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Restaurant Review: Escoba Bistro and Wine Bar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sign

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Projected sign

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Restaurant Exterior

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Restaurant Interior

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Cork Wall (behind me)

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

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Tiger Rose

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Alberta Beef Tenderloin

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Cookies and Cream

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Restaurant Review: Shinjuku Ramen Noodle Bar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Age Gyoza

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Takoyaki

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

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Tonkotsu Black

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Chicken Paitan Ramen

 

Restaurant Review: Bank and Baron

Location: 125 8 Avenue SW
Website: http://www.bankandbaronpub.com

Bank and Baron is unique in that it’s located in an old bank that has been converted into a restaurant. First off, I’m never gonna say no to going to an old building. I love historical old buildings. It’s not just the beauty of the architecture, but the story behind each brick, every nail, every board, the stories the wall would tell if it could speak.

For our after work adventure, we decided we’d go with just happy hour appies. We ordered the chicken gyoza, steak bites, crafted lager beer fondue, and American sliders from the happy hour menu and the Spinach Dip from the regular menu.

The steak bites were a recommendation from my sister. This was amazing! I could probably eat the entire appie by myself if I didn’t have any self control. This was the best dish of the evening. My sister recommended that I not order the chicken gyoza, but we did anyways and she was right. The peanuts were not exactly crushed, they were halved and stale which made it hard to eat. The meat texture was impossible to discern, there was no flavour, the only good thing about the gyoza was that part of the wrapper was crispy, just the way I like it, but only part of it. It was my first time having the fondue and I was unfortunately disappointed. The cheese was gritty and grainy and it just didn’t have a great taste. The flatbread accompanying the fondue, on the other hand, was amazing. It was like a lighter version of focaccia. The sliders were as sliders often are. There was nothing particularly special about them. I’m not saying I wouldn’t order them again, but only if nothing on the menu really appealed to me. The last dish was the Spinach dip. This dish is a staple at so many restaurant, so like the sliders, unless I was really craving it or there was nothing I liked on the menu, then I would order this again.

For dessert, Alex and I both ordered the Valharona Chocolate Panna Cotta.  While it may not look the most appealing, it was delicious!  The creamy texture of that rich and slightly bitter chocolate was the perfect way to end the night.  If I hadn’t been so stuffed with carbs, I probably would’ve ordered another one.

I would definitely come back to this place, if only to eat those steak bites and panna cotta again. Based on my experience, I would give this place a 3/5.

Bank and Baron Bar

Interior (by our table)

Ceiling

Basement Vault

Close up of vault

Washroom

Cheese Fondue

Steak Bites

Chicken Gyoza and American Sliders

Valharona Chocolate Panna Cotta

Restaurant Review: Diner Deluxe

Location: 104 – 350 Aspen Glen Landing SW
Website: http://www.dinerdeluxe.com/

I’ve been to this restaurant many years ago with my sister and cousins for Christmas.  We went to the Edmonton trail location and it was packed.  This was back when brunch wasn’t hugely popular, but novel enough that people were interested in trying it out.  I also believe that at that time, they didn’t take reservations, which is why it was so hard to get into in the first place.

Today, we were in the Aspen Woods area (headed to Color Me Mine) to pick up a pottery piece my sister had done and to do a piece with our mom as a late birthday thing, so we stopped by here to grab a quick lunch.  What I love most about going out with my mom and sister is that when we go out to eat, we share everything.

I had been waffling between getting the Fish and Chips or the Chicken and Waffles as I had been craving Fish and Chips for a while and Chicken and Waffles being my lifelong love.  Ultimately, I decided on the Fish and Chips, but found out that’s what my mom was ordering so I got the Chicken and Waffles because I know I can always pilfer some of the food from her plate.  My sister was undecided and went with what the waitress recommended, the potato rosti stuffed with Quebec cheese curds and sausage, topped with hollandaise and a side of extra crispy bacon.

