March is always an exciting month for restauranteurs and food lovers in Calgary. It’s the month where Avenue Magazine celebrates our food community and hands out their annual Restaurant Awards. Like last year, I was excited and honoured to be on the judging panel with some of Calgary’s top culinary folks.
With all of the restaurants we have popping up lately, next year it’s going to be even more difficult to decide who takes the top spot in the various categories we argue over in a small room. Picture a heated Law and Order courtroom debate. Yes, it is that intense – ok, maybe not that intense.
In addition to the many categories we deliberated on, all contributors had the opportunity to put together some ‘Top 10′ lists to go along with the 10th anniversary of this particular issue. (You can check out all category winners and other content here)
A couple of the lists I wrote up were on food trends in Calgary. Food trends that I thought should be on their way out and trends that I’m happy are happening around town. Obviously, just like dining out, some things come down to a matter of taste. So, take a look at each of these lists. I’m curious to know if you agree or disagree with me.
Ten Calgary Food Trends We Wish Would Go Away
For example, I think ridiculously flavoured vodkas like this need to hit the road. What do you think? James Bond would be so unimpressed!
On the flip side of things, I love a good cocktail and am so happy to see cocktail culture gaining momentum in Calgary.
So, what do you think?
Check out the great places I featured in my Lunch Rush column this past month!
Sushi is always a reliably quick lunch. Although, it’s hard to find really, really great sushi during a quick in and out business lunch. Regardless, sometimes, you just need that unagi fix, you know?
At Sushi Ichiban, I ordered the Tempura Udon for lunch ($8.50). The soup (udon) itself was fairly average and a little bit on the saltier side, but I appreciated the amount of tempura vegetables the restaurant served with the dish.
For under $9, that is one heck of a deal.
I am almost ashamed to say that I have never been to Montreal. Also, I am equally ashamed that I have never tried a Montreal Smoked Meat sandwich before. What is wrong with me? This week, I decided that this had to change.
I weighed my options. It was between flying out to Montreal to try the sandwich staple, or just finding one in Calgary and saving $700. Stay here it was!
Myhre’s Deli is located in a little strip of shops just a couple blocks north of 17th Ave. I stayed traditional with my choice and went with The Montreal Classic ($9). It was a sandwich that was loaded with smoked meat, lettuce, tomato, onion and mayo.
A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to attend an amazing collaborative dinner at Rouge courtesy of the Visa Infinite Dining Series. This culinary experience takes place all across Canada (you can check out upcoming dinners in Vancouver, Montreal and Cambridge here), so it’s always a treat when a Calgary restaurant is able to host one.
Last month, I was invited to a (seven course) brunch at River Cafe. Known for it’s locally focused menu, this is a place where the subtle details and every ingredient on the plate really counts. The brunch was hosted by local food critic, John Gilchrist and, man, that guy is hilarious! Well, I already knew that, but he was really on this particular morning. The humorous highlight for myself, personally, was when he informed the room that spot prawns are actually hermaphrodites. Seriously, who knew?
Well…enough with sexual ambiguity of shrimp. Let’s get to the food! River Cafe’s executive chef Andrew Winfield created a brunch that was nothing short of amazing.
After the initial canapés, oysters and champagne finished flowing around the room, everyone took their seats. We were welcomed with Lois Lake Steelhead Trout Lox. Served with smoked chèvre, blood orange and caviar this fresh little salad was almost too pretty to eat. Of course, I ate it anyway!
Next up, (the aforementioned hermaphrodite) Spot Prawn served on grilled brioche, leek, brassica mustard and a house made chorizo sausage (sausage kind of hidden in the back there). The sweet brioche and the smoothness of the leeks helped to balance out the spicy chorizo.
After having a string of steak-related dreams, I woke up in a bit of a panic. The first evening of my steak adventure had been nothing short of amazing (and filling), but today our group would be stopping by three different restaurants…all in one night.
The panic finally subsided when I came to terms with the fact that the evening’s trio of steak offerings would most likely be delicious. I’ve come to learn that ‘deliciousness’ is the cure for most things, especially panic attacks.
My heart beat slowed down just in time to enter Charcut in a composed, suave manner. I had been here before, many times…perhaps even weekly for Top Chef Canada screenings in the summer of 2011 (note: ‘perhaps’ = I was there every week). Instead of starting off the night by enjoying a cocktail or two (or three) in the restaurant, we were ushered upstairs into their prep kitchen and before we knew it, we were experiencing a blood sausage tutorial.
Now, I do not enjoy blood sausage at the best of times, so this ‘how-to’ experience was a bit hard to swallow for me. After copious amounts of blood were mixed with bread and spices and then put into casing, we watched Connie Desousa trim and portion some bison heart steaks. I had tried beef heart at their pop-up restaurant, CharPOP, in January, so was eager to taste the bison.
The heart steak arrived, medium rare, topped with crispy matchsticks and Charcut’s signature chimmichurri sauce drizzled on top. To make sure the table would leave nice and full, there were sides of duck fat poutine for all! Eating heart is basically like eating a fine grain steak. Once it’s trimmed, marinated and grilled, it’s amazingly delicious. The heart is on Charcut’s current menu, so I highly recommend swinging by for taste. I’ll even foot the bill if you’re not impressed!
