Restaurant Review: Sociale Bar and Grille

>> Monday, January 31, 2011


Starters

It was my birthday recently and there is no better time to fill my belly with yummy yummy food that the day which marked my arrival in to this…erm, perfect world? Ok, mind my skepticism; I personally don’t think this world is that perfect, which I’m sure a lot of you would agree. There are many many things that could change to make this world a better place, but this isn’t the time nor the place to be talking about this (I was talking about my birthday afterall) so I’ll try not to get too off topic here. Either way, even though the world itself might not have been perfect, the many lovely dinners I had to celebrate were definitely perfect in my mind and I wanted to share them with you as well, starting with the new kid on the block, Sociale Bar and Grille.

Atmosphere: A trendy and stylish vibe. Enough said.

Price: Mid $10s - $20s

Food and Wine: Located between Parkerhouse and Velvet is the new kid on the block, literally. Opened just a couple of weeks ago, Sociale offers a chill upstairs lounge and restaurant / bar on the bottom level, both of them serving food, with slight twists on the menu. We decided to sample a bit of the tapas menu but couldn’t go without trying their entrees as well so began our dining journey for the evening.

The Spread
Starting with the Cioppino Sociale served with saffron aioli on grilled baguettes. The tomato broth was light and perfectly seasoned and we both really enjoyed the saffron aioli (it also went well with the complimentary bread that was given as well!). Next came the Beet and Apple Salad, which can be simply described as refreshing. The apples added the perfect amount of tanginess to the sweet beets with the peppery accompaniment of the arugula and truffled honey anise dressing.

Since we both love our carbs, we also enjoyed the platter of “Spread”, which consisted of bean dip, tapenade and a roasted garlic aioli in lieu of the marinated goat cheese (those of you who know me, know why that was substituted) served with warm flatbread. There was more than enough dip served to get a good taste for each and I’d have to say my favourite was definitely the tapenade. It went well with the flatbread, our complimentary baguettes and even the fish!

I couldn’t pass on the Citrus Ponzu Sablefish, garnished by a honeyed pork belly and sautéed swiss chard. The sablefish was melt in your mouth delicious; it should never be cooked any other way because that would be a waste of such a wonderful fish. The pork belly was nicely seared and to my surprise wasn’t overly fatty! The buttery swiss chard added a nice touch as well.

Sablefish
We couldn’t finish the evening without a decadent dessert and the Rosemary Apple Pie was just that, the infusion of rosemary in the crust and filling itself took a normal apple tart to a whole new level. Accompanied by vanilla ice cream and drizzled with frangelico brown butter syrup, it was the perfect ending to a perfect meal.

The only hiccup to our evening was when we tried to order the wine for dinner, which could be attributed to the fact that Sociale is still fairly new and might not have all the wine on hand. We did end up with a nice glass of Montes, which is a blend of Cabernet-Carmenere, which was light bodied, fruitier red. It didn’t overwhelm all the seafood we were eating that night which was a bonus. The servers apologized profusely for the fact that they didn’t have the different wines on hand and were more than accommodating when we asked about different things on the menu. They even offered the upstairs menu if we were interested in trying other appetizers as well.

Rosemary Apple Pie
My Picks: Beet and Apple Salad, Citrus Ponzu Sablefish

Overall: Opening between Parkerhouse and Velvet is no small feat and Sociale is anything but small, with two full floors and an amazing menu, it’ll definitely add a new dimension to the old Lougheed Building.

Sociale Bar and Grille
606 1st Street SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 262-2279
Website: http://www.socialecalgary.com/

Sociale Bar & Grille on Urbanspoon

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Un Espresso Por Favor

>> Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Cappuccino

It’s been extremely hard getting up in the mornings lately and it really doesn’t help that the last week or so the weather was -20ºC outside not including windchill (-35ºC anybody??). Luckily we’ve had a change in weather patterns meaning we’re actually above 0ºC now! Unfortunately that doesn’t mean that we’re not still waking up to the dark, pitch black sky and coming home in the same. So I blame my lack of energy on the super low levels of sun exposure aka vitamin D that I have not been getting as part of a healthy lifestyle and as such I’ve also found that I’m starting to down more cups of espresso on a daily basis, just so I can keep my eyes open at the office and not nodding off on the drive home. Which made me really curious, how much caffeine does espresso actually have, since when I drink a cup of Tim’s small coffee I’m jittery for the next 10 hours, yet I can have 2 shots in my americano or cappuccino without a blink of an eye, literally.

