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Posts tagged ‘Restaurant Review’

Restaurant Review: Phoenix Kitchen + Lounge

Website: https://www.phoenixkitchen.ca/
Location: 140 – 8060 Silver Springs Blvd NW

I feel like more and more my parents are becoming okay with me pulling my phone out and taking pictures of the food, so hopefully this means that there’ll be more reviews on Chinese restaurants to come.

Meals with my parents are usually more impromptu and I can never prepare or plan for such an outing. I found out this morning as I was crawling out of bed that we were going out for dim sum. I love dim sum because they, like tapas and sushi, are small plates that allow me to try a huge variety of dishes. It’s a little bit sad and a little funny that its food that is what gets me out of bed in the morning.

I was worried that it would be extremely crowded and that we wouldn’t be able to find parking anywhere close as most Chinese people go for dim sum on weekend mornings (literally, every occasion is an occasion to eat) and as it was almost noon, places would have started filling up as I had been getting out of bed. I was terrified to find out what the situation was like when we finally got out the door and to the restaurant.

When we arrived at the restaurant, we were surprisingly able to find a relatively close parking spot. A peek into the restaurant showed the place to be packed and when we stepped inside, we only found that one or two parties were waiting for a seat. Funnily enough, we were seated right away, while the other party or parties were given a number. They were understandably annoyed because I definitely would have been. However, I was happy that we didn’t have to wait long because I was starving and starting to get hangry.

With the restaurant as busy as it was and typical of Chinese restaurants, servers were rushing back and forth trying to clear tables as quickly as they could so that they could seat more patrons. The main issue I usually have with Chinese restaurants is that it’s really hard to get the server’s attention at any given time. We ended up ordering the tea at nearly the same time we put in our order.

We ordered ten dishes between the four of us: pea shoots with garlic, har gow, siu mai, chicken feet in a black bean sauce, beef tripe with onion and ginger, fried shrimp dumplings, bean curd wrapped steamed pork roll in soup, fried chicken bun, beef brisket rice crepe, and turnip (daikon) cakes in XO sauce.

Many of the things we ordered have become our dim sum staples, but today, we had a twist on one of the classics we ordered: the beef brisket rice crepe. Normally, when we order the rice crepe, it comes with shrimp, and sometimes chive, with soy sauce. This dish, with the beef brisket comes in a pot with Shanghai Bok Choy topped with the rice crepe and beef brisket. I’m pretty sure that beef brisket is my dad’s favourite thing. When we eat out at a Chinese restaurant, we can’t get by without at least ordering something with beef brisket in it. Even when we go have Vietnamese food, my dad finds the pho that has beef brisket in it to order (when he’s not ordering the broken rice, that is). So it doesn’t even surprise me that he found a place or a way to fit beef brisket into our dim sum routine. Well, that and he seems to think that there are too many items with shrimp in them and that every dish we order shouldn’t all have shrimp in them. While I agree that variety is the spice of life, I love shrimp and when it comes to dim sum, I do not mind having shrimp in every dish. Which brings me to the point that because shrimp features in pretty much every dish, it makes things difficult for those with an allergy to shrimp to have dim sum.

Our first dish was the fried shrimp dumplings with salad sauce. Whenever you see salad sauce listed on a Chinese menu, it’s not salad dressing, it’s mayonnaise, but not the egg based creamy one, the tangier one. Sometimes the salad sauce/mayo will have canned fruits mixed in when it’s being used as a dip for fried shrimp dumplings. A variation of this that is my all time favourite is the shrimp wrapped in bean curd and deep fried, served with Worcestershire sauce. I liked that these dumplings used thin wonton wrappers rather than egg roll wrappers because it provided a more delicate and crunchy exterior that didn’t leave me feeling like I had just eaten a crunchy oil soaked sponge. As much as I like the creamy, tangy salad sauce on my dumplings, I opted not to use it this time because my dad can get really judgy at times when I do, so I used the hot sauce instead. This hot sauce was a lot waterier than the usual dim sum hot sauce and a lot more sour, leading me to think that it may have been diluted with a water-vinegar mixture, but that’s just a guess. It may very well have been a completely different brand of hot sauce.

