Restaurant Review: Sugo Caffe Italia

>> Wednesday, February 29, 2012



I’ve always found that North Americans tend to rush through lunch. It could be because we don’t necessarily have the luxury to sit in outdoor cafes for hours upon hours to enjoy our mid day meal. Unlike the Europeans, where it’s accepted to lounge around the bistro or trattoria for many hours during the day, here we eat, pay and leave, as simple as that. Plus, I don’t think many companies here tend to accept that their employees disappear for 2-3 hours at a time during the day. So until our expectations somehow change, I will just have to enjoy lunch on my days off, which is what I tried to do over a few yummy plates at Sugo.

Atmosphere: Petite cozy dining space with red accents highlighting a warm interior.

Price Range: Mid $10s-$30+

Food and Wine: Sugo’s menu is created daily by the Chef dependent on what’s currently fresh and in season. Many of the dishes refer to ‘del giorno’ or of the day. Inspired by that we decided to order two plates that change based on that concept.

After being seated, our server (who seemed a bit frazzled and brash) immediately wanted to take our orders, which threw me off a bit. However, after asking for a bit more time to peruse the menu we did figure out that we indeed wanted to stick to the different specials of the day.



The first being the Roasted Vegetable Flatbread, where the vegetables vary based on what’s in season. Our flatbread featured squashes, onions and bits of mushroom all topped with a thin layer of melted mozzarella and a sweet balsamic reduction. The flatbread itself was crispy rather than doughy and the plate lends itself well to an appetizer.

We decided to share the Ragu of the Day. Duck was the meat of the day and served in a hearty tomato based sauce with penne pasta. There was a fair amount of the ground duck and I did find it a bit gamey at the beginning but the sauce was robust enough to hold its own and wasn’t overtaken by the gaminess. The pasta was cooked to a nice al dente, chewy without being crunchy.

My Pick: Roasted Vegetable Flatbread

Overall: Aside from the interesting service we received that day, which set us in the wrong direction at first. Eventually the food at Sugo pulled us back. The dishes were definitely meant to be savoured. So here’s hoping that one day North Americans start to realize that every meal should be enjoyed to its fullest and it’s not just being full that matters.

Sugo Caffe Italia
1214 9 Ave SE
Calgary, AB
(403) 263-1115
Website: http://www.sugo.ca/

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Restaurant Review: River Cafe

>> Friday, February 24, 2012



I can’t believe we’re nearing the end of February already and it’s got me thinking about the year thus far. To sum it all up, it’s been busy, both work and home life. But I’m grateful for it all and I often try to remind myself to take time out of each day to be thankful for the little things. Each special hug, each stress relieving workout, each exceptional meal and distinctive bite all culminates to unique and special experiences that we often forget once it’s over. So today I decided that it felt appropriate to take some time to reminisce about the special meal at River Café to celebrate the ringing in of this exciting New Year.

Atmosphere: Evoking a cozy, comfortable cabin in the woods feeling by taking full advantage of its location in the middle of Price’s Island Park

Price Range: Mid $10s - $40+



Food and Wine: I’ve had the honor of dining at River Café before and it was partially why we decided to head back for our New Year’s Eve dinner (its secluded location was the second reason). Since it was NYE, only the price fixe menu was available that evening and let’s just say there were no complaints all around.

It was a five course meal which started off light (a creamy celeriac amuse bouche) and slowly progressed to a bold finish. The first course was the House Cured Berkshire Prosciutto served with a crisp asian pear and hazelnuts. There was a clear contrast between the sweet pears and salty prosciutto with the added crunch of the hazelnuts, the perfect way to start the meal.



The second course was the Kabocha Squash and Ricotta Raviolo served in a brown butter sauce with mushrooms and a cauliflower puree. It was the perfect bite of creamy, smooth and earthy with a buttery richness. I really enjoyed the brown butter sauce and used it as a dip for the bread we were given.

My husband and I decided to try both of the third course options, so I was fortunate enough to sample both the Scallop and Beef Tartar. The Qualicum Bay Scallop was served along side some crisp honey apple and kohlrabi with a smoked Alaskan sturgeon. The scallop was perfectly seared and the sturgeon was extremely silky. The arugula and egg complimented the Bite Ranch Grass Finished Beef Tartar by cutting through the heaviness of the dish.