Tamping the grinds
I remember talking to a coworker about this one day as we’re both lining up to get our cup of joe to start off the day (with those long lines in the morning, you really need to kill the time). She decided on Tim’s as many others in downtown Calgary, but I opted to wait until I could get to a coffee place with a nice americano, which of course made her question why I didn't just decide to get a coffee at Timmy’s since we were there anyhow. So I gave her my back story (and no, it wasn’t an excuse to kill more time out of the office since we had to walk and stand in line at another coffee shop).

Extraction
After some digging, it was as I suspected. Although espresso in comparison to coffee shot for shot, has more caffeine (100mg for a shot of espresso versus 80-130mg for a standard cup of coffee), due to the volume of the espresso shot, the individual actually ends up consuming less caffeine overall. Although coffee doesn’t have as much caffeine, when you’re comparing it against an espresso of the same size, but when you multiply the volume of coffee by the size of how big some of those cups are nowadays, being offered at Starbucks and what not (has anybody heard of their new Trenta size?!), you’re going to get more of a caffeine high in the normal everyday brewed coffee. Even when you buy a large americano the espresso just ends up getting watered down by the hot water that’s added to it, however when you order a large coffee, every bit of it has passed through the filter drip by drip and picked up some caffeine along the way.

Foamed milk
Of course there is still the debate of whether or not coffee, or more correctly caffeine, is actually good for you. There are a ton of data that support both the pros and cons of caffeine. I personally believe that there are probably benefits to having a bit of it in our systems since moderation is the key to everything nowadays. Plus if you live in a climate like Calgary, where the sun rises and falls while you’re at work, you’ll need all the boost you can get in the mornings. Just make sure that it’s not every morning!

Tips for extracting that perfect espresso shot:
Remember to tamp the grinds down (packing the grounds) with a good amount of pressure (roughly 9-15 kg pressure or 30-50%)
Make sure packed grounds are level with the fill line
Check for gaps and levelness of the packed ground coffee
When extracting the machine is at the right pressure (check the gage)
You don't have to put the filter on too tightly, just snug still pulls a perfect shot
Double shots are usually better pulled than a single shot due to the filters sides

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Restaurant Review: La Vita e Bella

>> Thursday, January 20, 2011


Osso Bucco

Although the holidays has come and gone, I’m still finding that I’m hard pressed for time everyday. From prepping for work, going to work, working, commuting from work, you get the gist. Everything just seems to be work related for me lately and time is flying by (I can’t believe it’s nearing the end of January! Ack!). Even getting together with friends has resorted to being planned around meetings and other functions. Luckily we were able to get out to a nice little place just on the beltline of the downtown core, close enough that I don’t have to worry about fighting rush hour traffic, yet far enough so that I’m not reminded of the dreaded w word.

Atmosphere: Low lighting and soft music evokes an inviting and warm effect, which reminds us to relax, slow down and enjoy life (and of course, the food!).

Price Range: Mid $10s - $20s

Food and Wine: I had the honor of dining with a few of my really good friends at La Vita e Bella and was able to enjoy a few shared appetizers amongst us. We started with the Polpettino, which are beef meatballs stuffed with baby bocconcini in a light tomato basil ricotta sauce. The bocconcini prevented the meatballs from becoming dry and helped keep them moist and tender. Our second appetizer of Calamari was crispy without being greasy and also came with a tomato sauce. Both were a nice way to ease in to the evening along side our complimentary focaccia loaf.

Frutti di Mare
For our mains, my husband ordered the Frutti di Mare, which consisted of black spaghetti as opposed to regular pasta loaded with a bunch of seafood (scallops, prawns, mussels, clams & calamari). The spaghetti was cooked a perfect al dente and the seafood was succulent and sweet. Our dining companions decided on the Salmone Saltimbocca and the Dijon Bistecca (a filet mignon), they both agreed that the dishes were well done. I had the Osso Bucco, named as such because of the crossed cut veal shank, slowly braised until tender. Although the waiter had a bit of an issue with the order, my dish didn’t take that much longer that the rest of the table’s and it was well seasoned.

I can never go to a restaurant and not take a peek at their dessert menu and when I read the following - Nero Pilsner Torta Spezia a spice cake made using brew borthers black pilsner beer, topped with vanilla bean gelato & caramel – I knew that it would be the dish that ended my meal that night. The cake was moist without being overly sweet and you can’t beat a dessert that includes vanilla bean gelato. There definitely were hints of the pilsner beer throughout the cake, but it was subtle enough that it did not overwhelm the fragrant flavours of the spices.

