Calgary Steak-Out: Rouge

In addition to commemorating the Stampede’s 100th Anniversary this year, Calgary also co-holds the title of Cultural Capital of Canada in 2012. As a result, Tourism Calgary is seeking different ways of marketing their city, including how to highlight their burgeoning food scene. So for two days in February, Tourism Calgary invited several food bloggers to join them for “a new take on steak”, showcasing how five local restaurants are interpreting the old standard of meat and potatoes. Mack and I were fortunate enough to be a part of this group (which included Calgary bloggers Julie van Rosendaal, Gwendolyn Richards and Dan Clapson), and took part in a junket that saw our accommodations and meals covered. It was a first for both of us, and while we acknowledge that we no doubt received special treatment (which colours the experience in a way that no average dinner could live up to), the trade-off in access to the chefs and behind-the-scenes exposure made it worthwhile. Thanks to Tourism Calgary for the opportunity!

We ended the YYCSteak Tour at the most formal of the restaurants we dined in that weekend, Rouge. Located in a historic house in the central neighbourhood of Inglewood, Rouge is known for its celebration of  seasonal ingredients and exquisite wine pairings. In fact, two years ago, it was named one of the S. Pellegrino World’s 100 Best Restaurants.

Chef Paul Rogalski’s French-style cooking techniques and commitment to local producers reminded me very much of Chef Blair Lebsack. Both have such deep respect for farmers that a conversation with them reminds you that sourcing locally can be the norm and not the exception. We were fortunate that Chef Rogalski was able to sit down and join us for the entire dinner that night and share some of his insights (and of course, introduce each course!).

It was clear that Chef Rogalski had put a lot of thought into his take on steak, so much so that we weren’t getting just one interpretation, but four. The first was a steak tartar, dressed with Rouge’s signature beet paint and an incredible accent of creamy, thick egg yolk that had been cooked in an immersion circulator. Mack thought there could have been more crostini, however.

Rouge

Steak tartar

Before the second dish arrived, we were told that we would be having shabu-shabu. I really wasn’t expecting the slice of shaved beef,  horseradish agar gel and mushroom terrine with an herb-infused elk consommé that we were presented with. I didn’t enjoy the texture of the terrine, and the beef was actually quite difficult to eat in that shallow bowl, so it was not my favourite course. That said, it was easily the most elegant take on shabu-shabu I’ve ever had!

Rouge

Shabu-shabu

My favourite course was the lamb two ways: a cut of sirloin and braised lamb bound together with lentils. The latter was particularly memorable, with perfectly prepared lentils enriched with bites of tender, shredded lamb.

Rouge

Lamb two ways

Then, perhaps the most elegant plate of steak that weekend, served with a foie gras and bone marrow spring roll and a salsify bean puree. Not captured in the picture below was the most delicious rosti – it only made sense that their potato component would be equally compact but delicious.

Rouge

Steak and spring roll

It should be said that Manager Andy MacDonald did an amazing job pairing wines with each course, but because we were departing for Edmonton immediately after that dinner, we didn’t really indulge all that much. On another occasion, we would have been happy to fully partake, but we know from Gwen that the pairings were enjoyable!

Rouge

A thumbs up from Gwen!

The kitchen even had something sweet for us to end with – a bee pollen macaron with lemon cream.

Rouge

Macaron

Although we appreciated the experience at Rouge, it was actually our least favourite of the YYCSteak visits. I still can’t quite put my finger on it, but it probably had to do in part with the relative formality of the restaurant compared with the others (I’m finding that I am definitely gravitating more to the casual upscale form of dining as of late). So although there is a time and place for such proper meals, I will admit that Rouge wouldn’t be our first choice on future trips to Calgary.

Still, many thanks to Chef Rogalski and the rest of the staff at Rouge for their generosity and hospitality – it did help round out our perspective of the Calgary steak scene.

Rouge
1240 8 Avenue SE, Calgary
(403) 531-2767

Calgary Steak-Out: Raw Bar

In addition to commemorating the Stampede’s 100th Anniversary this year, Calgary also co-holds the title of Cultural Capital of Canada in 2012. As a result, Tourism Calgary is seeking different ways of marketing their city, including how to highlight their burgeoning food scene. So for two days in February, Tourism Calgary invited several food bloggers to join them for “a new take on steak”, showcasing how five local restaurants are interpreting the old standard of meat and potatoes. Mack and I were fortunate enough to be a part of this group (which included Calgary bloggers Julie van Rosendaal, Gwendolyn Richards and Dan Clapson), and took part in a junket that saw our accommodations and meals covered. It was a first for both of us, and while we acknowledge that we no doubt received special treatment (which colours the experience in a way that no average dinner could live up to), the trade-off in access to the chefs and behind-the-scenes exposure made it worthwhile. Thanks to Tourism Calgary for the opportunity!

Three years ago, we stayed at Hotel Arts during a weekend jaunt to Calgary. We had enjoyed our stay for the most part, but didn’t get a chance to try the hotel restaurant Raw Bar. To be honest, from the name, my assumption was that their menu would consist of mainly uncooked items – but on the contrary, although they do offer some items such as sushi and oysters, most of Chef Duncan Ly’s dishes are in fact not raw.

Raw Bar was originally intended to be the last stop on our YYC Steak Tour, but because we had to head back to Edmonton that night, a lunch with Hala from Tourism Calgary was organized for us earlier in the day.