The next two dishes that hit the table were the turnip cake with XO sauce and the pea shoots. This restaurant chose not to cut the turnip into bite sized pieces as most other restaurants did and there were fewer onions and red peppers, which was both good and bad. The good was that it was more turnip cake, which is what we ordered, but the bad was I enjoy the onions and red peppers in the XO sauce because I feel like they help to enhance the flavour of the dish overall. The amount of pea shoots at this restaurant compared to Bobby Chao seems like there are a lot more shoots, but unlikely Bobby Chao, this place clearly does not pick out the old (the Chinese way of describing it), woody/fibrous ones. Flavour wise, Bobby Chao’s preparation of the pea shoots with garlic is much tastier.

The turnip cake and pea shoots were followed by the har gow and the beef tripe. Aesthetically, the har gow looked very nice with that extra mini har gow in the middle, almost like a flower (if you turned the dumplings the other way. The dumpling wrapper was well made; there was a bit of elasticity in the wrapper, which is what you should look for. It should never be so soft that the wrapper breaks when you try to pick the dumpling up. The filling is the same as the ones in the fried shrimp dumpling and the same as all dim sum items that require the shrimp “paste” (not to be confused with actual shrimp paste which has a very pungent flavour and smell). The filling is standard for dim sum, which is to say, it was well made. You don’t typically find a spectacular filling as they are all made in the same way pretty much, but there are times you will come across bad ones which are either too finely chopped or grounded that it turns into almost meatball consistency or the shrimp used is not fresh and you can taste that its going. In contrast, the beef tripe was a giant mess. It was not very well plated and the tripe was falling out of the bowl that held it. Furthermore, the beef tripe was way overcooked (over steamed) and became soft, which is not a good texture for tripe; it should always have a bit of a bite to it.

The next to come was the beef brisket rice crepe, which I’ve touched on earlier. The beef was well stewed, it wasn’t chewy, but it wasn’t exactly melt in your mouth either. Usually my problem with brisket is that it comes apart in strands and those strands tend to lodge themselves between my teeth, which is fantastically annoying. This dish wasn’t overcooked as the rice crepes were still able to maintain their integrity.

The siu mai and fried chicken buns followed the brisket. When topping siu mai with tobiko, it must be the last ingredient added to the dish before serving. While the restaurant may have done that, I suspect when they put on the lid and brought it to the table, the heat of the dumplings within the enclosed area inadvertently steamed the eggs, cooking them. There’s nothing really wrong with cooked fish eggs except that they lose a lot of their crunch and they become milky coloured, which is aesthetically unappealing to me. Other than that, the siu mai were pretty good. The pork didn’t have a strange pork flavour. I know that sounds weird and it might just be a Chinese thing or my family thing, but its a taste I can’t really describe, but everyone in my family knows exactly what that strange flavour is like. It can almost be likened to oil going rancid. In the pork it wouldn’t be super noticeable, but it does affect the overall taste and enjoyment of the siu mai its used in. The fried chicken buns are another thing my dad loves. I really don’t get why because they really aren’t anything special and fried buns are obviously oilier than steamed ones. For those who haven’t had these, it’s essentially just a chicken bun that has been steamed and then pan-fried. The filing is very similar to ones found in dumplings, and the filling is wrapped in a lot of dough.

Next came the bean curd wrapped steamed pork roll. Usually this is a very simple dish with some sliced onion and ginger in a clear broth, but this place has so much more. I’m not sure if I like having carrots, wood ear mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, white mushrooms, carrots, water chestnuts, and pea shoots in there, but they don’t detract from the dish either. In fact, I’d say they are very complementary and if they wanted to, they could make this into a separate larger dish with noodles and it would be delicious. I will say that the soup is a little cloudier, but it is much more complex in its taste and the depth of flavour was actually really nice. Unfortunately, this one was also overcooked as the roll practically fell apart, which made it really hard to pick up and eat.

