say I want chocolate cake, this is it. The chocolate is rich. It actually reminds me a little of the cake I had when I was at True Confections in Vancouver.

Thinking we would make it in time for brunch probably wasn’t very smart on my part, given what time I actually left my house, so I know I will be back to try their chicken and waffles, which is generally a favourite of mine. I would definitely recommend this place and I would come back here time and time again without a second thought. I’d rate this place 4/5 based on my experience.

Restaurant Exterior
Restaurant Interior
Restaurant Interior
Restaurant Interior
Baked Brie
Top: Thai Duck Bowl Bottom: Steak Sandwich with Tomato Basil Soup
Latte
Chocolate Cake
Oolong Jasmine Tea

Restaurant Review: River Cafe

Location: 25 Prince’s Island
Website: http://www.river-cafe.com

I finally got the chance to try this place. For as long as I could remember, River Cafe has been on my list of places to try. I had perused its menu many times, but the price had always “scared” me away.

Usually when I make a reservation through OpenTable, one has already been selected for us and we are simply just seated. However, here, they asked if we preferred to sit inside or outside on the patio. While it wasn’t super sunny and warm, we still chose to sit outside. Since it was a cooler evening, there were blanket available as well as some heat lamps.

We made a reservation here for 5:00 p.m., meaning we had just made the cut off for the afternoon menu. The afternoon menu is significantly cheaper than their dinner menu and can be thought of almost as a happy hour menu, but not quite. Each of the dishes on this menu can stand on its own as a full entree.

We both got drinks. Carmen with her white wine (I’m really bad at wines, so I have no idea which one she got) and I tried the black currant spritz. The spritz wasn’t sweet at all, which was unexpected for me and it had a bit of a weird flavour. I had expected something more like ribena, which I quite enjoy mixed with club soda, which was essentially what this was, but it really wasn’t. I didn’t get much of the black currant flavour, there was just something else there that somewhat masked the taste.

Carmen and I decided on our own dishes, the Jungle Farms Spinach and Mushroom Tart and the Berkshire Chorizo & Giant Pacific Octopus Flatbread, respectively, as well as getting the Selection of Artisan Cheese to share. We asked for the cheese to be served as an appetizer. I would like to preface this with the fact that I grew up in an Asian (Chinese) household, so cheese wasn’t something that was commonplace in our house. If we had cheese, it was the store bought bricks of cheddar, mozzarella, or what have you. This household wasn’t exactly one for artisan cheeses. So, I’d have to say, my tastes in this area are not as cultured. The cheeses featured were the Grizzly Gouda from Red Deer (Alberta), the Caerphilly from Fort Macleod (Alberta), the Comox Brie from Vancouver Island (BC), the Aged Gouda from Picture Butte (Alberta), and the Tiger Blue from Penticton (BC). While I had heard of all these types of cheeses, I had never actually had any of them before. I mean, I’ve had blue cheeses, but nothing like the Tiger Blue. To be honest, I’m not one for blue cheese and this one was an especially strong one. That’s not to say I couldn’t learn to appreciate the flavour, but eating this cheese straight was a little much for me. It had a great texture and creaminess though. The brie was another cheese I was familiar with, but have always been too “scared” to try because I’ve always been worried that it’ll be too creamy and rich for me. However, I didn’t find that to be the case. This cheese paired perfectly with the peach preserve and was my favourite of the five cheeses. The remaining three cheeses were hard cheeses and again, not a fan. I think the only hard cheeses I actually like are Parmesan and Grana Padano and even with those, I can only eat them in small quantities. Say, grated over pasta? The Grizzly Gouda was unlike anything I had ever experienced. It was beautiful rich yellow colour with a mild nutty flavour, not something I’m used to in my cheeses. It was good, but it would take some getting used to and I was unable to have more than one piece. The other gouda is said to have flavours of burnt caramel and I did get a little bit of that. It really fascinates me that these cheese can taste like this. The last of the cheeses, the Caerphilly, isn’t one I’ve ever heard of. I had no idea what to expect. This cheese technically isn’t a hard cheese, it’s a semi-firm cheese that has a mild, salty buttermilk flavour. I didn’t like or dislike this one. I just didn’t really have an opinion, really. The cheese was served with blackberries, a peach preserve and canola seed crackers. Honestly, I could’ve done with a ton more of that preserve; it was so delicious and those canola seed crackers were something else. They reminded me a little of the sesame crisps at Goro+Gun, but these were neutral flavoured, as to not overpower some of the more delicate cheeses. I loved the combination of the cracker, preserve and brie. I could eat that for a meal and not even be mad.

