KAM HAN SZECHUAN HOUSE

Review

Ordering seafood from restaurants in a landlocked province has always been underwhelming.

Transportation and storage make fresh seafood rare and expensive, while frozen seafood is generally watery, bland and disgusting. To add to all of this, the gastronomical culture in Alberta and many parts of North America dictate that fish must be eaten in square (sometimes rectangular), boneless filets, most likely pan fried and served with a starchy staple and some vegetables. Sometimes you get sauce that isn’t just a slice of lemon. But most importantly, your fish must never look or taste like fish.

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Case in point

This has led to adopt a somewhat jaded opinion, and I was very sceptical when I heard of a relatively unknown restaurant in Calgary that specialised in fresh seafood.


Kam Han is pretty damn weird.

If you look Chinese enough, the staff will bring you an order form, a tiny Ikea pencil and an iPad. This lets you choose from the traditional Szechaun menu, which features the spicy crab and fish dishes, as well as typical Chinese “salads”.

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Reading Chinese helps.

If you’re not, or if you don’t request the special menu, you’re presented with a typical westernized Chinese take-out menu with timeless classics like ginger beef and sweet and sour pork.

We ordered the spicy crab dish (spiciest option of course), cold tripe (also spicy) and some rice.

The interesting thing is that you have the option to add various vegetables and meats to your crab, and they just cook everything together.

Chinese style luncheon meat (less-salty Spam) and Enoki mushrooms were ticked off on the list since we were feeling adventurous.

The tripe came out first and was… completely unoffensive (which is an accomplishment). The spices used were typical of a Szechuan restaurant and the level of heat should be manageable for most. As with the rest of the other small plates on the menu, this one came out cold, and is meant to be more of a drinking snack than anything else.

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Goes well with beer.

The crab came out shortly after and was served in what can only be described as a giant stainless steel basin. This was heated by small tea candles, and was heaped full of crab bits, mushrooms and dried chilli peppers. The legs and shoulders were dredged in what I believe to be a cornstarch and hot pepper slurry before being deep-fried. Afterwards, ladles of aromatic chili/szechuan oil are poured over top, along with a generous fistful of dried chillis, cilantro and sesame seeds.

Flavor-wise, you don’t get much more than overwhelming heat and crab.

Which is exactly what you ordered.

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Looks like crab to me.

The spice is mouth-watering, and eating the dish invokes a psychological conflict between wanting to eat more and the need to give your mouth a break.

As someone who loves spicy food and thinks he can handle his spice, this is about as spicy as I can tolerate for an everyday meal, which is honestly rare to find in a restaurant.

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Plastic gloves if you have a whole bunch of open wounds on your hands.

The one complaint I have would be the lack of flavor in the leg meat. The shell is drenched in spice, which makes extracting the meat a lip-numbing experience, but the meat itself is somewhat bland. It wouldn’t take much more effort to crack the shells before cooking, and it would improve the flavor dramatically.


From my experiences here, the rest of the menu is somewhat disappointing (even for north-americanized chinese food) and caters to a different audience.

If you’re going to come, get the crab or the fish. It’s served creatively, comes in generous portions, and wonderfully utilizes traditional szechuan flavors.

Kam Han Szechuan House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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DON DAY

Review

Korean for ‘pay day’ (or at least according to my Korean coworker), Don Day is a tiny hole in the wall on 9th street and 7th ave, in downtown Calgary.

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Literally a hole in a wall.

The restaurant is TINY, furniture is made from empty storage containers, and most of the signs in the store are in Korean so foreigners are shit out of luck (the waitress understands numbers and furious pointing).

But…

Something I look out for when going to ethnic restaurants is the clientele. As a rule of thumb, if a Chinese restaurant is filled with Chinese people, they probably have more authentic Chinese food.

In our case, my companion and I were the only non-Koreans in the restaurant.

Lets see if my hypothesis holds true.


We ordered what the other restaurant patrons ordered, and ended up with an enormous metal wok brimming with bright red soup and a mountain of pork bones (creatively named spicy pork bone soup).

It’s placed on top of a propane stove on your table, you stir the soup to mix the spices and make sure the (pre-stewed) bones are mostly submerged, and then you wait.

