Restaurant Review: 80th and Ivy Wine Kitchen

>> Thursday, June 28, 2012


My husband and I always joke about moving to Europe. The lifestyle, food, wine…the Europeans definitely have their priorities right (we’ll leave the economy thing out of this). Luckily there’s a new restaurant in town that’s trying to bring some of that European style to our culinary scene in Calgary. The owners of 80th and Ivy really wanted their space to be a location where people just went to relax, unwind and enjoy life. They’re trying to make wine accessible to all - along with some tasty tapas styled dishes of course!

Atmosphere: A duo layout - a bright and open casual dining area with large surrounding windows downstairs adjoined to a sophisticated upper level - highlighting comfort and style.

Price Range: Mid $10s - $20s

Food and Wine: Our server was extremely helpful in suggesting some dishes to start with, like the Medjool Dates, which comes with four dates stuffed with chorizo and wrapped with prosciutto. They’re baked making the outer prosciutto extremely crispy. Many things contrast and compliment one another with the salty, spicy meats and sweet dates, crispy outer layer and soft inner core all coming together. It’s a bite, but a great one.


We had the Prawn Rolls next. Each prawn is wrapped in wonton wrappers and fried, served with chili lime and grilled pineapple coulis. It was fun to dip them in to the different sauces, where the pineapple was sweet and sour and the chili lime was slightly spicy. I did find that the wrappers fell off the prawn when I tried to cut in to them, so if you’re having this dish, just pick them up and go for a single bite!

One of my favourites for the night was the Rotisserie Chicken Sweet Bun Sliders. Asian inspired with five spice chicken, bean sprouts, and apple slaw drizzled with a blood orange aioli. The best part was the sweet buns because we found out they were baked fresh daily at a local Chinatown bakery. I was extremely excited that 80th and Ivy were supporting local establishments! I’m already making a mental note to go back for more.


We had to try an entrée sized dish and the Driveview Farms Alberta Lamb sounded very appetizing and it was. The lamb was melt in your mouth tender, juicy and flavourful. It wasn’t gamey at all, which is the way I prefer lamb. I was delighted at how amazing the minted barley risotto tasted. It was buttery and creamy, the barley was cooked perfectly to provide a nice chew.  The mint really added that little some thing extra, not overpowering the flavours, but bringing it up another notch instead. By far some of the tastiest risotto I’ve had in a long time, plus its barley so it’s healthy for you.

Although we were stuffed at this point, there was no way we weren’t going to get dessert for the evening. Since we were already at that point, why not just get two desserts, the Crème Brulee and Chocolate Cinnamon Cake. The peaches and cream crème brulee was made with Greek yogurt and it definitely felt a lot lighter than others I’ve had before. There were definite hints of tangy yogurt in each bite and I really liked it since I use a lot of yogurt in my own cooking at home.


The cinnamon definitely stood out amongst the chocolate in the cake, which I liked. However, I was a bit shocked that my ice cream came as a sauce in a dish. Not what I was expecting when I read ice cream (I am very much an ice cream fiend). I dipped the cake in the sauce, but finally decided to just set it aside. Here’s crossing my fingers that they do decide to change it back to a nice big scoop (or two) of frozen ice cream because the cake itself was moist and decadent.

With the wine specials on that evening (selection of 30 wines for $30 every Wednesday), I had to order a bottle (sadly also finished the bottle but that’s neither here nor there) of the Alpha Zeta Valipolicella Ripasso 2009. It definitely tasted better once aerated, with cherry flavours and earthy notes. I found it went very nicely with the lamb and also the medjool dates. The wine isn’t overly tart and doesn’t overwhelm the food. It was medium bodied and didn't really linger on the palette.


My Picks: Medjool Dates, Rotisserie Chicken Sweet Bun Sliders, Driveview Farms Alberta Lamb

Overall: My friend and I ended up staying at 80th and Ivy for well over three hours. It definitely felt cozy and comfortable, had it not been for work the next day we probably would have been there even longer! Since it doesn’t look like I’ll be moving to Europe any time soon, at least I can enjoy my wine and food the way the Europeans do – in a space that is welcoming and where time isn’t a concern.

