Raw Bar

Review

Here’s another one from Calgary’s Avenue Top 10. According to their panel culinary experts, this is the second best restaurant in Calgary.


Raw Bar is an establishment that fixated on a few key ideas and took them as far as they could go.

Judging from my experience there, these ideas were:

  • Asian Fusion
  • Nightclubs
  • Waitresses in really tight black dresses

Now I have no complaints with any of the above, but Rar Bar is an example of how you can definitely have too much of a good thing.


The restaurant is decorated like an up-scale lounge or one of those post-modern clubs that seem like a good idea until you actually walk in.

Giant, sky-blue, mushroom shaped pillars dominate the interior, along with a seemingly random scattering of potlights on the ceiling. In the light of day, it seems a bit much, but I’m sure it’s much nicer at night with everything dimmed.

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Iiiiiinteresting.

Service was attentive, but very intrusive. There seemed to be a total of four servers for our table, ranging from the hostess who poured our first round of drinks and gave us the menus, to the server who actually brought out our food, to the two other waitresses who stumbled over pouring water every 10 minutes. To top it all off, our water changed at random between still and sparkling.

It’s clear that they’re trying very hard to make us feel welcome, but having to pause the conversation every few minutes for someone to top off your drink is beyond awkward. To make a bad situation worse, the waitresses insisted on walking behind each of our seats and pouring over our shoulders…

Yeah, I don’t know.


We all ordered the “Chef’s Family Collection” and had the crab and mango salad roll to share.

The dishes came out in a seemingly random order, but we didn’t care too much.

I’ll go over each of the dishes briefly.

Spicy Pulled Pork Steamed Buns

These were actually pretty wonderful. Now I’m not sure if the menu changed or if they subbed in other items, but the buns were like tiny Vietnamese subs, with a slab of pork belly and lightly pickled vegetables on a light and faintly sweet steamed bun. It’s like a cross between a dim-sum char sui bun and a Bánh mì.

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Not so photogenic though.

Crispy Taro and Mango Slaw

Not a bad idea, but the entire dish suffered due to the hard and bland mangos. Dressing was sparse, and you were left crunching on tasteless veggies and even blander taro.

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Looks better than it tastes.

Crab and Mango Salad Roll

I had high expectations for this one, but once again the unripe mangos dragged the dish down. It was also over-acidic, and the acid completely drowned out the flavor of the crab. Each bite gushed cold vinaigrette/lemon juice.

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Way to sour, and strangely..wet..

“Artisan” Romaine Lettuce

Surprisingly, this was pretty damn good. Romaine hearts were drenched in oil and ginger soy sauce and tossed on a hot grill for just long enough to blacken the edges.

It’s hard to describe, but it had the consistency of very lightly poached lettuce, with a faint smokiness from the grill and an oily/umami kick.

Altogether very palatable.

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Confusing, ugly, and…delicious?

Char-Grilled Hanger Steak

This one was another hit. The meat was grilled beautifully to medium rare, and the combination of the apple jus and kimchi sauce gave it just enough tartness, without drowning out the flavor of the meat. Apples and kimchi are a tried and true flavor combination and I’m happy to see that the chef isn’t trying to improve on something that’s already delicious.

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Squid A La Plancha

For those too lazy to Google, ‘a La Plancha’, it means to pan fry or griddle fish or meat. In this case, Raw Bar grilled the squid.

I personally liked it, but it wasn’t much of a hit with my companions. The squid was cooked well and wasn’t rubbery in the slightest, but freshness and lack of seasoning may have been an issue as it tasted quite strongly of..well…squid.

If you enjoy things like tomalley or raw oysters, I’m sure you’d enjoy this.

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The mayo isn’t great though.

Dessert

Confession.

So it’s been like a month since I’ve been to Raw Bar and my notes could have been better…

I’m sure there was some sort of cheesecake involved (those rectangular things), and I’m almost certain it was mango flavored. From what I remembered, nothing too special, and was a bit cloying for my tastes.

The white ball in the middle was some sort of sherbet. I remember it was delicious, but can’t tell you much more than that.

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Pretty, but there’s only one thing on the plate worth eating.


In the end, I’m glad I went to this place.

The service was strange, the food was hit or miss, and it wasn’t cheap, but it was nice to see that Asian fusion wasn’t just a passing craze.

Fun place for a date? Yeah, sure.

Second best restaurant in Calgary? Definitely not.

Step up your game, Avenue.

Raw Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Muku – The BETTER Prairie Noodle Shop

Review

Now this one has been a long time coming.

For the past two and a half years, Muku has been my most-visited restaurant in Calgary. Either as a fuel-up on the way home to Edmonton from a ski or hiking trip, or for when I feel like some ramen that doesn’t taste of rotten fish.

A friend of mine introduced me to Muku (and probably the best ramen and topping combination on the menu) on a business trip a couple of years ago and I haven’t shut up about it since.

If you know me in person, we’ve probably been here together and you know exactly how I feel, but fuck that, let’s write a post anyways.


 

Upon first glance, Muku is nothing special. It’s nestled in a run-down corner of Kensington, sorta close to a Chicken on the Way. The parking lot is confusing, tiny, and old, and the building is nothing special either.

But then you walk in and something is a little bit different.

You probably won’t notice at first, but give it a few minutes.

Maybe when the staff come to bring you water or take your order.

Then suddenly it hits you.

Muku (a Japanese restaurant, if you’re slow on the uptake) is staffed by JAPANESE PEOPLE.

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These fuckers.

WHAT THE FUCK.

