Hot Chicken in Cold Calgary – December 2015

Last time we were in Calgary during the winter was back in 2010. This Vancouver boy isn’t used to the brutal, dry cold. Although the snow texture is fluffy and makes a cool crunching sound, it’s still a bit of a pain to get around. But thankfully we were able to do lots of family stuff, hit a lot of restaurants, and drink more than enough beer.

There’s more than 240 photos in this post (almost 30MB), so just let it load 😉

Our trip (roughly chronological order, bold entries are restaurants, star rating is how much I want to return — from no stars to 3 stars):

In a nutshell, we had some amazing dining experiences that we’re super appreciative of. It made the mediocre experiences seem even worse in comparison 😛 I always enjoy the scene in Calgary, and it continues to surprise me in ways that Vancouver dining doesn’t.


Beer Haul

One place I discovered during my last trip to Calgary was Oak & Vine, a private beer, wine & spirits store that carries a great selection of craft beer. I stumbled on their 16th Ave NW location last year while taking Wicca’s mom to the doctor, and found some really great beers that I never see in Vancouver.

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During this trip, I decided to check out their Inglewood location (pictured above) that has a growler bar:

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AFAIK Vancouver doesn’t have anything like this. Closest would be places like The Growler Guys in Washington State and Oregon.

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Imagine being able to get growler fills, straight out of fresh kegs from breweries from all over, not just local ones! Unfortunately, Oak & Vine were tapped out of the Lagunitas fresh hop beer Born Yesterday. BUT, the nice guy there checked on his computer and said that another craft beer store, 5 Vines, had it!

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5 Vines was just a few minutes away in downtown. BTW, prices for parking in downtown Calgary are BRUTAL. It’s not uncommon to see $3+ for 30 minutes! Ouch. But luckily, 5 Vines will reimburse you if you park in the back and show them your parking stub.

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If you’re a store and not actively using your social media accounts, you are losing out! It’s a great way for stores like these to let their customers know about new beers.

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The growler bar at 5 Vines. Sorry the sunshine coming in the window made it horrible for photos.

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New bottles. Calgary is getting TONS of BC and west coast US beers now, including Tofino Brewing, Steel & Oak, Ninkasi, Stone, etc.

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Businesses seem to have more of a family feel. I’m gonna call it the cowboy/rancher/farmer/frontier spirit.

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They were generous with the samples and I got to try the Double Mountain Fa La La La La Winter IPA, which is just a super-fresh IPA that they brew in the winter so all the hop-heads can get a fresh IPA when everyone else is drinking stouts and barleywines 😛

I finally decided on a 1L growler of Lagunitas Born Yesterday fresh hop pale ale. Apparently the only kegs of Born Yesterday that made it to Canada ended up in Calgary 😀

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One thing about the drier air in Calgary — when it’s sunny out it’s actually really nice to walk around. Some people even wear shorts!

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Beer haul part 1: some Brewdog, Evil Twin, Oskar Blues, Cascade Brewing, Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin…but the special thing from this batch were the Boulevard Brewing (Kansas City, Missouri) beers, which are unavailable in BC. now available in BC.

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Beer haul part 2: The Bruery stuff is always expensive, but I just had to get a couple to share with in-laws so they could have a taste of great US craft beer. Also got a couple Epic Brewing (Salt Lake City, Utah) beers because they’re another brewery that aren’t available in BC. And I just love Evil Twin and Mikkeller. The growler on the right contains Lagunitas Born Yesterday.

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One of my brother-in-laws bought a 6-pack of Lagunitas Brown Shugga because of the “brown sugar” part. I was surprised he sprang for it because it’s not a “beginner beer”. It’s a barleywine (sorta). Caramel, toffee, bit of spice, malty sweetness offset by a bigger hoppy bitterness than I was expecting, but then again it is a Lagunitas, so it has that characteristic sweetness and big hops that I find in a lot of their beers. I imagine this would be great with some desserts or stuff like mincemeat pies or butter tarts.

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Oskar Blues Pinner Throwback IPA (4.9%) – Aromas of straw and grass (not the smokeable kind). Bubbly, with a light body and a dry finish. I think by “throwback” they mean something that you can throw back into your throat vigorously, that is, a session IPA. Reminds me of beers like Central City ISA, Phillips Bottle Rocket, Lagunitas Daytime, and Russell Hop Therapy ISA. But like most session IPAs, it’s not *quite* satisfying…kinda teasing in a way, like you’d want to drink something bigger, bolder, richer afterwards. Still enjoyable for what it is though.

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Boulevard Brewing Saison Brett 2015 (8.5%) – Effervescent (look at that head!), a bit sweet but mostly dry, funky, spicy finish. Drinks REALLY easy for an 8.5% beer! Got me drunk a bit too fast 😛 While it was a good beer, I longed for a bit more complexity, which for 8.5% abv I think should come with additional layers than I was getting. Probably one for aging to bring out more funky layers.

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Evil Twin Christmas Eve At A New York City Hotel Room Imperial Stout (10%) – I saw this beer posted on Instagram by a few other people around Xmas, so I think they all had the same idea that I did. But if anyone can do a legit Christmas beer it would be Evil Twin.

Amazing breakfast stout/breakfast beer if there ever was one! Super smooth mouthfeel, balance of sweetness and dry roastiness, rich coffee notes, and alcohol is really well-hidden — even as it warms up…which it did, cuz it was a laaaazy Boxing Day morning when I drank this. So worth it.

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Brew Dog Libertine Black Ale (7.2%) – They call it a “black ale”, so I guess it’s like a stout? Tastes like a stout with coffee and dark chocolate flavours, and a hint of soy sauce-marinated beef jerky. Intriguing dry, roasty, cocao finish.

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Here’s a local Calgary-brewed beer: Tool Shed Belgian Dip IPA (6.3%) – The Dr. Evil-themed label is a bit cheesy. The beer itself shows where Calgary is at the moment — exciting for craft beer but still in the early stages where flavours are toned-down and pulled back in order to not scare people off. There’s a hoppy bitterness and a bit of Belgian candi sugar quality, but it gets watery on the palate pretty fast. Puckery, dry finish that I did enjoy, but this would get a rating of 70% at best. The can says mosaic and simcoe hops, but damned if I could actually detect those in any appreciable way. But if you’re looking for something moderately interesting that you can just knock back, you could do way worse.

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I shared the Tool Shed Belgian Dip IPA with my brother-in-law, then went into this Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin IPA (7%). Quite a contrast in flavour and quality. So much flavour and aroma in this one, my brother-in-law was floored. Too bad he can’t get this in Toronto. I had written on Instagram that Grapefruit Sculpin is “not balanced, but it’s unbalanced in all the right ways”.

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Cascade Brewing Sang Rouge 2013 (8.4%) – aromas of sour red grapes and sour cherries. Puckery, oaky finish. Has a winelike quality that might appeal to wine drinkers. The complexity is moderate. I was expecting more complexity cuz it was a 2013 bottle, but that’s because I’ve had delightfully complex and enjoyable sours from Cascade before (eg. Sang Noir). Still a worthwhile purchase though, especially to give my in-laws a taste of west coast sours.

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Lagunitas Fresh Hop Born Yesterday Pale Ale (7.5%) – As relayed to me by the staff at Oak & Vine and 5 Vines, bottles of Born Yesterday never made it to Canada, and the few kegs that did ended up in Calgary. So yay for me? This batch was kegged in late October, so probably not optimal but still within the window imho for enjoying a fresh hop beer. Apparently this has simcoe and citra hops in it, but I got tons of fresh floral and grassy aromas with a bit of citrus. They call this a pale ale, but it tastes like a straight-up IPA…in fact, a lot stronger and hoppier than a lot of so-called IPAs.

A good but not great beer. Doesn’t supplant Yellow Dog’s amazing fresh hop beers from early Fall 2015 like Play Dead and Alpha Dog.

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The Bruery Jardinier Belgian-Style Pale Ale (4.9%) – Light yet full-flavoured. Bubbly, dry, fruity. Doesn’t dissolve into a watery finish like some of the sessionable beers I’ve had during this trip. A stunning accomplishment that shows what’s possible in a beer that’s less than 5%. Highly recommended.

