Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Salt and Pepper Mexican Restaurante (Bowness)

Authentic international cuisine of any kind is hard to find in Calgary. That’s why I get really excited when I stumble upon authentic places. They are usually smaller and don’t have the glitz and glam of the trendy fusion places which is fine because I’m there for the food anyways.  Not to say there is anything wrong with the trendy hotspots because I do enjoy those places as well.   

My favourite place for Mexican food? Salt and Pepper in Bowness. I’ve been to this location twice and once at the Macleod location but there’s just something about the Bowness location that made my dining experience more enjoyable. Was it soft mood lighting? Was it the smell of fresh spices? Or was it the wall of tequila? I’m not sure but it definitely leaves me wanting more.

Their menu consists of the regular flat bread staples: tacos, enchiladas, fajitas, quesadilla, as well as a selection of seafood prepared and served with delicious Mexican spices and sauces.  It was date night and me and my S.O. started the evening off with fresh guacamole. The guacamole was delicious with the chips and the parmesan cheese sprinkled on top adds just a little bit of saltyness. We weren't able to finish the whole basket of chips and by the time our meals came we were already quite full.  Maybe we just aren’t big eaters.

Guacamole del Rey

Then came the main dishes. I ordered the chicken enchiladas with tomato and basil sauce -- the chicken is a bit spicy for me so I like the sauce to cool off my tongue -- you can also choose a bean sauce or mole sauce.  This dish also comes with rice and beans on the side. The first time we ate here I remember the servings being larger but this meal was still a relatively generous serving.  The stuffed peppers are also quite good.  I usually choose not to order them because it’s too much food for me but my other half loves them so I definitely recommend trying them.

Chicken Enchilada
(see the left over guac at the top of the photo? hehe...)

The food and atmosphere is not for everyone but if you love Mexican cuisine I definitely recommend this place. It's very family friendly so don't be shy to bring the whole family down, I believe there is also a modified children's menu if you ask the server. I have yet to try out their patio so that’s a must this summer!!

Salt & Pepper Mexican Restaurante on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Recipe #1 - Pork Pork Pork Night!

For the Urban Foodie's first recipe, I give you Samgyeopsal (삼겹살)! We like to call it PorkPorkPork since Samgyeopsal (Korean) translates directly to 삼 -Three 겹 - Layered 살 - Flesh. Why Three Layered Flesh you ask? Because the main ingredient in this meal consists of this: 

That, my friends, is one layer of fatty meat, one layer of meaty fat and one layer of pure fatty goodness. Are you grossed out? If you are, first of all, this blog might not be for you! Second though, stick with me because the finished product looks something like this: 

Do I have you back? Excellent. So here's the deal, this is a Korean dish that requires a minimum of two eaters but is a great example of the more the merrier. This past Easter Monday, the Urban Foodie, the Pineapple Princess, myself and ten of our friends got together for one such meal. 

Things you'll need: 

- Pork belly (two people per pack)
- Green onions (two people per bunch)
- Perilla Leaves (two people per pack) (Find at any Korean supermarket) 
- Red chili powder (a few teaspoons)
- Garlic (as much as you want)
- Sesame Oil (a few teaspoons)
- Soybean Paste (quite a bit) (Find at any Korean supermarket)
- Kimchi (as much as you want)
- Rice (half a cup to one cup per person)
- Red leaf lettuce (two people per head)
- Alcohol (Is it Friday or Saturday? A lot. Any other day? Are you employed? Yes? Maybe a little less, friend.)
- Newspaper (Do you like mopping greasy floors? No? A lot then.)
- One each of these for every five people or so:

Why one of those strange cooking tops? You see that hole in the middle? It drains to that hole in the side giving you these: 


You see that cup there? That's triple-distilled pork fat bro. You get about one of those cups per two packs of meat. 

So I mean, at this point, the recipe may look a little daunting. You seem to require a lot of ingredients and no shortage of equipment to get this done. Don't be afraid though! It's really quite simple. Basically, this is how it goes down: 

1. Shred onions and Perilla leaves and mix in a bowl with chili powder (it makes things spicy right? so if you can't handle the spicy, don't add so much!) and some sesame oil to make it all stick together.

2. That's really all there is to it. Everything else you just straight up throw on the grill and leave it until it's either crispy and beautiful or browned and aromatic. Ie. sliced garlic, kimchi, porkporkpork (cut these to 1.5-2 inch sections with scissors), and any other veggies you want. 