Amazingly enough, it took us nearly an hour to “finish” the cheese plate. The waiter actually asked us if we were ready for our “mains” and if we were in any rush to be out of there, which I found to be extremely considerate.

Then came the “mains.” I had actually had my eye on the spinach and mushroom tart and when I arrived started eying the burger. Ultimately, I decided on the chorizo and octopus flatbread and I feel like I chose wrong. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t horrible, but I feel like the tart was significantly better than my flatbread and that the burger, as messy as it was (and the fact that I was gonna just eat it with a fork and knife) might’ve been better options. The flatbread consisted of a base of chèvre topped with ash baked potato, chorizo, and octopus, “drizzled” with grainy mustard and garnished with microgreens and pickled onions. Separate, I like all of these things, except for maybe the chèvre because it’s a little bit of a gamier cheese. I think it varies for me with cheeses made from goat’s milk. Sometimes I love them, sometimes I can’t stand them. I had expected the potato to be more of a side, so it was a little odd to see it on the flatbread. I know I’m always saying I will eat carbs with carbs, but not like this! I felt like this flatbread was very under-seasoned, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I just like my food with a little more of a punch or kick to it. The tart was actually fantastic and I really should’ve just gone for that. The tart was garnished with pickled and roasted radishes, microgreens, and drizzled with a goat cheese yogurt. The yogurt didn’t have that overwhelming gamey flavour, which was nice. My only complaint about the tart was that it was a little hard to cut.

I actually only ended up eating a quarter of my flatbread in order to have room for dessert. In this instance, I chose wrong…again. Originally, Carmen was going to go with the Blueberry and Camelina Custard Tart, but shortly after ordering it, was informed that it and all the desserts except for the ice cream contained soy. Ever since I had my first panna cotta, I’ve been obsessed, so of course I went for that. I should’ve gone with the blueberry tart or the strawberry shortcake. I was, however, not disappointed with the presentation of my Garden Sorrel Panna Cotta. I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried sorrel before, but it is a very green, leafy taste. In small quantities, it’s fine, but i accidentally got a giant dollop and that was a bit much for me. It was kinda reminiscent of pennywort, but in this instance I would’ve preferred the pennywort. It was a fun experience breaking through the white chocolate pyramid encasing the panna cotta, but white chocolate isn’t exactly the nicest flavour, in my opinion. The honey “caviar” wasn’t what I expected and it didn’t taste like much since it was honey (it was just sweet). This dish as a whole provided a lot of different textures, which I liked, but no stand out flavours. Carmen ended up getting the lemon verbena ice cream and it appeared as though she really enjoyed it.

Also, Carmen informed me that everything on their menu is made from scratch in house. I think this is really great because it allows the chef to control every aspect of the dish, but also, it’s really great for people with allergies and sensitivities. In fact, the wait staff was equally knowledgable about the ingredients in their dishes, which I was very impressed with. Another thing that’s impressive is that all their ingredients are sourced locally and that’s something I can get on board with.

Plating-wise, I’d have to say these are some of the prettiest/most artistic plates I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, presentation isn’t everything. It has to be backed up with taste too and for me, it fell flat on some/most of the elements of my dishes tonight.

In terms of accessibility, I wouldn’t say it’s impossible to get into, but it would certainly be difficult. I can’t remember with certainty whether the front entry way had stairs or not, but I do remember the thresholds were kinda high. There’s definitely stairs on the patio though.

After reading this I’m sure you must be thinking, oh my God, you are so picky. In a sense, maybe I am, but also consider, these are not the flavours I grew up with and they aren’t the flavours I naturally gravitate towards.