Raw Bar

Interior (that peeks into the adjacent pool)

Raw Bar is quite a dramatic space, with futuristic touches and a stark red and black colour scheme. We were told the restaurant is known from their cocktails (with an award-winning mixologist on staff), and it was after noon, so we had to try one round of drinks. The menu, filled with gorgeous shots of the coloured drinks, was enticing to say the least, and I have to say, the drinks we received were exactly as they had appeared in the photos! I ended up with a Searching North, a mildly sweet combination of Mount Gay rum, peach and apricot, Turkish Urfa biber and lemongrass. Mack’s Eclectic Orchard, with rhubarb and strawberry, El Dorado rum, hibiscus flowers, peppery spice and mint foam deviated from something he would typically drink, but turned out to be light and refreshing.

Raw Bar

Apple Cart Daisy, Eclectic Orchard, Searching North cocktails

Hala and I continued with the tour’s theme, ordering the day’s steak sandwich and pad thai with beef, respectively. Mack decided to take a break from the bovine, and chose the halibut fish and chips. To start, we couldn’t pass up the bacon and mushroom poutine.

The upmarket poutine was definitely not your down-home diner version, only lightly dressed and not smothered in peppercorn gravy. The twice-cooked fries stayed pretty crispy, but we wished a more generous hand had dealt the cheese curds. It was all right, but not something we’d necessarily order again.

Raw Bar

Mushroom and bacon poutine

Hala enjoyed her sandwich, cooked a nice medium rare. My pad thai seemed to be an interpretation of the dish I am used to ordering at Thai restaurants, with a creamy base more reminiscent of a pasta sauce than a stir-fry. I did like the variety and proportion of vegetables included, as well as the plump and toothsome shrimp. But the beef was unfortunately overcooked and chewy.

Raw Bar

Steak sandwich

Raw Bar

Pad thai

Mack fared better with his fish and chips, served with a jalapeño tartar sauce and a grilled lemon. The gaufrette potato chips were especially crisp and easy to enjoy.

Raw Bar

Halibut fish and chips

Raw Bar is also known for their poolside service in warmer weather. I can imagine sipping an inventive, seasonal cocktail by the water with some nibbles wouldn’t be a bad way to pass the time. Thanks again to Hala for hosting us that afternoon – it was great to catch up as it was to finally see what Raw Bar had up its sleeve.

Raw Bar (inside Hotel Arts)
119 – 12 Avenue SW, Calgary
(403) 206-9565

Calgary Steak-Out: CHARCUT

In addition to commemorating the Stampede’s 100th Anniversary this year, Calgary also co-holds the title of Cultural Capital of Canada in 2012. As a result, Tourism Calgary is seeking different ways of marketing their city, including how to highlight their burgeoning food scene. So for two days in February, Tourism Calgary invited several food bloggers to join them for “a new take on steak”, showcasing how five local restaurants are interpreting the old standard of meat and potatoes. Mack and I were fortunate enough to be a part of this group (which included Calgary bloggers Julie van Rosendaal, Gwendolyn Richards and Dan Clapson), and took part in a junket that saw our accommodations and meals covered. It was a first for both of us, and while we acknowledge that we no doubt received special treatment (which colours the experience in a way that no average dinner could live up to), the trade-off in access to the chefs and behind-the-scenes exposure made it worthwhile. Thanks to Tourism Calgary for the opportunity!

Like many other Canadians, I was excited when the popular American television franchise Top Chef finally started filming a Canadian version. I think we need to develop our own host of culinary celebrities to celebrate home grown talent, and this platform could help do just that. The results thankfully improved with time, and hopefully with its second season will continue to do so.

In spite of the show’s wavering quality, however, as a Prairie-dweller, it was a no-brainer to cheer for Calgary-based Connie DeSousa, who was also one of the few female competitors. Her drive, obsessive attention to detail and her mad butchery skills made her a fan favourite, qualities that I hoped would take her to the end. Connie ended up placing a respectable third, though in many respects, it was as good as first prize. The exposure to an audience of Food Network devotees was invaluable to Connie’s reputation as a chef, and on a wider level, in developing CHARCUT’s brand. Though we’d been to CHARCUT prior Top Chef Canada’s debut, it almost seems like a different restaurant today, enlivened now with that touch of celebrity. I’m sure it also helps that CHARCUT has since expanded their initiatives to include the unique alley burger, food truck and pop-up series.

Needless to say, Mack and I were really looking forward to our second full CHARCUT experience on the third leg of the YYC Steak tour. You can also imagine our delight when we found out we would not only be eating Connie’s food, but would be treated to a private demo, too.

Our group was whisked upstairs to CHARCUT’s fairly spacious prep kitchen for a lesson on blood sausage. There, Connie and her partner John Jackson showed us how to make the delicacy. They started with a panade of white bread and milk, added ground pork, fat back, apple, then the main ingredient, blood. The splatter-free counter was a testament to Connie and John’s skills, who neatly transferred the mixture to a plastic bag to be hand-piped into sausage casings. It was clear the pair had a wonderful rapport with one another, and this translated wonderfully into a teaching capacity – I could see this translating to a larger stage quite easily.

