Restaurant Review: The Casbah

>> Friday, December 21, 2012


It’s the holidays where most people are either rushing to get their last minute Christmas shopping done and preparing for the festivities or they’re trying to get out of anything Christmas related and getting out of the country as soon as possible. But if you find that you’re stuck in between the two, where you don’t want to miss out on all the Christmas celebrations but at the same time looking for a little oasis in all the chaos, I highly recommend checking out The Casbah, where you will be transported right before your eyes.

Atmosphere: Like stepping in to true riad which instantly transports you to Morocco with the authentic décor and fragrant smells coming from the kitchen creating an extremely intimate and romantic setting.


Price Range: Mid – High $10s, set dinners available $30+

Food and Wine: After seeing the space and looking at the menu, I knew we wanted the full Moroccan experience. Why not go straight for the 5 course meal? I’m glad we did. Starting off with a warm and aromatic Harirra Soup with chickpeas and lentils simmered together in fragrant saffron and ginger infused tomato broth. A great way to start the evening, by warming our tummies!


Next up was the Khoudra Salad consisting of a sample of different traditional Moroccan salads – Carrot, Corn and Beets – the flavours brought me back at the Jemma el-Fnaa (city square) in Marrakech. Each salad had its own distinct flavour, the carrot being my favourite due to all the cinnamony goodness in the dressing. Don’t get me wrong, they were all very good and refreshing. The corn was sweet and had a bit of a zest to it, but wasn’t hot in any way and the beets were tangy.

We each got a choice of appetizers and decided on the Crevette and Khoubiza. The crevette is chermoula marinated baby shrimp consisting of fresh pureed tomatoes, herbs and garlic. Wrapped in a Phyllo pastry, it was crispy and well seasoned. The pastry wasn’t overly oily which was nice. The khoubiza reminded me of Greek spanikopita, essentially spinach, bell peppers, fresh herbs and feta cheese wrapped in Phyllo. Again, it was crispy and light. There seemed to be less feta cheese then spanikopita and I preferred that.


For our entrees, I had the Chicken Jilbana Tajine, tender slices of chicken were cooked in the tajine with aromatic sweet green peas, artichoke hearts, potatoes topped with preserved lemon and olives. The chicken was moist and juicy and I really enjoyed the artichoke hearts which were infused with the flavour of the fragrant spices. The Kefta Tajine which had the Moroccan meatballs stewed in tomatoes, vegetables, chick peas and olives, had a real punch of flavour. The meatballs were succulent especially when eaten with the lovely sauce. Both tajines were a good serving size so we weren’t overly stuffed at this point and still had room for dessert.

To wrap up the meal we were served Pistachio Baklava with ice cream and drizzled chocolate. It was the perfect end to a decadent meal. I love any dessert that includes ice cream and you really can’t go wrong with baklava in my books.



Our meal came with 2 glasses of a medium bodied house wine, but it’s always hard to stop after just one glass (maybe one day…maybe). So we also ordered a bottle of the Louis Latour Pinot Noir to accompany our meal, the house wine wasn't bad but we wanted something a bit more bold.  The pinot had hints of berry notes with a fuller bodied finished. The wine definitely opened up a bit more as we let it aerate, so I’d highly recommend serving it decanted.

My Picks: Crevette, Kefta Tajine


Overall: Right when I walked in to the Casbah, it was like I was back in Marrakech Morocco again. In fact, I thought the space was even more beautifully designed then certain restaurants we visited in Morocco itself. So needless to say, I wasn’t surprised that the food was of the same quality. The owners take great pride in putting their passion in to their cooking and presentation, so you can definitely can see it as well as taste it.
The Casbah
720 11 Ave SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 265-9800

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Quick and Easy Chicken Fajitas

>> Friday, December 14, 2012


I remember when I first started venturing in to the realm of ethnic cooking (anything aside from Asian that is), I have to admit that I was guilty of using some prepackaged seasonings like Old El Paco or shake n bake spice mixes. Yes I am still ashamed of it, especially because now that I know how easy it is to create your own mixes, not only does everything taste more flavourful and aromatic but the food itself just seems more appealing overall. Plus, now I can play around and add a bit more of certain spices or remove some that I didn’t think worked that well. It’s really opened up a whole new exploratory world for me. It also made cooking a lot more interesting being able to customize the dish.