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Epic Brewing Utah Sage Saison (~7%) – Not sure which release this was. Epic Brewing obsessively keep track of batches/releases, and each release can vary slightly in ABV and ingredients. Anyways, this bottle had A LOT of sage in it. Maybe a bit too much as a beer to drink on its own, but might be ok paired with some sage-friendly food. Wouldn’t buy again, but I do love other stuff I’ve tried from Epic Brewing, namely their Sour Apple Saison.

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Family broke out the Japanese cheesecake-flavoured Kit Kat® during New Year’s Eve. These are made to be baked so they get warm and caramelized.

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The instructions were in Japanese, so after Googling, we figure a few minutes at 325°F would do the trick.

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After baking. We stopped there cuz the bottoms were plenty dark.

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Mikkeller Beer Geek Dessert (~11%) – This is an oatmeal stout brewed with cacao and vanilla, so a perfect match for vanilla ice cream and a kit kat. The beer was rich, sweet, and sooo thick and creamy. It really was a dessert in a glass, with smooth coffee, chocolate, and vanilla flavours. Still tasted sweet beside the kit kat and the super sweet supermarket ice cream. The kit kat just tasted sweet and biscuity, not really like cheesecake at all. Really fun pairing though. Amazing beer for when you’re in the mood for a dessert in a glass.

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One of the last beers I had before packing the rest into my luggage for the trip back home: Dandy Brewing Bright Young Things English Summer Ale (5%). My full report of Dandy Brewing is below, but suffice to say this beer was an easygoing summer ale with no flaws and just enough character to stay interesting over a whole bottle.

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One semi-safe way of packing beer for the plane ride home…


Home Cookin’

Wicca’s mom is constantly in the kitchen — to our benefit!

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Vietnamese salad rolls (coi cuon).

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Wicca’s mom made them extra-special by putting a mini-spring roll (cha gio) inside for crunch! Also included homemade Vietnamese pork sausage (nem nuong) and sticks of apple. The apple was a substitution because starfruit wasn’t available. If you wanna go the extra mile when making salad rolls, put in starfruit.

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The hoisin and peanut butter dipping sauce for the salad rolls, plus the family’s favourite pickled ground chili condiment.

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Spicy beef and pig’s foot soup (bun bo hue). A favourite. Generous chunks of beef parts and pig’s trotters.

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Greens and herbs for the bun bo hue. I think, on balance, that this food is pretty healthy 🙂

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Vietnamese Steamed Meatloaf containing ground pork, egg, vermicelli, and wood ear fungus. The typical recipe also contains salted fish, but Wicca’s mom did a weird, cross-cultural ingredient swap and used Portuguese-style salted cod (bacalao)! So it was missing that salty hit from the usual salted fish. Still good though (of course).

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The orange colour on top is from annatto powder. Looks like the colour is from chili, but it’s just flavourless annatto.

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The bacalao that was used in the steamed pork. I like how Wicca’s mom does a lot of experiments and doesn’t get too worked up if it doesn’t go right.

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Christmas day crepes by in-laws. Planning wasn’t a strong feature here, but improvisation was! Non-dairy creamer was used instead of powdered sugar, and foamed milk was used instead of whipped cream!

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One of my nieces made grilled cheese sandwiches for everybody too. How sweet 🙂 She used Laughing Cow cheese (La Vache Qui Rit) and a bit of white cheddar. I threw in a bit of leftover pasta sauce that was in their fridge. Delicious! Reminds me of Mom’s Grilled Cheese Truck when they used to offer a scoop of chili to put in your grilled cheese.

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Wicca’s mom’s Jian Dui (aka Deep Fried Sesame Balls aka Bánh Cam).

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She incorporated mashed yam into the dough part. Looked great. Wicca said they tasted good, but I usually don’t eat stuff like this.

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A very light version of Bun Rieu, Vietnamese crab noodles. A couple things set this dish apart from pho and other Vietnamese noodles: there’s tomato, and there’s pork/egg/crab mixture that’s cooked into balls, chunks or slabs. Everyone’s bun rieu recipe is different…even in restaurants. Take a look at one of the bun rieu I had last spring in Los Angeles:

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Bun rieu at Quan Ngon Nha Trang in Los Angeles. Full post here.

And here’s another bun rieu from LA that had snails in it:

Bun rieu at Saigon Flavor in Los Angeles. Full post here.

So, while pho seems to be pretty standardized, I saw many subtle and not-so-subtle differences in the bun rieu that I’ve tried over the years. Wicca’s mom had whipped up her bun rieu in just a hour, so the soup lacked richness, body, and subtlety. But great job for being able to pull it off in an hour! She was worried that it wouldn’t be salty enough for us, so she brought out some fermented shrimp paste (mam ruoc):

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She added bits of pineapple to the mam ruoc. It did improve the broth.

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Towards the end of our trip, we went to a relative’s house and they prepared bun rieu too! Notice how it looks different from Wicca’s mom’s version. Much redder (not from chilies, but from annatto powder!).

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Vietnamese Papaya Salad (Goi Du Du) with beef jerky and mint. This was our last meal in Calgary before flying back home and it was great. Vietnamese papaya salad is different from the more widely seen Thai green papaya salad because it includes beef jerky and uses a soy/rice vinegar/sugar dressing instead of a fish sauce one. Not as salty, sour, or spicy as the Thai one. The beef jerky was a real treat because it was bought from some place in Houston (Texas) that specializes in jerky and had this kind that’s made specially for Vietnamese dishes.

Ok, that’s it for home food, now for outside food!


Ollia Macarons

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We’re big fans of Yann Haute Patisserie, but for this trip we decided to try Ollia Macarons & Tea to compare. I’m not a huge macaron fan, but Wicca and my neices like them. In a nutshell, I’d say that Yann and Ollia macarons are about even, although Ollia’s has minor size consistency issues. Also, Yann does great little dessert pastries as well (see end of this post), so if I had to choose one place over the other, Yann would be it.

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When they say “Macarons & Tea”, they’re not kidding! That’s all they have! No croissants, no tarts, nothing. But these guys are still around and Corbeaux Bakehouse just half a block away closed down just in November 2015, so Ollia seems to be doing something right!

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Display case looked a tiny bit sparse, but we were still able to pick enough to get a dozen with just a couple doubles.

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One or two of the macarons were noticeably smaller than the others, so there’s some minor size consistency issues. Otherwise, the textures and flavours were good.

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Wicca made me choose one flavour, so I went with the Fig & Balsamic. Tastes like a grown-up Fig Newton, but I only got a whisper of balsamic…like it whispered in my ear and when I turned around it was nowhere to be found.


Yum Yum BBQ Korean Cuisine

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I find it incredible that I haven’t found Korean fried chicken in Vancouver that measures up to Yum Yum BBQ Korean Cuisine in Calgary. Their “Shallot Chicken” is my favourite. I made sure we got some the very day that we landed in Calgary.

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Along with the standard pickled radishes, I ordered some of the spicy Korean sauce on the side.

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Spicy Fried Chicken (half order, $11.79). This is sauceless Korean fried chicken, but it’s spicy. If you zoom in, you can see red chili powder in the coating.

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Shallot Chicken (half order, $11.85). I finally found out more about this chicken. It’s got a light drizzle of sweet soy sauce, but it still stays crispy. The restraint is the key to why I love this chicken so much. When you eat it hot and fresh, that crunch of the batter, the juiciness of the hot steaming chicken meat, the whisper of sweetness and umami from the seasoning…it creates this wonderful eating experience. Being cooked to order is also key.

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A piece each of the Spicy Chicken (left) and the Shallot Chicken (right).

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Look at that juiciness in the Shallot Chicken! This is the reason I eat fried chicken. Crunchy batter, moist meat, delectable flavour. Seems simple but this particular balance is not easy to find!

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Back in 2014, I had wondered about their Korean poutine. I thought, “can a place like this pull off a decent poutine??” Answer is no. But it was mildly fun trying it.