80th and Ivy Wine Kitchen
1127 17 Avenue SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 703-5421
Website: http://www.group933.com/

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Rouge and White Garden Party

>> Monday, June 25, 2012


People say you’re either a runner or you’re not. I’m not sure if I can validate that since I put a lot of time and effort in to training for both distance and endurance. What I have realized though is that aside from the personal health benefits I gained from running, I can also use it to help assist others by joining campaigns where I can run for the cure through different charitable events. That was my way of putting my hobby to work for others.

So when I found out that Chef Rogalski of Rouge Restaurant was crafting a special evening to raise awareness for the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, which is dedicated to neurological and mental health, I found it inspiring that Chef Rogalski has found a way to put forth his devotion for food towards such a righteous cause. I was more than willing to assist in his endeavour and hopefully everyone would too. One might not cook or run, but I believe attending this event would be a great first step to contribute to a notable cause and raise awareness for brain related illnesses and injuries.
Please see below for more information on how you can do your part in this cause:

ROUGE RESTAURANT HOSTS INAUGURAL ROUGE & WHITE GARDEN PARTY TO HELP RAISE AWARENESS FOR HOTCHKISS BRAIN INSTITUTE

What: Rouge Restaurant is celebrating summer and the Stampede’s centennial year by hosting the first annual Rouge and White Garden Party. Join award-winning Chef Paul Rogalski and celebrity guests for a philanthropic, pre-Stampede carnival extravaganza. Guests can expect a chic midway experience with bubbly, wine pairings and a gourmet spin on traditional carnival food. The event is intended to raise awareness for the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, showing support and bringing together people who have been affected by brain related illnesses or injuries.

Why: Neurological related illnesses and injuries hit close to home for Rouge co-owners as both have had family and friends recently affected. The Hotchkiss Brain Institute plays a large role in neurological and mental health research and Rouge would like to highlight their work and efforts. Tickets are $125 each and sold on a first come first serve basis. To purchase tickets to the Rouge and White Garden Party please call 403-531-2767.

Who:
Host/Presenter - Chef Paul Rogalski, Chief Culinary Officer/Co-owner, Rouge Restaurant
Presenter - Dr. Sam Weiss, Hotchkiss Brain Institute
Presenter - George Brookman, Past President and Chairman, Calgary Stampede

Where: Rouge Restaurant - 1240 8th Avenue S.E. Calgary, Alberta
Celebrate the Calgary Stampede`s Centennial year in one of the Big Four’s original homes at the A.E. Cross House in historical Inglewood.

When: Thursday, July 5, 2012 at 6:30 p.m.

Dress: Rouge and White

Please contact Rouge Restaurant for more information and on how you can purchase a ticket. Every little bit counts!

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Restaurant Review: Cibo

>> Friday, June 22, 2012


Talking amongst friends the other day, we were (and weren’t really) shocked at how quickly all the movie rental places closed down in and around the city. No longer are people looking to drive out to their neighbourhood rental store to pick up a movie on a Friday night. Now a days people just click on Netflix and ta da! We were all a bit nostalgic about the whole process, but then quickly realized that nobody wanted to really make the trek to return the movies after the fact. Plus, the freed up spaces have really been put to great use, with many restaurants and diners popping up to take their place. One notable restaurant that recently opened in such a space is Cibo (brought to you by the owners of Bonterra), down on 17th Ave replacing the old rogers video store. Walking in the first time, I was amazed at the transformation of the building…

Atmosphere: A huge rustic two level restaurant, outfitted with unique antiques ranging from bottle shaped chandeliers to brass fixtures. Definitely a feast for the eyes.

