Calgary Restaurant Review: Bread & Circus

Art made for Bread & Circus

For my birthday weekend in Calgary, I had planned several meals based around available happy hour menus. One of the places that popped up during my search was Bread & Circus. It’s tucked away on 17 Avenue — a favourite area whenever Kirk and I visit the city — behind Una Takeaway on 6 Street.

The interior of Bread & Circus keeps your eyes moving.

I mean, anyone who walks into Una Takeaway will see the restaurant entrance right there, but it still kind of retains an in-the-know hideaway feeling when you show up for your reservation (booked through Resy). Prior to being seated, our winter coats were taken and hung up for us. We were then led to a table for two that was tucked into a small nook across from the chef’s bar.

As it turns out, only select items from the antipasti and pasta options were included as part of happy hour, but it was enough to satisfy us. NOTE: It seems that happy hour has changed since our visit as they now offer a daily $5 menu of house wine, specific cocktails and food items between 5:00pm to 6:00pm.

When we were at Bread & Circus, cocktails were on special for $6 each and certain marked plates were half off (costs listed here are regular price, unless otherwise indicated). That included their Garlic Bread ($7), Amatriciana ($19), Carbonara ($20), and Beef Carpaccio ($14).

The Pomme Pomme

The Pomme Pomme ($10) was a tall cocktail mix of Calvados, Gifford’s Ginger Liqueur, and lime juice, making for a refreshingly tart beverage with a hint of spice at the back of the throat. Very smooth and easy drinking.

The Beef Carpaccio was presented first, and it was superb. The paper thin, circular slices of bright red meat were generously covered with broccolini salsa verde, shaved mimolette cheese, and puffed farro. The salsa was creamy and cooling on the palate. The hard orange-hued cheese was nutty and slightly salty, pairing well with the florets of broccolini, and the puffed farro added a little bit of crunch. So many textures and distinct flavours came together to make one fantastic dish. Even Kirk, who does not like raw meat, ate his fair share of this one (citing the beef actually looked fresh and appetizing to him because of the colouring), and we ended up ordering a second plate.

Amatriciana pasta in the forefront with the Garlic Bread in the back.

Before we even got our first order of Garlic Bread, Kirk decided that we should get two, so again, another was requested. There’s a reason why this is charged at $7 each though. It’s because it’s a whole loaf of freshly baked, warm pull-apart bread. The outer crust was a tad dry in spots and sort of subtly flavoured throughout. That is, until you get to the portion where they stuffed it with the garlic butter. Then it turns into a potently garlic treat. I devoured almost my entire loaf, careful to eat all of the parts doused in that butter and leaving behind the drier bits.

Carbonara

The two of us split the Amatriciana and Carbonara pastas. Both were delicious. Yet, they were also kind of similar. The only difference was the type of sauce that each came with. Their Amatriciana is technically made with bigoli noodles — still a thick, round pasta that I couldn’t really tell apart from the spaghetti used in the Carbonara — tossed in a traditional tomato sauce, chilies, and pecorino romano. The Carbonara is prepared with a creamy white sauce made using a farm egg and cracked pepper before being topped with more pecorino romano. Each of the plates was elevated with the same protein of crispy pancetta. Either way, I’d order both again. Incredibly simple in execution, but perfectly al dente noodles and deep, rich flavours in the sauces.

Caramelized popcorn as a parting snack.

By the time we finished all of that food, we were so full. I would have loved to try dessert, but I just couldn’t fathom eating anything else. Thankfully, a tiny dish of caramelized popcorn was dropped off with our bill, so I got a little taste of sweetness to cap our meal.

From the fun, secretive nature of Bread & Circus and the eclectic decor to the friendly service and the wonderful food, I’d say that this is definitely a spot to visit if you live in Calgary or find yourself there for work or play. In a heartbeat, I’d recommend it, especially for that stellar beef carpaccio.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Tiramisu Bistro

The spacious interior of Tiramisu Bistro.

The spacious interior of Tiramisu Bistro.

The 124 Street district is one of my favourite places in Edmonton. It’s home to numerous independent shops and restaurants, including Tiramisu Bistro. I keep saying this lately, and it sounds ridiculous since I’m known for reviewing eateries, but until this year, I didn’t know this place was here.

I guess I have tended to relegate myself to certain blocks within this area and Tiramisu Bistro fell outside of that usual boundary. Granted, it’s only a few doors down from Duchess Bake Shop, and I’ve made a point of going there. In fact, it’s because of my attempt to go to Duchess that I ended up at Tiramisu Bistro at all.

On a free evening at the start of the summer, my mom and I decided we should stop somewhere for a snack, so I suggested Duchess. She’d never tried their desserts and I was more than excited to be the one to introduce their key lime pie to her. Unfortunately, as we drove by looking for a spot, I noticed that the store was closed for the night (I forgot they shutter early). That’s when I spied Tiramisu Bistro.