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This was the pork option that uses a kochujang-like Korean bbq sauce, smothered over crinkle-cut fries with mozzarella (not curds). They also have a bulgogi beef version. Not a great dish, but I had to try it once. Might not even be adequate drunk food…the fries were from frozen, and were dry and mealy inside. The sauce and pork were great though, and would be awesome on a big bowl of rice (Yum Yum BBQ does do a beef or pork rice plate). However, it’s pretty much to be expected from a place like this. Their fried chicken (Shallot Chicken in particular) is where it’s at.

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Chopsticks are so much better at picking up bite-sized things. Ever use chopsticks to eat cheesies so your fingers don’t get all orange?

Yum Yum Chicken & BBQ Korean Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Last Best Brewing & Distilling

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We arrived in Calgary just before Christmas holidays, so we were busy with family stuff until Boxing Day. Plus most places were closed anyways. This was our first night out so I was antsy about getting some real Calgary beer and food, and get a sense of how the scene is nowadays. Last Best is in the same building that Design District Urban Tavern used to be. They’re the place that did the “bucket of bacon” thing that I absolutely loved. House-cured bacon served in a bucket with maple syrup for dipping. Their beers at the time were decent, drinkable stuff. But they seemed to go a bit further than most brewpubs as far as their food went, so I was sad to hear that they closed down. Now Last Best have taken over, and their menu reads REALLY nice online, so I was excited to try it for real.

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Space inside looks pretty much the same as when it was District. The brewing equipment is still there too, and is being used to brew their in-house beers.

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They’re part of the same group that owns brewpubs in Jasper, Banff, and Fort McMurray.

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A typical line-up of beers. Mildly surprised to see a kolsch.

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Red Fife Wheat Ale stood out. They had a motueka hop kolsch coming up.

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As I mentioned, the menu reads nice. I had to go for the Crispy Bits with “spiced chicken crisps, Broek Pork Acres pig’s ear, and parmesan chip”.

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I do see a fair amount of BC products when I’m in Calgary, like seafood. Meats, of course, are all Alberta though.

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Good thing about Alberta is that I see more alternative meats like elk and bison. Prices are a touchy spendy imho, but I don’t mind if I get the flavour and quality I desire.

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The Knuckle Sandwich was too tempting to pass on. “Shaved pork knuckle, choucroute, mustard, gouda, on marble rye”. I believe choucroute is basically cooked sauerkraut.

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Like 5 Vines, Last Best has a backstory rooted in Prairie life and Canadian history.

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It’s cut off in the photo, but the paddle is in the shape of Alberta!

Fuck history, let’s drink! Clockwise from top right:

Nitro Stout (4.2%) – A good session stout. Nothing more, nothing less.

IPA v1.0 (6.5%) – Some sweetness and fruity hops. Comes across as nicely balanced. Not bad!

Show Pony Pale Ale (5%) – Not a ton of character, but no obvious flaws either. For n00bs that need craft beer training wheels 😛

IPA v2.0 (6.5%) – Touch fruitier and less malty than v1.0. Both IPAs were good, but would be considered regular pale ales in BC.

Red Fife Wheat Ale (5.4%) – Had a sweetness that reminded me of Steel & Oak’s Red Pilsner, so that’s a good thing. Looks a bit dark to be a typical wheat ale though…

Olsch Kolsch B’Golsch (groan) (4.8%) – It tastes like a kolsch! But it was weird to be drinking a kolsch in winter though.

On the whole (and this is true about the Calgary beer scene in general), I thought the beers were fine…somewhat true to style but not particularly interesting or creative. I think Calgary is just easing into craft beer, after many abortive attempts that I’ve seen over the past few years, where I thought Calgary would be heading into a craft beer brewing renaissance… But what actually happened was the domination of big pub chains like Craft Beer Market (who landed like a fat gorilla in Olympic Village here in Vancouver) and National (who call themselves a “restaurant & entertainment venue”). It’s like all the people with money smelled the scent of craft beer in the air and decided to get big real fast. You can get really good craft beer on tap at these places, but as far as locally-brewed stuff it’s not amazing.

With Last Best’s beers in particular, I didn’t get a lot of aroma. That makes me think that they’re really chintzy with the late-addition hops, and don’t stray too far from the tried-and-true (yet a bit boring) recipes. No outright flaws, but then no flair either.

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Grilled BC Octopus ($18) with “winter squash puree, toasted hazelnuts, parsley, fried capers, and sultana gastrique”. Octopus was tender and smoky (possibly too smoky?), but underseasoned…which made the too-sweet puree stand out even more. Off-balance dish. Ricardo (who lives in Toronto where there’s much better Spanish/tapas restaurants than Vancouver or Calgary) really hated this dish. An $18 ouch.

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Crispy Bits ($9) with “spiced chicken crisps, Broek Pork Acres pig’s ear, and parmesan chip”. The chicken crisps were actually chicken chicharrones (deep fried chicken skins). Salty, puffy, a bit chewy but still good. Slight negative: tasted like it was fried days ago — which would be fine except a bit more freshness would make it so much more devourable. The pig’s ear were crispy and salty. They should’ve just left the bowl at that and nixed the parmesan crisp because it was way stale and hard ‘n chewy. If you’re too busy to serve a fresh parmesan crisp, just leave it out. However, I’m thrilled that a beer place in Calgary serves bar snacks like these. I’d kill for bar snacks like this in Vancouver. Closest would be the duck fat popcorn and crackling at Forage on Robson:

 

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Bison Tartare ($19) with “chopped to order marinated Alberta bison tenderloin, cured free-range egg yolk, pickled Saskatoon berries, mushroom oil, capers, shallots, and bannock crostini”. Actually, their printed menu simply said “crostini”, but online said “bannock crostini”. What we ended up getting looked and tasted more like a biscuit than what I know as bannock. Even our bartender (who said he’s worked in Michelin-starred restaurants — and is now a bartender in Calgary?) agreed that the hunk of cooked dough was not bannock. They also gave WAY too much bannock in proportion to tartare. One piece would’ve been fine but they gave two. Also, it’s a bit weird to eat a tartare with a crumbly biscuit.

At least the bison was great. Flavourful and tender. The balance of acid, salt, and creamy yolk was really enjoyable and entertaining to the palate. At $19 it’s also a bit spendy, but in this case worth it. They should stick with regular crostini though, instead of the bannock.

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Knuckle Sandwich ($15) with “shoestring fries”. The sandwich contained “shaved pork knuckle, choucroute, IPA mustard, and gouda” on marble rye. Fries were hot, creamy, crispy, but those are NOT shoestring. I wonder what the heck happened there.

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The sandwich itself was a huge disappointment. Not sure exactly which part of the pork hoof/trotter/leg they use, but the meat was so dry and lean with no hint of fat, skin, or fun connective tissue bits. To make matters worse, it looks like they took the slices of meat and warmed them up on the flattop, making it even more dried out. I also got a gag-inducing sweet element that I couldn’t figure out the source of. Literally hard to swallow. I think the bartender noticed my displeasure and seemed taken aback. I tried my best to like it, but after a while it was like eating a phone book with melted cheese on it.

Competent beers, great bison tartar, the Crispy Bits are worth a try, but everything else fell short.

Last Best Brewing & Distilling Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Dandy Brewing

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Dandy Brewing Company is the newest (and smallest) brewery in Calgary.

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Of course it’s located in a semi-isolated industrial area! But once you get there, it’s a cool little beer oasis. There’s even a Japanese snack food store just to the left of it! (Dandy also sell grab-bags of the same Japanese snacks in their tasting room.)

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Due to the holidays, I was only able to visit this place on ONE day during our trip. Thankfully everyone’s plans worked out and we were able to hang out with old friends like Setzer (whom I went to Beer Revolution with last time I was in Calgary).

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It’s a tiny tasting room that fits maybe 20 people max? Their tasting room had been open for about a month by the time we visited. It got quite busy after we settled in and started drinking, so that was great to see. Calgary does want new, interesting beer!

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The list. Glad to see a sour ale AND a tart saison! Nice range of beers that hit all the bases.

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Beers are a bit pricier than back home. A 2L growler fill will cost you $15, whereas Brassneck fills cost about $12.