Price Range: Mid $10s - $20s


Food: After the shock of how big the restaurant was (it seemed like an endless walk) and when I finally got over taking in all the neat fixtures and furnishings, we were finally able to decide on what we wanted for dinner. The fact that I wanted to try everything on the menu didn’t help matters either. I was looking forward to the carb heavy dinner, so we decided to be good and start with a light insalate (salad) and had the Torn Chicken, which had big chunks of romaine lettuce with spicy calabrese and salami slices, chickpeas, sweet peppers all topped with a caper garlic dressing, cherry tomatoes and feta and chicken of course. If it sounds like quite the salad, it was! Each bite was fresh and had a nice combination of dressing, chicken and bits of spicy sausage. I really enjoyed the balance between the spicy and salty aspects of the dish, where it can easily sway one way or the other. Highly recommended if you’re looking for something lighter on the menu!

We knew we were going to get a pasta next and Gnocchi is my number one go to because I truly appreciate the time and effort that it takes to make each and every one of those little dough balls. This gnocchi dish was served with sautéed spinach and artichokes, enhanced with lemon and basil. I really appreciated how soft each gnocchi was. Melting in your mouth, bite after bite. I would have preferred them to be a bit more seared, to provide that crunch and texture contrast, but that didn’t change the fact that I really enjoyed the flavour of the dish.


I was pretty excited about the Prosciutto and Fig Pizza we ordered. I wasn’t disappointed. The sweetness of the fig really brought out the saltiness of the prosciutto and complimented the bitterness of the radicchio and arugula. I’m not usually one for salty and sweet, but this might have changed my perspective on things. The best part was how crispy the dough was, yet remaining chewy at the same time. I find the most important thing about a pizza is the crust and that’s what a pizza is truly rated for (beware of me reaching over your shoulder when you’re not looking to steal it). So as much as I enjoyed the toppings, I couldn’t stop eating the crispy doughy crunchy crust!

We were pretty stuffed at this point, but twist my rubber arm when it comes to dessert. We decided on the Nutella Calzone even though we wanted something light, because we just wanted more of that crust! I really enjoyed the hazelnuts strewn throughout the calzone, a very nice touch (great with an espresso!). It was served with a sour cherry compote, which I didn’t really care for because I’m always a dessert a la mode person and was looking for a nice vanilla bean gelato. However, when we asked the server she mentioned that their freezers weren’t cooperating and all their gelato were no good! So here’s hoping that it gets fixed asap because I’m ready for round two!.


My Picks: Gnocchi, Prosciutto Fig Pizza

Overall: The comfortable atmosphere coupled with really hearty fare made for a great first time dining experience at Cibo. I really look forward to going back and sampling the small bites menu along with their wine selection. I’m slightly saddened by the disappearance of Rogers, but I’d have to say that I’m pretty excited that it was replaced by Cibo.


Cibo
1012 17 Avenue SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 984-4755

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Libertine Turns 1

>> Monday, June 18, 2012


There’s nothing quite like celebrating and with our upcoming season in the city there’s going to be a lot of it going on. The big one of course is the Calgary Stampede’s 100 year Anniversary and everybody is looking forward to all the special events that coincidence with it. Things like concerts, special appearances and foodie festivities.

If you’re already anxious and didn’t want to wait a couple weeks, The Libertine Public House is going to be throwing a party this week! Thursday June 21st will signify Libertine’s 1st Anniversary and they’ll be celebrating with a “Smuggler’s Soiree”. The prohibition themed party will include beer and spirit samplings, themed cocktails and carving of their signature roasted pig.

Their usual menu along with their great selection of craft beer will be available as well.

Here are the details:

Date: June 21, 2012
Time: 4-8pm
Location: The Libertine Public House
Address: 223 8 Ave SW
Phone: (403) 265-3665

Hope to see you there!

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Restaurant Review: Avec Bistro

>> Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Summer is just around the corner in Calgary and every year it officially kicks off with our annual Stampede celebration. It’s a time when the whole city comes alive with daily events and celebrations. Every year it brings a large amount of tourism to the city and not coincidentally, you’ll notice new restaurants popping up around the same time, clamoring for the stampede crowds. Off the top of my head I can think of at least four new restaurants in various stages of completion, so when I heard Avec Bistro was amongst one of the first to open. I thought it would be a good time to see what it has to offer the hungry Calgarians this summer.