The final dish I nearly forgot about because it came so late that I was practically full. I had learned from a very early age how to eat chicken feet. To people who haven’t eaten chicken feet before, it may seem very daunting, but it’s really easy. I think because of Chinese food and the way things are prepared, mostly whole fish and a lot of things with bones, I learned very early on how to navigate eating things like this. It has given me a lot of dexterity to pick out pieces of bone out of food so I’m not super worried about eating fish with bones in them or biting off a piece of meat with bones in it because I’m confident in my ability to pick it out. The easiest way I’ve found to eat chicken feet is to bite it off at each joint individually and then “unwrap and roll” the skin off before discarding that joint. Pretty much just repeat until the whole thing is gone. Describing the process, I realize that this may sound kinda gross, but if we choose to avoid eating something that sounds or looks gross, we’ll never get to experience foods from other cultures and maybe never learn that we actually enjoy eating that food or those flavours. I know that I can be picky at times, but I truly believe that giving everything a chance, at least once, is the right approach.

At the last minute, my dad had added egg tarts, but due to their popularity, the restaurant didn’t have these so we will have to come back to give them a try in the future.

I feel like I have to rate Chinese restaurants differently than other restaurants I go to because so many times I have to take an aggressive stance just to get the servers’ attention and that’s not really my style. Every time I walk into a Chinese restaurant, I feel like I’m going into battle and that’s not how I like to enjoy my food. Everyone is just running around and its utter chaos at the best of times. Usually they are short with you because they’re doing a hundred billion things at once and don’t have time for small talk or even checking in with you.

Overall, the food was not terrible, but it wasn’t the best I’ve had either. Despite that, as I mentioned, I am not opposed to returning to this restaurant, if only to try their desserts (egg tarts and egg yolk custard buns, if they have them). Based on today’s experience, I’d have to give this place a 2.75/5.

Restaurant Interior
Fried Shrimp Dumplings
Left: Turnip Cakes in XO sauce
Right: Pea Shoots with Garlic
Left: Har Gow
Right: Beef Tripe with Onion and Ginger
Beef Brisket with Rice Crepe
Front: Siu Mai Back: Fried Chicken Buns
Bean Curd Wrapped Steamed Pork Roll in Soup
Chicken Feet in Black Bean Sauce
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Restaurant Review: Teatro Ristorante

Website: https://teatro.ca/
Location: 200 8 Ave SE

I have wanted to try this restaurant out since the first time I got into food. This restaurant is owned by the Teatro Group which is responsible for amazing restaurants, eateries, cafes and so on such as Vendome, EAT, Cucina, and Al Forno, just to name a few (I’ve been to all of these places). I’ve had pretty good experiences at all of these places, with the exception of a couple things at Al Forno that I found to be too greasy. We had gone there when it first opened so they may have still been ironing out a few kinks, so I wouldn’t be opposed to going back. Besides, Al Forno is known for its fantastic, house made bread which I’ve had before (or at least I think I’ve had), so if they make focaccia that amazing, they can’t be all bad right?

We came here for Teatro’s happy hour, which is essentially just the appetizer and salad sections of their menu, at 50% off. Walking in here can be intimidating and it’s so hard for me not to adopt airs walking into a place like this, but given the way I was dressed…well, we’ll just leave it at that. I mean, it wasn’t terrible because I had just come from work so I was dressed moderately appropriately, but I felt that my shoulder bag was out of place for somewhere like Teatro.

Walking in, this has got to be the most grand restaurant I’ve ever walked into, apart from Bank and Baron. However, the atmosphere is completely different from Bank and Baron. Teatro is high class; there is no doubt about that. I’m drawn to historical building such as these and it was hard not to stare at everything in awe. This is the level of luxury I hope to achieve one day in my life.