In Vancouver, all of the sushi places were inexplicably owned by Koreans, and in Alberta it’s generally a combination of other Asian races and weeaboos. Now I hate to bring race into this, but it needs to be mentioned. I’m not discriminating against other nationalities that own ramen shops, but if I wanted the cuisine of a particular country, I would most likely trust the restaurant owned by people of that nationality. They probably have more exposure to their own ethnic cuisine and they would know what constitutes a good dish.

Alright, enough rambling, onto the actual food.


 

My co-worker shared her favorite combination with me years ago and I still get the same thing to this day.

Here it is:

Tonkotsu Chashu Wonton Ramen, add extra pork belly, add se-abura.

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This is not it.

It’s a pork bone based broth, with pork shoulder, belly, wontons, extra pork belly and pork fat.

Now four of the items above are either pork fat or mostly comprised of pork fat, so this isn’t for the faint of heart.

However, this IS for those who want to take a spiritual trip to umami nirvana.

The broth is intensely savoury and leaves your mouth watering after the first sip. The broth leaves the buttery oil on your palate long after you’ve swallowed, and you’re left with a lingering, lip-smacking, meaty after-taste.

Noodles are perfect, if a bit on the firmer side, and the toppings are generally top notch. My one complaint would be that the shoulder is slightly on the drier side as it’s a lean cut, but the extra fat and pork belly are more than enough to make up for it.

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Fuck yessssssssss

Portions are fairly gigantic, and service is friendly and very non-intrusive (possibly due to language barriers. Don’t hate, just saying it as it is), and to top it off, you can get these little bags of fruity milk/yogurt candies.

What else is there.

Oh, if I really want to gripe, the chairs/tables are kinda dingy looking and the washroom is the size of gnat, but the purpose of a ramen shop is not for you to ogle the furniture or take really luxurious shits.


 

If you couldn’t tell already, I really, really like this place.

The food is honest and delicious, with large portions and a very fair price. The staff are efficient and friendly, the service fast, and the quality has been consistent for the last three years.

Chances are, you’ve probably heard me raving about this place, but if not, go check them out, it’s worth it.

Muku Japanese Ramen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Avec Bistro

Review

French food is wonderful.

Liberal usage of fats, willingness to eat anything and a proud culinary history combine to make French cooking one of the “Three Grand Cuisines”.

Well, not really.

The official reasons are:

  • Presence of a royal kitchen – To produce a variety of complex dishes to please royalty
  • Long dynastic reign – Ensures the coherence and improvement of recipes over time
  • Availability of a variety of foodstuffs – Self explanatory

For the record, the other two are Chinese and Turkish (who would’ve guessed?).

Anyhow, point is, I love French (and Turkish and Chinese) food, and I actively seek out traditional French restaurants, which brings us to this review.


 

First off, the restaurant itself is very, very nice. Located on the ground floor of some forgettable grey office building, Avec Bistro makes wonderful use of its space.

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You so purdy.

Windows make up half of the walls, and the remaining surfaces are made of glassy black stone, towering curtains and vertical slats of wood. The restaurant is brightly lit, while still maintaining a cozy and intimate atmosphere.

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Seems to be missing something..

Seriously.

The place is pretty.

To add to the atmosphere, the restaurant was..

Completely..

Fucking..

Empty.

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If you look carefully, you can see Caroline losing hope in humanity.

We were there between 5:40 and 7:30 on a Wednesday night and had the honor of being the only customers in the restaurant.

But why?

Maybe the food will give us a clue.


 

The charcuterie was up first and didn’t make any lasting impressions. Not that there was anything glaringly wrong, it just didn’t amaze. The home-cured summer sausage was a bit too gamey for my taste, and the tiny little turd-shaped squirts of pâté didn’t really do it for me either.

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Look at the tiny little turdlets!

Honestly though, a board full of pre-prepared meats, pickles and bread isn’t a good indicator of culinary skill, so let’s talk about the mains.

I ordered the duck breast roulade with leeks, onions, cherry compote,and some black quinoa-like grain (it’s been like 2 months, I forgot…). The duck was cooked perfectly, and was tender, delicately savoury and came out of the pan with perfectly crisp and caramelized skin. However, by the time it got to the table, it was just a little bit soggy. The rest of the dish was well executed and mostly made sense. The tart cherry sauce paired perfectly with the duck, while the leeks and grains tasted like..leeks and grains.

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I think I may have eaten a piece.

My dessert, however, was perfection. The crème brûlée was technically sound, with a light vanilla custard and a crunchy, slightly burnt caramel disc. Topping it off was a delicious sugar cookie and some sort of edible flower. While not the most challenging dessert in terms of technical skill, this was executed perfectly and would give any Parisian bistro a run for its money.

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Yes please.


At the end of the day, the food wasn’t bad at all, the service was friendly and charming and the restaurant was beautifully decorated.

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I’m a bastard and took pictures of other peoples food..

If I wasn’t driving that day, I’m sure I would agree with the wine selection as well.

So what went wrong?

Well I’m not entirely sure.

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Sue me, I couldn’t help it..

If I were to take a guess, it’d be a sad case of trying to fit a classy, French peg into an uncultured, Calgarian hole.

Unfortunately, there just doesn’t seem to be a niche for traditional French food because everyone’s bandwagoning over tiny share plates of gluten free organic Asian-Canadian fusion.

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Thanks to Sean and Caroline for their patience 🙂

The next time you’re looking for a relaxing evening or a quiet, atmospheric date, try Avec Bistro. Sometimes it’s nice eating food you can recognize in a restaurant that doesn’t look like a shitty modern art installation.

