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?

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.

Calgary Restaurant Review: Elbow Room Brittania

Happy Hour at Elbow Room Britannia

To celebrate my birthday this year, Kirk and I decided to take a page out of another local blogger’s book. Linda Hoang (a.k.a. Lindork) had gone on a road trip adventure to southern Alberta courtesy of Tourism Calgary. We followed suit, reserving a 2-night shopping package at Hotel Arts. For each evening we stayed, we received a voucher to be redeemed towards a $75 gift card at our choice of three malls — CrossIron Mills, CF Chinook Centre, or The CORE — meaning, for our mini holiday, we received $150 to spend (this deal is still on until February 28, 2019).

That turned out to be a really nice perk, and it was our major plan for our time in Calgary. We ended up going through the majority of our money within the first several hours of our extended weekend. Therefore, shopping was put on the back burner quite quickly . The rest of our time was broken out into memorable meals, including our initial stop at Elbow Room Brittania (802 49 Avenue SW).

There are so many fantastic restaurants in Calgary, but I really wanted to be able to keep within a decent budget. To help save or, at the very least, get the best bang for our buck, I made several reservations based on eateries that offered happy hour options. Elbow Room was one of those (2pm to 5pm, Tuesday to Friday; drinks and food starting at $5 each).

Elbow Room Britannia happy hour menu.

Located in Britannia Plaza, there are two stories available to patrons. The open kitchen seems to be situated on the lower-level, and the bar is upstairs. The mint green walls give the space a modern-vintage feel, and the big windows allow light to flow in. Kirk and I arrived mid-afternoon for a late lunch, and took full advantage of the discounted items by ordering Fries ($5), Brussels Sprouts ($6), Arancini ($8), Carpaccio ($8), Humboldt Squid ($8), Burrata Rossa Pizza ($12), and Tiger Prawns ($15). Had we been there outside of happy hour, we would have paid about $120 before tax and tip for the same items. The portion sizes seemed to be standard, not shrunken in order to alleviate the costs on their part, and, in total, it was about half the price for us.

Humboldt Squid

I’ll begin with the dish that was somewhat of a letdown. The Humboldt Squid was made from what came across as processed strips of the cephalopods. The lightly tempura battered pieces were pleasantly crisp, but the spongy texture of the squid wasn’t ideal. Although I do like other types of pickled vegetables, I have an aversion to typical cucumber-style pickles in the vein of dill or bread and butter flavours. The squid was covered in slices of pickle, which saturated the outer shell pretty quickly. Otherwise, the sweet and sour harissa (a Moroccan ketchup/chili paste) provided a different take on a cocktail sauce, and the lemon dill yogurt provided a cooling balance.

The perfectly prepared Fries were plentiful. Crunchy with a soft middle, these were elevated with three different dips: ketchup, gochujang mayo, and truffle mayo. I tried not to fill up too much on the cuts of potato, but it was hard not to snack on them when they were sitting in front of me the entire time.

Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts have fast become one of my top veggies. I love how the tightly packed heads can be flavoured with a variety of seasoning, cheeses, sauces, or oils. The outer leaves char up when fried, and they soften slightly while still retaining bite. The serrano pepper crema and sharp cheddar were excellent accompaniments, but what I think took these a notch further was the use of lemon, giving it a zest and acidity that I’d never seen utilized in Brussels sprouts in the past.

Burrata Rosa Pizza

As far as pizzas go, the Burrata Rossa was quite delicious. We were already nearing full by the time it was presented. Somehow, we still managed to eat half of it. The Neapolitan dough was thin and crisp, allowing for that helpful fold upon devouring. The San Marzano tomato sauce tasted light and fresh, and there was a decent amount of prosciutto. The only thing Kirk and I both thought was a little out of place were the ribbons of basil. In small quantities, the hints of mint and licorice can work. Here, there was just too much of the herb, which overpowered the rest of the ingredients. On the plus side, the huge dollop of burrata cheese in the middle added a sense of decadence with its warm and melty goodness.

The Arancini were orbs of delight. The rice had a wonderfully creamy consistency while still maintaining the grain’s texture. There was a bit of stringy cheese inside, too. The outside was crisp, and the red Thai coconut curry cream was divine. Just the right amount of heat on the palate.

Considering that the Carpaccio is made with Brant Lake Wagyu beef, I was surprised to learn that this plate only costs $13.50 regularly. To get it for $8 during happy hour is a complete steal. I lost count eventually, but I think there were probably about 15 or more slices of beef on the plate. Topped with shallot, arugula, Grana Padano, and mosto cotto (a sweet sauce that I thought was aged balsamic vinegar), I was in heaven. The side of truffled yuzu aioli solidified the umami flavours.

Tiger Prawns

Our top choice during our entire meal was clearly the Tiger Prawns. These were the bomb. The square of crisp sushi rice laid the foundation. Atop that was a beautifully butterflied prawn with a fried, but not greasy, coating. Sesame, scallions, anise soy reduction, and gochujang ebi mayo emphasized the Asian inspired plate. I could have eaten a dozen of those, if I hadn’t stuffed myself with everything else.