For our mains, I ordered the Roasted Pacific Sablefish with smoked clams and purple potato salad. I could barely remember chewing the fish since it just melted in my mouth, it was very well cooked. My husband ordered the Braised Hog Wild Board Shoulder with thyme roasted carrots, parmesan polenta and pomegranate jus. We both agreed that the shoulder was a still a bit tough and could have used a bit more braising time, however the jus was all the sides made it a solid dish.

To end our meal, we were served a Chocolate Ganache Torte with blackberry ice cream, poached pears and a brandy snap. I really enjoyed the ice cream, which wasn’t overly sweet and very refreshing. The chocolate itself was truly decadent and needed the pears and ice cream to mellow out the flavours. Being a vanilla lover myself, it did find it a bit heavy, but that didn’t mean I left any on the plate.



With the price fixe menu we had to option to have the wine pairings but everybody at the table agreed to sample other types of wine and we ended up ordering two different reds that night. The first was the Rosso di Montalcino Pieri Agostina, which is a brighter, medium bodied red with fruity notes and light tannins. The second was a bottle of Massolino Serralunga d’Alba, a bit bolder on both the fruit and tannins, with a slow long finish.

My Picks: Kabocha Squash and Ricotta Raviolo, Qualicum Bay Scallops

Overall: Thinking back, I really hope I did savour and enjoy every single one of those bites. Since it was on a special menu, we might never see those dishes again. Hopefully they might decide to bring some of those dishes back and offer it on their menu again in the next couple seasons, but until then here’s hoping for more amazing dinners, memories with great friends and special moments.



River Café
25 Prince’s Island Park SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 261-7670
Website: http://www.river-cafe.com/

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One Pot Fisherman's Stew

>> Wednesday, February 22, 2012



I’ve been all about one pot meals lately. Cook everything, clean one thing. That’s my plan of attack. Nobody needs to sit there washing up a full sink of dishes. At least I know I don’t. I was fortunate enough to pass by Chapters when they had a cookbook sale not too long ago and picked up a book on one pot meals (plus a couple more on slow cooking, those to come later).

One recipe I really enjoyed was the Fisherman’s Stew (it really is more like a soup though since its more broth based rather than thick like a stew). It’s essentially a quick version of a cioppino which has more ingredients and longer cooking times. This recipe works great when you’re in a bind for time or missing ingredients. Plus, it’s got a bit of a spicy kick, which really helps wake up the appetite as well.

Nutritional Tidbit: Spicy foods have been known to curb hunger, improve mood and most importantly increase the flavouring of food with no extra fat or calories. The capsaicin, which gives peppers their kick is known to trigger feel good endorphins in the brain when ingested. For some it could cause heartburn so if you’re prone to that condition remember to avoid spicy foods on an empty stomach and always have some milk (not water) on hand.

I’ve outlined what should go in the stew, but you could always change it up, try using mussels, crab or other shellfish. It more then works with what you’ve got on hand and very flexible. I’ve also made it without the tomatoes, added potatoes instead and found that it was just as delicious. Since everything is in one pot, experimenting can never go wrong, all the flavours will eventually meld together to create an amazing dish at the end.



Ingredients:
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 tomato, diced
1 pound cod fillet (or any white fish)
1 pound clams
8-10 large shrimps
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
Salt and Pepper
Bread for dipping

Preparation:
In a large stock pot, heat up a bit of olive or canola oil.

Add in the onion and garlic. Cook until the onion turns translucent.

Stir in the red pepper flakes, thyme and white wine.

Pour in the chicken stock and at least 2 cups of water.

Once it starts to boil, add in the cod fillet, cover and cook for 2 mins. If the water level is low, add a bit more water in and let it boil.

Add in the clams and shrimp. Cover and cook until the clams open and shrimps are done. Flavour with salt and pepper to taste.

Scoop in to bowls and top with parsley. Serve with some bread for dipping and enjoy!