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Seems like everyone was doing gift packs this year, which is great! I’d be happy to receive any brewery’s gift pack 🙂

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Vinyl is still alive! This was one of two places we saw vinyl being spun during this trip. The other place was Model Milk.

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We shared a full flight of all 8 beers that they had on tap that day. Cute tasting set. And clean pours too! Thank the beer gods for clean pours. (*cough* St. Augustine’s *cough*)

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All the beers we tried were competently brewed and true to style. I’ve only included notes on the ones that stuck out in any way. Clockwise from top:

  • The Golden Brown Dandy English Pale Ale (6%) – smooth and easy character.
  • The Dandy in the Underworld Oyster Stout (5%)
  • Bright Young Things Endless Summer Ale (5%) – fruity, in particular lemon, good carbonation. Perfect summer beer.
  • The Julia Sour Ale with BC Peaches, Cinnamon and Vanilla (6.5%)

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Clockwise from top:

  • The Village Dandy! Tart Saison (6%) – Good saison but could’ve been more tart. Seems like Calgary is just easing into the sours, so I can see why they wouldn’t want to make it too sour.
  • Dark Mild (3.5%) – A good old British-style dark mild ale.
  • T2E-IPA (7.5%) –  With Mandarina, Azacca, and Mosaic hops. I did not get much mosaic. Breweries here seem to be really holding back on the hops, both on the bittering and aroma hops.
  • The Tailor Re-Tailored Strong Scotch Ale (8%) – Good scotch ale! Some plum character.

The beers on the whole were good examples of their style. I liked the dryness and restraint. Crowdpleasing beers that might lead the Calgary public into more adventurous and experimental flavours.

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Japanese bar snack grab-bag for $3. Great idea. I took a peek at the Japanese snack store next door and a couple ladies walked out of it with big bags of stuff. Kind of amazing that a store like that in an industrial area can survive.

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Variations of rice crackers plus some “chocolate” (the non-chocolatey chocolate you get in Asian stores). Adamski brought a titanium yoyo for fun.

Dandy Brewing is a great addition to the growing craft beer scene in Calgary. Amazing to see so many beers from a nanobrewery. Powell Street Craft Brewery only had 2-4 beers at most when they were a nano. Now, my hope is that they push the beers a bit more in the flavour and aroma department.

(Note: it seems that Dandy *are* getting a bit more experimental in the past month since I tried them. A “Petite Rye Grisette” and a “Sour Ale with Ginger” is on their board now! Good for them!)


Xmas Dinner with the Family

Just a taste of what happened during Christmas.

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Unlimited spring rolls for everybody!!

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Wicca’s mom is always generous with the filling. Love the wood ear mushroom inside.

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Someone’s mom made a moist turkey with great skin.

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Roast beast embedded with garlic. Came out a touch overdone, but still good.

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Canadian classic, Green Bean Casserole with fried onions on top.

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Some great gifts from Toronto! Lemongrass Coconut Toffee & Roasted Pineapple from Soma Chocolatemaker. This had everything that Wicca likes. One minor niggle, they should cut back a bit on the lemongrass oil, as it’s strong stuff. Otherwise great. We would buy a stack of these handmade beauties if we go to Toronto again.

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Australian Ginger tumbled in dark Peruvian Chocolate (64%). Wicca adored this as well. The ginger was quite soft and mild. She was sad to see the end of the bag.

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Roasted Hazelnut Butter. Basically a fresher, more natural Nutella. The best foodie-type gifts in recent memory!


Snow Palace

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A basement-level Chinese restaurant in the Northwest of Calgary. It’s ok if you’re in the area and desperate, but coming from Vancouver, this was ok-to-weak. I’d recommend U & Me or Central Grand instead. Forbidden City has also been recommended to me, but I’ve never tried it.

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Gulp. Here we go!

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The prices aren’t cheap. For this pricing, we can get mid/high level dim sum at places like Grand Dynasty.

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Congee. Decent congee which was thankfully not too salty or overseasoned.

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Can’t remember exactly what this fried rice was…my notes fail me. It had chicken, iceberg lettuce, and possibly dried scallops and salted fish. A competent fried rice.

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This Jellyfish & Pork Stomach Salad was the best dish. It even had a few  Szechuan peppercorns in it for a bit of that numbing quality.

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Standard Chinese broccoli (gai lan).

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I suspect that this Scallop & Prawn Dumpling was pre-made/frozen. The wrapper practically liquified into the parchment paper. They added tobiko on top to jazz it up a bit, but the dim sum itself was lacking. You can only go so far with frozen dim sum. If it wasn’t in fact frozen, then…they have a lot of work to do.

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Har Gow (Shrimp Dumpling). Another standard and possibly frozen dim sum.

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Xiao Long Bao (Shanghai Pork Dumplings). XLB in Cantonese dim sum restaurants are never that great. You have to go to real Shanghainese places where you can see them making it. (Why not read about the time I got a “Mouthful of Wang’s”?)

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Chicken Feet (Fung Jow). A bit undercooked, with elasticy tendon bits. I found the raw onion topping to be weird and irritating. Flavour itself was just ok.

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Steamed Spareribs. Decent. This dish is usually at least good at most places that we order it. As long as it’s steamed long enough to be tender, and isn’t too salty, it’ll satisfy my craving. The better places in Vancouver add in cubes of kabocha squash. But again that chopped raw onion makes an appearance. Totally unnecessary.

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Siu Mai (Steamed Pork Dumpling). I think this might be made in-house…and it’s not that great. Man, we’re spoiled for dim sum in Vancouver.


charbar

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charbar is the Argentinian-inspired sister restaurant of CHARCUT. They specialize in ultra-dry-aged beef that they age in-house. And we’re gonna need some of this beef to survive this cold night.

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charbar is located in the historic Simmons Mattress factory, which has been preserved/remodeled and now contains Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters, Sidewalk Citizen Bakery, as well as charbar. This whole area is dubbed “East Village”, and developers are trying to make it into hip, liveable area that’s close to downtown. If there’s one constant whenever I visit Calgary, it’s the construction. With the oil industry taking a nosedive in Alberta, it looks like construction has stalled and many areas look unfinished and still in a state of transition. But charbar seems to be well-received even though it’s what I call “expense account dining”. Judicious ordering can get you a reasonably-priced meal, but if you spring for the ultra-dry-aged beef, prepare to put up some serious coin.

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The front area. Sidewalk Citizen Bakery is on the right (which is closed at night), and Phil & Sebastian Coffee is on the left.

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My pretties…

Their dry-aging chamber on full display at their front desk.

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CHARCUT has a good beer list, as does charbar. Nothing too geeky, just a broad selection that should please anybody. Six taps, 11 bottles on the list.

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I was glad to see some BC beers featured prominently too.

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I went for the Goose Island IPA (5.9%). I liked that they serve real 20oz pints here. Last time I had Goose Island IPA was at some crappy “casual fine dining” place in Burnaby that’s named after the colour of shit. The beer was musty and oxidized, and possibly poured from an unclean line. This time it was much cleaner and better. This beer straddles the line between piney and fruity. Not a standout or favourite, but it does the job fine.

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Eggplant & Quinoa Milanese Chips ($9). These were complimentary and brought to the table by the chef herself! Really appreciated the guesture and everyone enjoyed the lightness and crispiness of the chips, and the spicy kick in the dip…but…that’s the last time I book a table using my dennisthefoodie email address!

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Tripe Chips ($8) with fried rosemary and hot sauce. Amazing! Puffy, crispy, and not greasy. Must be a laborious process to turn beef tripe into chips. The sauce (probably the same sauce as the eggplant chips) was punchy with elements of acid and spice. One of the top beer snacks I’ve had anywhere.

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Roasted Clams ($16) with lemon and garlic. Looks like some sort of pesto on top. The clams were good! I’ve actually had great seafood in Calgary, but you do pay for it 😛 Fresh, not overcooked, and the best part was the clam juice which went great with their fire-grilled bread:

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Ohhhh, the bread! Made by Sidewalk Citizen Bakery next door, this sourdough bread was really memorable moment from our entire Calgary trip. If there was ever a mutually beneficial relationship, it would be Sidewalk Citizen’s bread and charbar’s hardwood fire pit. That char on the bread lifts an already rich and full-flavoured sourdough into the stratosphere! I’ve sampled a few sourdoughs upon my return to Vancouver, and nothing tastes quite the same as Sidewalk Citizen’s bread.

