Restaurant Review: Anju Restaurant and Eecha Lounge

>> Thursday, July 28, 2011


Crispy Tofu
Living in a city like Calgary, I often it find it a challenge to actually go for a walk. I’ve heard this many times from the people that I know that have moved to Calgary from other more walk friendly cities. Aside from having to contend with the ever changing weather patterns, Calgary just isn’t built for walking. There aren’t really many food grocery stores in the downtown core (all on the west end). Most of the shopping malls can only be accessed via car or transit (since the core shopping centre has much shorter hours). Plus most people don’t live downtown. So I usually try to take advantage of any situation that would allow me to walk, Eg. Going out after work. What better way to get in a bit of a walk then to your dinner destination? So you can see how excited I was to find out that we were going to Anju, which is exactly opposite from where work downtown, but of course it wasn’t only the walking part that got me all energized. I knew there would be some delicious food waiting for me there as well!

Atmosphere: A restored two storey residence with relaxed modern panache, great for small plate styled eats.

Price Range: Mid $10 - $20s

Yam Fries
Food and Wine: Prior to dinner I had a few recommendations from previous Anju patrons and the reoccurring theme were - get the fries, get the tofu. So when it came time to order those were the first two items on our list, among the whole plethora of other dishes. The first to arrive was Truffled Yam Fries (with great anticipation I might add) and they did not disappoint. I can see why Anju boasts that they are the best in the city. I really enjoyed the gochugaru aioli, which is Korean spiced mayo. It has a bit of heat, but not too much and compliments the sweet yam fries very nicely.

The Spicy Salmon Tacos were next, which had salmon tartare, light asian slaw all served in a crispy wonton shell. They were a bit messy to eat, but that’s part of the fun. The salmon had lots of flavour and wasn’t overwhelmed by the slaw. The highly recommended Crispy Tofu was served over top sautéed kimchi and citrus aioli. I couldn’t taste the lemon flavour too much, but that was ok since the tofu was the star of this dish. I was amazed at how well the breading stuck to the tofu and you got a good even crunch every bite. The kimchi gave the tofu an additional kick, making for a great dish.

Salmon Tacos
For a larger entrée we decided on the Beef Short Rib Lettuce Wrap, which came with thai basil, samjang (spicy paste), rice, butter leaf lettuce and of course the short ribs. You’re meant to take a bit of each item and wrap it in the lettuce before consuming to get a nice contrast of flavours and textures. The only difficulty we found was the short ribs were a bit chewy, this could be due to the sinew that is normally found with short ribs, especially when they’re grilled. They were well seasoned and had a hint of sweetness to them which was welcomed.

At this point, we were debating if we wanted to move on to dessert or maybe sample a few more plates off the menu (since there are so many different choices). The latter won and ordered the Pork Belly Stuffed Mini Sliders (also because I saw steamed buns and that was the end of me). I love sliders, love pork and love steamed buns. This was a winner. Very well flavoured and the soft fluffy buns were a great vessel.

Lamb Chop
Our final dish of the evening was the Lamp Chop with Salad. The lamb was seared a nice medium rare (the way all lamb should be served) and came with a perfectly dressed side salad. Everyone agreed that everything tasted great, however the portion of the lamb was truly indeed a small bite, so keep that in mind if you’re thinking lamb rack, it’s a chop, singular. Order the entrée size if you’re looking for a larger meal.

Although I’m not usually one to pair wine with Asian cuisine, this was more of a fusion event and we opted to go with the Cannonball Cabernet Sauvignon. The normal wine suggested to go with spicy asian meals is the Gewurztraminer, however we didn’t feel like having a white wine that evening and I found the cab sauv that we ordered quite a good fit. It had a light peppery fruitiness with a long smooth finish and complimented the meat dishes well. A nice change to the usual sweetness of a white wine. Anju also offers soju, which is a Korean liquor so if you're planning to stay a bit later in to the evening. I'd definitely suggest trying it!

Pork Belly Sliders
My Picks: Truffled Yam Fries, Crispy Tofu, Spicy Salmon Tacos

Overall: The food at Anju is definitely worth the trek and if you’re not as enthused about walking as I am, then definitely drive on over because nobody should miss those delicious yam fries. I mean nobody.