Carmen had already been seated when I walked in and there was no time for me to even take in the place when I was greeted. Immediately, the waiter offered to take my jacket and showed me to my table where Carmen was waiting. We took some time to peruse the menu and while their food menu is reasonably small, their wine menu is not. It’s not surprising in a place like this to have a 40 page wine menu, but at the same time, I’ve never been to a restaurant with a 40 page wine menu.

After some time, we decided to each get our own appetizers. Both of us chose the calamari. I decided to have a Caprese Salad and Carmen went with the Caesar. Probably because I had good company and we had so much to talk about and catch up on, it didn’t feel like the wait was all that long. The presentation of the dishes were beautiful. I loved the contrast of the colours of the tomatoes in the Caprese salad, and was incredibly impressed by the fact it was fresh buffalo mozzarella on the plate rather than boccoccini or just fresh mozzarella made from cow’s milk. The addition of the fleur de sel on the mozzarella gave the dish the slight hit of sodium it needed and the surprisingly, fresh ground pepper elevated the dish to another level. The squid ink crisp provided an interesting focal point on the calamari dish for an otherwise monotonous plate. It seemed like the breading on the calamari was lighter than most places I had been to, but the lemon aioli was a little lost in everything. Especially when comparing it to the lemon-caper aioli from Escobar, this one didn’t quite measure up. The Caesar was interesting to me because they had actually left the romaine lettuce leaves whole, but you could tell they were the best ones, at the centre of the heart of the romaine. What is interesting about this Caesar is that they chose to use guanciale rather than bacon or pancetta and that there were whole anchovies on the plate. I know that there are anchovies in Caesar dressing, but I’ve never had the whole fish feature in my Caesar. The other interesting thing was the soft boiled egg. Typically, I don’t think of Caesars as having an egg, but the creaminess of the egg yolk functioned like additional dressing, enhancing the dish. The bright yellow-orange of the yolk provided the Caesar with that much needed colour pop. However, from my vantage point the egg appeared to be more medium than soft.

Due to a slight mix up, we were seated at a table that had been reserved for a larger party, so as a result, we had to move to the bar. For the inconvenience, the restaurant decided not to charge us for dessert. For dessert I chose to go with the traditional route, tiramisu, while Carmen had difficulty choosing between the tiramisu, bomboloni, cannoli, and the s’more. I totally don’t blame her because all of them were so unique that I will have to go back simply to try all the desserts. Eventually she settled on the Ricotta Bomboloni. While bomboloni are traditional Italian doughnuts that are vaguely reminiscent of timbits, Teatro took the classic and put a twist on it by serving it with a cheddar gelato, roasted apple, and a caramel tuile.

While there were times that the servers intimidated me, it was not simply because of the type of place we were in, but because I wasn’t used to that level of promptness in service. I was completely impressed by how they all went above and beyond what I had felt to be standard service (by the end of the meal, we had gone through at least 3 servers, but there was continuity between all of them). As Carmen has allergies and many sensitivities, they like Escobar were very cognizant and asked all the necessary questions to ensure we would have a great experience there and we did. I would 100% return here and go for a full experience (appetizer, salad, soup, main, dessert). Of course the bill would come out to be quite hefty, but I think it was definitely worth it.

This place has got to be one of the best restaurants I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating at. Based on my experience, I would give this restaurant a 4.7/5.

Teatro Interior
Teatro Interior
Teatro Ceiling
Teatro Interior (view from the bar)
Back: Caesar Salad Left: Calamari Front: Caprese Salad
Ricotta Bomboloni
Tiramisu

Restaurant Review: Phoenix Gate

Location: 171, 1518 Centre Street NE

So many restaurants have been located here over the years. The two I can remember most vividly is Tropika, a Malaysian restaurant where we got spicy food for like the first time in my life and I nearly died and a really good Chinese restaurant for dim sum, the name of which has since slipped from my mind.

This restaurant is located at the base of the Madison apartment building, a place my grandma used to live and where I used to go for driving school. Located across from it is the “headquarters” of The Chinese Academy, which was the school I used to go to on weekends (Chinese School).

