Restaurant Review: Anju 2.0

>> Tuesday, September 16, 2014

 
I remember back when I first heard of Anju, a little hidden away restaurant just on the outskirts of downtown. Korean tapas, they said. I was intrigued and couldn’t wait to try it. After just the first outing, I was hooked. Then no before long, I heard that they were closing and I was distraught. Where else was I going to get my Oxtail Tortellini fix? Or Crispy Tofu? Luckily for us, Roy Oh, chef of Anju was out growing their space and was looking for a new location where he can truly showcase his talents. Welcome Anju 2.0. Everybody waited in anticipation. Nobody was disappointed.

Atmosphere: A nice contrast to the original Anju location which had its own unique charm, but this new stylish spot is elegant and larger mirroring the amazing dining selections on their bulked up menu.

Price Range: Mid $10 - $20+


Food & Wine: We had to start off with some of my classic Anju favorites. The Yam Fries with the addicting truffle oil and gochugaru aioli have been one of my favorites since they first opened and I’m glad to see they haven’t changed the recipe, we were so excited they were back we had to get 2 orders. Actually I believe we ordered 2 of all the favorites, the Crispy Tofu, Sunworks Chicken Wings with Gochujang glaze and the Oxtail Tortellini. For those who never tried the Oxtail Tortellini when Anju first opened, make sure not to miss them when you visit their new location. Again the truffle oil is used just perfectly here to highlight all the different notes of the pasta from the melt in your mouth oxtail to the al dente tortellini shell. It is truly one of the best bites in town.

Although I could have more than filled up on the originals, I couldn’t pass up sampling their new items and I’m definitely glad I didn’t. The Green Onion & Seafood Pancake, reminded me of the traditional Taiwanese oyster omelets, the pancakes included prawns, squid, mussels and clams served with a side of chili soy sauce for dipping. Fluffy and gooey, the pancake has just the right amount of seafood distributed throughout that every piece is juicy and just as tasty as the last.


The Mussels & Clams were another winner at our table with the flavours of the shellfish brought forward through the expert use of the black garlic. The broth enhanced the sweetness of both the clams and mussels while the toasted baguette was the perfect vessel to sop up all that deliciousness. Another great option for those looking for something soupy was the Kimchi Ramen made from pork broth featuring pieces of pork belly and kimchi. The noodles were well cooked and the broth well-seasoned, this was a pig lover’s dream dish.

It was intriguing to see Lemongrass Brussels Sprouts on the menu and since we definitely required some greens to accompany our protein heavy meal, the sprouts sounded like a delectable choice. However what we received was beyond expectations. The combination of the Chinese sausage (lap cheong) with the fried brussels sprouts was divine. The hints of fish sauce really blended well with the bitterness of the sprouts. The addition of the walnuts and lime only added to the appeal of this side dish and elevated the lowly brussel sprout.


The other side greens we ordered were equally as tasty. The Artisan Green Salad although sounding simple is anything but. Made with fuji apples, romaine hearts, dried cranberries, almonds and a tangy yuja vinaigrette. The salad was both fresh and light, which really helped break up our meal and refresh our palates for more spicy goodness.

We were extremely full at this point it was hard not to order dessert, especially when one stated that it was for adults only. The Black Sesame Punch, a sophisticated twist on your after dinner nightcap was perfectly balanced, not overly sweet or pungent served with some freshly baked gochujang chocolate cookies, made it more appealing as a dessert. The cookies were soft and chewy with a nice lingering spiciness like a hot Mexican chocolate. Take a bite, sip some punch. Repeat.


To finish we had the Apple Pie made with puff pastry and stuffed filled with roasted apples and topped with caramel ice cream. A stark contrast to the first dessert, this one was reminiscent of a childhood apple pie, warm and gooey. It’s perfect for the whole family or those who enjoy a traditional classic.

There’s a nice selection of various wines, which has increased significantly from their last offerings and I found both the Il Feduccio Cerasuolo Rose and the Rusina Cabernet Sauvignon a nice compliment to the various plates we had. The Rusina was a nice full bodied fruit forward wine that was clean on the palate and well balanced. It held up well against the spicy tanginess of the Korean flavours without overpowering them.

For those interested in cocktails, one not to be missed is their infamous Shin Ramen Ceasar, made with a mix of anju’s secret spices, the outcome tastes just like the ramen noodle cups that I remember savoring as a child. Combine it with a thirst quenching ceasar and what’s not to love?