Charcut

Straining the blood

Charcut

In goes the blood

Charcut

Into the casing

Connie also showed us how to trim a bison heart, which would comprise the steak that evening. For most of us, it would be our first time sampling this type of offal.

Charcut

Trimming the heart

The entire session felt a bit surreal to both Mack and I. Being the Top Chef junkies that we are, we couldn’t help thinking, “It’s Connie!!!” the entire time. We’re huge dorks, I know.

Charcut

Our view of the kitchen

Charcut

At our chef’s table seats

We eventually made our way to the chef’s table at the rear of the restaurant so our dinner could be prepared. While we waited for the mains, we were served CHARCUT’s take on ham and cheese: the most exquisite house made pig’s head mortadella, paired with an oozing baked raclette that was good enough to bathe in. Notable also was the beer pairing – Naramata Nut Brown Ale, which, as a non-beer drinker, I found not only tolerable, but enjoyable.

Charcut

Mortadella, brassica mustard and baked raclette

Charcut

Naramata Nut Brown Ale

The blood sausage was first, served up with fried eggs – possibly the most unique sausage and eggs I’d ever had. The sausage resembled ground meat more than anything else, having burst out of its casing. It also tasted very similar, albeit with a tinge of iron. Mack and I both agreed that there was nothing to be afraid of, though we weren’t sure it was something we would necessarily seek out.

Charcut

Blood sausage and eggs

The finale was the bison heart, rustically presented on a wooden board, liberally garnished with chimichurri and arugula, complete with a “stake” knife. The meat, which had been marinated for eight hours in olive oil and red wine vinegar, was like a cross between a flat iron steak and liver – tender consistency, with again a tinge of iron. Mack went all out for the side of CHARCUT’s signature poutine, with potatoes fried in duck fat and curds topped with a chicken-fat gravy. Heart-stoppingly good.

Charcut

Bison heart and duck fat poutine

Though each of our experiences on the steak tour were unique, because of our soft spot for Connie, I think our stop at CHARCUT was the most memorable.

Just in time for the season two premiere of Top Chef Canada on March 12, 2012, Chef Connie DeSousa will be in Edmonton presenting a cooking demo at 1pm and 3pm on March 11 at Appliances Unlimited (6553-99th Street).

Calgary Steak-Out: Anju

In addition to commemorating the Stampede’s 100th Anniversary this year, Calgary also co-holds the title of Cultural Capital of Canada in 2012. As a result, Tourism Calgary is seeking different ways of marketing their city, including how to highlight their burgeoning food scene. So for two days in February, Tourism Calgary invited several food bloggers to join them for “a new take on steak”, showcasing how five local restaurants are interpreting the old standard of meat and potatoes. Mack and I were fortunate enough to be a part of this group (which included Calgary bloggers Julie van Rosendaal, Gwendolyn Richards and Dan Clapson), and took part in a junket that saw our accommodations and meals covered. It was a first for both of us, and while we acknowledge that we no doubt received special treatment (which colours the experience in a way that no average dinner could live up to), the trade-off in access to the chefs and behind-the-scenes exposure made it worthwhile. Thanks to Tourism Calgary for the opportunity!

It was a pleasant surprise to find an Edmonton ex-pat at the helm of Anju, the second stop on our steak tour. Roy Oh moved to Calgary from Edmonton nine years ago after completing his study in visual communications, with the hopes of furthering his career. But he started to find that he was drawn not to the studio, but to the kitchen. While Oh isn’t formally trained in the culinary arts, he grew up learning to cook, and as a proud second generation Korean-Canadian, food was a way to connect with his roots.

Anju

Go, Edmonton!

In 2008, Oh and his wife opened Anju in a refurbished house on the western edge of downtown Calgary. Their take on Korean cuisine is fresh and modern, inspired by the fact that he has a foot in two cultures. As a result, he doesn’t view “fusion” in a negative way; in fact, he embraces it as the outcome of living as a hyphenated Korean-Canadian. And Calgary is taking note as well – Anju won the award for “best small plates” from Avenue Calgary last year.

Anju translates to “tapas or a dish eaten with alcohol” – at our tasting, we learned first hand about this philosophy as our group was introduced to soju. Distilled from rice instead of wheat, soju is the Korean equivalent of vodka. It was quite smooth, and much less abrasive than vodka, though we were also provided with Sprite and aloe juice if any of us needed to take the edge off.

To enjoy with the soju, we were served a number of plates to be shared around the table, many highlighting Oh’s fusion philosophy. Malpec oysters were accompanied by a kimchi mignonette, which enhanced each bite with additional texture and a bit of heat. Braised oxtail tortellini were dressed with soy, grana padano and truffle oil – incredibly fragrant, with scallions providing a fresh pop. Anju’s version of crispy tofu was perfectly fried on the outside but silky on the inside, highlighted with sauteed kimchi and a citrus aioli.

Anju

Malpec oysters with a kimchi mignonette

Anju

Braised oxtail tortellini

Anju

Crispy tofu

Then came the chicken wings. Our Calgarian tablemates had been vocal in expressing their hopes that one of Anju’s signature dishes would be served that night, so naturally, a cheer erupted when they appeared at our table. Sunworks chicken had been lightly fried, then tossed with a potent Korean hot sauce. The wings had a nice crunch, and the sauce was definitely uncensored – we joked that it was the culinary equivalent to Botox, a natural way to plumper lips.