When we arrived, there were only about 4-5 tables of diners. It took a while before we were noticed and seated. It didn’t take long for my parents (dad) to decide what to have; we went with the $100 set course meal that included a three course Peking Duck.

So, of course, because we ordered the Peking Duck, the first dish to arrive was the soup. However, it was different from the typical tofu, siu choy, duck, and soy milk based soup that comes with Peking Duck. This did have duck in it, but it was a thicker broth with julienned bamboo shoots and wood ear mushrooms. I prefer this soup over the traditional soup because it’s much heartier. Interesting fact, this soup is thickened with tapioca flour.

The next course was the Peking Duck with the scallions, cucumber, hoisin sauce, and pancakes. These are the thinnest pancakes I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying, but because of that, they are oilier (so the pancakes don’t stick). My sister thinks that that’s the normal amount of oil found between the pancakes at most restaurants, and she might be right, but I felt these ones had more oil. The seasoning on the duck was good; the marination went beyond just the skin, making the meat also very flavourful. I like when they slice the scallions into small strips, it makes it easier to incorporate into the wrap, as well as not biting into part of the giant piece and pulling the entire thing out of the wrap because you can’t bite through it. This is the first time there were more wrappers than filling.

The next dish was supposed to be crab, but my dad was saying that crab was more expensive than lobster, which is what they gave us instead. I didn’t mind though because I prefer lobster over crab anyways because of the slightly chewy texture lobster has. I never know what the sauce is, but it has onions, corn starch, and ginger among its ingredients, but it’s one of my favourite sauces for lobster, especially when it’s served over crispy noodles. This is the first time we’ve ever finished this dish without packing home the messier pieces. I think after the Peking Duck, I was at the point where I was like I don’t care how messy this gets, I’m already past that point.

Normally when we order Peking Duck, it’s a given that things are going to get messy, so it’s not unreasonable to be requesting more napkins. We asked for napkins three times and they never ended up bringing us any. My napkin became torn in several places and was beginning to come off all over my hands so I balled it up and tossed it. My dad ended up sharing half of his napkin with me and my sister stole another napkin from the adjacent table to share with me and my mom (I’m clearly just a very messy child, haha).

After the lobster came the fried grouper. We probably should have started on that sooner than we did because when it first came out, it was a lot crispier and we could have eaten more of the bones. There will always be a few bones that don’t fully crisp up, but they wouldn’t have gone as chewy as they did and made it as hard as it was to eat. This is probably one of my favourite ways of eating fish because I really like foods with a crunchy texture. However, the inside of the fish was perfectly cooked and deliciously moist.

The penultimate dish was beef with bok choy, which was interesting to say the least. I’m sure beef can be paired with any vegetable, but having seen it being paired with gai lan for so long, this just seems an odd choice. The same can be said about the bok choy, but I’m more used to bok choy being paired with shitake mushroom caps and enoki mushrooms. This dish just seemed to be a little disparate.

The final dish was duck in udon noodles. The udon noodles, as my sister pointed out are the kinds kept in a vacuum sealed plastic bag filled with liquid preservative that has a distinctly sour taste. Though it was clear that the noodles had been rinsed, the acidic flavour of the preservatives have leached into them, leaving a subtle aftertaste that was not altogether unpleasant or pleasant.

There was also a dessert, described as “daily dessert” on the menu, but we all know that means some kind of sweet soup, the most common being red bean (because it’s one of the cheapest ingredients). It was decent, but not the best I’ve had.

We pretty much ate everything and there wasn’t much to pack home. Considering the price and how much we normally spend when we go out for dinner as a family, we usually have twice as much packed away.

Near the end of the meal, pictures were getting hard to take because my hands/fingers were covered in oil, hoisin sauce, lobster, grouper, etc., so I do apologize if the quality of the photos suffered because of it.

