Restaurant Review: Charbar

>> Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Calgary has done an amazing job rezoning East Village these last couple years and what a difference it has made. I can barely recall what the area used to look like and that’s not a bad thing. As part of the restructure they’ve decided to keep part of the area intact such as the Simmons building, which used to be an old mattress factory and was left vacant for a long time. Everybody was excited to find out how the cultural landmark would be repurposed and we were all extremely excited to hear of the collaboration between Charbar, Phil & Sebastian and Sidewalk Citizen Bakery – I could barely wait till they opened their doors.

Atmosphere: Wonderful redesign of the old Simmons building in East Village. Rustic and edgy, the open dining space plays great textures and colors against each other to allow the old brick building to shine new again. Plus it features an elevator!

Price Range: Mids $10s - $30+

Food & Wine: Just perusing the menu, you can note that there’s a distinct difference between Charcut and Charbar. Even though they’re sister restaurants, Charbar has a South American theme to it which is a welcomed addition to the Calgary food scene. An item that was not to be missed was the Tripe Chips with fried rosemary and served with a creamy spicy aioli. The chips themselves reminded me of Chinese shrimp chips, something I grew up eating. Those were super addictive, so were these. I could have easily eaten nothing but for the whole evening. Trying them on their own really allowed the subtle flavour of the tripe to shine through which melded perfectly with the fragrant rosemary. However, for those who aren’t used to tripe, there’s the spicy aioli on the side to help provide that bit of a kick.

Next up was the Ceviche Mixto served tableside, which was a nice twist. I’m always intrigued when there’s interaction during a meal. The server highlighted the various ingredients that went in to the ceviche including, onions, fresh fish, clams, cilantro and cancha or toasted corn. It was a very traditional ceviche and reminded me of ones I’ve had in Chile and Argentina, especially with the use of corn. The tiger’s milk, aka the sauce, as I’m told is the most coveted from this dish. It’s truly the essence of this dish and people in South America will fight over who gets to drink it. Luckily for us, you can ask for some Sidewalk Citizen bread to dip in to the sauce so that everyone may enjoy and no fighting is required.

We also had the opportunity to sample the Vegetable Ceviche, which I probably wouldn’t have normally ordered, but I’m glad we got to try it because it ended up being one of my favorite dishes that evening. Made with charred onions, tomatoes, avocados and pickled cucumbers in a tomato guazpacho, which is a soup typically made from vegetables and served cold. The dish was extremely refreshing and light, while packing tons of flavour. It’s an ingenious way of showcasing the freshness of the vegetables themselves and the fact that they can be more inspired than the typical salad.

I enjoyed the simplicity of the Grilled Garlic Shrimp. They were perfectly cooked with the light char on the shrimp bringing out the sweetness of the meat. It’s a great appetizer for those looking for something to share. Another great dish to share was the Sausage skillet with housemade Chorizo and Morcilla (blood sausage). I am a huge fan of both; with the blood sausage having a slight edge due to the fact that I can’t readily find a good blood sausage in town and this one was delicious. Don’t get me wrong the chorizo was nicely spiced and amazing, but there’s just something about the morcilla, could be the fact that it was made in house.

For our main, we decided to share the Ultra Dry Aged NY Strip Steak. Our server mentions that the steak is normally served plain, sauce and sides are recommended which is another traditional aspect of South American cuisine. The steak itself was well cooked, I don’t normally order NY strip so it was nice to try a different cut of steak with its own distinct flavour profile. We ordered the Fried Roman Broccoli to accompany the steak. It was topped with mint and the spicy aioli that also accompanied the tripe chips. Aside from broccoli in tempura, I don’t normally eat broccoli fried, so it was definitely a unique side.

Although we were extremely full, I can never ever say no to dessert, especially when I saw the Bourbon Canned Peaches and Cream, which is a play on peaches and cream while using soft serve ice cream. I really enjoyed the flavour combinations in this dessert and found it to be the perfect amount of sweetness since I’m not a huge fan of the extremely sweet. One thing that would have put it over the top for me is if the peaches were caramelized, however I’m not complaining because I would definitely order this dessert again.

