Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cowboys, horses and fine restaurants, oh my.

1. Brava Bistro, 723 17th Ave. S.W.

I don’t know if I’ve changed or if the city has changed. Back in the day, a visit home to Calgary did not imply fine dining -- a dinner out meant either Earl’s, or the pizza place down the street (the now defunct “Willow Park Pizza” made the best pizza I have ever had). These days it would seem that Calgary has a multitude of fine dining establishments and where once it shunned its culinary prairie roots, you can now find any number of excellent restaurants specializing in local game (and prairie oysters). This could have a lot to do with the large influx of 20-30 somethings now taking advantage of the job boom (the local chicken-on-the-go joint was offering $16/hour to sling chicken thighs). Regardless of the reason, I welcomed this burgeoning dining trend and spent some of my recent holiday sampling these new offerings.

Located on 17th Avenue in an unassuming spot between a Starbucks and a Subway (?), Brava Bistro has quickly made a name for itself as one of the trendier restaurants in the city. For over a year now, my brother has been heckling me to try this classy restaurant located but a stone’s throw from our high school. From their outdoor patio (not that we were trying it out in frigid December), you can see the front lawn of the school where I played hacky-sack in my army boots so many years ago. Nostalgia aside, the restaurant interior is chic in taupe, with a mixture of high bar-style tables and low tables with both banquettes and chairs. As is the recent trend, the restaurant also features a long bar at which many lone businessmen and groups of ladies sat for both dinner and drinks. My brother and I were quickly seated at what I considered to be the best table in the house, and what my brother saw as the worst table. This demonstrates my wish for privacy when it comes to dining out and my brother’s wish to see and be seen.

We began the meal with a cheese plate (my dining companion would scoff at our audacity to start the meal with cheese -- how very gauche and Western Canadian!), which was paired with a wonderful Oregonian wine. After a recent road trip down the West coast, I opt for Oregonian wines whenever possible. The cheese selections were unique and varied. While my brother preferred the soft, mild cheeses, I preferred the strong, old cheeses (my brother turned his nose up at some Oka cheese I offered up for Christmas dinner). As for our main courses -- when in Alberta, order beef! We both had the beef tenderloin which was cooked perfectly to the requested medium rare. It is such a treat ordering beef in Alberta – mad cow be damned! The beef was accompanied by some of the best mashed potatoes I have ever sampled (this might have to do with the addition of truffles) and steamed spinach. We rounded off the evening with espresso (excellent) and a piece of lemon tart.

All in all a most enjoyable evening out. The food was delicious, the prices were fair and the service was excellent (our Jared Leto lookalike waiter was attentive and knowledgeable).

Mains: $15-35


Next post - review of Alloy: Blue-collar meets white-collar meets California.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Back from the land of pierogies and kielbassa!

Part I

Well, this is not entirely true, I only had a brief sojourn in the "big onion." While in Edmonton, I took my dining companion on a tour of the more salient culinary institutions, such as Marchyshyn's - the only place for Ukrainian food (hmmm, Stawnichy's is also pretty good). Sadly though, we visited too close to Ukrainian Christmas and nothing was left on the shelves but a few robust Kielbassa rings and vats of poppy seeds and wheat. To amp up our Ukrainian Christmas dinner, we hit the Edmonton Farmer's Market and procured home-made pierogies and holubchi from a great Baba with dyed black hair and a Christmas sweater.

We also visited some of my favourite Edmontonian haunts, including The New York Bagel Cafe, which has since relocated to a larger space on Calgary Trail. While it lost some of its cozy atmosphere, it still makes great bagel platters, including one featuring Russian caviar which will set you back $96. We settled for the home-made dill cream cheese and rye bagel, which comes with excellent potato salad and a dill pickle. My dining companion opted for the pickled herring, which apparently doesn't lend itself well to a bagel sandwich. I should make brief mention of the reading material available for perusal. The cafe features many window wells holding many books, including a treatise on the psychoanalytic analysis of the vegetarian and a book of erotic dance positions.

We also visited one of the University of Alberta's mainstays: The Sugar Bowl. While they have since instituted a weekend brunch which makes it impossible to get a seat, we did grab two espressos for the long drive back to Calgary. This kept my dining companion awake until we experienced the one curve in the highway at Red Deer, after which he promptly fell asleep. I drove on listening to the new Christine Fellows cd, which is a great accompaniment to a prairie drive.

I have featured a photo of the world's largest kielbassa ring, located in Mundare, Alberta.