Restaurant Review: Bar C

>> Thursday, January 31, 2013

 

When I’m out in the mountains I’ve always enjoyed staying and dining at the local CRMR lodges and restaurants. That’s a similar case for Calgary, where I’ve always had great meals at Cilantro and Divino. I was pretty excited to hear that they were opening a sister restaurant with more of a lounge concept in mind. Calgary always needs more lounges since people seem to only have choices of either restaurants or bars. So I was looking forward to checking out the new Bar C lounge down on 17th Ave.

Atmosphere: An open and modern lounge/dining area with contemporary furnishings and a laidback casual ambiance.

Price Range: Mid $10s - $20s

Food and Wine: I was really intrigued by all the raw food items on the menu (apparently my brain refuses to believe we live in a landlocked area). It’s very rare that you see so many different offerings including carpaccios, tartars, ceviche. Needless to say, I was pretty excited. We started with the Tuna Tartar Poke (poke being a famous Hawaii dish of raw dressed fish). This version featured a soy lime base with toasted sesame seeds topped with bits of seaweed salad and served with wonton crisps. The sauce had an asian influence, paying homage to where the dish originated. I did find that the soy overtook the taste of the tuna a bit and was a little over seasoned. However the concept of the dish was not lost and I appreciated that.


Next up was the Buffalo Tartar, which had bits of capers interspersed throughout with chunks of pickles, served with toasted baguettes slices on the side. This is the tartar for all the pickle lovers out there. Tart and tangy, you can’t miss the brine from the pickles with the added punch of the mustard.

The last of our munchies included the Cured Meat Platter. Unfortunately they were out of the Foie Gras Parfait that evening and the server suggested the Chicken Pate instead and we ordered the Valbella Prosciutto as well. The platter accompaniments included course grainy mustard, sweet pickles and dates with toasted baguettes. The chicken pate had a very interesting texture. It reminded me of a rillette but less fatty and unctuous. Since chicken lacks the gaminess that duck normally provides to a rillette, the pate ended up tasting a bit bland, which was unfortunate. The prosciutto was the opposite, it was flavourful and paired nicely with the accompaniments that came on the platter.


We all really enjoyed the wine that night, which was the 2009 Casa de Mouraz Touriga Nacional Tinta Roriz from Dao, Portugal. Plus, the carafe was absolutely genius! I loved the presentation of the wine in an Erlenmeyer flask (haven’t seen one of those in a long time). The wine itself was fruity and full of plum notes with lots of character but finishes smoothly with lingering firm tannins. A lovely wine for just sipping or pairing with appies and charcuterie.

I liked having all the wine choices laid out so you can pick and choose from each. Unique in that you can choose a certain amount of ounces beyond the regular 2oz, 5oz or 9oz glasses. It really lets you mix and match the different choices or go full throttle with any particular wines you really enjoyed.


Overall: An attractive ambiance with great surroundings for lounging. Although what we ordered didn’t really give us a full overview of what the food had to offer (Next time I’d have to try more off the cooked food menu.), I would definitely come back for the wine!

Bar C
340 17 Avenue SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 984-3667
Website: http://www.crmr.com/barc/

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Restaurant Review: Il Sogno

>> Tuesday, January 22, 2013

 

With all that’s happened during the holidays I feel like I’m constantly playing catch up, not only at work, but in my personal life as well. It’s amazing how everything can happen all at once and throw life in all different directions. So I wasn’t at all surprised that I missed posting a blog that I wrote a while back.  Sitting there just waiting in my draft folder. So here it is now, albeit a little late (I am truly sad that it is especially because it was of a restaurant that I quite enjoy), but better than never. I’m glad to finally be able to share my thoughts on Il Sogno, a great Italian eatery in Bridgeland.


Atmosphere: An elegant and stylish dining area situated in a refurbished historic building that incorporates modern accents with distinguished surroundings.

