I Rearry Rike Charcut

It’s so good and so cool that I get all excited and my chinese accent comes out!

Recently I had the opportunity to have dinner at Charcut Roast House, located on 899 Centre Street SW (in the shadow of the Calgary Tower).  Being the final weekend of Dineout Calgary, we opted to partake in the dinner menu, in addition to sampling a couple of things off the menu.

Charcut has been described as having “urban rustic” cuisine.  While I generally dislike restaurants being described with these generic amalgamating words (like “pan-asian cuisine”), it really describes Charcut’s style quite well.  The restaurant is sleek, stylish and very contemporary, with lots of dark grey with rich wood tables.  However, your eye is drawn to the almost-glowing red panels that highlight the open kitchen where you can see the chefs spitting whole chickens to be roasted in an open rotisserie, slicing house cured charcuterie, or bottling house-made preserves and condiments.  They even have a mason jar chandelier, and what “urban rustic” restaurant would be complete without a mirroring  portrait of two pigs? (or was it bovine?)  As mentioned, they make practically everything in house, and source very local, high-quality ingredients from surrounding like-minded farms and producers.  Do you like house cured pork, lamb, sausage and other charcuterie?  Do you like crispy chicken skin with your salad?  Do you like poutine?  Do you like duck fat poutine?  If you answered yes to all of those questions, then this is the restaurant for you.

We started off with the Albacore Crudo or Shaved Country-Style Lamb Ham.  Luckily, I was able to try both.  The Tuna was supple and soft, beautifully dressed with citrusy olive oil, accompanied with crunchy sliced fennel, and finished with truffle salt – a perfectly executed and a very palate engaging dish.  The lamb had great texture with nice thinness that gave away for each bite. It was also finished with cave-aged gruyere.  The portions on these dishes were quite substantial, with the lamb served on a decent sized wooden board, and the Tuna contaning ~6 pieces.

Next we ordered two extra dishes off the menu.  The first was a gloriously rich duck fat poutine with thick-cut, meaty fries slathered in duck fat gravy with beautiful, stringy curds.  Needless to say, I moved several steps (slow, fat, plodding ones) closer to obesity after this dish, but it was so good.  The best part was the end, where the curds began to stick together as I mopped up some remaining gravy.

Next we tried the roasted bone-marrow au gratin.  While many of you may find it horrendously disgusting to eat bone marrow, I really hope you muster up and try it sometime.  Again, there is no way this is good for you in any shape or form, but the bone marrow (roasted to order, I believe) was so incredibly creamy, buttery, and almost nutty (with that distinct bone marrow taste – it’s hard to describe).  The server called it “meat butter” which isn’t a term I’d use to get first timers to try it but I totally agree and it’s perfectly accurate.  This was served with some crisp brioche crostini, with parsley salad and salt to finish.

The main course was a perfectly crusted smoked, rotisserie Spring Creek prime rib, served with roasted lemon, an entire half bulb of roasted garlic, brassica mustard and arugula.  I had no reservations in slathering on the roasted garlic, and as  result I feared for the lives of anyone who had the misfortune of talking to me the next day.

To finish off I had a delicious BC cherry cheesecake served in a miniature mason jar.  Not only were the ladies swooning over how cute this jar was, but the velvety texture of the cheesecake (no crumbly consistency here) with the deep sweetness of the cherry was the perfect way to end this feast.

Charcut is going to thrive in Calgary not only because we have an insatiable appetite for meat, but because people are starting to look beyond chain restaurants or their usual spots for something a little more unique, honest, decadent and absolutely delicious.  Charcut Roast house was rearry, rearry, dericious.

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A Mini Calgary Cafe Crawl

Today, several of us from the cafe went on a short, downtown cafe crawl.  For the uninformed, a cafe crawl is like a pub crawl, but replace alcoholic drinks with coffee, scantily clad women with business suited men, the party bus with human legs, and clubs with cafes.

 

Sounds AWESOME, doesn’t it?

 

Anyways, Calgary’s coffee scene has really blown up over the last couple years, with many ‘3rd wave’ shops now open.  Because of the locations of some of these cafes, I hadn’t been able to get to some, meaning I was eager to go and sample what the city’s new coffee purveyors had to offer.

