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Nov 15, 2007 10:20 PM

Weekly Wrapup - Calgary Rundown

Im heading out of town for the weekend, but wanted to give a quick rundown on some newer places i tried this past week. Im sorry i won't be able to write a lot on each place, but i figured a quick summary might be of some use to one or two of you.

Monday i went to Ruth's Chris with some good friends. They had opened up November 5th, so we decided to give them a week to get a few kinks ironed out, especially considering how quiet their opening was. Very soft. It's located on the second floor of the Calgary Tower, and difficulty in finding parking aside, it's really easy to find.

The best adjective i can use to describe my experience is....consistent. It tasted like all the other Ruth's Chris experiences i've had. They carry all USDA Prime beef, with the exception of a small gesture to Canadian Beef Producers with a Canada Prime Striploin. Prices are very high - everything is ala Carte and the steaks ran from 42 to 58 bucks for a regular steak (105 for the 40 ounce porterhouse for 2).

I had a bone in ribeye for 55 bucks. Running 22 oz. For those who've never had it, USDA Prime is corn-fed, and quite fatty and rich beef. There's a slight yellow tinge to the striations of fat, from the corn feed. I can't believe im actually typing these words, but i had difficulty finishing it. Even with a pre-entree salad to try and provide a solid, healthy "base layer" in my stomach, the grease was tough to handle. But it was a really tasty steak perfectly done - medium rare (please folks, i like bloody meat too, but don't order ribeye rare. It doesnt get warm enough to melt the fat, and you just end up with big chunks of cold fat in the middle of your steak!!). I got mine without the finishing pat of butter, which i would recommend you do as well. It's just too rich on it's own already.

The side dishes are good for sharing, and at a healthy $8 for your typical side, it was neither outrageous, nor a great value. But they all follow the same stream. Fat, and lots of it. Mashed potatoes and BUTTER. Mushrooms cooked in BUTTER. Potatoes Au Gratin, soaking in a blue cheese and cream sauce, topped with a cheddar/something like asiago cheese mixture. Very tasty. Very very heavy.

Final verdict? Consistent :) It probably has the most flavourful steak in town. And also the priciest. The atmosphere is classic trendy steakhouse. Mahogany and Black. Glass. Dim lighting. Was it worth the money? I wouldnt go regularly. But occasionally, i crave a steak done well by someone else. And it's good. Just didnt have the value for me. The only annoy thing about the evening? Two things really. One is a wine list with up to 350% markup. Now im a socialist capitalist at heart, so i can appreciate a bottom line. But there is such a thing as ridiculous, and that wine list was ridiculous. Secondly was the annoying service. Which i chalk up to the place being new. But the server was pretentious, a little condescending, and a bit too "stuffy buddy buddy but not your buddy" kind of attitude. Needed to see less of him, hear less of him. Im guessing part of it is they are on orders to "explain Ruth's Chris" to everyone that walks through the door. I don't need the life story of Ruth. Just serve without sneering at me when i order tap water and not an $8 bottle of 1.49 San Pellegrino.

Tuesday was the day i was looking forward to the most, and ended up disappointing the most. A good foodie friend was back in town for work from Vancouver, and i miss him dearly. My wallet is a lot happier though :) Anyway, a group of us planned on meeting up after his meetings, so we wanted to check out someplace new, yet geographically close to his office. We decided on Mile One Tavern, which was sold to me as a gastropub, and lists on the website as a supper club. Here's the description...tell me this doesnt sound awesome:

"Found in the the heart of Calgary's trendy Designer District, this unequalled Urban Oasis proposes a sophisticated fusion of creative cuisine, worldly wines and cocktails backed by a hip soundtrack and an ambience of cool comfort. Striking the perfect balance of fine dining and opulent decor, Mile One gives new meaning to the term supper club. "

Now i don't know about you, but when i hear the term "gastropub", some big emotions start to well inside me. Im reminded of some of the fantastic meals i've had around the globe at these trendy booze and rock star cuisine establishments. Bistro'ey, yet creative and cutting edge, a great simple menu paired with good, unconventional drinks and libations. Man i could go for that.