Now that I have a good collection of different spices, it has made cooking ethnic dishes a lot easier, especially when you’re at a lost for what to put together for a quick dinner (no more Old El Paco). The following chicken fajita recipe is something that can be cooked super quickly and is easy because it doesn’t need to be marinated ahead of time, but if you did have time to prep and were able to marinate the chicken, you get a deeper level of flavour. Don’t let that stop you from cooking it though if you’re at a bind for time because it’s one of those recipes that work because the flavours really come together during the cooking process itself.


Nutritional Tidbit: Needless to say spices and herbs are known as extremely healthy foods. Paprika and cayenne has been shown to contain anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects which can lower the risk of cancer, while coriander can help alleviate bloating and gout. Cilantro has been used to help regulate digestion and other ailments. It’s easy to incorporate spices and herbs in to every dish you’re making by either adding them right to the recipe or even sprinkling them over top your dish!

Ingredients:
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
2 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 medium bell pepper (any color or mix them up a bit), cored and sliced into 1/2-inch strips
1 medium onion, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cayenne powder (or a bit more if you like it spicy)
2 tsps ground coriander
2 tsps ground cumin
2 tsps paprika
1 lime, juiced
8-10 chicken things, cut in to 1/2 inch strips (or 3-4 chicken breasts cut in to strips)
Salt and pepper
8-10 (6”) Corn or Flour tortillas or you can make your own using this recipe
Guacamole for serving (optional)
Salsa for serving (optional)
Sour cream for serving (optional)


Preparation:
Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add in 1 tbsp of olive or canola oil. Once hot, gently place in the onions and garlic, sautee for 2-3 mins.

Toss in the bell peppers and cook for another 2-3 mins, sprinkle in a bit of salt and pepper. Remove everything from the skillet and set aside.

Meanwhile, add another 1tbsp of olive or canola oil back in to the skillet and once hot add in the chicken, add a good pinch of salt and pepper and cook for 5 mins.

Add in the all the spices at this time, the chili powder, cayenne, coriander, cumin and paprika. Stir the chicken so all the spices are well distributed.

Add the onion and bell pepper mixture back to the skillet, stir to combine all the ingredients and let all the flavours simmer together.

If you find that the chicken is starting to stick to the skillet, you may need to add a bit of water, 1/4 cup or so to prevent the ingredients from burning.

Continue to cook the mixture until the chicken is no longer pink or until all the liquid starts to evaporate, the less runny the mixture is the easier it will be to assemble the tortillas later on.

Add in a bit more salt and pepper to taste.

Once ready, remove from the heat and sprinkle the cilantro over top.

Heat up the tortillas, either in the oven or in the microwave for a minute or two.

Assemble the warm tortillas with salsa, guacamole and/or sour cream (if using) and serve!

Serves up to 4 people


If you have time to marinate the chicken the day before, in a Ziploc bag or container add in the garlic, chili powder, coriander, cayenne, cumin, paprika, lime juice, good pinch each of salt and pepper and 2 tablespoons of the oil. Whisk together and add in the chicken and turn to coat with the marinade. Seal or cover the chicken and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. When ready cook the peppers and onions as mentioned above, then cook the chicken with all the marinade and add 1/4 cup of water to prevent blackening of the spices. Continue with the recipe as stated.

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Restaurant Review: OEB Breakfast Co.

>> Friday, December 7, 2012


When we wake up on the weekends, the first thing we do is run to the kitchen, open up the fridge and figure out what’s for breakfast. Seldom do we make it out of the house before at least having a snack. As you can imagine, any sort of a wait list or line up would deter us merely because it would lengthen the amount of time between us and the food, especially that early in the morning. Essentially it’s an ‘I want food and I want it now’ type of situation. So how shocked was I, when my husband proposed that we should go have brunch at OEB one weekend. We’ve attempted this several times before to no avail because there was no way we were going to make it standing there in line for 30+ mins. I don’t know how we did it, but it happened and I’m glad to not have missed out on this experience!