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Hngghh….

And wait…

And wait……

Luckily, we ordered a plate of spicy pork and that came out while the soup was coming to a boil.

The pork was nicely seasoned, and tasted very…Korean. I’m not just tossing words around here either. Korean red pepper, red pepper paste, onions, sesame seeds, sugar and onions make up the majority of the seasoning for the sliced pork. Mostly sweet, with a bit of spicy. Together with the slightly fatty pork, I can’t think of a better way to eat onions (which there were a lot of).

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It’s mostly onions though.

While we were distracted by the k-pop videos, creative furniture, bone disposal can, and clouds of soup fumes, our pork bone soup came to a boil.

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Bone disposal can and ladle.

And it was wonderful.

Looking at the color of the soup and the flecks of pepper, you would expect the dish to be spicy, but you’d also be wrong.

While it has a bit of a heat, it’s entirely tolerable and not at all overpowering.

The spices and flavoring in the soup are similar to the pork dish with the addition of scallions (cut into convenient 3-inch sections) and a ton of extra red and black pepper.

The cut of meat was from the spine of the animal, and the tiny muscles, tendons and ligaments had been stewed to the consistency of meat butter. Getting at the meat is a very hands-on process, as you need to separate vertebrae to tease out delicious morsels. My one complaint would be that the pork bones were somewhat bland (aside from the richness of the meat itself), but this is easily remedied by eating the pork with the flavorful broth.

For those looking for carbs, there’s half a potato floating somewhere in the bottom of the broth too. If you were wondering, it tastes like a boiled potato.


This place has character and it knows it.

The location is kinda sketchy, the restaurant is tiny, you’re going to end up smelling like spicy bone soup regardless of what you order, communication with the staff is going to be minimal, air conditioning is nonexistent, and the tables are all different degrees of stickiness.

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Good luck stupid gaijin

But none of that really matters.

The pricing is very reasonable, the people are friendly enough, and most importantly, the spicy pork bone soup is absolutely fucking delicious.

Don Day Korean Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Soda Jerks

Review

 

Soda Jerks is pretty much what you get when Red Robins has an illegitimate lovechild in a threesome with a carnie and an alcoholic.

The menu is absolutely massive and includes wonderful things like a shotgun of Old Milwaukee (can is pre-punched), alcoholic milkshakes and a triple-burger time challenge.

Sounds like fun.


 

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In case you were wondering what it looked like inside.

We started with the fried pickles and milkshakes. The milkshakes were superb. I’m not usually a fan of creamy drinks, but this was definitely an exception. They didn’t do anything crazy, just a good blend of ice cream, milk and syrup. To sweeten the deal, you have the option to add shots of hard liquor to your creamy confection.

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How do you take an attractive picture of a milkshake?

Now I’m no expert, but my understanding of fried pickles is that you fry slices of pickles to maintain a good pickle to batter ratio, and to ensure that the pickle gets to dry out a bit while frying. We were served thick spears of pickle, dripping with grease and gushing with pickle juice. Phallic imagery aside, they were pretty disgusting. While I’ll never know for sure, it feels like they weren’t drained after being fried.

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Served with mayo because we’re disgusting.

Because we ordered when we were starving (bad fucking idea), we also got the onion ring poutine. This remained mostly uneaten, but I’m certain that it tastes exactly like street vendor onion rings, high-school cafeteria gravy and Costco cheese curds, which, honestly, make for a pretty great poutine.

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Not enough fried food.

Alright, onto the burgers.

In theory, this is a great idea (for the restaurant).

The customer gets to participate in the creation of their meal, it’s different, and there won’t be any complaints as you get exactly what you ask for.

Hell, you even get the customer to fill out the ticket for you.

Now here’s the problem.

Your average diner has NO FUCKING CLUE what they actually want in a burger.

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Case in point.

This isn’t an issue with typical burger toppings like lettuce and bacon, but once you start adding things like ice cream, Kraft Dinner and mini donuts onto the list of burger toppings, you give the average customer way too much choice. In the interest of making something Instagram/Snapchat worthy, your customer will also create something that’s absolutely fucking disgusting.