3. Then you take your leaf of lettuce (I generally halve it so I can stuff it in my mouth better), add some rice to it, throw some of that green onion/perilla leaf salad on it, throw your cooked stuff on it, add a dollop of soybean paste and some sesame oil (if it's your thing), wrap that thing up and scarf it down. Easy as pie. And you all know that I love pie. 

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you can't accomplish step 3 anymore. 

A few P.S. items: 

- If you're going to use the table top stove, you should put newspaper underneath it and on the floor because the grease flies everywhere. That green tablecloth? That went in the garbage after the meal. 

- If you don't have all of this stuff, no big deal. Just cook the meat in a pot (pot>skillet because it'll keep more grease in) and empty the grease after each round!

Lastly, if you don't want your house doused in vaporized grease and smelling of porkporkpork for days, do it at a friend's house. That's what friends are for ;). 

PorkPorkPork goooood. Easy to make. Make it. Eat it with friends. Be happy. 

OH! P.P.S.

Everybody knows what a Jager-bomb is by this point right? Drop a shot of Jager into a glass of beer or Red Bull, throw back and enjoy that weird sense of up and down at the same time? Well, along with this meal most of my friends enjoyed a beer or three. Many Koreans would also enjoy it with a few glasses of Soju (소주). Do you see where I'm going with this? Drop a shot of Soju (purchase at your local LCBO) into a glass of beer and throw back (Fridays and Saturdays only!). For extra fun, balance shot on top of glass between two chop sticks, have one person scream SOJU! and everyone else scream BOMB! as they pound the table with their fists. Repeat until shot bombs into your beer and then throw back (Still only for Fridays and Saturdays!). Now you're ready. Get your porkporkpork on. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Can't Resist the Napoleon Square at Marché!

181 Bay Street
Toronto, ON M5J 2T3

For those of you who don't know, Marché isn't really a restaurant but a marketplace as the name suggests.  At Marché, you are immersed into an environment where you can interact with a variety of international street vendors serving up food with the freshest of ingredients.  You create a tab by logging it on your Marché card and you pay for all your consumed items when you leave.  It has always been quite a unique concept.

But for me, the novelty of Marché has come and gone...for the most part.  It's no longer a place that comes to mind when I am deciding where to dine out.  Gone are the days that I crave for a Rösti, a Swiss pan-fried potato dish that the chain is known for (at least for me).

However, when I am in the vicinity of one just out of happenstance, the thought of their mouthwatering Napoleon Square is enough to allure me back.  It's hard for me to resist such a delicious treat.

The Napoleon variant at Marché contains a generous amount of velvety smooth custard and strawberry slices sandwiched between two layers of flaky puff pastry.  On top, it is finished with powdered sugar and whipped cream.  I highly recommend it!
Marche Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Song Huong Vietnamese Restaurant

Hey Everyone!! My name is Pineapple Princess! *Why Pineapple Princess?* I dunno, I don't particularly love pineapples but the name just came to me years ago and it just stuck. So I guess I’m here to tell you about all the fabulous places to eat in Calgary. So let's get started with one of my favourites: Song Huong Vietnamese Restaurant.

This hidden gem is located on 17 Avenue and 61 Street SE.  Though the trek may be long from any given place – it’s kinda on the edge of the city -- it is totally worth it!!! Amongst all their delicious goodies you'll find their most popular dish: Bun Bo Hue, a famous vermicelli soup dish from central Vietnam.  The taste is very different from the regular pho that you find at Vietnamese restaurants, it's a little bit sour, a little bit salty and a little bit spicy. The level of spiciness varies sometimes, I've gone on occasions where the soup is very spicy and some days it's not spicy at all. My kind of soup! Note, if you are not a fan of coagulated pork blood, simply tell your waitress "no pork blood".  I myself love the stuff :)

Bun Bo Hue (#1)

My regular order consists of the aforementioned Bun Bo Hue, Raw Beef Salad, and Spring Rolls. You might be turned off from the idea of eating raw beef but trust me it's a must!!! The dish consists of raw beef topped off with peanuts, thai basil, chilli peppers, fried shallots, fresh onions and lime juice with just a bit of fish sauce. The spring rolls are also something to try because they use rice paper which makes them extra crispy!

Raw Beef Salad (#60)

I try to hit this place at least once at month, it's usually packed on the weekends so expect a little bit of a wait or try to go before 11 am to avoid the "just rolled out of bed and I'm really hung over" crowd.

Song Huong on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Grand Opening of Bywoods on St. Clair West

760 St. Clair West
Toronto, ON M6C 1B5

Date Visited:  April 16, 2014

Bywoods is the latest in the slew of new trendy restaurants such as Pukka, The Crest, and Emma's Country Kitchen transforming the St. Clair West neighbourhoods of Wychwood, Oakwood and Corso Italia.

