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Mar 25, 2008 07:57 AM

Calgary: The Good (Bonterra; CFM; Main Dish), the Bad (BLVD), and the Scary (My Marvin's)

My family came to town this weekend and we literally ate and drank our way through the weekend (we obviously don't celebrate a traditional Easter ...). So I thought I'd share our experiences for the board:

We started the weekend off with lunch at Main Dish, which is a take out staple for me and my husband during the week. It's a little sad but we're there so often the staff actually know us and all of our ordering preferences ... This visit we ate in the restaurant and had sandwiches and soup. Main Dish has a great sandwich, soup, and salad bar where everything is made fresh to order. They have a variety of fresh breads (I'm not sure if they're baked on site or at a local bakery) and cool toppings. I tried the wasabi tuna salad and a roasted red pepper and tomato soup, both of which were fresh, flavorful, and delicious. The meal was perfectly paired with a crisp, cold glass of sav blanc (they have a small wine and beer list in addition to some pretty good coffee).

Next up was BLVD. Now don't ask me why we went to this place - at this point I can't really remember the reason. What I can say is that it was bad. Our waitress, although sweet and helpful, was dressed like she was at a club and was less than skilled at describing the dishes and ensuring that our needs were met. Although there were a few good things about the experience (the hummous and pita and green beans with goat cheese we had as starters were tasty and the decor and, in particular, our table was comfortable and cool), there were too many other bad things to list (horrible music (aka 1990s Lethbridge club music so loud we couldn't talk), a "beet salad" that literally consisted of 20 undressed/unseasoned beets plopped on a long plate, watered down martinis (no exaggeration - the gin was completely tasteless), being asked by our server to settle up for a reservation after we'd barely finished eating to see that no reservation ever showed up ...). So the short of it is, we won't be going back. It's just too pretentions and gimmicky and the food and drinks are too pricy for what you get (in fact I can make both better at home ... and I think I told the waitress this by the end of the night ...)

Our next meal was at Bonterra. I've been there for lunch during the summer and loved their patio, but didn't really remember the food or the service. Well this time (Good Friday), everything was excellent. In fact this place is now right up there with Brava Bistro for our favourite place in the City. We started with ice cold (not watered down) martinis, the antipasti plate, and the olive and cheese plate. Our waiter was incredibly knowledgeable and efficient with both the cocktails and the starters. For entrees we had the veal cheeks, the stuffed porkchop, and the swordfish (which the kitchen split no charge and provided a full helping of risotto for each person - a nice touch). There was a great "team" service approach to our dining experience - another server (very skilfully) recommended and had us taste various kinds of prosecco before we ordered a bottle. And I found the strawberry dessert (with reduced balsamic and some sort of cream) to be the most amazing dessert I've had in a long time. As well, the atmosphere was warm, comfortable, and anything but trendy (which is a good thing) - and the music was atmospheric and didn't prevent us from talking with one another (which is what going out for dinner is in the end).

The next evening we decided to stay in for dinner so I took my Dad to the CFM at the crack of dawn (or what seemed like the crack of dawn after martinis and prosecco). I am embarassed to say that this was my first visit to the market (but now that I've been there it certainly won't be the last). I had a latte from Phil & Sebastian, and can now see what everyone has been raving about (although my one beef is that I like spenda in my lattes (I know ...) and they only had regular sugar). We got some mussels, huge organic free range chickens, a variety of beautiful baby potatoes, and some massive asparagus for dinner. Oh yes - we also got some desserts from Lina's (which I hear is closing sometime - a major disappointment). All in all it was a very memorable trip to the market (it reminded me of Granville Island, which I love) and dinner (far better than going to Safeway to get the same thing!)

On Sunday morning we were all looking for something a little different and although I wanted dim sum from U&Me no one in the family wanted to wait 45 minutes for a table. Apparently in Lethbridge people don't wait for tables for breakfast/lunch ... So we decided on My Marvin's instead. The place was packed (probably since so many other places were closed for the day, it being Easter Sunday). There was one waitress working (who was doing an admirable job) and two cooks. There was also a young guy who seemed to be doing nothing - well actually he was repeatedly wiping countertops that no one was sitting at. That and touching all the food. No - "manhandling" is a better description. This kid literally took the top off each sandwich as it came to the kitchen pass through, pawed the meat, and then put the sandwich back together - all after handling a dirty rag and not washing his hands. It was appalling, and we could see it all happening because they have an open kitchen at this place. So the waitress brought out our sandwiches (with the soggiest dollar fries I've ever seen) we didn't know what to do ... so being the accomodating people we are, we ate them anyways (I guess we can all stand to build up our immune systems ...) but sent the fries back to get re-fried (they came back virtually the same). In the end though, I'd probably still go back to the place because I really like the sandwiches and I've only had good experiences in the past, but if that touchy touchy employee is there again I won't be ordering anything ...

So that was the weekend, and now I'm on a food and drink detox, since now that I look back at everything we ate I think I need it!

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  1. Lina's closing? The Italian grocery store up on Edmonton trail?

    2 Replies
    1. re: graemejw

      Guys, I mentioned an unsubstantiated rumour of a rumour that LIna was retiring and that the space was being sold to T and T. I have no idea how reliable it is and I'm sorry to have mentioned it, but now that I have, it's what I heard. I cannot reveal my source.

      1. re: John Manzo

        But when I asked, you said it was so?

    2. Superb write-up! Glad to hear Bonterra is back- it seemed great when it first opened, thereafter, not so much.

      I urgently suggest your try a latte (or a traditional cappuccino which IMHO is a much better drink) without sweetener at all - skilled baristas like those at P&S know how to microfoam milk to exploit the lactose and it's sweet. Not sugar sweet, but sweet.

      3 Replies
      1. re: John Manzo

        I'm going to take you up on your suggestion ... cappuccino with no sweetener it is. It's probably better for me in the long run anyways!

        1. re: Jigga

          It is indeed- a traditional cappo a la P&S only have about 3 oz of milk in it, this is a lot less than even a "small" latte.

          1. re: John Manzo

            Great review of Bonterra. I'm impressed that they offered tastings of a few bubblies before having you commit!

      2. Re Bonterra, I went to a cooking demonstration class last Thursday night at the Cookbook Co. put on by the new chef (Glen Manzer) of Bonterra and it was excellent. He and his team produced a wonderful seven course tasting menu that in my mind certainly confirms the food renaissance at Bonterra. I look forward to making a return visit to the restaurant.