Instead, i got a cavernous place, with decent finishings, and terrible food. This place used to be Alibi's, and other than the fancy trimmings, i don't find much has changed. Service was slow, inconsistent, and forgetful. Food was completely uninspired. Boring even. The orders from the table? Two burgers at 11 bucks each, 7oz steak sandwich for 14, and i had a Chicken Club for 12. Even though they tried to bill me $14, and werent able to correct it in the computer when i pointed out the error. The Chicken club was... dry. They used a lot of real bacon, which was easily the best part of it. The bread was dry. The chicken was...dry. At least the lettuce was dry. And they put ketchup and mayo on for me... which pisses me off, because i hate ketchup on a club.

The best comment of the night? As i strolled in late, i asked for suggestions.

Friend: "Get the yam fries. They're really good."
Me: "I don't like Yam fries".
Friend: "Oh...well....good luck then".

Expensive beverages, but they have the hockey game on. It was like an empty wildfire grill that couldnt decide if they were park place, or trailer park. I would give it a pass, unless you're having difficulty finding a place that has a table for pay per view.

To redeem this, we went to Brava for dessert. Good, well executed, if a bit uninspired desserts. Don't get me wrong, they're good. Just nothing original on the dessert menu. But great service, lovely ambiance, the only downfall was a slightly too bitter americano.

Wednesday i had basketball, so i, in my infinite wisdom, thought taco's and burritos would be a good idea pre-game. Oh yeah, my mommy is proud of my supergeniousness [sic]. I went to Mi Tierra Tu Tacqueria. It was fairly late, near closing likely, but unlike all the other raves on the board, i have to give it a "decidedly average...will wait and render an additional judgement later". Probation really.

I got two taco's, Cochinita, and Tinga de Res. At 3 dollars each, they were pricey, but huge. The double corn tortilla was correct. A bit too soggy, but decent. I saw the package they used, and they are the ones available at Boca Loca. The meat? They microwaved it. The flavours were actually quite good, and fairly authentic, but microwaved meat? I was pretty disappointed. And what made these taco's so huge? Rice. And loads of it. Now i've had a lot of taco's from a lot of mexican establishments, yet i've never seen rice, let alone 50% rice, gracing my taco.

The burrito? I was very very disappointed, but i realized post order that part of it was my fault. I ordered Burrito de Chile Verde, which i didnt realize came smothered in cheddar cheese. Which cheeses me off. Since that was no burrito. It tasted terrible. The taco's tasted good at least. This, not so much. I will try another burrito at some point, but hope for something more authentic.

When i asked about some of my favorite taco toppings, lengua, carnitas, carne asada, barbacoa, camaron, etc... they told me "we do one special on weekend. Come check then. We can't do that during the week, it's too much work." I understand, but not exactly what i want to hear from a food establishment. We don't make what you want because it's too much work. Take this stuff that doesnt take much time at all.

Maybe im being unnecessarily harsh, as it was 7:30, and the burrito order i was partially to blame. But i did not have the same glowing reviews that other people had. I thought Taco Cabana is better... and for those that have had it, they know that's drunk Texan food. Im willing to give their special a shot. If they can do a good carnitas, that would go a long way to pacifying me. In the meantime, a solid "don't rush there, it ain't worth it". Make your own mind up about it, but that's my opinion for now, until they change it.

Lastly, went to Tang Dynasty tonight for dinner. This used to be Emperor Seafood in the basement of the Chinese Cultural Center. Huge. And empty, with only 3 other tables. Food was ok. Pea shoots were a bit firm. Eggplant and Tofu hotpot was decent. Salt and Pepper (though in Chinese, it was written as 5 spice) pork chops were boney, not meaty. Other than the hotpot, which was pretty good, i'd give this place a pass.