My Picks: Crispy Tofu, Oxtail Tortellini, Mussels & Clams, Lemongrass Brussels Sprouts

Overall: It was exciting to find out that Anju took over the corner spot of 4th and 17th, a great location that was left empty for far too long. Not only does the new space look amazing, but the dishes are equally so. I couldn’t wait to order my favorites but how quickly I realized that the new dishes have gained my adoration. Welcome back the bigger and bolder Anju!

Anju Restaurant
344 17 Ave SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 460-3341
Website: anju.ca

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Canvas Bistro's Autumn Menu Launch

>> Thursday, September 4, 2014


Now that fall is just around the corner many restaurants are starting to roll out their autumn menus featuring seasonal ingredients. A couple of us were lucky enough to be invited to Canvas to preview their fall menu which officially rolls out this month. Before we started Chef Guru Singh mentioned that the menu at Canvas is meant for sharing and the dinner was laid out to showcase his preferred way of sampling the food – family style.


We were treated a number of different appetizers starting with a light Bocconcini Carrot Salad. When the plate arrived it looked like a painting with splashes of color from the rainbow carrots and beets, accented by the pesto oil and crispy basil on top. Whimsical and inviting the plate really pleased all senses and was a nice play on the traditional Italian bocconcini salad. The frying of the basil really enhanced the aromas of the herb and the dish was a beautiful way to start off our meal.

 
It was hard to miss the aroma of the Risotto when it entered the room. Truffle oil brings elegance to any dish when incorporated perfectly and this was a classic use of the ingredient. Creamy arborio rice cooked with saffron and topped with wild mushrooms and black truffle oil. I do prefer my rice a bit more al dente but aside from that everything was excuted well. I could probably eat this for the rest of the evening.


Our Filet Mignon appetizer was presented in a deconstructed format with the filet resting on top of a phyllo wrapped mushroom pastry and served with a creamy pea puree resembling a beef wellington. It was a creative twist on a classic and in this case it worked out well. It was fun to try some of the meat with and without the pastry elements allowing the guest to choose which they preferred, but in the end everything was devoured.

 
The next two courses were presented at the same time. The Rabbit was braised and served similar to a rillette style with bell peppers and roasted garlic that is meant to be eaten on top of an olive naan crisp. The rabbit itself was extremely well seasoned and I could have easily eaten it all on its own, but the naan was a nice additional making the dish more interactive. The Prawns were accompanied by spinach pulled pork, sundried tomatoes and some charred lemon on the side. My favorite on this dish was the pulled pork, savory and moist, it was sublime.

 
I was nearing capacity at this point due to all the wonderful appetizers and libations, but the entrees were up next and I had to muster up some room to forge on. The Duck Breast was complemented with a hearty seven bean sauce, such as chickpeas, black beans, red beans, kidney beans, black eyed peas and more! The dish tasted like home with the robust sauce reminiscent of a heartwarming chili on a cold winter’s day, a perfect dish for fall!

 
Next came the Seafood course and it sure did make an entrance, served over sizzling hot stones, the basa was wrapped in banana leaves with sweet pears, carrots, coconut milk and lemongrass, a true fusion dish. We were afraid that the hot stones would overcook the fish but that wasn’t the case. The basa was done to perfection. The fragrant spices mixed with the aromas of lemongrass which all got absorbed in to the vegetables making them sweet and juicy, just lovely with the rice that was served on the side. I was quite surprised at how delightful the pears tasted and it was a hit among all guests that evening.
 

At this point, it was tough to not throw in the towel so to speak but we still had the dessert course left. The platter was composed by Brulee Patisserie and consisted of Chocolate Ganache Cups which were dark and decadent, a true chocolate lovers dream. The Walnut Brownie was rich and chewy with a nice textural crunch of the walnuts, the third being a Coconut Lime Cakelet the lightest of the three dessert offerings where the tang of the lime and the milky coconut was a nice compliment to each other.

 
Everything that evening was perfectly executed from the wonderful plating and presentation to the artistic dining room featuring various pieces of artwork from the Gerry Thomas Gallery (including a cozy outdoor patio with fireplace). There is no better name for this restaurant then the one that it already has, a true Canvas for Chef Singh’s creativity.

Canvas Bistro
602 11 Ave SW
Calgary, AB
(587) 353-1299
Website: canvascoffeeandwine.com

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Restaurant Review: Scopa

>> Wednesday, August 27, 2014

 
We’ve been talking about Europe a lot lately, how we miss the scenery, the coffee, wine and most importantly the food. We really should plan for another visit soon, but until that can happen we heard of a new restaurant in town that was cooking rustic Italian in the Tuxedo area of town. Since it’s so close to home we had to drop in one evening.

