Restaurant Review: Ikemen Ramen Bar

>> Friday, August 28, 2015

A couple of us were talking about ramen not too long ago and one of my friends mentioned that he wasn’t able to find a good ramen place in town. I was shocked of course and wanted to hear more. This was before he reminded me that he didn’t eat pork. I forgot. Since all ramen soup bases are mainly stewed from pork bones, it was near impossible for him to find a good ramen place in town that didn’t serve a pork broth. Enter Ikemen, a new ramen bar that recently opened in Kensington close to other ramen places such as Muku and Menyatai, with the main difference in that they serve chicken based broths. I had to go check it out.

Atmosphere: Warm wooden interior surround the dining room to allow their patrons to really focus on the enjoyment of their ramen bowls.

Price Range: Mid $10s

Food: It’s really all about the chicken broth ramen here, but we also wanted to give their appetizers a try especially since the Tako Carpaccio soundly quite inviting. Thinly sliced pieces of octopus are served with a citrusy ginger yuzu dressing, radishes and onions making for a light start to our meal. It was a great way to really cleanse the palate. The octopus had a nice texture and was not chewy, a twist on the conventional carpaccio.

I also wanted to try the Spicy Salmon Roll which again was a slightly different from the normal roll. This version includes tempura crumbs and cucumber inside then topped with salmon and chili peppers. I liked the added crunch from the tempura bits, especially for those who find salmon to be a bit mushy. The addition of the chilis to the spicy mayo gives it a bit more of a kick. I love spicy food so anything to up the ante is a win in my books.

Although all their appetizers were delicious, we were definitely there to try out their ramen noodles, made with chicken broth instead of the typical pork bones, making it friendly for those who don’t eat pork. I ordered the Spicy Miso Ramen topped with a soft boiled egg, cabbage, garlic chips, sesame seeds, kale and char siu. The benefit of using chicken as a base for the broth made for a lighter soup which still had quite a bit of flavour. Although for those traditional ramen connoisseurs it may or may not stand up to their love of the pork bone soup base. I really enjoyed the taste of the char siu which was flavourful without being salty and the cook of my egg was perfect having the right amount of runniness in the yolk. I definitely preferred the soup spicy and will definitely be ordering it again this way in the future. I actually wouldn’t have minded if it was even a bit spicier!

The hubby got the Green Curry Seafood Ramen, a change from his usual miso or shio order. He liked the flavours of the coconut milk mixed in with the chicken broth and felt it was definitely different from what he was used to but in a good way. Topped with tomato, basil, lime zest, mushrooms, kale, jumbo red prawn, mussel, scallop, it was more reminiscent of a thai curry rather than a ramen noodle bowl. I had a couple bites and didn’t mind the flavours but did find that I liked my choice better.

To end the meal our server mentioned that they had Cinnamon Mochis for dessert and we didn’t look back. The mochis were soft on the inside and lightly fried for a crisp outer layer, dusted with cinnamon sugar it was like an Asian mini donut. I really enjoyed it coupled with their House Made Ice Cream, which was green tea that day. Flavours change often so be sure to ask your server!
My Pick: Spicy Miso Ramen, Cinnamon Mochi

Overall: Although I’m a huge fan of pork based ramen, I have to admit that I also quite enjoyed the chicken based broth. I found it to be lighter than the conventional ramen broth and it’ll be a great option for those who can’t eat pork, like a couple of my friends. Even though you’re there for the noodles, I highly recommend trying some of their appetizers as well and hopefully you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Ikemen Ramen Bar
217 10 Street NW
Calgary, AB
(403) 452-2148

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Random Monday Thought - Travels

>> Monday, August 24, 2015

With our Japan trip lingering just around the corner. I’m madly doing all the research I can on what I need to eat (sushi, ramen, name it) to what I need to buy (everything!). However one thing that’s always on my mind is what emergency items I need to bring with me. I know there are going to be lots available while we’re there, but not being able to speak the language always has its drawbacks especially when it comes to medications and other emergency items.