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Restaurant Review: A Ladybug Bakery and Cafe

>> Friday, February 17, 2012



Nothing says weekend like a good decadent brunch, so it’s really nice to see all the new places offering a brunch menu. I enjoy going out of my way on the weekends to find special brunch locations and with the long weekend coming up; it’s a perfect time to explore. We tend to venture to the mission area of town, but my friend was telling me about this quaint little French bakery in the SW near Aspen called A Ladybug Bakery and Café. With a precious name like that, I figured their dishes must be more of the same.

Atmosphere: Both a pastisserie and coffee shop with many delectable brunch dishes made to order with an open and bright dining area.

Price Range: Mid $10s

Food and Coffee: When you first enter the café, the setup will direct you past the amazing display of pastries and desserts where you can spend 10 mins ogling the choices then place your order. I decided to go sweet that day and my husband decided to go savory, so it was the perfect combo (especially when I was planning on sneaking food off his plate anyhow).



You then pick a table in the dining area and your order gets delivered to you just like in a restaurant. The idea is pretty neat and very efficient but get here early because it gets busy! Once we sat down, it didn’t take very long before our food arrived. I got the Strawberry Waffle with whipped cream and jam. I don’t know how else to describe it besides gorgeous. It was a beautiful plate and it took me a bit of time before I actually wanted to dig in and ruin it, but the stomach overpowered all that. The waffle was fluffy and light but crunchy and flavourful. It wasn’t overly sweet, which was my concern when I looked at it. There was just enough to fill me up without being stuffed.

My husband tried the Salmon Crepe with dill yogurt sauce. The crepe was chewy with pieces of smoked salmon throughout. We did find the yogurt sauce a bit overwhelming after a while and it became a bit heavy.

The americano and cappuccino that we ordered was a great way to kick off the day. They were serving both Peruvian or Costa Rican roasts that day. I opted for the Costa Rica one and it made a very nice shot of coffee. The cappuccino was creamy as well.



To end our meal we had to go back and order something from the pastry display (its just so captivating). The Vanilla Croissant that we decided on was flaky and delicious, not very sweet and just the right amount of chewiness. I would have went back for the Pain au Chocolat had I not been so full!

My Pick: Waffles, Croissants

Overall: What better way then to wake up your senses on the weekend with a lovingly prepared platter of amazing food. Sometimes it’s worth it to drive that extra distance to get that extra extravagance.

A Ladybug Bakery and Café
2132 10 Aspen Stone Blvd
Calgary, AB
(403) 249-5530
Website: www.ladybugandcafe.com/

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Restaurant Review: Petite Restaurant

>> Monday, February 13, 2012



Lately people have been asking me about where to go or what to eat and as much as I love blogging about my experiences, I’m always a bit hesitant about providing people suggestions. Since everybody’s expectations could be a bit different. Plus, I never know how adventurous of a diner they are, whereas my boundaries are very broad. However when a couple of my friends were looking for a place to eat that’s interesting and different, Petite popped up in my mind.

Atmosphere: Petite no more, the newly renovated space is contemporary and always energetic. Good place for groups of all sizes.

Price Range: Mid $10s - $30+



Food and Wine: We were at Petite for a nice group dinner and luckily for us, we had reservations (always highly recommended). The place was packed since it opened only a couple weeks before our dinner and I’d imagine it to be pretty busy even now. Since we’re all pretty adventurous eaters, we decided to start with the AAA Beef Tartare and Escargot appetizers.

The Beef Tartare had good flavour without being over salted. The quail egg added a nice fattiness to the grainy mustard base and crunch of the garlic bread. It was served with a light peppery arugula and tomato salad, which really helped clear the palate. Our Escargot and Mussel Fondue was creamy and the garlic butter made it that much more decadent. Served with crispy toasted brioche and delicious buttery brussels sprouts on the side. I can definitely eat these sprouts daily.



For entrees, the Chef’s weekly feature was a Lamb Tenderloin atop polenta and broccolini. It was cooked to perfection and the lamb had a very very faint gamey taste. To the point where the discussion at the table surrounded whether or not it was lamb at all, but maybe beef tenderloin instead. I prefer my lamb done just that way. However the husband wanted it a bit gamier. Why? I have no clue, affirmation maybe? I enjoyed the polenta, smooth and silky a great compliment to the lamb.

