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

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

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

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

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

Magic Feel-Good Cheese Crystals and The Cavern

Review

If you’ve ever had a particularly well-aged cheese like a Parmigiano Reggiano or an old Gruyère, you may have noticed tiny crunchy bits or little white spots inside the cheese. Like me, you may have dismissed the phenomena as salt crystals or a production defect.

The truth is much more interesting (or boring as hell if cheese science isn’t your thing).

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of crystals found in old cheeses (not including salt deposits).

We can have calcium lactate crystals or tyrosine crystals.

D-Tyrosine

D-Tyrosine

For brevity’s sake, I’ll just discuss the tyrosine crystals, as they are (in my opinion) much more interesting.

Tyrosine is one of 22 amino acids (protein building blocks). This amino acid is found in high concentrations in casein (related phosphoproteins found in mammalian milk). Once we take that into account, it’s not hard to understand why we would have crystals of the stuff forming in old cheese.

However, the issue is that tyrosine is very insoluble in solutions (0.45 mg/mL). So how do natural deposits of tyrosine form within a cheese?

Who the fuck cares?

Who the fuck cares?

Well the current theory is that the development of tyrosine crystals is tied closely to the metabolic behavior of Lactobacillus helveticus (literally “Swiss milk bacteria). This bacteria cannot produce tyrosine with its own biological processes, and instead must rely on a food source that contains this amino acid. Luckily for L. helveticus, the rennet used in cheese production breaks down the casein into large peptide chains. This allows L. helveticus to utilize its strong peptidase functions to break down the peptides into its component amino acids.

It has been hypothesized that the bacteria are so active in breaking down peptides that they produce much more casein than they would ever need. The excess tyrosine then accumulates, exceeds the limit of solubility, and crystals develop (Johnson et. al. 2014).

This shit.

This shit.

Why does this matter to us?

Well besides the interesting textures the crystals bring, tyrosine is known to have noticeable effects on your mood. Some studies have found tyrosine to be useful during conditions of “stress, cold, fatigue, prolonged work and sleep deprivation”. As tyrosine increases plasma neurotransmitter levels (particularly dopamine and norepinephrine), one can see slight reductions in stress hormone levels and stress-induced weight loss as well as improvements in cognitive and physical performance.

Who knew old cheese could subtly fuck with your brain chemistry to make you a little more awesome.


I was recently introduced into the world of nice(r) cheeses by a good friend of mine, and I was pleasantly surprised by the existence of a wine and cheese shop off of 104th street.

The Cavern is a small, independently owned cheese-monger that specializes in old, obscure and generally excellent cheeses. It also happens to double as a small “restaurant”.

Now I put restaurant in quotations because…

Well…

The Cavern really isn’t a restaurant.

Pictured: Not really a restaurant

Pictured: Not really a restaurant.

There are a few small tables and a tiny little bar, but that’s it. There’s nothing involving heat in the prep area and nothing on the menu requires any sort of cooking.

As such, you can expect sandwiches, salads, coffee, and various cheese and charcuterie boards.

We went for wine and cheese, and that was exactly what we got.

Upon entering the establishment, your eyes are drawn towards the shiny things. The gigantic Enomatic wine dispensing system, the espresso machine, and the cheese display/cooler dominate the small space, and lend an air of space-age sophistication.

Fancy wine machine.

Fancy wine machine.

The rest of the café/bar maintains some of the same glossy, stainless-steel veneer as the three machines. The floor is polished white tile and the furniture is sleek and modern, but instead of giving off class, you get a feeling that the budget was blown on the wine machine and they needed to make emergency trips to Ikea.

Fancy cheese display

Fancy cheese display.

The table wobbled and the chairs were rickety. But to be honest, you really don’t notice too much. The rest of the experience is very well polished. The staff are attentive and seem to be knowledgeable about their wine and cheese pairings.

I'm sure you can read the menu, you just need to squint

I’m sure you can read the menu, you just need to squint.

I say “seem to be”, as I know next to nothing about both cheese and wine, so they could be purposely fucking with me all I know.

Oh, and the music sucked.

It was a mix between 90’s pop and soft rock. Not that I don’t like either of those genres, it just seemed a bit out of place.

Get your shit together, Cavern, I expect nothing but Bon Iver and Rachmaninoff the next time I visit.


Our board came with a some baguette, a small pile of nuts, dried and fresh figs, pear slices, dried apricots, hot pepper preserve, and earl grey jam.

Of course, there was also the cheese.

DSC_0743

Complete with tiny cheese cleaver.

Comté – Probably the worst tasting of the bunch, this was bland, slightly earthy, and had the consistency of brittle plastic. Instead of melting at all, it turned into tiny little granules of cheese, which was downright unpleasant. This may work better with heat, who knows.

