Happy New Year! As I sit down to reflect on all the chowing that I’ve done in the past year, I wanted to share with you the Best 15 Bites that I had in Calgary in 2012. These are in no particular order.
1. French Toast – Wurst, Calgary, AB
This French Toast, stuffed with slices of double smoked bacon and shredded Sylvan Star gouda, and then topped with a crunchy apple slaw, whipped crème fraîche and a blueberry sauce along with some fresh berries, was truly one of the most memorable brunch dishes I’ve had in Calgary in a long time. All the flavours and textures combined made this dish amazing! I loved tartness of the crunchy apple slaw against the sweet blueberry sauce and the double smoked bacon along with the shredded gouda provided a nice savoury balance to the dish. I’ve gone back to have this item several times now and have been impressed that it’s been consistent every time. When I think of going out for brunch, this French Toast at Wurst is always the first thing that comes to my mind.
2. Tiramisu Gelato – Involtini Ristorante, Calgary, AB
This was the “Feature Gelato” at Involtini on the evening of my visit. This house made Tiramisu Gelato was out of this world! The gelato tasted exactly like the dessert itself and I loved the mocha ripple throughout. My friend and I loved it so much that we got a second order of the gelato. If I hadn’t been so full from the pasta and pizza, I would have wanted to order a third. Heck, if I had known the gelato would be so good, I would have skipped the pasta and pizza and gone straight for the gelato instead. This gelato was definitely the highlight of our meal. Since then, I’ve tried tiramisu gelato at other places but it’s never been quite as good. I hope that Involtini offers this Tiramisu Gelato regularly. I’d drive across town to go and eat there just so that I could have this Tiramisu Gelato.
3. Pig Head Mortadella – CHARCUT Roast House, Calgary, AB
This Pig Head Mortadella with Brassica Mustard is one of the signature items at CHARCUT. Connie DeSousa, the co-owner and co-executive chef of CHARCUT, is famous for being able to debone a pig’s head very quickly. Two years ago, she broke her own record and managed to debone one in just over two minutes during a demo at Eat Vancouver. The hollowed out pig’s head is then stuffed with hand-mixed pork, truffle, and pistachios. This dish was definitely the star of the show. The slices of mortadella just melted in our mouths. The flavours were really well-balanced and I was impressed I could actually taste the subtle flavour of the truffle. To me, this is a must try item at CHARCUT.
4. Duck Fat Fried Poutine – CHARCUT Roast House, Calgary, AB
Another memorable item for me at CHARCUT was their famous Duck Fat Fried Poutine, which came topped with cheese curds and truffle gravy. It was simply amazing and easily one of the best poutines I’ve had in Calgary. The fries were crispy and flavourful. I loved that I could actually taste truffle in the gravy.
5. Fricassee of Calamari – Model Milk, Calgary, AB
This Fricassee of Calamari at Model Milk contained guanciale, edamame, housemade croutons, and pimenton mixed in with the calamari. I was amazed at how tender the calamari was. The flavours were vibrant and spot on. When I think of the best calamari that I’ve had to date in Calgary, this dish comes to mind. The one that I had at Il Sogno would be a close second. I was actually quite surprised at the generous portion size and glad that I shared with my friend. The dish is hugely popular and has managed to survive the many and frequent changing menu iterations.
6. Lemon Ricotta Pancakes – Chef’s Table, Calgary, AB
I tried these Lemon Ricotta Pancakes for the first time during last year’s Stampede week at Yelp’s Banff Ice Vodka Pancake Party, which was held at Chef’s Table, located inside the Kensington Riverside Inn. Though they looked relatively ordinary in appearance, these were no ordinary pancakes. These Lemon Ricotta Pancakes were just out of this world. The pancakes had a strong hint of lemon but were not overly sweet. I would say these are some of the best pancakes I’ve ever had.