I ordered the Elk Striploin. For being in Elk country, I still find this a rare item on menus and order it every chance I get. Elk is lean but still tender, flavorful and when done well (which this one was), not gamey at all. The woodiness of the wild mushrooms and pureed parsnips were a great pairing to the peppery au jus (although the au jus did make for a slighly messy presentation due to transit).



After regaling over our dinner, we were still far from calling it a day. There was still dessert to be had. We decided on the White Chocolate Sticky Toffee Bread Pudding with candied peanut caramel butter sauce. We substituted the Devonshire cream with their Brandy Ice Cream, since I enjoy the hot and cold combination of dessert better. The bread pudding was moist and rich, not super sweet. Each bite literally melting in your mouth, a bit of the warm pudding and a bit of cool ice cream..nothing beats that in my mind. Great paired with the Graham’s 20 year port and a cup of double espresso.

We had the opportunity to sample two different wines that evening, starting with the T. Rodriguez Tempranillo from Toro Spain. Lots of blackberry and oak flavours, big bold flavours and a tannic finish, it was great with a meat heavy meal. Next was the Terrazas Malbec from Mendoza Argentina. Another rich bold wine, mainly cherry and plum notes with strong tannins and also a great accompaniment to meaty dishes.



My Picks: Escargot and Mussels Fondue, Elk Striploin

Overall: If you’re open to trying new dishes and don’t shy away from unique plates (there are still great choices aside from game meat), this is a great place where the flavours are definitely not petite.

Petite Restaurant
344 17 Avenue SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 452-5350
Website: http://www.petiterestaurant.ca/

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Food Blogger Bake Sale at Casel Marche

>> Friday, February 10, 2012



It’s that time of the year again, time for the second annual Food Blogger Bake Sale! Once again Calgary food bloggers are coming together to organize a bake sale that’s benefiting the Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids Society. We have even more bloggers joining in on the fun this year, meaning more selection, quantity and hopefully even more money donated to charity.
The Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids Society is a program dedicated to providing healthy and nutritious lunches for Calgary’s youth who would otherwise have no access to food. Their lunch program started in 1990 and is going strong today serving close to 30,000 children in over 60 communities. Each day they provide over 1,500 lunches to 60 schools within the Calgary area free of charge to the kids. The program is completely ran by volunteers and supporters, so please drop by the bake sale this weekend and help their cause.

This year the Food Blogger Bake Sale will be held at Casel Marche located in the new building on 17th Ave and 24th Street SW, who has graciously offered up their space for the endeavor. The sale will run on both Saturday Feb 10th and Sunday Feb 11th from 10 am – 5:30 pm. So please stop by pick up a couple goodies (perfect for Valentine’s day!) and say hi!

For more information check out the Facebook link here!

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

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Celebrating Apple Month with an Apple Fennel Salad

>> Monday, February 6, 2012



Last week I had the pleasure of attending a BC Tree Fruits hosted event celebrating Apple Month! The event was held at Home Tasting Room on Stephen Avenue downtown and featured many specially prepared dished by Chef Rogers. Some dishes we got to sample include an apple and cheddar tart, duck confit and apple pastry, apple and feta salad, not to mention the tasty drinks served as well. The crowd favourite was definitely the pork belly overtop apple puree with a light apple foam. I enjoyed washing mine down with the apple juice and hennessy cocktail.


Aside from the great food and company, I found it the perfect opportunity for me to learn more about the apple and their operations. BC Tree Fruits is a Canadian based company locally sourcing their apples (and other fruits such as cherries, plums, etc) from the Okanagan Valley. They represent over 800 local BC farmers who produces up to 4 million carts of apples a year, which allows them to limit their environmental footprint and by purchasing their products, so can you.