The menu is heavily Italian influenced and the service is friendly but noticeably nervous to get things right.

Bacon Caesar ($10) - Yum!

Our waiter recommended the Arugula & Crispy Bocconcini with oven dried grape tomatoes, toasted pine nuts & balsamic dressing ($13) as an appetizer but it was disappointing.  The slightly crispy batter of the bocconcini didn't adhere well to the mozzarella and it was cold on the inside, not something I would expect from a hot dish.  We also only received five bite-sized mouthfuls which I found to be a bit steep for the $13 price tag.

We also ordered the Pan Seared Scallops ($16) with grilled chorizo, avocado mash, mixed greens, black olives & jus.  The scallops were perfectly cooked and they worked well with the buttery avocado mash.   The chorizo was too overpowering though and we had to eat it separately to prevent it from ruining the other flavours.

The Strozzapreti ($16) with bolognese & shaved grana padano was ordered as one of our mains.  The bolognese sauce was meaty and delicious but it could have been a tad less acidic.  We would have enjoyed a more 'al dente' strozzapreti too.  

The Moroccan Spiced Lamb ($24) with apricot, smoked potato puree & spinach was our other main.  The lamb was cooked medium rare as ordered.  It was juicy and each delicious bite had the right balance of fat content and gaminess.  The sweet and acidic apricot sauce was a good accompaniment especially for the leaner portions of the lamb.  The potato puree was creamy and was uniquely reformed into the shape of a skinless potato.  The spinach was still firm and not overcooked.

There are some hits and misses at Bywoods and hopefully they will work out the kinks as they move forward.

The grand opening of Bywoods was April 14, 2014.

Bywoods on Urbanspoon

Wanda's Pie in the Sky

My first foray into the world of Urban Foodie was spent in the Kensington Market blocks of downtown Toronto.

Tucked just behind the core of Chinatown, this little neighborhood offers a sweet escape to serenity. Away from the rushed service and corporate lunchers, Kensington is only steps away from Downtown's hustle and bustle but on a sunny Easter Monday afternoon, there was almost no place better to kick back and relax with friends.

Wanda's Pie in the Sky is just one of those places. Located in the heart of Kensington, I stopped by for a slice and a coffee after lunching on some fish and chips with the Urban Foodie. They do all kinds of pies here but are famous for the chocolate pecan and strawberry rhubarb. I'd had both on previous visits so I opted for a slice of fresh blueberry pie. As usual, the service was great and a friendly waitress brought me my dessert after it has been warmed to gooey perfection in the oven.

At about $8.00 and change for a slice of pie and a coffee, Wanda's isn't a donut and a double-double but it's by no means breaking the bank either. What it is, is a friendly place to sit back with some friends, enjoy the rich character of the store and neighborhood, gaze at some of the beautiful artwork they have up (and for sale) and scarf down a perfectly toasted, not too sweet, perfectly sized, freshly made slice of mama's own with one of the top 3 crusts I've ever had.

The only thing missing from my experience at Wanda's Pie in the Sky was the option to render my pie a la mode. It wasn't necessarily lacking from my snack but who can resist oven fresh pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream?! Anyways, I've left that as a suggestion and will get back to all of you with the response.

All in all a great afternoon. We even met Argus Filch (of Harry Potter fame) or more recently Walder Frey (of Game of Thrones fame)! David Bradley was also chilling at Wanda's with his family as he's in town filming a new TV series about vampires called The Strain (premiers July on FX). As if my eloquent praise of this establishment was not enough, actors hang out here!!!

TL;DR (too long; didn't read)
Had a slice of blueberry pie and a coffee.
Filling was fresh and delicious - a tad sour
Crust was perfect
Service was great
Atmosphere was excellent
Met Argus Filch

Wanda's Pie in the Sky on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 21, 2014

Two New Authors Join the Urban Foodie Team!

Please welcome Pineapple Princess and Bensjammin to the Urban Foodie Team!

Pineapple Princess will be blogging about the ins and outs of the Calgary culinary scene.

As with the Urban Foodie, Bensjammin is based in Toronto.  Not only will Bensjammin review restaurants around the city, but he will also share his experiences with existing homemade food recipes and share his own unique ones too!

They will be an integral part of the team - stay tuned!

Fresco's Poutineville slated to open in Toronto's Annex this June/July!

UPDATE:  Click here to see the official grand opening date!