Since its summer, my wine for the evening was a nice rose from Provence in France called Cotes de Provence. I thought the light citrus notes went well with both the seafood and meat dishes that night. A nicely balanced wine with lingering fruity notes and rounded body, great for the patio too!
My Pick(s): Vegetable Ceviche, Tripe Chips, Morcilla Sausage

Overall: You can find it all here at Charbar, beautiful surroundings, amazing atmosphere and delicious food made by top notch chefs. for those who don't know, head chef Jessica Pelland lived in Argentina for a short while! Not to mention they’re also flanked by awesome local merchants and I love how they incorporated that in to their menu (they serve both Sidewalk Citizen bread and Phil & Sebastian coffee). It really is a one stop shop and I’m so glad that they decided to turn the old Simmons building in to what it is today. I can’t wait to drop by again and hang out on the rooftop patio overlooking the river.

618 Confluence Way SE
Calgary, AB
(403) 452-3115

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Lobster Summer at The Keg

>> Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A friend of mine recently visited the East Coast; she was telling me all about the amazing scenery and fresh seafood. Inevitably the subject of lobsters came up and I just couldn’t stop thinking about them afterwards. Luckily for me, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Keg for a wonderful menu tasting which features…Lobster! The Keg has introduced their Lobster menu for the summer, running from July 6th to August 30th across Canada, perfect for those of us who can’t make it out to the East Coast but can at least satiate themselves from their cravings.

We started the evening off with the Szechwan Lobster which included both lobster and shrimp deep fried, tossed in a sweet and spicy sauce and topped with chili peppers, red peppers and asparagus. The seafood was cooked well and the combination of flavours definitely popped in your mouth. I really enjoyed the use of thai chilies in the dish which provided a nice kick, but if you’re not a huge fan of spicy food, you can easily avoid and chilies and be safe. The dish was paired with house special blend of Chardonnay, Viognier and Riesling by Inniskillin called Knotted Vines. The slight sweetness of the wine helps to mellow out the spicy chilies without overpowering the flavours of the seafood.

Next we got to taste their casual plate selections with the Lobster Roll and Crispy Lobster Tacos. The lobster roll was made with a mix of lobster and shrimp served in a buttered brioche roll with fries and cabbage slaw on the side. I’m a huge fan of lobster rolls and really enjoyed the ratio of mayo to seafood here, which really allowed the brininess of the seafood to really shine through. The tacos consisted of fried lobster pieces topped with creamy cabbage slaw in a soft taco shell with creamy cilantro dressing on the side. I liked the hint of spice used with the lobster and wouldn’t have minded more. Both of these dishes were paired with the Ritual Pinot Noir, a silky and full bodied red wine with lots of fruity notes.

To really highlight their lobster fest, we were presented with the 1lb Lobster Tail, which is definitely something that should be shared (unless of course you’re a lobster fiend, then feel free to dig in). For the size of the tail, I was pleasantly surprised at how tender and juice the meat was. If you find it cumbersome to eat lobster because of having to crack open the tough shell, then this is the perfect plate for you; where the tail comes unshelled and ready for consumption.

For the entrée we were served the quintessential surf and turf, the Steak and Half Lobster or if you wanted, you can get a Whole Lobster and skip the steak. My sirloin steak was grilled nicely remaining rare, which is my preference, but the Keg will cook to it to any level you prefer. The lobster was sweet and tender served with hot butter for dipping and lemon. We reverted back to a white wine for this meal and had the J.Lohr Chardonnay. My favorite wine of the evening with lovely citrus notes and woodsy aromas, the wine was an interesting choice for our meal, but it worked. It would be a great sipping wine as well.

To finish off the evening we were given our choice of dessert and although I was beyond full at this point, I couldn’t say no to Cheesecake (and some 10 year Taylor Port). I liked that it wasn’t overly too sweet and found it a good way to end the meal, but I couldn’t help but wish I ordered the Billy Miner’s Pie. A mammoth slice of icy chocolate goodness, I guess I’ll just have to wait for next time!

I didn’t realize that the Keg has been running their summer lobster menu for the last 14 years! I’ll definitely have to keep this in mind and drop by again soon before the summer’s over and probably every year after!

The Keg
320 4 Ave SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 699-9843

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Summer at Market

>> Friday, July 17, 2015

It’s been one of the warmer hotter summers that we’ve seen in a long time here in Calgary and what better way than to celebrate with food and drinks on a patio. Market has launched their new summer menu and I was lucky enough to be amongst those that had a chance to sample some of their new dishes. Each course was wonderfully paired with delicious summer cocktails or delectable wine to really help showcase their flavours.

We first started off with a light amuse bouche which consisted of chicharron (pork rinds) with dehydrated tomatoes and goat cheese with chai flowers from the chef’s own garden. The crunch with the creamy goat cheese was nice way to ready our palates for the amazing meal ahead of us.