Avec Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Model Milk

Review

I realized there’s a backlog of posts I need to write, and I want to justify spending exorbitant amounts of money on food again, so here we are.


Sometimes if you take 5 minutes and read the website, you can get an eerily accurate representation of the dining experience.

Choice excerpts:

  • “throw out all checklists, pre-conceptions and rules that govern what a “good” restaurant ought to be.”
  • “a restaurant where you can experience food that is both classic and original, both innovative and comforting.”
  • “quality local and regional products”
  • “natural, sustainable and responsible methods”
  • “organic, bio-dynamic and natural wine making”

Sure, your website is a means of advertising and you don’t want to sell yourself short, but this level of textual masturbation just reeks of self importance.

Pre-conceptions and rules that govern what a “good” restaurant are there for a fucking reason. I have pre-conceptions that the staff will be friendly, service prompt, and food edible.

Of course they’d cream their panties over the fact that they only serve local, natural, sustainable, responsible, organic, bio-dynamic products, but did they really need to share that with us?

What does this mean to the average consumer?

Next to nothing.

Local doesn’t mean better, regional delicacies exist for a reason and I highly doubt Albertan agriculture is known for anything other than grains, canola and cows.

Natural could mean literally anything. Everything we consume originates from the natural world.

What exactly is responsible food? What is it responsible for?

Bio-dynamic wines. Per wikipedia: “[Bio-Dynamic farming] treats soil fertility, plant growth, and livestock care as ecologically interrelated tasks emphasizing spiritual and mystical perspectives.

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Exactly what I imagined..

 

Sigh.

We get it, you need to set yourself apart from the other trendy, new-age establishments, but this is stupid.


 

We went on a Monday night right after work and the restaurant was understandably empty. The staff were friendly and attentive and smelled of arts majors and new-age spirituality.

When we weren’t ogling their trippy mandala-print leggings and 4 inch gauges,  we had the opportunity to check out the rest of the restaurant.

To be perfectly honest, the place was wonderfully decorated. I read somewhere that the space used to be some sort of milk bottling depot (hence the name), and it had been perfectly re-purposed into a dining space. Bare brick walls, faux-retro light fixtures, and a two-level layout with exposed kitchen combined to make the space unique and welcoming. If you’ve ever dreamed of that open-concept loft in New York with the bare bricks and exposed rafters, you’ll love this place.

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I should really blur out faces..

They get another point for having the dining area brightly lit. Nothing like being able to see what you’re eating.


 

The food?

Well, it was pretty damn good.

We started with the MM Beef Tartare and I ordered the “Ewe-nique Farms Lamb”.

The tartare was served with a creamy pistachio mixture, as well as blitzed romaine and horseradish sauces. No complaints on the texture or quality of the meat. The raw steak was combined with olive oil, raw egg and green onions to nullify the potentially bloody tang. The result was creamy, smooth and surprisingly heavy.

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Sauce drizzles uneven, 0/10, would not eat.

To accompany the tartare, we were given “seed bread”, which, to be honest, was horrible. Don’t get me wrong, I still ate it, but society has moved away from making bread from ancient grains and seeds for good reason. The bread was crumbly, had little to no gluten, and tasted like a bird feeder, wood and all.

There’s nothing wrong with a few slices of grilled baguette. Hell, you can tell people the profits go to support the liberation of trans-gendered Somalian child soldiers if it helps you sleep better, just don’t serve me hamster food.

The lamb, however, left little room for complaints. The protein was cooked to perfection, with the interior retaining the consistency of semi-melted butter. While I don’t generally advise the usage of root vegetables or other bland starches as seasoning agents, the root vegetable ‘jus’ added a buttery sweetness to the dish and tied the grain, lamb and turnip together with its earthy undertones.

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Looks sort of like Australia.

Even the turnip was well cooked, and the slightly charred exterior speaks to ancient cooking methods where root vegetables were buried under the ashy remains of the camp-fire and left to roast.

The most interesting thing on the plate was the mound of ‘kamut’. For the uninformed (gonna be honest, I Googled it), Kamut is an international brand and trademark for certain strains of Khorasan wheat. An ancient, middle-eastern wheat species, the crop grows well in arid environments, and is known for its unusually large grain, nutty flavor, and ‘moistness’.

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This stuff.

Having tried some, I would have to agree. While I can’t overlook the puddle of butter that it was served in, the grains themselves were rich and nutty, while maintaining a satisfying chewiness from the bran.

From the pictures, you probably wouldn’t expect the meal to be filling, but you’d be wrong.

While the individual portions were not large, they weren’t afraid to use heavy and greasy ingredients to fill you up. The tartare was smooth and creamy due to the liberal usage of olive oil and creams, while the jus and grains served with the lamb were saturated with butter.

This was actually quite clever, and allowed for high-fat content dishes, without having customers pass out mid-meal.


 

Beyond all the pomp, pretense and politically correct causes, Model Milk still delivers sufficiently technical, creative and delicious food.

Give them a try if you haven’t already.

If you can get past the hipster vibe and holier-than-thou attitude, you might just be in for a treat.

Model Milk Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Anju

Review

I was in Calgary for work a month ago and I took the opportunity to visit some of their “best” restaurants, as determined by the Avenue Top 10 List.

Since these restaurants have received significant amounts of praise for creative food, plating and service (and also charge a fucking fortune), they will be held to higher standards.

These are the memoirs of my experiences.