Anju

Chicken wings

But this was the steak tour after all, so Anju’s grand finale was a rib eye that had been marinated in a simple mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, lime, garlic, ginger and sugar. The result was tender meat that had a slightly sweet finish. And Anju’s twist on potatoes? Roasted fingerling potatoes were accompanied by a tangy sesame aioli.

Anju

Marinated rib eye with fingerling potatoes

It was great to experience Anju’s take on steak and Korean-influenced cuisine as a whole – more than any of the other meals that weekend, it felt like the most personal. I loved that Oh has been able to merge Prairie inspirations with culinary traditions that honour his heritage. Perhaps we could convince him to move back to Edmonton one day, too.

Anju
507 – 10 Street SW, Calgary
(403) 532-9419

Calgary Steak-Out: Ox & Angela

In addition to commemorating the Stampede’s 100th Anniversary this year, Calgary also co-holds the title of Cultural Capital of Canada in 2012. As a result, Tourism Calgary is seeking different ways of marketing their city, including how to highlight their burgeoning food scene. So for two days in February, Tourism Calgary invited several food bloggers to join them for “a new take on steak”, showcasing how five local restaurants are interpreting the old standard of meat and potatoes. Mack and I were fortunate enough to be a part of this group (which included Calgary bloggers Julie van Rosendaal, Gwendolyn Richards and Dan Clapson), and took part in a junket that saw our accommodations and meals covered. It was a first for both of us, and while we acknowledge that we no doubt received special treatment (which colours the experience in a way that no average dinner could live up to), the trade-off in access to the chefs and behind-the-scenes exposure made it worthwhile. Thanks to Tourism Calgary for the opportunity!

Established in July 2011, Ox & Angela is the second venture from Kelly Black and Jayme MacFayden of Una Pizza fame. Had it not been pointed out to us, however, I’m pretty sure we would have walked right past it. The plain white exterior does not at all connote the warmth and chic comfort that awaits inside.

Ox & Angela

Ox & Angela

Ox & Angela is divided into two personified rooms: the “Ox” lounge is all dark wood and unfussy, and with the large flat screen on one end, could be mistaken for a high-end pub. “Angela” was explained to us as Ox’s companion was complete with classy, feminine touches such as a wall of framed mirrors. We were seated in Angela, without the distraction of the streaming Superbowl coverage and with a view into the kitchen. I loved that the dining areas had a story – it suggested that the food would be made with just as much care and thoughtfulness.

Ox & Angela

Angela

Given the intention of this tour was to turn the stereotype of a typical plate of steak and potatoes on its head, Ox & Angela was the perfect place to start because diners aren’t presented with just one dish. Purporting the tapas style of sharing small plates, our meal consisted of steak, accompaniments and a number of side dishes.

I really enjoy this way of eating, as it enabled us to sample a wide variety of tastes, and in many ways, felt more like a night out as opposed to just having dinner. As well, in the context of our motley crew, sharing food helped facilitate conversation and familiarity.

Ox & Angela

Family style

The Spring Creek Ranch flat iron steak was front and centre, served with a mojo verde and a lemon aioli. The meat itself was moist and full of flavour on its own, but it was great to be able to dress up our steak in whatever way we wanted.

Ox & Angela

Flat iron steak

Ox & Angela

Mojo verde and lemon aioli

Without a doubt the patatas bravas (which translates to “fierce potatoes”) was the all-around favourite, creamy with the inclusion of the lemon aioli, and finished with a smoked paprika ketchup.

Ox & Angela

Patatas bravas

For me, the close second was the kale, braised with sherry vinegar, sultanas and toasted panko. Kale is already one of my favourite vegetables, but the preparation made me fall in love with it all over again – the bit of sweetness and crunch livened up the greens. Mack really enjoyed the tomato bread, which was simply grilled sourdough rubbed with garlic and tomato (something we were told that the Spanish typically eat with steak). Scallions were given a similarly straightforward treatment, grilled, tossed with sea salt, and topped with a salsa romesco. Like most of the menu, the sides featured simple ingredients executed brilliantly.

Ox & Angela

Braised kale with sultanas and toasted panko

Ox & Angela

Tomato bread

Ox & Angela

Grilled green onions with a salsa romanesco

No one could pass up dessert, especially because churros were involved. Deep fried to a crisp, but still doughy on the inside, the churros were served with dipping chocolate, and were as fun to eat as the dinner that preceded them. Mack ate more than his fair share!

Ox & Angela

Churros!

Ox & Angela was such a delight. Even though it is barely six months old, it was clear that the restaurant has a strong identity and holds true to its Latin inspirations. Without hesitation, I would return to Ox & Angela again – for the food and for the experience.

Ox & Angela
528 17 Avenue SW, Calgary
(403) 457-1432 (ext.#1)

Road Trip: Farmers’ Markets and Festivals

We always hit up at least one farmers’ market when we’re in Calgary – this time, we visited two.

The first stop was the Kingsland Farmers’ Market, which I wrote about back in April. Since our last visit, they’ve been setting up tents outside to take advantage of the warmer weather.

Tomatoes!

Gorgeous tomatoes

Field Stone Fruit Winery

Spotted the new Field Stone Fruit Wine labels – snazzy!

