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 Things To Do: Design A Sign by Paint Nite

The products of our Design A Sign night.

A few years ago, Paint Nite infiltrated Edmonton’s night life. Taking over bars across the city almost every day, it was a great way to dip one’s toes into the creative realm while hanging out with a friend or two. Combine that with drinks or food, and it was a pretty perfect evening, if I do say so myself.

I was obsessed with Paint Nite, wanting to sign up for one after another. In fact, I enjoyed the practice so much that I ended up purchasing my own portable easel, canvases, brushes, and acrylics so that I could work on art outside of those occasions, too.

Even owning all of the materials needed to do the same thing in the comfort of my home, I still attend them every so often. Simply put, it’s a fun time. As the Paint Nite brand has expanded, so have their event offerings.

I have previously tried Plant Nite (terrarium building) twice. While I always leave hopeful that my miniature gardens will survive, sadly, I’ve come to the realization that I’m probably not meant to be a plant mom. I just do not have a green thumb at this point in my life and I can’t continue to spend the money on something that will ultimately die.

Alas, the makers of Paint Nite introduced Design A Sign locally sometime last fall. It’s not exactly game changing or anything. There are already a few other businesses that run similar types of parties, but they tend to charge between $70 to $100 per person. Paint Nite is $65 plus tax each, including the $20 material charge. They also regularly offer discounts through their website, so it’s easy to participate for less than that. If you can’t find a discount directly from them, purchase a Paint Nite Groupon. Although they state that they’re for Paint or Plant Nite, I’ve tested it and the voucher is applicable towards the total cost of Design A Sign when redeeming.

Kirk and I went to a Design A Sign night with another friend in December. It took place at Sixty 6 Bar N’ Grill inside Londonderry Mall. It seems like all of their upcoming events are happening at the same location (hopefully they’ll expand to other area around Edmonton as this is quite out of the way for us).

Waiting to get started with our stencils and wood.

We arrived early to get some food before things officially launched. The host saw us and asked if we were there for Design A Sign. When we said yes, she allowed us to pick out our pieces of wood and to save spots at one of the prepared tables. I guess for this particular event, the place where they had purchased the wood had made a mistake with sawing the pieces as some were a tad shorter than they should have been, but we got to choose first, so it wasn’t an issue for us. The cuts we selected were technically stained, too, so they already had a nice tint to them.

Once we settled in for Design A Sign, we each had to join our two slabs of wood together using flat metal braces, screws, and an electric screwdriver on the backside. We also received tiny screws and a little hanger to attach. When that was done, we flipped our now larger boards over to work on the front.

We were instructed to select a colour of paint from the many options available. I filled a small 1.5″ diameter cup with a few millimeters of acrylic and then I topped off the cup with water. Stirred together, it created a wash that I applied with cloths to the wood. The makeshift stain worked quite well, especially when using darker colours. I chose a silver paint that was much more subtle, leaving a nice shimmery sheen visible when the light hits the wood just right.

When the base dried, I then took my stencil (selected in advance when purchasing my ticket online; there are dozens of different signs to choose from) and peeled the paper backing from them. It left an adhesive that allowed the stencil to stick to the wood. Any card I could find was then used to push out the air bubbles. TIP: Upon pulling the paper backing from the stencil, try to keep the full stencil together. Don’t allow the cutouts to come up with it. By ensuring that it’s in one piece, it’ll make things much easier later.

 

With the stencil now attached to the wood, I could then peel off the cutouts to reveal the design. Do a thorough once over to make sure that all of the parts that should be taken away are gone. Since I had chosen a saying, it took me a while to get mine ready. The text was the most difficult part to work with because I had to make sure the center of letters like an ‘a’ or an ‘o’ didn’t go missing. Finally, with the necessary areas of wood completely exposed, I began to paint.

The paints were awesome as they dried quite quickly, blended well, and were great for layering. We also had a number of different paint applicators at our disposal (the white makeup sponges were the best). I used an ombre technique, so the colours of the font faded from one shade to another. I went for touches of metallic throughout as well.