Picked up my Vancouver friend and went to Jaro Blue for dessert. Nice space, very busy for a Thursday at 9:30pm. I ran into a bunch of people i knew from other restaurants, so it was nice to see them doing well. The menu for dessert was very very limited (3 options), and at $7, wasnt spectacular. But decent. Uninspired. But decent. And for being open until midnight on weekdays, it's not a bad place to hang out. Oh, got an illy Americano... and it was actually really good. I was surprised. Better than some of the illy product i've had in the past. We're going there for our next monthly supperClub, so i'll be excited to try a few of the other tapas dishes. Im concerned about the value, as prices for plates werent cheap (7/12/15 i believe), so i hope the quantity is there.

Anyway, im off to the Chuck tomorrow to cook some Calf Moose Offal with my good foodie friend, so no more reviews for a while. I wish everyone here would get the chance to try calf moose sometime, it really is amazingly delicious.

I've just exceeded my 30 minute limit i set for myself. Gotta run. Happy eating folks!

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  1. Interesting. Sounds like a good week nonetheless.

    We tried Catch Oyster Bar last night and saw a $50 wine for $280. I find people calculate percentage markup in many different ways. Is it what percentage 280 is of 50 or what percentage the markup is, ie. 230 to 50? Anyway, it seemed like a LOT.

    Maybe I should start a new thread but I only have a couple of comments about Catch. We were underwhelmed. We've had good meals in the past but I ordered fresh oysters and fish and chips then. This time the cauliflower bread pudding was compacted to cement like consistency. My oysters Rockefeller had a great hollandaise but only skimpy tiny oysters. For $19 and from a place with an oyster bar that is confusing at best. My salmon was good, the reduction was well done, tasty and just the right amount to enhance and not overwhelm the fish. The cauliflower and really strange cabbage just took away from the salmon. Guess I'll only go when I want fresh oysters.

    2 Replies
    1. re: sharonanne

      Holy cow!

      You make a good point, people do calculate markup differently. I've always calculated it as what percentage the restaurant price is divided by the actual price. So in this case, a 560% markup! Ridiculous.

      As for Catch, i made the same conclusion last year after yet another mediocre experience. Fresh oysters is the only reason for going. And even then, Embracadero does as good of a job, and i think they still have the daily oyster special, which makes it far more affordable than Catch.

      1. re: sharonanne


        That is a ridiculous mark up but in our heated up economy, I think restaurants are doing just about anything they want.

        That is too bad about Catch. I only went for dinner upstairs the once when Michael Noble was still there. In fact I hate to admit that we made a special trip down from the Jasper Park Lodge where we were celebrating our anniversary to "dine" [?] least the drive down the Icefields Parkway was beautiful.

        It was quite mediocre from almost start to finish except for a marvellous appetizer of tarte tatin topped with grilled sweetbreads and quail.

        Since then I occasionally pop in when I am down in Calgary for raw oysters as they usually have some east coast varieties to those of the west coast apart which apart from kummamotos, I prefer.

      2. Yen:

        Thank you for the good read.

        I have only been to the Ruth's Chris here in Edmonton the one time and that was just to the lounge for some vino and carpaccio.

        Although I know a lot of the people there from having met them at other restaurants, I cannot say that it tempted me and I have not been for dinner although I may head there for lunch if I can spare an afternoon and do not intend to come back to the office.

        You wrote in part:

        "Now i don't know about you, but when i hear the term "gastropub", some big emotions start to well inside me. Im reminded of some of the fantastic meals i've had around the globe at these trendy booze and rock star cuisine establishments. Bistro'ey, yet creative and cutting edge, a great simple menu paired with good, unconventional drinks and libations. Man i could go for that.".

        Yen your travels have obviously taken you to better spots than the "Gastropubs" I have been to within this country. Unfortunately for me the title "Gastropub" usually is synonymous with mediocre and over-priced fare.

        One very big exception to that...admittedly...generalization is/was the Wellington Gastropub in the Wellington Village of Ottawa which was/is outstanding.