We were able to try two different types of wine that night (one of the great things of dining with others), one being the Collazzi Bastoni Chianti Classico, which has fruity aromas with a decadent and dry finish. The second was the Colombo Montelpulciano d’Abruzzo. I really enjoy Montelpulciano grapes, as noted from the name; it comes from the Abruzzo region in Italy. It’s generally a lighter red often mixed with Sangiovese, but it still remains a soft tannin wine so it goes well with both meat and seafood dishes.

Spice Ale Cake
My Picks: Polpettino, Osso Bucco

Overall: There’s really no comparison to enjoying superior company, good food and great atmosphere. La Vita e Bella does ring true to its name so sit back and take pleasure in all the wonderful Italian flavours.

La Vita e Bella
401 – 12th Avenue SE
Calgary, AB
(403) 264-6046
Website: www.lavitabella.ca

La Vita E Bella on Urbanspoon

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Whole Wheat Sour Cream Blueberry Pie!

>> Friday, January 14, 2011


Sour Cream Blueberry Pie

We recently came back from a ski trip out in the mountains, since they’re so close to Calgary, we really try to take advantage of it all and get out as much and as often as we can. Plus, taking up snowboarding was my way of coping with the long Calgary winters because seriously, I was on the brink of snapping and moving a million miles away to some beach resort because of the cold weather we get every winter. Now that I’ve taken up a winter sport, I find that I’m actually looking forward to winter (well the snow, but definitely not the cold, snowboarding in -25ºC weather does not equal fun).

So every couple of weeks we try to book a weekend getaway and stock up on all different types of food (and everything in our fridge) to bring with us up to the mountains where good times are to be had. Of course when we’re done, the reverse usually happens and we’re trekking back all the leftovers in to town and sadly back in to our refrigerator, where it sort of just sits and lingers until I figure out what to do with them.

Uncooked Pie
Just the other day I looked in my fridge and realized that I somehow ended up being the person that was stuck with the whole carton of sour cream. Not just any carton of sour cream, but the cartons that come from Costco and we all know what those look like. Luckily it was the low fat version, so it was something I could work with. I looked up a few recipes and decided to give it a shot. One of those recipes (found here) ended up being a Sour Cream Whole Wheat Pie Crust, which I decided would go great with a Sour Cream Blueberry Pie filling. It seemed like an interesting combo so I gave it a shot and to be honest, I thought the crust ended up a lot flakier than I figured it would be since it was using a lot less butter then the conventional crusts and quite a bit of whole wheat flour as opposed to just all purpose. Either way, all I can say is that my husband was all skeptical when I first told him what I was baking but once he tasted it, the pie definitely didn’t end up back along side the rest of the other trip leftovers in the fridge.

Pie Dough
Whole Wheat Pie Crust Recipe (overall I kept the recipe pretty much the same except a few things which I’ve made notes on throughout)

Ingredients:
1 cup whole wheat flour (I didn’t have whole wheat pastry flour lying around so I opted to use regular whole wheat flour but in smaller quantities to ensure the crust remains flaky)
1 1 /4 cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp cold unsalted butter (Freezing the butter makes it much easier to handle and makes a much flakier crust)
1/4 cup low fat sour cream
3 tbsp canola oil
4 tbsp ice water (keeping the dough cold is key)

Rolling out dough
Preparation:
In a bowl, combine the whole wheat flour, all purpose flour, sugar and salt.

Take the frozen butter out of the freezer and using a mandolin, grate the butter in to the dry mixture. Try to do this quickly to avoid the butter from warming up to room temperature.

Add the sour cream and oil to the mixture and toss lightly, avoid over mixing to prevent the butter from melting.

Sprinkle in the water and knead until the dough all comes together. Do not over work the dough, which will cause gluten to form and prevents the crust from becoming flaky and soft.

Cover the dough with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge to cool down for an hour, if you’re planning to use the dough right away, you can put it in the freezer for 10-15 mins.

When you’re ready to use the dough, uncover, split it in half and roll them out between two pieces of wax paper. One sheet will be used as the base of the pie crust, place it over the pan and trim the edges so you have 1 inch all around. Using a fork, poke little holes on the bottom of the pan.

Once you have your filling in, roll out the second piece of dough the same way as the first. You can either cut them in to strips and use it as a lattice top or just place the either sheet over the pie and leave 1 inch around the outer rim. Crimp the edges of the pie together. If you’re covering the whole pie, remember to slice holes in to the top with a knife to allow air and steam to flow out of the pie shell.

Bake as per instructions of the pie or at 375ºC for 25-30 mins (until golden).