These are honestly the best Chicken and Waffles I have ever had.  The batter on the chicken is so light, in fact, I’m 90% sure that it’s the same batter used for chicken karaage in Japanese restaurants.  The Waffle isn’t exactly what you’d expect from a typical breakfast waffle.  The waffle actually contains cheddar and jalapeno, which gives it a nice kick.  I have to admit, I was a little worried about the hot sauce coming out and tasting like Frank’s hot sauce, which is really not that good.  But luckily, nothing to worry about.  Their in house made hot sauce is actually really good.  And there’s just the right amount of heat.  Especially when you take into account the fact that the waffle is already kinda spicy from the jalapeno.  On top of all that is the maple brown butter.  It’s a whipped butter, which I prefer to regular butter because it’s much easier to spread and it is absolutely delicious.  Yeah, you can feel the pounds adding up with this dish, but I’m going to have to say that I don’t even care.  I think this is a personal favourite of mine because I love sweet and savoury combos because it keeps me from getting bored which almost always happens when I’m eating.

The Fish and Chips weren’t great, but they weren’t bad either.  Diner Deluxe uses mahimahi instead of cod, haddock, or pollock.  In the past I haven’t like mahimahi because it has a stronger fishier taste than cod, haddock, or pollock and I usually shy away from fishy tasting seafood.  However, that didn’t appear to be a problem today.  The nice thing about mahimahi is that it is a firmer fish and holds together much better than cod, haddock, or pollock, which made it easier when dipping into their house made tartar sauce.  Now, normally, I’m a huge fan of tartar sauce and I’m not saying that it’s not a good tartar sauce, I just wish it had more of a tang to it.  Conversely, my sister enjoyed this tartar sauce much more than she usually enjoys tartar sauces.  My sister enjoyed the fries, citing the crunchy ones as being the best ones, but I though they were flavourless and mostly limp…which is super unappealing.  The East Coast Slaw wasn’t all that different from the coleslaw that is typically served with fish and chips, only difference I could detect was that it was a lot lighter than coleslaw.   Another disappointment with this dish was that it claimed to come with malt vinegar, but that was not the case and my mom mentioned that the two lemon wedges that it came with weren’t enough to cut through the somewhat thick batter.  Her other complaint was that the batter, while not greasy, was a little on the dry side.  This was the first and probably only time I will ever see her use tartar sauce on her fish.

The final dish, Val’s dish, the potato rosti, was a dish that the waitress recommended without hesitation.  While it was delicious, it was very heavy.  I was very impressed by the cheese pull of the Quebec cheese curds, but there wasn’t very much sausage stuffed in it and I expected the rosti to be a lot more crisp along the outside.  The bacon was crunchy as promised, but when it’s like fried potato with cheese topped with creamy hollandaise and a side of greasy bacon…it’s nice to have a little bit of a breather from all that.

Since it was a pseudo-belated birthday outing for our mom combined with the fact it was a chilly fall day, my mom wanted the apple pie.  Just the thought of the buttery, flaky crust coupled with the heat of the cinnamon was just wonderful.  An apple pie is like an edible hug when done right.  Now, normally I would have gone a la mode regardless of whether it was blizzarding outside or not, but neither my sister or mom wanted it, so today I would do without.  I’m sure you’ve learned this if you’ve read enough of my reviews or know me well enough, but I’m really particular about my food.  I like my apples on the softer side (more like a melt in your mouth kind of thing) in an apple pie, the pastry should be warm, buttery, flaky, and with a little bit of crunch to it, and my ice cream, if I have it, better be made from real vanilla bean.  Well, it wasn’t any of those things.  The crumble was falling around the pan, the pastry was soggy and soft, the apples were very hard and you couldn’t cut through it and ended up taking a gigantic spoonful, and it was barely warm.  Two bites and I was done.

Let’s just say if I come back, it’ll be for the Chicken and Waffles not the Apple Pie.  I’m sorry to say this, but McDonald’s had better Apple Pies cold than this place.  Based on area and type of food they were serving, I can’t say I’m surprised about the price, but it is on the more expensive side for sure.  And while our waitress was really, super cheerful, there were times I found her attention to be lacking which was frustrating when we were trying to either order or get another drink/top up on a drink.