Price Range: Mid $10s - $30s

Food and Wine: We were there to celebrate a special dinner with my parents we decided to order the traditional Italian menu of antipasti, primi, secondi and dolce, which was perfect because I got to sample pretty much the whole menu (because luckily family doesn’t mind). 


The appies featured at the time (they constantly change their menus based on seasonality, but favorites do make a reappearance) included Calamari which we ordered with the house made onion loaf, a Braised Duck Crocante and a light red leaf salad with anchovy vinaigrette.  The calamari wasn’t deep fried but served with a light olive and tomato sauce.  I really enjoyed dipping the chewy onion loaf in to the tomato sauce and scooping some calamari on top.  It was a nice change to the deep fried calamari that I’m used to. My parents both enjoyed the crocante, it was a nice contrast between the crispy outer shell and the moist duck in the center.


For our primi or pasta course, we selected the Ricotta Gnocchi, Risotto, Oxtail Ravioli and Tortelloni Bolognese.  All the pasta dishes were cooked perfectly al dente.  The gnocchi was nice and chewy, perfect little bite sized carby goodness scooping up the lovely sauce.  The oxtail ravioli was very flavourful, I really enjoyed the combination of mushrooms with the creaminess of the sauce.  My only complaint was there wasn’t more of it!  After a couple bites of the tortelloni, it was hard not to steal the dish away. Again, the flavour combinations worked really well here.  As for the risotto, it was creamy without being heavy and the texture of the dish was just right, without the rice being overly mushy or the consistency seizing up. It ‘fell’ just the way a risotto should when you take each spoonful.


I got to taste both the Seasonal Fish (it was Sea Bass that day) and the Seared Tenderloin.  The fish was seared just enough to form a crust without overcooking the bass.  It was served along side a creamy parsnip puree and smashed potatoes, overall a very light dish.  The tenderloin was cooked perfectly medium rare, served over top black lentils and broccolini with a tangy tomato jam.  I preferred the jam over the traditional compote butter because it helped brighten the steak by bringing acidity to the dish.


It was hard to select which dolce aka dessert we wanted, since they all sounded very appealing. My parents ordered the Cranberry and Lemon Crème Brulee with a side of shortbread biscuits.  Tangy and tart, a good combination for crème brulee which can often be eggy and heavy.  We decided on the lighter Gelato and Sorbet Trio and selected the grapefruit sorbet (very refreshing), espresso gelato (creamy and smooth full of coffee flavour, perfect paired with coffee), and the berry gelato (good combination of sweet and sour).  The coolness of the sorbets and gelatos were a good contrast to our hot Illy cappuccinos and coffees.

The wine that was chosen that evening was a Schug Sonoma Valley Pinot Noir, a bouquet full of cherries with a nice lingering of oak and a long smooth finish.  A wine that is light enough to pair with all the seafood, but a spicier red to go with the meat dishes as well.

My Picks: Oxtail Ravioli, Gelato and Sorbet Trio


Overall: Il Sogno’s always been a restaurant that we’ve frequented over the years so I’m glad to finally share my experiences with everyone. Although I forgot about posting this blog, it definitely does not mean that Il Sogno is forgettable, quite the opposite. When you’re there you’ll enjoy unforgettable service combined with delicious Italian inspired fare. What more can you ask for? Well there is a special Chef’s tasting menu..maybe ask for that…it was delish!

Il Sogno
24 4th Street NE
Calgary, AB
(403) 232-8901
Website: www.ilsogno.org

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Easter Island and the Mysterious Moai

>> Thursday, January 17, 2013

 
Does anybody remember the Dristan commercials featuring the talking heads back in the 90s? Or am I the only crazy person that still thinks they’re hilarious? I tried really hard to find a link on youtube but apparently I might actually be the only crazy that remembers them. Regardless, they held a special place in my heart when I was a child, so when I found out that they actually existed (probably watching a random national geographic episode), it was inevitable that I had to go visit them.