We figured that it was our best bet, and we easily found parking around the corner from the door. Prior to this, I’d heard about Tiramisu Bistro in passing. Yet, I failed to place its location. Now, I knew.

As we walked into the door, I found myself surprised to see how large the establishment is. The room is spacious with a coffee bar and numerous tables. A server came over to greet us and said that we could choose any seat. My mom thought we should have selected a smaller table, but the server said that it was already late and she didn’t expect to see any large parties coming through before the evening was out, so we stayed put.

I sat and looked at the menu even though we weren’t there for dinner. The selection appeared to be appetizing and I made a mental note to come back another time. On this occasion, we each had a smoothie and we shared a key lime pie.

Smoothies and key lime pie

Smoothies and key lime pie

The smoothies were packed full of pureed fruit, so I was happy with the value there. Although, my mom’s Happy Heart smoothie was rather sour due to the cranberries. I fared much better with the Brain Boost smoothie, which was a mix of strawberry, blueberry and raspberry. Having gone back to Tiramisu Bistro, it’s worth noting that they now list all of the ingredients next to the names of smoothies (they didn’t months ago) and the names no longer match what we had. The Cran-tastic is now what my mom drank, and the Passion Berry Bliss matches mine.

As for the key lime pie, it was just okay. Key lime pie is sort of the dessert du jour lately. Any and every restaurant has added it to their menu. I’ve gotten used to the lovely key lime infused custard-type filling that has become the norm. The one served here is similar in texture to a gel with a meringue topping and toasted coconut sprinkles. It was unique, but not what I was hoping for.

Evening specials

Evening specials

My second visit came a couple of months later when I met some friends for book club. It happened to be a Tuesday night, which is Tiramisu Bistro’s pizza B.O.G.O. (half off the second) evening special. My friend was game, so we shared two pizzas between us. Our selections included the Baked Brie & Duck Confit and the Salmone.

The duck pizza was a mix of duck meat, figs, roasted garlic, caramelized onions, brie and honey drizzled on top. I enjoyed this one. However, it could have used a little more duck on it and it would serve them well to spread the toppings out a little more towards the edges of the crust. The crust itself was pretty good. Although, it didn’t have the same consistency of a traditional thin-crust Italian pizza baked in a wood-fired oven, which I would have preferred. From what I remember, it lacked that slight chewiness.

Our Salmone pizza was excellent. The crust was the same, but came off better with these toppings: asiago cheese sauce, pears, capers, arugula and smoked salmon (plus a few pieces of onion). Maybe the juice from the fish and the pears changed the texture of the dough a bit. I’m not entirely sure. In any case, the toppings also made it closer to the edge and each slice could be covered by a full piece of smoked salmon, ensuring you got every flavour in each bite. If I were to go back for their pizza, this is the one I would have again.

Another friend in our party opted for a pasta dish, which may have been the special that day as his was made with short rib, and I can’t find it listed on their regular menu. The dish was nicely presented, but not particularly large. The fourth in our group chose either the Lift Me Up or Quinoa salad with added salmon skewers. Her dinner looked delectable. On sight, the veggies seemed to be fresh with a mix of greens, red bell peppers, grape tomatoes and cheese. The pieces of salmon were sizable, cooked well and seasoned nicely.

Seeing as we took their table for at least a few hours, the restaurant was accommodating. They never once rushed us even when it did get busier (there was never a line up though). I’d certainly go back for their food, especially on nights when they have specials or live music on Friday evenings. Mostly, I like the ambiance. It’s quiet enough to talk to whoever you’re with and they have a great patio during the warm season. Plus, the huge windows let in a lot of light when it’s bright out.

In essence, it’s a great community establishment that makes you feel right at home.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Cibo Bistro

Mezzaluna pasta

Mezzaluna pasta

I think it was still summertime when my friend and I first attempted to visit Cibo Bistro (@cibobistroedm), only to find that they were closed on Mondays. Since we had to postpone our meal there, it took us quite a bit of time to circle back around to the idea. It wasn’t until mid-November when we finally made a point of going to the restaurant again.

Located on 104 Avenue in Oliver Village between Safeway and MacEwan Residences, it’s slightly tucked away from the hustle and bustle of one of downtown Edmonton’s main arteries. I had made a reservation through OpenTable about a week or two in advance, but, as my friend was running late at the office, I called to have our booking pushed back. The hostess that I spoke to said it wasn’t an issue as there weren’t any conflicting reservations within that time frame. The two of us eventually made it there at about 6:15pm, and I was surprised to see, as the server led us to our table, that the place was still empty, save for the semi-private room near the back (although, it was pretty much full by the time we left an hour and a half later). With maybe just over a dozen tables in the space, it’s not large by any means, but still likely seats more than the city’s other lauded Italian restaurant, Corso 32 (read my review). Unlike Corso, however, the dimly lit space of Cibo Bistro looks a little more traditional with earth tones, leather upholstered chairs, cobble-like tiled floors, stone tiled walls and paintings of Italy.

