Monthly Archives: August 2011
A Charcut above the rest?- Charcut Calgary
Recently we had a friend, Shana, come to visit us and Canada for the first time. Being ever self conscious hosers, we wondered how on earth we were going to plan activities and meals that would not disappoint a native New Yorker who has a world of top shelf options on her doorstep.
I got it! We’ll battle top shelf with Top Chef! (Canada).
So after a beautiful overnighter in Banff, and a spectacular trio of pizza’s at The Bear Street Tavern, we set off to Calgary.
The rumours are all true, Charcut is indeed f’ing great. Top Chef Canada 3rd place finisher Connie DeSouza was on holidays, but her partner chef John Jackson was kicking enough ass in the kitchen for 2.
We arrived on a rainy monday for lunch and upon being seated, we began to let go of the stress of parking in downtown Calgary at noon.
We started with Slow Roasted Heirloom Beets, House-made soft goats cheese, mint, and basil. Three thumbs up from our table of 3. Nice tender beets, and fantastic house made goat cheese. Great start.
Shana ordered the Rotisserie Chicken Salad Sandwich, with pancetta, arugula, and DeSousa family piri piri aioli. Another 3 thumbs up around the table. Creamy, tasty, and paired perfectly with house made foccocia bread.
My wife Robyn went for the house cured ham and cheese sandwich, on the same fantastic fococcia bread. How can a simple ham and cheese sandwich be the most delicious thing at the table? Seriously, Robyn has been talking about it for over a week since we left. I guess you’ll have to go to Charcut yourself and find out.
The lunch special also came with an organic turkey and barley soup. Since Robyn is not a barley fan, I played good samaritan and helped her out by eating it. Seasoned perfectly, it was a nice light compliment to the heavier components of the lunch. I’m pretty sure I’m due the Order of Canada for helping her with that one.
I went for the Country Sausage with slow cooked Broxburn Farm’s peppers and caramelized onions. It was a good sized portion of nicely spiced sausage, served atop a warm roll (which I found a bit strange and un-needed). As with all of our dishes, mine was served with the most amazing parmesan french fries. The very thinly shaved fresh parmesan was a perfectly salty, rich addition to the perfectly cooked fries.
I was really impressed with the start of our meal and tweeted about it from the table (follow me @baconhound). Chef John saw my tweet and decided to be an all around fantastic guy and send a complimentary Pork Rillttes with crostini and arugula.
I had never eaten a Rillettes before, but I knew it was kind of like a chunky pork pate, served cold. I was a little skeptical of the texture and temperature, but in the end we were all really impressed with the flavour, and savagely emptied the jar of creamy pork-y-ness onto the crostini’s. It was one of my favourite things at the table.
I did get the chance before we left to wander over to the kitchen and introduce myself to John. Seems like a pretty good guy. We chatted mostly about their new Alley Burger Truck, and how overwhelmingly popular it’s proved to be in their first couple weeks. I suggested that we may be packing a couple cars full of hungry Edmontonians and coming down to sample Calgary’s bevy of new food trucks one weekend soon.
Of course we couldn’t visit Charcut without getting a bag of warm cookies to go, after our post-gorging/ pre-heading out into the miserable rain, coffee. The chocolate chip cookies were to die for. What is it about warm chocolate chip cookies that turns normal, law abiding people into savage, cookie- thieving monsters?
Often hyped restaurants fail to live up to the expectations, so the fact Charcut managed to over-deliver on our expectations is very impressive. Especially considering we didn’t even get to sample anything from the Rotisserie. Heck, even our New Yorker was impressed.
I can’t wait to return and try out the dinner menu.
The Sugar Bowl- This little lamb
I must have staggered past the Sugar Bowl a thousand times in my youthful drinking days and never ventured inside. From the outside, it always seemed like some wicker-laden hangout full of granola munching hippies.
But with age and (mostly) soberness comes a (hopefully) greater tolerance for people and things that are different than you’re used to.
Hence, I finally managed to both:
A- find a place to park, and
B- get inside for dinner.
The room is quite lively; and yes that does mean loud. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it just means large groups will have a hard time hearing conversations at the other end of the table- sometimes a good thing. In our particular case it was a negative as by all accounts the conversation was stimulatiing… I just couldn’t hear it.
The first thing that struck me upon sitting down is the ingenious marketing method by which you can taste all the dinner items before you order by licking the little bits of each that are stuck all over the menu’s. It’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine, but certainly not a deal breaker.
Our server was very personable, and attentive enough. She dutifully steered me away from a beer I would not have enjoyed, and made chit chat that did not seem forced and awkward. What else can you ask?
First item to the table was the “grilled” corn bread. The cornbread was tasty enough, with some chunks of corn for texture instead of all pureed corn. I appreciate that. It wasn’t too dry or crumbly, which I hate about some cornbreads.
However, history’s greatest detectives, such as Sherlock Holmes… or Scoobie Doo, couldn’t identify a grill mark on that cornbread. I think another 5 minutes on the grill would have taken it from good to great.