It’s always a treat to see Mary Ellen (of Greens, Eggs and Ham). Since they set up shop at Kingsland, we pretty much only see her when we’re down in Calgary! We also look forward to picking up Rustic Sourdough Bakery’s pretzels rolls – will someone in Edmonton make these, please?

Kingsland Farmers' Market

I like the idea of a “specials” board, though this one is a little hard to read

We then drove down to the new location of the Calgary Farmers’ Market (CFM), which wasn’t quite ready when we were last down. Though I am frustrated sometimes with how Edmonton is such a car-centric city, in this instance, we do fare better – at least our two largest farmers’ markets (City Market and Old Strathcona) are situated centrally, easily accessible by LRT and/or main bus routes.

At the special City Market meeting called earlier this year to help determine the direction of the year-round venue, the consultant showed photographs of the CFM, using it as a prime example of what permanent stalls could look like. As a result, Mack and I were eager to see what it looked like in person.

Calgary Farmers' Market

Calgary Farmers’ Market

At first glance, the CFM is everything a market should be: bright, bustling, with wide aisles and clear signs. There was an expansive seating area as well, and high tables perfect for resting coffee upon while browsing. The “rustic” wood frame around each stall looked perhaps a little too polished, but I appreciated the aesthetic they were going for.

Calgary Farmers' Market

Busy place

There was also a great mix of vendors, as expected, from produce to meat and poultry, to dairy and even local grains and oils.

Calgary Farmers' Market

Great dairy case (it was a good excuse to finally try Vital Green Farms’ chocolate milk – it was delicious!)

Highwood Crossing

Loved Highwood Crossing’s tagline: “Canada’s olive oil”

But walking around, it was clear the CFM didn’t have the same feel as the City Market, Old Strathcona, or even Kingsland for that matter. Between the large food court and play area, it resembled more of a shopping mall.

Calgary Farmers' Market

Food court

I’m definitely not against concessions and family-friendly spaces, but it was the first market I’ve ever come across that seemed to want to please everyone. One can only imagine such amenities would be factored into vendors’ rent and maintenance costs.

Calgary Farmers' Market

Play area

Mary Ellen explained to us in the past Calgary’s “one-stop shop” mentality, which results in farmers’ markets carrying everything from lemons to bananas beside the local produce. But at the CFM, there also seemed to be a number of resellers present. This is fine, except that it wasn’t easy to distinguish between producers and resellers – and really, isn’t the point of farmers’ markets for patrons to buy food directly from those who grew it? Sure, some consumers might ask the right questions, but ideally, it should be more intuitive than that.

Calgary Farmers' Market

Innisfail Growers – not a reseller!

In addition, we had to wonder about the viability of a four day market. There’s no question that it is convenient and more accessible, allowing consumers a place to shop for local wares Thursday to Sunday. But because we saw several examples of sad and wilted produce on tables, it seemed some vendors were having challenges ensuring product quality. Perhaps there isn’t adequate on-site cold storage for all who need it? Also, based on the discussion at the City Market meeting in April, we know some producers mentioned that staffing and refreshing a multi-day market would be difficult – for example, who would tend to the farm over that period?

Strawberries from The Jungle Farm

At the end of the day, our visit to CFM just made me think of all the facets of a “modern” year-round market. And with the City Market continuing to explore venues for their own year-round venture, it will be interesting to see what direction they decide to take.

We ended our tour of Calgary that weekend with a visit to 17th Avenue. We ended up stumbling upon the Uptown 17 market and music festival.

IMG_4458

Love the colourful chairs!

In the area of neighbourhood branding, we still think Calgary does a better job of that than we do in Edmonton. Let’s hope that the “I ❤ #yegdt” catches on enough for the Downtown Business Association to use it more widely!

IMG_4459

Uptown 17 everywhere!

There is always something to do in Edmonton, but the same can be said about Calgary. We’ll be back soon!

Road Trip: Calgary Eats

Though we would have preferred to have had every meal from a food truck, that just wasn’t possible with so many vendors out of commission over the weekend. So we filled in the blanks with restaurants, which didn’t turn out so bad at all either.

Blink

Though we had good intentions to walk over to 17th Avenue for dinner, we succumbed to our lethargic mood and decided to choose a restaurant near our hotel (the Le Germain, our new Calgary favourite). We wandered Stephen Avenue, and decided to revisit Blink.

The last time we dined at Blink was three years ago, for a Dine Out Week prix fixe menu. I had been impressed by the service and the interior (I’m a sucker for exposed brick!), while the food was a mixed bag. Still, they had the most enticing menu on our walkabout, and it was a good opportunity to dine at the same place again.

Blink

Interior

Mack and I chose to share four appetizers and sides, something our server was clearly not accustomed to. But it worked out well, as all four dishes arrived simultaneously, so we could graze as we pleased. Our server was also very attentive – I don’t think my water glass ever reached half empty before being refilled.

The pork belly and roasted scallops ($14.50) were sensational. It was easily the best pork belly I’ve had in some time – the fat didn’t just melt, it burst, dissolving into a silky swathe for the tender meat beneath.

Blink

Pork belly and roasted scallops

It was great to see several tomato dishes on the menu, celebrating the best of what the late summer season had to offer. We would have easily eaten a bowl full of the roasted tomatoes that topped the tart ($12), but we were just happy that the vegetables (accented with a basil puree) were the star of the dish. The tart itself was thin and buttery, and complemented the tomatoes instead of overwhelming them.