Atmosphere: An energetic and bustling dining space with limited seating with a first come first served basis. The décor is bright and fun, really livening up the room, with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee right when you walk through the door.


Price Range: Mid $10s

Food and Drinks: OEB is known for their famous Soul in a Bowl, a brunch-style poutine with poached eggs, potatoes and bacon smothered in their brown butter hollandaise sauce. Variations of the soul in a bowl include avocados and tomatoes or pulled chicken, you can even get it without eggs.

However that shouldn’t be the only reason why you visit OEB. There are many other amazing dishes just as delicious if not more so. The hubby decided to order the Maritime Lobster and Shrimp Scramble, which is only served in limited quantities daily, all dependent on how much fresh seafood they’ve received. If it’s not fresh, they won’t serve it. The butter poached Canadian lobster are scrambles with shrimp, eggs and green onions then served inside a thin crepe topped with brown butter hollandaise. To elevate the plate even more, it’s garnished with French kelp caviar and micro greens!


Although it might sound a bit decadent, the dish was actually quite light. The eggs were fluffy and the seafood was sweet and juicy. Even with the lobster being poached in butter, it wasn’t oily. The hollandaise sauce was what really brought the whole dish together. The crepe would have felt bare otherwise.

As for me, I wanted to satisfy my sweet tooth and had the Belgium Waffle with fresh strawberries and raspberries. The waffles are normally served with either fresh strawberries or blueberries or a combo of both, but they were out of blueberries that day and the raspberries were an excellent substitution. Tart and juicy, it was perfect with the super fluffy waffle. Each bite literally melted in my mouth. I barely even had to use any maple syrup. Instead I decided on a side of whipped cream (how can I not?) which was a bit extra cost wise but well worth it. Nothing beats strawberries and whipped cream on waffles.


I wouldn’t have asked for anything more, however having a cup of the Café Umbria americano was the perfect accompaniment to the waffles and it came with a lovely biscotti cookie on the side. For those that don’t want coffee, OEB also has a great selection of Mighty Leaf Teas (one of my favourites is the tropical green tea). If you’re looking for something more to help wake you up, they also serve ‘specialty’ coffees like Baileys and Coffee or Kahlua and French Brandy. Don’t forget that you could also opt for something a bit more like the Morning Glory sparkling wine and orange juice or just go straight for the Bloody Mary.

My Picks: Belgium Waffle, Maritime Lobster and Shrimp Scramble Crepe


Overall: Now that we know what all the waiting is about, it is definitely worth it and I can see why the line up was all the way out the door. The food is fresh and flavourful with plenty of selection to satisfy all your cravings. It really is true, good things do come to those who wait. We might be on to something here. No more scrounging for food first thing in the mornings!

OEB Breakfast Co.
824 Edmonton Trail NE
Calgary, AB
(403) 278-3447
Website: www.eatoeb.com

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Food Blogger Bake Sale - Holiday Edition!

>> Friday, November 30, 2012


Seeing as tomorrow is the beginning of December, I feel the holiday season has officially approached and I can finally start all my holiday baking. I know it’s not the only time during the year that calls for baking, but there’s something to be said about ringing in the holidays surrounded by sugar and sweets. Plus, there’s really nothing better than the exchanging of homemade baked goodness with friends and family.

To piggy back on to all of our holiday baking this year, the food bloggers of Calgary have come together to donate some of their goodies to the Food Blogger Bake Sale supporting Calgary Meals on Wheels. 'Tis the season for giving!