Turns out Hot/Sweet Chili sauce, banana peppers, jalapenos, jalapeno jack and buffalo onion rings all sort of taste like the same thing. I ended up with a burger that tasted like an entire fucking bottle of Franks Red Hot. To be fair, the individual ingredients were great, I’m just an idiot.

My friend, with a bit more experience in building his own burger (and considerably more common sense), actually ended up with something edible.

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An exercise in restraint.

I had a bag of Doritos for a side, which I did not attempt to eat. If you’re going to serve me something, at least pretend you didn’t buy it in bulk at Costco.

Although we were both uncomfortably full at this point, we ordered dessert and justified it by saying I’d write a blog about it.

Cue the mini donuts and chocolate covered bacon.

The donuts were quite plain and were dusted in cinnamon sugar. The taste was virtually identical to the donuts you would normally get at some sort of carnival or fair, although the texture was closer to that of a cake donut.

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About as overpriced as carnival donuts too.

Chocolate covered bacon was exactly that. Dark chocolate and a slice of bacon. To be honest, I’m not a fan of the dark chocolate and would have preferred something with more sugar (or just candied bacon).

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Take note of the grease stains on the glass.


 

In the end, the food wasn’t amazing and is a bit pricey.

However, they do have quite a few things that make them worth a visit, namely alcoholic milkshakes and carnie food.

So if you want to get wasted and vomit mini donuts and corndogs, but don’t want to go to an actual festival, Soda Jerks is the place for you.

 

Soda Jerks Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

LOVE PIZZA

Review

New-ish pizza joint opened up downtown.

Trendy (and impractical website), strong social media presence, ‘original’ pizza, modern decor.

Let’s go check it out.


First impressions:

  • Smell of smoke and thick smog.

According to a sign on the wall, the ventilation system is broken and is currently being replaced. I appreciate that they’re apologetic, but you’re most likely going to leave smelling like cheese, tomato sauce and smoke.

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What’s this place called again?

  • Cute stories and house rules written on the walls.

Borrowing the idea from Burgers Priest, most of the white space in the restaurant is filled with tidbits from the website and the “House Rules”. Call me jaded but it seems forced.

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LOVEPIZZALOVEPIZZALOVEPIZZALOVEPIZZALOVEPIZZA

 

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Cheaper than an art installation I guess.


Ordering is done through a Subway-esque production line, with three or four dishevelled employees taking your order, selecting and baking your crust/toppings, adding your ‘finishes’ and ringing you through.

To their credit, this is all done very efficiently, and you get your food within 3-4 minutes from when you order.


Pricing is reasonable and consistent, with all of the pizzas costing $11.95, with the exception of the ‘plain jane’ pizza margherita (basil and mozzarella).

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Doesn’t look bad at all.

You also get the choice to add as many ‘finishes’ as you would like, although anything past 4 is overkill.

Visually, all the pizzas (besides mine) were amazing. The colors were vibrant and the fresh produce/ingredients were a nice contrast against the processed bits of god knows what thrown on pizzas from large chains.

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No idea what this is.

The pizza margherita tasted surprisingly good considering the unceremonious assembly and cooking process, with a pleasantly chewy crust, tangy sauce and actual mozzarella (cow milk, not buffalo). My only gripe was with the tiny little quadrants of basil on top.

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I think they drizzled olive oil on top.

My companions ordered far fancier pizzas, and offered no opinions beyond “eh, it’s ok”.

Thanks, assholes.


So there you have it.

Decent tasting, great looking single-serving pizzas with room for customisation, coupled with speedy service and an artificially ‘personal’ atmosphere.

If you’re not bothered by the feeling that they’re trying too hard, LovePizza makes for a passable lunch alternative to the other restaurants in the area.

LOVEPIZZA Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

CHARCUT

Review

Get it?

Char?

Cut?

Charcuterie?

All relevant, meat-related words.

You so clever, random restaurateur.


I was in Calgary a few weeks ago for work and finally got to catch up with an old friend from my fraternity days.

Since she works as an audit-grunt for a large accounting firm and needed to be back at work before her overseer notices that she slipped out of her shackles, we went to the restaurant right across the street.

