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Restaurant Review: Charcut

Location: 101, 899 Centre Street SW
Website: http://www.charcut.com

After nearly four years of talking about it, my best friend and I finally got around to going to Charcut. We first heard about Charcut while watching competitor Connie Desousa compete on Top Chef Canada. I really wanted her to win and considering her skills in the kitchen, I’d say she was, at least in my books.

My sister and a friend of hers went a couple days earlier and got the $25 and the $15 Lunch all at Once respectively. The $25 option included a mixed green salad (she said it was arugula) with house vinaigrette, daily rotisserie “spit-roasted and smoked” (she said it was pork), parmesan fries and a bag of warm cookies (two cookies) and a coffee to go (she got an Earl Gray Tea). Her friend had the Charcut daily soup (my sister can’t remember what it was but said it sounded weird but tasted good), a crostini, the daily sandwich on focaccia (again, she didn’t know what kind of sandwich), kitchen pickles, parm fries and a bag of warm cookies. The dishes were served on a wooden board, giving it a really rustic feel. And from what I gleaned about Connie from Top Chef, I’d say that was consistant with who she was as a person (also the website said they were aiming for rustic, so I guess they’re spot on).

Seeing these dishes reinforced my want to go there and try out the food. So today, on my day off in the middle of a week for the first time in a long time. We arrived at about 11:45 am and asked if we had reservations, which we did not. They responded that the main restaurant was full so we had the choice of sitting at the bar or in the hotel lounge. Neither option sounded all that appealing, but I figured the lounge would be more comfortable than the bar, but I let my friend decide. She ultimately chose the lounge, which worked out for me. I normally don’t like sitting at the bar because the bar stools are oddly uncomfortable and I have a tendency to fall off or do something stupid. We were seated in the lounge with random hotel guests milling about, sitting around us while we perused the menu. Being the indecisive person I am, I looked over the menu before hand and decided on a roasted garlic meatball sandwich with Quebec cheese curds, Sunday gravy and parm fries. Even after previewing the menu, my friend still had no idea what she wanted, but at last minute decided on the country sausage, slow cooked served with caramelized onions and a fresh baked brioche. It was one of the options that I had been considering so I couldn’t wait to see and taste it. When she ordered it, the waiter said that the sausage was a bit hot and I wondered what to expect.

The wait time was not unreasonable, but sitting in the hotel lounge was a bit odd. We had a lot of natural light and could see the Calgary tower relatively unobstructed from where we were seated, but the table height wasn’t quite right. I couldn’t cross my legs (probably shouldn’t anyways), my napkin was pinned to my lap, and had to bend over substantially to eat. My first thought when I saw my sandwich was, “how the heck do I eat this?” Then I looked up and saw my friend’s lunch and thought, “What the heck is that?!” We both stared at it for a good minute before the waiter came over and was about to ask how everything was when he saw her plate and was like “Wow…what is-I’ve never seen this before.” We all had a good laugh.

My first impression of my sandwich was that I wanted it to be more garlicky, but I feel like that may be more to do with my liking for garlicky foods than anything. I can understand why they wouldn’t want it to be more garlicky (bad breath mainly). After a few more bites, I found that it needed more Sunday gravy and figured that’s why they gave me a whole bowl of it to dip into if I needed more. The Quebec cheese curds didn’t squeak, which was disappointing, but they were so beautifully stringy and chewy that it didn’t even matter. The parm fries were simply that: fries with grated parmesan sprinkled over it. I had expected something closer to poutine or at least melting the parmesan and drizzling them on. They went great with the tomato jam, a great alternative to ketchup. It was sweeter than ketchup in someways, but the seasoning was spot on. And the kitchen pickle was really good too. But overall, I felt as though everything had a sweet undertone that eventually became unbearable. The more I ate of my sandwich, the heavier it felt and I would have really like to have had something a little bit more acidic to contrast and balance out the meal. In the last quarter of my sandwich I just took out the insides and ate them. I would not recommend this sandwich to anyone who is going out for lunch with their boss. It is very messy. I got gravy stuck under my nails somehow and that was a pain to get out. Surprisingly I finished everything else resulting in me being full until dinner and not really eating much because I was still full.

For the country sausage, I have no words. The skinny longness of it is not really that aesthetically appealing. Especially since it kinda curled under the plate. And then the brioche looked like a tiny, out of place pyramid in contrast to the length of the sausage. Caramelized onions are always delicious so I’m not gonna say anything about that, but the “hot” sausage was not hot at all and it was a lot drier than I expected, but maybe because I was thinking of the normally oily, fat saturated breakfast sausages and this was not what it was.

We didn’t end up getting dessert because I wasn’t really interested in getting cookies or any of the other desserts they offered (cheese cake and pudding).