Sardo – Similar to the Comté but much more palatable. Sardo is a traditional Argentinian cheese, and had a noticeable sharpness. The flavor also stuck around for a little bit on your palate as it dissolved/melted much easier. Worked well with the wine.

Le Cendré des Prés – A Canadian cheese, tastes like a lighter, slightly sweeter camembert with less mushroom flavor. The line in the middle is maple wood ash, and really adds very little in terms of flavor. This was a very mild, and generally pleasant cheese.

Beemster Classic – We added this one due to a suggestion from a friend and we were not disappointed. Besides the aforementioned tyrosine crystals, this cheese was sharp, salty, and had a mouth-feel consistent with dark chocolate. It starts off somewhat crumbly, but turns velvety and smooth, with strong tones of toasted nuts and caramel.

Florid language aside, Beemster is fucking delicious.

One more, because I actually took pictures this time.

One more, because I actually took pictures this time.


And the wine?

I honestly don’t have a clue. They could’ve served me prison hooch in a fancy bottle for all I know.

Didn’t taste like vinegar.

Only a little bitter.

Got the job done.

...I think it's some sort of...alcoholic grape drink?

…I think it’s some sort of…alcoholic grape drink?


At the end of the day, besides a few cosmetic flaws, The Cavern delivers on what it set out to do.

It provides a quiet, quaint, and cozy environment where you can explore new flavors and learn a bit about wine and cheese.

Hey, and if you feel like it, you can bring home a 400 dollar wheel of gouda.


Works Cited

Johnson, M. “Crystallization in Cheese” Dairy Pipeline Volume 26.3. 2014

WIKIPEDIA.

SUE ME.

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

Pampa and the Deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest

Review

Haven’t posted in a while.

Let’s fix that.


Brazil is currently the largest global exporter of beef.

This is great. Beef is love, beef is life.

The Brazilian people love beef, North Americans love beef. Naturally  there would be trade and all the benefits that arise from it.

We get our McDonalds dollar menu items, and the money from the sale of cattle drives a strong agricultural industry in Brazil, which in turn is translated into millions in tax revenue to be squandered on incomplete world cup stadiums.

Responsible and efficient use of taxpayer money.

Responsible and efficient use of taxpayer money.

Clearly a case where all parties benefit, right?

Well if you were paying attention in grade 8 social studies, the answer is no.

See, the main biomes in Brazil are the Amazon basin rainforest (5 million square km) to the northwest, the Caatinga (barren desert) to the northeast, Mata Atlantica (Atlantic forest) near the Atlantic coast, and the Cerrado (savanna type grasslands) in central Brazil. At the very south, a tiny amount of natural grassland exists, this is the Pampa region.

LEARNING

LEARNING

Of course, other ecosystems exist as Brazil is an enormous and ecologically diverse country, but these are the only relevant regions to our discussion.

Out of the regions listed above, only the Cerrado and Pampa regions are anywhere close to being grazing lands. As a result of this, 79.7% of the Cerrado has been converted to human use, and 70% of the beef cattle production occurs in this region. Similarly, the Pampa biome has been almost entirely converted into farmland.

But this isn’t enough to feed the global appetite for delicious, delicious cow.

This thing.

This thing.

Total Brazilian beef exports have risen from 1.01 million tonnes to 1.57 million tonnes between 2011 and 2014 and this doesn’t show any sign of stopping.

So my question to you, dear reader, is:

At what point do we give up delicious cow for sustainable farming and a healthy environment?

Fuck if I know.


On a slightly less depressing note.

Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse has been a lunchtime go-to for when my co-workers feel like lying comatose in a puddle of meat-grease and sweat in the afternoon.

Before I go on any further, I must clarify that Pampa receives two types of customers. Those who want to enjoy a pleasant meal in an “up-scale” restaurant with unique Brazilian touches, and those who want to wage war on the Amazon rainforest.

Fuck youuuuuu

Fuck youuuuuu

For those who have never been, the restaurant functions on an all-you-can-eat basis. Ambiguously ethnic waiters bearing skewers of meat stop by your table to slice bits onto your plate.

Of course, there’s a well-stocked salad bar with a veritable cornucopia of vegetables, breads, and sauces, but visiting the salad bar for anything more than sauce is a rookie mistake.

I regret the feta.

I regret the feta.

At the table, you are presented with a small round card. It’s green on one side and red on the other. When the green side is showing, the meat-bearers know to approach your table with offerings of protein. The red side signals surrender to the servers.

Being the first to quit and flip the card firmly cements your status as a ‘little sissy bitch’.

You know who you are.

You know who you are.

And the food?

To be honest, it’s not bad, but it’s gradually getting worse.