Then, out came the blood sausage (picture at end of post). Flavour-wise, it was fantastic, but, this is a personal thing, I can not get over the texture of blood sausage. Though, like a true foodie trooper, I had three whole bites without fainting!
After politely declining the offer to pack up my blood sausage to eat later as a midnight snack, we headed over to Rouge for four beefy courses…Ugh, I am getting full again just recounting this…
Here, executive chef Michael Dekker offered us some non-traditional dishes like thinly sliced beef in elk broth, a take on ‘shabu shabu’, lamb sirloin with a foie gras and bone marrow spring roll and a beef tartar, amoung other things.
Our table was hosted by Rouge owner and chef, Paul Rogalski, who is always so enigmatic. He introduced each of the courses to us with descriptions just as appetizing as what was on the plate in front of me. We finished up our steak tasting here with a sweet honeycomb macaroon, then left for our final destination of the evening, Raw Bar in Hotel Arts.
Upon entering the hotel, we were warmly greeted by Shelley Long (no photo evidence, but not joking) before heading into Raw Bar. Sadly, she did not join us for dinner. Here we started with one of the bar’s signature cocktails, an Apple Cart Daisy which sounds like it’s just for ladies, but it packed an apple-y punch.
Now, I don’t want to say that this steak tour had saved the best for last, but Raw Bar’s chef, Duncan Ly, prepared us one (thankfully just one!) amazing plate of food. A very tender beef tenderloin with topped with pulled short rib and an herb crust.
An accompaniment of snow peas and coconut sweet potato puree graced the plate as well. The potatoes were sweet and smooth. Definitely my favourite potato side of our entire two day adventure.
Isn’t she lovely?
And that folks, is how you enjoy copious amounts of meat in only two days. I may have not eaten for a couple days after the fact, but was very thankful for the experience. As with anything, when you live somewhere, you always take for granted the things that make your city great.Yes, Calgary may be a ‘meat and potatoes’ kind of a city, but, when you have restaurants serving up food this, I have no problem stamping ‘I’m a meat and potatoes kinda guy’ on my forehead!
Here’s a few more photos from the evening…
Blood sausage with a fried egg from Charcut.
Myself almost fainting during our blood sausage session.
Tartar starter at Rouge.
‘Shabu Shabu’-esque dish with elk broth at Rouge.
I’ll admit it. When I first moved to Calgary six years ago, I thought this city was simply a meat and potatoes, oil and gas kind of a city. So, now, here we are. It’s 2012, Calgary is the cultural capital of Canada, the stampede is celebrating its 100th anniversary and I’ve turned into a cowboy. Ok, maybe one of those things aren’t true, but I definitely have come to appreciate my steak (and potatoes).
Actually, I love a good steak. Hell, I’d probably date a steak if it was legal (one day…), so you can imagine my excitement when Tourism Calgary invited myself and a few other Albertan food enthusiasts to experience some delicious steak-centric offerings around the city. To be more specific, five restaurants would dish out their ‘new take on steak’ to us over the course of two evenings. I’m not good at math, but I knew these two nights of eating would definitely equal one full stomach.
Attention Vegetarians: If you haven’t noticed yet, there will be many, many mentions of meat in this dining recollection. I apologize in advance and recommend that you close your eyes.
The beginning of this ‘New Take On Steak’ adventure started at Ox and Angela. Sister restaurant to Una Pizza, this establishment prides itself on a menu focusing on Latin American flavours.
Things started off with a simple bite of their feature pinxtos, a ‘CLT’, which was a skewer of house-made chorizo, cherry tomato and greens.
Inbetween the one bite starter and our servings of steak, we sampled some of their cocktails. Now, I don’t want to label myself as a lush, but I may of already been fairly familiar with their booze-related offerings.
My go-to here is definitely ‘The Ox’, a mix of rum, bitters-infused sugar and white grapes. Well, colour me thirst quenched!
Now, isn’t that a handsome drink?
It wasn’t long before we were presented with their grilled flat iron steak, which was served with a piquillo pepper confit and grilled lemons. On the side, there was a simple aioli for dipping as well as a mojo verde that had a predominant presence of cumin.
In regards to the verde, and somewhat similar to a five year old, I repeatedly asked ‘Is there cumin in this?’ until one of my table mates finally said ‘Yes.’. Also known as ‘Dan, please just eat your god damn dinner!’.
The steak also came with an array of sides like Ox and Angela’s signature ‘patatas bravas’ and ‘braised kale’, which were all delicious, but our dessert stole the show.
Served with a warm chocolate sauce for dipping, these little guys always remind me of being in Disney World as a child, eating a churro chasing after Snow White for a hug. Those were the days…
Once we were done fighting over the last bite of churro, we were whisked away to our second destination of the night. I was on my way to being full, but still had room for what Anju had prepared for us.