Atmosphere: An intimate dining room with rustic charm making one feel like they’ve stepped in to the countryside of Italy.

Price Range: Mid $10s - $20s


Food and Wine: Their pane selections sounded divine and we decided to order the Polenta Bread to start. Composed of creamy polenta, smoked pancetta and topped with buttery goodness, sweet honey and chilies, it was an exquisite first bite and introduction to our meal. I easily could have eaten the whole order and more, but reminded myself that we’ve only just begun our meal.

Our first appetizer were the Polpettes, moist veal meatballs topped with a tomato based marinara sauce and lots of grana padano. The meatballs were incredible! They were very well seasoned and generously portioned. Each bite of the meatballs was a burst of flavour and the marinara was the perfect complement. I felt like I was invited in to the home of an Italian grandmother. I relished the sauce and even used it as an accompaniment to the Calamari, our second appetizer.


The calamari was lightly coated in batter and fried, served with arugula, pickled cucumbers and mild chilies. I liked the contrast of the pickled cucumbers and chilies providing the needed punch of flavour, but did find that it was still missing an element and found the marinara from the polpettes to be the perfect addition. The main course was the Ippoglosso, pan seared halibut with asparagus, fingerling potatoes and pepperonata, Italian for slow cooked peppers with onions and garlic. The dish was light and fresh where the ingredients elevated the halibut as opposed to overwhelming it. The fish itself was well cooked with each portion showcasing a nice crisp exterior while remaining flaky inside.


For dessert we wanted to end with something that wasn’t overly too rich, so we ordered the Panna Cotta. The White Chocolate Panna Cotta was the perfect dessert. Light and refreshing, it was a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. The buttermilk complimented the tangy berries and the praline provided a nice texture contrast making for a perfect summer dessert.

My Picks: Polenta Bread, Polpette Veal Meatballs


Overall: Great portion sizes and delicious menu selections made our visit to Scopa quite memorable not unlike some of the food we experience in Italy. We might not be heading to Italy right away, but we can definitely stop by Scopa whenever we are craving some Italian.

Scopa
2220 Centre St. NE
Calgary, AB
(403) 276-2030
Website: scopacalgary.com

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Ready, Set, Sushi Roll! Edo Japan Sushi Roll Competition!

>> Wednesday, August 20, 2014


To showcase Edo Japan’s new sushi menu, Edo hosted a fun sushi roll showdown. Where I along with six food bloggers were challenged with the task of coming up with a creative and delicious sushi roll within 20 minutes. Looking around, I was up against some pretty stiff competition! We all had shared ingredients that were provided and was allowed a secret ingredient. The sushi expert gave us a quick sushi rolling demo and then we were off.


After what felt like a second, who knew 20 minutes could fly by as quickly as it did! I fortunately had my sushi rolled and ready for judgment. Everybody was able to finish their rolls and they all looked fabulous. Each entry was unique including a surf n turf roll, a roll that didn’t even include nori (seaweed) or fish, one that featured goat cheese and the list goes on. I was pretty nervous because my secret ingredient required some finesse, I figured over charred sushi probably doesn’t taste too good.


The judges did their rounds and when it was time to announce the winner I was pretty shocked to hear my name! I guess the blowtorch did the trick! All in all it was a fun experience to battle alongside my fellow foodies. My only regret was not being able to taste everybody else’s rolls as well! They all looked delicious and in my mind we were all winners.

As part of the win, I received some gift cards to Edo Japan and would love to share them with you guys, my readers! Please respond in the comments below or tweet me @ScrumpFitFood if you're interested!


My creation - the Autumn Fire Roll - creamy crab mix with avocado, cucumber and topped with strips of tuna and salmon, a bit of tobiko, all flamed and served with a tangy ponzu sauce.

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Restaurant Review: Hapa Izakaya

>> Monday, August 11, 2014

 
Vancouver has always been known for its amazing sushi. Their fresh seafood is hard to beat and therefore the sushi and sashimi are always top grade. One of the most popular sushi places is Hapa Izakaya, known for their unique take on classic Japanese dishes. They’ve now brought their flavours to Calgary, recently opening on 11th avenue and we decided to drop in to check out their locally inspired menu.

Atmosphere: Contemporary and modern interiors with a lounge like feel.