When I felt satisfied with my work, I waited a bit longer for the paint to truly dry (our host also had a fan set up for people to use, if they were impatient about the drying process). Then, I went for it. I lifted a corner of the adhered stencil and peeled. TIP: Be careful when you do this though. I didn’t realize I was pulling it off going with the grain of the wood, and the stencil ended up lifting up slivers of wood with it, meaning there are spots of my sign with lines and no stain. It’s not super noticeable, but I know those flaws are there. As soon as I figured that out, I switched to peeling from an opposite corner and I was much more successful. No more wood came off.

From start to finish the whole activity took about three hours. The three of us had an excellent time and I was itching to register for another Design A Sign event right away. It’s a chance for anyone to express their inner artist without the pressure. I find these nights to be really relaxing and just enough out of the ordinary to make it feel like something special.

Calgary Restaurant Review: WURST (Brunch)

WURST is modern from the outside.

Flashing back to the beginning of December, Kirk and I were on our weekend getaway to Calgary. While we were visiting, I had planned several food outings. This included a Saturday morning brunch at WURST, available on weekends and holidays from ten o’clock in the morning to 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Located in the Mission district at 2437 4 Street, it was easy for us to get to by car (about a five minute drive) from Hotel Arts where we were staying.

I’d seen photographs of the place online, but, I have to say that the photographs don’t really do the place justice. The size of the interior is immense and I love the whimsical live trees growing in the center of the street-level room. We showed up for our OpenTable reservation and we were actually seated under one of the canopy of leaves (admittedly, somewhat dusty), which were decorated with string lights and Christmas ornaments. The bar stretches lengthwise across the room parallel to a handful of booths on the opposite side.

The bar is a nice focal point of WURST.

Towards the back of the eatery in a somewhat more private area, a large group of moms and their tots were having a gathering. Despite the occasional loud crying and shrieks from the children who ran rather rampant throughout the space, we managed to have a fairly enjoyable meal. The ambiance, through no fault of the restaurant, left a lot to be desired. Thankfully, the service and the food saved our morning.

Belgian Breakfast

Kirk went with the Belgian Breakfast ($19), which is a pretty typical plate of three eggs cooked to your liking with bacon, bratwurst, back bacon, house cut hash browns, Belgian waffle, and maple syrup. I mean, protein galore! The over easy eggs were perfectly prepared with hints of the yellow yolks emanating from behind thin layers of whites. The bratwurst and crispy bacon were delicious, too.

 

I always like to go for something classic with a twist. In this case, WURST makes their bennies using fresh baked cheese biscuits as the base rather than the usual English muffin. That made all the difference in the world with my Smokehouse Beef Eggs Benedict ($17) because I’m not a fan of English muffins. When broken, the soft poached eggs were beautifully runny, coating the shaved smoked beef brisket sitting beneath it. Super smoky and flavourful, the balsamic onion jam provided a touch of sweetness and the roasted mushrooms added an extra layer of texture and earthiness. Classic hollandaise finished it off. It also came with a side of the house cut hash browns and mixed greens. Overall, this was an excellent value and example of what their kitchen is capable of.

In addition to the food, we also took advantage of their $5 beverages. Kirk got a Caesar and I indulged with an orange Mimosa. Kirk commented that the Caesar, presented in a short glass, tasted like it didn’t have any alcohol in it, so I’m not sure if that will be for everyone. Nevertheless, I thought the mimosa was standard and acceptable for the price.

When we finished our meal, we wandered into the basement to take a look around. It’s set up exactly like a few of the German beer halls that we frequented on our trip to Munich last year, so it brought back some fond memories for us. Downstairs, they also have lockers that regular patrons can rent as storage space for their beer steins, which is a fun element.

WURST Brunch Menu

In the future, if we find ourselves back in Calgary, we wouldn’t hesitate to return to WURST for another meal. We’d happily do brunch again or maybe check it out for dinner next time.

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.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Menjiro Ramen

Menjiro Ramen’s mural; I did not win the contest to fill the speech bubbles.

I’ve been running my YEG Food Deals pages on this site for over four years now and, having expanded to sharing information on social media, I’m finding that more and more businesses are starting to reach out to me on their own. In the case of Menjiro Ramen, their sister restaurant Jang (also new) is the one that direct messaged me through Instagram.