Calgary Meals on Wheels is an organization dedicated to providing healthy and nutritious meals to Calgarians who would otherwise have no access to food. Their program enables clients to enjoy two freshly prepared meals delivered to their place of residence up to seven days a week. In service for close to 50 years, they service some 1900 clients plus several unique programs without ever missing a delivery! Meals on wheels is run by some 750 volunteers, working out to roughly 75,000 hours a year, who deliver meals within Calgary city limits. So it is our hope that we could provide some assistance to such a great program through your support!

The Christmas Food Blogger’s Bake Sale will be held at Casel Marche located on 17th Ave and 24th Street SW, who has once again graciously offered up their space for the cause.

The sale will be Saturday Dec 8th from 10 am – 4 pm or until all the goodies are gone. So please stop by pick up a couple (perfect for those Christmas exchanges) and say hi!

Casel Marche
2503 – 17th Avenue SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 770-4700
Website: www.caselmarche.com

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Recipe List

>> Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Somebody asked me the other day how long I’ve been writing my blog and I was shocked to tell them that I was approaching 4 years! Time sure does fly! However, I still enjoy maintaining the blog as much as I did the first post and looking back, they sure started to add up. I started to find that it was a bit difficult to locate recipes and other hidden information, so why not make it easier for all.

Here is a list of all the recipes I’ve blogged about so far and I’ll remind myself to update it once I add another healthy recipe to the site! Thank you everyone for their continued support and I hope you all enjoy the recipes!

Appetizers, Sauces and Sides
Apple Fennel Salad
Apple Raisin Phyllo Rolls
Bruschetta
Butternut Squash Soup
Chinese Steamed Buns (Man Tous)
Chinese Sticky Rice
Crab Cakes
Crab Phyllo Rolls
Egg and Prosciutto Cups
Grilled Eggplants
Honey Sriracha Popcorn
Hollandaise Sauce
Hummus
Kabocha Squash Soup
Peach Crostinis
Pickled Beets
Pizza Bites
Quinoa Tabouli Salad
Roasted Chickpeas
Ssamjang Sauce
Scallion Pancakes
Spicy White Wine Mussels
Sushi Rice
Tabbouleh
Turnip Cakes (Lo Bak Go)
Tzatziki Dip
Watermelon Cucumber Salad
Whole Wheat Pitas

Mains
Apple Pork Meatballs
Basa Fish Tacos
Banh Mi Subs
Beef Satay Skewers
Beer Can Chicken
Buttermilk Panko Baked Chicken
Butternut Squash Quinoa Risotto
Chicken Fajitas
Chicken Mole
Chicken Shawarma
Chilled Asian Sesame Noodle Salad
Chili Kebabs
Cioppino
Creamy Shrimp Penne
Falafels
Fisherman’s Stew
Gochujang Chicken Drummies
Hearty Chili
Herbed Chicken
Herbed French Toast
Italian Meatballs
Jerk Chicken
Korean Kalbi Shortribs
Lamb Casserole with Beans and Biscuits
Lamb Koftas
Lamb Tagine
Mushroom Barley Risotto
Peas and Carrots Risotto
Truffled Mushroom Risotto
Perogies
Pho (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)
Pork Tenderloin with Apple Onion Chutney
Steak and Veg
Seafood Linguine
Slow Cooker Pulled Pork
Spicy Scrambled Egg Wraps
Sticky Soy Chicken Drumsticks
Sun Dried Tomato Chicken and Orzo
Sweet Potato Gnocchi
Swiss Chard Fusilli Pasta
Thai Coconut Yellow Curry
Tomato Braised Lamb Shank
Wontons

Baked Goods and Desserts
Banana Bread
Banana Coconut Cake
Cappuccino and Coconut Biscotti
Chocolate Cake
Chocolate Cheesecake Truffles
Cinnamon Buns
Cinnzeo or Cinnabon Copycat Cinnamon Buns
Cappuccino Cheesecake
Coconut Yogurt Tarts
Croissants
Oatmeal Cinnamon Banana Muffins
Oven Baked Apple Fritters
Prosperity Cakes (Fat Go)
Pumpkin Bread
Pumpkin Cupcakes
Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes
Pumpkin Cake
Pumpkin Pie Dip
Red Velvet Whoopie Pies
Ricotta Stuffed Crepes
Spicy Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies
Sticky Toffee Pudding
Upside Down Banana Cake
White Chocolate Toasted Coconut Popcorn
Whole Wheat Waffles
Whole Wheat Bagels
Whole Wheat Sour Cream Blueberry Pie
Whole Wheat Yogurt Pancakes
Yogurt Cheesecake Soufflés