Overall, this restaurant did not disappoint. However, though initially I complained about things being a little too sweet, it turns out that there was a lot of salt used too since I was constantly thirsty afterwards. I know now that this palate isn’t really to my taste. I’m not saying it’s bad in anyway, but I prefer something less rustic. Our waiter was very attentive and that was reflected in his tip. I’m happy to say that this place has had much better service than a lot of the places I’ve been to, so I’d have to rate it 3.5/5

Charcut exterior

Charcut exterior

Charcut Restaurant Interior

Charcut Restaurant Interior (sister)

Charcut Interior-Hotel Lounge

Charcut Interior-Hotel Lounge

Cream Soda (sister's trip)

Cream Soda (sister)

Black Cherry Cola

Black Cherry Cola

Charcut 15

Charcut 15 (sister)

Charcut 25

Charcut 25 (sister)

Country sausage

Country sausage

Roasted Garlic Meatball sandwich

Roasted Garlic Meatball sandwich

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Restaurant Review: Jimmy’s A & A Deli

Location: 1401 20 Ave NW

The first time I had a shawarma from this place I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Despite the mess I made, these are the best things I have ever eaten in my entire life. So naturally I requested this for my lunch at the office for my birthday (well joint birthday lunch since a coworker had her birthday the day before mine).

There are three main choices for shawarmas: chicken, beef, or chicken and beef. I have tried all three and I can say that I prefer the chicken way more than the beef. The beef is donair meat, meaning that it’s not a full muscle piece of meat. It’s been somewhat grounded up and lost much of its beefy texture. The chicken, however, is still a full piece only ripped up into more bite sized chunks. The seasoning is a little on the salty side, but goes well with the veggies added in. Like most places, the shawarmas are customizable, so you can choose which veggies are in and which are out. Since I’m a pig, I put all the veggies in: tomatoes, lettuce, and onions. Extra veggies include banana peppers and pickles which you have to specifically ask for. Then there are three sauces: sweet, garlic, and hot. I also ask for all three of them. It is likely that after you’ve eaten one of these, you may need to brush your teeth several times or else risk killing someone with your garlic and onion breath. But it is so worth it. The size of these shwarmas is more than I can eat in one sitting. Just to give you a general idea of how big these things are, two large shwarmas can feed my entire family. One large shwarma is the length of my head. Best reaction I got when I went into this place to buy them since my father couldn’t park the car since they were so busy (they’re always busy cuz they’re so good) was the guy asking if I was sure I wanted two large shwarmas. I think he thought I was going to eat the whole thing by myself. Haha, if I did that I really would die.

Though these are amazing, I don’t think I can eat them everyday because they are kinda oily and I know too many of them wouldn’t sit well in my stomach. But that isn’t gonna keep me from coming back and giving it a rating of 4.5/5.

Chicken Shwarma with everything

Chicken Shwarma with everything

Restaurant Review: Shanghai Palace

Location: 520-5149 Country Hills Blvd NW
Website: http://www.shanghaipalacecalgary.com/en/

Like I mentioned in a previous review, this is one of the restaurants that our family goes back to time and time again. The price is decent for the amount of food we get and there are always leftovers for one or two more meals.

Tonight we went for an early Father’s Day dinner. I thought it’d be crazy busy, but we were somehow able to get a table, walking in at 6:30. Usually we get four dishes which comes with a complementary soup and dessert and of course steamed white rice. However, since it was a special occasion we went for six dishes. Since we come here so much, the waitresses thought we’d be going the usual route of four dishes and brought out the complementary soup as we perused the menu. That meant we ended up having two soups because we ordered the three course Peking duck. For those who don’t know, the three courses consists of the duck and pancakes course, the soup course, and the fried rice or noodle course. The name in Chinese roughly translates to really thinly shaved duck skin and traditionally, in Beijing (Peking is the old name for Beijing, by the way), that is how it’s done. However, in coming to Canada and the Western world, ordering a plate of skin isn’t exactly cost effective. People here want to eat meat, so here it’s primarily thinish slices of duck. I honestly prefer it this way because this is what I grew up eating. When we visited Beijing and tried the Peking Duck there I was so surprised. The duck had a far gamier taste and it was just the skin, which had been crisped up. The duck is served with green onions, cucumbers, and hoisin sauce and wrapped up in a steamed pancake. I’ve had a lot of Peking Duck in my lifetime and I can say that the pancakes here were not well done. They were far too thick and were more like tortillas instead of crepes (they should be slightly thicker than crepes). The soup was also different from most other duck soups I’ve had. Usually the soup consists of the duck bones boiled in water and mixed with soy milk and ginger and siu choy. This one had shitaki mushrooms, mung bean noodles, duck, and some other things was thicker. Next came the fried rice. Depending on the restaurant, sometimes they do fried noodles instead. Even though I’m a noodle person, the duck fried rice is always better. I find that with the noodles, it gets way too greasy, whereas I don’t really notice the grease with rice since the rice absorbs it all anyways. But this place takes the cake with weird things thrown into a fried rice. There were peas, duck, tomatoes, and pineapple. The strangest combination I’ve ever tasted. Essentially, the point of the three courses is to utilize the entire duck. However, I’m sure, based on the amount of meat in each of the three dishes, more than one duck was used.