Pie Filling
Sour Cream Blueberry Pie Filling (normally this pie filling is topped with candied pecans, but I decided to go with a traditional lattice pie top instead of the pecans, feel free to add them back if you prefer, just lighten up on the sugar and flour on the pecans to make them healthier)

Ingredients:
1 cup low fat sour cream (the original recipe called for full fat sour cream, but using low fat cuts out on the unnecessary fat and doesn’t compromise in taste)
2 tbsp all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar (I lowered the amount of sugar from 3 /4 cup to 1/ 2 cup and didn’t notice much of a different since the blueberries are so sweet naturally, I might even use a bit less next time)
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten (or 2 egg whites if you prefer)
2 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (seeing that it’s the middle of winter, my frozen blueberries came to the rescue and worked just as well)

Pie Filling in Crust
Preparation:
Preheat the oven to 400ºC

In a bowl, add in the sour cream, flour, sugar, vanilla, salt and egg. Beat until there are no longer lumps in the mixture.

Fold in the blueberries and pour the mixture in to the pie crust and cover with the rest of the above pie crust dough if desired. If using a pecan topping please refer to the original recipe.

Bake for roughly 25-30 mins or until the crust becomes golden brown, once done, remove from the oven and let cool for at least 20-30 mins before serving.

Pie can be covered and stored for up to a week in the fridge.

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Restaurant Review: Muse Restaurant

>> Monday, January 10, 2011


Sesame Crusted Ahi Tuna

Lately Calgary has seen an explosion of new restaurants in and around the city and its easy to get hooked up on trying every one of them. Yet we shouldn’t forget that there are definitely some great restaurants that have been around time for a little while and are just as delicious if not more so. Don’t let their longevity fool you in to believing that they’re no longer up to date in their menus. Muse is one of those great restaurants that have been in the Calgary restaurant seen for a while and has maintained the freshness of its menu and can be more than compared to the new jaunts around town.

Atmosphere: The entrance gives little away until you turn the corner and walk down the stairs, which opens up to an elegantly lit dining area with amazing accents which can’t help but catch your eye.

Price Range: Appetizers Mid $10s, Entrees $30+

French Escargots
Food and Wine: I was a little late meeting up with my friend at Muse (winter traffic in Calgary..ugh) and when I finally did arrive, there she was munching on some popcorn and not just any popcorn, but drizzled with truffle oil, giving it a nice smoky salty flavour. Of course I couldn’t let her have all the fun, I ate a fair share myself along side some prosecco. The best part of all this - they were both compliments of the house - what a great way to start off the evening!

Shortly afterwards our waiter approached and was ready to take our wine and food orders and so began our food journey for the evening (journey because it was quite the lengthy and delicious meal). It all began with a house complimentary amuse bouche of sautéed shrimp over tomato brushchetta, which we found a little over salted but the shrimp was still succulent and cooked perfectly. There were dinner features that evening but we both opted to go with the regular menu since there were so many delicious choices. My friend decided on the Cream of Cauliflower Soup since she was a little under the weather, plus she’s heard some great things about it and boy was it delectable. I managed to get my hands on a bit of it and felt that the curried oil was a very nice touch and made the soup less heavy, which can sometimes happen to cream based soups.

Soft Shell Crab and Alberta Tenderloin
Our appetizers (aka seconds) came shortly afterwards, which consisted of the Sesame Crusted Ahi Tuna arranged over Foie Gras French Toast and Caramelized Cantaloupe Slices. The Cantaloupe was a nice contrast against the honey and soya glaze which brought out the sweetness in the tuna, the toast which was meant for texture probably wasn’t even required, since my friend and I couldn’t stop eating the cantaloupes themselves. The other appetizer we tried was the French Escargots, served with Enoki and Shemeji Mushrooms over a Tarragon Beurre Blanc sauce. The lovely butter sauce complimented the creaminess of the escargots and mushrooms.

For our mains, I decided on the surf and turf, I’m a sucker for soft shell crab and love spider rolls so when I saw crispy soft shell crab served over AAA Alberta beef tenderloin, Roma tomato chutney and potatoes. The steak was juicy and well seasoned, while the crab was tender inside a nice crunchy coating. My friend enjoyed her Salted BC Sablefish with House Maide Pappardelle (thick noodles) in a Wild Mushroom Saute and Sweet Pea Coulis.

Muse Apple Pie
At this point we’ve already been at the restaurant for nearly two hours but we weren’t done yet, there was still dessert and you can’t leave without having dessert. My companion ordered the Pear and Cardamom Crème Brulee (she’d been eyeing it since we got our menus) while I opted for the Muse Apple Pie. My dessert was essentially a deconstructed pie with a Breton shortbread underneath a caramelized apple terrine, served with whiskey ice cream overtop, it reminded me of an anukshuk, which was a neat way to present the dish aside from your usual circular pie crust. I did miss the fluffy puff pastry, but the shortbread did the job in the end.