A dining companion ordered the steamed mussels, and by all accounts they were ok. Myself, I wouldn’t touch mussels with a ten foot breadstick, so it would be unfair of me to write about them… lets move on.
My wife had the Jerk Chicken Sandwich. She found it had a bit of a bite, and was topped sparsely with avocado, garlic mayo, caramelized onions and pickle. Having had the fantastic Jerk Chicken sandwich at Drift food truck a couple days before certainly gave us a comparison starting point, and The Sugar Bowl’s Jerk came in a distant second.
From Jerk, we move on to the real star of the evening (aside from the company)… the Lamb burger w/ goat cheese.
This sucker was ridiculously juicy without having to be undercooked to achieve it. When you bite into it, the juices start flowing; the burgers and yours. It’s got a ton of great flavour, and while one crazy person at our table suggested that the sheer amount of goat cheese is very close to overpowering the lamb (did I mention you’re nutty, Liv?). I must respectfully and vehemently oppose any and all such craziness. A 60-40 ratio of meat to cheese is perfectly ok in my books.
The Sugar Bowl also has an exemplary selection of interesting beers including some local favourites. Check it out sometime, and grab yourself a fantastic Lamb Burger with some extra napkins… you won’t be sorry.
Be sure to check out a couple of my dinner companions, Carmen and Liv, and their take on the evening.
I dropped by Nomiya and picked up a little something to take out for lunch recently.
Having never had authentic Ramen noodles, I was excited to try them. I was chapped to find out that Nomiya will not make up an order to go. Am I missing something here? Why couldn’t you do it to go? It’s essentially noodles and broth, no?
Whatever. I guess I’ll take the teriyaki chicken rice bowl then.
Now, I must tell you that I often stop at Banzai for quick work lunches, so I would be judging this in comparison to my usual spicy chicken or sesame beef bowls.
The chicken was glazed in teriyaki sauce, and set upon a bed of plain white rice. A piece of broccoli garnished the bowl.
The chicken was just ok. Alright, maybe it was even a bit blah. And by blah, I mean boring.
Picture a fancy cocktail reception. You look to the entrance to see your date entering the room. The whole room focuses on this stunning, eye catching beauty in her slinky fire red dress. All eyes are on her, and all the men are envious of your good fortune that she is with you. Everything is perfect. This is what I wish this chicken had been.
Instead, this chicken was the plain looking girl with a pony tail and large round glasses… dressed in an oversized beige cardigan and penny loafers. Not entirely undesirable,but lacking the looks and personality to warrant a second date.
It really had no memorable qualities to it. Nothing to make me want it again. The chicken was not crispy; more like spongy. Also, there was not enough sauce on the chicken to flavour the rice at all, so some soya sauce is needed for sure.
In the end I just don’t think it’s as good as Banzai. Plus it’s quite a bit more expensive at $10.99. (Banzai’s rice bowls are $6.95.)
I would like to return to try the authentic ramen noodles, but likely won’t be back for take- out.
After months of hearing about La Poutine, I finally decided to check it out for myself.
Eating poutine other places in Edmonton has made me a little skeptical of how good this was going to be.
Was I going to encounter the same problems I find every other time I eat poutine? Terrible fries and bland powdered gravy, sprinkled with mere traces of cheese, often not even curds. Not good.
And seriously, you’re not making gravy from scratch? C’mon, how hard is it?
La Poutine has 15 different types of poutine and you can choose either of the 2 gravies; traditional vegan Quebec-style, or western beef. With concoctions of toppings such as chili, pizza (pepperoni and mushrooms), and BBQ chicken, I’m sure there would be something for almost anyone.
With a handle like Baconhound, you would assume I’d go with the Canadian, which is fries, cheese curds, and traditional gravy… of course topped with bacon.
And you’d be right.
Having read some prior reviews, there seemed to be a common theme when they first opened. The serving container is taller than it is wide, so there is really only topping on the top few fries. And not enough gravy.
While mine had bacon placed on top only, there was enough that some trickled down to the lower layers. And the quantity of gravy was quite large. The gravy was plentiful enough that there was actually a small pool at the bottom of the cup. And the fries were pretty good. these are fresh cut, and would be good all on their own. Those are definite positives.
I am on the fence about the cheese curds. I didn’t get any of the “squeakiness” that you should get from authentic curds, but I thought the texture was ok. But at $9.50 for a large order of what amounts to fries and gravy, is just ok good enough? And shouldn’t there be enough on there that I don’t have to ration them?
On the downside, the Quebecois gravy tasted to me like a packaged offering. It wasn’t terrible, but not great either. I wasn’t a big fan. I went with it in order to try the “traditional” version, but in hindsight I would have likely prefered the beef gravy. Then again, if that’s not homemade either…
The bacon reminded me of the weird textured bacon-like product that is commonly used by pizza chains. The taste was ok, but why wouldn’t you just cook real bacon and crumble it on top? I’m thinking if you’re specializing in one product, why wouldn’t you make everything you can from fresh?
I like the concept, and it has potential if they start making more things in house, but for now it’s only slightly better than fast food versions in my opinion.