Most families would probably stop at that. It’s already a three course meal, but my family doesn’t. Ever. We ordered three more dishes to go along with it. The first of the three was a shrimp and egg tofu in a salted egg yolk batter, deep fried, and served on a bed of fried mung bean noodles. Salted egg yolk has a very distinct taste that is hard to describe and a texture that is kinda grainy. This is one of my favourite dishes. The second was bok choy with imitation abalone. It seems to be a staple at most Chinese banquets, so I’m not super fond of this dish and for me it’s rather ordinary. The final dish was a fish dish. Apparently my father’s favourite dish: wanyu and he prefers it prepared rather simply (steamed and served with soy sauce, ginger, and green onion). Again, not a fan, because of it’s slight “dirt” taste and its many bones.

The desserts at this restaurant vary by season. In the winter it’s always a hot bowl of soup: tapioca, taro, and coconut milk or red bean. In summer it’s either a jelly (coconut, mango, etc.) or it’s mochi. Both options are very good, but I’d prefer a jelly cube or mochi over a red bean soup.

This time the food was not as sweet and not as salty as it usually was. My father speculated that it was due to a change in the head chef. But hey, lower sugar and sodium intakes aren’t all that bad. If you want it a little saltier, all you’d have to do is grab the salt shaker.

I’ve tried so many foods at this place that I can hardly remember everything. It may not be the best restaurant in the world, but for the price we pay for a four course dinner, I’d say it was worth returning to time and time again.

I would rate this place a 3.75/5 simply because it’s not a place I’d want to be taken to for a date, but it is a nice place to go to for a warm family dinner.

Peking Duck

Peking Duck

Restaurant Review: La Viena

Location: 802 16 Ave NW

First impressions are everything and this place is no exception. I was first recommended this restaurant when it was still in Kensington, but I never got the chance to go until now. A friend of mine worked their briefly and praised it quite highly, my dad went and said that I would like it, so I was really expecting a lot from this place. I’m sorry to say that all my expectations were disappointed.

La Viena’s new location is on 16th Ave, where the North Hill Steakhouse used to be. The interior is a bit old and dingy, but it also gives off a homey kind of vibe. We had to wait for a good ten minutes before anyone noticed that we had come in. In fact, a small line had formed behind us by the time someone came to the front to seat us. We were seated and promptly given water and some bread and butter. Normally our family doesn’t take long to decide what we want to eat, average about five minutes or so; today was no exception. We decided on our mains and an appetizer, but the waiter was nowhere in sight. We thought that when he returned with our drinks we could order right away, we were wrong. He dropped off our drinks and my dad made to order, but the guy just walked away. For the next ten to fifteen minutes we spent our time trying to flag down the waiter, which was so annoying because he just kept pretending not to see us. At one point he was just standing there doing nothing and I was like seriously? We quickly ordered and waited for our food to come. While we waited, we munched on some of the bread and flavourless whipped butter. I mean, it was nice that there was complementary bread and butter, but when it’s just like oil on bread, it’s not even worth eating. The bread wasn’t even warm, which was a tad disappointing to me. The next disappointment didn’t wait long to manifest. The waiter came with our mains, apologizing that our appetizer had somehow been given to another table. He didn’t sound like he even cared as he asked if we still wanted it. I  did, so we asked for him to bring it. The only plus to it was that it did essentially come out in thirty seconds as he promised, but it was not good. The calamari was weird, I’m not quite sure how to explain it, but I’ll give it go. It was easy to bite through but there were like some strands that were really elasticky and snapped against my lip which kinda hurt. The tomato dipping sauce was far too runny to be considered a dipping sauce. If you expect me to dip something into it, it has to be able to stick to whatever it is that’s being dipped into it. We ended up having to “scoop” the tomato sauce on with the calamari and awkwardly balance it without it falling off and splattering on the table. The only good thing about the calamari was the crunch, but even so, the batter didn’t hold together well and it crumbled if too much force was applied.

For my main, I ordered the Penne Hawaii at the behest of my friend who used to work here, my mom had the Filetto Di Salmone Granchio and my dad had the Vitello alla Gambertti Pepper (I think). My first thought when my dish was presented to me was, “that’s not penne.” It was closer to either rigatoni. However, presentation is only half of it, the other half is the taste. I always try my dishes before I add anything to it and, despite the description on the menu stating that the sausage was hot, it was not, prompting me to have to add a sprinkling of cayenne to add that much needed kick to the dish. It was a unique take on Italian with the addition of pineapples to the dish and surprisingly it worked. Overall, it was a pretty good dish. There was a good balance of heat, sweet, and savory. And I was happy to say that there was a fair amount of meat, so I didn’t have to go searching for it. The pineapples, thankfully didn’t taste overcooked, but it was still hot as hell. But if it’s Italian, my pasta better be al dente, it wasn’t. My mom said her dish was okay, the capers were a bit salty and the promised crab meat nowhere to be found (she found it later dispersed in the white wine sauce). When the waiter dropped off the calamari, he offered my dad pepper…only my dad. My mom was annoyed since she would have really liked some pepper on her fish which tasted fishy (like it’s going bad or has been frozen and thawed out, just not fresh) and the pepper would have helped to diminish the taste. On another note, so would a lemon, but that wasn’t provided either. My dad’s veal and shrimps in a demi-glaze brandy and cream sauce looked kinda like gravy. It was brown and thick and looked generally unappealing. Luckily it tasted better than it looked. However, my dad said (not sure if he was complaining or just saying, can never tell with him) that the veal was not breaded. I personally didn’t have a problem with it being not breaded because the breading would have made the veal so much heavier and with a cream sauce that’s the last thing you’d want.