This Easter Monday the Urban Foodie was fortunate enough to speak to Michael Fresco of Fresco's Fish & Chips fame regarding the much anticipated opening of Poutineville, a brainchild of his brother Camillo Fresco.

Cod Fish & Chips and Poutine at Fresco's

You may recall that the Urban Foodie was pleasantly surprised to taste such a quality poutine at a fish and chips joint.  Well, it seems like great poutine runs in the Fresco genes.  Camillo Fresco will be opening Poutineville in Toronto's Annex at Bloor and Brunswick with a time frame as early as June.  Already with three locations in Montreal, it seems like this opening is going to rock the poutine scene in Toronto!

The concept?  A high-end sit down establishment where you can either choose from a list of specialty poutines such a the filet mignon (filet mignon cubes, mushrooms, onions, blue cheese, cheese curds and pepper sauce) or create your own custom poutine from over a dozen ingredients.  You can select everything from the type of potato for the fries to cut up pieces of pogo as a garnish!

Michael Fresco also mentioned that Poutineville will be bringing their famous "Heart Attack Challenge" to their Toronto location.  Fifteen pounds of poutine await a pair of patrons who are foolish enough to partake in the challenge.  

The Heart Attack Challenge Poutine!
The Urban Foodie will be anxiously waiting its grand opening...

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Fresco's: Come for the Fish & Chips but Stay for the Poutine!

Fresco's Fish & Chips
213 Augusta Avenue
Toronto, ON M5T 2L4
Dates Visited:  April 1 and April 8, 2014

Not many establishments like Fresco's have a Yelp score higher than 4 stars and over 100 reviews.  So the Urban Foodie wanted to check out what all the fuss was about especially with so many Yelpers claiming that Fresco's has the best fish and chips in town. 

Fresco's has a cool Beatles vibe to it as memorabilia grace the walls and Beatles classics play in the background of this cozy spot in Kensington Market.

Patrons can select cod, haddock or halibut as part of their fish and chips combo and each combo comes with 2 pieces of fish, fries, coleslaw, a slice of lemon and tartar sauce.  There is also an option to order the fish extra crispy which entails having Miss Vickie's chips incorporated into the original batter - ingenious!

In addition to fish and chips, Fresco's also offers poutine, chili, seafood po boy sandwiches, chicken wings, and an assortment of sides ranging from deep fried pickles to mozzarella sticks. 

The halibut combo was ordered with extra crispy batter and it came in white box that disassembled easily at each side which was perfect for sharing. The halibut was wrapped with a classic newspaper print and sat atop a mountain of fries. 

The chip batter on the fish was a fantastic creative touch.  It was crispy and wasn't too oily.  Unfortunately, the fish was not moist and flaky as one would imagine.  It was nice of Fresco's to give out three pieces for this particular order since two of them were noticeably smaller, but to be honest, these pieces didn't taste as good because the batter to fish ratio was too high.  So it was a disappointing visit to Fresco's.  Perhaps it was because the halibut was ordered over the traditional cod and haddock variations?  Regardless, the "best in the city" fish and chips claim is unjustified.  There are comparable places in the city if not better.

So why the return visit?  

Was it because of the free drink with any fish and chips combo with a check in on Yelp?

No... it was because the fries were so tasty!  They were these fat, fleshy fries with skin on them.  They would be perfect served as part of a poutine!

The $5 (taxes in) poutine and drink special was ordered.  First of all, what great value!  The poutine was a sight for sore eyes!  It was so beautifully crafted.  Piping hot steam radiated out of this poutine and the fries soaked up the rich and flavourful gravy.  Admittedly, the cheese curds were a bit cold when the poutine was first served up, but they became gooey and stringy!

The poutine was a perfect example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.  Yes, Aristole is being quoted... but it was just that good!  It was an amazing hodgepodge of flavours - a delicious mess!

The poutine rivals the likes of Smoke's and Poutini's House of Poutine.  The Urban Foodie will definitely be back if not for the fish and chips but for the poutine!

On a Yelp score of 5, this place is 3 for the fish and chips but gets a bump up to 4 for its poutine!

Fresco's Fish & Chips on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A New Way to Earn Stars at Starbucks!

You can now earn bonus stars for purchasing packaged coffee at Starbucks!  This is great for Starbucks cardholders who like to brew their own coffee at home.  This applies to whole bean coffee, Starbucks VIA Ready Brew, K-Cups, and Verismo Pods.

Click here for more details from Starbucks!