For those too lazy to Google for themselves:

Anju (Korean pronunciation: [andʑu]) is a general term for a Korean food consumed with alcohol.”

Few things bother me more than inexplicably/inappropriately named restaurants, so we’re off to a good start.

The restaurant itself is very nice, combining the modern “everything must be black” theme with more traditional Korean decorations.

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Fascinating.

By traditional Korean decorations, I mean the 4-5 ceramic jugs they had displayed in the front. The rest of the restaurant was honestly indistinguishable from a Cactus Club.


 

Service was prompt and friendly, without being intrusive. I like to touch on this as good service is very rarely noticed, but bad service can easily destroy your restaurant experience. In Anju’s case, the staff were attentive, knowledgeable about their food (nothing more embarrassing than not knowing what goes in your own dishes), and seemed to appear only when you need them.


 

The food was…

Interesting.

Most of our choices were based off staff recommendations, as we wanted the dishes that best represented the restaurant.

We started with the Spicy Salmon Tacos (Yuneo Tako if you want a gibberish Korean translation).

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The photos are shitty because I was starving..

While the fish was definitely fresh, and I appreciated the work that went into the avocado mousse, I just found the tacos to be just a bit cloying. The fish was mixed with an oily cream based sauce, and combined with the natural richness of the avocado and deep-fried wrappers, just seemed too heavy for a starter. The bright side is that you get decent sized portions, and this could easily double as a main.

Next up was the Tofu & Foie Gras Parfait. The menu mentioned that it was served with Korean Pear Black Pepper Jam, Pine Nuts and Toasted Brioche. The presentation was well done, with creative use of a bathroom tile as a plate.

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So pretty..

The actual parfait was very nice. The tofu and foie gras had been whipped/blended to a mousse-like consistency.

The “jam” was actually a small salad of pears and micro-greens. Don’t ask me why they called it a jam. The pear was raw, crisp and very sweet, with smaller/less noticeable sclereids. This did well to cut the richness of the parfait.

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-10 points for chipped tile.

What killed an otherwise pleasant dish was the inclusion of the brioche (the wait staff stressed that this was baked in-house). The bread was sliced thickly, buttered and turned into a sweet, chewy pulp when you bit into it. This completely overshadowed all of the other flavors on the plate, especially the light foie gras and tofu. A normal crouton/melba toast would have done much better.

Next up was the Roasted Bone Marrow (So Golsu Gui) with scallions.

This was probably the worst dish of the night. The bone marrow seemed a bit off, and was much grittier than expected. It also had a heavy metallic after-taste. I understand that there’s bound to be some blood in the marrow bones, but this was almost inedible. Honestly, it tasted like sucking back a nosebleed.

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The garnish is just so…flaccid…

To complete the dish, the chef included some brioche crostinis. I feel like my thoughts on the brioche are apparent by this point so I’ll leave it at that.

The last appetizer we ordered was the KFC sliders, which turned out to be a disappointment. The chicken itself was quite nice, with a sweet, spicy and sticky sauce and fatty dark meat. Once again, what killed the dish was the brioche.

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You would expect that the chicken would be the star of the dish, but the brioche over-powered everything on your palate with its starchy sweetness.

I’m no award winning chef, but the dish would be vastly improved with any other type of bread and maybe a pickle or two to cut through the oil.

Oh, the dish also came with some piping hot, lightly salted, kettle-chip style curried potato chips, which were absolutely fucking delicious.

To finish things off, we settled for a more traditional dish, and ordered the spicy seafood stew. While the ingredients were high quality, and the presentation was homely and pleasant, the stew just didn’t taste like it should.

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It’s hard to pinpoint what really went wrong here, but the stew lacked the depth of flavour you would normally associate with Korean home cooking. Maybe it was the toned-down spice levels? Lack of acidity? Or maybe the stew just wasn’t simmered for long enough for the flavours to meld.

Yeah, I think that’s it.

The shrimp were marinated in lime and garlic and were delicious on their own, but clashed with the rest of the bowl. The pork was fatty and perfectly cooked, but just tasted like boiled pork. The mussels were tiny, plump and fresh, but only managed to add a slightly bitter brininess to the soup, and the tofu tasted like nothing.

It’s a shame because it’s clear that the end product was so much less than the individual components that went into it?


 

One may read my post and think that I’m overwhelmingly against Anju, but honestly, I’m not.

The food, while not amazing, was passable, and I appreciated the thought and creativity that went behind every dish. The chef clearly loves his craft and makes the extra effort to improve his dishes, sometimes in ways that the customer may not even realize. I harped on the home-baked brioche, but it was a pretty good brioche, the only issue was that it was served with everything and drowned out the other, more important flavours.

Everything was technically sound and the presentations were spot on as well (with the exception of some limp onions on the marrow).

But above all, I’m glad I went to Anju because it provided an interesting insight in how traditional methods and recipes shouldn’t entirely be replaced by creativity and clever plating.

Anju Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Chilly Days and Chilli Crab

Recipes

So as of yesterday, winter has officially begun.

Of course, nobody living at my latitude cares much about the ‘official’ start of winter, as it has already been cold and snowing for about a month and a half.

The wind bites at you when you walk outside, and any exposed appendages sting, and then quickly become numb. The sun rises at 9 and sets at roughly 4, leaving precious few hours of daylight.

But as miserable as it may seem, it’s not all bad.

For those of you contemplating your spirituality or practising meditation; try a solitary winter walk.

Bundle up. Find someplace deserted and snow covered, pick a direction and just walk.