Overall, the meal was pretty decent. By the time we were mid-way through the meal, the restaurant got very busy. Service wasn’t spectacular, even for a Chinese restaurant, where I don’t expect very much, it wasn’t very good. I’m not sure I’ll be coming back here.

Based on this experience, I’d give it a 2/5.

Restaurant Interior
Duck Soup with Bamboo Shoots and Wood Ear Mushrooms
Peking Duck
Peking Duck, ready to roll
Lobster
Fried Grouper
Beef Bok Choy
Duck Udon
Red Bean Soup

Restaurant Review: Pure Contemporary Vietnamese Kitchen and Bar

Location: 815 8 Avenue SW
Website: https://www.purecontemporaryvietnamese.com/

Pure Contemporary Vietnamese Kitchen and Bar or Pure CVKB was first introduced to me by my sister. I had been eying the place ever since and tonight I got to try this place out with my coworker and friend, Taylor.

Our first impression of the place was amazement. We both really loved the ultra modern aesthetic of the place. Of course, we had both looked at the menu numerous times before we came here and I was pleasantly surprised to see that they offered vegetarian options on their menu. This was in fact one of the conditions as Taylor is a vegetarian (okay, technically pescatarian, but vegetarian when possible). We had actually been debating whether we should come here or go to Tamarind (not to be confused with Tamarind the Indian food restaurant in the Panorama area, which is also excellent, but I haven’t had a chance to dine in, I’ve only ever gotten take out and I only write reviews on in restaurant experience of the food) as Tamarind offered a completely vegetarian and vegan menu. However, we ended up settling on Pure CVKB because it was closer (not by much, but it was kinda cold and we’re both kinda lazy).

The menu at the restaurant is different from the menu online in that the menu online is for SkipTheDishes, so some of the things they offer for dine in don’t do well for delivery and as such, have been removed from that menu. The ones that will hold up are on both menus. What caught my eye first, when I opened the menu, was the “small plates” heading. I’m a sucker for the tapas style or sharing small, appetizer sized bites because I want to try everything and tapas sized dishes allow me to do that. That’s the same reason why I love dim sum and Sushi Boat. After much hemming and hawing, we both ended up ordering the items we had initially picked before we set food in the restaurant. Taylor ordered the Vegetarian Vermicelli and I had the Grilled Ultimeat Feast. Now, I don’t know if that is just a play on how much meat this dish came with or if they spelled “ultimate” wrong. Either way, there was a lot of meat, but not to the point that I couldn’t finish it or felt sick eating it. All vermicelli dishes contained scallion confit, cucumber, carrots, herbs, and peanuts. The Vegetarian Vermicelli had a vegetarian spring roll (cabbage, mung bean, carrot, and mushroom), fried tofu, bean sprouts, and a sauce (wasn’t sure what kind it was as it wasn’t the usual nuoc mam, but a darker, soy sauce like sauce). The Grilled Ultimeat Feast contained beef, shrimp, chicken, and a spring roll in addition to the above ingredients that all vermicelli dishes contain and came with a nuoc mam sauce. I really liked that the cucumber and carrots were sliced to look like noodles (long and string-like) because it mixed well with the vermicelli allowing an equal distribution of carrot, cucumber, sauce and noodle in each chopstick full.

This place definitely elevates the basic comfort of Vietnamese food to a fine dining level, which should be expected as it is in downtown. I appreciate that it has catered its approach and decor towards such clientele. As some of you may know, depending on what kind of restaurant I’m in, my mannerisms change and usually in fine dining places, I kinda turn into a snob. This place is actually a balance between casual and fine dining so it’s a great place to have a get together with friends (and chat for an hour without them trying to kick you out, although that may have been because they weren’t super busy tonight) and I didn’t act like a snob tonight (haha).

Next time I come, I definitely want to give those small plates a try and I definitely want to try the all you can eat wings night (I think Val said that’s Wednesday nights?). Service was great. We were seated promptly (we also happened to be the first people in the restaurant at like 5 PM) and our waitress was attentive throughout the meal. Even after we finished eating and had paid the bill, she came by and offered to top off our waters.