Anju is somewhat hidden in the downtown corner of 5th avenue and 10th street SW. Their Korean-fusion tapas offerings are unique and delicious. We had a few starter plates prior to the steak which included oysters with kimchi mignonette and ox tail tortellini, but the show starter/stopper was definitely the crispy tofu.
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, this is one of the best applications of tofu that I have ever experienced. Even tofu nay-sayers will reluctantly agree. This tofu dish strikes the perfect balance between soft, crisp, sweet and savoury. Seriously, this is a tofu dish for meat-lovers. Which reminds me, why are we still talking about tofu? Back to the steak!
We washed the bold flavours back with soju, a Korean liquor that everyone should taste at least once in their lives.
And, thus, ends the first night of my tasty Tourism Calgary ‘New Take On Steak’ experience. This Friday, I’ll be sharing my second evening of steak adventures featuring bison heart, beef tartar and short rib crusted tenderloin. Stay hungry folks.
In the meantime, here are a few more pictures from dining at Ox And Angela and Anju to
drool enjoy looking at…
Patatas Bravas at Ox and Angela. Starchy goodness with just the right touch of lemon.
Ox and Angela’s grilled scallions with romesco sauce.
Ox tail tortellini topped with truffle oil at Anju.
Anju’s fresh oysters with a kimchi mignonette.
Who the hell stole my camera?
Sometimes, I wonder if I was slapped in the face, repeatedly, with the lucky branch when I was younger. That’s the only reasonable explanation I give myself for being invited to certain events. The dinner I had at Rouge this past week was one of those experiences.
Visa Infinite hosts various dining events throughout the year in Calgary. Restaurants and themes always vary (i.e. Top Chef Canada dinner at Charcut, Model Milk’s executive chef, Justin Laboe and Vancouver chef Lee Cooper of Vancouver’s L’Abattoir, etc…), but the quality is always top notch.
On this particular evening, Rouge hosted a collaborative dinner between executive chef Michael Dekker and Jonathan Gushue (executive chef of Langdon Hall in Cambridge, Ontario). With nine course total (if you count the palate cleanser), I knew I was in for a hell of a ride.
Rouge owner, Paul Rogalski, served as the host for the evening, making his way to each table, introducing himself and chatting a bit about the food we were about to experience. The vagueness of the printed menu in front of me left room for curiosity to grow.
Instead of printing the menu with full descriptions like (my imaginative example) ‘Poached Virgin Quail Breast with Blackberry Reindeer Foam and Essence of Gold’, each course was simply listed as it’s main ingredient (i.e. scallops, foie gras, beef, etc…).
When Paul came around to our table, he explained that with each course we’d get to put out our best guess as to what we were eating. So, kind of like a competition, but you get to keep on eating the prize. Needless to say, I was totally down for this.
Now, I won’t list off every single course to you, which even included a cheddar cheese tasting in-between our main dish and dessert (sometimes ‘all you need is cheese‘ before dessert right?), but here are some of the highlights of what we enjoyed during the collaborative dinner at Rouge…
Arctic Char with sea buckthorn berries in nori broth…The nori broth was a safe bet, but my guess fell flat when I thought the char was poached…and, as for the sea buckthorn berries, well now I know what they are!
Foie Gras and Pear Terrine with bee pollen and foie profiterole. I guessed ‘apple’ was the sweetness layered in-between the foie in the terrine. Damn, so close…
Sweetbreads Bratwurst on top of homemade sauerkraut, double smoked bacon and pesto…I guessed ‘kielbasa’! Damn, so close!
Crab Apple beverage with accompanying sorbet…Quite contrary to my guess of ‘Roasted lamb shank consume and pigeon blood sorbet’. Well, you can’t win ‘em all folks!
Finally, the dessert…A white chocolate brownie topped with chocolate and homemade marshmallow, which had a neopolitan kind of layering to it. I think I saw a few people at the table licking the glasses clean, but let’s keep that on the down low.
After the dinner service had concluded, both Chef Dekker and Gushue came by each table to hear any guesses and fill all the attendees in on what they had tasted throughout the evening. Although most of my guesses were not exactly on the mark, I really loved the opportunity to try and utilize my palate to identify each bite instead of having our food, for lack of a better word, spelled out for us on our menu. It also reminded me that, in this massive culinary world, I still have a lot to learn!
In honour of having this amazing dining experience, I want to pay it forward, and spoil a couple people too, by giving away a pair of tickets to Winefest next Saturday, February 25th (worth a total of $150). The Winefest will feature 236 wines from over 57 different wineries! Sounds like a blast, right? I thought so.
To enter to win the pair of tickets, either leave a comment on this post about my dinner at Rouge or share the link to this piece on Twitter, mentioning both Rouge (@rougecal) and Winefest (@winefest). On Monday, February 20th, I’ll randomly choose the winner from all entries!
*Note: You must be of legal drinking age (hopefully that’s obvious), the two tickets are only valid for attendance at Winefest on Saturday, February 25th, from 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. and are non-transferable. The winner must pick up their tickets from will-call at the Winefest event location.
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