Would I come here again? Maybe to try their brunch or dinner, but because of its location and the fact that everything is handcrafted, it is a little on the expensive side, so I’d have to be careful. However, despite some of my hiccups with my meal this evening, I had a really enjoyable experience. I would rate this a 3/5.

Correction: In a previous version of this review, I mistakenly wrote ribena bourbon ice cream when it ought to have been lemon verbena.

River Cafe – Patio
River Cafe – Patio
River Cafe – Patio
Selection of Artisan Cheeses
Jungle Farms Spinach and Mushroom Tart
Berkshire Chorizo and Giant Octopus Flatbread
Garden Sorrel Panna Cotta
Ribena Bourbon Ice Cream

Restaurant Review: El Furniture Warehouse

Location: 107 8 Ave SW
Website: http://www.warehousegroup.ca/

I can’t remember the first time I ever heard of this place, but from the moment I learned of its $5.95 food menu, I knew I had to go. I mentioned it to whomever would listen and yet, never had the opportunity to go. This restaurant has locations all across Canada, but the one on Stephen Ave in Calgary is their only Alberta location. As far as I know, none of their locations take reservations (it says on their website under the contact tab), but one of my coworkers said that the Stephen Ave location will take reservations on any days that aren’t Thursday – Sunday (?).

I was fortunate enough, in the span of a couple of weeks, to have had the pleasure of dining here. The first time was with a friend and fellow foodie I hadn’t seen in over a year, Amy, and the second time was with my friend and coworker, Alex.

Even though I had done my “research” before coming to the restaurant the first time, in my experience, things on paper rarely translate so nicely to the plate. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I’m happily proven wrong, but there were a few things on this menu that were unfortunately, somewhat disappointing and I definitely won’t be ordering again.

When I came here for the first time, I was a little caught off guard by the size of the place. The restaurant was filled with mostly two tops in a slightly cramped space. Not knowing where would be best to sit, I simply chose an empty table, located near the middle of the restaurant. Turns out, that was probably not the best place to sit. The chairs were backless and small and I was constantly worried that I would fall. However, that was the least of my concern because of where the table was situated, it was right along a major thoroughfare, meaning if I wasn’t careful (aka not paying attention to what was happening around me), I could end up wearing the food or taking an alcoholic shower. Especially with the speed at which some of the servers were moving. That would make sense as the food prices were so low, they would be counting on the patrons either ordering a lot of drinks or a high turn over to offset the price.

My first time here we ordered the crispy calamari, west coast fish tacos (this was on the online menu, I think in the restaurant they’re Baja tacos), and the braised beef spaghetti. As everything sounded good, I deferred to Amy’s better judgment. After all, she’d been here before and she had done all the trial and error stuff I typically did at a restaurant.

All three dishes pretty much hit the table at the same time. My first impression of the calamari was somewhat unfavourable. I was used to a heaping plate of the delectable fried morsels that I so love, but instead was greeted by a rather sparse plate. I suppose for $5.95, I shouldn’t have applied my typical expectations to the dish. Flavour wise, it wasn’t anything too special. I did really enjoy the heat from the spicy mayo (or they call it macho sauce?). On the one hand, I was really disappointed by the portion size, but on the other, it was being offered at a pretty decent price and, of course, there was the matter of portion control. Despite my complaints, this dish was just the right amount fried. With everything else we ordered, had this dish been any bigger, we probably wouldn’t have been able to finish it. The fish tacos were more or less standard. It looked like one of those fish sticks you’d buy frozen that had been cut into three for the tacos. It looked and felt like it had been fried to shit; I nearly broke my tooth (totally exaggerating here) biting into the fish. It was that crunchy! I was sad that there was only one lime wedge to go around for all three tacos, and I didn’t notice until the end. I love fresh lime on fish, but I also love fresh limes generally so… It does come with a side of hot sauce (even though on the online menu it’s recommended as an additional add-on for $1.00). While it is spicy, the acidity of the hot sauce is off putting to me and the second time I was here I actually choked on it. I don’t like spicy things that are spicy for spicy’s sake. If you’re gonna burn my heart, lungs, and whatever else out, you might as well taste good. The last dish, the spaghetti, was the one that I was most pleasantly surprised about. This looked like a standard portion size, I suppose the fact that it was under the “big bowls” heading should’ve tipped me off. Of the three dishes, I think this was the most worth it at its price point. At first glance, it looks like the meat to pasta ratio is way off, but I can guarantee that it’s not. I’m not usually one for braised beef because I don’t like the strands getting stuck in my teeth all the time, but it really works for this dish. The beef was practically melt in your mouth and its long, strand-like shape made it easier to get a little bit of beef and pasta with every bite, as opposed to ground beef that kinda just rolls away in the typical meat sauce.