        Enjoy the calf moose offal..........

        5 Replies
        1. re: Bob Mac


          In Edmonton, i'd rather go to Sage than RC. Higher Canadian content, better appetizers, sides, desserts. Healthier. Calgary doesnt have an option like that yet.

          As for gastropub, i guess we have had different experiences. I havent been to many here in Canada. But they are great places to hang out at when traveling - not uncomfortable for solo dining, as opposed to some/many fine dining restaurants.

          I can't believe you left JPL to drive down to Catch! Nice drive for sure, but that's just crazy :)

          1. re: yen


            "I can't believe you left JPL to drive down to Catch! Nice drive for sure, but that's just crazy :)"

            Mea culpa...guilty: sometimes I can be such a "stupid" foodie....never least not until the next time.

            In fact went to RC for lunch today. Ok, but not particularly good enough that I would head back anytime soon since it is all coming out of my "after tax dollars" rather than someone elses expense account.

            1. re: Bob Mac

              Yeah, the value isnt there. But if someone else was paying, i'd be happy to go. But if you want to take someone for the best steak in Calgary, it's where i would go - i do prefer it over 20-28 day AAA. Just not the price difference.

              It's just like saying i prefer Japanese Wagyu Beef over USDA/Canada Prime. Which is true. But would i pay the extra 300% premium? Not very often i wouldnt.But i still like it better :)

          2. re: Bob Mac


            I just read your post re: Wellingtons. Im headed to Ontario next week, and have 4 hours in Ottawa (a Sunday). Unable to partake in wine because i have to drive, would you recommend Beckta or Wellingtons?

            1. re: yen


              If it is a Sunday, I think you are likely "stuck" with Beckta.

              That "tongue in cheek" comment is only because I do not think that Wellington is open on Sundays whereas Beckta is for dinner.

              Both are very good. Beckta a tad more formal but that having been said I usually am pretty informal and try to obtain a perch up at their "butcher block-like" and chat with whomever is tending bar that evening.

              The owner Stephen is an excellent host and pleasant fellow particularly when he realizes that you are interested in food and wine. I think he used to be the sommelier at one of Boulud's [sp?] restaurants in NYC before returning to Ottawa.

              I quite enjoyed his house riesling which he blended in co-operation with the winemaker at Cave Springs, my favourite Canadian producer of this varietal in Jordon, ON. Of course, if you are not able to drink because of the driving, that does not really matter.

              It would be difficult to pick one over the other but during my last trip to Ontario in late August I did get to Wellington for one dinner and once again thoroughly enjoyed myself. I enjoyed its casual, neighbourhood feel but at the same time the food and drink was significantly better than one might have otherwise expected. Certainly not traditional pub fare.


          3. Rice in the tacos? Cheddar cheese in the burrito?!? Disgusting.

            I don't like corn-fed beef too much. I'll go to Ruth Chris's one day anyhow.

            1. If we're going to turn this into a dump on Catch thread, I'll pile on. My one and only experience with them was in August. If the food had been a couple of notches up in quality, I'd have only been underwhelmed. The service was about par for the current state of the economy (likewise, a couple of notches below underwhelming). All in all, I'd take my chances at a Joey's Only before I'd go back to Catch.

              Ruth Chris - been there, done that; don't get into corn fed beef, no get into butter on my steak, don't get into dark toney expense account steak houses.... I can pass on the local incarnation

              2 Replies
              1. re: tex_in_yyc

       i hear people in calgary not happy with catch? i have said it before and will say it again, that place is very very overrated. i am not trying to bash on the seafood scene in calgary...i hope with the boom that new places have opened since i left, but man when i lived there nothing ever caught my eye seafood wise. you can all yell and complain till the cows come home, but i stand firm on my stance that calgary...unless something new has opened in the past year, has no good seafood restaurant.

                otherwise, the city offers a great choice of other gastronomic delights - steak, vietnamese, indian, italian etc. just not seafood, and especially catch!