Our first course was the Strawberry Salad with roasted strawberries, bitter greens, a chamomile vinaigrette and goat cheese. I enjoyed how the salad was only lightly dressed so the bitterness of the greens was able to come through and when combined with the sweetness from the strawberries, it made for a very summery dish. The course was paired with the Backyard Blanc De Noire from Lanley, BC, a sparkling wine with hints of green apple and grapefruit. You can’t go wrong starting with bubbles!

Next up was a lovely pasta dish – the Gnocchi Romano consisted of tiny pieces of gnocchi in a percorino sauce with lots of black pepper and shaved parmesan. I can never resist gnocchi when it’s on a menu and I was glad that they featured this dish. The gnocchi itself had the perfect texture and was flawlessly showcased in a scrumptious creamy sauce. We were served the Bench Unoaked Chardonnay to accompany the pasta. A great summer chardonnay with lots of citrus notes and due to its limited use of french oak, maintains a richness that’s perfect for sipping.

When the Lamb Agnolotti plate arrived, everybody at the table was in awe of how beautifully plated the dish was. Showcasing the braised lamb filled pasta with mint ricotta and minted peas, a classic combination of lamb and mint was definitely elevated to enhance the flavours of both ingredients. All the contrasting textures and flavours made for a great dish. To compliment this we were served a Mint Julep of course! I’m a sucker for a good mint julep and this was no differen. I also enjoyed the fact that all the alcohol used in the cocktails was locally distilled in Alberta!

This next plate was extremely playful when it arrived. The Duck Taco made with crepes, pickled strawberries, caramelized onion was served with what looked to be milk and cookies. However it was just a play on the latter with dessert a few more courses away yet. The decadent cookie was made with foie gras and pickled pear which we were to dip in to the cream - an adult version for the child in all of us. The duck taco itself was a crowd favorite. The use of crepe instead of the typical corn taco shell was ingenious. We were served the Banff Ice Cilantro Watermelon Slush cocktail which was extremely refreshing and perfect for the summer patio.

One of my favorite dishes of the even was the Scallop with Cream Corn. Sounds simple, but words can easily deceive. The creamed corn was lightly fermented and had an amazing texture and when combined with the corn truffle, whey gastrique and the briny scallops, my tastebuds were flying. We returned to wine for this course and had the Blasted Church Pinot Gris. I’m a huge fan of Blasted Church wines and this was no different. The pinot gris had just the right amount of pear and citrus notes to really bring out the flavours of the scallop.

For our last savory course, we enjoyed the Pork Belly with pistachio puree, radish slaw, brandied cherry and green beans. Although I was quite full by this point, I could not pass up on pork belly! I did wish they seared the pork belly a bit more however I enjoyed the flavour of the pork and loved all the accompaniments which really elevated the dish. The wine pairing for this course was the Quail’s gate pinot noir one of my favorite Canadian pinot noirs. It’s light yet medium bodied and goes well with both seafood and meat. In this case, the wine was bold enough to hold its own against the heavier pork belly.

Just in case we weren’t full enough by that point, there was still dessert! But I can never refuse dessert. We were served the Brown Butter Grapefruit Bar with toasted marshmallow gelato, lemon basil gel and a star anise crumble. My favorite was the toasted marshmallow gelato when mixed with the star anise to give it that extra kick of spice. I found the grapefruit bar to have a similar texture to cheesecake and I did find it a bit sweet. However I know there are some out there who enjoy a sweeter dessert, if so then this is for you. For our last cocktail of the evening we sampled the Banff Ice Basil Grapefruit Spritz. The addition of basil is a nice touch. I’m really loving the use of herbs in cocktails and hopes that it’s a trend that will continue to grow. Again like all the other cocktails that evening, I can definitely see myself enjoying it on a sunny patio.

Just doing this write up has got me hankering for a cocktail on the patio. Luckily for me the summer has just started and there is still a lot of time to enjoy Market’s delicious summer menu and cocktails. I’m looking forward to checking out all of their other amazing menu offerings. What is your favorite? Let me know!

Market Restaurant
718 17th Avenue SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 474-4414

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Restaurant Review: Eldorado Barbecue Lounge

>> Friday, July 10, 2015

It’s the last weekend of stampede in the city and if you're not planning on heading down to the grounds but still craving for barbecue, then I would suggest checking out Eldorado Barbecue Lounge. They’ve got a great selection of everything smoked plus some great choices for those looking for something a little different.

Atmosphere: The interior is reminiscent of a tavern and definitely a great setting for some good ol’ home style barbecuing!