 

Bright and early, I found myself at  Insomnia Coffee, located in the famous Burns building right next door to the Epcor Center for the Performing Arts.  In my opinion, this is a killer space as it is easily accessible to the morning business crowd, c-train commuters, and evening pre/post Epcor show crowd.  The space is clean, classy and deliberate.  The coffee… to be honest, it left something to be desired.  Unfortunately, all their cup sizes have not yet arrived, and as such, cappuccinos and macchiatos are served in 8 oz ACFs.  The coffee is supplied by Fratello, and while I cannot comment on on their brewed coffee (which I believe is done via French Press), I’m most certain the espresso is Joel May’s 2008 competition blend.  The reason I say it left something to be desired was that the espresso had several positive elements that I think were overshadowed by several negative aspects.  I think with a little more dialing on their LaMarzocco GB5, the espresso pulled could be pretty tasty.  I was getting notes of berries, spice, caramel and dark chocolate, which made for a potentially interesting shot, even amidst some of the negatives.  Unfortunately, several complaints across the table dealt with the milk quality as well.  Hopefully we caught them on a bad day and this was just an anomaly.

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Next, we headed down to DeVille located upstairs in Art Central.  DeVille, an Intelligentsia account, also serves Saint German pastries and food, as well as a small wine and beer selection.  This cafe has stunning whites, reds and blacks coating the furniture of their contemporary, edgy cafe design.  This cafe (2009 Krups Kup of Excellence winner) serves up Black Cat ‘spro on its Synesso/Anfirm/Robur combo.  Espressos, macchiatos, and cappuccinos were ordered by us all, in addition to some snacks.  The espresso was an improvement over Insomniac’s.

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Where the major disappointment came was in the food ordered.  Personally, I had ordered an aged cheddar,Dijon, egg and bacon breakfast sandwich, and Mike had a blueberry / white chocolate scone.  Before I even sat down, the sandwich had finished heating and was brought to me wrapped in white food/wax paper, on a white plate. Being perfectly honest, the sandwich was only marginally better than a mcmuffin at the golden arches (and sure reminded me of one).  At $3.50, this is no bank breaker, but I expected slightly more deliberate food from a Saint German kitchen.  Mike’s scone also tasted slightly doughy and almost undercooked as well.  Again, I hope that this was just an anomaly, and we had caught DeVille on a bad day.  (Unfortunately, I had a papery dry lemon loaf at the other location months previous.)  They do serve up a mean shortbread, though, and I’ve heard that their alcoholic offerings and snacks are great value and quality.

*

Overall, this mornings crawl…left something to be desired.  I think it’s great that these new shops have popped up and have started to show the masses that coffee does not have to be mundane, tim hortons quality swill.  However, I think what some shops are doing is being really great supporters of quality coffee, yet not living up to their standards when executing.  If you are championing quality coffee with premium prices, why settle for average drink quality coming off the bar?  I think this is a dilemma that many 3rd Wave shops are dealing with, including ours.  Opening a shop with premium coffee, equipment and design does not equal a premium product!  I think today was a great reminder to all that it all comes down to the drink quality we hand out over the counter – we should only be satisfied with giving a customer a drink that we have tried our utmost best (considering the situation) to produce.  If not, we aren’t doing coffee a favor.  People may start wondering why they are paying higher prices for a product that is only marginally better than a much cheaper, widely available alternative.  I also think what may be missing in this equation is passion.  I think there is a difference between a barista-opened shop, and any other shop.  If there is a pure passion for the product, there is inherently more care…and you can just ‘feel’ it and definitely taste it in the drink.  Thoughts?

I understand there is a consideration for feasibility, and by no means does this post harbor critisizing opinions, just some personal thoughts inspired by today’s experiences.  I’d like to see more pure, barista opened cafe’s that are driven to push the envelope, not just ride the 3rd wave to economic success.  It’s great what’s happening in Calgary and one can only hope that new shops will start springing up to elevate the way coffee is seen in this city.