The wine list is quite extensive at muse, with a focus on Californian wines, but a great selection of old world wines as well. The servers are very helpful with the selection they carry in house and give great advice. We were stumped between my friend and I (she enjoy Pinot Noirs, while I’m more of a Chianti or Bordeaux person) and we got great advice in helping us select the perfect wine for the both of us, we ended up with a bottle of the 414, it was a blended wine with a medium to full body, but tasted a bit spicier and complimented both all of our dishes well.

Pear and Cardamom Creme Brulee
My Picks: Cream of Cauliflower Soup, Sesame Crusted Ahi Tuna

Overall: We both enjoyed our dinner at Muse greatly, with the amazing atmosphere and well sized portions (each dish could have been a meal in itself), it reminded us why Muse has done so well in the Calgary restaurant scene and hopefully will continue to inspire all our palates for a long time to come.

Muse Restaurant
107 10A Street NW
Calgary, AB
(403) 670-6874
Website: http://www.muserestaurant.ca/

Muse on Urbanspoon

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Let's Start It Off Spicy

>> Thursday, January 6, 2011

Jerk Chicken
Another year is upon us and as always people develop new resolutions for the year, which is fantastic, but one thing that has always eluded me is, why does it always have to be at the beginning of a new year? Why can’t each day be a day where people start a new resolution? Perhaps it’s easier to track progress starting from January 1? But then if that’s the case, are the masses looking back at the end of December on any given year at how they’ve progressed in their resolutions? I know, lots of questions and I seem a little miffed about this resolution thing…well I’m not…not really, ok, maybe just a little because of this one reason. It gets to me because when I enter the gym in January (any day, pick a number that you like and insert it here) I am stuck. Stuck? Yes, stuck, I can’t get on a treadmill to do my laps, I can’t get enough floor space to get in my workout and I definitely can’t find enough weights to do much of anything. Since I normally workout during my lunch hour, which apparently is the time when the rest of the world is working out as well (especially in January), I seriously don’t end up doing much of what I wanted to in the first place, it usually ends up being whatever machine I can get my hands on.

Don’t get me wrong, its great that people are working out and being fit, but I’m more on the “it’s a lifestyle change” boat and if people are only their to appease their egos and get on the “new years resolution fitness” boat, then I can definitely do without a few of those on the treadmills that I was about to use. Ok ok, that’s my rant, but I just wanted to say, to everyone on a new resolution, good for you, but just make sure that at the end of the year aka December, you’re looking back and you ARE accessing your progress, hopefully still going strong and for those of you, here’s a healthy recipe I wanted to share with you to celebrate your new better self…but for the few of you, please please please can I have my treadmill back?

Since everyone is trying to get back in to their grooves after the holidays here’s a great recipe spice things up, where the spiciness can be adjusted dependent on your heat tolerance level. Hopefully it’ll fast track you on your way to a better healthier self as well (especially when you’re looking back at this in December!)!

Cooking the Chicken
Nutritional Tidbit: Spicy foods have long been touted by nutritionist to aid in fat burn. This is due to the capsaicin found in spicy foods which causes our bodies to sweat to cool down our systems. Plus, since the food is spicy, this requires us to eat slower which allows our stomachs to register that we’re full faster. By eating foods slower, our brain can actually register that we are full preventing us from scarfing down everything in site to appease our hungry stomachs.

Jerk Chicken Recipe
Rub Ingredients:
1 tbsp ground allspice
1 tbsp ground thyme
1 tbsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cayenne
2 tbsp chili flakes
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp garlic powder
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp salt

Cooking ingredients:
2 cloves garlic
1 onion minced
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp canola oil
1 /2 cup white vinegar
2 tbsp lime juice
6-8 chicken thighs

Jerk Chicken Served
Preparation:
Combine all the dry rub ingredients and rub on the chicken. Let sit overnight in refrigerator, if cooking straight away add in soy sauce, white vinegar, orange juice and lime juice (if cooking the next day, keep the wet ingredients separate and add in cooking process).

Heat oil in pot over medium high heat, add in garlic and onions, cook until onions are opaque. Add in the chicken only without the sauce and let them get a good sear on all sides.

Pour in the wet ingredients or the rest of the marinade and turn heat down to medium low. Cover and let simmer for about 20-25 mins.

Remove the chicken, let the sauce reduce. Season with more salt, pepper and chilis if it isn’t spicy enough. Pour sauce over chicken and serve over rice.

Enjoy!

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