Based on today’s experience, I would recommend this place and I would definitely come back, but I would say that Vero Moderne Bistro would be my first choice for brunch.  It’s just more my kind of restaurant than this one was. I would give it a 3.75/5 based on the Chicken and Waffles alone.

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Restaurant Interior – Upper level

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Restaurant Interior – View from Table

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Fish and Chips

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Chicken and Waffles

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Potato Rosti

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Apple Pie

Restaurant Review: Oriental Phoenix

Location: 105, 401 – 9th Avenue SW
Website: http://www.orientalphoenix.ca/

Seeing as this restaurant is only about a block away from my office, I thought after about 5 months of seeing it everyday, that I ought to try it out.  It was a kind of impromptu decision, but Alex made us a reservation the morning of and we were able to be seated fairly quickly (once they noticed us at least).

As with all restaurants, I like to look at the menu before and and the site stated that there was a slight chance that the downtown location could have a different menu with slightly different prices (aka more expensive because it is expensive to do business/rent a location downtown, plus all the “rich” business people working down there).  So it was a more general idea of what I wanted slash seeing if the downtown location had the things I had chosen off of the menu on their website.

I started off with the shrimp salad rolls, which I shared with Alex.  They consisted of A LOT of vermicelli and not much else.  Having grown up with making my own at home and stuffing it full of meat and veggies rather than vermicelli (even though I do love my carbs), this seemed to be very expensive for a roll of carbs served with hoisin mixed with a sriracha style hot sauce, topped with peanuts.  I couldn’t even figure out where the shrimps were!  The University of Calgary salad rolls from La Prep are even better than the ones here!

For our mains I ordered the Sate Beef Pho and Alex had the Grilled Pork Vermicelli.  When the dishes arrived I was both offended and delighted by the size of the veggie accompaniment (bean sprouts).  I’m used to going to Vietnamese restaurants that give at least four times that amount with a lime and basil, so offended was my first reaction, but then my sense kicked in because I don’t actually eat that much of the bean sprout and hardly any basil that it was probably better they didn’t waste it on me anyways.  I was still offended it was a lemon rather than a lime because it completely changes the flavour profile.  The other thing that irked me was that there was no dish for me to put my hoisin sauce in to dip the meat into and the spoon was way too small for me to be able to balance the food on and put on it without it slipping into the soup (so I eventually had to put it in the spoon and then grab the meat to dip it, but it was also annoying I had to pick up the bottle every single time I wanted some hoisin).  When it came to taste, I really don’t think it was sate; it was more like chili flakes in soup, but other than that the broth was really well developed and flavourful.  But just because it wasn’t sate didn’t mean it wouldn’t burn you.  At first it was like, oh ok, this is alright, but after a long time (since the soup is hot temperature wise and hot spicy wise), it gets to you.  Then of course my body likes to exaggerate (just like me) how spicy it actually is by full on crying and runny nose and make me look like I’m really suffering.  The other thing I really loved was the texture of the noodles.  Maybe it was because I was really craving noodles or they truly are superior noodles, but they were so good!  The presentation was interesting; I was intrigued by the bowl shape, but as usual, way too much soup.

Alex’s Grilled Pork Vermicelli is her Vietnamese restaurant staple; one that she orders at every Vietnamese restaurant she goes to.  It looks like a typical grilled pork vermicelli, nothing special.  I watched as she poured on the nước mắm over the dish and then then that turned to horror when she grabbed the hoisin sauce and drizzled it all over her vermicelli and pork.  I’ve never understood why people put hoisin on there.  I probably should’ve asked, but the most logical answer would probably be “it tastes good,” but me being me, growing up on homemade nước mắm  and vermicelli it seems very odd and feels very wrong.  Also, it seemed weird that she wouldn’t mix it all up.  She just ate it, working from one side of the plate to the other, which is also not something I am used to.  So this was an interesting experience for me.  I wouldn’t say it was wrong, but it was definitely different.

