Globe & Mail Reviews Calgary's Saint Germain, River Cafe and Capo
Today's [Saturday July 8]edition of the Globe and Mail includes a review from Joanne Kates of Saint Germain, River Cafe and Capo.
Saint Germain does not fare very well, "Saint Germain...is lionized locally as one of the city's top three restaurants. If that's the best they've got, then Cowtown might as well still be the land of steer'n'beers. Which it kind of still is.." ouch!!
Even complements concerning "good intentions and good ideas" like the commitment to local ingredients are dulled by the conclusion, "...the execution is rough and unsophisticated".
River Cafe does much better as well it should in IMHHO given the excellent meals I have experienced there, "This may be the best place east of the Rockies for summertime brunch...".
But Chef Di Gennaro's relatively new spot Capo gets something close to a rave review. The article's title is "Capo is the capper of Calgary" which sums up the thrust of her writing. Turns out she had many of the same courses that my wife and I had during our visit a month or so ago.
She too was impressed by his pasta. "The aroma of black truffle pesoto and porcini coulis on my taglierini should be enough to bring the strong men at the next table to their knees". Amen! It and the bolognese filled ravioli were outstanding!
I still haven't had the opportunity to try out Capo - though the River Cafe kitchen was in great spirits when we heard the review today. It felt great to get some props for brunch. I've made just about every weekend daytime flatbread in the last two and a half months, so it's nice to get an A grade. We had no idea that she had been through the restaurant. I guess I'm going to have to go to Capo soon.
The whole Style section is on Calgary ("Calgary Cool") and it is about freaking time.
I like Joanne Kates but it's typical of her arrogance that she proclaims Capo "Calgary's best restaurant" without even acknowledging that she's only sampled three. She only scratched the surface of the high end- she did review Teatro in 1998 (yes, one Calgary resto review in eight years during which she reviewed more than 400 in Toronto for Canada's "national" paper) but should have come back, did not see il Sogno, Muse, Catch, Belvedere, Raw Bar (which has received much better press than has Saint Germain), Brava, The Living Room...
Right now, incidentally, my favourite Calgary restaurant is Han's. Their chili chicken is to die for and the thing they do with cabbage- almost all by itself- it's incredible. They have an eggplant dish that is actually better than the time-stood-still one I used to get at Jing Peking in Toronto when I lived there....
Calgary doesn't lack in "true fine dining." Compare our high end to cities of a million or so (Edmonton, Ottawa, Louisville, SLC, Milwaukee) and the options here are more than respectable. I must again add that I moved here from Toronto in 2000 and it's not the "fine dining" at Scaramouche or North 44 that I miss- what I miss most, by FAR, is the incredible, tops-in-North-America number of West Indian, especially Trinidadian, places. That, and Gryfe's bagels. These are however compensated, sort of, by Calgary's similarly astonishing Vietnamese options and the fact that Calgary has much better sushi at much better prices.
As chowhounds we should never (IMHO) conflate "finest" with "best."
I think since John's arrival in Calgary things have gotten better and better. At the moment the biggest limitations on great fine dining is staff and supply - lots of money and vision here. The sad thing about Trinidadian is that it doesn't seem to be getting better. IMHO the worst thing about Calgary isn't ethnic eats or fine dining. It's the endless crap mid-range outer Calgary restaurants - Earls, Moxies, Redwater, Outback, Keg, Kelsey's, Boston Pizza. They occupy the +- 20 dollar entree range, they muck up the hiring practices, they make bullshit food, they also represent the lion's share of the dining dollar in the city.
I do have to give a shout out to Earl's for trying to improve. They hired Michael Noble after he left Catch to develop new and interesting dishes for their menu. I have not been to Earl's recently but plan to go in the next few weeks -- so I don't know if they've rolled out his new ideas.
Earls is about the bottom line and nothing else. They hired Michael Noble because they think they can make more money with him on the team. So yes they have changed for the better, but if the winds of trade change, so will they. They are bad for the market. Each Earls makes 2+ million, money which is being taken out of the real restaurant industry.
I can't eat at a place where the features are faxed in from head office, and the line cooks couldn't make a tasting menu if their lives depended on it. Not because of talent, but rather, the only things in their low-boys and the walk-in are pre portioned filets and squeeze bottles.
Restaurants like Earls make money by weighing sauce pans and portioning cheeze (not misspelled). Restaurants like River, Capo, Divino make money through the conscientious actions of a brigade of cooks that deal with changing seasons, changing menus and daily features that are a testimony to the best provisions around - rather then economic calculations and demographic studies. An Earl's menu will never challenge you the way a Divino flatbread challenged me over a decade ago to try things a new way.
