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Posts tagged ‘Downtown Calgary’

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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Restaurant Review: CRAFT Beer Market

Location: 345 10 Ave SW
Website: https://www.craftbeermarket.ca/calgary/downtown

This is the second time I’ve been to the restaurant, but the first time was for a company Christmas lunch and I didn’t think it was appropriate to take pictures.

The first time I was here I ordered the Ahi Poke Bowl because this was the first time I was going to lunch with my lawyers and other lawyers and assistants in my pod and I didn’t want to order anything too messy and make a bad first impression. To be clear though, it’s not like my lawyers haven’t given me work to do over my lunch break and I happened to be sitting at my desk eaten, so it’s not like they haven’t seen me eat, but I just don’t think I need to leave them with the image of a burger falling apart in my hands, sauce dripping down my arms and food all over my face. The Ahi Poke Bowl consisted of sashimi grade ahi tuna with cucumber, pickled carrots, avocado chunks, seaweed, fresh ginger and togarashi aioli all stacked on top of steamed rice and sesame seeds. While this was a good dish, there wasn’t anything particularly memorable about it. That being said, two things that did stand out for not the best reasons were that the pickled carrots weren’t really pickled and the fact I don’t even remember there being fresh ginger in the dish at all and ginger is a pretty strong flavour.

If you’ve ever been to CRAFT, then you know it’s more of a burger and wings kind of place. The bar/pub atmosphere isn’t really the kind of place you walk into and think hmm, let’s eat a pasta or poke bowl. These places make you want to get messy and really enjoy the entire experience of eating. Maybe that was one of the factors that made the Ahi Poke Bowl seem so underwhelming.

I had the opportunity to return here a few nights ago and order what my lawyer had ordered that day. I’m not gonna even lie, I was side-eying (and at times straight up staring) that thing for the whole meal, wishing I could eat it, but imagining that in my tiny, girl hands, that the thing would become a disaster. The dish in question? The Crispy Chicken Sandwich.

Now, I know some of my readers have only recently joined and I know some of you personally and vice versa, but if there’s anything to really know about me is that I love the combination of savoury and sweet in a dish. I don’t usually care for desserts unless it’s chocolate mousse, so the sweetness in the dish is that bit of balance that makes my palate feel satisfied. My all time favourite combination is chicken and waffles and this sandwich is kind of a play on that. The Crispy Chicken Sandwich consists of a succulent piece of fried chicken drizzled with hot sauce and maple syrup on a house made bun with lettuce, slaw, and house pickles. When it comes to hot sauce on chicken, I’m very particular about it. I definitely don’t like hot sauces that are more acidic because I only need it to burn me on one level. I like a complex blend of flavours in my hot sauce because if you’re going to burn me, at least let me enjoy it. I’m not sure if the hot sauce is house made, but it is pretty on par with the one I had at Diner Deluxe, which I also really enjoyed. If there’s one salad I love more than anything in the world, it’s coleslaw and that slaw on the burger provided the perfect hit of freshness, creaminess, and a little bit of acidity to cut through the deep fried chicken. The house made bun felt like it was egg based and vaguely reminiscent of waffles because of it (but also, nothing like waffles, but I do prefer egg buns over regular burger ones). The house pickles were slightly on the sweeter side, but I didn’t mind. I usually find that house pickles are sweeter than commercial ones, but that just might happen to be the case for all the places I’ve tried. I can appreciate both kinds of pickles as they each have their place in the dish and add depth to the dish.

Compared to the sandwich, the fries were mediocre. My coworker, Alex, someone I may have mentioned in past reviews who shares in my food adventures, disagrees. We both look for very different things in fries. I enjoy fries that are thinner and crunchier (think McDonald’s or Smashburger fries), while she enjoys the pillowy, fluffier fries. I liked the salt and pepper seasoning because it’s different from most places that just salt their fries, but it wasn’t really good enough for me to finish. Alex ordered the same thing as me and her boyfriend Alex (hence Alex²) ordered the Brewmaster’s Chicken Sandwich, which looked equally delicious, but he opted to get a side of Mac and Cheese instead of fries. From the small sampling of the Mac and Cheese, I’d have to say it was pretty good. I think if I ordered that I’d keep the poblano peppers in.

Then we decided to have dessert. I probably should’ve listened to Alex, but I wanted to find out for myself. We both ordered the Dessert in a Jar, while Alex (the boyfriend) got cookies. The Dessert in a Jar is a gluten free brownie topped with vanilla gelato, sponge toffee (made in house), sliced bananas and topped with chocolate sauce. This sounded a lot like the dessert I had at Cactus Club Cafe (a chocolate mousse shot) which I enjoyed, so I thought what the heck. The only thing I was apprehensive about were the bananas because I only enjoy them at a certain ripeness. Of course it came, the bananas were too ripe and eventually the overripe taste of bananas is what made me sick. It was a fairly disappointing dessert overall. The vanilla gelato was not even really cold and more like a flat whipped cream. The brownie was dry and I had to mash the ice cream into the brownie to make it a little more manageable to eat. The toffee was okay, but I like the one from Cactus Club Cafe better (not sure if they make theirs in-house though). I did not even come close to finishing that dessert. So, if you plan on ordering this, unless you are a garbage disposal chute, endless pit, or black hole, do not attempt alone.

The only difference between my meal and Alex’s (coworker) is that she had the International Beer Sampler. It was surprisingly affordable (only about $12). I can’t really comment on beer because I generally don’t like alcohol, unless it’s like Yakult or Peach Soju.

I would definitely come back here to try the fried pickles, tacos, and a few other burgers. This visit was far more enjoyable than the one with my pod. I would give this place a 4/5. It was a bit loud and I felt like my voice was going at the end of the night, but that’s typical of a place like this so that’s fine. Service was good. I liked that we were given enough time to order without pressure and that we weren’t just left in a corner and forgotten.

I do apologize for the quality of the photos though; the lighting wasn’t great.

CRAFT Interior
International Beer Sampler
Crispy Chicken Sandwich with Fries
Brewmaster’s Chicken Sandwich with Mac & Cheese
Dessert in a Jar

Restaurant Review: Shinjuku Ramen Noodle Bar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2303

Age Gyoza

IMG_2306

Takoyaki

IMG_2307

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

IMG_2304

Tonkotsu Black

IMG_2305

Chicken Paitan Ramen

 

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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