This experience, price, service, and food, were good enough that warranted me coming back so soon.

By the second time, I had learned and went for a booth seat instead. Some of the seats still don’t have backs on them, but for the most part, it was much more comfortable and there was a lower risk of being ploughed over by flying servers.

The second time we came, I wanted to try some different things. Alex ordered the fish tacos and I decided to try the Chiang Mai Bowl. Between us, we shared the fingers and fries and the glazed onion rings. Amy had recommended against the glazed onion rings, but a part of me REALLY wanted to try them for myself to form my own opinion. Suffice it to say, it was an “I told you so moment.” The first few bites weren’t too bad, but near the end, it felt like slogging through an oil bog. In fact, within our first few bites, Alex remarked that they had a very stampede-esque feel to them, brought on by the oily, maple flavour and smell. Whenever I order onion rings, I normally go for the smaller ones. I’m not totally sure why, but I just like them better. While A&W shouldn’t be the standard for restaurant quality onion rings (even though they’re delicious, but I think I’ve eaten too many of them to be able to order or eat them anymore. Also, they’re hella salty!), the crunch level that A&W onion rings have should be the level of crunchy that everyone should aspire to. However, I reached my limit with these when I bit into one of the larger onion rings and a waterfall of oil cascaded from it. Nothing should cascade oil when you bite into it! I just felt so disgusted after that and that made finishing the onion rings that much harder. The macho sauce is the spicy mayo sauce we had from the calamari and I really like it. Not sure if they go great with the onion rings, but I just wanted to dip everything in that. The fingers and fries was one of the dishes I was considering ordering (stuck between choosing that and the Chiang Mai Bowl). Amy had said this wasn’t bad, so we decided to go for it. I mean, why not, it was only $5.95 and there was honey mustard! The dish consisted of three strips of chicken, peppered fries, and a luscious honey mustard sauce for dipping. Their honey mustard sauce is pretty good, well, I love honey mustard on my chicken fingers, so I didn’t need much convincing to order this. You only need ask and my answer will be yes. I found the breading on the chicken to be a bit thick, but otherwise, delicious. The restaurant offers the option to toss their chicken fingers in sauce. We took that to mean, tossed in honey mustard, but they meant their other wing sauces. Could you imagine though?! I thought the peppered fries could use some salt, but as we were sharing, I didn’t think I should just dump salt into it. If I had a place to put it on my plate/bowl, I would’ve. The Chiang Mai Bowl, like the onion rings, sounded so good on paper, but when it came to execution, it fell flat. First off, I didn’t expect the pea shoots to be raw and so unyielding. I nearly stuck a shoot up nose in one of my bites because it was sticking straight up, off at a tangent compared to the noodles and I wasn’t exactly paying attention. Another disappointment was the soy-tamari marinade. I’m not 100% sure what it’s all supposed to taste like, but it tastes like a very sad fast food’s effort at restaurant quality food. This dish, if you choose not to add on chicken, is a completely vegetarian dish.

While the experiences were somewhat harried, I can’t complain about the speed of service. I like a place that can get me in and out with minimal hassle. I would definitely come back again. There’s still so much I haven’t tried! Based on these experiences, taking service and price into account, I would give this place a 3.75/5.

Top to Bottom: West Coast/Baja Fish Tacos, Crispy Calamari, Braised Beef Spaghetti
Starting from the Left side, working clockwise: Fingers and Fries, Chiang Mai Bowl, Glazed Onion Rings, West Coast Fish Tacos

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

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

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