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Jun 21, 2005 03:33 PM

San Remo - Suburban Italian in Calgary

  • g

I've been with the family twice now to this strip mall italian restaurant. They are just off 90th avenue, south of Glenmore Reservoir. It's not my neighbourhood, but I spent my summers at the sailing school, and some of my first underage pints were at the chinese restaurant and the Point and Feather.

Nostalgia aside, the first impression is a bit underwhelming. Standard storefront doors, with a squeezed foyer and split dining rooms. Like suburban churches, suburban restaurants suffer from poorly applied Rona painting techniques, plastic ivy and no paintings.

The heart of this restaurant is in its menu. A two page monster which must have every permutation of risotto and pasta that the kitchen could create listed as an item. Typically this would sour me to no end, but at the heart of it lies a few basic structures. I think that the dining demographic for San Remo is rather unlikely to ask for something not on the menu.

They have an appetizer deal which is basically 3 for the price of 2.5 (21 dollars for three choices from about a dozen). It's nicely presented in a long rectangular dish. I've had the coconut calamari, sambuca shrimp, crab cake polenta, roasted brie with maple syrup. It's all quite decent. The polenta is pretty smooth, with a good crust, though it lacks the crab punch a bit. The brie with maple syrup.. it's a massive block of cheese, covered in sugar, but definitely a crowd pleasing item.

For dinner I've tried a seafood risotto, lobster risotto and a veal with prosciutto with a demiglace. The seafood risotto was a feature, and definitely top ranks out of the entrees I've had. It was clearly put together with a seafood broth or stock and with risotto, it's the attention to details that elevates the flavours. The lobster risotto wasn't on pair with that, and suffered from large chunks of soggy celery hanging about. I'm not sure if that's a traditional Italian addition or not. The veal demiglace wasn't too bad from a flavour standpoint. As a demi though, it lacked shine and body, more of a stock reduction with Marsala.

Service is a mixed bag. I think the split dining room makes it difficult for the low amount of front house staff to take care of business. The "feed the slaves" bread and water should undoubtedly get slammed down sooner after ordering. The features need to get printed out, even as a single sheet per table. Both times I've eaten there, the waitress has had to perform teleprompter duty with her notepad to convey the features. Features which have, generally, sounded dynamite.

Dessert was reasonably priced at around 5 bucks. I've seen the tiramisu (overpowered by a fruit coulis on top) and the brulee (not terribly crusty, and served in a cheap rammy dish). I've found dessert downtown in Calgary to be an absolute bargain, so it makes it tough for places without a dedicated pastry chef.

All in all, San Remo is a bargain with decent, mostly legit Italian food. They need some clean up to achieve "hidden gem" status, but the food usually pulls it off anyways. Sure, the wine list might not kick azz, take names, but for 9 bucks, an appetizer risotto is a bargain dinner, especially south of 17th.

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  1. They have another location in Marda Loop, in the gateway condos across from Starbucks. I think you'd prefer the ambience at the new one.

    Hey Mike I'm in Toronto until July 15 and can say conclusively that the sushi in Calgary is better and cheaper than in TO.

    7 Replies
    1. re: John Manzo

      Garrison Woods? I'll have to get the unit to try it out. I wonder why two southwest locations? I love those Garrison Woods houses though - themepark nostalgia neighbourhoods rock.

      Nice to hear about the sushi.

      1. re: Gobstopper

        ...and gateway actually builds concrete. the first of their new midtown towers sold out in one day. Oops, this is sounding like!

        Good cheap-ish sushi on Queen St: Crispy Roll. Not as good as Uptown but more choice (Toronto sushi is all about these really complex rolls- lots of mayo, spicy mayo, wasabi mayo).

        1. re: John Manzo

          I lived in Calgary until 2002 and ate sushi there 3 or 4 times a I've lived in Toronto for 3 years and eat sushi at least 3 times a month...
          there are places in Toronto which serve sushi which is better than anything I found in Calgary, such as Hiro, Omi, Nami, but you have to pay for it. For extremely fresh fish at reasonable prices,try Ichiban Fish House on Spring Garden in North York (walking distance from Sheppard subway station) and Japango (walking distance from the Greyhound station or Eaton Centre)The cheap sushi places on Bloor St, Yonge St and Queen W are not a good indicator of the quality sushi that is available in TO. I was under the impression that Calgary loved their westernized mayo filled maki even more than Toronto-

          1. re: sunnyside

            Things have improved vastly in Calgary since 2002. Towa is better than anything in Toronto, and yes I've been to Hiro.