Price Range: Mid $10s


Food and Drink: The menu was nicely divided in to various sections highlighting hot and cold appetizers, small sharing plates, stone bowls and different sushi selections. We decided to try a bit off of each starting with the Tuna Avocado Salsa Dip which reminded me more of a tartare due to the addition of the creamy avocado. Served with a side of plantain chips it was a nice light start to our meal. Next up were the apple soy marinaded Beef Short Ribs. The flavour of the short ribs were good, but I did find them to be a bit chewy and hard to bite through, it would have been nice to be accompanied by some more lettuce or additional sides and served as wraps.

It was hard to decide between the stone bowls so we ordered both the Spicy Pork Ishi-Yaki and the Kinoko Ishi-Yaki. The pork stone bowl was comprised of minced pork, garlic sprouts, egg, tomato, lettuce, spicy miso over rice and the Kinoko featured mixed mushrooms, iwanori seaweed with rice. Both of them were served in a hot stone bowl and the server will help mix them when they arrive, however since the bowls are quite hot it ultimately creates little pieces of rice crisps on the bottom of the bowl. I found that the crisps added a nice crunch to each bowl making them even more amazing.


Instead of having to decide which sashimi to order we got the Sashi Mori, a chef’s daily selection of fresh sashimi. It’s perfect for those who are a bit adventurous and would like to sample different types. It has a good selection of unique pieces, not just your typical salmon and tuna but pieces that are fresh and flavourful like the tuna belly.

We couldn’t leave without trying the sushi rolls. Sadly the Kin Roll was not available that day due to a back order on yellowtail but we did get to try the Hapa, Umi and Hanabi rolls. It was hard to pick a favorite. The Hapa roll had avocado, cucumber, carrot, asparagus, kaiware (radish sprouts), topped with salmon, spicy mayo was all torched which provided a really nice charred flavour profile to the roll. The Umi consisted of chopped scallop and mayo mix, avocado then topped with ahi tuna and tangy onion vinaigrette. All the ingredients melded together nicely and the vinaigrette was light and refreshing. The Hanabi roll was a play on the traditional spicy tuna roll but topped with lots of tobiko for added texture and presentation.

You don't have to worry about being thirsty at Hapa, their drink menu which rivals their food menu has anything and everything from sake to cocktails. It'll probably be harder to decide what you want to get over whether you will be ordering a drink.


My Picks: Spicy Pork Ishi-Yahi, Hapa Roll

Overall: Although the menu is different and slightly smaller than Hapa Vancouver, it still featured some interesting items that I would definitely go back for. I already have some dishes in mind for when I return. Aburi mackerel and kin roll, here I come.

Hapa Izakaya
816 11 Avenue SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 452-6737
Website: hapaizakaya.com

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Restaurant Review: Bocce

>> Monday, July 28, 2014

 
Friends often ask me about my favorite restaurant in Calgary and with all the great choices it’s always hard for me to pick just one. However Mercato’s has always remained a top restaurant on my list. So when they opened a Mercato West near Aspen landing, I had to make my way out there and it was no different when I heard they were opening a restaurant specializing in pizza on 4th street. It was inevitable that I would have to stop in to Bocce and order myself some pizza pie.

Atmosphere: Bright modern dining area featuring white and green décor, patio seating and extensive bar.

Price Range: Mid $10s - $20


Food and Wine: The mussels sounded intriguing so we got an order to start. Cooked in a white wine garlic broth with semi dried tomatoes, fennel and caper berries, the mussels
were fragrant and flavourful. The broth was perfect for dipping. It was light and didn’t mask the taste of the mussels, a great plate for sharing.

It was hard to choose from the menus since everything sounded delicious, but we knew we were there for the pizza and ordered one red and one white. The Calabrese Rosso Pizza had spicy fennel sausage, black olives, and roasted red peppers topped with mozzarella cheese. It had a bit of a kick due to the sausage but that just added to the allure of this pizza. It wouldn’t be the same without that bit of spice making it a delicious bite. The extremely thin crust was truly amazing, both chewy and crispy, epitomizing the perfect pizza pie.


My favorite was definitely the Boschetto Bianca Pizza featuring mortadella, pistachios, semi dried tomatoes, olive oil and both mozzarella and parmigiano cheeses. Everything on this pizza was a winner from the meaty mortadella slices to the crunchy pistachios, it all made sense and packed a whopping flavourful punch. Couple that with the amazingly thin dough and it’s a true taste of Italy.