Price Range: Mid $10s - $20+

Food and Drinks: To start, the Ahi Tuna Cornettos did not disappoint. The presentation was spectacular with the tuna served in a crispy cone rimmed with sesame seeds, filled with avocado foam and topped with a lemon jalapeno jam. I really liked the crunch and texture contrast between the cone itself and the tuna. The creamy avocado was a nice addition.

The Maple Cayenne Bacon sounded quite intriguing. They tasted like candied bacon pieces with a hint of lingering spice. There were three thick cuts per order and they were served with a lightly dressed spring salad to compliment the full flavors of the bacon.

For our main, it definitely had to be something smoked and so the Barbecue Combo Platter was our choice, perfect for sharing. My first bite was of the 12 Hour Smoked Brisket and it literally just melted in my mouth, super tender with lots of smokey goodness. I’m glad they also serve this as an entrée dish on its own because I would definitely order it again. I enjoyed the spices used on the Baby Back Pork Ribs and found them to be quite tender, all in all a good rack of ribs. And finally there were also some smoked Andouille Sausages, which were flavourful and a nice addition to the platter.

If that wasn’t enough, the platter also comes with sides of fries and coleslaw! To add some veggies to the mix we also ordered the Maple Bourbon Carrots. I liked that they weren’t overcooked and still retained a nice crunch. It was a nice accompaniment to the meal.

To mix it up a bit we also had some Sablefish. The dish sounded amazing and everybody wanted to try it. It came with mussels, potatoes, braised leeks all served in a creamy white wine sauce. The fish itself was flaky and unctuous, full of flavour and just a great bite. Everybody at the table really enjoyed it and we were glad we decided to order it last minute.

Aside from wine that evening I did try the Pimm’s Cup made with pimm’s, lemonade, ginger ale, lemon, cucumber and strawberries. I enjoyed the fact that it wasn’t overly too sweet which I find is usually the case with cocktails. The pimm’s cup was quite refreshing due to the addition of cucumbers making it a great summer patio cocktail!

My Picks: 12 Hour Smoked Brisket, Sablefish

Overall: It has been a while since I’ve found good barbecue in Calgary and I’m extremely glad we decided to drop by Eldorado. I still remember the taste of the brisket and just thinking about it makes me want to visit Eldorado again. This would be a great place to get your barbecue fix even after the stampede’s over.

Eldorado Barbecue Lounge
680 8 Avenue SW
Calgary, AB
(587) 349-2822

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Restaurant Review: Galaxie Diner

>> Friday, July 3, 2015

I’ve been meaning to stop by Galaxie Diner for a long time now, ever since I first tried the Montreal smoked meat at their sister restaurant Myhre’s Deli next door. However the wait for a table always daunted me, but for a new brunch column I’m doing for CBC’s the Homestretch (airs every other Thursday) I decided to give it a go. We were prepared for a wait when we were heading down to the diner, but as luck would have it we ended up with the last open table!

Atmosphere: 1950s style retro diner which transports you in time.

Price Range: Mid $10s

Food: After a quick peek at the menu I decided on the Pacific Omelet, which consists of BC Smoked salmon with fresh spinach, cream cheese stuffed inside the omelet and served with hash browns and toast. It was a good sized omelet with lots of hash and whole wheat toast on the side making for quite the portion. All the ingredients are classic and go well together, it combined the best of both worlds, fluffy eggs with lox and cream cheese. I enjoyed the addition of spinach and wouldn’t have minded a bit more just to get my greens in for the meal.

I had a couple bites of my husband’s Montreal Smoked Meat Hash and it was amazing! So flavourful! Loved how they crisped up the meat and sautéed the hash with onions, banana peppers and mushrooms. It was salty and spicy coupled with a nice crunch from the crispy smoked meat and the creamy yolks from the fried eggs. We really enjoyed the addition of banana peppers and will definitely be stealing that idea for home.

We couldn’t leave without trying one of their homemade milkshakes which comes in flavours apple pie, malt, classic vanilla. We opted for the coconut, which was super tasty. It came with lots of chunky coconut pieces but still nice and creamy.

Here is the live radio broadcast on the CBC Homestretch site - click here.

My Pick: Montreal Smoked Meat Hash

Overall: I can see why there’s always a line up at Galaxie because the food here is worth the wait. I’m looking forward to trying their other signature dishes in the future and who knows maybe I’ll luck out again with the seating. If not, they do serve coffee for those that are waiting!

Galaxie Diner
1413 11 street SW
Calgary, AB
(404) 228-0001

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