As we perused the menu, I couldn’t help but notice the similarity between its layout and the offerings of Corso 32. That means I was apt to do a comparison by sampling a few items, so I could truly see the difference. Both have made The Tomato‘s top 100 list for two years in a row. Corso has been No. 1 each time with Cibo trailing just a few spots behind (No. 6 in 2013 and No. 4 in 2014).

Arancini is one of my friend and I’s favourite Italian dishes. Since we had eaten that at Corso, it was a no-brainer to use that as a starting point for our showdown. That, along with the Salumi, served as our appetizers.

As far as arancini go, they are considered an indulgent antipasti because they can be quite heavy and filling. It’s essentially risotto that has been battered and fried until a crisp outer shell is formed. The filling at Cibo is mixed with roasted cauliflower and Fontina cheese and, once cooked, is generously sprinkled with freshly grated Pecorino Romano. I’m not exactly sure why, but I think that, even with all the rice and cheese, there was a lightness to these arancini that the ones I ate at Corso didn’t have. The bowl we received had 6 to 7 arancini, which we shared. The breading was perfectly fried whereas Corso’s were a little overdone, making the shell harder to break. The cauliflower added a little more texture to the risotto, so it wasn’t all just mush, and the cheese was nicely melted inside. I also believe that these ones were a lot less salty.

The salumi platter that evening was a steak tartar with shaved truffle served with a side of crostini. This was probably the best dish of the evening, no doubt about it. They say the meats are cured in-house, and the tartar was prepared so well that it literally melted in your mouth. Paired with the shaved truffle, this was a completely decadent starter. I would have gladly eaten that has my main meal. The board came with 6 pieces of crostini and there was enough tartar provided that we weren’t sparingly spreading it on the bread. In fact, I was piling the tartar on thick, so I have to say that this selection was worth it.

For our entrees, we had a harder time deciding. Our server was excellent and, to help, she described, in detail, each of the pasta dishes on the menu, including that evening’s special. We finally made our choices – I ordered the Mezzaluna and my friend chose the Pappardelle.

The food menu.

The food menu.

The Mezzaluna was ravioli stuffed with braised beef that is cooked until tender and then pureed, so it can be stuffed inside fresh, made from scratch pasta. The pasta shells were thin and prepared al dente. The sauce was a burro bianco (white butter) with Balsamico Vecchio (aged balsamic) and Crotonese Calabrese cheese, which was flavourful, but felt delicate. I particularly loved the used of the balsamic as a dressing, something that I hadn’t had in a long time. The sauce and the beef played off one another really well, so much so that I wanted more as soon as I polished off my plate.

The Pappardelle consists of fat ribbons of fresh pasta bathed in tomato sauce and served with braised lamb, mint and Pecorino Romano cheese. I had just one mouthful of the dish and the pasta had just the right amount of bite. The lamb was succulent and the sauce was subtle.

Pappardelle pasta

Pappardelle pasta

Unfortunately, we did not have room for dessert on this occasion. Plus, we were in a bit of a rush to make it to book club, but I will say that after our trip to Las Vegas and our meals at Giada in that city, had I been able to manage some sweets, I would have gone for the Zeppole (Limoncello and Mascarpone doughnuts dusted with powdered sugar). They’re certainly on my list for next time!

In the end, and I’ve given this a lot of thought over the last month, I’m inclined to say that, while Corso was excellent, I honestly think that my meal at Cibo was a tad better. And, I feel like that says a lot. The pair of restaurants has a lot going for them – fantastic food, fresh, housemade dishes, wonderfully knowledgeable staff – yet they’re also hindered (arguably by some) by small spaces that make them seem exclusive when, in fact, they’re not. They’re friendly, intimate atmospheres that are very welcoming, so perhaps it comes down to preference which one you would prefer. Based on my singular visits to Cibo and Corso, I found them both to be great hangouts. They’re equally quiet in terms of ambiance, making it easy to converse with your dining companions, which is a big pro nowadays in a world where dance music seems to be pumping everywhere else.

The semi-private room at the back. A great place for a small group to have fantastic conversation.

The semi-private room at the back. A great place for a small group to have fantastic conversation.

After a few weeks of contemplation, my companion critic for that night and I agreed. Until I have a chance to revisit each, I cannot say with absolute certainty which will come out on top a year or two from now. Only time will tell. One of my friends who had dinner with me at Corso said that our meal there was one of the best she’s ever had. I’d be curious to see her thoughts of Cibo and her comparisons to Corso.