Anju Restaurant and Eecha Lounge
507 10 Street SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 532-9419
Website: http://www.anju.ca/

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Restaurant Review: Blink Restaurant & Bar

>> Monday, July 25, 2011



It’s always a treat when I get to eat out. No matter what the occasion is or whether it’s a spur of the moment decision. I always get excited to try out a new location or if it’s a place I’ve been to before, I look forward to tasting reinvented dishes on the menu, especially with a restaurant like Blink.

Atmosphere: Open and modern interior contrasting the rustic brick wall running along the entire length of the restaurant due to its historical building location on Calgary’s Stephen Avenue.

Price Range: Mid $10s - $30+

Food and Wine: We arrived a bit ahead of our friends and decided on a bottle of Bordeaux wine for the evening, Chateau D’argadens 2007. It was a medium to full bodied Bordeaux with supple tannins. A blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot grapes, it was a dense red while remaining soft, which worked well since some of the dishes we were thinking of ordering could have been overpowered by a heavy red wine.

Once everyone arrived it took us a bit to decide what we wanted to order since everything sounded delicious. We decided on the Albacore Tuna Tartare as the appetizer and it didn’t disappoint. The tartare was well seasoned with a light ginger soy sauce, which managed to enhance and not overwhelm the taste of the tuna. The addition of avocado gave the tuna an added creaminess, contrasting nicely with the crispy baguettes.


For our mains, I ordered the Tenderloin of Beef served with potato gratin, crispy aparagus spears and a red wine sauce. The Beef was seared rare as ordered and nicely seasoned. I enjoyed the crispy asparagus spears. It gave the dish a much needed texture contrast (who doesn’t enjoy anything deep fried). I had a couple bites of my husband’s Halibut dish as well. The fish had a nice crispy crust but remained nicely moist and tender on the inside. It sat on nice bed of sautéed vegetables and paired well with the mushroom sauce. I managed to sneak a couple of my friend’s triple fried fries which came with her short ribs entrée and they were amazing. They were extremely crispy without being oily or soggy, what a great side!

Since we were a bigger group that evening, we got to try several desserts. Their signature being the Warm Valrhona Chocolate Cake, which is a molten lava cake served with coconut sorbet. The cake was crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside, I enjoyed the coconut pairing of the sorbet, which made the dessert rich yet light. The second was the Natural Yogurt Panna Cotta with rhubarb compote. The panna cotta was creamy and velvety with the rhubarb providing a bit of acid to the dish. The third and my favourite was the Iced Hazelnut Nougat with raspberry coulis and topped with fresh raspberries. Little chunks of nougat were dispersed throughout the iced sorbet. It was extremely refreshing and wasn’t overly sweet. A great end to a delectable meal.


My Picks: Tuna Tartare, Fries, Iced Hazelnut Nougat

Overall: Focused on local and seasonal ingredients. Blink’s menu often changes to reflect the season even if sometimes they’re small adjustments, you can always be sure that it reflects what fresh.

Blink Restaurant & Bar
111 8 Avenue SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 263-5330
Website: http://www.blinkcalgary.com/

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Summer and Pickled Beets

>> Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Beets

The best thing about summertime (aside from the great weather) is all the different fruits and vegetables that are in season. I can literally eat nothing else but melons, stone fruits to corn and sweet peppers. Although most of these items can be found everyday in a typical grocery store, nothing beats picking up fresh locally grown veggies at your farmers market.

One of my favourite is beets and when I see them at the market, I almost always bring them home with me. Their bright color always looks great in a summer salad or even roasted on the grill and used as a side. Makes sense why beets are now being featured on many restaurant menus around town. Although you can find beets all throughout the year and usually in the fall, summertime is when you will start to find the different colored and smaller varieties, ranging from bright yellow to deep purple.

When selecting for beets, remember to look for smooth, spotless globes ranging from small to medium sizes. This will provide you with a sweeter and better textured variety (the larger ones tend to be a bit more fibrous). Also, remember to look at the stems and leaves, otherwise known at beet greens, they should be a green and not wilted or yellow. Once you bring them home remember to store them in the fridge so they have the longest shelf life.

Nutritional Tidbit: The deep colors of purple beets provide a rich source of antioxidants and beets are known for their folate. Folate or folic acid is a B vitamin essential in the synthesis of DNA, especially important during cell division and growth. Therefore it is vital for pregnant women. Both children and normal adults also require folate to ensure proper healthy red blood cell production.

There are many different applications for beets, you can simply roast them and create a nice light beet and arugula salad topped with some goat cheese. Simply sauté them with a little salt and pepper or a balsamic glaze, which makes a great side to any summertime menu. Or pickle them, which really showcase the sweetness of the beets by contrasting it with the tangy sourness of the pickling liquid.