It was like stepping in to a dream when we landed, met with replicas of the big headed Moais at the airport told me that we’ve finally reached our destination after a long 5 ½ hour flight from Santiago. We met up with our bus driver who got us ‘lei’d’ and proceeded to talk about the history of the statues on the way to the hotel. Just driving by you could see the Moai heads all along the coastline of the remote island, which is currently inhabited by less than 6000 Rapa Nui’s and Chileans combined (Easter Island is part of Chile).

Easter Island is probably one of the smallest islands I’ve been to, where you can literally drive around the island or even walk it in less than day (driving will probably only take you 3-4 hours if that). I highly recommend walking as much as possible and if you can, hiking the trail that leads up to Rano Kau, which is one of the 3 dormant volcanoes that make up the island, the top of the volcano literally leaves you breathless. You can then continue on the trail to Orongo, which is a small village on the SW side of the island which tells the tales of “the birdmen”.



If you’re here for nothing other than the Moai then Rano Raraku Quarry is your destination. It’s also where I found my Dristan heads. The quarry is where the Moais were initially carved. I recommend going with a tour operator, they provided us with a good amount of detail regarding the near extinction of the Rapa Nui natives (hint: slavery). The Moais were their way of commemorating the dead. Each household would erect a statue once their head of house passes so they can continue to protect the family in the afterlife, which is why all the Moai heads face inland, except seven, which are for the lost Rapa Nui explorers that left the island in search of foreign land. Ahu Tongariki is where the picturesque 15 Moai heads stand today. It really is postcard ready, especially with the amazing coastline in the background.


One day we decided to rent some bikes and make our way across the island to Anakena Beach, the only white sand beach on the island. It took us roughly an hour to bike across Easter Island, but the views were amazing and I’m glad we decided to do it in the end because aside from the mysterious Moai’s, Easter Island has many different places to explore like caves and cliffs, Ovahe beach (only travelled to by car or bike, no tours come here so it’s very quiet) and Terevaka, the highest point on the island. Don’t forget the lava tubes, where the Rapa Nui was known to hide when foreigners began to invade the island.


Since the island is so small, the food selection is a bit limited, but their fish is extremely fresh, caught and sold on the same day. Most of the restaurants on the main street in Hanga Roa (their main town) serve their local fish. I found one tasted like tuna and the other like a less fatty version of salmon. Due to the ancestry of the Rapa Nui, many of their cooking styles resemble other Polynesian cultures by using lots of mango, pineapple and exotic fruits. I highly recommend the fruit shakes there, no matter what flavour you order, they’re amazing. Fruit juice has yet to taste the same since I’ve been home.


One of my favourite dishes was when we first arrived on the island, I ordered the Octopus Salad from Haka Honu and it was the best freshest tasting and bright salad I’ve ever had. Made with cubes of sweet potato (my fave), ripe avocados and a light citrus vinaigrette. It almost tasted like an octopus ceviche. It all went down quite nicely with their locally brewed Mahina beer. Another memorable dish we had was the Spiny Easter Island Lobster at Hetu’U. It was unlike anything I’ve seen before and would have never considered it to be a lobster if they didn’t tell me it was one. The head is flat with many spines and no claws. They tasted quite sweet and the meat reminded me more of a crayfish then a lobster, but it was delicious none the less.

I also really enjoyed the Te Ra’ai dinner and show, similar to a Hawaiian luau, but with a kick. The guests are invited to have their face’s done up with war paint, learn how to dance in the traditional Rapa Nui style and also watch them unearth the food (literally out of the earth oven) that will be served with dinner. The meal is served in a buffet style with lots of fish, chicken, pork, veggies and accompaniments all cooked in traditional Rapa Nui style. While we were enjoying our meal, the performers also sang at the front of the room, which was quite pleasant.

