Calgary Restaurant Review: Vin Room Mission

A petite serving of Hummus and flatbread.

On our recent road trip to Calgary, I opted to try out restaurants that offered Happy Hour menus. Our meals were planned around the mid- to late-afternoon hours or well into the evening to take advantage of the deals. During our first night there, we ended up at Vin Room Mission (2310 4 Street). We were seated on the main floor in a narrower space past the lounge and right near the kitchen. It was cute and cozy as Kirk and I sat side by side.

As we reviewed the options, I was quite tempted by a list of features that they had for the evening. But, we stuck to my plan, and ordered only from the Happy Hour items: Bartender’s Choice Beer Pour ($6), Hummus ($5), Weekly Tacos ($5 each), Spaghetti Pomodoro ($5), and Grilled Chicken Skewers ($2 each).

Bartender’s Choice Beer Pour

For the beer, we were hoping for something on tap and more local. It turned out to be a bottle of Steam Whistle, so nothing all that special and kind of expensive for the price. On the plus side, to start, they provided complimentary popcorn with the beer.

The Hummus was presented in a tiny dish with four triangles of grilled flatbread brushed with olive oil. It was nice that the flatbread was actually warm and still soft. The hummus was garlicky and flavourful. It was so small though. It took just a few minutes for us to crush that plate.

Weekly Tacos

Kirk is the one who chose to have two of the Weekly Tacos. I sampled a bite of it, and I wasn’t impressed. I already tend to dislike pico de gallo because of the frequent inclusion of cilantro, but, on top of that, the corn tortilla was super dry, tasting like thin cardboard. Otherwise, the Valentina hot sauce and chicken was fine.

Spaghetti Pomodoro

The Spaghetti Pomodoro comes meatless with a simple mix of tomato sauce, basil pesto, and shaved Grana Padano. The sauce was light, but tasty. I appreciated the amount of cheese, considering the ratio of the topping to the noodles. I was beginning to understand that Vin Room was able to have such a cheap happy hour by altering the portion sizes significantly. It’s a good thing we weren’t particularly hungry and these “snacks” were enough.

Grilled Chicken Skewers

Probably my favourite choice of the night were the Grilled Chicken Skewers. I’m pretty certain that the same chicken was used in the tacos (and I doubt they switch up the type of taco every week). Still, the pieces of chicken were plump and tender. I also enjoyed the honey-lemon glaze and fresh herbs. We even ate the petite green salad on the side.

Carrot Cake

We decided to indulge in dessert before we left. It was the Carrot Cake ($9) that caught our eyes. With a Wensleydale cheese frosting, carrot-pineapple jam, and vanilla creme anglaise, it was quite decadent. Our only complaint was that it was clearly prepared in advance and refrigerated as it was chilly on the tongue. It would have been more pleasing to, at least, have it served at room temperature. Regardless, it was a highlight of our meal at Vin Room.

I wouldn’t necessarily go back to Vin Room for happy hour alone. But, the service was attentive, so I’d be interested in checking them out again for their regular menu just to see what the quality is like in comparison to what you get for happy hour. There was certainly a bit of promise with a couple of the items and the place was busy, so it can’t be all that bad, right?

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Provincial Kitchen & Bar

The lounge area of The Provincial Kitchen & Bar.

After another recent successful escape room breakout (the streak lives on), Kirk and our friends wanted a bite to eat. We decided to reconvene at The Provincial Kitchen & Bar (4211 106 Street). New to the entire group, we walked in to find a very pub-like atmosphere.

To be fair, there is a very quiet, tiny, cozy looking dining area, complete with fireplace, to the right of the door. However, it was already full, so we headed over to the lounge area instead. The setup is interesting with a few larger raised booths towards the back. In the center of the space were two rows of tables lined up parallel with a giant projector screen on the opposite side of the room. We tucked ourselves into a corner next to the big screen. Thinking back, considering the loudspeakers blaring the sound from that weekend’s NFL game, it may not have been the ideal spot to sit. Otherwise, it was cozy enough.

Our server greeted us within a few minutes of settling in and she confirmed that, despite the hours listed on their website and even around the restaurant, their happy hour is available from open until 7:00 pm daily. The guys took advantage of the deals by ordering half-litre glasses of the Provincial Lager ($5 each) and I partook in six ounces of Riesling ($6). My girlfriend chose The Banger Cocktail, a vanilla citrus concoction, off of the regular menu ($10).

To eat, both men opted to try the Smoked Brisket on Cornbread ($17). I asked Kirk to sub out his house-cut fries for a bowl of the Roasted Cauliflower Soup ($2), so I could have it. Us ladies ordered our food exclusively from the happy hour menu, including her Tavi Supreme ($9) with added Taco Beef ($5) as well as split plates of the Pork Dry Ribs ($9) and 2 Donut Grilled Cheese ($9).