            Mayo filled maki is very popular in Japan. I didn't mean that as an insult to TO. In fact I am very impressed at how creative maki are here.

            My point is that sushi is still, for the most part, really expensive here.

            What Toronto is really lacking is decent gelato that you don't have to go across town for...

            1. re: John Manzo

              Some people really like Hollywood Gelato on Bayview south of Eglinton- which isn't too difficult to reach from the core. La Paloma is regarded as the best in Toronto, but it is fairly far west on St Clair. I find Sicilian Ice Cream on College too sweet.
              To tell you the truth, I haven't been overly impressed by any of the gelato I've had in Vancouver (even that place in the east end with the huge selection), Calgary (I tried a couple places last summer) or Toronto.

              1. re: sunnyside

                Points well taken... but ohhhhhhh my god I have discovered the best COOKIE I have ever tasted: the date and coconut cookies at the Lettieri at Queen and Spadina. It is only available at that location (I asked). It's got a texture that is like the world's best pie crust- I could live on these cookies...

                there is a sign advertising franchise opps- lettieri please come to calgary!

      2. re: John Manzo

        > Hey Mike I'm in Toronto until July 15 and can say
        > conclusively that the sushi in Calgary is better and
        > cheaper than in TO.

        As a Toronto ex-pat, I beg to differ!! While living there I ate sushi about 2x/week (I admit, I'm an addict) and New Generation Sushi on Bloor @ Brunswick is BY FAR some of the best in the whole city... and country (I'm personally comparing to Winnipeg, Calgary, Halifax, Banff and Montreal)!

        I've been to Tempo, I've been to Nami, yadda yadda... but the price/value/service/yummy ratio at NGS is SUPERIOR! Where did you eat in T.O.? Some other great spots include Sushi on Bloor, Sushi Inn, Yamoto... but really, the best of the best is NGS... it's the only restaraunt in the world that I wish was a chain ;-)

      3. I ate at San Remo on Jan 11 at Garrison Woods and it was.... ok. It's trying hard and is nicely priced. The decor is very ambient but lacks sophistication. The menu was classic (except for the paella options) and I had a fun time choosing my dinner (veal scallopini with fresh apricots off the specials). The main issue I have is that food is a bit institutional... like what you might have at a hotel not a bistro. The sauces and flavourings were not as subtly flavoured as I'd like. Scallops with a red pepper coulis was a bit overbearing for the delicacy of the scallops and they were very well cooked. My veal was tasty but nothing exceptional. The veggie sides were nicely prepared.

        The wine list was also fun.... and very moderately priced. We had a Primitivo (Mother Zin) that was very yummy. My husband had beef that was cooked to perfection for a medium rare order but I thought it's seasoning was a bit dull.

        The best beef I've had in Calgary so far is at Mercato. Beef here is soooooooooooooooooo good! Why would you eat sushi in a landlocked province????? That's like eating sushi in Nebraska. When it comes to sushi, bigger is not better. Fresh is better!!!!

        BTW, my favourite sushi joint in Toronto was Edoko in Forest Hill Village (Spadina Rd). The sushi there is $$$ but my god... it's like crack! Also liked Fune (100 Simcoe St).

        3 Replies
        1. re: juberzilla

          I just noticed a 'San Remo' restaurant opening soon in Mckenzie Towne. Despite the sub par comments on the other locations, these guys must be doing something right to be adding another location. Hopefully they can improve on the food.

          1. re: zooropa.cgy

            It's always busy in garrison woods - i wish it was better, since it's two blocks from home...we felt it was a bit expensive for what it was and yes, it's just OK. It's very safe which is probably why it's popular.

            1. re: pants

              We ate at the Garrison Woods location about two years ago and it would have to go down as one of the worst meals I have ever had in the city. We are talking Chef Boyardee here....every time I drive by I just say 'yuck!' It is unfortunate because we live close by and it would be nice to have good Italian nearby. Sigh....