We both ordered the iced coffee and unlike what I’m used to at Vietnamese restaurants, they brought out the already mixed coffee (I’m used to them bringing out the thing to drip the coffee into a glass cup that has condensed milk on the bottom of the cup and then pouring it over the ice myself).  I completely understand the reasoning why they would choose not to do this, the first being what a mess it would make and the second being that this is downtown and if they’re expecting us to pay them more, then they have to provide the service of a slightly higher class.

Although this place isn’t exactly wheelchair accessible from the entrance we entered in from, I’m sure there is a way to get in through the Gulf Canada building, but I don’t know for certain.

Overall, I would recommend this place and I would definitely come back.  The service was quick and the servers were polite enough, checking in at the appropriate times to make sure everything was to our liking.  I know that a coworker of mine came here last week, but didn’t have as great of an experience.  They went to lunch at their usual time, noon, ordered, but their food didn’t arrive until 12:45 and they had to shovel down their food.  She said that she got sick from doing that, but still thought the food was really good.  Based on my experience today, I would give this place a 3.75/5.

Salad Rolls

Shrimp Salad Rolls

Pho

Sate Beef Pho

Vermicelli

Grilled Pork Vermicelli

Restaurant Review: Without Papers

Location: 1216 9 Ave SE
Website: http://wopizza.ca/

After two months I finally got the chance to meet up with Carmen for dinner.  I usually let Carmen decide where we’re gonna go because of her allergies and since I had been craving pizza for several weeks, this was the perfect fit.

We had been planning this since June so I had time to look over the menu well in advanced.  On my initial perusal of them menu, I wanted to order the Shrooom pizza because I love mushrooms and truffle oil, but since buying that bottle of truffle oil, I don’t think I need to really order anything that contains truffle oil because last time I made something at home with the truffle oil, I got all truffled out and I don’t want to go through that again.  I’ll work on finishing the truffle oil I’ve bought before truffling myself out on restaurant food.

On the day we finally made it here, we had some trouble finding the restaurant because the sign wasn’t very prominently displayed.  Since we got there around four, the restaurant wasn’t very busy yet and we were promptly seated by the window.  I didn’t realize I had been here before, a few years ago, as part of a Jane’s Walk that was focused on visiting restaurants in the Inglewood and Ramsay areas.

It didn’t take long for us to decide on the pizzas we wanted.  Carmen ordered her usual, the Parma with mushrooms added and I decided on the margherita pizza.  The sound of fresh mozzarella gave me images of those large chunks of creamy, stringy, melty, deliciousness.  That’s what drew me to this particular pizza.  Well, that and the fact I had been craving a simple, but delicious pizza as of late.

As the waitress indicated, all the pizzas are thin crust, like actually thin crust, which I was really happy about.  The unfortunate thing about the pizza being so thin is that it cools really quickly and this pizza is not good cold (although I do enjoy cold, leftover pizza most other times). The pizza itself was a little sparse and I did not get the ooey gooey fresh mozzarella as promised in the menu description.  Carmen’s pizza was less sparse and if I had liked prosciutto and it wasn’t so overloaded with arugula, it would’ve been a delicious pizza.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy arugula, but I don’t need a salad on my pizza (totally exaggerating, but you know me).

Despite all my “complaints,” I really would order from here again.  I can’t stress how much I loved how thin the thin crust is.  However, returning to the restaurant is a different matter altogether.  The flies constantly buzzing around our food was one source of vexation, but the second was the level of service.  Here, at Without Papers, I did not experience the same level of hospitality as I expected to be accorded at a restaurant.

Unfortunately, this place is not wheelchair accessible since it’s at the top of some fairly steep stairs.  Carmen had mentioned that she had ordered in from here several times, so for those who want to enjoy this from the comforts of their home, that’s an option available.

Based on my experience, I would rate this restaurant a 3.5/5.  The score is high because of the quality of its food, but also low because of the quality of its service.

