Monday, April 25, 2011

Calgary: Great Steak at Vintage Chophouse

We've been living in Toronto for over 3 years now and truly miss Alberta beef. You may not all agree, and I'm sure there are good butchers around, but we miss good steak, surviving mostly on Costco tenderloin and the Keg. On our first visit back to Calgary in 9 months, a steak house was definitely in order. We have been to Vintage Chophouse in the past and I often reminisce about the delicious lamb popsicles and Andretti wine I had the first time I was there (thanks Merrill!!). The server also treated me to my first glass of red ice wine, yum!

To start, we had escargots served on a baguette. The sauce was creamy and delicious but I prefer my escargot straight up without the bread. I also couldn't resist the beef tartar (made from prime tenderloin!), topped with a fried egg and accompanied by some delicious crispy toasts. I normally avoid the "sides" that are filler, but the toasts were so good! Needless to say, we quickly polished off the whole dish!

Without a doubt, we had an assortment of STEAKS for dinner: Tony opted for the New York striploin, and while I normally always have prime rib, I felt like the occasion called for indulgence in the rib eye, and my mom stuck with the old favourite, prime rib. Our steaks each came with a side, which came out family style so we could all share the sauteed mushrooms, asparagus and broccolini. On top of the standard sides, we also added the truffle mac & cheese (a bit too heavy for me) and lobster mashed (SUPER good and a MUST have).
Our server also brought us a selection of the sauces available: Vintage steak sauce, creamy peppercorn, chimichurri and bearnaise. Our favourite was the creamy peppercorn, but the chimichurri was quite good as well. My rib eye was best of all "naked," the great beef flavour medium rare was all I needed! Each of our beef selections tasted amazing and different, and of course, mom and I couldn't finish. We probably could have just shared one steak but I have no regrets in my rib eye indulgence. The best part was, our "expensive" steak meal was STILL CHEAPER than the average meal we have in Toronto. Amazing.

Vintage Chophouse is a great place for a special occasion, romantic night out, or a fun night out with friends over good food and drinks. The service is great and definitely a must-stop for visitors to the city.

Vintage Chophouse & Tavern
320-11th Ave SW
403-262-7262 (reservations on OpenTable)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Dinner by the Water at Lake House

On our way back from our first cross-border shopping trip last week, we made a quick decision to stop in the Lake House Restaurant. A friend had told us about it before, but being quite out of the way, we never made it out. A phone call on the way secured us a lovely window table and beat the rush that was soon to fill the restaurant.

I had a GREAT clam chowder, exactly what I was craving - hearty, full of clams and corn. Tony had a good warm mushroom salad, served with goat cheese and balsamic. Our friend Stephen had some tiger shrimp to start that were prepared with garlic butter. We were all happy with our starters and the speed with which they came! Perfect for our post-shopping hunger.

After reading over the menu, I settled on a delicious mushroom risotto,
topped with fried leaks, which was a really nice touch, and seared scallops. The risotto was amazing, although half the portion size would have been more than enough for me.

Tony had the prime rib, which is the dinner special for Saturdays and Sundays. It was HUGE and really good, perfectly prepared at medium rare. As true Albertans, we don't often find good steak, but you can't go too wrong with prime rib. The accompanying mashed potatoes are worth a mention as well, they were not your usual mashed...I hazard a guess that they were actually Yukon gold; in any case, they were very flavourful (no gravy required!).

Stephen also had good beef, the filet mignon recommended by the waitress, served on a bed of gnocchi. We were pleasantly surprised the meat was all very good, but still think my risotto was the highlight :)

I gave up dessert for Lent, in case you had not noticed that sweets have been lacking my posts of late, but Lake House offered up "mini-dessert," for just a taste of something sweet. Stephen opted for the shot glass of creme brulee, which had looked very enticing on the menu, and Tony had a single scoop of sour apple gelato. Both got their small taste of sweets before we were back on the road.

Lake House was the perfect stop, our food was all hot and fresh and we were lucky to have arrived before the restaurant really filled up around 6:30pm. You can tell it's an "old favourite" kind of place, with several groups celebrating birthdays with their families. A summer seat by the window with boats on the lake would certainly make a very nice, romantic dinner.

Lake House Restaurant
3100 North Service Road, Vineland, ON

Adventurous Eats at The Black Hoof

The Black Hoof has been well received and reviewed in Toronto since its inception 2+ years ago. Regrettably, we never made our way there because of the "no reservations" policy...I am not always keen to line-up, especially given there are so many options in the city. On the warmest weekend of the year yet, we decided to head out to Dundas West and try our luck. I should mention that driving there was probably a mistake - Dundas West is currently under some major road construction with parking at a super premium. It also kind of explained why the area seemed a bit quiet for a Saturday night. We love the neighbourhood and hope the businesses are not suffering too terribly under construction, like those on St. Clair have. But I digress! We walked into a full house around 7pm, not surprising since the restaurant opened at 6pm (parking seriously took some time!), but the hostess was quick to take our number and suggest a place for a drink down the street, The Press Club. I'd probably never walk into the Press Club on my own, but it's a dive'ish-neighbourhoody kind of place, I have no doubt some great times have been had there! Once we arrived, we were pretty sure the rest of the patrons were waiting for tables at the Hoof (we jokingly asked the bar tender if they open early just for those waiting for a table...I think it's true!). We were told it would take up to 45min for a table, but something opened up for us before I could even finish my drink, so back to the Hoof we went for our food adventure!