 

 

*we also may or may not have gone to another shop in which I may or may not comment.IMG_4618

 

Organic

In the coffee world, the words “organic”, “fair trade”, “rain forest alliance” really hold no bearing to the quality of the bean. Therefore although these things may sound nice to the customer, it really doesn’t taste any different. It’d be really awesome if I could drink a cup and say “Mmmmmmmm I can really taste the shade in this shade-grown coffee” but I really can’t.

organic

fairtraderfa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, it seems to me that there’s a different attitude in regards to ORGANIC food. “Mmmmmmm this organic carrot TASTES less chemically” Doesn’t seem like a statement that is too far off ay?

Why?

I think that for the most part produce really do es taste better as organics because their essence is preserved. What I mean is that the carrot  is more carrotty than a GMO mega-carrot, or a DDT-infused bite-free carrot. Maybe its because we convince ourselves before eating that “surely organic tastes better”. Studies have shown that there really isn’t a discernible taste difference.

Maybe:

– the food is eaten when

it should be eaten (it’s more perishable and not preserved)

– the pesticides really do affect the palate

– the produce is smaller in size and therefore more concentrated in taste

I dunno.

Anyways, my question is why is there a per

ceived idea that organic food is tastier whereas in coffee it is not?

Is it because there is so many things that affect quality of cup that the organic process is essentially negligible?

What?

Go Fish!

Being from the land locked cit of Calgary, fresh seafood is not really in great abundance, as compared to other cities such as Vancouver.  As a result, one has to look LONG and HARD (insert immature laugh here) for places that have brought in great product.  On top of that, one has to narrow these places down to restaurants / cafe’s that actually prepare this seafood in a proper way.  Lots of delicious, fresh fish can be turned into armageddon-aftermath-like dishes with a skillful FLICK of an incompetent chef’s WRIST (insert immature laugh here).  You may think it’s actually hard to screw up such amazing starting ingredients, and I would tend to agree with you.  This is why I think it’s a skill to be so incompetent, or competently incompetent.  Now that I think of it, this is a great analogy for coffee.  How often do we see cafe’s with the best equipment and great coffee, pump out semi-decent espresso’s and brewed coffee?  What a waste!  BUT I DIGRESS…

One great example of a dish that is often ruined is Fish and Chips, or Fish n’ Chips, or Fish & Chips, or Poisson et Frites, or Poisson n’ Frites, or Poisson & Fri… you get the idea.  This is a dish that is everywhere in Calgary…yes, that’s right, Fish and Chips has amassed a massive marketshare in the monotonous mixed markets of mediocrity (how’s that for alliteration).  This is a dish that has so much potential yet is ruined too easy.  How many times have we had these where the waiter brings out a white platter of greasy, oil soaked, stinky, dry fish with the texture of 1 part butter : 30000 parts sand?  Oh yeah, and the fries… Oh the Fries!  It seems like Mr. Mcain special delivered those matchsticks of repulsiveness right to your doorstep.  Don’t forget the TARTAR sauce which is the bastard love child of Mr. Hellmans and Ms. Heinz-Relish (she was an academic and wanted to retain her maiden name for 1st author publication recognition purposes).  While this post is getting out of hand and the last paragraph literally made no sense whatsoever, the point I’m trying to make is that we are in FISH AND CHIPS DEFICIENCY here in Calgary.  So what’s the answer?

VANCOUVER.  And what an answer it is!  In my last trip to Vancouver, I stopped by the shack that has given me the best Fish and Chips I have ever had.  Go Fish is located on the Fisherman’s Warf just across from Granville Island.  It’s a tiny shack with room for maybe 5 employees or so, slaving over hot fryers of oil and pans sizzling away on a range.  P1020594You start by lining up… there is never no line.  I bet the first person that goes there once they open stands in line, too.  While you are in line and starting to fantasize about the orgasmic fish you are about to consume, you peruse a menu being passed along the line like a game of telephone to see which fish is going to bring you to pleasure island.  Because I am such a manly man, I went with Halibut.  Studies have shown that there is a direct proportional relationship with those that have a Halibut preference to their respective manlymanliness characteristic.  My other companions chose Cod and Halibut respectively.  After engaging in the act of a transaction, we grabbed some seats with tables ( a rarity due to the amounts of people eating there ) and waited.  Do not expect it to be fast…the people working are cooking as quickly as they can, but due to the sheer amount of orders, your fish will take time.  To me this signals that your order is being made FRESH…this is important, remember?  Oh yeah, I wanted to say that Go Fish is literally on the docks of the wharf… I’m quite certain that the fish is caught and walked up the plank to the shack where it is thrown into the fryer.  I think the fresher the seafood, the less middlemen there are.  Anyways, after finally hearing our names called, we sat down to our bounty…