With the cold comes an almost preternatural stillness. It’s hard to describe, but with the blue skies and coldly brilliant sun and still air, everything seems.. clean.

Winter Road

Photo Credits – Jens Prenhaw Photography

Quickly, your entire world shrinks to the little bubble of warmth that you carry around yourself. The stinging of the cold gives something tangible for your thoughts to crystallize around, and previously hazy thoughts suddenly become clear.

The cold weather also permits for traditional, greasy and hearty winter recipes, or in my case, spicy things.


CHILLI CRAB

A Singaporean/Malaysian dish dating back to the 50’s, chilli crab is perfect for when you want to spend an hour and a half picking through fiery, saucy bits of carapace and licking your fingers.

Here’s how I make it.

INGREDIENTS

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Hard Mode: Don’t read the list, use the picture as reference for ingredients.

  • 2 large mud crabs (or Dungeness if you don’t live in South-east Asia)
  • 1 egg
  • 5 Thai chilies
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 250 ml tomato puree
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 large onion (or two small ones…)
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • half inch of sliced ginger
  • 1 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp salt (to taste)
  • 3 tbsp neutral cooking oil
  • Cilantro to garnish

STEPS

1. Roughly chop the onion(s), de-seed chilies, peel garlic and ginger.

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Aromatics in!

2. Toss the onion, chilies, garlic and ginger into the food processor and puree. When you open the lid on the food processor, stick your face/eyes right in there and see how much it burns. If you’re getting tears, it’s probably hot enough. Or you could just taste it, but that’s no fun.

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Sinus-clearing goodness!

3. Slay your crabs and chop each crab into 6-7 bits. Discard the shell and the little frond-like bits. For more depth of flavor, try cracking open the claws/legs so the sauce can seep in. This is very messy, and you will get crab bits everywhere.

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Spared you the gruesome bits.

4. Heat your oil in a wok/deep frying pan and add your puree’d aromatics. Cook for 6-8 minutes on medium heat, or until the the mixture is noticeably drier and takes on a light golden colour.

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“Light golden colour” sounds way better than “sorta yellow”.

5. Add fish sauce, sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, salt, tomato paste, and tomato sauce. Cook down the mixture for an additional 5 minutes to remove the raw tomato taste from the paste/puree.

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Not much to say here.

6. Combine the cornstarch with a quarter cup of water and add to mixture.

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Cocktail sauce consistency

7. Toss in crab and cook, covered for 8-12 minutes on medium-high heat. Stir occasionally.

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Sans egg.

8. Right before the crab is cooked, break an egg into the wok and combine to coat the crab. This thickens the sauce and tempers the spice.

9. Roughly chop cilantro and garnish. Rule of thumb: more is better, especially if you can’t handle spice. The cilantro cools down the dish significantly.

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Yessssssssssssssss…

  1. Dig in and make a giant fucking mess.

 

From my experience, this tastes pretty damn authentic. Feel free to tweak the amount of spice/aromatics. Some even prefer ketchup as opposed to tomato paste/puree and sugar.

I prefer my spicy dishes to be nearly-painful, so this may be a bit spicy for non-masochists. Ideally the dish should have people flushed, sweating, inhaling sharply, yet unable to stop eating.

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Nomnomnom

If you have significant experience cooking chilli crab and I’m missing something, please let me know.

I wish everyone Happy Holidays, filled with family, friends, good food and better memories.

See you all next year!

The Prairie Noodle Shop

Review

 

It has been a strange time in my culinary journey. Most of the restaurants I’ve visited recently have been decent, and to be honest, it’s tough to write about restaurants that were just ‘alright’.

There’s only so many synonyms for unremarkable, and I don’t think anyone really cares to read about mediocrity.

Thank god the Prairie Noodle Shop is here to shake things up.

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This place.

 


 

After a few successful appearances as a pop-up restaurant, the Prairie Noodle Shop has officially opened its doors to the hordes of ramen deprived Edmontonians.

I went last night and was greeted by ten or so patrons-to-be crowding the tiny entrance, waiting for a seat. As I had a party of 5, we were looking at a wait of roughly 40 minutes. Considering the diminutive size of the restaurant and the hype from the grand opening, this wasn’t unreasonable.

While I stood in line, I had a chance to observe the machinations and efforts of the staff (not like I had anything better to do). Four or five convict-looking types run the open-concept kitchen behind the bar… You know, so you can watch people assemble a bowl of fucking noodles.

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Skilled noodle artisans.

I also had the chance to admire the furnishings in the restaurant. Prairie themed wood cut-outs of grain silos and barns line the walls, while the ceiling was exposed to show support beams and aluminum ventilation. Combined with the mild paint job, incandescent lighting and bits of cowhide glued to the wall, the restaurant felt warm and inviting, especially on a cold winter night.

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I wasn’t kidding about the cowhide

 

We ordered at 6pm and it turns out that they had ran out of most of their appetizers, including the pork buns and drumettes (they only had one order left). Batter for the cornbread was also running low, so we stuck with one order of ‘smoked lollipop drumettes’ and the ‘charcoal salted edamame’.

What came out actually made me feel some remorse towards the chickens that died so we could try the dish.

Here, I’ll post the description on the menu and we can go through it item by item.

“Six smoked confit chicken drumettes marinated and served in our house honey and barley tare sauce”

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Whatever you say…

First of all, the chicken was just cooked poorly. Disregarding the ‘confit’ for now, the drumsticks were bone dry and absolutely flavorless (besides some minor charring). How did this happen? I don’t have a fucking clue. The drumstick is probably one of the easiest cuts to cook, but they somehow fucked it up.