To round off the meal we finished with a tiramisu. Tiramisu, when made well can be amazing. This I can tell you was not. There was no coffee or wine flavour; it was cream with lady fingers and chocolate syrup. Not good.

Honestly this place was disappointment after disappointment. From the speed of service, to the temperature of food, to the fact that they gave our appetizer to someone else! There’s no other way to describe my disappointment than that I was so disappointed. So much hype for nothing. Based on everything that’s happened, I’d have to rate this place a 2.5/5.

Succulents

Succulents

Bread and Butter

Bread and Butter

Calamari

Calamari

Penne Hawaii

Penne Hawaii

Vitello Alla Gambertti Pepper

Vitello Alla Gambertti Pepper

Filetto Di Salmone Granchio

Filetto Di Salmone Granchio

Tiramisu

Tiramisu

Restaurant Review: Edgemont City

Location: 45 Edenwold Dr NW

So like I said, it’s a bit harder to do reviews for Chinese restaurants, but I think it would be good to start doing them since we go so much. It’s usually cheaper than most of the other stuff I go out for and there’s always leftovers, like enough to have another complete meal for the whole family (but maybe that’s because my dad orders so much food all the time). Unfortunately, when I go out with my family, it’s a little harder to take photos, but I will try to snap at least one.

Edgemont City is one of the few Chinese restaurants in my family’s rotational repertoires. The other two being Shanghai Palace and Signature Palace. I like Snow Palace too, but some of the food there is overpriced for the portion size they give (look for reviews to come on all three of these places). Edgemont City is still one of the best places for Peking Duck, which is a favourite of mine, despite the mess that it makes. For those who don’t know what Peking Duck is, it’s essentially a whole duck, carved served with about 20 pancakes, green onions, cucumber, and hoisin sauce. The duck is quite fatty, so we often scrape off the fat before wrapping the duck meat and crispy skin with the onion, cucumber, hoisin sauce in the pancake. When wrapping, I always leave one end open, the end I’ll be eating from since there’s no point to wrap it closed if I’m just going to eat it right away. Depending on how much hoisin sauce, how runny it is (sometimes they add too much water and it’s too diluted and watery), and how well the end of the roll is closed off will determine how messy it will be. Most of the time I’m pretty good, getting just a bit of oiliness on my fingers from the pancakes, but last night was a serious mess. My plate was covered in sauce and my napkin was just short of being completely disintegrated. We only got the one course, which, I think is all they have available. Other places that offer Peking Duck have a choice of one, two or three courses. One course is always just the duck and pancakes, two courses adds a duck-soy milk soup and three courses adds either a fried rice or fried noodle. Even though I’m a noodle person, I prefer the duck fried rice because it doesn’t leave a greasy feeling in your mouth afterwards. I mean there are exceptions, of course, but in the majority of situations, I’ve found the rice much better than the noodles. Edgemont City is one of the last few places that have really good Peking Duck. We used to always go to Ginger Beef, but since that location that served it closed, we haven’t been able to get Peking Duck from there anymore.