Restaurant Interior

Restaurant Interior

Parma

Parma with Mushrooms

Margherita

Margherita

 

Restaurant Review: Pampa

Location: 521 10 AVE SW Calgary
Website: http://pampasteakhouse.com/calgary/

This was my first time going to a Brazilian Steakhouse, and I have to say, I will definitely be coming around more often.  While it is amazing it is also very pricy, so I’m really glad that one of our cousins, Tanna, had the sense to purchase a groupon for the event.  While this place does have a salad bar (for all the sides you might want to go with your meat), Tanna has the right idea grabbing just the cheese bread (pão de queijo) and a smallish bowl of soup.  Since it was Sandra, Cynthia, Val, and my first time here, we got a little more from the salad bar than was probably recommended which we would all regret later.

For those who haven’t been to a Brazilian Steakhouse, it’s essentially servers walking around with giant skewers of meat to which you can have as much as you want.  They will stop once they see you flip your card from green (yes, please) to red (no, thank you).

We started off with drinks.  Sandra, Cynthia, and Tanna didn’t order any drinks, Val had the Brazilian Lemonade and I had the Brazilian Shirley Temple.  The Lemonade consisted of lime juice blended with condensed milk, topped with ice and the Shirley Temple used guaraná, (an Amazonian berry) orange juice, and grenadine.

On this evening they had their usual ten meat skewers:

Beef Top Sirloin
Beef Rumpsteak
Beef Garlic Steak
Chimichurri-Basted Beef Tri-Tip
Pampa Pork Sausage
Parmesan Pork Loin
Rosemary-marinated Pork Shoulder
Bacon-wrapped Chicken Thighs
Marinated Chicken Drumsticks
New Zealand Leg of Lamb

As well as four seasonal ones:

Coconut-Lime Shrimp
Slow-roasted Beef Ribs
Caramelized BBQ Pineapple
Marinated Chicken Hearts

I didn’t try the marinated chicken hearts because I’m not usually one for offals and I did try a little bit of the leg of lamb.  The gamey taste of the lamb was very mild, but it still wasn’t really for me.  Of the ones I did try, the bacon-wrapped chicken thighs, parmesan pork loin, Pampa pork sausage and chimichurri-based beef tri-tip were my least favourite.  The bacon was soggy and limp, the pork loin was dry, the sausage was nothing special and the chimichurri, which amazingly tender, was way over salted and the texture was more like a stewed beef (which is nice, but also not my favourite preparation of beef).

Some of the other beef dishes were also quite salty, but I had expected as much.  The deliciousness of the cut made up for the over salting.

I will say, that this place is not for the faint of heart.  There is a lot of food and it’s very easy to overeat and go into a food coma.  Especially since the groupon comes with dessert.  For dessert we got a passionfruit mousse, a chocolate mousse, a coconut flan, and a orange roulade.  The mousses were served on top of a pao-de-lo cake/sponge, which absorbed the compotes and made them soggy.  I felt as though there was a little too much liquid on the plate from the compotes and that the mousses themselves were amazing and would have been even more amazing if the sponge had not been drenched with sauce.  The coconut flan was the most ordinary dessert we had.  It’s flavour was very light and delicate, making it very easily overpowered by the tastes of the other, more decadent desserts.  The orange roulade was my least favourite.  I had expected an appetizing orange flavour that would aid in the digestion of my dinner (as Chinese often have orange peel in their desserts as a digestive), but that was not the case.  It was fairly dense and sweet and after one bite I essentially gave up on eating it.

As I said, I would definitely return here without question, but not alone and not without a groupon. I would rate this place 4.5/5.

pampa 5

PAMPA!

pampa4

Interior View 1

pampa 3

Interior View 2

pampa 2

Yes, please!

Brazilian Shirley Temple

Brazilian Shirley Temple

Brazilian Lemonade

Brazilian Lemonade

Meat 2

My plate with way too much food (and a piece of Chimichurri-Basted Beef Tri-Tip in the corner

chicken

Chicken Drumstick

Pampa 1

Beef Top Sirloin and Garlic Beef

pineapple

Pineapple and Sandra

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