Once done the meal, everybody is then ushered in to a different room where the dance performance begins. The dance lasts for close to an hour and they go through many different forms and styles. It’s interesting because the host is quite entertaining and engaging, but for those that are shy beware! They also like to gather audience participation!! Don’t ask…it’s a long story.


We really enjoyed ourselves and it was hard to leave, especially parting with the Moais but I’d have to say looking back a highlight of the trip was standing in the middle of the island reading the signs that told us how far we were from the next closest country or island and knowing we were literally in the middle of the pacific on a piece of land no bigger than Calgary. I guess it was just very surreal for me to finally make it to a place that I thought was just some silly marketing commercial back in the 90s that I had a soft spot for. Now after visiting Easter Island, I know it’ll always and forever be special in more ways than one, so sure you can now go ahead and call me crazy.

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Restaurant Review: Wine Ohs Bistro & Cellar

>> Monday, January 14, 2013



Looking back 2012 was a great year personally and I will miss it, however I’m also looking forward to 2013. It’s already off to a great start and I can’t wait to see what else is in store this year. In 2012 Calgary also saw a lot of changes on the restaurant scene. Many establishments were refurbished in to new hot spots like Wine Ohs, which used to be a quaint French bistro called Piq Niq which also featured a jazz bar below. Like the restaurant before it, they’re still serving great food and tunes in their renovated space.

Atmosphere: Decorated with a French bistro flare yet pleasantly comfortable and welcoming, a great space that can accommodate both small and larger groups.

Price Range: Mid $10s - $20s

Food and Wine: A good portion of the menu at Wine Ohs changes daily based on the Chef’s creations and what’s currently fresh. The Pate on the day we were there was a Duck Rillette, essentially a type of meat that has been cooked in fat until tender, shredded and reformed in to a spread like texture. Even though the duck is cooked in fat, the spread did not taste oily or heavy. It was great spread over top a crispy baguette accompanied by a sharp grainy mustard and pickled beets. I did find it a bit under salted but the mustard did help quite a bit.


Our second appetizer was the Beef Tartare served with a side of crunchy housemade chips. The tartare was creamy and tangy, with chunks of cornichons throughout. I found that I didn’t really need to Dijon mustard that was served on the side of the tartare and the pickled veggies were just an nice accompaniment to this dish and not really required, I still enjoyed them on their own though.

The Braised Lamb Shank was the entrée of choice that night, perfect for a wintery evening in Calgary. The shank tender, juicy and flavourful, more than what I expected from a normal lamb shank and it went along with the apple and root vegetable ragout beautifully. Each bite was combination of sweet and salty with just the right amount of acid coming from the sauce, pulling the whole dish together by highlighting the lamb which was literally falling off the bone.


For dessert, we had the Dark Chocolate Cake but instead of asking for our usual ice cream, we decided to combine it with the Frozen Vanilla Mousse. The texture of the mousse was a bit thicker than normal ice cream, but had a wonderful vanilla flavour. Since it was chilled it added a nice dimension to the chocolate cake which was topped with amazing caramel and cashew goodness. The cake itself is quite the statement dish and tasted moist and full of cocoa, perfect way to end the meal.

You can’t go to Wine Ohs and not sample their wines. They also have happy hour special in their lounge (aka cellar) so definitely ask your server! That evening we had a great bottle of their featured Bordeaux wine which went nicely with the lamb and chocolate. Be sure to ask the server for their suggested pairings.

My Picks: Braised Lamb Shank


Overall: Change can be good and Wine Ohs has demonstrated that by still serving great French food in a relaxing atmosphere. It’s a great place to wind down the day with a glass of wine or visit their lounge to listen to the eclectic bands featured on their stage, don’t forget to ask for their menu to sample the delicious eats as well!

Wine Ohs Bistro & Cellar
811 1st Street SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 263-1650
Website: www.wine-ohs.com

Wine-Ohs Bistro & Cellar (Wine bar, Restaurant, & Music venue) on Urbanspoon

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