 

Sigh.

What else.

Uhhh, it’s also really, really bland. Like ‘completely forgot salt and any form of seasoning’ bland.

Judging from the menu description, the only seasoning is the honey and barley tare sauce. There was a faint hint of sweetness, and the barley effectively did nothing. Honestly, what did you expect from using cereal as a condiment.

Hell, I’ve probably tasted better dorm room shake-n-bake disasters than the crap they served us.

The edamame wasn’t bad, but you get the same thing with a bag of frozen edamame from T&T and a lemon. If I were to gripe, I could complain about how the seasoning wasn’t distributed evenly and how the pods at the top were over-seasoned and the bits at the bottom were flavourless, but why would I ever do that?

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Delightful

But at the end of the day, you go to a noodle shop for their noodles.

I had the prairie pork ramen (blah blah locally sourced blah blah I don’t care).

Surprisingly, the pork was actually really well done. The pork shoulder was moist, flavorful and rich, and the belly managed to maintain a level of firmness while still rendering the fat on top with a bit of light charring.

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Nnggghhhhh…

Unfortunately that’s just about everything that went well with the dish. My first taste of the broth brought up mental imagery of boiled, slightly-rancid shrimp shells. The menu says the base is made from home-made pork broth and “prairie dashi”, but I couldn’t detect any of the lingering umami you would normally associate with pork bone, and the dashi only tasted of slightly-off crustaceans. To top it off, the soup was about as bland as the chicken drumsticks.

The noodles came out glued to each other, and each bowl would have three to four gigantic clumps of noodles that had fused together. Besides the obvious unpleasantness of biting into a giant lump of undercooked dough, this only accentuated the underlying theme of blandness.

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Instant noodles don’t even clump like this…

I tried some of the chicken broth as well, and had a similar impression. Little to no chicken flavour combined with slightly-off seafood and a complete lack of salt.

To top it all off, both orders of chicken ramen were missing the fried kale. Not like that would add much, taste-wise, but it still blows when you order something and part of it just isn’t included.

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Pink things are pickled onions

The umeboshi egg (preserved plum boiled egg) was cooked nicely, with a rich, soft yolk and firm white, but the boiling liquor may have been too strong, as the egg was very salty.


 

The Good

  • Warm and inviting space
  • Friendly staff
  • Boiled frozen edamame?
  • 2/4 of the ramen toppings

The Bad

  • Wait times (although this will change when the hype dies down)
  • Unimaginative twist on the classics

The Awful

  • The ramen
  • The chicken
  • That awkward moment when the waitress comes to ask you how your meal is, and the only words that come to mind are ‘repulsive and fundamentally flawed’, but you know that there’s nothing she can do to make the meal better short of changing the recipe and boiling up a new batch of stock, so you say ‘it’s fine’ and make some ‘mmmm’ sounds to get her off your case.
  • Why would you ever want to use a fucking grain to flavor something?
  • When you taste the broth and the only flavor that sticks out is that of decaying shellfish
  • The fact that people (myself included) were excited that Edmonton was finally going to have a decent ramen shop, and the ensuing disappointment.

 

I understand that there’s a dinner rush and the restaurant is new, but if you have four fucking cooks in a restaurant that seats 40, there’s no excuse for sloppy cooking, technical errors, and running out of ingredients by 6pm.

In the end, the Prairie Noodle Shop lives up to its name. It’s exactly what you expect out of an independent, locally-sourced ramen restaurant in the middle of fucking nowhere. Like the eponymous farmland, the Prairie Noodle Shop is boring, bland, overpriced and takes itself far too seriously.

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Nice cut-out’s though!

Prairie Noodle Shop Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Blue Plate Diner and High Expectations

Review

The ability to set aside expectations and experience something the way it was meant to be experienced allows for unbiased and fresh insights.

‘Oh yeah, how hard can that be?’

Well.

Pretty hard.

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Oh look, a green cat.

The stimuli around you, the information that you obtain through personal experiences or opinions all lead to subconscious (or conscious) bias.

Numerous studies point towards the importance of pre-conceptions and first impressions. Why do we pay more attention to our appearance on an interview or first date? Why do we care less after years of familiarity?

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Because ‘Murica

Because first impressions are important, and people subconsciously catalogue and analyze facts about people and things around them to determine how they want to feel towards that person or thing.

We are familiar with the concept of ‘poisoning the well’, where adverse information is given, and causes the recipient to form negative pre-conceptions against something. Obviously, this is terrible for forming an impartial judgement, but we rarely think of the other side of the issue.

Giving someone a glowing recommendation for something is just as, if not, more harmful. In our society, we often exaggerate and embellish positive experiences. If you left a restaurant without any complaints, and someone asked you how it went, you’d generally say something positive.

‘Oh yeah, it was pretty good’

It’s just a product of the cautiously polite, over-coddling culture that we live in. God forbid if anything was actually good. We’ve all seen the gaggles of basic bitches shrieking accolades about their venti vanilla bean half fat half sweet soy frappuccinos.

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It’s like staring into a bottomless pit.

I digress.

I’ve always heard good things about Blue Plate Diner. Starting from about two years ago, it’s been mentioned in passing, or been flat out suggested to me. It’s quirky, unique, and tries to put an original spin on comfort food classics.


First impressions were mixed.

The interior of the restaurant was a bit confused. Classic diner-style tables with grooved aluminium edges were paired with simple wooden chairs and flat primary colors.

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I was bored, ok?