Some key things to note when you’re about to travel and have plans to go off the beaten path or eat something adventurous include:

Visit a travel clinic – they’ll be able to start you off in the right direction

Get all your shots – check out this site for additional information

Pack a first aid kit – bandaids, gauze, polysporin, etc. Learn more here

Do your research – know the country or area and be aware of any new outbreaks or potential contagions

Stock up on required medication – if taking new medication remember to check all the side effects, you don’t want to be hit with unpleasant side effects in the middle of your trip. Also look for medication frequency and how well it mixes with food. If you’d like to take extra caution, sign up for patient safety alerts. You will receive recall and safety alerts on any of the medications you bring

Here’s a quick info graphic that helps lay everything out:

Although it's not usually what most people think about when traveling. It's always best to be safe when you're away from home. What are some of your concerns when packing for vacation? Let me know!


Alberta Beef and Canadian Rye Whisky - What a Combo

>> Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The first thing people think about when you mention beef in Alberta is steak. Although steak is quite delectable and one of my favorites, there is more versatility to Alberta beef products than your typical steak. To showcase this Alberta Beef hosted a dinner to really highlight the different cuts of beef. If that wasn't exciting enough they paired the entire meal with various selections of Alberta whisky from Highwood Distillers. Quite the Alberta feast indeed!

Shortly after we were seated the amuse was served. The one bite Flat Iron Steak Skewer were made with medium rare steak with a semi sun dried tomato and topped with chimichurri sauce, an Argentinian garlicky herb sauce packed with a nice tangy zing. It was a really great way to wake up the taste buds for our upcoming meal.

Our first course was the Lengua Tacos. Lengua is Spanish for tongue and braised alberta beef tongue was used for the preparation. For those who have never tried lengua, although scary sounding, the flavours are truly sublime. Coupled with tomatillo salsa, queso fresco, pickled red onion and dashes of hot sauce, it had amazing bursts of flavour. A must for any taco or Mexican food lover! Paired with the tacos was the White Owl Whisky, the world’s first clear Canadian rye whisky. Aged for 10 years and charcoal filtered to produce a sweet citrus taste that’s clean and crisp. Perfect for the spicy tacos.

What’s a showcase of beef without a bit of tartare? The Alberta Beef Tartare was made with flank steak, pickled ramps, grainy mustard, micro greens topped with a runny egg yolk and side of kettle chips to scoop up all that deliciousness. The beef was creamy and soft without being chewy. I really enjoyed the subtle hints of tangy mustard and pickled ramps. With this course we were given the Centennial 10 Year Old Rye Whisky made mostly from wheat alcohol producing a smoother rye with hints of honey notes.

The use of beef was ingenious in the Romaine Wedge Salad instead of your typical bacon, dried Alberta beef bresaola was used instead. It still gave the salad the briny flavour enhanced by the blue cheese, mint and cranberries. The fig vinaigrette was slightly sweet and helped mellow out the pungent cheese and provided additional levels of flavour. We had my favorite rye of the evening with this course. The White Owl Spiced Whisky contained a mixture of vanilla, clove, ginger and nutmeg flavours formulating a smooth aftertaste with trails of warm spice and lingering butterscotch. This would be a dangerous whisky to have on hand at home.

The showstopper that evening was the Heritage Angus Pastrami made with wagyu corned alberta beef. It was probably one of the best pastramis I’ve ever had and probably the first wagyu version. I did find it a bit overseasoned, but the texture of the beef was outstanding. Served with sides of carrot, apple and cabbage sauerkraut and toasted sourdough, all I wanted to do was to form it in to a reuben sandwich. I am secretly hoping that it’s available in that form. The Ninety 20 Year Old Whisky was poured to accompany this course. The oldest Canadian rye whisky with lots of oak and cedar notes to stand up to the hearty flavours of the pastrami and the lingering of orange peel to really clean the palate.

As a finale to our fabulous meal we were presented with the Gooseberry Crumble with a savoury Alberta beef jerky crumble base, gooseberry compote and topped with vanilla bean ice cream. I’ve never been a huge fan of salty and sweet, but the combination here was perfectly balanced. The strong flavours of the gooseberry stood up well against the saltiness of the jerky and the bit of salt that I did taste only elevated the dessert overall. I was quite full at this point but I had to finish the whole crumble. It was too good not to. The crowd favorite of the evening, the Sweet Sippin Maple Whisky was given as an ode to the dessert wine. In this version, rye whisky is combined with pure Canadian maple syrup to produce a lovely warm woodsy rye with a nice sweetness that is perfect for dessert. A warm Mint Tea and velvety Earl Grey Truffles were provided to all the guests to wrap up our amazing dinner as a symbol of thanks; similar to various cultures around the world which offer the drink to welcome them to their home and thank them for their time.