Atmosphere: Bright and open dining area with a large bar surrounded by natural wood finishings and many initimate tables.
Price Range: Mid $10s - $20s

Food and Wine: The menu is to the point, focused on simple bistro fare with several appetizer and entrée options. We began with a fresh and light Smoked Salmon Napoleon, which had slices of smoked salmon, bright greens served over a crispy potato pancake and lightly drizzled with a horseradish crème frâiche. I enjoyed the tangy flavours of the crème fraiche combined with the smokiness of the salmon, but would have really like some capers to top everything off. My friend really enjoyed the crispy potato pancake, which really added that nice crunch factor to the dish.


For our mains, we shared both the Bouillabaisse and Pork Chop dishes. The bouillabaisse consisted of a pleasantly spicy tomato saffron broth topped with mussels, shrimp and fish, all served with a couple crispy baguettes. The seafood was nicely cooked, the shrimp juicy and succulent, the mussels fresh and sweet. A nice sharing plate as well.

Next up was the Pork Chop entrée with seared potatoes and topped with an apple and brown butter chutney. The chop was still slightly pink in the middle, which is the way I prefer it, preserving the juices of the pork and preventing it from being dry. Apples and pork are a classic combo and this was no different, the spices and sweetness paired with the chop nicely. My friend really enjoyed the potatoes as well.

We also ordered a side of Frites which came with a spicy aioli and ketchup for dipping. The fries were crispy and salty. I really like the whole creamy mayo and fries thing, but I recommend dipping them in to the bouillabaisse broth if you order it.


Their desserts change on a daily basis and our choices for the evening included a Lemon Tart, Chocolate Ganache Cake or a Vanilla Bean Crème Brulee. We decided on the crème brulee. It was definitely different from others that I’ve had before. It was very rich. I tasted more of the eggy yolk flavour rather than the vanilla. I was satisfied after just a couple bites. The accompanying madelines were a bit tart with bits of pecans throughout. I suggest dipping them in to the crème brulee.

I didn’t get a chance to sample the wine that evening, but I did peruse the list and noticed that the focus was on French wines and bubbles. You can find a few wines from outside that region, but since it is a French restaurant, I found it to be fitting.


My Picks: Pork Chop Entree

Overall: It’s always nice to see more selection within the city, especially in the French aspect. I really enjoy French cuisine so there can never be enough French restaurants in my opinion. It’s nice to see Avec Bistro bring out the simplicity of French cooking to Calgary. Here’s looking for more uncomplicated yet tasty dishes in the future. Not only for the stampede crowds but for all that enjoy effortless food.

Avec Bistro
105 -550 11 Avenue SW
Calgary, AB
(587) 352-0964
Website: http://www.avecbistro.com/
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Restaurant Review: Black Betty Burger & Winebar

>> Tuesday, June 5, 2012


It’s always hard to watch restaurants close, especially Sociale since we always found ourselves wondering over for happy hour drinks during the week and lingering at the bar on the weekends. There were definitely some good memories there. Yet at the same time I was really excited to see a new burger restaurant open in the downtown core with the promise of gourmet burgers served along side some great wine. So it really didn’t take me long to find myself pulling up to a table at the new Black Betty Burger and Winebar.

Atmosphere: A top level where it’s more casual and laidback and a lower level with trendy contemporary surroundings.

Price Range: Mid $10s - $20s

Food and Wine: Since it’s a new burger place I knew I wanted to try one but the appetizers jumped out at me and my dining companion because we both really like avocados…add in tempura and we were sold. The Avocado Tempura came stuffed with Dungeness crab, bits of red onion and arugula. It was very creamy and the sweet crab flavour was noticeable, the spicy sriracha sauce was a nice addition. However, I was looking for more crunch, which would have added a nice texture to the dish. This was more evident when we went back for our second piece, it was a bit heavy and a nicely toasted baguette would have really helped.