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This place.

As the CHARCUT is in the heart of downtown Calgary, the clientèle were stereotypical, suited, middle aged, Caucasian men with the occasional schmuck going for the more casual plaid shirt and lumberjack beard combo. The restaurant is themed and decorated with its patrons in mind.

Glossy black surfaces, faux-vintage coca cola machines, long, phallic beer taps and exposed bricks and ventilation all served to remind the average customer of dank man-caves and corporate boardrooms.

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I should really blur out his face.

 


We ordered the CHARCUT board to start, with the duck poutine and bison brisket.

The CHARCUT board was generously piled with homemade mortadella, capicollo, cured jerky sticks and asiago. To be fair, I’m not often impressed by a board of cold cuts and mustard, but the novelty of house-made meats really set the charcuterie board apart from others. The mortadella was soft and buttery while the capicollo was adequately spicy. I thought the jerky sticks were a bit too salty, but that’s a low blow when describing salted/dried meat..

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Who actually eats deli meat and mustard on their own?

Oh, and the mustard remained completely unused, and pickles would have been a better choice as they would add a bit more texture to an otherwise homogenous dish.

On paper, it the poutine seemed like a winning combination.

Duck fat fries, gravy layered in between, with generous lumps of cheese curds scattered throughout.

In reality, the sodden pile of potatoes and salty grease were barely palatable. The fries were as limp as a whiskey chugging fratboy, and the only adjective I can think of for the gravy is …gloopy?

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Glooooop.

On the bright side, the little cast iron pan they served the poutine was positively adorable.

To finish it all off, we had the bison brisket with beech mushrooms and boar bacon.

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I like the use of brown.

The boar bacon was extra crispy and very good. Mushrooms were excellent. Potatoes had the consistency of watery tapioca pudding, and eating the brisket was like sticking my mouth on the ass end of a woodchipper.

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So. Fucking. Dry.

Verdict?

As you could see above, the plating, creativity and focus of the restaurant were all excellent, but for a restaurant focused on meat, I expected, well… better meat…

Question is, should you go?

To make this easier, I’ve graciously provided a checklist to help you decide.

Do you:

  • Idolize 60’s advertising executives
  • Use the phrase ‘touch base’ more than once a day
  • Drive a BMW
  • Have no sense of taste
  • Torture small animals in your spare time

If you answered yes to 3 or more of the above, you’d probably enjoy your visit.

 

Charcut Roast House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pfanntastic Pannenkoek Haus

Review

If I’ve learned anything from the countless professional development courses that I end up taking, it’s that sometimes you need to take a step out of your comfort zone.

That’s probably how I ended up having apple, cheese and onion pancakes for lunch.

Twice.


The Pfanntastic Pannenkoek Haus is not only magnificently named, it’s also located in a dingy-ass strip mall about two blocks away from Mount Royal University in Calgary.

Decked out in blue from top to bottom, the restaurant features quaint Dutch things like kissing dolls, the color blue, clogs, and a little sweet/cookie shop, featuring various forms of liquorice (ranging from almost edible to industrial-strength fertilizer).

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Various Dutch goods for sale.

 


Now the menu is comprised almost entirely of pancakes in one form or another. There’s some tamer ones like strawberry or cherry, but that’s no fun.

The waitress recommended the apple, onion, bacon and cheese from the more ‘experimental’ page in the menu, and the cheese, onion, potato and bacon just in case we didn’t like the first one.

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Dutch as fuuuuuuuuuck

Because I’m a basic bitch, we also ordered the black forest pancake.


The cheese, onion, potato and bacon pancake was…

Well..

Really, really good..

Seriously.

The cheese (a mixture of gouda and some other less important cheeses) formed a crispy crust on top of the pancake, sandwiching the slightly crunchy onions, potatoes and perfectly crisp bacon. A cup of sour cream accompanies this dish, and adds to the rustic, farm-house feel.

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Sometimes I get forgetful when I’m hungry.

The waitress suggested we try it with ‘Schenkstroop’, which, upon further research, turns out to be the original pancake syrup, from the company that invented syrup specifically suitable for pancakes and crepes.

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This stuff. Tastes good.