Blink

Tomato tart

I had been wowed by the puree of squash varietals that I had tried previously, and was hoping for a similar impression from the roasted tomato soup ($12.50). It was good, but I would have preferred a touch more sweetness to balance the tartness.

Blink

Roasted tomato soup

The macaroni and cheese ($8.50) was the only real dud of our quartet. No question a generous hand dealt the great melting cheese that encased the crevasses of each noodle, but the cheese itself tasted flat and flavourless.

Our second experience at Blink would be enough to bring me back again. There’s something intimate about the restaurant, low-lit and understated. And with a deft kitchen in the back and stellar service up front, I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending it to others.

Red’s Diner

Maybe we just need to visit Calgary more often, but I find there’s always a new diner to try when we get there. This time, it was Red’s Diner, just down the street from Central Memorial Park.

Red's Diner

Red’s Diner

When we arrived, there was already a cluster of patrons on the sidewalk waiting for tables. But we were told the wait time was just fifteen minutes, so we stuck around. And unlike at other diners, the estimate wasn’t deceiving – we actually did get seats after fifteen minutes!

Red's Diner

Loved the “retro” coffee mugs

We sat at the counter (where there were purse hooks underneath in front of each stool – so thoughtful), and as a result, had a front row seat to the kitchen. This kitchen put up empty plates on the window, and filled them accordingly – an orange twirl to start, then some bacon, toast, then eggs…ding! Order up!

Red's Diner

The view from the counter

I ordered Red’s big breakfast ($12.99), which definitely lived up to its name. Three eggs, bacon, sausage, a giant buckwheat pancake and two pieces of toast (sourdough cheese toast – not something often seen as an option); I was defeated. The eggs could have been creamier, but that was my only quibble.

Red's Diner

Red’s big breakfast

Mack, who figured he wouldn’t be getting his perogy fix via food truck, decided on the Prairie breakfast plate ($13.99). It was also quite the hearty breakfast, with homemade perogies, kielbasa, two eggs, potatoes and toast. Mack thought the potatoes were seasoned really well, and his eggs were perfect.

Red's Diner

Prairie breakfast plate

The kitchen was quick, service was friendly, and Red’s captured that perfect weekend morning atmosphere – bright, bustling and brimming with the simmering aroma of breakfast. We have many diner favourites, but Red’s is now close to the top of that list.

Jelly Modern Doughnuts

A Calgary food trip wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Jelly Modern Doughnuts. We were first introduced to their delectable treats back in June, when Mack picked up a dozen doughnuts on his way home from a conference. Their handmade, creative concoctions are made with local ingredients to boot!

Jelly Modern Doughnuts

Doughnuts!

I love the option of a kid-sized doughnut (available for most of their flavours), which for me, was absolutely the perfect size. The sprinkles were the best part.

Jelly Modern Doughnuts

Yum…

Though Calgary is only a few hours away, it always seems like a world away in terms of food. I’m sure it has something to do with its relative novelty, and feeling like a tourist in the city, but a trip to our southern neighbour is always a fun getaway.

Road Trip: The Quest for YYCFoodTrucks

In the name of “research”, Mack and I packed an overnight bag and headed to Calgary on Friday morning, with the intention of eating from as many YYCFoodTrucks as possible over the course of two days.

Those who have been following the development of the food truck culture down south will know that Mayor Nenshi, recognizing the potential of trucks to bring life to the street, initiated a pilot project that opened up most of Calgary’s public property to vending. In June, Taste the Trucks event showcased just how ready the city was for this shift – a crowd three thousand strong filled Stephen Avenue for a sample of street cuisine. Excitement for food trucks was in the air, and that appetite hasn’t slowed down since – follow the Twitter feeds of any of the half dozen mobile eateries that debuted this year, and you will find them feeding the lunch crowds during the day, bar hoppers in the evening, festival-goers on weekends, and almost everything in between.

Mack and I are learning more about their pilot in order to see what if any changes we might implement in Edmonton’s street food program to facilitate the kind of success they’ve had, but of course, that will take time. It’s not difficult to see, however, that if the City chooses to remain with the status quo, the promise of food trucks – their mobility, self-contained nature and ability to heighten foot traffic – will never be fulfilled.

Blam!Wich

On the drive over, I was glued to Twitter, looking at the feeds of the various food trucks to determine where we’d be having lunch that day (yes, we had a very car-centric trip through Calgary). It was not our lucky day: Alley Burger and JoJo’s BBQ were out of commission for the weekend and Perogy Boyz, Fiasco Gelato and Fries and Dolls were MIA, given they had worked a few hours earlier for a feature on Breakfast Television that morning. Luckily, we found one operational truck: Blam!Wich, which would be parked that afternoon at Central Memorial Park.

Central Memorial Park

Central Memorial Park

A half dozen people were gathered at the truck awaiting their orders. Blam!Wich had four options that day (all $8) written in chalk on the sandwich board. It would have been helpful if the ingredients of each sandwich were elaborated on the board – I’m sure it would have eliminated the verbal repetition from the staff person who was asked the same question by every new customer.

Blam!Wich

Blam!Wich

It didn’t take long for our order at all – Mack and I had both decided on the baconstorm, with lettuce, tomato, maple-cured bacon, Canadian bacon and a bacon-infused aioli. It was more of a sub than sandwich, and was tasty enough.