I would’ve liked to see more diner inspiration. You know, a jukebox, some retro Coke vending machines, maybe a chrome bar stool or two? With the tables being the only diner-themed decor, it seems like they either ran out of budget or just didn’t care.

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Looks like the set of a 90’s Nickelodeon show.

The service, however, was very good. The wait staff were very fast, friendly and just a bit boisterous. It also took about 5 minutes for our food to come out (on a Friday night), which is probably the fastest at any restaurant I’ve been in.

But there’s a caveat.

The food is all pre-prepared. Now don’t get me wrong, you need to have things prepped in advance in a restaurant because there’s no way you’re putting together a meatloaf and baking it in 20 minutes. But at the same time, you lose a bit of the rustic feel you associate with diner food.

I ordered the meatloaf with dijon mashed potatoes (apparently a crowd-pleaser), while my coworker got the special of the day, a “ghoulish goulash” (their pun, not mine) and gnocchi. The goulash and gnocchi tasted OK. There was nothing offensive about it, but nothing really special either. The meat was tender, sauce was brown, and everything was piping hot. We were informed the gnocchi were not made in-house, but purchased from a supplier in the city. Once again, you can’t fault a restaurant for saving on preparation time, but you also can’t help but feel a twinge of disappointment.

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Either goulash or someone had an accident on the gnocchi

The meatloaf was very filling and tasted of nothing.

But that’s just about it. No noticeable herbs or spices, no umami from the meat, just a uniform meat/breadcrumb slab. You would expect an inch and a half thick slab of ground meat and starch to be filling, so that’s nothing special. The gravy was also on the tasteless side. In hindsight, everything on the plate was just bland as fuck. There were a few grains of dijon in the mashed potatoes, but they failed to impart any of the astringency you associate with mustard. On top of that, everything that I tried was…soft. This usually isn’t a bad thing, but all the food had sort of the same texture.

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Guess what this is

Dessert was a home-made beet cake, which was surprisingly awesome. Think carrot cake, but not disgusting. The beets made the cake incredibly moist, while not really affecting the flavor profile at all. I’m also pretty sure the cake was homemade, because honestly, just look at it…

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Tasty? Yes. Pretty? No.


 

The Good

  • Lightning quick service
  • Friendly and attentive wait staff
  • Drinks of the alcoholic variety
  • Food was hot..?

The Bad

  • Doesn’t look like a diner
  • Don’t serve diner food

The Awful

  • Everything I ate was bland
  • Non-homemade gnocchi is a disappointment
  • They don’t actually have blue plates…

 

The one lasting impression that Blue Plate Diner made on me was that everything they served was horribly bland.

Admittedly, I wouldn’t be as disappointed as I am now if I hadn’t heard all the rave reviews beforehand, but it’s hard to get past the fact that everything I ate was fucking tasteless.

I wouldn’t go back, but if you have difficulties with food that requires chewing, or want to cut back on sodium for health purposes, this is the place for you.

Blue Plate Diner Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sober Review: The Sherlock Holmes Pub

Review

A good pub is like an old leather jacket.

Comfortable.

Familiar.

A little bit worn down, but and warm and safe.

Somewhere you can laugh and reminisce and complain and wallow and deal with whatever trials and tribulations life throws your way.

I’ve been trying to find a good pub here for a while now and my latest adventures have brought me to a quaint little place right in the heart of down-town Edmonton.


Sherlock Holmes is, for the lack of a better term, adorable.

The building takes stylistic cues from the traditional Middle-German house, with exposed brown beams, white walls, and a barn-like appearance. If you go when there’s snow on the ground, the front area even looks like a lawn with a tiny little picket fence.

Pretty much this.

Pretty much this.

The inside is pretty much what you would expect.

Dented, mismatched tables and chairs fill up the floor space next to barstools and the odd booth. Exposed rafters are plastered with logos, posters and license plates and anything vaguely British. The floor is old and wooden, and there’s a somewhat cozy upstairs level for when things really get busy.

Now I normally complain about how restaurants and bars are all decorated the same and lack personality, but I think Sherlock Holmes takes it too far in the opposite direction. Everything screams “LOOK AT ME I’M A SPECIAL FUCKING SNOWFLAKE”. Personality isn’t something that you ham-fistedly slap onto every available surface.

Complete with decorative bald dude.

Complete with decorative bald dude.

Service was unreasonably slow. There was almost a half hour wait between sitting down and placing orders. Much time was spent trying to catch the waitress’ attention without being too obnoxious. This mainly involved trying to make eye contact with her as she looked anywhere but our table.

When we finally did get our order taken, it didn’t take too long for our food to come out. The honey garlic wings, pretzels and beer cheese came out first.

Wings n' cheese

Wings n’ cheese

The wings were typical pub fare and were pleasantly crispy and sticky. Nothing to write home about, but nothing glaringly wrong either.

The pretzels were soft, warm and chewy and were absolutely delicious with the Dijon-horseradish dip. They tasted like they were home-made, and if not, well it’s a damn good re-heated pretzel.

Actually delicious

Actually delicious

Beer Cheese.

This one actually came with a warning from the waitress when we ordered it, which is always nice. It was described as a “cold, hard, salty cheese-string”. Fortunately for me, cheese strings were an integral part of my childhood.

To be honest, the cheese was actually pretty good. Once you get past the bizarre texture (like a harder, stringier, cheese string…), you realize it actually tastes quite good. Somewhat like an old cheddar with less kick.