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Bagna Càuda ($17) with San Marzano Tomatoes and Tuna Conserva. Also has capers and olive oil, and was served cold. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this dish, but it opened a lot of eyes at the table. It doesn’t look like much, but packed a lot of flavour and umami. The dressing was garlicky but balanced and sooooo good with that sado-masochistic sourdough bread. Wicca doesn’t like savoury food that’s creamy, but she loved this. That says something! The tuna conserva is similar to cooked/canned tuna. Probably the “freshest”-tasting canned tuna I’ve ever had. The tomatoes seemed wildly out-of-season but were surprisingly good and didn’t taste like bland bricks. Not sure where they were grown. The highlight was that sauce, which we mopped up every last drop of with the amazing bread.

Bagna Càuda seems like the hot new dish. After having it at charbar, I started seeing this dish at other restaurants (maybe more straightforward interpretations of it where it’s served as a side dip to raw vegetables).

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Pistachio and Avocado Bruschetta ($12). This was a bit of a dud, if only because everything else was so good. It pretty much tasted of avocado, pistachios, and olive oil. For avocado lovers it would probably be great, but we felt it needed a little something more to lift it.

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Snow Crab Salad ($19) with  hearts of palm and iceberg lettuce. Plenty of crab, and there is a good use for iceberg lettuce, like in this salad where the crisp juiciness of the lettuce complements the fresh-tasting crabmeat and creamy dressing. The hearts of palm are those crescent-shaped slices. San Marzano tomatoes make another appearance. Wicca cleaned the plate after everyone else had their portion 😛

For such a meat-forward city like Calgary, the menu at charbar is actually quite vegetarian/pescetarian-friendly.

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From their ceviche and raw bar section of the menu, we got six Clams ($4 each) with romesco cocktail sauce. The menu defines romesco as “nut and red pepper-based sauce”. I love it when menus have glossaries. But getting a large group to stfu and study the menu before ordering?? Impossible. Anyways, these raw littleneck(?) clams were a great bite of food! Fresh and clean, with a nice chew without being chewy.

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Ultra dry-aged Porterhouse Steak (32oz, $98) for two (which actually was enough to feed our table of six). Server said this was 60-day dry aged. They sometimes have upwards of 100-day dry-aged Alberta-raised beef.

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Maldon sea salt flakes on top. Steak was very tender with a rich beefy flavour but honestly I couldn’t get a lot of those “blue cheese” type undertones that people say dry-aged beef has. I’d love to do a side-by-side between wet-aged 28 day and 100-day dry-aged to see if there is in fact a noticeable difference. That said, the fire pit cooking does wonderful things to the meat.

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Green and red chimichurri sauces to go with the steak. I found both sauces to be a bit too salty, and while I thought I’d prefer the green, I liked the flavours in the red more.

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Parrilla Beef Fat Fries ($8). They call these “parrilla” fries, so they must have a vat of beef fat sitting over their wood fire — which seems really dangerous. But the payoff is tremendous. Crispy, creamy, and very satisfying fries. Another table favourite.

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Giving veggies their due: Vegetable Ceviche ($12). Why not? Charred tomatoes, cucumber, and roasted corn kernels that everyone said were like “corn nuts” but might technically be cancha. Everyone loved the roasty corn nuts, which added a great dimension to the fresh vegetables and acid. Good palate cleanser to offset the rich beef. The snarkier people out there would say this is just another salad. Don’t pay attention to those people.

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The most divisive dish of the night: Wood Roasted Beets ($14) with seeds and queso azul (blue cheese). Everyone hated the blue cheese with the beets. I was like, “you’ve never had blue cheese and beets before??!” For once *I* felt like the voice of reason at the table. What the fuck is happening?? To me there was nothing wrong with the dish. But that’s part of the fun of dining out with a big group — everyone has their own history with food and their own POV. I was the biggest cheese-eater at the table. Whenever we come to Calgary and I buy stuff at Janice Beaton, nobody touches the stuff…which is fine by me!

While I was mildly disappointed with the dry aged beef, everything else was good-to-outstanding. I’d do those tripe chips and bagna càuda any day. Don’t forget the bread!

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


Model Milk

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This was our third time at Model Milk and again it proves itself to be an always-reliable, effortlessly great restaurant. It has an energy and playful attitude that I don’t see in Vancouver restaurants. We were there on a busy Monday night and they were even spinning vinyl! So up my alley.

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I’ve been told that this place was a gay club before it was Model Milk. But before that, it was a dairy. So someone’s reused one of the old milk crates as a record box.

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The menu at Model Milk is always changing, so I like to keep a record of the exact menu during our visits. Two Calgary breweries on tap plus a surprise BC brewery. Postmark have never been a top choice for me (or even a middle choice or bottom choice), but they do have a new brewmaster, so I’d be willing to give them another shot sometime.

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An interesting and varied bottle selection too. With the changes in Alberta’s beer laws, it’s now advantageous for BC breweries to sell their product in Alberta. Phillips have always been available here, but now I see Parallel 49, Driftwood, the aforementioned Postmark, and plenty more BC breweries. I think it’s a good time for Alberta beer drinkers.

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Closer look at the menu. I’ve always loved Model Milk’s bar snack menu. Cheezies make another appearance, but this time instead of taleggio it’s gouda! And since I was on a bread kick after not being able to eat anything with texture because of having a wisdom tooth taken out, I was ready to bathe my mouth with Red Fife Sourdough breadcrumbs. Son-in-Law Eggs is also another surprising entry.

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Small plates and large plates. This sharing thing really suits my greedy yet small appetite.

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We always get a kick out of their many versions of their Fat Kid Cake, which is now in it’s 4.0 phase.

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A Toronto beer, Flying Monkeys Genius of Suburbia India Session Ale (ISA)/Wheat Ale (3.8%). Good session wheat ale. Super easy going down, but with enough flavour to buddy up with the snacks.

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Puffed Gouda Cheezies ($6). Light, airy, puffy, crispy/crunchy, simply awesome. You can really taste the gouda coming through as you chew. If we weren’t so full from our other food, I would’ve loved to order a second bowl. Yes, they’re not cheap, but sometimes you have to not be a cheap fuck and appreciate the fact that a) cheese is NOT cheap in Canada, and b) it probably takes a lot of time and labour to turn cheese into cheezie puffs.

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This dish also goes by the name, “Ooops I Dropped the Butter on the Floor”.

Red Fife Sourdough ($8) with beer butter and aonori (seaweed flakes) on top. That red fife grain is so yummy…like a whole wheat that actually tastes good. The sourness was aromatic and tangy to the nose and tongue. I’m not even sure if I could taste the nori over the robust sourdough and caramelization of the crust, but the idea alone was enough to make me happy and excited. Where else have you seen nori butter??

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Son-in-Law Eggs ($8) with chili jam. The fried garlic/shallot mixture on top was a nice spicy condiment. Eggs were only lightly fried on the outside. I’ve seen a more robust frying at certain Thai restaurants long lost to memory in Vancouver.

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Oozy egg yolk. Someone in Vancouver should bring this dish back because the whole egg thing still hasn’t died down over the past decade.

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The Peanut Coleslaw that goes with this dish:

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Nashville Hot Chicken ($54) with buttermilk waffles beignets, peanut coleslaw (pictured above), dill pickles, and crema (sour cream). Another highlight of the entire trip.

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Look at that crunchy, craggly chicken! That extra-seasoned coating is killer!

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The juicy chicken smelled like it was smoked or something. Looked, felt, and tasted like it was cooked in a skillet, the authentic way! Wasn’t merely battered then fried, this fried chicken had a freakin’ CRUST on it. I don’t think their dredge could be improved. So crunchy, satisfying, with the right amount of tangy spiciness. You all need to jump on this chicken before it disappears from the menu. Big meaty pieces, and an “All Natural Bird” that feeds 2-3 for $54. Not cheap but so worth it. This is the quality you don’t mind shelling out big bucks for. The beignets were like crispy fried clouds.