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Restaurant Review: Canvas Coffee and Wine

>> Thursday, November 22, 2012


Does anybody remember the old days of Electric Avenue? I was still a wee little thing back then and have only heard of stories and when I got to be old enough to experience said ‘Electric Avenue’, somebody turned the lights off. For years 11th Ave sat quiet, but within the last couple years, the avenue has started to liven up again thanks to many great eateries opening up along its infamous sidewalks. Although it no longer boasts the boisterous bars, I believe it’s a turn for the better with great restaurants that I couldn’t wait to check out, like Canvas.

Atmosphere: An intimate space designed with art in mind. True to its name, dining in the restaurant is like stepping in to an artist’s gallery.

Price Range: $10s – $20s


Food and Wine: The best thing about eating with all my girls (aside from the great times and interesting convos that is), we all enjoy trying everything, which usually calls for a full menu experience. This time was no different, after perusing the dishes we figured that we can attempt to sample them all (aside from the soup and burger, just doesn’t work no matter how you try). If you’re only looking for smaller bites, Canvas has a good selection of appetizers. There’s even a special if you order three of them! It might be hard to choose though, I’m glad we didn’t have to.

Following the layout of the menu our first was the Roasted Mushrooms which was sautéed with white wine, lots of fresh garlic and shallots. It was creamy and perfect over toast. The Barley Croquettes were a favorite amongst everybody at the table, served 3 to an order. They were made with a combination of short ribs, mascarpone and barley topped with tomato sauce and grana padano. The croquettes were crunchy without being oily and the texture was reminiscent of eating arrancini. It was nice mixing it up a bit with the lighter Spaghetti Squash served with crispy fried chick peas, and salty speck (Italian smoked ham), a good appetizer for those that are looking for something healthier.


Another favorite amongst the group was the White Bean Puree, with only a slight hint of chevre (goat cheese). It was a perfect spread for toast where the sweetness of the mint honey really added a nice aspect to the dip. When the Beet Chips first arrived we were all drawn to all the shrimp interspersed through the plate since we were literally expecting a plate of deep fried beets. The beet chips were crispy and the shrimp were sweet, a nice build on flavours especially with the pickled ginger and slightly bitter radicchio.


The Short Rib dish was composed of pulled short rib with a mixture of red pepper and bacon jam, topped with garlic, wild mushrooms and arugula. The meat itself was nicely flavoured but I liked it better when combined with the roasted mushroom appie. The Braised Leeks were quite unique since I’m used to eating leeks as part of an entrée and not as a stand alone appetizer. They were wrapped with speck and topped with cambozola cheese, olive oil and pecans for the textural contrast. The leeks were extremely supple but could be a bit overwhelming. I recommend combining them with other appies as not to overwhelm your palate. You can even try it on some baguette.


The entrees were perfect for sharing especially the Artisan Greens with a mix of sweet raisins, cucumber, tomato, walnuts and radicchio all topped with grana padano and their herb vinaigrette. It was extremely refreshing and a great accompaniment to any meal. Another great sharing dish was the Bowties - little bowtie pastas cooked in white wine with shallots, tomatoes, herbs and pine nuts and drizzled with olive oil. Don’t expect to eat this all by yourself, it’s quite a large portion, even though the pasta is cooked perfectly al dente, there is a lot of it! Plus then you’d be missing other great entrees like the Chicken. It’s rare that I order chicken at a restaurant because I tend to associate it with being dry, but not this time. The meat was juicy and tender, very flavourful and I really enjoyed the buttery barley risotto as well, perfect with the creamy tarragon sauce.