Normal pickling recipes take a bit of time before you can actually enjoy the fruits of your labour. Although they’re well worth it, I usually like to eat what I cook straight away (even waiting for a pie to cool is difficult at times). I was lucky enough to find a pickling recipe that only required a 30 minute wait time before I was able to fully enjoy the beets and figured that it was too good not to share. I’ve adapted the recipe to lower the amount of acid used originally because both my husband and I found it to be a little too sour and it overwhelmed the natural sweetness of the beets. The best part is, you can even use these beets in a salad after they’ve been pickled!

Pickled Beets
Method courtesy of Simply Recipes found here.

Ingredients:
4 to 5 small to medium sized beets
1/8 cup apple cider vinegar
1/8 cup water
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp dry mustard
Salt and pepper

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350ºF

Wash and wrap each beet in foil. Place them in the oven and roast for roughly an hour. You’ll know the beets are done when a fork can be easily inserted. ( I like cooking the beets this way the best because you don’t lose any of the natural sweetness of them).

Peel each of the beets, they should easily slip off at this point.

Cube or slice the beets in to equal sizes, let them cool off a bit.

Mix the dressing, apple cider vinegar, water, sugar, olive oil, dry mustard, salt and pepper (to taste) in a bowl. Add in the beets and let it all marinate for at least 30 minutes at room temperature.

You can also make this a day in advance and let the beets sit in the vinaigrette overnight. This recipe keeps for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.

Enjoy!

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Restaurant Review: Cafe Momoko

>> Thursday, July 14, 2011


Rainbow Roll

I was reminiscing the other day with a couple of friends about all the great times we had during high school and university and how it literally does just seem like yesterday (a sign that we’re getting old). The funny thing was most of those times always occurred at a restaurant, bubble tea shop or over food of some sort. I guess looking back it was only a matter of time that I became a full fledged foodie. When we started talking about all the different hang outs of years passed, I realized that majority of those places were sushi restaurants. I guess I’ve always had a soft spot for Japanese food, so when I read about all the great things online about Café Momoko, I hoped that we could add to some of those great experiences and headed there for some delicious food and amusing times.

Atmosphere: A petite but charming restaurant with Asian (more correctly Japanese) flair.

Price Range: Mid $10s

Ocean Salad
Food: We arrived fairly early for dinner, but the restaurant was already getting pretty busy. It took us a bit to get seated, which is understandable because the place is literally ran by one person, the owner himself. He was very friendly and kept apologizing for taking so long to seat us. After we had some time to peruse the menu, he came back pretty quickly to take our order. We decided that we’d try a bunch of different items seeing that there were also Korean dishes on the menu as well. Seeing how there were only two people working in the kitchen (it’s a small establishment) our meal didn’t take all that long to arrive.

Dynamite Roll
We started with a simple Seaweed Ocean Salad, which consisted of seaweed, daikon (radish) and carrots in a light sesame vinaigrette. I’m use to the salad only being served with seaweed, so the addition of daikon was refreshing. It gave the salad an overall crispness that is normally missing. Next up were all the different rolls that we ordered, starting with the Beef Teriyaki Roll, which consists of cooked beef rolled up with nori seaweed and rice on the outside then topped with a bit of teriyaki sauce. I found that I didn’t need to dip this roll in to soy sauce since it already came with the teriyaki overtop, giving the roll a nice sweet tanginess. My only recommendation would be to serve a bit more of the teriyaki sauce on the side.

We also enjoyed the Rainbow Roll, where a traditional California roll is covered with an array of seafood (smoked salmon, tuna, salmon, prawn, avocado, mango), the presentation of the roll was stunning due to the multitude of colors forming each segment of the roll. Since each section was topped with a different type of fish or fruit, I got a different flavour profile for each bite. It’s definitely recommended for those who can’t decide on whether to stick with tuna or salmon, why not get a bit of each?

Super Shrimp
The Dynamite Roll came with a spicy mayo sauce, which I found to be less creamy than the convention sriracha mayo served with other dynamite rolls I’ve had before. Since it wasn’t so creamy I found that it didn’t overwhelm the roll and I could actually taste the shrimp more. Our last roll was the Super Shrimp, as you can guess, it came with a good amount of shrimp, both fried and steamed. This was probably our least favourite since it was a bit bland and the roll was very hard to keep intact once you lifted it off its initial serving platter. In hindsight we probably could have skipped this roll had it not been called super shrimp. I guess the name called out to us.