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Milk Fed Veal Sweetbreads ($16) with brussel sprouts, broccoli, and anchovy cream. The puree was a touch salty but ok when eaten as a whole. Best sweetbreads I’ve had in a while. Not rubbery. But…in comparison to the colossal fried chicken…I know which dish I’d go for first!

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The Burger ($24) with maitake mushrooms, ham hock, and cheese curds. Even though this burger was a dud, it goes to show how strong this restaurant is because we still came away feeling like we had an amazing time. I loved this burger the first time we came here but this time somehow it just didn’t come together.

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The fries were hard, tough, cardboardy. The burger was seriously underseasoned. Did not finish. At least they did it medium-rare, as requested. But this needed a healthy dose of salt on the patty and a more robust char.

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Dieu du Ciel Aphrodisiaque Stout (6.5%) brewed with cocao and vanilla. Smooth with a dry cocao feeling on the tongue but also a creamy sweetness (but not too sweet though). A perfect accompaniment to:

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Fat Kid Cake 4.0 ($12) with marscarpone sorbet. The cake itself is carrot cake, marscarpone, ginger, and honey pine nut brittle. Super moist and not too sweet. The ginger tasted exquisite in this. There was a raisin jam in there somewhere too. The highlight was the honey pine nut brittle with little hits of salt.

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The damage for three people. We could’ve nixed the burger and been plenty happy. One of my favourite restaurants in Canada.

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


Native Tongues Taqueria

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Mexican tacos finally come to Calgary, in a big way. Native Tongues Taqueria is part of the same restaurant group that also includes Una Pizza + Wine and Ox & Angela (which we would visit later in this same trip). Looks like this group has a knack for finding unrepresented “ethnic” cuisines and building a restaurant out of it.

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Schoolhouse chairs are the new hotness or what?

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We were there for lunch on a Tuesday and it got quite busy, with a lineup forming at the door halfway through our meal. I loved the 80s rock soundtrack they were playing. Tracks like Bon Jovi’s “Living’ on a Prayer”, Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n Roll”, etc.

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How else would you know this was a Mexican restaurant if they didn’t distress the walls and put up Mexican-themed pictures?

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To me this says, “We kill and cook animals here.”

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Beer list is ok/good. If I wasn’t driving, I would’ve loved a Deschutes Chainbreaker White or an Oskar Blues Dales Pale Ale.

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The helpful server starred his favourite items for us.

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Tamales made with “blood masa”?? I love me some tamales, so I had to try one.

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We had to try at least one taco so we could judge their all-important taco game. We never get enough lengua (tongue)!

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This part of the menu is their charcoal-grilled section, and it states up-front that the food takes 30 minutes to cook. We’re totally willing to wait for good food. Could not resist ordering the Pork Belly Pibil. The Barbacoa de Cordero (Lamb Neck) also looked enticing, but seeing as these family style mains feed two, we’d just have to wait until next time.

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In a bold move, Wicca orders one of each dessert. The guy sitting next to us was raving non-stop about their donas (donuts). Yes, it’s $5 for one donut.

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Unfortunately they were out of horchata that day. How the fuck does that happen at a Mexican restaurant?? Do Chinese restaurants run out of tea?

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Their pride and joy is their carbon (charcoal grill). I only know of one similar grill in Vancouver (Osteria Savio Volpe), but Calgary has TWO — one here and another one at charbar. I think that’s our Pork Belly Pibil cooking on there! Expectations are high!!

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Lengua Tacos de Guisado with salsa verde and salsa roja. At $3.95 it’s definitely pricier than the average taco price in Vancouver. The tongue was very tender and had minimal seasoning, which ultimately comes off as a bit bland. Salsas did the job. A bit of tableside salt would’ve fixed that problem. Good, but not better than what’s available in Vancouver. Housemade tortilla was thin, strong, flexible, and warmed up just right. Actually, I like a touch of grease on my tortillas, just to make them a bit more moist and pliable.

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I saw a lot of dishes on the menu that I’ve never seen in Vancouver, including this Tamales dish ($8) made with masa that was soaked in pork blood. Also contains Oaxacan picadillo, warm salsa roja, cilantro, and queso. Bits of chorizo inside. So good! Masa had a soft, velvety texture on the tongue. The sauce was deep and not overpowering. Spiciness level was perfect for me — had me sweating a bit towards the end but didn’t kill my tongue. Vancouver has good tacos but nothing like a tamale done to this level. Would definitely order again.

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A stack of their housemade tortillas to go with our Pork Belly Pibil. The restaurant makes a big deal about nixtamalizing their own corn to make the masa for their tortillas. Kudos to them for going the extra mile. However, they’re not measurably better than the tortillas served in Vancouver taquerias. But no doubt, they’re very good tortillas.

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Pork Belly Pibil ($25), achiote-marinated, slow-roasted pork belly with grilled pineapple and pickled red onions.

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I always find stuff in Calgary that I can’t find in Vancouver, like all this charcoal-grilled Mexican stuff. Too bad the pork was underseasoned and disappointing. Succulently tender and moist, but bland. I really believe they have the skill and heart to pull it off cuz they go to the trouble of operating a live charcoal grill right in the room, and also make their own tortillas from scratch. I know meat is expensive, but they really need to taste their own food first.

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While the pork belly looked really great, with that enticing caramelization on the outside and succulently tender meat and fat inside, the actual taste was bland and underseasoned. Perhaps we should’ve ordered a salsa to kick things up a bit. I feel like the server should’ve recommended a salsa to go with it since it was our first time there. My heart sank a bit while eating this. Should’ve just pulled out my salt. The roasted pineapple is a great addition though. If we had time, we would revisit Native Tongues because I never see Tacos al Carbon in Vancouver. This dish was a disappointment, but not an unfixable one.

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Donas (Glazed Donut) for $5, made in-house daily. Now, they are really taking the piss charging $5 for this. Not even Cartems or Lucky’s charges that much, especially for a plain glazed donut. The fact that Calgary seems to be falling over themselves for these donuts makes me think that Native Tongues’ owners are laughing all the way to the bank.

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Granted it was a really well-done glazed donut that was light ‘n soft inside, with a moist eggy/milky quality to it, almost like it was a touch undercooked…just a touch. At least they gave a knife and fork to fancify the proceedings a bit? 😛

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Flan de Chocolate ($11) with salted caramel, coconut, and almonds.

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Texture-wise, it didn’t feel like a flan, more like an indulgent chocolate pudding. Plus no overt egginess that flan has. But Wicca hoovered the entire plate, so there you go.

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Tres Leches Cake ($10), soaked in horchata and topped with whipped cream.

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Not too sweet…almost refreshing! Even *I* enjoyed it! I think my palate is becoming acclimated to desserts. Oh no. One suggestion: pump up the cinnamon in the horchata a bit for this dessert.

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What happens when we try to eat three desserts at lunchtime.

So, everything at Native Tongues was good except for the Pork Belly Pibil. But we’d still come back because it offers something really special. They could’ve done a shameless, heartless simulation of Mexican cuisine, but instead they really strove for some measure of quality and authenticity. Despite La Taqueria and Tacofino’s multiple locations, Vancouver still isn’t doing anything quite like this. Calgary continues to surprise me. If they get their seasoning down, it’ll be amazing.

Native Tongues Taqueria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Pigeonhole

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Pigeonhole is like the twin sister of  Model Milk, who instead of being into farmhouse sophistication, is into thrift store vintage and Parisian romanticism.

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Small craft beer list. Nothing too wild or challenging. The food menu (which you can read online here) follows that trend of simply listing ingredients with minimal puffery. I think it reads really well and makes me want to go back and try everything.

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Like Model Milk, the kitchen at Pigeonhole is in full view. The restaurant is very dark, very loud, very cozy, and very busy. Despite the busyness, we still had great service. The server took the time to unhurriedly explain everything we needed to know about the menu. When asked about her ethnic background, she jokingly said she was a “mutt”. She, like the food here, represents the new reality of multicultural Canada. And we ate dinner while listening to LCD Soundsystem and J. Dilla, which is totally cool and makes sense at the same time.