For the burgers I had to try the Tahini Tuna, featuring a blackened seared ahi tuna steak, still slightly rare (the only way I like it), with avocado, crispy onions and arugula. It was drizzled with a tahini soy aioli over a herb ciabatta bun. I really like the combination of the soy aioli with the sesame and tuna, which are tried and true asian flavour combinations. It definitely worked here. The burger was light and the bread held up well against the sauce and toppings. The avocado added that much a nice mouthfeel to the burger and contrasted nicely with the arugula.


My friend ordered the Kobe burger, made with kobe beef topped with creamy brie cheese, arugula and a honey truffle Dijon sauce. I had a quick bite and her burger was very flavourful and juicy. The beef wasn’t dry and the truffle flavour really brought out the earthiness of the dish reminiscent of mushrooms on top of burgers.

Our sides of the Sweet Potato Fries and House Salad were of a good portion size. I am a sucker for sweet potato fries and devour them no matter where I get them. These were no different! The salad was fresh, the vinaigrette not over powering, a nice healthy side if you wanted to keep things light.

For dessert, we got the Red Velvet Sponge Cake with cream cheese icing and an extra side of vanilla ice cream (I believe all desserts should come with it…and I mean all of them). When I eat sponge cake, I expect it to be moist and fluffy. I found this one to be dry and crumbly, not what I expected. The ice cream helped but I noticed that after a while I just started eating the ice cream and left the cake behind. The overall flavour was a bit lacking and I didn’t taste much cocoa or chocolate and the cream cheese icing was a bit hard. It just felt like the cake had been sitting in the refrigerator for a bit longer than suggested.


I tried a couple of their wines that night, starting with the Altos De La Hoya Rose. It was a nice wine to start off the evening and would be good for the summer patio, with light citrus notes reminiscent of a sparking wine without the bubbles. My second glass was the Dona Paula Malbec a good overall wine, medium bodied with hints of berry and spices, minor oak aromas with a sweet lingering finish.

My Pick: Tahini Tuna

Overall: It’s nice to welcome a new burger restaurant to downtown Calgary. Even better that it’s only a couple blocks away from work, making it much easier to access versus some other places that have popped up around town. I just need to keep in mind to go there for their burgers and wine, and maybe leave the dessert behind the next time around.

Black Betty Burger & Winebar
606 1 St SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 265-4230
Website: www.blackbettybwb.com

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Restaurant Review: Famoso MacKenzie Towne

>> Friday, June 1, 2012


Recently there have been more and more conversations between my husband and I about where we live. It has gotten to the point where we’re considering moving closer to downtown, mainly to avoid traffic and Deerfoot.  Of course the atmosphere, being closer to the core and the accessibilities of great downtown restaurants also helps. So I was pretty shocked and excited to hear about Famoso coming to our neck of the woods, needless to say we’ve needed a good pizza place in the south for a while now and maybe now I can actually walk to a restaurant for a change.
Atmosphere: Open and airy, with high ceilings in the dining area to the open kitchen design. This pizza eatery is meant to be spacious and relaxing.

Price Range: Mid $10s - $20s


Food and Drinks: We had the honor of attending the soft opening of the MacKenzie Towne location where they allowed us to sample anything and everything off their menu. Lucky for us we were able to meet up with YYCBestEats, which really opened up the tasting opportunities!

When we entered everybody was greeted with their new cocktails which Famoso has created for their spring/summer menu. There was the Sangria, normally made with red wine but Famoso also put a twist on it by adding Grand Marnier and orange Italian soda. I really enjoyed their Italian Spritz consisting of prosecco, aperol, soda and flavours of blood orange. Both were very refreshing and would be great on a patio! They also went really nicely with the Roasted Kalamata Olives (or so I heard, not really an olive fan here).