So to fully try out their menu we also got an order of the Spicy pork bulgogi and ordered it extra spicy (if you don’t like or want pork they also have chicken and beef, which you can ask to have it spicier). The owner offered to customize it since many people preferred to have the dish a bit milder. The dish also came with pickled daikon, kimchi, vegetable tempura, lettuce wraps (more like a meal rather than a dish). It was quite a bit more food then we anticipated since we’ve already gone through a good amount of sushi at this time. However, I had to take a couple bites at least just to get a good feel on what the flavours were. The pork, as promised, was nice and spicy, but it was a tad salty (guess that’s where the lettuce wraps come in). Once we ate a couple bites of the daikon, it helped to mellow out the saltiness of the pork, the flavours of the dish itself was good and the pork was very tender. A good sized meal if you’re not looking to eat any of the Japanese items on the menu.

Spicy Pork Bulgogi
My Picks: Rainbow Roll, Spicy Pork Bulgogi

Overall: Although we were at Café Momoko this time more so for the food and less so to idly pass the time like we did when we were younger. We still appreciated all the good chit chat and time spent there. Plus, when you throw in good food and great service, there really isn’t any bad side to this equation.

Café Momoko
8 Weston Dr NW
Calgary, AB
(403) 246-4684

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Grilling Eggplants

>> Monday, July 11, 2011


Eggplant

I love summer time grilling and everything to do with it. I’ve been literally throwing everything on the grill. There really isn’t much that you can’t grill. I’ve even found a book where you can make your desserts on the grill! The reason behind all this, aside from the fact that it’s gorgeous outside right now and who knows how long that’ll last in Calgary…is that you don’t have much clean up. Literally, you just turn off the BBQ and step away (minus a minute or two to scrape off all the little bits of food that might still be stuck on the grill, no washing of pots and pans or woks). And since everything that needs to go on the grill is usually marinated in one bowl or Ziploc, it makes cleaning up even easier.

So since we’ve been grilling every meal pretty much, it was starting to get a bit boring to keep eating veggies with only salt, pepper and olive oil as a marinade. I usually can’t go more than one or two days with the same flavour profiles, so a little ingenuity was required (aka my friend google). I looked in the fridge and saw that I had some eggplant lying around and I’ve grilled eggplants before and they’re delicious. Eggplants are literally a sponge and will take on any type of flavouring you marinade it in and great for the grill because its form holds up well to the heat.

Nutritional Tidbit: Don’t let the texture of eggplant throw you off (it might take a bit to get use to), but the benefits are well worth it and shouldn’t be ignored. The eggplant has high antioxidant levels which help to fight off environmental damage caused by free radicals to our bodies. Not to mention it’s great for dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Remember when picking out eggplant in the grocery store. Go for the smooth, shiny, deep purpled colored ones (usually the most common type). Try to avoid any that have a marked skin which is a telltale sign that the eggplant isn’t very fresh. If you’re uncertain whether to get the Chinese (long and slender), the European (rounder) or even the Indian (small and round) variety, remember they can all be treated the same. The taste may range a bit so for the recipe below (which is based on this recipe found here), try to stick with the purple varietal since I haven’t tested this on the white or green eggplant types.

That's pretty much it! Pretty straight forward right? Just like grilling. =)

Grilled Eggplant
Ingredients:
1 European eggplant
4 tbsp light soy sauce
4 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
8 cloves garlic, minced (less if you’re not a big garlic fan)
2 tbsp cooking wine
2-3 tbsp sriracha or other chili sauce
Lime wedges (optional)

Preparation:
Cut the eggplant length wise to increase the surface area on the grill.

In a baking dish (or Ziploc bag), combine the light, dark soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce, brown sugar, cooking wine, garlic and sriracha sauce.

Place the cut eggplant in to the marinade, rotating each piece so that it is covered in the marinade.

Let it sit for 30 mins to an hour before placing it on the grill.

After about 5 mins, remember to turn the eggplant and baste it with the remaining sauce.
Remove the eggplant after another 5 mins or so.

Server with a wedge of lime or as is. Great as a side for chicken or pork (grilled as well of course).

Enjoy!