Just as tender and succulent was the Hanger Steak, I couldn’t stop nibbling at it all night. It also came with amazingly spectacular housemade onion rings. They’d be great as an appetizer in themselves! If you’re looking for lighter fare, I recommend the Steelhead Trout. It’s served over a tomato and scallion broth with quinoa, spinach and a tangy almond lemon pesto.


Canvas makes it easy to choose dessert. You have the option of either the Chocolate or Citrus Platters. They’re the perfect size for sharing, but if you only want to sample one of two, they also sell them separately. The chocolate platter consisted of:
Praline chocolate mousse – decadent with a slight nutty flavour
Pecan caramel tart – lots of creamy caramel of a light shortbread crust
Espresso pot de crème – smooth and infused with espresso and chocolate yet very light

We enjoyed the platter so much we decided to order it again!


The Citrus Platter was composed of:
Passion fruit mousse with olive oil herb sponge – you can really taste the olive oil in the sponge and the passionfruit was tangy and sweet
Lemon tart – a crunchy French macaron with citrusy lemon curd filling
Grand marnier Madeline – a light mousse infused with grand marnier and citrus flavour French madelines (small cakes)

Our libation of choice that night was the Boedecker Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley. It can easily be a simple drinking wine or you can pair it with lighter fare. It was great for the meal we had that evening because we were bouncing back and forth between so many different dishes. Not overly tannic, slightly earthy with hints of pomegranate and a soft finish.


My Picks: Barley Croquettes, White Bean Dip, Chicken Entrée, Hanger Steak

Overall: While enjoying the lovely entrees prepared by the chef you can also feast your eyes on the abstract art displayed throughout the dining room. Although I never got a chance to experience the infamous Electric Ave at its prime, I feel the avenue has really found its place again, especially with eclectic eateries such as Canvas.

Canvas Coffee and Wine
602 11 Avenue SW
Calgary, AB
(587) 353-1299
Website: www.canvascoffeeandwine.com

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Pumpkin Pie Dip

>> Friday, November 16, 2012


It’s always fun getting together with the girls, especially with everybody’s busy schedule it definitely doesn’t happen nearly enough. I’ve known some of my best girlfriends for most of my life. They’re pretty much like my sisters. So it’s sad to realize how much time flies by between each dinner and outing, which is why I try to spend more time catching up then time in the kitchen prepping food while everybody is around.

A great recipe that’s quick and easy to prepare but perfect for such an event is the pumpkin pie dip. It literally only takes 5 mins to pull together, relatively healthy and light enough to still have room for a meal or other goodies later on. It also works well accompanying other tapas or appetizers. Something for everyone to nibble on while they catch up!

Note: It's also a great way to use up the extra pumpkin puree that's leftover from baking!

Ingredients:
1 8oz can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
1/4 cup brown sugar or confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
3 oz fat free Greek yogurt
8 oz cool whip or whipped cream
Apple slices
Ginger snap cookies
Preparation:
In a medium sized bowl, mix the pumpkin puree, sugar, cinnamon, ginger and cloves.

Fold in the greek yogurt and the cool whip (or whipped cream) until just combined.

Sprinkle a bit of cinnamon overtop and serve with apple slices or ginger snap cookies.

Enjoy!

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Restaurant Review: Cucina Market Bistro

>> Thursday, November 8, 2012


With the cold chilly weather outside, there is nothing I want more than to curl up on a warm comfy couch with a hot drink or a heart warming meal. Unless it’s a work day and you’re stuck..literally, either on the road or in the office because Deerfoot Trail is a parking lot. Why not aim to both avoid traffic and fill your stomach with a comforting meal, especially at the brand new Cucina Restaurant located right in downtown Calgary on Stephen Avenue.

Atmosphere: Eliciting the feeling of stepping in to an Italian kitchen on the Tuscan countryside, with antique styled tableware and seating it evokes the feeling of truly visiting somebody’s friendly home.