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If you look at the crown printed on their glasses…

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…and their dishware, it totally makes sense that Pigeonhole would also offer traditional Russian Caviar Service ($80 for 12g, $170 for 30g). Looks like luxury is being brought back and recontextualized, minus the snooty elitism.

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I saw this when we walked in, but just couldn’t fit it in this night: the cheese bar ($25 for 3 cheeses, $35 for 5). Mouthwatering and odiferous cheese on display right in front of your face when you sit at the counter. They even had Monk’s Head (Tête de Moine)! Sigh…next time!

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Central City ISA (4%). Went well with our first couple lighter dishes.

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Steamed Kale with Bagna Càuda and Sourdough Bread Crumbs ($8). Remember the bagna càuda from charbar earlier in this post? This version at Pigeonhole is the more straightforward interpretation, where the caesar-esque dressing is served as the dip for steamed kale and radishes. They were kinda chintzy with the dip, which disappeared way too quickly, so we were left with plain-tasting steamed kale. The charbar version was much more punchy, bold, and plentiful. If they doubled the amount of dip, I’d be much happier with this dish.

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Nori Crumpets ($10) with shrimp butter. This is their definitive dish, combining disparate elements from a wide range of cultural palettes into a dish that is way beyond confused executions of “fusion” cuisine. You have crumpets (British) with toasted nori (Japanese) and sesame seeds mixed into the batter, served with “Shrimp Butter” that is made from dried shrimp (SE Asian) that’s been blitzed to a powder and combined with crème fraîche (French), cream cheese, and butter. The creaminess of the shrimp butter reminded Wicca of Laughing Cow cheese. I got the essence of shrimp and shrimp shells.

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The crumpets were soft, light, fluffy, and moist. Eaten with the butter and a squeeze of lemon, it was a new yet familiar taste. I can see why everyone raves about this dish. Subtle, complex, delicious.

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Lit by three candles borrowed from neighbouring tables.

Charred Cabbage with Young Mimolette and Jalapeno Salad Cream ($13). This is how you make vegetables exciting! Take a slab of cabbage and char it until the edges get black and aromatic, then top with cheese. Sounds simple but it really showcases the taste and aroma of cabbage.

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This was the first time I’ve had mimolette in a cooked dish. The cheese turned soft atop the warm cabbage, like a cheesy blanket. Cabbage was tender, and when combined with the cheese and salad cream, reminded me of perogies. The char didn’t taste burnt at all; it does wonderful things to the cabbage.

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Milk-Fed Veal Breast ($15) with umeboshi, mushrooms, black sesame seeds, and sesame oil. Too much sesame oil for me…overpowering. But everything else was fab. Tender, moist, fatty veal breast (same cut as pork belly, except it’s veal). Veal meat looks whiter than beef…you could mistake it for pork. Also has a sweeter flavour than typical beef. Mushrooms were cut super thin, which I loved. Umeboshi (Japanese pickled plum) is usually so tart and strong — if you eat Japanese rice balls (onigiri), they only put a smidge of umeboshi in it cuz it’s so strong. Here, it’s turned into a wonderful sauce that pulls back the insane sharpness of the ume, creating this deliciously balanced sauce that went great with the veal. A new taste combination for us.

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Pigeonhole are also bringing back books of matches! This feels so 70s and 80s to me. I think the younger generation of food bloggers would have NO IDEA what this was about.

The crowd was an interesting mix of people who probably heard all the buzz about how this place was named Canada’s Best New Restaurant of 2015 by Air Canada’s En Route in-flight magazine (why else would this place be full at 9pm on a Tuesday night?), as well as Globe & Mail’s Top New Restaurants in Alberta. I spied a couple ladies wearing oversized hockey jerseys and looking slightly uncomfortable…and a middle-aged couple where the wife thought their server said the most gut-bustingly hilarious things because her laughs got increasingly loud and piercing as the night wore on (laughs where all the heads turn in their direction)…and another couple whose evening started out badly with words of “ruin special night” came out even before their first dish, but seemed to make up later on…and beside us, a couple of dude-type guy friends trying to not look like they were on a date, which is really hard when you’re tall and the tables small and intimate and lit by a single candle.

We got four dishes during this visit, and while one dish was a misstep (Steamed Kale needed double the amount of bagna càuda), the other three impressed enough that we’d gladly come back. The flavours are restrained and admirably composed and balanced. Compared with Model Milk next door, you can see that they’re operating in different spheres, and aren’t stepping on each other’s toes.

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


Goro + Gun

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Goro + Gun doesn’t have the best ramen in Calgary (that would have to go to Shiki Menya), but they had this special yuzu witbier and yuzu mazemen pairing that seemed promising. Too bad they ran out of the yuzu beer!! Quite the disappointment. Even though the beer is brewed in collaboration with Big Rock (which I’m not a fan of), with Chef Tomo at the helm, I thought at least something fruitful (lol) would come of it. Ah well.

They were totally slammed at lunch. I wondered if their dinner service is busier nowadays than last time we were here. The chef mentioned to us at the time that dinner service was a challenge because downtown Calgary empties out after 5pm.

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Since they were out of the Yuzu Witbier, I passed on drinking, but Ricardo got a Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale (7%).

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Miso Ramen ($14). Yes, ramen is more expensive in Calgary. In Vancouver, a comparable bowl would be anywhere from $8-12. This one was a “meh”. Broth was watery. When that happens, it’s tough to save the bowl.

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The smoked egg seemed less smoked than last time we had it, thus had less impact. The chashu was very good though, fatty and tender.

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Yuzu Mazemen ($16?). Now this was something special and quite good. We could really taste the slightly bitter yuzu sweetness in the sauce. There was a bit of heat from the chili oil.

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The sous vide onsen tamago was oozy, and the meaty and fatty chashu was tender and delicious. The noodles did the job. As a whole, it was an enjoyable bowl where I saw hints of Chef Tomo’s greatness. He just needs to bring up the quality in the rest of the menu.

Goro + Gun Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Ox and Angela

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Sigh, Ox and Angela…the Spanish tapas place on 17th Ave that I’d been wanting to try for years. We finally made it on a Wednesday night, and it was our most expensive meal and our most disappointing.

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I’d been following them on Instagram for ages. Everything looked delicious and I got a really warm, friendly, authentic vibe from the account. Funny how a restaurant’s Instagram persona can be really different once you visit the actual restaurant.

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The restaurant was only three-quarters full that night (at times only half), but the service was hurried, terse, tense, unfriendly, and certainly not evocative of the “easy, good food of Spain”. We could sense frustration and anger just beneath the surface, especially with the woman who brought us our plate of jamón. I’ve never seen staff turn and leave so quickly after an exchange before. This was a stark contrast to the calm, patient, knowledgeable service we got in a packed room at Pigeonhole just the night before. Being a server is perfect training for wannabe actors because if they can act patient and genuine, like you’re a real guest, and without it coming off as fake, you’ve already made the food taste better.

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I love cured meats but I’ve never had real Spanish jamón before. I ordered the Trió of Spanish jamónes for $28 that comes with all three of their hams on offer.

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I’ve heard about this “high quality” canned seafood from Spain. There’s even a restaurant in London that only serves canned seafood. The server showed his lack of knowledge and don’t-give-a-toss attitude by telling us next-to-nothing about any of these canned seafoods. If I’m willing to drop up to $36 on a single can of clams in olive oil, you better at least try to sell me on it. I was curious about the Stuffed Squid in its own ink ($18) but he might as well have been trying to sell me on 20 shades of donkey manure for all the effort he put into telling me the difference between the squid and the octopus. I went with the basic Octupus in Olive Oil for $18.

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I’ve seen pictures of Ox and Angela’s paella on Instagram and it looks wonderful. I’ve never had a good paella before, so we took the plunge. It takes 35 minutes to prepare, and costs a dollar for each minute it takes to make it.

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Dinner started off great: Fried Artichokes with quince allioli (Spanish/Catalan for aioli) and lemon ($11). The deep frying was crispy/crunchy, seasoning perfect, aioli a bit sweet but balanced out with the pickled artichokes nicely.