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Restaurant Review: Cassis Bistro

>> Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Beef Tartare

Since the beginning of summer and the nonstop construction that is Deerfoot Trail, we’ve been talking more and more about why we still live in the area that we do. Its becoming very tempting to cut down on commute time and move closer to the downtown core, where we find ourselves during the week and even on weekends. Just thinking about the time we’d save on a daily basis is enticing enough but then I heard of the new Casel Marche they opened just off of Bow Trail, with a European styled grocery store, wine store, café and French Bistro called Cassis. I swear they built this place to lure me even more. So I headed to Cassis Bistro, just to do some research of course.

Atmosphere: Casual and contemporary chic, a light airy feel, due to the modern styled booths and quaint chalk boards reminiscent of European bistros.

Price Range: Mid $10s - $30

Calamari
Food and Wine: It was extremely busy at Cassis that night we went, so I definitely recommend reservations ahead of time. After taking a look at the menu, I wanted to try everything. It was extremely hard to pick and choose only a few items. Then I saw the wall which had a ratatouille recipe and knew that I had to have a dish with it or order it as a side.

My companions and I decided to start with the Calamari de Regine, which I’ve heard great things about. Its grilled calamari and stuffed with chopped up prosciutto. Anything stuffed with prosciutto is a winner in my books and this dish proved to be so. The saltiness of prosciutto brought out the sweetness of the squid and when accompanied by the peppery arugula, it all seemed to fit (however the salad was a bit salty, but maybe I just got a bad bite). Our second appetizer was the Alberta Beef Tartare. The plating of the tartare was unique, with the raw egg still sitting in a half opened shell, which gave you an opportunity to choose not to mix it in with the tartare. My first bite of the crostini brought with it a fusion of flavours from the tangy salty capers to the creamy peppered beef. The contrast of textures is always nice.

Skirt Steak
It was hard to choose only a couple mains and there was a few times where we wanted to order one of each and had to hold back. We had the Organic Alberta Skirt Steak because I remembered ordering a dish similar to this in Paris and it was amazing. This dish was no different. The steak was succulent and juicy especially when topped with sweet caramelized onions, you can’t go wrong there. The side of sauteed potatoes was crispy (I dislike soggy potatoes) and served with a creamy aioli.

Our second entrée of Wild Atlantic Salmon was served over top sautéed asparagus, red peppers and morel mushrooms. The salmon was crispy on the outside yet still slightly pink and flaky on the inside, which is the only way salmon should be served. The herb pistou was a nice added touch for both presentation and added a light richness to the dish. We decided on the Alberta Rack of Lamb for our final entrée dish due to the ratatouille that accompanied it. The lamb itself was cooked to a perfect medium and seasoned well, but I’d have to say that the star of the dish was the ratatouille. Each vegetable component of the ratatouille was perfectly braised and were like little flavour bursts. I’d definitely recommend it.

Salmon
Like Parisian restaurants the desserts du jour were displayed on a chalkboard. Similar to the entrees we were tempted to try them all but decided on three of the four for good measure. When they arrived each reminded me of éclairs because they were so precious looking. My first bite was of the Paris Brest, which is essentially a praline cream filled profiterole or cream puff. The cream tasted just like a ferrero rocher chocolate, full of hazelnut flavour and extremely velvety. My second bite was of the Tropezienne, a dessert made famous in St. Tropez, France and is made of soft sweet brioche cake with a rich yet light cream filling. It was hard to decide which one I loved more at this point so I carried forth. For the last dessert we ordered the Tarte aux Pommes otherwise known as an apple tart. It had a layer of apples sitting on a light puff pastry shell. The tart itself was a bit dry and could have used a bit of ice cream, which would have offset the dryness of the pastry. I immediately went back to the first two desserts, just to reevaluate which one I liked more of course.

Our wine for the evening was the Domaine Montrose 2006 Syrah Cabernet. It was a deep garnet red color and tasted of oak and pepper. A dry full bodied red, where the cabernet softened the bold tannins of the syrah. It went will with our protein heavy meal and contrasted our sugary desserts.

Desserts
My Picks: Calamari, Organic Alberta Skirt Steak, Paris Brest

Overall: We had a blast and the owner even stopped by a couple of times to say hi. He mentioned that the changing seasons will bring with it new menu options reflective of what produce are available at the time. They just don’t stop the allure here at Casel Marche, so I guess I’ll just have to come back again soon (to do more research of course) and who knows maybe a move is just what I need afterall.

Chalkboard
Cassis Bistro
105 2505 17th Avenue SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 262-0036
Website: http://www.thecassisbistro.ca/

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