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Besides the really cool dim sum steamer basket they serve these in, my two pieces of Halibut perfection was accompanied by an Everest sized mound of frites, a home-made coleslaw, and some tartar sauce.  Let me describe to you how good this fish was… Sinking your teeth into the succulent portion of fish, you’re first met with buttery crunch of the perfectly-fried batter.  The batter is not paper thin by any means, it is maybe a millimeter thick.  But it adds an amazing crispiness accompanied by a richness that makes this fish and chips almost decadent.  After the beautiful batter gives way, you are not met with air or bubbles (as is the case with other poorly made dishes)…no, no, no, you are met with juicy, creamy, thick slabs of FRESH HALIBUT.  Absolutely succulent fish that melts in your mouth like pudding.  Halibut is gorgeously dense yet has such a buttery mouthfeel… all of this wrapped up with the rich crunch of the perfect coating of batter – tell me this is not making your mouth DROOL (aka. producing salivary alpha amlyase).  The tartar sauce was great, there was sweet notes of fresh dill that really set it apart from other commercial tartar sauces, which addeed a cooling, sweet accompaniment to the fish.  The fries were freshly cut, and were slightly thicker than McDonald’s fries, yet were crisper, softer on the inside, and fresher tasting.  The coleslaw was tasty as well, with julienned cabbage and carrots mixed with a sesame-based vinaigrette.  The coleslaw tasted light and refreshing, a stark contrast to the goopy, gelatinous messes that are sold in supermarkets everywhere.  Needless to say, after a massive meal like this, I developed an acute case of Itis and had to be remedied by an espresso from JJ Bean in Granville.

Go Fish is definitely one place for amazing Fish and Chips, in an awesome location… I think it is reason enough to make the trek from landlocked Calgary to Vancouver!

Amsterdam Reserve

When you read the words, “Amsterdam Reserve”, what do you think about?  Is it a special stash of weed with unparalleled THC effects?  Is it a group of ‘escorts’ being saved up for you?  Is it an aged gouda?

Well, if you answered AGED GOUDA, then you are one who seriously has food on you mind, 24/7.

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Amsterdam Reserve was a cheese  introduced to me a while back.  It is a cow’s milk gouda from Holland that is aged 2-3 years.  This results in a golden, orange, brown firm, hard cheese.  I picked some up from Janice Beaton Fine Cheeses here in Calgary, along with some buffalo mozzarella.  This was one of the first cheeses I had where I came to the realization that cheese could have so much complexity and depth of flavor.

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Letting a tiny morsel of Amsterdam Reserve melt in my mouth, I was met with creamy flavors of nuts and butterscotch with a sweet caramel finish.  Everyone should have no Reserve-ations about trying this cheese and go out and buy some!

Asian People #2: You gotta eat your worth

I alluded to this topic in my last Asian People post. To elaborate on the topic I will use the ultimate example. Let me set the scene.

The Buffet

(also known as the All-U-Can-Eat, or the Smorgasboard)

[after an hour and a half long eat-fest the main characters reflect on what just transpired]

A: That was good. It was really cheap too!

B: Man I could have eaten more but I ate a piece of toast this morning, I think that threw me off.

A: Damn, that sucks. I didn’t eat anything all day today to prepare for this eat-fest.

B: I should have done that too. Oh well, I think I ate my $12.95 though.

Step 1: Identify "money" items

Step 1: Identify "money" items

 

 

This is the model example because the topic is grasped most easily here. The way asian people equate money to food often times gets in the way of enjoying the food … but who cares. The need to “get the most” out of a situation exists inherently in our genetic code. We must find the best deals that exist. Now there are certain ways to get the most out of a situation. 