We truly ended our evening on a high of Alberta beef which probably had something to do with all the whisky we consumed, but in all seriousness I really enjoyed all the amazing techniques used by Chef Brett McDermott who conceptualized all the spectacular dishes, you can visit him at Our Daily Brett on 14 St SW. Plus a special thanks to both Alberta Beef and Highwood Distillers for a wonderful evening and showing me that rye and beef truly are made for each other and where else to do it than in Alberta!


Restaurant Review: Charbar

>> Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Calgary has done an amazing job rezoning East Village these last couple years and what a difference it has made. I can barely recall what the area used to look like and that’s not a bad thing. As part of the restructure they’ve decided to keep part of the area intact such as the Simmons building, which used to be an old mattress factory and was left vacant for a long time. Everybody was excited to find out how the cultural landmark would be repurposed and we were all extremely excited to hear of the collaboration between Charbar, Phil & Sebastian and Sidewalk Citizen Bakery – I could barely wait till they opened their doors.

Atmosphere: Wonderful redesign of the old Simmons building in East Village. Rustic and edgy, the open dining space plays great textures and colors against each other to allow the old brick building to shine new again. Plus it features an elevator!

Price Range: Mids $10s - $30+

Food & Wine: Just perusing the menu, you can note that there’s a distinct difference between Charcut and Charbar. Even though they’re sister restaurants, Charbar has a South American theme to it which is a welcomed addition to the Calgary food scene. An item that was not to be missed was the Tripe Chips with fried rosemary and served with a creamy spicy aioli. The chips themselves reminded me of Chinese shrimp chips, something I grew up eating. Those were super addictive, so were these. I could have easily eaten nothing but for the whole evening. Trying them on their own really allowed the subtle flavour of the tripe to shine through which melded perfectly with the fragrant rosemary. However, for those who aren’t used to tripe, there’s the spicy aioli on the side to help provide that bit of a kick.

Next up was the Ceviche Mixto served tableside, which was a nice twist. I’m always intrigued when there’s interaction during a meal. The server highlighted the various ingredients that went in to the ceviche including, onions, fresh fish, clams, cilantro and cancha or toasted corn. It was a very traditional ceviche and reminded me of ones I’ve had in Chile and Argentina, especially with the use of corn. The tiger’s milk, aka the sauce, as I’m told is the most coveted from this dish. It’s truly the essence of this dish and people in South America will fight over who gets to drink it. Luckily for us, you can ask for some Sidewalk Citizen bread to dip in to the sauce so that everyone may enjoy and no fighting is required.

We also had the opportunity to sample the Vegetable Ceviche, which I probably wouldn’t have normally ordered, but I’m glad we got to try it because it ended up being one of my favorite dishes that evening. Made with charred onions, tomatoes, avocados and pickled cucumbers in a tomato guazpacho, which is a soup typically made from vegetables and served cold. The dish was extremely refreshing and light, while packing tons of flavour. It’s an ingenious way of showcasing the freshness of the vegetables themselves and the fact that they can be more inspired than the typical salad.

I enjoyed the simplicity of the Grilled Garlic Shrimp. They were perfectly cooked with the light char on the shrimp bringing out the sweetness of the meat. It’s a great appetizer for those looking for something to share. Another great dish to share was the Sausage skillet with housemade Chorizo and Morcilla (blood sausage). I am a huge fan of both; with the blood sausage having a slight edge due to the fact that I can’t readily find a good blood sausage in town and this one was delicious. Don’t get me wrong the chorizo was nicely spiced and amazing, but there’s just something about the morcilla, could be the fact that it was made in house.

For our main, we decided to share the Ultra Dry Aged NY Strip Steak. Our server mentions that the steak is normally served plain, sauce and sides are recommended which is another traditional aspect of South American cuisine. The steak itself was well cooked, I don’t normally order NY strip so it was nice to try a different cut of steak with its own distinct flavour profile. We ordered the Fried Roman Broccoli to accompany the steak. It was topped with mint and the spicy aioli that also accompanied the tripe chips. Aside from broccoli in tempura, I don’t normally eat broccoli fried, so it was definitely a unique side.

Although we were extremely full, I can never ever say no to dessert, especially when I saw the Bourbon Canned Peaches and Cream, which is a play on peaches and cream while using soft serve ice cream. I really enjoyed the flavour combinations in this dessert and found it to be the perfect amount of sweetness since I’m not a huge fan of the extremely sweet. One thing that would have put it over the top for me is if the peaches were caramelized, however I’m not complaining because I would definitely order this dessert again.