The pizza was alright. Note that I’m writing this nearly a month after my visit, so my memory is a bit fuzzy, but let’s just say I wasn’t blown away. The veggies seemed fresh, the thin crust was a bit soggy, the sauce tasted canned and they didn’t skimp on toppings.

!!!

!!!


Sherlock Holmes, more so than most restaurants in town, sells an experience. With a drink or four, the tacky decorations don’t seem as tacky any more. You find that there’s always something to look at and talk about, be it the clientèle or the decorations. The alcohol softens the edges on the scarred tables and chairs, and suddenly they’re not ugly, they’re quaint. It’s not claustrophobic, it’s cozy.

It goes without saying that the food would be significantly improved too.

With that being said, I fear that my sobriety affected my ability to experience the Sherlock Holmes the way it was meant to be enjoyed.

Guess I’ll need to go back and have a few drinks.

You know, for science.

Sherlock Holmes Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

How to Roast a Turkey That Doesn’t Taste Like Dry Shit

Recipes

Coming from an immigrant family, the custom of roasting a huge, tasteless bird was lost upon my parents for the first decade of being in Canada.

Thus, the responsibility of learning and enabling this proud, time-honored tradition fell upon on my shoulders.

This seemed relevant

This seemed relevant

Poultry skills honed through countless residence socials and frat parties, I’ve been told that I can roast a pretty good bird.

Don’t take my word on it though, try the recipe out the next time you need to feed a dozen people.

I promise you won’t be disappointed.


To properly deal with the turkey, we must first come to terms with the fact that turkey is inherently a bland and unpleasant animal.

Ugly fucker too.

Ugly fucker too.

The meat is incredibly lean, which does not lend itself well to roasting, and an average bird is roughly 15 pounds, which means that if you want a safe internal temperature, the exterior is going to be bone dry.

To top this all off, there is a disproportionately large amount of white meat, which is only made edible through submersion in gravy and cranberry sauce.

But hey, a tradition is a tradition, so we can learn a few tricks to make turkey less gross.


INGREDIENTS

  • One turkey, 12 pounds
  • One large onion
  • One large carrot
  • 3 stalks celery
  • 1 bunch fresh rosemary
  • 1 bunch fresh sage
  • 1 pound salted butter
  • 1 pound thickly sliced bacon
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning and brine

People who are delegated turkey duty during the holidays generally know of a few methods to infuse the meat with some semblance of flavor.

The most popular methods include brining, basting and stuffing butter under the skin.

I do all three, because why not.

STEP 1

The Brine

This one is easy.

Don’t be a lazy fuck like me and get your turkey a week or so in advance so you can defrost it in time.

Get a big bucket or clean out your sink really well.

Put your defrosted turkey inside the container, remember to take out the giblets and such.

Submerge the turkey and add one cup of salt for every two gallons of water. If you’re bad at eyeballing measurements, just add the salt to the water beforehand.

There you go, leave the bird in the brine for at least 8 hours.

If you want to be extra-fuckin’ fancy, toss in some herbs. You can convince yourself they add to the flavor, but nobody at the table is going to taste a fucking thing under the gravy anyways.

STEP 2

The Buttering

This one gets messier.

Chop your veggies into one inch cubes.

Finely chop the herbs and mix thoroughly with the butter. Once again, if you’ve forgotten to set out the butter at room temperature, cut the brick into thirds and microwave it for 30 seconds.

Salt and pepper the inside and outside of the bird. Fill the cavity with the chopped vegetables, scatter the rest around the bottom of the roasting tray.

I buttered it first

I buttered it first

Fold the wing tips under the bird and tie the ankle-stumps together. This maintains a more presentable shape for the finished product.

Now for the fun part. Lift up the skin near the bottom part of the breastbone and slowly separate the skin from the meat. There’s an elastic membrane below the skin that is quite durable, so don’t be afraid to really get in there. You want all of the skin intact at the end of the process though.

Then I added the vegetables!

Then I added the vegetables!

Once you have a cavity, stuff the space between the skin and the meat with the herb butter. You can press down on top of the skin to smooth butter into the nooks and crannies.

Spread the remaining butter on top of the bird, drizzle olive oil over the top to prevent the skin from burning.

As a final safeguard against a dry turkey breast, lay out your bacon over the breast.

Like so.

Like so.

STEP 3

The Basting

Oven at 360 degrees Celsius. Bake for 13 minutes per pound.

You can baste two to three times during the roasting process. I usually remove the bacon around the hour and a half mark otherwise it gets burnt.

Reserve bacon for gravy making or topping potatoes/side dishes (or just eat it on the spot, you pig).

Due to the vegetables used as a stuffing, you’ll be left with a pan full of buttery roasting juices which is wonderful for gravies, soups, and anything that needs turkey broth.

Aaaaand the end result.

Aaaaand the end result.


THE SAUCE

Now this is painfully easy.

I followed this recipe, so I won’t bother writing all the steps (or any of them).

Have some pictures though.

Just toss everything in the fuckin' pan.

Just toss everything in the fuckin’ pan.

As a note, if you plan on making your own sauce, make sure you crush all the berries in the pan as they cook down. Unbroken berries are incredibly acidic and can ruin an otherwise pleasant mouthful of turkey.

Then you boil it until it looks like this.

Then you boil it until it looks like this.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE GRAVY!?

I shit the bed on the gravy this year. Don’t ask.


With the magic of grade-school reading comprehension and basic problem-solving skills, you won’t need to subject your Thanksgiving guests to the awkward dance of having to pretend that your turkey isn’t, in fact, disgusting.

You’re welcome.