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Pan de Masa Madre or Fresh Sourdough Bread, made in-house and served with whipped butter and “urban honey” ($5). Wicca liked the sweet honey butter but I had major problems with the bread itself. The crumb was too dense and it was served stone cold. A real downer when compared to the beautiful bread served at Model Milk and charbar.

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Conservas de Cambados brand Octopus in olive oil ($18), served with similar-tasting stone cold bread as above. Truthfully, this didn’t taste that much better than a typical imported tins of Portuguese octopus I can get at Killarney Market that cost $2.99. I was maybe expecting it to taste like cooked fresh octopus, but only fresh octopus tastes like fresh octopus. This tasted like canned octopus. Good canned octopus, but canned nonetheless.

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They even keep the label to drive home the point that this is a special thing. But serving it with distasteful bread is really jarring and disappointing. You couldn’t even grill the bread a bit?

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Trio of Spanish Jamónes (45 grams for $28). My first time having real Spanish #ham. L-R: Iberico Fermin brand (cured 24 months), Trevélez IGP (23 months), and Serrano Gran Reserva (18 months). The deep, funky, fermented quality was a first for me. I registered some of it as a slightly bitter, burnt plastic/rubber quality. A bit weird but quite enjoyable for me, especially how the fat liquefies on your tongue. All the hams were less salty than I thought they’d be. My favourite was the one in the middle, the 23 month Trevélez Juviles, because of its unique firm yet yielding texture when you chew it. In the long finish, it tasted like I had just eaten a nutty, hard, aged cheese. Addictive and heavenly. I even overlooked the hair on one of the slices.

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Valencian Style Paella ($36). Contains chicken, chorizo, prawns, summer peas, and saffron. It took 35 minutes to cook. Although individual elements were good (crispy skin on the moist chicken, sweet spot-on peas, flavourful chorizo), somehow it didn’t come together.

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The paella was a bit better with the charred lemon that accompanies it, but something was lacking.

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I was expecting more crispy rice parts, but some of it was simply burnt and bitter. Anyone had the paella here? Any thoughts about paella in general? It’s impossible to find good paella in Vancouver, so I have no real baseline to compare. I just approached it like, “Does this taste good? Do I want to keep on eating?” I’d have to say no. I wouldn’t order this again.

With the final bill coming to $103 for two people (before tax and tip, and no drinks), this entire meal was a bit of an “ouch” moment. I’m not one to harp on cost when the flavour, value, and experience is there, but we had much better value and better meals at all the other places we visited during this entire trip, including Ox & Angela’s sister restaurant Native Tongues…

Ox & Angela Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Sidewalk Citizen (and tears for the single slice of discarded bread)

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For our last full day in Calgary, we checked out Sidewalk Citizen Bakery in East Village for lunch. I was infatuated with their bread since eating at charbar (located on the left side of the same building) so I had to have another taste, straight from the source!

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I had a few recommendations to try their Shakshuka, which is a spicy tomato and pepper stew with poached eggs on top.

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I’m a sucker for labneh so I got the labneh. Remember when I made a labneh sign for my 2014 Christmas party?

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Christmas 2014: I got mint labneh from Jamjar on Commercial Drive and made a little sign so people know what it was.

 

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I didn’t buy any, but these Cheese Sticks (croissant pastry with aged cheddar, sesame, and nigella seeds) looked great.

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Those wonderful loaves.

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Shakshuka ($12.75) with sour cream and housemade pita bread.

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Oh lord, that fresh-baked thick pita bread is a wonderful contrast of airy crumb and light crust.

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Poached egg on-point, smothered with a big dollop of sour cream and surrounded by a moat of savoury tomato. I must find someone that does this dish in Vancouver.

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Labneh ($6.90) with olives, cucumber, tomatoes, olive oil, and za’atar. Simple, fresh, healthy, perfect.

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Sidewalk Citizen’s bread really is a slice of heaven. Perfect execution of soft, flavourful crumb and robust crust. The aroma and flavour of their sourdough starter is quite special, and I’ve never encountered quite the same flavour from any bakeries in Vancouver. In the same way that Nelson the Seagull’s sourdough bread has a special, distinctive flavour, Sidewalk Citizen’s sourdough is similarly special and distinctive, and is something to be treasured. One bite is all it takes to notice the depth of flavour. Textures and aroma combining to create a magical whole.

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The labneh was thick and pure-tasting. Combined with the za’atar spice and olive oil, it’s really simplicity itself that doesn’t need anything else.

I want to come back and try all of their “Spread & Bread” dishes, Charred Avocado, Chopped Chicken Liver, Hummus…or spring for their Mezze Plate which includes everything. Sigh. Why do people want what they can’t have?

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The quote on their little bags show that these guys really live and feel the story of bread deeply.

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This was a sad, sad sight. Moments after I savoured that one slice of sourdough bread, I saw an entire untouched slice in the dish tray. Wicca commented that it seemed like “Calgary’s moneyed people” ate here, and then to see this sight, really kinda pissed me off. I was not raised to discard food. Every grain of rice was precious. And now, to see an entire slice of awesome bread to be tossed away…ugh… It’s written on the frickin’ bag!

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Glad to see this building preserved and being put to good use. I hope the surrounding community grows and helps sustain the businesses within for a long time.

Sidewalk Citizen Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Yellow Door Bistro

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Ok, this last bit is not so much a review and it is just a record and an observation of the New Year’s Day brunch ($24 per person) at Yellow Door Bistro at Hotel Arts.

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Clean and tasteful room. Service was exceptional, even with little kids running around. So, what does their buffet line look like?

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Croissant & Danish Pudding with Strawberry Compote.

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Smoked Bacon and Breakfast Sausage.

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Smoked & Candied Salmon with Prawns Frittata.

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Oregano Spiced Scrambled Eggs. To my eyes, not the most appealing dish.

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Meats ‘n cheese station.

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Pastries.

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Their Feature Salad.

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Hashbrowns with Caramelized Onion, Fresh Herbs and Spices.

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Eggs Benedict with back bacon and hollandaise.

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Savoury Brioche French Toast with an Egg Nog Glaze.

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Cool little tea-based cocktail of the day, with peach, Earl Grey, and cumin. Never had cumin in a drink before, but it worked so well!

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Wicca’s selection.

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My selection. Those scrambled eggs tasted fine.

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I made my own smoked salmon eggs benny.

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Wicca’s second round with oatmeal the she topped with stuff from their selection of “nuts, seeds and sundried fruits”.

Great service, food was good but not particularly amazing or exciting. We felt that there should’ve been one more special dish on offer considering the price. But they let us linger for a long time to chat and socialize, so they do know how to take care of a customer.

Yellow Door Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


That’s it! I’m tired! This post took more than a month to write 🙁

In a nutshell, I’d revisit Model Milk, Pigeonhole, and Sidewalk Citizen in a heartbeat! Strong second-place contenders would be charbar and Native Tongues. The list for our next Calgary trip is already filling up!

4 thoughts on “Hot Chicken in Cold Calgary – December 2015”

  1. I’m biased, but this is my favourite post of yours each year. Always so many of my must get-to/visit dining spots in yyc show up here. A couple suggestions for your 2016 visits – Cluck ‘N Cleaver (Opening Mar. 2016 – Gomes sisters take on fried chicken), Olive Chicken (YumYum rival; if YumYum is the Corelones Olive is the Barzinis), Whitehall (British cuisine that people can’t shut up about), Notable (folks call it “no table” for a reason, but we’ve ate at the bar before and snuggled to the lovely aroma therapy wafting over from the rotisserie). As always, thanks for showing Calgarians where and what to eat in their city! Slainte! – Andy

  2. Great post Dennis! Appreciate that you captured so many thoughts and honesty in a concise manner. Being from Vancouver but having lived in Calgary for 13 years, it’s always difficult to hear assumptions from my Vancouverite friends who still think of Calgary as a redneck town with nothing to do. However I think you captured the progress and innovation within this city beautifully. There’s still a lot of room to grow and more cuisines to diversify into but the caliber of chefs and willingness to collaborate within this city make it such an exciting place to be right now. Thanks for the awesome read.

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