Blam!Wich

Baconstorm (can’t help but think of @ZoomJer, of course)

It’s worth noting that Central Memorial Park itself is a lovely place to have lunch – lots of trees for shade, benches to sit on, and water features and flowers to admire. Even better, for those who didn’t bring their lunch, or for those who prefer a more formal meal, the park was also home to a small restaurant with a lovely patio.

Boxwood

Boxwood restaurant

Los Compadres and Fiasco Gelato

Thankfully, taco truck Los Compadres tweeted on Friday evening that they would be out for lunch on Saturday, which allowed us to plan a little bit. We intended to hit up two farmers’ markets after brunch, then hoped to still have time to make it out for a late lunch.

Parked on private property in Deerfoot Meadows (a complex similar to South Edmonton Common), when we pulled up, we were delighted to find not one, but two food trucks! Fiasco Gelato had joined Los Compadres to provide shoppers with the option of dessert (a welcome one on that sunny day).

Truck meetup

Trucks x 2!

We wondered how patrons would cope with the lack of seating, but people made do with what was available – setting up on the curb, or our favourite method: on the flatbed!

Curbside cuisine

Curbside cuisine

Food...truck?

Food…truck?

Los Compadres had already sold out of most of its menu items, so we ended up ordering the adobada($7.50), which the staff person said was close to carnitas. In addition to tacos, the truck also served tortas.

Los Compadres

Los Compadres

The tacos were delicious. The meat was tender and juicy, and eaten curbside, required some acrobatic moves to prevent spillage – just the way tacos should be!

Los Compadres

Adobada tacos

We capped off lunch with a scoop of gelato each ($4.50). It was difficult to choose from the half dozen flavours (among them, maple bacon). My raspberry sorbetto was nice and fruity, and held up surprisingly well in the sun. Mack enjoyed his strawberries and cream, light and not too sweet.

Fiasco Gelato

Love the “Tasty Beverages” taps

Fiasco Gelato

Gelato

An hour later, Los Compadres tweeted that they were sold out, and on the radio(!), we heard that Fiasco had picked up and parked at Marda Loop, across from the popular Phil & Sebastian café in that neighbourhood. That’s the beauty of food trucks – they can (and should be able to) go where the people are, especially on warm weather days.

Mack’s heart was set on trying Perogy Boyz, the vibrant red truck serving up perogies of all sorts, but they didn’t tweet their location on Saturday until after we’d departed the city limits. But given we weren’t sure we’d even get to one, let alone three trucks, we chalked it up to be a successful YYCFoodTruck road trip all the same. Until next time…

One Sweet Road Trip: Jelly Modern Doughnuts

This guest post was written by Mack, an Edmonton-based geek who fancies himself a part-time foodie. You can find him online at his blog, and on Twitter.

Last month, I spent a day down in Calgary at mesh west. It was a very quick down-in-the-morning and back-in-the-evening kind of trip, but I was under strict orders from Sharon to stop at Jelly Modern Doughnuts before coming home (especially appropriate as National Doughnut Day had just passed). I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to make it before they closed, but fortunately we had scored an introduction just a week earlier at the TMAC Alberta social media workshop to founder Rita Tripathy. I emailed Rita and she graciously agreed to set aside a dozen doughnuts for me, so that I’d be allowed back into the house 😉

Jelly Modern Doughnuts

It was fairly late in the day when I arrived, but there was still a steady stream of people visiting the shop, located at 1414 8 Street SW. You can’t miss it as you pass by – the bright pink signage brightens up the otherwise dull corner (though I hear there’s an awesome coffee shop kitty-corner, Kawa). The space used to house real estate developer The Eden Group of Companies, and while I can’t say I had seen the previous interior, I can say the Jelly Modern Doughnuts space is beautiful. A white bar with clear stools lines one side of the shop, while wooden seats with pink pillows fills the other corner. You can’t miss the large display case, right near the centre of the store.

Jelly Modern Doughnuts Jelly Modern Doughnuts

Unfortunately Rita wasn’t there when I arrived, but I did get to spend some time chatting with her husband and business partner Murray, and Chef Grayson Sherman. They told me about the doughnuts that were on display, some regulars on the menu and some special. The “seasonal” menu features a different special each month – when I was there in June, it was Chocolate Espresso. They also had a “Vancouver Canucks” donut to celebrate the cup run.

Jelly Modern Doughnuts

I left with a dozen doughnuts and a cinnamon bun for the road, all on the house thanks to Murray’s refusal to let me pay. Needless to say, Sharon was pretty excited when I finally walked in the door that night (for the doughnuts, that is), exclaiming “it looks like a box of flowers!” We wasted no time digging in!

Jelly Modern Doughnuts

Funky flavours like maple bacon and s’mores aren’t the only reason these doughnuts are unique. The “hole” in the centre isn’t really a hole! It’s more like a well, ready to be filled with peanut butter, jelly, lemon, etc. This means you get to see everything that you’re about to eat, and it also makes for a less messy treat. Additionally, Jelly Modern Doughnuts uses local, organic ingredients, as explained by Julie.