                1. re: rafer madness

                  Try any of the "seafood" on the menu at River Cafe.

                  I've had great meals at Catch, ASIDE from the seafood, believe it or not.

              2. We just spent the week eating our way through Manhattan; that's all I'll say as I don't want to rub it in ;o) What saddened me though, was eating in NYC cost pretty much the same as in Calgary, but the quality here is sorely lacking except for a few fave spots we have.

                We've had two so-so experiences at Catch; we did go back to give them a second chance and they failed miserably. On the bright side, for some strange reason they do appy's well.

                I'm really singing the praises of Il Gallo Nero. Consistently fantastic food ( like we had in Italy this spring), great service, fairly reasonable for what you get. In my mind, the best new restaurant in Calgary right now. Go now!!!!

                5 Replies
                1. re: sweeterpea

                  Lucky you in Manhattan! Care to share some of your highlights?
                  By the way, I would concur with your views on Catch and Il Gallo Nero.

                  1. re: Hart50

                    Why, it would be my pleasure. For our "fancy" dinner out, we went to Bouley and chose the tasting menu. None of the dishes were what would be considered "out there" but everything was extremely well executed. The litmus test of a restaurant is seafood and the wild King Salmon was perfectly medium rare. Warm and friendly staff, no snobbery whatsoever. I did not care for the amuse bouche, which was a beet jelly, with horseradish foam, ugh. Mr. S liked it though. The winner of the evening was a freebie little pre dessert -- a layer of curry ice cream on spiced pineapple with the final layer being white chocolate flan. yum oh yummy yum yum!!! The curry ice cream sounds crazy, but it worked.

                    Insiemme, one of the new Italian "raves" by the NY Times and Zagat really underwhelmed us. Il Gallo Nero outcooked them , and for 50% of the final dinner bill too. Really, Il Gallo Nero is a hidden gem in my books, and if anyone is reading this and hasn't gone, go now!!!!

                    Mr. S insisted on an afternoon for a quest for the best hot dogs of NYC; and being the loving wife that I am, I tagged along. Best hot dog was a 1/4 lb dog for $1.00 in Chinatown, curiously located behind a glass window in a pawn shop. They will add fried onions for 25 cents.

                    Blue Smoke is considered passable by people from the South, but for southern bbq it blew Big T's out of the water. So much so we swear never to go back to Big T's again (which I feel has gone downhill, but that's another story). We will make the pilgrimmage back to NYC when we can't stand it anymore. Highlights were the fried chicken, creamed spinach, fry bread with chipotle butter and the chocolate layer cake, plus the dry rub St. Louis ribs. The mac and cheese is considered one of the best in NYC, but I found it too soupy and the sauce not "baked in". Mr. S thought it was divine. Good live jazz nightly in the basement.

                    Grom on the Upper West Side is 10/10 for gelato, the most authentic taste and texture I have come across since being in Florence. The Stracciatella is redolent of pure cream, and the lemon sorbetto was out of this world. Another local hidden gem is the lovely gelato people at the Currie Barracks Farmer's Market. I do believe they are from Columbia, but their lemon sorbetto came very close to Grom's. Grom tends to be a little more on the perfume-y side. Italians from Piedmont own Grom.

                    On the Lower East Side, Clinton St. Baking Company blew us away. So much so we got there at 7:45 am two days in a row to get a seat in their tiny restaurant for breakfast. I would say get there by 8:15 am at the latest; by 9:00 am the line stretches out the door. The blueberry pancakes with pitcher of maple butter on the side (which I think is maple sugar melted into butter) is heaven on earth. Everything is pretty much organic in the restaurant. Other highlights were the Wild Mushroom Scramble with Goat Cheese and sugar-cured bacon, plus the homemade apple pie.

                    Clinton St. Restaurant, across the street, is a hidden gem for Hispanic food. Fantastic carnitas, just like we had in Michoacan in Mexico. A little divey and grungy, but hey, it's the Lower East Side.