Since its summer, my wine for the evening was a nice rose from Provence in France called Cotes de Provence. I thought the light citrus notes went well with both the seafood and meat dishes that night. A nicely balanced wine with lingering fruity notes and rounded body, great for the patio too!
My Pick(s): Vegetable Ceviche, Tripe Chips, Morcilla Sausage

Overall: You can find it all here at Charbar, beautiful surroundings, amazing atmosphere and delicious food made by top notch chefs. for those who don't know, head chef Jessica Pelland lived in Argentina for a short while! Not to mention they’re also flanked by awesome local merchants and I love how they incorporated that in to their menu (they serve both Sidewalk Citizen bread and Phil & Sebastian coffee). It really is a one stop shop and I’m so glad that they decided to turn the old Simmons building in to what it is today. I can’t wait to drop by again and hang out on the rooftop patio overlooking the river.

618 Confluence Way SE
Calgary, AB
(403) 452-3115

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Lobster Summer at The Keg

>> Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A friend of mine recently visited the East Coast; she was telling me all about the amazing scenery and fresh seafood. Inevitably the subject of lobsters came up and I just couldn’t stop thinking about them afterwards. Luckily for me, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Keg for a wonderful menu tasting which features…Lobster! The Keg has introduced their Lobster menu for the summer, running from July 6th to August 30th across Canada, perfect for those of us who can’t make it out to the East Coast but can at least satiate themselves from their cravings.

We started the evening off with the Szechwan Lobster which included both lobster and shrimp deep fried, tossed in a sweet and spicy sauce and topped with chili peppers, red peppers and asparagus. The seafood was cooked well and the combination of flavours definitely popped in your mouth. I really enjoyed the use of thai chilies in the dish which provided a nice kick, but if you’re not a huge fan of spicy food, you can easily avoid and chilies and be safe. The dish was paired with house special blend of Chardonnay, Viognier and Riesling by Inniskillin called Knotted Vines. The slight sweetness of the wine helps to mellow out the spicy chilies without overpowering the flavours of the seafood.

Next we got to taste their casual plate selections with the Lobster Roll and Crispy Lobster Tacos. The lobster roll was made with a mix of lobster and shrimp served in a buttered brioche roll with fries and cabbage slaw on the side. I’m a huge fan of lobster rolls and really enjoyed the ratio of mayo to seafood here, which really allowed the brininess of the seafood to really shine through. The tacos consisted of fried lobster pieces topped with creamy cabbage slaw in a soft taco shell with creamy cilantro dressing on the side. I liked the hint of spice used with the lobster and wouldn’t have minded more. Both of these dishes were paired with the Ritual Pinot Noir, a silky and full bodied red wine with lots of fruity notes.

To really highlight their lobster fest, we were presented with the 1lb Lobster Tail, which is definitely something that should be shared (unless of course you’re a lobster fiend, then feel free to dig in). For the size of the tail, I was pleasantly surprised at how tender and juice the meat was. If you find it cumbersome to eat lobster because of having to crack open the tough shell, then this is the perfect plate for you; where the tail comes unshelled and ready for consumption.

For the entrée we were served the quintessential surf and turf, the Steak and Half Lobster or if you wanted, you can get a Whole Lobster and skip the steak. My sirloin steak was grilled nicely remaining rare, which is my preference, but the Keg will cook to it to any level you prefer. The lobster was sweet and tender served with hot butter for dipping and lemon. We reverted back to a white wine for this meal and had the J.Lohr Chardonnay. My favorite wine of the evening with lovely citrus notes and woodsy aromas, the wine was an interesting choice for our meal, but it worked. It would be a great sipping wine as well.

To finish off the evening we were given our choice of dessert and although I was beyond full at this point, I couldn’t say no to Cheesecake (and some 10 year Taylor Port). I liked that it wasn’t overly too sweet and found it a good way to end the meal, but I couldn’t help but wish I ordered the Billy Miner’s Pie. A mammoth slice of icy chocolate goodness, I guess I’ll just have to wait for next time!

I didn’t realize that the Keg has been running their summer lobster menu for the last 14 years! I’ll definitely have to keep this in mind and drop by again soon before the summer’s over and probably every year after!

The Keg
320 4 Ave SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 699-9843

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