Friday, April 4, 2014

AYCE Wings Final Rounds 7, 8, 9, 10 @ St. Louis

Final Rounds 7, 8, 9 & 10 - Mississippi Honey & Honey Garlic Again!

I was starting to hit the wall at round 7 partially because the wait time between orders was increasing.  I wasn't sure if this was intentional or because they were busy...

But, I was tired of getting only 4 wings per order so I kindly asked for my last 3 rounds all at once and our server obliged.  I was a bit surprised she would let me do it but, to be honest, she was very accommodating to all our requests the entire night despite all the AYCE chaos around us.  She was pleasant to deal with and she was prompt with reorders and water requests. On top of that, she didn't rush us even though we were affecting her turnaround time... I mean we were there for a total of 4 hours!  She deserved a round of applause! 

Although my insane initial goal to attempt to eat all the flavours they offered, I decided to get Honey Garlic for the last 3 orders. Some of the flavours such as the Caribbean Jerk or Mississipi Honey were just not as satisfying. 

I mean, the main thing is to enjoy the experience right? :)

On that note, here are some numbers of this legendary night:

By the Numbers
Length of Stay:  4 hours (6:30pm-10:30pm)

Total wings consumed by the Urban Foodie: 46

Breakdown of Rounds (# of wings):
Round 1 - 11 (with fries and St. Louis' signature dip)
Round 2 - 4 (with fries)
Round 3 - 4
Round 4 - 3 (one wing given away)
Round 5 - 4 (with fries)
Round 6 - 4
Round 7 - 4
Round 8 - 4 (with fries but uneaten)
Round 9 - 4  (with fries but uneaten)
Round 10 - 4  (with fries but uneaten)

Diet Pepsi (yes I see the irony) - 2 glasses
Water - 2 glasses

Post wing thirst evening of: 100%

Post wing thirst morning after: 100%

Change in weight / mass (pounds): +4

Eating like your young even though you are past your prime: Priceless :)

AYCE Wings Rounds 4, 5, & 6 @ St. Louis!

Round 4, 5 & 6- Garlic Parm Boneless, Sweet Asian, Carribbean Jerk!

Still going strong!

AYCE Wings Round 3 @ St. Louis!

Round 3 - Buffalo Ranch

More casualties of war!

AYCE Wings Round 2 @ St. Louis!

Round 2: Honey Garlic - Still feeling great!  Bring 'em on!

LIVE: All You Can Eat Wings at St. Louis! It BEGINS

Round 1:  Hot and Honey with Fries

Initial thoughts... Can the Urban Foodie eat an order of every single wing flavour? Only time can tell. 

Strategy:  Eat less fries and minimize fluid intake!

AYCE Promotional Notes:
You can pick from fries or veggie sticks / vegetables as the side to accompany your wings. Once you choose one, you cannot change it for subsequent wing orders.  But you are allowed to order just wings as well. Subsequent orders come on batches of 4 wings. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Are Jelly Modern Doughnuts the Best Doughnuts anyone in Canada has ever Tasted?

Jelly Modern Doughnuts
376 College Street
TorontoON M5S 2M8

The Kensington Market is now home to Jelly Modern Doughnuts, a Canadian doughnut shop originating from Calgary with a vision to create the best doughnut anyone in Canada has ever tasted.  It's quite a tall order but it seems like Jelly has the right practices in place to achieve it. According to their website, the hand crafted doughnuts are made fresh (never frozen or partially baked) throughout the day with the finest quality ingredients - locally sourced and organic whenever possible.  They also offer quite the assortment of unique and gourmet doughnut flavours in a store with a clean, minimalist look using splashes of pink on white elements.

The featured doughnuts on display today (in 3 bite and full sized options) were Creme Brulee, Classic Jelly, Madagascar Vanilla, Skor Bar, S'mores, Maple Bacon, Chocolate, Coconut, Salted Caramel and Gluten-free options. 

They were all artistically designed but how did they stack up in the taste department?

Maple Bacon - The glaze had a great smoky taste and the bacon gave the doughnut a complementary savoury component to something otherwise sweet.

Creme Brulee - This doughnut had rich custard with delicious crunchy burnt components.  

Classic Jelly - This doughnut had an excellent texture to the jelly.

S'mores - The least impressive doughnut of the four.  You can't really taste the graham cracker powder and the marshmallow didn't have a roasted taste.

So the toppings were fantastic...  however, the dough base of each doughnut ruined the experience - too dense, too doughy and too dry.

They are definitely not the best doughnuts in Canada but hopefully they can continue to strive towards that ideal.  Jelly is definitely on the right track. Jelly Modern Doughnuts on Urbanspoon