Based on this experience, I would give this place a 4.25/5.

 

Grilled Ultimeat Feast

Restaurant Review: Seanachie

Location: 5909 Signal Hill Centre SW
Website: http://calgarysbestpubs.com/seanachie/

I’d like to start off by saying that Seanachie is part of a chain called Calgary’s Best Pubs which includes Dixon’s (Millrise), Kilkenny (Brentwood), Limericks (on Macleod Trail), and Joyce (Mission), which means that each of these locations have the same specials and share the same menus.

Each day of the week has a different special and we chose to go on Friday, which meant Fish and Chips.  Besides getting the special, Alex and I opted to order the Salt & Pepper Calamari and Pickle Spears.

When I hear “salt and pepper,” I automatically think about the Chinese dish where it’s salt and (chili and bell) pepper, so I was very interested in seeing their take on it.  When the dish came out, it looked like a normal calamari dish, so I guessed that the salt and pepper had already been mixed in the batter, although, that’s what I would normally assume batter is seasoned with, so that wasn’t anything really new or innovative.  The calamari was served with a tzatziki sauce and breaded and fried banana peppers.  I always love red onions, lemon, and banana peppers with my calamari because it provides a strong taste to cut through the heavy, deep fried calamari.  As is often the case with deep fried seafood is that I wish that there was one more lemon wedge to squeeze over the calamari because I could barely detect the lemon.  The Pickle Spears was more of a last minute craving.  The cider dill dip that accompanied the deep/flash fried pickle spears has got to be one of my favourite dips I’ve had to date.  It has all the creaminess I love in the dill dip from State & Main, but the cider makes the dip thinner and a little bit more ranch like in its consistency, but gives the dip some much needed acidity.  However, it isn’t overly sour (like a punch in the mouth), which is perfect for me since I do like a little bit of acidity, but I’m not at the level of eating a lemon.

The fish and chips was a little disappointing.  For starters, it looked a little sad all alone on the skewer (the two piece fish and chips looked a little less sad, but then it would have been too much food and I wouldn’t have been able to finish the fish. I was already struggling and I didn’t even finish my fries, which were also disappointing).  Again, there wasn’t enough lemon so I resorted to dumping way too much malt vinegar on my fish.  The acidity was fine, but even with the copious amount of vinegar I added, the batter still felt thick and greasy and I ended up removing it and just picking the fish out.  Of the fries I did have, the crunchy ones (naturally) were my favourite.  The tartar sauce was really good, but after so much deep fried food, I had to lay off on putting too much on my fish.  I usually dip my fries into the tartar sauce, but the rich on rich on rich from appetizer to entree was just too much and I ended up just dipping the fries in ketchup and unfortunately the remainder of the tartar sauce went to waste.  The “creamy coleslaw” was also super sad and somewhat of a disaster.  It definitely wasn’t creamy, but it wasn’t like the acidic coleslaw either.  It was something in between and really weird to me.  Hands down, Olly Fresco has some of the best non-restaurant coleslaw I’ve had.  The best restaurant coleslaw still has to be Tony Roma.

Overall, the appetizers were average, what you’d expect for pub food.  I was really craving deep fried pickles, so those felt like they were exceptionally good.  The entree didn’t really measure up.  But despite all that, I would be willing to give this chain another go.  I definitely want to try out their steak sandwich and their shrimp po’boy.

Service is what you’d expect from a pub.  The wait staff are a little more hands off, which allows patrons to chat a little more.  So obviously, don’t come here expecting to be in and out super fast (except maybe lunch service?), but they’re not super slow either.  In other words, I think that we had a good amount of attention from our waitress.

Based on this experience, I’d give this place a 2.25/5.

IMG_2452

Seanachie Interior

IMG_2453

Back: Pickle Spears; Front: Salt & Pepper Calamari

IMG_2454

One Piece Fish and Chips

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

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

 

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