On Monday, December 17, Menjiro Ramen would be having their grand opening. To celebrate, they were running a week-long special for $10 noodle bowls. Kirk and I actually attempted to visit on that first day. However, to avoid disappointment, I phoned ahead when I got home from work to see if we should bother to drive over.

Turns out, they had literally just sold their last bowl of soup. I followed their Instagram page over the next few days and it seemed that they were consistently selling out. It wasn’t until Saturday afternoon that we managed to make it there and snag some noodles for ourselves.

Menjiro Ramen’s Menu

Unlike most other shops, Menjiro Ramen only serves soup made using chicken rather than the usual pork. For that initial visit, we were told that we only had the option of their Tori Paitan, a creamy broth. That was okay with me since I had my eyes on the Black Garlic, which uses that soup base, and Kirk ordered the Spicy Red ($10 each that day). They were short of the pork shoulder that typically comes in each bowl as well. To replace that, we would receive pork belly instead.

It didn’t take long for the kitchen to prepare our meals. Both bowls came out piping hot. I sampled Kirk’s Spicy Red. It literally had a deep orange-red colour to the soup. I sampled the broth by taking a couple of sips. Personally, I found it a tad too spicy for me. It had a very peppery finish that lingered at the back of my throat. I don’t really enjoy heat like that as it’s sort of irritating. It did taste pretty good though. I simply wouldn’t be able to have a whole bowl of that in a single sitting.

I thought my Black Garlic ramen was a lot more manageable. The broth may have been saltier and grainier than I’d prefer, and I was a hoping for more noodles. Yet, I thought the texture of the noodles was al dante with a nice bite. I also loved the pork belly and the chicken seemed to be well-seasoned. The marinated egg and pieces of bamboo shoot were delicious ingredients.

This art cracks me up.

Being so new, I wanted to see if a second visit a few weeks later would make a difference. We stopped in again for lunch on another Saturday, making sure to arrive shortly after opening to get the best selection. Menjiro Ramen was only half full, and I had noticed on their social media that they were no longer posting about being sold out, so the restaurant must not be as busy as when initially launched.

On this occasion, Kirk and I both opted for the creamy broth-based Spicy Miso Ramen ($14.50 per bowl). We also started with a plate of the Cheesy Takoyaki ($6.50).

Kirk tried the takoyaki, but he didn’t love them. He found the texture of the interior was too smooth and the exterior wasn’t crispy enough. I’m not entirely sure what Menjiro Ramen uses for the center. Traditionally, takoyaki is made with a wheat-flour batter and it’s filled with octopus, green onion, tempura crumbs, and green onions. When there was octopus lacking, these were quite mushy on the inside. Overall though, the mouthfeel didn’t bother me. They fit my memory of the takoyaki I’d eaten from markets in the past. I imagined it was an incredibly creamed potato. The octopus pieces were apparent and I liked the consistency of the shell. What really improved them was the melted cheese. Honestly, cheese makes everything better, and it did its job in this particular case.

The Spicy Miso Ramen hit the spot. I feel like maybe the portions were somewhat larger than with the discounted bowls offered during their grand opening week. Then again, the bowls they used to serve the ramen were different (specific dinnerware for specific menu items), so maybe it was a visual trick. One thing I noticed was that the bowls, sadly, didn’t have any bamboo shoots this time around. Pork shoulder was in-stock though, so we got to try that. Not my favourite. We both liked the pork belly better. Additionally, I thought the chicken was a little more bland than before. Kirk commented that his soup wasn’t hot enough, temperature-wise. And, I will say that the space loses heat every single time a customer enters, especially on chilly days. On the other hand, the temperature of mine was fine (I can’t deal with scalding food). Whenever I pulled noodles from the bowl, steam came wisping up. The intensity of the spice was much more pleasant than the Spicy Red, too.

I don’t regularly go out for ramen, so it’s hard for me to compare with the several other places in the city. Still, on their own merit, Menjiro Ramen’s chicken-based broths are quite satisfying and, between the two visits, the service has been great. The business is also a welcome addition to the far south side of Edmonton, an area that was previously lacking a more than decent ramen spot. Hopefully this location continues to fit that bill.