                    A huge suprise: The cafeteria at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I kid you not. We grabbed a quick meal there and was very impressed with the quality of the food. I had a roast chicken breast with oven-roasted cauliflower and butternut squash that was of a good restaurant quality. Another place for a good, quick meal which suprised us was Burger Heaven, a diner on the Upper East Side. Burgers are hand-made and you order the level of doneness ( a US quirk that I'm still not used to). Very good diner food and at bargain prices.

                    Finally, *big breath* Congee Village has some of the best Chinese food in Manhattan. The five-spice braised duck melted in our mouths, plus you can't beat $10.00 for a huge platter of fragrant garlic and scallion stir-fried crab; another dish to get is the baked eel with rice. We ate like royalty for a grand sum of $30.00

                    1. re: sweeterpea

                      Thanks very much sweeterpea! I have been to NY a couple of times both on business and pleasure and as you know the culinary delights are endless. I can't wait to return and I very much appreciate your report for good eating ideas.

                      1. re: Hart50

                        You are most welcome. If you can get your hands on it, Chowhound has published an eating guide to NYC. Even if you don't get to 90% of the restaurants, it's good reading. A good place for business breakfast meetings is Norma's at the Parker Meridien. A bit fancy shmancy, but fantastic omelets. Skip over Burger Joint, in the same hotel, the burgers are overpriced and not that good. Also Prime Burger was a disappointment as well -- overall ok burger, but small and expensive.

                        1. re: sweeterpea

                          this should probably be another thread, but i just got back from eating my way through manhattan yesterday! we ate well!!

                          The only overlap to your list sweeterpea is Blue Smoke, we went there our first night and really enjoyed it, we stuck to the basics, ribs and pulled pork but were very pleased - the coleslaw and beans were delicious. we meant to go back for jazz but never made it.

                          Our second night was at Lupa on Thompson - that was an amazing meal. Great knowledgable service. a very delicious italian wine that wasn't expensive and the best prosciutto i've ever tasted, even more delicious than italy. i can't eat it in calgary anymore, that's for sure.our only complaint was the strange music selection, didn't suit the restaurant at all.

                          the next night was at an italian restaurant in our neighbourhood (murray hill) i can't remember the name, it was good and a pleasant restaurant.

                          stopped for a snack and a cocktail at Modern in the MOMA - that was a real treat - best cocktail ever (well, top 5 anyway) citrus infused vodka, fresh squeezed cucumber juice - sorry i can't remember the last ingredient but it was so refreshing. Had wild mushroom soup and it came with toasted chorizo ravioli - yummy! my partner had a pizza sort of thing with applesmoked bacon and creme fraiche - definitely a highlight.

                          otto at 1 fith ave (part of lupa group of restaurants) was also delicious - pork ragu on rigattoni (sp?) and of course meat and cheese platter to start - again, strange music selection - but a huge restaurant and packed!

                          beers and meat and cheese platter at Spitzers on ludlow - great space, nice beer selection and they also had a great but terrible treat - pork fat popcorn, so tasty but so bad for you...

                          dinner at jane on houston - great service, delicious king estate wine from oregon(pinot gris 2005) - i'll have to hunt it down here if i can and delicious cheesecake! probably the best music too :)

                          dinner at madison square garden during the rangers game hot dogs and soft pretzels - so much fun! and many good beers to choose from, even though it was $8/beer at least it was large, full to the top and came with a pretzel stick in the handle - if only they could have something other than canadian on tap at the saddledome....

                          our last night we ended up at Ethos a greek restaurant around the corner from our apt. and recommended by a manhattan c-hound - probably the best value, a lively restaurant - at one point we had so much food on the table we weren't sure what to do and thought for sure we were going to get charged for the sides, but they were included and a complimentary desert as well that was to die for.

                          since we walked so much i didn't feel one bit guilty for any calorie consumed :)

                          i wish i had known about the chowhound eating guide before we went, but we were pleased with just about everywhere we went.