During the evening, a local BC farmer also spoke about her passion about apples and how it relates to healthy eating and sustainability. All of which I found very inspiring. What better wisdom to pass down then living a better healthier lifestyle and enjoy eating wholesome natural foods? I found it motivating and wanted to celebrate this great month by creating a fresh and healthy recipe which highlights the apple in all its glory. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


Apple Fennel and Arugula Salad with Apple Vinaigrette
Ingredients:
1 fuji apple, cored and cut in to matchsticks
1 fennel bulb, cored and cut finely
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp honey
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tbsp olive oil (optional)
Arugula
Pecans
Dried cranberries

Preparation:
In a small bowl, combine the apple cider vinegar, dijon mustard, honey, salt and pepper. Stir until the honey is fully dissolved. Add in the olive oil if using. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, add in the apple, fennel, and onion. Pour in the apple cider dressing.

Toss until all the ingredients are coated with the vinaigrette.

To serve, place a bed of arugula on a plate, top with the apple and fennel slaw. Add pecans and cranberries over top. You can also add a bit of the fennel fronds on top.

Enjoy!

Serves 4

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Restaurant Review: Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria

>> Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Cappricciosa Pizza

Just over this past weekend I went on my first winery tour through Southern California (closer to Santa Barbara in the Santa Ynes Valley). Most of the wine produced there aren’t exported and kept pretty local, so I felt privileged to be able to taste the different varietals grown there, mainly Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. I remember thinking during lunch that I would very much enjoy a pizza to go with my pinot as opposed to the bread and cheese we were served. Now that I’m back in town I can definitely use some thin crust pizza and seeing as it’s Wednesday, what better time then to head over to Famoso. Where they feature specific wines each Wednesday and if you ask nicely, you can even taste them as if you were taking a mini wine tour of your own.

Atmosphere: Casual, laid back surroundings where you place your orders up front then sit back and enjoy the view of Calgary’s 4th street.

Food and Wine: It’s a different and interesting concept at Famoso, reminiscent of a coffee shop. Where you order at the front, take a seat and then your food gets served. It works well for those who are familiar with the menu and know what they want. However, if you’re unfamiliar with the menu feel free to take a seat first before deciding. We were the latter.

Brushchetta
After being seated, we were treated to a sample of the wine features that day (coincidentally it was a Wednesday). The server also notified us that with any bottle of wine we also got a free appetizer that evening. We chose the Bruschetta which came with a side of grilled pita. There was quite a bit more tomato than onion, but the dish was very light, I really enjoyed the chewy pitas that the dish was served with.

We decided on two pizzas that evening, one red (tomato) sauce based and one white. The Cappricciosa which came with Italian ham, mushrooms, artichoke hearts and olives was on the lighter end. The artichokes and olives adding that extra bit of tanginess, cutting through the olive oil and cheese, but we did find it a little under seasoned. The Proscuitto Arugula pizza came with a white sauce made from olive oil, oregano and garlic. It was topped with pecorino romano cheese and of course proscuitto and arugula. Both my husband and I preferred this one over the first because we’re garlic lovers and this pizza definitely had a good amount of it! I enjoyed the chewy crust and how thin the pizza was and am looking forward to trying another white sauced pizza.

Proscuitto and Arugula Pizza
To end the evening we had to order the Dolce and Banana. Nothing beats caramelized bananas with brown sugar and more caramel with vanilla bean gelato. Vanilla and bananas go together like peas and carrots. The caramel sauce was light and not overly sugary. The bananas were soft with a nice bruleed topping. Great way to end the meal!

The featured red wine that evening was the Seven Terraces Pinot Noir from New Zealand. It was a lightly acidic red, with minor touches of oak and berry notes. The wine was a bit tart with a mild finish. It was a nice complement to the white pizza without overwhelming the taste of the pie.

My Picks: Proscuitto Arugula Pizza, Dolce and Banana

Dolce and Banana Dessert
Overall: With the lack of vineyards in and around the Calgary area, the next best thing we can do is aim for wine tasting at a wine store or restaurant. I prefer the latter since nothing truly brings out the greatest in the wine then accompanying it with some great food and vice versa. While on that note, what brings out wine better than food that it was made to go with from the lands of Italy? Famoso is a great place to enjoy both in a more relaxed laid back sort of way.

Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria
105 2303 4th Street SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 455-3839
Website: http://www.famoso.ca/

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