The version with apples was a bit less exciting, but still palatable. The apples, in my opinion, weren’t nearly tart enough, and were indistinguishable from the onions, bacon and cheese.

 

Our final conquest was the infamous Black Forest Pancake.

A 12-inch crepe, decked out with three scoops of ice cream, dollops of whipped cream, heaping mounds of stewed cherries and a chocolate shot glass full of kirschwasser (black cherry liqueur).

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Cherry and chocolate overkill.

To be honest, you really didn’t taste much of the crepe. Personally, the pancake acted as an edible cherry, whipped cream and ice cream delivery mechanism. The flavours were a bit ham-fisted and not subtle in the least, but if you’re ordering a plate of whipped cream and cherries, I’m not sure what subtleties you’re expecting. Everything was bold and sweet and the only thing I could complain about was the sogginess of the pancake after I poured the kirsch.

But seriously, the problem involves a shot of liquor in a chocolate cup. I’m sure we can figure out some way to get rid of it without getting the pancake wet…

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Be creative.


Would I come back here on a regular basis?

Realistically, probably not (this would be difficult as I live three hours away), as I’d imagine the novelty of savoury, cheese covered pancakes would wear off in time.

BUT.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go. The pancakes are quite delicious, and more importantly, they’re a breath of fresh air in a world where our lunchtime options are limited to buffets, salad bars, and shitty chain restaurant burgers.

o (1)

That’ll be 28 dollars plus tax.

So there you have it.

A tiny glimmer of culture in the land of cows, canola, and dirty oil money.

 

Pfanntastic Pannenkoek Haus Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Next Act (and an amazing local pig farm)

Review

Since I’m still a little bitter about SugarBowl’s shit-tastic eggs benedict and I’m too lazy to make some myself, let’s go out for brunch again.


I stopped by The Next Act while on a bacon procurement trip to the Strathcona Farmers Market.

Side note: There’s this little stand (booth? stall??) that sells the most amazing bacon I have ever had. They’re local, free-range, and use Berkshire pigs (which are a 300 year old breed dating back to the pig herd of the British House of Windsor). Currently, the breed is incredibly rare, but is known for its “juiciness, flavour and tenderness”. It’s priced competitively with supermarket pork and is better in every way imaginable. Oh, and the shoulder steaks are fucking delicious on the grill with just some salt and pepper. If you’re in the area and like pig, check them out.

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This delicious fucker.

As you would suspect, The Next Act is half a block away from Whyte Ave and the farmers market, which makes it a great stop after you’re tired from walking down the one interesting street in the entire goddamned city.

The restaurant is pretty unremarkable aside from a few tiny outdoor tables, and the line-up outside before they open.

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I should probably cover his face but this picture is pretty good..

Service was decent enough. Orders were taken promptly and food was brought out in under 10 minutes which was quite impressive. The only issue I had was getting my drink refilled but we can chalk that up to a busy restaurant.


We ordered the Eggs Benedict and Huevos Rancheros (rancher’s eggs), which both came with house made hashbrowns.

If I’m being honest, the hashbrowns were mediocre. Hard on the outside, a little bit dry and a bit too salty. Sort of like something you would expect out of a small town breakfast buffet. But hey, at least they weren’t soggy.

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Eggs n’ beans n’ salsa n’ guac

The huevos rancheros were pretty good, although just a bit too cold and wet. The eggs were the only thing that was heated, as the beans, tortilla, salsa, guacamole and feta all felt like they came straight out of the refrigerator. Once again, this isn’t entirely a bad thing as the flavours were all there and it would no doubt be refreshing on a really hot day.

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Looks a bit plain, but tastes so damn good.

The eggs benedict, however, were absolutely on point. Crisp, toasted and buttered english muffins, perfectly poached eggs, Canadian bacon (still not entirely a fan), and a magnificent zesty hollandaise sauce. I would think there’s close to three tablespoons of butter in the dish, but the tartness of the lemon in the sauce cuts down on the grease, making for an incredibly satisfying yet non-cloying dish.


Not much to say here.

The Next Act knows its eggs.

I have yet to find a place in Edmonton that knows how to properly cook a fucking potato.