Pork Dry Ribs

The Pork Dry Ribs were standard pub fare. Nicely crisped seasoned pork loin rib ends. The problem is that they lacked a ton of meat on the bones. I don’t feel like I got much out of them, but they were definitely better with fresh squeezed lemon juice as it helped to cut through some of the grease and provided extra zest.

Tavi Supreme with Taco Beef

You may be wondering, what’s a Tavi Supreme? It’s essentially their take on nacho fries with house-cut potatoes, cheddar, pico de gallo, sour cream, salsa, green onions, and the taco beef. Quite tasty when everything was combined into a single bite. Nevertheless, it was nothing super special. Good for a hearty meal on a chilly day though.

Smoked Brisket on Cornbread

We were all impressed by the Smoked Brisket on Cornbread. If I’m being honest, the open-faced sandwich could have used a larger portion of shaved beef because more of that deliciousness should be shared. It was well-seasoned and incredibly flavourful. Not the most tender, yet thinly sliced, it was fine. The layer of melted Gruyère cheese and a healthy dose of caramelized onions added a slight salty-sweet balance offset by the rich Guinness BBQ sauce and earthy, bitter arugula. The cornbread was a great base, not too dense and moist enough to avoid crumbling.

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

I drank all of the Roasted Cauliflower Soup myself, and although it tasted okay, I wasn’t too keen on the texture. When the menu lists “cream” of cauliflower, I expect that it’s actually creamy. This was sort of watered down and still somewhat grainy from the pureed pieces of cauliflower florets. The bowl was topped off with fried potato strings (think Hickory Sticks), which, in concept, sounded good. Sadly, it didn’t really work here. Again, I think it came down to the consistency of the soup. Had it been thicker and creamier, the potato strings would have stayed crisp longer as opposed to the soggy mess that I found as soon as I dug into the bowl.

2 Donut Grilled Cheese

The final plate I sampled completely made up for the disappointing soup. Literally two halved donuts turned into grilled cheese sandwiches, these were the epitome of a simple comfort dish with a twist. The sugar from the honey glazed donuts married so well with the layers of savoury cheddar and bacon jam. If that wasn’t enough starch, it also came with a side of the house-cut fries. I didn’t need to eat them all, but the longer my plate sat in front of me, the more I snacked on them. They were blanched to a golden brown crisp on the outside while remaining light and fluffy on the inside.

Overall, The Provincial Kitchen & Bar surprised all four of us. While there were some minor misses, we didn’t necessarily expect the food to be as good as it was. Even though they’re probably terrible for my health, I’d revisit just for those grilled cheese donuts. I also have a feeling that their Connor McProv burger will be a star like the Oilers favourite himself. Time will only tell for me.

Calgary Restaurant Review: Calcutta Cricket Club

Calcutta Cricket Club

From the second you spot the mint-hued building, you know you’re in for a treat at Calcutta Cricket Club in Calgary. Located on 17 Avenue, this restaurant, designed by local artist Maya Gohill, is described by her as a “1960’s Indian social club meets The Golden Girls.”

Stepping into the space, I totally understand the latter idea. It’s got that sort of gaudy quality reminiscent of the crazy, colourful clothing the women on that show used to wear and there’s a very ’80s to ’90s vibe (à la Miami Vice). Sunny pinks and blues are offset by a large-scale checkered floor, wicker bar stools, and a prominent leaping jaguar behind the bar.

A reservation had been made in advance using OpenTable, and, upon arriving for brunch (available Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm), we were promptly seated by a friendly server at a table for two.

Mango Lassi

We took a few minutes to review the menu. It’s not extensive, but there are several options, including a Slow Brunch consisting of three courses for $25 per person. While it looked wonderful, both of us decided to select individual dishes. Kirk went with his usual standard-style English-ish Breakfast ($15) with a side of Bacon ($5). I chose the Tandoori Fried Chicken ($18), and, because I had to have it, I also ordered a Single Chai-Ovaltine Pancake ($6.50) as well as a Mango Lassi ($4.50) to drink.

The Mimosa Cart

The Mango Lassi was served in a short glass, but, due to the thicker, creamy consistency, it was sufficient enough to go with my meal. Made with yogurt, mango, and cardamom, the slightly spicy and fruity mix was sweet without being cloying as the yogurt mitigated the natural sugars. It’s the perfect non-alcoholic beverage to pair with Indian cuisine. On a side note, I saw the mimosa cart go by a few times while we dined and it was super tempting. They use fresh squeezed juice — grapefruit, orange, or spiced pineapple — to make their cocktails ($8 each), which makes all the difference.

English-ish Breakfast

Kirk’s English-ish Breakfast came with Empire Provisions spiced sausage, sunny-side eggs, tomato, masala potatoes, and sourdough. Visually, at first glance, it was a little boring. However, digging in, the seasoned potatoes were delicious and the curry over the eggs added a new dimension. The additional bacon was generous and crispy. The star of the plate was certainly those spiced sausages though. They packed a ton of flavour and some heat on the palate. Not overwhelmingly spicy by any means, but enough to be warm, comforting, and a change from the norm.

