Belgo in Calgary
Can't speak for the food (yet) but the ambience is just spectacular- you'll see where the millions of dollars went when you see the transformation of this space from the old Big and Tall store into what it is now. They had to build the mezzanine from the ground up- it's one of the most amazing transformations I've ever seen.
And it's 100% nonsmoking, a plus considering it's a Vickers project and it has something of a pub feel- an incredibly upscale one but still. Lots of Belgian beer on tap there too.
where is it? north western corner of penny lane. kind of a take, i'm told, of a restaurant by the same name in london (http://www.belgo-restaurants.com/ ). belgian/french inspired, with focus on beer and dining, rather than wine and dining.
I'll admit the room looks pretty impressive, but leaves a bit to be desired acoustically. we had dinner there two weeks ago on a friday, and though we were in a sheltered back corner, it was very loud. Also, it might be non smoking, but we had to walk through a gauntlet of idiot smokers standing right outside the front door just to get in the place.
overall, i'd have to say i was underwelmed by the whole experience. the food was competent, though not great and the service left much to be desired. This despite shipping in a bunch of reinforcements from quebec (http://www.choiradiox.com/page-gilles-parent.php?id=194 ).
I arrived a little behind my three companions, and it took quite a while for the server to catch up and get me my drink order. this would be running theme. the beer list is quite good however, probably the best thing about the place -- all sorts of small european producers, prize winning canadian brews (maudite, blanche de chambly, etc.) as well as all the usual suspects.
our beers arrived and we dug in, and a little later, so did our bread. there wasn't any cutlery on the table, so none of us dug in right away, unable to get at the butter. our appetizers arrived shortly after, but we still had no cutlery. i think we probably waited 5minutes for someone to finally bring us some cutlery, so we could start in on the food. minor detail maybe, but if i'm spending ~15 bucks on appetizers, and $30+ on mains, i expect a little more out of the servers... like, um, cutlery. when i need it.
warm spinach salad with bacon was good, although i don't remember the specifics. moules frites with a thai-ish coconut curry sauce was also good, though the fries were a little over seasoned with a flavoured seasoning salt and tasted a little too fast-food, and not quite potato enough, if that makes any sense.
mains followed, i had a bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin (slice) with cassoulet. the pork was very nice and tender, though i thought the bacon wrap could've been a touch crisper. the cassoulet was terrible, done with a cream sauce rather than the typical tomato, and the beans were far from being cooked through. Jojo's in marda loop does it much much better. i had a taste of a friend's ahi tuna dish, and she and i thought it was quite good, although another at our table was irritated by one of the spices in the crust.
for desert, our server recommended the creme brulee by saying that she usually hates creme brulee, but this one is done differently and she loves it!; which, as a fan of creme brulee, is a good way to make me think of something else. chose a berry charlotte, which was good. a friend had the creme brulee, which is oddly served on a small disc of sponge, like a small pastry rather than in a ramekin.
dinner for four (3 apps, 4 mains, 2 desserts, 6 beers) came to $260 with tax.
As i've mentioned, i wasn't too impressed with the service, with our server being inattentive and seldom seen (though pleasant), and the food, given the price, was not up to standard.
Overall, i find this restaurant typical of calgary (and Vickers) where too much emphasis is placed on the "Dining Experience" -- the fancy room, the buzz of a new spot, the restaurant 'concept' -- with too little attention on the small (and not so small) details which make an evening enjoyable.
Marco, your complaints about the place sound like my complaints about Tribune (though the service at Trib were great, the food was more a matter of "it's so delightfully expen- I mean, delicious!"
It's always a pleasure to find a place where the money is on the plate, and I agree, at the higher end, this is a real problem in Calgary.
re: John Manzo
I can understand about the tribune, but I'd rather eat there than belgo! mind you, last time i was at the tribune, i was seated in the basement, which i think has a nicer atmosphere than upstairs; a little cozier. also, it was xmas and my office picked up the bill, so i wasn't as concerned with the price of things. but i do recall looking over to my neighbour's chateaubriand steak and thinking if i had to pay $38 ( x 2) for those three little slices of steak (and only 2 on the lady's plate!) and a couple of spears of asparagus, i'd be pretty mad. they did look oh so good, though. Another's t-bone steak seemed a better value.