What a way to start our food adventures in Calgary. Elbow Room Britannia was definitely a choice that I did not regret. I’d go back in a heartbeat. Not only were the dishes superb, the service was great, too. Hopefully, it’ll be there for a long time to come, as it’ll be a regular haunt for me on future trips to Calgary.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Buco Pizzeria + Vino Bar

The open kitchen of Buco Windermere is surrounded by bar seating.

Sorrentino’s Restaurant Group expanded in mid-2015 with Buco Pizzeria + Vino Bar in St. Albert. While I’ve never visited that location, a friend of mine is the executive chef at the newer Epcor Tower spot in downtown Edmonton. It’s just blocks away from Rogers Place. For me, the closest and most convenient is in Windermere.

My fiancé and I recently popped in to check it out. We spent an entire $65 OpenTable dining cheque on an indulgent Saturday afternoon lupper (lunch-dinner). The reason why we chose to go at that time is because they offer Social Hour specials daily from 2pm to 5pm and 9pm to close.

It’s nice and airy inside with an industrial feel.

Even in the middle of the day, there were a decent number of guests seated in both the industrial style lounge and dining room. However, there were just a few staff on hand, so service was a little slower than it should have been. It was worth it though, and it kind of forced us to sit there and enjoy our meal rather than quickly rushing through it all.

My Peaches ‘n Cream cocktail at the front and the featured Shock Top draft at the back.

To start, my significant other opted to go for their feature draft. At $5 for 12 oz. it was reasonable (regularly $7.50). That day’s option was Shock Top, so nothing too special. I chose to try their Peaches ‘n Cream cocktail ($5 for Social Hour, usually $9.50) — peach grappa, peach purée, white tea, and peach infused whipped cream. Our server said it took longer to make it because they had an issue with the whipped cream dispenser. That’s no big deal. I was more annoyed with the fact that it was so messy. The drink was filled so high that it was spilling down the sides of the glass and I got whipped cream all over my hands and the table. They never bothered to wipe that down or offered to bring extra napkins or anything. Other than that, I could have done without so much ice. The cocktail comes in a short glass, so the more cubes there are, the less drink there is, and I finished it really quickly.

For sustenance, we shared a Carne E Formaggio Board for 2 people ($12, typically $22), a Carne pizza, and a Fig Prosciutto pizza ($12 each, outside of Social Hour it’s $21). This was a ton of food and could easily have fed another couple.

Carne E Formaggio Board for 2 People

The cheese and charcuterie board was brought out as a starter, so we were able to snack on that first. This actually wowed us because we weren’t expecting the smaller size to be such an extensive spread. I think the only constructive feedback we have about this item is that it needs to come with more slices of bread. There were only two pieces per person. It meant the ratio of bread to cheese and meat was off, and it’d be nice to have more bread to balance everything out. Otherwise, the variety of cheese included a mix of both hard and soft textures and a range of mild to pungent flavours. The meats were also great. They stuck to the more familiar cured meats like prosciutto and salami, which ensures everything will be eaten when it comes to a chef’s choice type of situation.

For the pizzas, we were eventually asked if we were ready to have them fired up. We felt like we’d had enough of the board, so we said yes. It didn’t take too long for them to bake in their oven and they came out piping hot. The Carne is a pie layered with red sauce, meat, meat, and more meat. The toppings included short rib, Italian sausage, pepperoni, and bacon for the protein. Smoked caciocavallo and fior di latte filled the cheese quotient. This pizza was everything a meat lover could want as there was just so much of it and it was incredibly savoury. On the ligher side of scale, our Fig Prosciutto pizza is made without tomato sauce. It consisted of fontina cheese, fig jam, prosciutto, and balsamic drizzle. It has that salty-sweet combo that is appealing to a lot of palates. The crusts were easy to fold, crispy and slightly charred on the outside, and a little chewy in the middle.

Raspberry Ricotta Cake

Half of our meal was packed up to go as there was no way we could finish it all at once. But, we did save some room for dessert. In the end, we shared a slice of the beautifully presented Raspberry Ricotta Cake ($9). It was a bit more crumbly than I thought it should be despite the moistness of the ricotta and vanilla based cake. Still, the raspberry coulis, fresh berries, and fresh whipped cream did a good job of tying everything together.

We’ll definitely have to go back again soon to sample more items. Nevertheless, judging by what we’ve eaten there so far, overall, Buco Pizzeria’s menu is up to snuff. Where they can certainly use improvements is with the servers and management. They seemed kind of oblivious to the fact that they had guests. They were more preoccupied with setting up the restaurant for the evening and ignored current patrons unless they were blatantly waved at. It shouldn’t be a requirement to make full on eye contact with a staff member in order to get any service. They need to be trained to be more attentive. Hopefully, I’ll see changes with respect to that next time I’m there.