Last night, we also ordered four additional dishes: pea shoots in soup, fried chicken with a red fermented tofu sauce, a fish (I don’t know what it’s called in English, but in Chinese it’s called wanyu 皖鱼?I think that’s a grass carp?), and an assorted hot pot. Normally, when we order pea shoots, it’s simply stir-fried with garlic, but we decided to try something different. The pea shoots were topped with carrots, pork strips, and these chewy vermicelli like coils that are made to kinda look like shrimps and often used in hot pot (I don’t know what they are called either, another reason I don’t really like doing reviews for Chinese restaurants is that I don’t know what anything is called in English). The soup was so sweet and flavourful and the pea shoots themselves weren’t too fibrous meaning they weren’t too “old.” I would have loved just to drink nothing but the soup, it was that good. However, at Chinese restaurants, I don’t find it worth it to order a soup because they always give a starter soup and that’s just too much soup for me, otherwise, this would be a good choice (and in my experience, only when it’s a bunch of Chinese speaking Asians dining together). The fried chicken is rather dry and flavourless on it’s own, hence the red fermented tofu sauce (or also called red fermented bean curd or 紅腐乳) which is different from the regular variety because it’s sweet. It’s often eaten with congee, and seeing as I don’t really like plain congee and fermented foods, I’ve never liked this stuff in my life. Life is about giving things a chance, so last night, I thought why not? I gave it another try and the fermented taste wasn’t too strong, so I was able to eat a little bit more than I normally did. I still don’t like it, but I don’t abhor it now. The grass carp was served with in light soy sauce and topped wood ear fungi and goji berries (or wolfberries as they are sometimes called). In the past, I couldn’t handle any seafood except for shrimp, scallops and lobster, but recently, I’ve been getting better. However, this grass carp is just scary. Not only are the bones like fans, there are so many of them that choking is a very real concern. That’s the other thing with Chinese restaurants, if you order a steamed fish (with the exception of basa fillets), they just chop the fish up into segments without removing the bones and steam it and serve it. I love wood ear fungi, but too many of them aren’t good for you as they act as a blood thinner and prevent blood from clotting. I also don’t like goji berries (I’m beginning to sound like a picky eater) because they are used in Chinese medicine and I’ve had so much of that stuff that I never want to go near it again. Goji berries are good for improving eyesight and aid in other eye related ailments. My favourite dish of the evening was the assorted hot pot. It literally has everything: fish, shrimp, bean curd, tofu, beef, pork, and shitake mushrooms (from what I can remember). There is so much variety that there’s no way that any two spoonfuls would yield you the same combination, that is if you can get more than one item per spoonful 😛

Since we eat four to eight dishes when we go for Chinese food, I hardly ever remember what I eat each and every time unless it is so good it leaves a lasting impression on me. The sweet short ribs are one of them. Yes, short ribs can be quite chewy and hard to eat, but it is so worth it. Besides, using regular or even plastic chopsticks to eat them is way easier than using weird flat metal ones like the ones in Korean BBQ. The only thing that was bad about this dish is the food colouring in it. When we had it in the restaurant, it was a nice reddish brown. When we brought it home and had it the next day, it turned a yucky poop brown. Still tasted fine, obviously, but it was then we knew it didn’t get the colouring from the flavouring agents. Although, bit weird for the colour to just fade like that.

Every Chinese restaurant I go to with my parents (probably because of my dad) consists of a hot pot and a chicken dish. There’s never been an occasion in my living memory that either of them have ever been omitted. I don’t mind either since they’ve become part of what I’ve come to expect when we have Chinese food. Usually we have crispy skinned chicken when we order chicken because that’s me and my sister’s favourite. Other times we order things like poached chicken with ginger and onion, soy sauce chicken, and drunken chicken.

The service here is a bit lacking. I do understand that they are really busy, but that doesn’t mean that you have to yell/flag down a waitress for every little thing because they don’t come by your table to see if anything is lacking (i.e. tea, napkins, empty dishes that need to be taken away). Also, due to an altercation elsewhere with one of the waitresses, it’s always awkward to go there now. I would rate this restaurant 2.5/5. The food is okay, but the service sucks.

Peking Duck (one course) with Pea shoot soup in the top left corner

Peking Duck (one course) with Pea shoot soup in the top left corner

Restaurant Review: Ox and Angela

Location: 528 17th Ave SW (Beltline)
Website: http://www.oxandangela.com

After months of not getting out due to studying, work, and whatever other excuses I came up with, I finally got a girls’ night out. I hadn’t seen either of these ladies for a very long time and we had so much catching up to do. This was my second time at a tapas bar and even now, I still can’t get over how expensive tapas bars can be. On the one hand, portion sizes are small, so that you can try out everything, but on the other hand, they are so expensive that my wallet literally cries because I’m only a poor student…sorta student…