Nonetheless, examining my own experience of the food, which, of course, is the foundation of a stellar restaurant, I believe that Cibo has won my heart and my stomach. That is not to say I won’t be eating at Corso again, because I will, but contrary to what every other review or person has told me, Cibo is going to be my personal number one for now.

For a more in-depth look at this establishment’s involvement in the local community and its efforts towards sustainability visit The Local Good to read my profile of Cibo Bistro.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Rosso Pizzeria

Their specials board!

Their specials board!

Pizza places are abound in Edmonton nowadays. Add to the growing list Rosso Pizzeria (@RossoYeg), which opened in the Garneau area a little over a year ago. Taking over the old Da Capo location along 109 Street, you’ll spot it to your right as you exit on the south side of the Highlevel Bridge. Seeing as how my visits to the University/Whyte Avenue area are sporadic at best, I had no idea that it was there. It was only after I happened upon a deal from Travelzoo that I learned of its whereabouts, and then I came across their standing as the No. 70 best place to eat and drink in Edmonton as voted by readers of The Tomato in 2014.

The voucher I had purchased was valid for two people, including your choice of an appetizer or salad to share and two small pizzas. Since it could only be used on a Monday to Friday during their lunch hours of 11am to 3pm, I took the opportunity to visit with my mother during my staycation in June. The restaurant being slightly out of the way, I wasn’t realistically able to get there during a usual work day, so this panned out well for me.

IMG_20140622_104026

High tables to the right of the entrance.

Seeming like a quiet Wednesday, we were the first table to arrive. There were three servers on hand, one of which indicated that we could seat ourselves wherever we wanted. Personally, I like how the space is broken up. To the right of the entrance is a raised nook that gives you a view of the kitchen including the giant red bell oven. The large bar in the center takes up a huge portion of the square footage, but as you walk in it showcases all of the boutique beers as well as the baked goods, desserts and gelato that they have to offer, and the one side provides additional bar seating. The other half of the restaurant consisted mostly of regular height tables that can be rearranged for different group configurations and a tall raised bar, too. For those sunny, warm days and nights, you also have the option of sitting out on the patio at the front (watching a large truck backing out of a parking spot in the lot next to the patio, coming just inches from the barrier, made me think twice about that though).

We tucked ourselves into a booth as the server brought over menus and explained how our voucher worked. The menu is fairly extensive with several starters, salads, pizza rossas (red) and pizza biancas (white) to pick from, so it took us a while to make a decision. As we eyed the options before us, we sipped on filtered water from their Q Water system (they don’t charge extra for that here, it’s just par for the course). Ultimately, we ordered the Piatto di Formaggi Misto for our first course and the Rucola E Bresaola and the Pesto E Pollo pies for our mains. Truthfully, it didn’t matter if the dishes came together or not because we alternated between the three plates throughout our lunch.

The assorted cheese board.

The assorted cheese board.

The Piatto di Formaggi Misto is the Italian fancy name for an assorted cheese board, something that I have an increasing fondness for as of late. This arrived on a wooden board decked out with what I’m pretty sure were four semi-firm or firm varieties. The differences in texture and taste between each of the cheeses was subtle, but I could distinguish between them. I probably would have preferred if they had changed it up and included a goat cheese or a brie for a greater mixture. However, I was still very happy with this appetizer that came with slices of crostini, a combination of dried fruit (cranberries, apricots and figs), housemade marmalade and a pot of honey. As a side note, I will say that you certainly get your money’s worth with this dish as the portions given are generous.

Moving onto the pizzas, the Pesto E Pollo is a white pizza that uses almond pesto as the base and is then topped with roasted tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and marinated local organic chicken. The crust was crisp on the outside with the soft, chewy texture that is to be expected of traditional Neapolitan pizza. The flavours were a little more subtle than I expected, so it came across as a lighter selection. The Rucola E Bresaola, another pizza bianca, was packed with layers to savour. A combination of beef bresaola, organic baby arugula, mozzarella fior di latte, parmigiano scallions and amorosa tomatoes, I think that the saltiness of the extremely tender, thinly sliced cured beef (dare I say better than what I ate at The Cavern) with the sweetness of the tomatoes and the bitterness of the arugula was such an excellent blend.

Way too full to even think about dessert that afternoon, I did go back to try some in-house made pistachio gelato on another visit just shortly after. The gelato was wonderfully creamy and the medium size that I opted for was perfect to satisfy my sweet tooth.

Personally, I really like the unique touches such as the table tops that were made out of recycled wood from old wine casks. The food was great, the service friendly (maybe a little slow at times, but much better the second time around) and the atmosphere laid back. Perfect for gatherings with family and/or friends, they’re now on my list of go to local restaurants. If you plan to go, they are open daily, and it’s well worth a try. I almost guarantee you’ll want to go back again!

For a more in-depth look at the establishment’s involvement in the community and its efforts towards sustainability visit The Local Good to read my profile of Rosso Pizzeria.