When my Tandoori Fried Chicken was placed in front of me, I was shocked at the size of the dish. The two pieces of deep-fried yogurt marinated chicken were huge! I commented on that, and the server who had dropped our plates off stated that many guests even opt to add extra chicken. After taking an initial bite, I could see why. The meat was succulent and tasty — nutty, zesty, spicy, pungent — with a crisp breaded exterior and a balance of sugar from the coconut and honey. Laid beneath was a large slab of cornbread (maybe a tad dry) and a refreshing green salad. Since I still had “dessert” to work through, I ate only half the food, packing up the rest to go.

Single Chai-Ovaltine Pancake

I’m so glad that I didn’t miss out on the Chai-Ovaltine Pancake either. It was incredible. The single portion was perfect for me and it’s still prepared the same way as a full-size order, meaning it is presented with the daily fruit compote, saffron chantilly, and garam spiced granola. You get the best of everything without the possibility of overeating. I loved all of the textures from the thick, fluffy pancake to the crunchy granola and the floral-infused chantilly cream.

As our final meal during our short visit to Calgary, this was definitely a memorable one. It’s sad to think that Calcutta Cricket Club is hours away from home and it’ll be a while before I can go back. Then again, it just gives me something else to look forward to (like maybe happy hour next time) whenever I have a chance to return to Calgary.

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: Pip

The interior of Pip.

A little over a year after Pip graced Edmonton with its presence, Kirk and I finally visited this sister restaurant to MEAT and The Next Act. Housed on the corner of the same block as the other eateries, Pip is tiny in comparison; the Old Strathcona business has approximately 30 seats among the standard tables and bar tops.

We made a booking in advance through their website to ensure a spot. Arriving right on time, our table was literally being cleared and cleaned for us. Although the notes on the reservation page indicate that parties of two are only given an hour and a half for their meal, our dinner took about two hours and we never felt rushed.

Hugo Spritz cocktail

I decided to try one of their cocktails. The Hugo Spritz ($10), a 3 ounce concoction, is a mix of elderflower liqueur, soda, prosecco, and fresh mint. Kind of like a mojito, but with more of a floral flavour, it was light and refreshing. It’s also one of the more affordable drinks since approximately half of the cocktail menu is $13.

To eat, we split a few of Pip’s dishes between the two of us. The kitchen, similar to our recent stop at Partake, was careful to space out the plates for us. Therefore, we were able to focus on each item at time.

Starting with the Seared Manchego Cheese ($14), this was a slightly different take on the more typical baked brie that might be found elsewhere. Manchego, a firm yet buttery cheese made of sheep’s milk, doesn’t get that same creamy consistency when heated. It’s much more dense, sort of like halloumi, which has a high melting point, meaning the cheese is easily pan fried for a crispy exterior. It was good though. Kirk liked it so much that I thought he might devour it all. Served with toasted fresh bread, fig jam, and arugula, this dish had a great balance of salty-sweet-bitter to it.

Gnocchi

Next to be presented at our table was the Gnocchi ($18). Tossed with roasted tomatoes and coated in garlic cream and pesto, it was then topped with crispy leaves of basil and grated Parmesan. The potato pasta was actually quite light and fluffy in texture and the sauce was amazing. The only thing that would have made it better was lobster. It reminded me a lot of a couple of other lobster mac and cheeses I’ve eaten before, so I can imagine how fantastic this gnocchi would be with the crustacean added.

As our main entree, we shared the Braised Beef ($28). I loved how lean the meat was while still remaining fall apart tender and succulent. The roasted market carrots were ever so slightly crunchy and sweet. The green peppercorn sauce was a nice accompaniment to the beef. What really elevated the plate, in my opinion, was the Parmesan risotto. The creamed rice was divine and should be more largely portioned as I was having a hard time ensuring there was enough to go with every bite of my meat.

Deep Dish Apple Pie

Being our first outing to Pip, I felt that it was important to get acquainted with all aspects of the menu. As such, I ordered a serving of the Deep Dish Apple Pie ($10) for dessert. I hadn’t looked at the description of the item again before selecting it, so I had forgotten exactly what it came with. As Kirk ate, he insisted there was alcohol used in it. Turns out, he was right. Bourbon caramel was pooled on his side of the bowl. When I finally got a bite of that, it turned a very capable apple pie into something extra decadent. The caramel and the shortbread cookie crust are what really differentiated it from any other apple pie I’ve ever had, giving it a twist from the visually old school presentation of the pie with the single scoop of vanilla ice cream. Delicious!

While I do wish that the portions were a little bit bigger at times, it cost just under $100 for both of us, which isn’t too bad. Would I spend like that regularly? No. This was definitely a treat. Our night at Pip was truly wonderful though. From the intimate ambiance to the attentive service and the excellent food, we certainly enjoyed ourselves. It’s easy to see from our experience why Pip has become a fast favourite in Edmonton.