Saturday, December 31, 2011

CALGARY: Deliciously Wholesome Food at Boxwood Cafe

When we visit Calgary, we prioritize only two sorts of meals: steak and Vietnamese Pho (the best of all the places we've lived in Canada!). We have abundant fancy meal options in Toronto so we don't make a ton of effort to scope out new restaurants. Lucky for me, my friends know how much I love food and are happy to suggest cool new places that have popped up in the city. While looking for a place to catch up with my friend Andy, I could only suggest my old faves, Living Room, Brava and Big Fish - and since they are all still around, I assume they are still good! Andy had a better idea, and that's how we ended up at Boxwood Cafe, sister restaurant to long standing River Cafe in Princess Island Park.

Boxwood is standalone restaurant in Central Memorial Park in the Beltline area (bonus: ample street parking free after 6pm!). Upon entering, I immediately felt the bright, warm and welcoming atmosphere, like walking into a friend's contemporary cottage. There are small dinner tables for an intimate gathering, a tall share table for a more social experience, and I chose to sit at the end of the bar for a quieter catch-up and overlooking the food prep. Boxwood focuses on wholesome and sustainable food with a big of tree-hugger feel and I was ready to indulge!

To start, we nibbled on spiced almonds and pecans followed by house cured tuna served on creme fraiche. The two were great compliments, one boldly flavourful and the other simple and fresh. We also enjoyed refreshing drinks of ginger beer (not too strong and reminded me or the aromas we experienced in Thailand last year) and an unsweetened wild berry iced tea. Perfect pairing for our meal ahead.

I had the lamb with mint and white anchovy salsa
verde, simply served and very tender. As I expect, I was not asked how I like it cooked because I expect a great restaurant to show me how to enjoy it! The simplicity of the food highlights how fresh the ingredients are! Andy had roasted chicken served with a roasted butternut squash and tomato stew that had a hint of curry. Both dishes featured juicy, tender meat that was
good on its own, with a side of freshly made accompaniment to add colour and character. I really enjoyed the clean, natural flavours. To share with our mains, we had a fantastic brussels spouts gratin done with pumpkin seed butter. I could have eaten this as a meal myself and is definitely a must-have at Boxwood. If you ever need to convince someone to eat brussels sprouts, this would be the way to go!

I was warned in advance that dessert was a must, and we chose to try to daily special
of apple tarte tatin and the server's favourite, saskatoon berry bread pudding - I can rarely turn down bread pudding, something about that homey, warm appeal! Our tarte tatin (an upside down flat tart) was great, served with vanilla bean ice cream, but I really loved the bread pudding, topped thinly with caramel sauce and spotted with chocolate chips, it was none too sweet and uber delicious!

Boxwood was a great experience and was definitely my highlight meal of the trip! I love that more cuisine options are showing up in Calgary, particularly one focused around seasonal and local ingredients. This is a great place to catch-up with friends or visit for a date over deliciously wholesome food. Be sure to save room for dessert!

Boxwood Cafe
340- 13th ave SW


Growing up, it was tradition for my family to celebrate Christmas with a steak dinner - with only 3 of us, making a turkey was kind of out of the question. Over the years, I've tried to pick different restaurants in the city to take my parents, including Caesar's Steakhouse, Murrieta's, and often settling at The Keg for my mom's favourite prime rib and lobster. This year, Tony and I decided CHARCUT would be perfect for Christmas Eve - we were fans of Connie on Top Chef Canada, co-executive chef and co-owner, and couldn't wait to try it out.

CHARCUT Roast House is located in the chic Hotel Le Germain Hotel in downtown Calgary, giving you an idea of the style and atmosphere of the restaurant. It's a modern charcuterie, trendy and spacious while serving rustic comfort foods. For Christmas, we were welcomed with a special 3 course set menu for $49, but if that didn't entice, you could also order separate starters, mains and sides. I thought this was great as restaurants often limit meals on special occasions to just the set menu, and who wants a table full of the same thing? My mom and I both went with the Christmas menu, starting with a delicious roasted buttercup squash soup with sage cream and pretzel croutons. The soup was creamy and savoury with a hint of spice that was just perfect. We both lapped up the entire bowl happily! Tony started with the grilled octopus and sausage, which was quite tender but we thought our soup was more spectacular. I couldn't pass up the organic rotisserie turkey (porchetta style!) served with lady apple stuffing for my main - it was Christmas after all! The turkey was really great,
juicy and flavourful, but the highlight was really the dressing with many chunks of sweet apple, served in a mini le creuset. My mom had the 2nd option, a leg of ham served with gruyere biscuits and a fantastic spicy pepper jelly. The jelly was the highlight for her dish, adding a great kick of flavour to the meat. Tony decided he couldn't pass up an opportunity to have great Alberta steak and opted for the Spring Creek Butcher Steak - served simply off the grill and was done perfectly. The steak did not disappoint! For dessert, we ordered one of
each option: upside down gingerbread cake, which was served in a small jar and more like a trifle, and the pumpkin cheesecake. I was initially far more excited about pumpkin cheesecake but the gingerbread dessert turned out to be quite delicious. The cheesecake was a tad sweet where there was extra sugar, but otherwise...also amazing and we finished both without question.

We enjoyed our meal at CHARCUT, with great service and food. Our starters came quickly to satisfy our hunger and tasty meat that did not leave us feeling heavy and unhealthy served with some unique accompaniments. I also loved that we were offered both still and sparkling water free of charge, which was a nice touch since most restaurants charge for sparkling. All the little details count and is what makes a meal and restaurant memorable! CHARCUT is definitely worth a visit if you're in Calgary, a hip place to visit with friends, celebrate a special occasion or entertain clients in style.