The Black Hoof's menu is found on a blackboard at the back end of the restaurant - simple sounding items, yet not for the unadventurous. A sample of the food offered can be found on the website, but it's just a sampling of what you might find in person. Although we don't really find the menu all that "adventurous" or crazy, it's definitely not your average restaurant!

No surprise that we tried to order as much as we possibly could (until the waitress tells us it is too much food...but we still find they generally underestimate how much we can eat!). Below is how our indulgent food adventure went:

House cured meats - a fantastic assortment of...well, house cured meats. I can't honestly recall all that came on the platter, but it was plentiful (bigger than I expected, enough for a table of 4+ really!) and we enjoyed all of it. The meat ranged from light to strong and was served with some good, grainy mustard. Loved this, and if you're going to visit a charcuterie, this really is a must have! There wasn't any meat on the board I didn't enjoy.

Bone marrow - served with sea salt and chimichurri. This was a small yet indulgent dish, even the bread that accompanied was indulgent, drenched in butter or oil of some sort. It was, however, quite delicious...the sea salt and chimichurri gave it just a hint of flavour to kick it up a notch.

Smoked beef tartar - this is a pretty standard dish for us to order, but it was not served standard at Black Hoof. It came with bread pressed with garlic and soaked in egg yolk. I am actually not a fan of egg yolk so it felt a bit much for me...but the beef tartar was really AMAZING. GREAT beef taste, and not at all mushy, which some tartars can be. This was very well prepared (minus the heavy bread in my opinion, but I can see how it could be enjoyed by others). I enjoyed it just in its simplicity.
Duck taligatelle - confit with current, brussel sprouts and almond chips, this dish was fantastic...nothing like FRESH pasta (it's a basic expectation from a good restaurant, right?). After the heavy egg-dipped bread from the tartar, I wasn't too thrilled the pasta hid an egg to be mixed, but on another day, I probably would have liked it. Overall though, the pasta was light and delicious, and was almost a pallet cleanser from our heavy, meaty meal.
Glazed pork belly - no doubt we HAD to order this. It was as good as expected (fatty of course, so don't be surprised!), and the accompanying apples were quite delicious. It was the perfect size for the 2 of us to share.
Beef heart and seared scallops -
this was our last dish, but boy, did we save the best for last! I'm glad we didn't sacrifice this in our long list of menu items. It came sort of like a deconstructed salad, but no salad this was (but there were greens!). The beef heart was perfectly seared, softly red in the middle...imagine perfect ahi tuna if you will for the preparation. The delicate, tender flavour was well matched with the seared scallops, seasoned cauliflower and puree. I was so stuffed by the time this dish came (with the pork belly) but I couldn't stop eating! This was definitely our favourite, and most outstanding dish, of the night.

We had a great time at The Black Hoof and were glad we finally made our way there (I'm sorry it took so long!). We have only heard good things from all of you who have stopped in; and yes, it is as good as they say :) It's worth a little adventure out to Dundas West!

The Black Hoof
928 Dundas Street West

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Vive La Brunch at Bonjour Brioche

Brunch is very much a part of living in Toronto, there are options galore all over the city, and most are small, quaint little places that have unique offerings with varying specials week to week. Some of our favourite places include Saving Grace (amazing but I recommend visiting on a not-so-hot day!), Aunties and Uncles (the BEST waffles), and Queen and Beaver (this is a dinner post, but the brunch is something a little different and in a lovely setting). This weekend, my friend Julie and I stopped in Bonjour Brioche in Leslieville for a visit. Brunch is great because it's a chance to catch up with friends and enjoy some great comfort food. I often thing brunch could be one of the most unhealthy meals, but oh-so-good, right!? Like most other favourite brunch locations, there are no reservations and it's first come first served...and your whole party better be with you. This worked to our advantage this time, as Julie and I were the first in the line-up to be a "complete" party, and so we were quickly seated on the covered patio, intimately at our little table, ready for our meal! Bonjour Brioche offers daily specials for omlettes, quiches, and sandwiches. The asparagus, brie and apple quiche was very tempting...but I also couldn't resist the call of the croque madame for a savoury taste. I should mention at this point that we had just come from another GREAT place in Leslieville, Bobette & Belle, for cupcake tastings...that is definitely a MUST STOP in the area (try the mango-passionfruit, I guarantee you won't be disappointed, I don't even like cupcakes that much and I love!).

My croque madame was great, with a perfect fried egg on top, served with a healthy side of salad. Julie had the omlette with smoked salmon and caviar - the egg was actually a tad bland but I supposed you really had to mix up the caviar. Our highlight I think was the passionfruit juice - it was fresh and delicious; and best of all, no skimpy little juice glass which is often my pet peeve!

I think I will definitely have to give the quiche and sandwiches a try. There's always next time!