1. Don’t eat anything before going to a buffet. 

– this is pretty self-explanatory because eating anything beforehand means you will be eating less able to eat –> less bang for buck (B4B)

2. Don’t eat the items that are not “money” items

– this means stay away from salad, soup, veggies etc.

3. Do eat the “money” items

– instead of roast beef with mashed potatoes, go roast beef with a side of roast beef; or if at a seafood buffet, “double money” items rank higher than “money” items

4. Do eat until you vomit

– and then eat some more, if you don’t eat some more then change Do eat until you vomit to Don’t eat until you vomit

I’d like to stress point 3. It may take a little more time and effort but this will definitely give you your best B4B. Let’s say there’s a seafood medly of scallops, clams, shrimp, and fish. Pick out items in the following hierarchy: Clams/Scallops –> Shrimp –> fish. This is the succession of “money” items.  Feel free to stop anywhere along this succession. What this means is, you don’t feel like shrimp or fish? It is perfectly acceptable (actually highly encouraged) to take all the “money” items and leave the “less-money” items for the rest of the people. The meek and courteous shall starve.

 

Step 2: Exhaust the limited supply of "money" items

Step 2: Exhaust the limited supply of "money" items

So I’ve been jumping all over the place without a real concise message in this post. I’ll try sum it up. 

Asians like to equate how good a meal was to the B4B of a meal. If it was tasty, yet expensive, or small portions, or BOTH (gasp!) then it was in fact NOT a good meal. However if the food was mediocre but had huge portions (or buffet) then it was in fact a GREAT meal. This seems backwards in food appreciation but sometimes you can’t fight what you are. I’ll leave you with these words of wisdom…

 

“The best meal, is a free meal”

– probably some Asian person

Asian People #1: “I can do that”

I was going to title this post “Stereotypical Asian People” but that doesn’t really make sense. That is because the “stereotypical Asian person” is actually every Asian person in the world, the “Asian-ness” just varies somewhat. This will be the beginning of what I think will be a popular series. Let’s begin!

“I can do that!”

We just got back from a Japanese noodle house and I thought it was pretty good. I got the Nabe yaki udon to compare with the Nabeyaki udon at one of my favourite Japanese restaurants in the city. The udon was good. I loved the presentation of the dish. There was a rugged elegance in the bowl that was used and the noodles and toppings were stacked nicely that was reminescent of a Japanese anime. The noodles were decent but I definitely give props to the homemadeness of them. The broth was yummy as was the ingredients (consisting of asian mushroom, chicken, raw egg, clams, seasticks =], bamboo shoot and tempura shrimp). All in all, nice job. 

Now as we all know menus are made up of dishes and dishes are made up of ingredients. But the way the Asian person interprets that is: “oh, it’s just noodles, chicken and egg, I can do that”. OK, to be even more accurate the Asian person says “I can do that and save a lot of money by not going out to eat it”. Or “hmmm, I bet if I buy udon noodles at the store it will be even better than this”. There are pretty decent attempts are recreating dishes that have been enjoyed in a restaurant setting but until now, nothing has been exactly replicated. 

The annoying part here is that this attitude can get in the way of enjoying a nice meal. The thought that the chefs are not really doing anything special or unique, but rather something that can be replicated easily.  That is most definitely a kick in the nutsack. Also the sheer arrogance of the Asian to say that they can recreate something because they think it is so simple. GAH that angers me. Give a little credit to the chef. Get off your high horse and enjoy the experience.

Anyways, all that venting is in fact directed at myself to a certain degree. The Asian-ness in me can definitely get in the way of having a totally enjoyable experience. Maybe not so much in regards to “Asian People #1” but as I tackle issues such as; Asian people judging a restaurant experience on how full they are, or ordering items off the menu that would be the BEST value, or ordering ONLY items of BEST value, or really mislead views on tipping, to plain ol’ manners, I hope to enlighten you all on how ANNOYING Asian  people … er… wait… the Asian-ness can be sometimes.