With tapas I never know how much to order, so it’s always a good idea to start with a few dishes and hold onto the menu and order more if necessary. We started with four dishes: fried artichoke, fried goat cheese, fresh zucchini ribbon salad, a pan roasted duck breast, and an albacore tuna. Now, typically I’m not a fan of artichokes, in particular, pickled artichoke hearts, but deep fried anything is delicious. The fried artichoke was served in a small bowl atop a quince aioli and lemon. The lemon was virtually undetectable and very little of the quince flavour came through in the creaminess of the aioli. For those who don’t know, quince is a pear-like fruit that has a slightly tart taste, often added to fried dishes to counterbalance the greasiness. As an aioli, I felt that it added to the greasiness and the tartness was neutralized by the mayonnaise-like qualities of aiolis. But the artichokes were slightly seasoned and went well with the aioli. This dish makes me like artichokes a little more than I used to. With the fried goat cheese we were given the choice of being served the dish on its own or having bread with it. We chose to have it as it. I don’t know if you’ve ever had deep fried cheese of any kind, but I have to say, deep fried goat cheese is so amazing! Like the fried artichokes, the cheese was served with sauces and garnishes made to counterbalance the richness of the cheese. My first impression of the dish when it came out was that it looked like a giant croquette. The blood orange and date sauce was a beautiful crimson. There was just enough that you could taste a bit of the tartness (again to counter the grease, I don’t know how many times I’m going to have to say that), but not so much that it overpowered the dish or drenched the cheese. The candied walnuts on top added the final touch of perfection. Actually candied anything is delicious. It would have been nice to have it with a slice of baguette or on a crostini, but it’s still fantastic on its own. The next dish to come out was the zucchini ribbon salad. I expected it to be a bit more than it actually was. With lemon and mint, I just expected it to be a fresher tasting salad than it was. It would have been nice if the zucchini had been pickled prior to its addition to the salad. The manchego cheese didn’t really taste of much and neither added nor detracted from the salad; it was kinda just there. The pan roasted duck breast, the most expensive dish of the night at $18. It was by far my favourite. Duck is a typically rich, dark meat, so I wasn’t surprised that it would again be paired with something tart: oranges. The duck was cooked and seasoned beautifully, the centre still being slightly pinkish red. Unfortunately the picture I took was a bit shaky and out of focus and does not do this magnificent dish justice. The last dish was the albacore tuna…and I don’t handle raw fish too well, but tonight I decided to just go for it. It was seared along the edges and served on top of a lemon aioli, sprinkled with fried capers and topped with roasted cherry tomatoes. The citrus aiolis here really don’t work at all. I could not taste the lemon and honestly felt like I was just putting a lot of cream onto my tuna. The tomato and capers did nothing to compliment the tuna at all. Frying capers pretty much destroyed it’s inherently weird, but complementary-to-raw-fish taste. The tuna itself was superb, but I don’t think I could eat it again.

By this point we were getting to be pretty full, but we felt that we could order just a tad bit more. So for our second round we ordered a croquetta and a Mediterranean salad. Due to all the deep fried rich foods we had eaten in the previous round, I started to sound like a frog…then it was a choking, hacking, dying frog…thank goodness I was ignored for that part of the conversation…quite frankly, it was gross. The croquetta was a salt cod and potato croquetta served with some sort of aioli and chili sauce. I was excited to try this one because I really love spicy foods, but nope. I tasted nothing but creamy aioli and the actual croquetta? That was like a mouthful of salt. After all, it was salt cod, so what was I supposed to be expecting? I think it would have been nice with a small glass of some kind of beer, but I know nothing about alcohol and how it complements a meal. But I can’t complain about how nice and crunchy the croquetta was. At one point I expressed my concern that I was afraid that I was going to send it flying off my plate and into the face of the lady at the table next to us. Thank goodness that didn’t happen. The Mediterranean salad was kinda weird to me. It had local tomatoes & cucumbers, roasted onion, goat feta, crispy chorizo, and a kale salsa verde. Like the zucchini ribbon salad, I expected it to be a bit more tart, which it wasn’t. The kale salsa verde was something new and I felt that it just didn’t work. The goat feta would have provided a good contrast if there was any tartness to the dish. And the crispy chorizo…that lived up to its name. Very crunchy…

Lastly, for dessert we shared a basque cake. I have a weakness for anything almond, so this was a must. For a tapas bar I should have expected something small, but somehow I hoped it would be larger, it wasn’t. This basque cake sliver had chunks of fruit in it, I’m not quite sure what kind it was, but I want to say rehydrated apricots and was lightly dusted with confectioners’ sugar. I loved the top and bottom of the cake because it tasted like caramelized sugar. The cake itself wasn’t too sweet, which I liked, but the chunks of fruit didn’t seem to fit.

For the sizes of the dishes I never expected to be full, but I was. It’s funny how something so small can fill you up so much. The staff were friendly enough and you never had to worry about your glass being empty; there was always a waiter or waitress close enough to top up your drink at all times. The place can get a bit noisy, but it’s all part of the atmosphere, so if you don’t mind then it’s great. There were times we were yelling, but I’m always yelling so I didn’t feel like I was out of place. Earlier in the evening it was a bit quieter and I sounded like I was talking way too loud. However I couldn’t believe how much our bill was at the end of the night. We had ordered a total of eight items (and my friends ordered a couple beers) and our bill came to around $110.

I would definitely recommend going to a tapas bar just to try it out, but keep in mind that if you’re looking for a cheap meal, this is not the place to go. This place in particular can get really busy really fast, so if you plan on going, I would recommend making a reservation. For me, this place was underwhelming and I expected a lot more from the dishes, particularly, for some sort of contrast and complement within the dishes. The service was good and all, but it is the food that speaks for the establishment. Based on everything, I would have to rate this place a 3.25/5. However, if I were to go back I would like to try the Spanish Table or Paella.