It was very tough deciding on what we wanted to try since everything sounded so delectable! Since the menu is sectioned off in to appetizers, old world red and white pizzas and new world pizzas, we decided to try an item from each. We started with an order of the Proscuitto Wrapped Mozzarella Balls. When the dish arrived the mozzarella balls came in their famous hand made tomato sauce, perfectly seasoned and great for dipping with the chewy pita bread.

To make sure I was also getting my greens, I ordered the Blackberry Arugula Salad. It was a really nice balance of sweetness from the blackberries, saltiness from the goat cheese, crunch from the pecans and acid from the vinaigrette. Not to mention the peppery arugula combined with the fresh garden greens. A slice of pita also accompanied the salad, which I again dipped in to the tomato sauce.


I had to remind myself not to eat too much of the addictive pita bread because the pizzas were coming! The first one being the Capricciosa, was from the Authentic Neapolitan Pizza portion of the menu. It consisted of Italian ham, roasted mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and olives all on top of their basil tomato sauce. I really liked the combination of mushrooms and ham with a bit of the artichoke to cut through the heaviness. This created a nice blend of salty earthiness. It was a bit hard to grab the slice of pizza though because the crust was a bit soggy. I think this is due to the fresh tomato sauce, which packs more water content and is less pasty like other places. Fork and knife were definitely required to eat it.

We also tried the Funghi Tartufo Pizza, which also featured their traditional pasta sauce topped with oyster and white mushrooms, truffle oil and reggiano parmesan. Truffle oil and mushrooms are a match made in heaven, but I didn’t get much truffle flavour on this pizza unlike some others I’ve tried. The pizza itself was good, with a nice chewy texture in the crust and lots of mushrooms and cheese, but it was missing that extra bit. I think some arugula or spiciness would have elevated it a bit more.


From the Pizza Bianca section, we had the Primavera featuring lots of smoked mozzarella, roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, olives and onions. It was a bit similar to the Cappricciosa since the toppings were comparable. However I preferred this pizza more so because the crust was a bit sturdier and the roasted red peppers provided some extra sweetness.

Next up was the special Smoke Salmon New World Pizza created for the spring/summer menu topped with red onions, smoked salmon, capers and a dill cream sauce. I was surprised at how flavourful the pizza was. The dill and capers really added a nice tang to the overall flavour combo and complimented the smokiness of the salmon. It was a favourite across the board and I’d definitely order it again.
   

Although we were thoroughly stuffed by now, we were told that they served Fiasco Gelato on site and featured it in their desserts like the Dolce & Banana, which is definitely one of my favourite desserts at Famoso. Bananas, caramel sauce with Fiasco’s vanilla bean?! Sold! I also had to try the Affogato, which is a shot of espresso with vanilla bean gelato, a great way to incorporate the after dinner coffee in with dessert. It was creamy and reminded me of a rootbeer float…espresso float! Yum! Afterwards I had to go up to the gelato counter, purely to make sure I was getting a good overview of all the different flavours they were offering of course. Some of my favourites included the espresso, fior de latte and burnt sugar banana. If you like chocolate and you like bananas, you’ll love that gelato.

After dinner, the owners also provided a short overview of how Famoso came to be. Starting from a dream after a European vacation through Naples, which was quite inspirational. The Chef also gave an overview of how the pizza is prepared using special imported 00 flour and Campania tomatoes from Italy. There was a demo on dough tossing and lucky me was pulled up on stage (remember to self, hiding in the back does NOT work).


My Picks: Blackberry Salad, Primavera Pizza, Smoked Salmon Pizza

Overall: Everybody at the table really enjoyed themselves. The evening was very interactive. The servers had really good recommendations and the food tasted just like the way I remembered when we visited Famoso on 4th street (consistency is key). I just wanted to say thanks to Famoso for moving down south and bringing a bit of the core to my area of town. Maybe one day we’ll move to the inner city, but at least for the moment we have a bit of the core coming to us.

Famoso Neopolitan Pizzeria – MacKenzie Towne
5 High Street SE
Calgary, AB
(587) 352-5566
Website: http://www.famoso.ca/

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