I think it's pretentious to change the world of fine dining by applying fast food principles to the food you serve - Earls, Moxies and so forth. I understand why they are doing it, but I don't want to be a part of it.
By pretentious I mean that, while the food was good, the attitude that the restaurant gave was over-the-top and unjustified. I am all for fine-dinning, but I really thought Il Sogno went out of their way to look distinct with ridiculously high prices and wait staff that acted like they were the cats meow. I'd rather eat somewhere like Rouge or Divinos where they they take themselves seriously, but not too seriously. just my opinion tho. also, pasta is essentially cheap no matter what he puts in it.
I think Earls does a great job for a chain restaurant. I wouldnt even classify it with other chain restaurants as I dont think they use the 'shortcuts' the most do. It is what it is. I just think Foodies sometimes take themselves too seriously and fall for anything if its positioned the right way.
If you think all pasta is the same, then I think you are missing out on something. Pasta made in house, sauces made in house - higher standards, better ingredients equal higher cost.
However, if you have had a 20 dollar pasta course that tasted the same as freezer bag grocery pasta, then absolutely that is not up to par. It shouldn't take a cook's nose to tell the difference - it should become apparent to you.
The service at IL Sogno and the food aren't the same thing - I haven't heard great things about the service either. To say that the food becomes pretentious because the service is short circuits the real equation a bit.
I'm glad you feel Earls does a great job and that they don't take shortcuts. You're wrong, but right that Earls and Moxies are a step above say "Cheesecake Cafe" or "Kelseys".
Ouch. Ummm...no, I still think Moxies is sick. Pretentious is a dificult thing to describe I guess.
Obvs pasta can be way better when made fresh and cooked properly (and it is at Il Sogno), but its still just water and flour, right? so why the mucho $$$$$$. its the biggest margin for every restaurant.
Okay, and lassstly, I know earl's takes shortcuts, but I meant...like not prechopped vegetables arriving in boxes.
Anyways, its weird talking about both restaurants in the same post, feels so wrong.
I have to agree with misscheeks about the attutude quotient at Il Sogno..... the food was very good but NO food is worth the attutude.... The best restaurants I've eaten in were staffed by a friendly and knoledgeable waitstaff that went out of their way to make you feel comfortable ... not the case AT ALL at Il Sogno. Too bad too...because the food was good...if a bit pricey.
Earl's, Joey's (yes, same company I know!) Moxie's and Cactus Club have all elevated themselves a bit in the past decade. I can remember when Moxie's had that horrid Black/White Checkered floor and brass rails everywhere, and the most sophiticated item on the menu was Fajitas.
The above chains have realized that the masses have more money/smaller families than 10-20 years ago, and would like to spend it in an upscale, yet predictable restaurant. The 4 mentioned above (Open for debate as to which you like best) have now moved leaps and bounds ahead of places like Kelsey's, Montana's, Cheesecake Cafe and Chili's.
That having been said, I never suggest these places, but do get dragged to them for an enjoyable but predicatable experience. Kudos to Earl's/Joey's (especially Earl's Westhills) for putting together simple and affordable wine lists.
Never had that impression myself during our four or five visits to Il Sogno but I totally agree that no customer should put up with "attitude" and I certainly would not.
So long as I am paying the bill, "I am the boss"...[smile]...that having been said they do not need to put up with "attitude" from me either [grin.
I have not been back since Di Gennaro moved and given how much I enjoyed Capo expect that will be where I am heading when visiting Calgary and have a hankering for good Italian.
Agree with your sentiments about Earls'/Joeys. I go to the former more often that I probably should given I live out in suburbia and there are not many other options.
Have to confess that the wine list is one attraction. I can get Osoyoos-Larose a few dollars cheaper there than I can retail at any wine store.
Came across this old post and thought I'd comment. When Di Gennaro was at Il Sogno he was in charge of the kitchen only, his partner (who is now sole owner) was and is in charge of the front of house. The new chef's (over a year now) name escapes me, but he does have big shoes to fill. Haven't heard much about the place since Di Gennaro left. His new place Capo is devoid of partners and is fully run to his specifications, food "and" service.
Earl's is now junk. I actually think it's gotten worse since Noble took over. Their pizzas are soggy messes, their burger is god awful, their pastas are terrible, their sandwiches have too much bread and nothing else and their "steak" sandwich (which used to be very good) is a travesty.
I went their quite a bit while my wife was pregnant. I guess I was a glutton for punishment. She walked out angry every time we went there.