Jelly Modern Doughnuts

While I did enjoy the maple bacon, my favorite was probably the classic jelly (though I quite liked the coconut as well). Sharon liked the vanilla with sprinkles and the peanut butter cup best. I’m usually not a fan of sweets but I did enjoy the doughnuts, perhaps because the dough itself wasn’t overly sweet (which explains why Chef Sherman was thinking of making sandwiches with it). The cinnamon bun I ate on the way home really hit the spot as well!

Will Edmonton move beyond cupcakes someday as well? If we do, I hope we end up with something like Jelly Modern Doughnuts! In the meantime, follow @JellyModern on Twitter and stop by when you’re in Calgary!

Jelly Modern Doughnuts
100, 1414 8 Street SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 453-2053
Monday – Friday 7:00am – 7:00pm, Saturday 8:00am – 6:00pm, Sunday 9:00am – 6:00pm

Calgary Food Recaplets

One day, I might catch up on all of the back posts I intend to write…but I’m not there yet. Here are a few of the food-related places Mack and I checked out while in Calgary a few months back that didn’t fit into my previous posts.

Kingsland Farmers’ Market

Though I know our own farmers’ market scene has its own share of politics, the fact that Calgary’s ups and downs has played out in the public eye made it all the more intriguing to me as a non-resident. When I read that several vendors were breaking free from the Calgary Farmers’ Market to start their own (what has become the Kingsland Farmers’ Market), I knew checking it out would be at the top of our Calgary to-do list. Mary Ellen of Greens, Eggs and Ham has been selling at Kingsland for a number of months now, and has been providing us with updates along the way, so it was even better to be able to see it in person.

Kingsland Farmers' Market

Kingsland Farmers’ Market

It’s another Calgary market that is open on multiple days – Thursday to Sunday. Most of the vendors seemed to have permanent stalls, selling everything from produce to meat to wine and prepared food.

Kingsland Farmers' Market

Interior

It was a decent space, a converted car dealership, with high ceilings accented by nice wooden beams. With the large number of hot food vendors, it was great that the farmers’ market also had a large, bright seating area set aside – I can imagine friends meeting up for a bite to eat at the market, which would be a great draw for those not necessarily looking to shop. The same area also housed craft vendors – separation much appreciated by those just looking to do their grocery shopping.

Kingsland Farmers' Market

Greens, Eggs and Ham

Like the Calgary Farmers’ Market, the Kingsland Market also allows the sale of imported produce. Mary Ellen told us that they operate on the bullseye diet – goods that can’t be sourced locally can be brought in from elsewhere. She commented that Calgarians seem to prefer the “one-stop shop” farmers’ market.

Kingsland Farmers' Market

The tropical fruit table

We didn’t want to buy too much, given we would be in Calgary for a few more days without cold storage options, but we did pick up a bag of pretzel buns from Rustic Sourdough Bakery (they were miles above the pretzel bun we had at Loungeburger), plus two cute “pies on a stick” from Sugar Pie Bakery. What can’t be served on a stick these days?

Kingsland Farmers' Market

Pretzel buns

Kingsland Farmers' Market

Sugar Pie Bakery

Phil & Sebastian at Chinook Centre

I’m not sure I ever considered the possibility of one of the third wave darlings like Transcend or Credo ever setting up shop in one of our major shopping complexes, but after stumbling upon Phil & Sebastian in Chinook Centre, I’m wondering if that day might be closer than we think.

Phil & Sebastian

Phil & Sebastian

Open since September, the Phil & Sebastian is located in the newest wing of Chinook, but is also accessible from a street entrance. It was absolutely hopping, with many patrons (like us) stopping by for a caffeine boost to break up an afternoon of shopping, but it seemed many others were oblivious to the mall’s connection.

Phil & Sebastian

Interior

We loved the design, with the central coffee bar dominating the space, an open invitation for patrons to watch their coffee being made, and to interact with the baristas.

Coppeneur

The space vacated by Kismet on Stephen Avenue has been turned into a charming chocolate shop. Coppeneur is a micro-batch bean-to-bar chocolate maker, based in Germany (some of their products are carried by Kerstin’s Chocolates in Edmonton). This is their first retail location in North America.

Coppeneur

Coppeneur

I always enjoy browsing for chocolate, and this occasion was no exception. We picked up a mixed package of their cuvee bars, which were almost too beautiful to consume – barks of dark, milk or white chocolate studded with everything from almonds to cocoa nibs to pink peppercorns. Worth a visit – particularly because they were one of the few storefronts downtown actually open on a Sunday!

Coppeneur

Cuvee bars

Spoon Me

The cheekily named Spoon Me is a frozen yogurt chain with twenty locations in the U.S., and two locations in Calgary. We stopped in for a snack at the Kensington branch just before heading back to Edmonton.

It was a delightful space to spend some time in, bursting with natural light, bright wall colours, and funky furniture. The bathroom walls were decorated with decals playing off their name, such as “May the spoon be with you!” and “You can’t handle the spoon!”. The fun continued with their fill-in-the-blank napkins.

Spoon Me

Frozen yogurt treat

At $5 for a small (with three toppings), it was on par with other frozen yogurt bars, but between the interior and the laugh we had reading through some of the napkins pinned up to the wall, it was well worth it.

Spoon Me

And it just keeps on growing…

I really appreciate that such a lovely food city is only a few hours from us – and though we share many similarities with Calgary, it always feels a bit like a world away. I’m looking forward to our next trip down already!