Price Range: Mid $10s - $30+


Food and Wine: After scanning the menu, I knew fairly quickly what I wanted to try. I love offal, any type of it. So our starters contained just that, beginning with the Chicken Liver Parfait served with a wonderful sour cherry balsamic cipollini jam (aka onion jam) and crunchy ciabatta crostini. The parfait itself was heavenly! Extremely light and mousse like in texture. I really enjoyed eating a bite of it without the jam and then another bite with the jam to contrast the flavours and almost reset my palate. Each bite ended up being sweet, unctuous, crunchy perfection. Note - you’ll probably want to ask for more crostini because there is more than enough liver parfait to go around.

The Beef Heart Tartare dish came with amazing homemade chips (I could eat a bag of these). First looking at the tartare you’ll see the chunkiness of it with bits of capers and pickles throughout and all blended together with creamy egg yolk and mustard. The consistency of the tartare it unlike what you’d expect due to the texture of the heart muscle, but that’s to be expected since its not made with regular beef. I enjoyed that it was different. However our table did find the mustard to be a bit overwhelming, which might be due to the garnish around the plate.


Since Cucina’s menu is market fresh, a lot of their dishes change on a daily basis. This was the case for both of the mains that we chose. The first being the Halibut Cheeks, slightly seared accompanied by broccolini, tomatoes and a velvety smooth cauliflower puree. The fish was very lightly seasoned to allow the flavours of the halibut shine through, but I found my favourite item on the plate to be the amazing cauliflower puree.

The featured Risotto that evening was a vegetarian dish made with Peppernada, which are roasted bell peppers, along with mascarpone. It was rich and creamy, full of cheesy mascarpone flavor. There was a good sized portion of the risotto, perfect for sharing amongst several people, especially since it felt like true comfort food while remaining refined and decadent.


We couldn’t leave without trying the dessert and stayed with the classics. The Tiramisu, said to be made with a traditional family recipe, was served in a charming martini glass. You definitely get all the characteristics of a time-honored tiramisu starting with the creamy mascarpone topping down to the coffee liqueur soaked cake. We all really enjoyed it! But we didn’t stop there, also ordering the Warm Apple Thyme Tart made with sweet and sour granny apples layered over a flaky buttery crust and served with cinnamon Chantilly cream. It was nice having the cream for that additional burst of flavour but ice cream would have definitely benefitted the tart even more. I can just imagine the cold ice cream slowly melting over top the warm tart, providing almost a sauce and that extra bit of sweetness. We tried ordering the daily gelato flavour to accompany it, but figured blood orange probably wouldn’t do the trick. Next time!


Keeping it light that evening I decided to have some of the Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco di Valdobiane from Veneto, Italy. I’ve always found Prosecco a great go to, if you’re not in the mood for wine. The bubbles along with the slight tang sip after sip is a great companion to a meal. This selection was clean and crisp, with hints of citrus and just enough sweetness as not to overwhelm the meal. A nice start or end to a meal (to accompany dessert..mmm).


My Picks: Chicken Liver Parfait, Risotto 



Overall: Hopefully enjoying a great meal at Cucina not only lowered your level of traffic stress after work (maybe you need another prosecco…) but allowed you to feel transported away from all the snow and in to a warm cozy kitchen on the Italian countryside. It’s always nice to see a restaurant using the traditional methods to create truly wonderful classical dishes, especially using market fresh ingredients! There really isn't anything else that’s more gratifying.

Cucina
515 8th Avenue SW
Calgary, AB
(587) 353-6565

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Restaurant Review: Mercato West

>> Friday, November 2, 2012


I’ve been meaning to check out Mercato West since they first opened earlier this year. However, due to the location we always found ourselves wandering back to their 4th street location in Mission. So when we were meeting our good friends for dinner, we decided it was a good time to check out the elusive west location.

Atmosphere: A wide open dining room, featuring contemporary tables and streamlined interior while showcasing the open kitchen in the middle.