We sampled both the Umani Ronchi montepulciano d’abbruzzo and Castello Romitorio chianti colli senesi wines with our meal. The chianti was smooth, medium bodied and a nice pairing for the mussels or lighter fare. I really enjoyed the Umani montepulciano, with flavours of plum and cherries, this medium bodied wine really opened up and had an amazing finish. Both our wines were served in little glass cups as opposed to wine glasses to elicit the feeling of eating in an Italian bistro on the streets of Naples.


My Picks: Boschetto Bianca Pizza

Overall: After dining at Bocce I have definitely added it to my list of restaurants to recommend to family and friends. Not only a great dining space, but the food and service were excellent. If you haven’t gone, definitely make your way over to sample some of their delicious offerings.

Bocce
110 2207 4 Street SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 516-6162
Website: eatbocce.com

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Restaurant Review: Black Pig Bistro

>> Wednesday, July 16, 2014

 
Bridgeland has always held a special place in my heart. When I young I attended the local Langevin Elementary school when I lived nearby. Now when I drive or walk by it still brings back great memories. It hard to imagine what the old Bridgeland community used to look like now with all the new development since they tore down the old General Hospital, but everything looks amazing and I’m so glad they revitalized that area. Especially with all the new great stores and restaurants opening in the area, it’s really turned in to a quaint little part of town. Plus with the new addition of The Black Pig Bistro, it was just what the area called for.

Atmosphere: Bright dining area with windows providing natural light


to the room contrasting the dark eye catching décor. An intimate space well suited for romantic dinners or small group get-togethers.

Price Range: Mid $10s - $20+

Food & Wine: It’s not often you see Iberico ham on the menu and therefore whenever we do, we indulge. The Fermin Jamon Iberico is a Spanish delicacy, it’s a top grade cured ham made from black pigs that are served with an acorn diet. At the bistro they serve the ham with traditional tomato olive oil rubbed baguette slices which allow the taste of the salty ham shine through. The best part of the iberico ham in my opinion is the fatty slices, which melts like butter on the tongue and best eaten by itself.

 
Another item that’s our usual choice is the Chicken Liver Parfait when it’s on the menu. There’s just something special about the whipped creaminess of the parfait especially when spread over some crispy crostinis. It’s also the perfect pairing for wine and makes for a great sharing platter. The Salt Cod Tortellini definitely caught my attention. We could never get enough of bacalao (salt cod) while we were in Spain and Portugal, another specialty of the region and not very prevalent in North America. The tortellini had a nice chewy pasta layer encompassing the briny cod mixture inside. Served with a piquillo pepper puree and crispy kale chips, it made for a visually striking dish.

For the mains we started with the Beef Cheek Risotto, made with mascarpone giving it a nice buttery texture and saffron which provided the beautiful golden hue. This is the perfect plate for sharing because of its generous portion size. Plus, then you can also sample the other mains such as the Pork & Beans. It’s a combination of edamame, broad and white beans with fennel and mint served with roasted porchetta. I really enjoyed the different textural contrasts of the various beans used in this dish combining it with the au jus and smokiness of the porchetta the overall plate was well composed. The Alberta Rib Eye Steak was prepared with latin flavours utilizing chimichurri on the dish to bring forward the meaty flavours of the rib eye. Accompanied by crunchy broccolini spears, it’s perfect for those who are carb conscious. The rib eye itself is tender and cooked perfectly to order.

 
There were quite a few different dessert selections that caught our eye but we decided on the Flourless Chocolate Cake and the Passion Fruit Panna Cotta. They were a nice contrast to each other, the chocolate cake being dark and decadent with peanut butter fig ice cream and a velvety smooth chocolate pudding. Out of the two I would have to choose the panna cotta due to the citrusy passion fruit. Along with the coconut brioche, pistachios and toasted coconut, it was truly amazing. The flavours were so bright and perfectly balanced, not overly sweet yet still enough flavour so you can taste the passion fruit in each bite plus the panna cotta was so smooth. The perfect ending to a great meal!

My Picks: Jamon Iberico, Pork and Beans, Passion Fruit Panna Cotta


Overall: A bistro was exactly what Bridgeland needed especially one with Spanish flare. I was extremely excited to hear about the new restaurant and it’s definitely lived up to its hype. I’m looking forward to what’s next at the bistro and can’t wait to come back.

Black Pig Bistro
825 1st Ave NE
Calgary, AB
(403)460-0350
Website: blackpigbistro.ca

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