Ox and Angela Interior

Ox and Angela Interior

Fried Goat Cheese

Fried Goat Cheese

Fried Artichokes

Fried Artichokes

Zucchini Ribbon Salad

Zucchini Ribbon Salad

Albacore Tuna

Albacore Tuna

Duck Breast

Duck Breast

Croquetta

Croquetta

Mediterranean Salad

Mediterranean Salad

Basque Cake

Basque Cake

Restaurant Review: Central Grand

Location: 1623 Centre St N (Central Landmark Mall)

This restaurant is a place I have frequented since I was a child both for Dim Sum and dinner. Regardless of time of day or month, the restaurant is always bustling. Yesterday, we arrived shortly after 11am and grabbed a number, it wasn’t until an hour later that we were called in and seated. By that time, the restaurant was packed and they had made several makeshift tables to accommodate smaller parties (read: parties of two). Because my Chinese isn’t strong enough to engage in any sort of coherent conversation, the waitresses generally avoided any sort of conversation. From one perspective I can see that that would have been interpreted as being extremely rude, but from another perspective I can understand that some of them know English to the same extent that I know Chinese. From my work experience, it is frustrating for me that they refuse to speak English as this is Canada and it is one of the official languages. I expect that they should be able to speak the language of the country they have chosen to take up residency in. I don’t know if this is an unreasonable expectation, but it is my expectation nonetheless. Due to the language barrier, they did not ask what kind of tea we wanted and just brought one out for us. I’m not even sure what kind of tea it was. The thing that annoyed me was that later when they took our tea to refill the hot water, they delivered it to the wrong table… The one thing I really love about this place is that it still has its tradition method of serving dim sum: through the use of carts. This is one reason why I continually bring or recommend this place to my non-Chinese speaking friends; it is much easier to point to an item than it is to try and figure out what the English or Chinese name is off of a piece of paper that you tick off the items you want to eat. Of course, the disadvantage of the carts is that you have to wait for the item you want to come around if there is something specific that you want, but don’t know the name. On this visit we ordered a total of twelve dishes which easily came to seventy odd dollars. The first round we got Braised Chicken Feet in Black Bean Sauce (Fung zauu), Fried Taro stuffed with Seasoned Ground Pork Dumpling (Wu Tau Kau-according to wikipedia…), Shrimp wrapped in Rice Crepe (Har Cheong), Chiu Chow Dumpling (Chiu Chow Fun Gor), Curry Fish Balls and Chive & Shrimp Dumpling. The Chicken Feet in Black Bean sauce is kinda like a rite of passage dish, every person’s first visit to dim sum will involve this dish. The chicken feet are first deep fried before they are smothered in black bean sauce and steamed or braised. The thing about eating chicken feet are that they are incredibly bony, with the occasional chance of splinters, and essentially you’re just eating the skin off of them. So in other words, there is no way that you will look nice eating them. As I’ve been eating them for a very long time, I can polish them off in about five seconds a piece. Less experienced eaters will attempt to neatly consume them. Don’t. It’s more enjoyable if you just stop caring about how you look when you eat them. The Fried Taro stuffed with Seasoned Ground Pork Dumpling is a personal favourite of mine because of the combination of the sweet of the taro, the saltiness of the pork and the crunch of the outer shell is to die for. However, this time I was disappointed. It was clear that this had been on the cart for a few rounds because the dumpling was cold and not very crunch, but what was more disappointing was the filling. There was hardly any. The dumpling was overwhelmed by the amount of mashed taro filling that I didn’t even notice the pork. Besides that, a random piece of shrimp got mixed in. The Shrimp wrapped in Rice Crepe is another classic dim sum staple. It is exactly as the name states, shrimp is wrapped in a soft, but smooth rice crepe blanket and smothered in soy sauce. The perfect rice crepe is one that stays intact when you try to pick up a piece as opposed to not being able to support the weight of the piece of shrimp which results in the shrimp falling out of the wrap and tearing a ginormous hole in the crepe before falling from the grasp of your chopsticks. Another favourite of mine is the Chiu Chow Style Dumpling. Unlike most other dim sum dumplings, the wrap on this one is closer to the consistency of mochi or sticky rice. The Chiu Chow Style Dumpling is unique because of it’s ingredients, aka not shrimp. It has peanuts, celery, ground pork, carrots, cilantro, and possibly really minced shitake mushrooms. This is one of the few dishes I don’t mind having “cooked” peanuts in because they aren’t cooked until they are soft. Honestly, in my brain, a peanut should be crunchy, not cooked to mush. Though I’ve seen them as a dim sum item, I’ve never actually seen the Curry Fish Balls going around on the carts. It wasn’t bad, though the curry was well flavoured, the fish ball tasted a bit off and had random cuts in it.  