When I first visited Pampa nearly two years ago, I was impressed. The variety was great, service prompt, the idea was novel, and the meat was seasoned and cooked well.

While the concept, cuts and service haven’t changed at all, it seems that some shortcuts are being taken and general quality has decreased.

The main draw to a Brazilian style barbeque is that cuts are returned to the broiler after the seared outside layers are served. This allows for a higher proportion of seared ‘crust’ per bite. Recently, it seems that the meats are not being broiled for long enough after the initial serving, and you’re left with a soft, flavorless cut.

Case in point. This is the rump steak.

Case in point. This is the rump steak.

To be fair, this is only applicable to the rump steak and top sirloin.

The other lunchtime cuts include chicken drumstick, parmesan pork, and pork sausage.

My favourite cut would have to be the rump steak. When cooked well, it’s fatty, crispy, and tastes overwhelmingly of cow. The fat is wonderfully rendered and you’re left with a rich umami flavour.

A close second would be the chicken drumsticks, which have been consistently tender, juicy, well seasoned and piping hot.

I get three at a time because I'm disgusting

I get three at a time because I’m disgusting

The pork sausage is inconsistent, sometimes it’s fragrant, spicy and juicy, and other times it falls flat.

Not so great

Not so great

Finally, the parmesan pork is almost always dry and salty. This is due to the restaurant using a very lean cut on the barbeque and grilling the pork until it’s well done.

So bad, it un-focused the camera

So bad, it un-focused the camera

Shame on you.

As for the rest of the dining experience?

The service is exactly what you would expect out of a restaurant in Pampa’s price range, and the atmosphere of the restaurant is very mellow and professional.


The Good

  • Little to no judgement from the wait staff as you shamelessly stuff your face
  • Service is prompt, and the staff ask which cuts you would like more of
  • Rump steak and chicken are almost always on point
  • Salad bar is fresh and varied, if you want to go to a steakhouse and eat salad

The Bad

  • The novelty wears off fast
  • Inconsistency in seasoning and quality of cooking turn lunchtime trips into a gamble

The Ugly

  • Smiling at the waitress as she offers you lukewarm ‘filtered’ tap-water for $3

And the conclusion?

I would say it’s worth a try.

The novelty of the concept will make dinner a bit more interesting, and I’m willing to bet you won’t leave hungry.

Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Don’t S’wich

Review

For some, sandwiches are an art form.

Care is taken in selecting fine artisanal breads, fresh produce, and choice fillings to create a balanced amalgamation of flavour that transcends the sum of its parts.

This isn’t the case with S’wich.

S’wich is awful.


Ok.

Maybe not completely awful, but pretty damn bad for what you’re spending and the amount of time and effort expended waiting in line on a hot day.

I ordered the Root Beer Brisket sandwich and was rewarded with a soggy, bland sandwich with room-temperature ingredients.

Nothing like biting into a sandwich that feels like it’s been sitting outside for a few hours.

Doesn't look terrible though

Doesn’t look terrible though

The root beer sounded like an exciting twist on your normal braised meat, but honestly it added nothing and nobody would have noticed it was made with root beer if they weren’t told so. The braise seemed a bit off as well. While the meat was definitely dripping in juice, the braising didn’t seem to soften the beef in the slightest. Regardless of whether this was due to low quality beef or shitty braising, the end effect was the same. The beef tasted like tiny wires of cardboard soaked in juice. The bread is apparently made from scratch, but is an unappetizing combination of spongy and chewy.

Sadly, the common theme of moist and chewy applied to the sandwiches that everyone else ordered as well.

Seriously, who gets "chickpea masala" from a sandwich trailer?

Seriously, who gets “chickpea masala” from a sandwich trailer?


On a slight tangent, one of my greatest (possibly irrational) pet peeves when eating anywhere is when the establishment doesn’t actually have any heating implements.

I peeked inside the S’wich food truck and was somewhat surprised to see that the entire operation comprised of a few coolers, some stainless steel vats and a work surface. Nary a panini press, flat top or even a toaster in sight.

Personally, this cheapens the experience. I mean, you can go to Subway and the smiling immigrants behind the counter will happily toast or (god forbid) microwave your sandwich to your desired temperature. With S’wich, this isn’t even an option. You can have your sandwich at either room temperature or slightly above room temperature, depending on how long they’ve held it for.

It even looks damp.

Mmmm, wet.

The Good

  • No food poisoning!

The Bad

  • Sandwiches were bland, wet and chewy
  • Everything is lukewarm
  • Questionable safety standards in serving room temperature food
  • Lack of options to heat your fucking sandwich
  • Sandwiches are $9

The Ugly

  • I accidentally tipped 20% for some idiot to make me a sandwich…

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