CHARCUT Roast House
101, 899 Centre Street SW (in Hotel Le Germain) (reservations available on OpenTable).

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

CALGARY: Lunching at Brasserie Kensington

I had to pick a lunch restaurant with co-workers last week and I struggled to come up with something fairly easy to access, to park and with good food. We were literally getting together from 4 corners of the city so Kensington became the destination of choice (that probably didn't meet the easy to park criteria but close enough!). After not living in Calgary for 4 years, I wasn't really sure what was good, so I turned to OpenTable for ideas. After some availability searching on OpenTable and then menu browsing, I settled on Brasserie - I can never resist a French bistro!

Brasserie is simple, bright restaurant overlooking Kensington Road. As I had seen online, there were plenty of delicious sounding options on the menu from salads, sandwiches, to house specialties. In the end, we each opted to try a different dish: Cobb Salad (with crab cakes!), breaded cod sandwich (was gigantic!), croque madame and croque moniseur. I had the croque madame because I like the fried egg on top of my Gruyere and ham grilled sandwich! It came with a nice healthy salad, but you can opt for soup or fries. Lunch was very good all around, and it looked like other patrons were enjoying themselves too - I should mention we might have been the only table not indulging in lunch-time champagne! It's not much for decor and style, but Brasserie was a great choice for our lunch get-together. The bustling crowd in the small restaurant made it a bit loud for conversing but it was part of the open and lively atmosphere. I'll have to go back and try the poutine - all fries done in duck fat :) I also recommend getting to Kensington early as parking can be tough right close to noon, but if you're lucky, you might snag parking right in front!

1131 Kensington Rd NW (upstairs)
403-457-4148 (reservations available on OpenTable)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Cozy Experience at Union Restaurant

The Ossington area is bustling with lots of options, but one we have not had a chance to not check out was Union. It was not top of mind, but as I scrolled through my Twitter for ideas this weekend, I noticed the daily menu posted on Thursday and was sold. Thankfully, we were able to secure a reservation for Saturday night!

We were a table of 5, but Tony and I opted to do a selection of the starters for our meal - we always opt to try more food than less :)

Elk Sliders - seeing elk on the initial menu sold me to call, and these sliders were delicious. Served as little meat balls on toast, was actually quite juicy.

Lobster Roll - perhaps odd to consider as a starter, but this creamy sandwich was tasty and sweet. It would have filled me up if I had it on my own as a starter.

Seared Scallops and Risotto - proportion of scallop to risotto was great, and although tasty overall and loved the scallops, I found the risotto a little hard.

Along with some starters, our friends ordered the pasta du jour to share, pappardelle with braised beef. It was nice to have something a little more substantial along with the assortment of starters. If we were to go again, I think we'd do 2 starters and one main to share - the trout sounded quite good, hopefully it will be on the menu again!

We also had two lovely desserts (be sure to save room for it): maple cherry bread pudding and apple walnut cake. I liked my bread pudding more but both were good, not too sweet and was just what we wanted to wrap up our meal.

Union was a great experience, and a perfect place for us to take visitors - unpretentious and cozy with good food selection championing "eat local." I could definitely feel the Parisian bistro inspiration, easily something found in Montmartre. This is a great restaurant to check out with friends or for date-night!

72 Ossington

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Favourite in the City: North 44

We were in a celebratory mood and decided to splurge on dinner at North 44, one of our favourite restaurants in the city; truthfully, we have only ever been during Winterlicious/Summerlicious but it was always an AMAZING experience and we were certain regular dining would be fantastic as well. I always say, it's important for restaurants to do Winterlicious/Summerlicious well.

I was surprised when we arrived at North 44, although there was definitely room it was decently busy for a Tuesday night. Some looked like they were celebrating an occasion and others looked like "regulars." The table next to us had their bottle of wine opened for them before they even's that for service!

First to come was the medley of lobster, crab and prawns, served with creme fraiche. This was an amazing seafood salad and I can still taste the fresh and succulent shell fish, served at a perfect cool temperature. The creme fraiche added to the refreshing and clean tastes of this dish.

Next we opted for one of the specials of the night, beef tartar with toasted capers. I really like capers with my beef tartar in general and this was particularly tasty toasted.

Tony had the pappardelle with braised veal shank (also available in starter portions!). I die every time I take a bite of delicious, thick, FRESH pasta. This was delicious, with hearty chunks of braised veal, a perfect homey dish for the cold night it was. I have no doubt this is a classic favourite at North 44 (pictured above!)

The first thing I spotted on the menu was the miso glazed BC black cod...
but then my eye was drawn away to the house special, pan seared Dover sole with saute of roe, chanterelle mushroom, lemon and brown butter. How can I pass up that description? There is seriously an art to menu writing, key is creating expectation and delivering! Little did I know this special dish was $65...and in a quick irrational moment I said fine. Eek. True to its name, the Dover sole is only found in European waters, so I guess the flight overseas makes it expensive! The fish was quite good, very well done and delicious. The mushrooms, served on the side, I loved as well. I don't know if it was $65 good (sorry!!) but apparently it's a MUST HAVE dish says Chef Jean Joho so I guess I don't have to have it again :)

Normally, I would never do this, but after a week eating indulgently in Madrid, we decided to have the medley of fruit with sorbet, which was EXACTLY what I wanted by the way. It was refreshing and clean tasting, exactly what we needed after our big meal. Don't ever think of "dessert" in the narrow sense, it's whatever helps finish your taste experience and this was perfect for me.

North 44
2537 Yonge Street