Next Act Pub Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Brunch at SugarBowl

Review

I’m pretty sure everyone in Edmonton under the age of 30 has either been to, or heard of Sugarbowl.

Hailed as ‘the one good brunch place’ in Edmonton, Sugarbowl is known for its chicken and waffles as well as its expansive beer selection.

The problem with places like this is that everyone succumbs to groupthink and it’s hard to get an honest opinion of the food without getting sucked into the endless ‘MUH CHICKN’ WAFFLES’ circlejerk.

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Relevant, mildly offensive picture.

So let’s try some of the other brunch items (dinner/bar will be reviewed in another post) and see what happens.


If you’ve never been, Sugarbowl is located off 109th street and 88th avenue, right next to the Garneau theatre and within walking distance of the University.

It’s a small restaurant, and seemingly always packed. There isn’t a reservation policy for brunch, so if you’re going during the weekend, be ready for a short line-up.

The interior is hard to describe. A curved wooden bar with numerous taps takes up a third of the restaurant, while dented wooden tables and chairs are squeezed into the remaining floor space. Terrible local art by shitty local artists adorn the walls. While the “art” itself is of poor quality and questionable artistic value, they add to the bohemian feel of the restaurant.

Service is generally responsive, however due to the hectic nature of service and the crowded restaurant, may seem a bit rushed at times. Regardless of the crowd, it does seem like the servers genuinely care about your experience, and will accommodate your needs and/or complaints. The only issue is spending 5 minutes attempting to make eye contact with someone trying to avoid your gaze like it’s the fucking plague..


Because brunch is essentially replacing both breakfast and lunch, you’re allowed to order way too much food.

We started with the face-sized cinnamon rolls, which were pretty fucking delicious. They were soft, warm, chewy, completely covered in cinnamon sugar and awesome with a slab of butter.

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Shapeless, yet delicious.

Next up were the poached eggs with potatoes and béchamel sauce. Presentation wise, it was acceptable, with nice usage of colors and nicely poached eggs, but it was lacking in the taste and texture department. The eggs themselves were adequately poached, with a runny yolk and smooth white, but the sauce just didn’t work. Poached eggs are traditionally served with a more acidic hollandaise sauce to cut through the richness of the yolk and butter. The béchamel in this case was too bland and unnecessarily creamy. Oh, and they used cornbread instead of English muffins and back bacon instead of normal fucking bacon. There is no possible explanation for this besides the urge to be a special little snowflake, and the ‘SugarBowl Benny’ ends up tasting worse in every way compared to a ‘NormalFucking Benny’. The bread is dense and greasy, the bacon is bland and the sauce is flat out wrong.

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Home-made ketchup, which is in every way worse than Heinz.

Fuck.

The potatoes were almost inedible. I generally expect hash browns to be crispy, but our spuds turned out completely soft and drenched in grease. To make matters worse, there was almost no seasoning. Per my discussion with the waitress, SugarBowl cannot serve crispy hash browns as they’re cooked in a batch at the beginning of service and left in a vat until needed. It would just be far too impractical to fry up a new order.

To their credit, I was offered another side, but it doesn’t really make up for cutting so many corners on their fucking potatoes.

My lovely companion had the fruit and waffles, which were, sure enough, fruity and waffle-y. Jokes aside, it was a pretty mean waffle and the grapes were kinda kick-ass.

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Fruit..and Waffles! Who woulda thunk?

Oh, and I had a cappuccino.

It was pretty.

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Tasted nice too 🙂


All things considered, stick to the safe bets at Sugar Bowl. The only adventurous item we ordered tasted like a limp, greasy sock, while the cinnamon bun and waffles were predictably delicious.

So does this place live up to the hype?

No.

In terms of brunch, there are better, more well rounded restaurants in Edmonton. Admittedly, the chicken, waffles and cinnamon buns are solid, but not special enough for me to return time and time again.

I could order a bucket of KFC and toss some batter into my waffle iron and I wouldn’t need to deal with the crowd, blasphemous eggs benedict, squelchy potatoes, and the weeping sores they’ve nailed to the walls in support of local artists.

 

Sugarbowl Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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

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