Price Range: Mid $10s-$40+


Food and Wine: It was our friends first time to Mercato’s so we decided to follow their traditional menu of ordering antipasti, primi, secondi followed by dolce (of course), all family style, which is what Mercato specializes in. Our friend recently started to venture in to pork territory so we decided to make a meal of it, starting off with the Bruschetta and Prosciutto. As you can imagine, the prosciutto came as thinly shaved slices of Italian prosciutto di parma, that’s been aged for 24 months, drizzled with olive oil and parmigiano reggiano. The meat itself was perfect, slightly salty with the tang of the olives coming from the oil. It was a good sized portion to share amongst the group.


The bruschetta was served in three different styles over classic Italian grilled bread. One was topped with classic tomatoes, the second - a white bean puree, and lastly prosciutto. The traditional bruschetta is always welcomed with perfectly plump tomatoes, but my favourite was the white bean version. The taste and consistency reminded me of hummus, creamy but less garlicky. We decided to put a bunch more prosciutto that we had ordered on to the prosciutto bruschetta, you really can’t go wrong with more pork.

Our primis were the Gnocchi and Linguini. The handmade potato gnocchi was served with peas and pea shoots, coppa (Italian for pork shoulder or neck) and pecorino romano cheese. I really enjoyed the culmination of flavours but others at the table found the dish slightly over salted. It was definitely a dish meant to be shared family style since it could become a bit heavy. This was contrasted by the linguini featuring prawns, halibut, guanciale (unsmoked Italian bacon) and cherry tomatoes all in a light lemony garlic olive oil sauce. We did specify that we wanted a bit less olive oil as not to overpower the delicate flavours from the seafood. Although we found this dish to be a little under salted, so between the two pastas we were able to find a nice balance.


Now that we were filled with carb-goodness, it was time for the main entrees (secondi). To follow through on our pork theme, we had the Rosticciana, which are Calabrese style seasoned pork ribs, roasted with scallion and fresh peppers. The ribs were nicely seasoned but we did find them a bit dry. They’re not your typical fall off the bone type of ribs and if you’re expecting that then I would avoid ordering these. They are meant to be smokey and charred, with a hint of crunch. If you’re looking for melt in your mouth goodness, the Vitello would be your better choice. It’s a seared grain fed veal chop served with red onion compote. Everyone at the table agreed that it was extremely tender and succulent, with big flavours from each bite.

For the contorni or side we had the Asparagi, which is asparagus spears wrapped with pancetta and taleggio cheese. Pancetta is salted pork belly which provided all the seasoning that the asparagus needed. I did find the asparagus themselves a bit more done then what I’m used to, but they weren’t inedible.


Dolce was inevitable, dessert is always warranted at the end of a meal, especially when you’re eating family style. It just feels like an end to a feast. We had the Pinolata which is a pine nut and almond marzipan tart drizzled with apricot marmalade and the Stratum a rich chocolate flourless cake layered in between with chocolate ganache. It was really nice having bites of both, back and forth. The tart had a crumbly crust with a slightly sweet marzipan center. We all really enjoyed the apricot marmalade and asked for more because it really pulled the tart together. It also came with pine nuts to add a bit of crunch to the dessert. The chocolate cake on the other hand was dense and rich. Each spoonful was decadent and fulfilled all my chocolate cravings for the week. The texture of the cake was reminiscent of cutting in to a soft brownie.


The wine to pair with our porky meal was the Pacina Chianti, a very Italian wine. A lovely medium bodied wine with smooth tannins and a nice fruit finish. It paired quite nicely with the meat dishes (which was most) that evening and would even make for a nice drinking wine.

My Picks: Gnocchi, Veal Chop


Overall: With its big dining room, Mercato West is a great meeting spot, especially if you have a bigger group. I enjoy round tables so everyone can interact over their traditional Italian menu. The food is just what I would expect from their 4th street location and what made me a fan in the first place. Now I’m just envious of all the people that live downtown and out west. I just I’ll just have to wait until they decide to open one down south? (hint hint).

Mercato West
5000 837 85th Street SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 263-6996

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