Also they tried to rip us off/upsell with the mineral water, and i've noticed this at several Calgary restaurants (some friends incurred a $40 water bill at rouge not long ago). Ask for water, and the server offers still or mineral. choose mineral and the fill up your glasses with mineral. and continue liberally keeping them filled throughout your meal $5-10 per bottle of mineral water. This cost is never mentioned, of course.
Marco, thanks for the "warning" on the mineral water scam.
Actually I should not say "scam" because both my wife and I prefer sparkling water with our meals so are "easy marks" in that regard.
However, we ask for it by the bottle and anticipate being charged.
The constantly refilled glass and then getting charged is similar to being asked if one wants another roll or more bread and then being surcharged. It is these "little things" that certainly can torgue one off especially if prices are as high as you have mentioned at the Tribune.
The food writer Jeffrey Steingarten has a terrific article in one of his books about the "mineral water" issue and how it can be an amazing "revenue booster" for restaurants....and I thought the profit margins on bottles of wine were large...
re: Bob Mac
Hi all. I agree with everyone re pouring stuff, but I'd like to add the wine service as well.
My personal pet peeve in Calgary restaurants is that they are forever filling half full glasses.
Norman Douglas, a grand consumer of wine, used to chastise servers (at least according to Elizabeth David): How will I know how much I've drunk?
I recently dined at the Belgo as well. I think it has been up and running for about six months now. I usually don't like to check out new restaurants until they have had time to work out the kinks.
I arrived prior to my dining companion and was a little annoyed with the hostess staff. There was a party in front of me who were "walk ins" and they could not be seated so while they decided where else they were going to try the three hostesses just stood there and completely ignored all the other guests who had reservations - i finally had to walk around this group and direct their attention from the walk in group to me. I find with a lot of Vicor's places his emphasis on staff is more geared towards looks as opposed to actual waitress/hostess experience.
Once seating - the waitress was pretty on the ball. Once my guest joined me and he ordered a bottle of wine. the wine arrived pretty slowly, as in we were ready to order by the time it showed up and i was done the glass i had ordered when i sat down. We had to actually show the waitress how to open a bottle of wine. Lame. I have to admit that the waitress was a bit slow, aka i needed a new glass and she actually never got around to getting it, but was able to give us each three sets of cutlery. And furthermore if you want to create a fine dining experience i wouldn't have all the waitress' dressed in the same corny uniform - that to me does not say "fine dining" it says sit down fast food aka moxies or mcdonalds.
When our meal did arrive my croque mousier - which i had been really ampted to try was cold. However my plate was at burning temperature. I then received another once i complained about it being cold and the second one which i received promptly was cold also. the day manager then came off to diffuse the situation and after quite a lengthy conversation regarding what i thought was wrong and right about the rest. he presented me with a gift certificate, with the understanding that when i use it i would have to try the food again and not just the wine (i mean you can't screw up wine).
My over all take was just this - if your using a corporate expense account go for it. My companions meal looked pretty good and he said it was good (the lamb/brie number), although we both agreed the fries where a bit fast foody. However if i was to have to put out my own cash on a weekend or evening, no way. I have had some drinks only in the lounge before on a weekday and despite it being totally dead i was happy with that. The night manager actually took the time to show me around the restaurant. However the waitress at lunch tried to give me the old we're totally slammed for things are a little behind today. I think if you are capable of seating 300 hundred people you better make sure your able to serve 300 people with the best service possible. I guess what I’m saying is that for fine dining and wine, escoba or divino's is are way better places to hit up.
This has been the experience of every other person i know who has gone to Belgo (including myself). I too have a gift certificate and a manager's apology, and this was from March.
On this board anyway, my guess is they are running out of chances. It'll be tough to fill a 300 seater with so many bad experiences.
It's unfortunate, as the London Belgo of the same name (ripped off) is an infinitely superior establishment.