I’m assuming that was to get some curry flavour in there, but that didn’t work out so well. I don’t think I’d like to try that again. The Chive and Shrimp Dumpling is a variation on the typical Shrimp Dumpling (or Har Gow). It’s another first for me. In terms of taste, it’s not too bad, though the chive isn’t really that noticeable. Other variations of the Shrimp Dumpling include pea shoots and shark fin. The second round consisted of Fried Eggplants stuffed with Shrimp (kei sze), Tripe (gow pak yeep), Bean Curd Spring Roll, Fried Wonton Wrapped Shrimp Ball, another shrimp dumpling (not sure what kind this time), and a dessert tofu. The fried eggplant is another staple for our family. Unfortunately, these ones tasted like they had been on the cart for a while too because they were also cold and a bit hard. The tripe was amazing. Usually I don’t like their preparation of the tripe, serving it with onions and garlic, but this time they seemed to have made a modification to their typical recipe and I enjoyed it immensely. If I had a favourite dim sum item of all time, it would be the bean curd spring roll. I mean what isn’t there to love about succulent shrimps wrapped super crispy fried bean curd? Okay, maybe the fact that it is super high in calories and they decide to serve it with salad sauce (as they like to call it, but really it’s just mayonnaise with chunks of canned fruit in it). I could honestly eat an entire meal of those if I wouldn’t gain any weight from eating that much. Despite being deep fried, the bean curd keeps the dish rather light (but you are constantly reminded about how oily the dish is by the oil pooling under the spring rolls). The fried wonton shrimp balls are essentially the same thing, but aren’t nearly as good. The wonton wrapper is substantially thicker than the bean curd so if you’re looking for something to fill you up, this dish would be a better choice. I think this other shrimp dumpling had carrots and shitake mushrooms, but honestly can’t remember. It’s not a bad thing that I can’t remember. It just means that it was good enough that I had no complaints or problems that I remembered. The wrapper, like all dumpling wrappers of its kind was what Italians would called al dente (that would be the closest term to the Chinese one). It’s sufficiently chewy, but not so chewy that it is like eating rubber, but also not so soft that it would break upon contact with one’s chopsticks. I’m not a fan of the tofu, but the ginger sugar syrup is really good. I could just drink that stuff, but you can literally taste the diabetes. The dish is plain soft tofu in this ginger syrup. Really simple, but it doesn’t make you feel like you ate a heavy dessert. So essentially it is impossible to eat every dim sum item in one sitting unless you have a party of four or five or go several times. Over the years I’ve been to this place for a lot of dim sum. Other common dishes that we didn’t order this time are Shrimp dumplings (Har gow), Pork dumplings (Siu mai), Chicken Sticky Rice (Lo mai gai), Spare ribs in black bean sauce (pai gwat), crispy pork buns (char siu so), daikon/turnip cakes (Lo bak go), Egg Tarts (Dan Tat), assorted fried noodles, and Steamed bean curd rolls (sin zuk gyun). Though their customer service maybe a bit lacking, it’s not any worse than any other Chinese restaurant. Sometimes when I have gone with my Chinese speaking family, I have found that they are rather impatient, but that’s a rare occurrence. The food more than makes up for their behaviour. I’m not saying that it’s okay for them to be rude or anything like that, but if I am going to a restaurant, it is as much about the food as it is about the service. And I never expect much of Asian restaurants (as bad as that sounds, I’ve come to expect some sort of rudeness at some point in the service). They are always noisy and you have to yell just to be heard by the person next to you. The restaurant opens up at 10am and though there isn’t much of a crowd then, there isn’t much of a selection of dim sum and a higher chance that food will be cold. If you go early, be prepared to order thing because you will never get what you want if you just keep waiting. The trade off of coming later for a larger selection of food is waiting for longer, minimum one hour, regardless of what they say (not literally, if you can see that there are three families before you, it’s likely that their estimate is correct, but if there are ten or more, it is completely inaccurate). And the annoying thing is that it’s so hard to get the waitresses’ attention. It’s like they’re on a mission to avoid all eye contact to avoid helping you so it takes even longer to get out of there and that’s why there’s usually a huge delay. In terms of cost, it’s really not that expensive. Each dish is about $4-6 and they really add up, so I suggest that if you have someone who is big eater going with you, order fried noodles or rice to fill them up and save you some money. I know from experience because every time I go with my mom we eat about $30-40 worth of food, but when we add my sister the price is closer to $80… In taking everything into consideration, I’d rate this restaurant 4/5. I would definitely continue to return here. If you don’t mind waiting then definitely give this place a chance.

Top Left: Fried Eggplant Stuffed with Shrimp Top Right (counterclockwise from bottom left corner of picture): Curry Fish Balls, Chicken Feet in Black Bean Sauce, Fried Taro, Shrimp wrapped in Rice Crepe, Chiu Chow Dumpling, Chive and Shrimp Dumpling Bottom Right: Siu mai (top), Shrimp Dumpling (bottom) Bottom Left (working from top down): fried wonton, some kind of shrimp dumpling with carrots and shitake mushrooms, bean curd spring roll, tofu in ginger syrup, and tripe

Top Left: Fried Eggplant Stuffed with Shrimp
Top Right (counterclockwise from bottom left corner of picture): Curry Fish Balls, Chicken Feet in Black Bean Sauce, Fried Taro, Shrimp wrapped in Rice Crepe, Chiu Chow Dumpling, Chive and Shrimp Dumpling
Bottom Right: Siu mai (top), Shrimp Dumpling (bottom)
Bottom Left (working from top down): fried wonton, some kind of shrimp dumpling with carrots and shitake mushrooms, bean curd spring roll, tofu in ginger syrup, and tripe

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