7. Badass Omelet – Brasserie Kensington, Calgary, AB
This Badass Omelet consisted of fresh chanterelles, braised pork belly, and foie gras. The Badass Omelet was a daily special and is not on the regular brunch menu at Brasserie Kensington. It pretty much had all my favourite foods combined together in the omelet. I loved the tender chanterelles and savoury pork belly pieces in the omelet. The slices of foie gras on top made it even more decadent. This omelet was amazing and easily one of the best I’ve had in Calgary to date. The omelet was served with slices of rye toast, crispy fried potatoes, and fresh fruit. It was definitely a winner and I hope that they will put it on the regular menu one day!
8. Beef Tartare – Avec Bistro, Calgary, AB
At Avec Bistro, the Beef Tartare included cornichon, dijon, egg yolk and was topped with crispy shallots. It was served with crispy toasts. I really enjoyed this contemporary presentation of Beef Tartare, especially the contrasting texture from the crispy shallots. This dish was actually the highlight of the evening for me and probably one of the best versions of Beef Tartare that I’ve had.
9. Quinoa Salad – Pio Chicken, Calgary, AB
The Quinoa Salad at Pio consisted of quinoa, avocado, broccoli, cucumber, mint, onions, red and green peppers mixed with house vinaigrette. It was really tasty and probably one of the best preparations of quinoa that I’ve had to date. I loved the perfect combination of flavours and contrasting textures. The quinoa salad is actually one of the choice of sides that come with the rotisserie chicken. The chicken itself was succulent, well-seasoned, and flavourful. But to me, the quinoa salad is actually the star of the show. I’m usually not a fan of quinoa and wouldn’t go out of my way to order it. But I find myself craving this quinoa salad quite often and I would go out of my way to go to Pio so that I can have this salad.
10. Samgyupsal (Grilled Pork Belly) – Ogam, Calgary, AB
I’m really sad that Ogam is no more. Despite their closure, I wanted to include this dish on my Best 15 Bites list anyways because it was truly special. Since their closure, I’ve tried to look for a similar version of this dish elsewhere but to no avail. I’ve tried some version of Samgyupsal at three different Korean restaurants around town and the flavour doesn’t even come close. This dish of Samgyupsal (Grilled Pork Belly) was truly amazing. The slices of grilled pork belly were very flavourful and melt-in-your-mouth tender. I liked that the pork belly did not taste overly fatty. The marinated pork belly slices were served with sautéed onions on a sizzling hot plate along with rice and ssam (wrap, which in this case was lettuce leaves). It also came with some kimchi and ssamjang, which is a thick spicy paste used as a condiment for the “wraps”. The proper way to eat this dish is to take a piece of lettuce or leaf vegetable in one hand and place a bite-sized piece of grilled meat, some kimchi or other banchan, and a bit of rice in the center, add a bit of ssamjang on top and wrap the leaf around the contents. I sure miss this dish a lot and I’ve almost given up hope trying to find one that is comparable. I hope that Ogam will resurface one day.
11. Huilerie Beaujolaise Vinaigre de Citron
I tasted this amazing Vinaigre de Citron for the first time at the Brookline PR Blogger Meet & Greet event back in November. Chef Kyle Groves, the executive chef of Catch Restaurant & Oyster Bar, was shucking oysters at this event. Instead of serving the oysters with a traditional mignonette, he drizzled a couple drops of this citrus vinegar on to the raw oysters. It turned the oysters from being really good to being PHENOMENAL. I was amazed at what a difference a couple of drops of this vinegar made. It has an intense lemon and Kalamansi lime flavour but is very well-balanced. To me, this stuff is like liquid gold. It seems to be able transform an ordinary tasting item to something that has wow factor. This Vinaigre de Citron is made by Huilerie Beaujolaise in the Beaujolais region of France. I’ve been having trouble locating this vinegar around town. The Cookbook Co. and Fresh DELIcious at Calgary Farmers’ Market used to carry this vinegar. However, recently, they had some issues with the distributor and are no longer able to bring this vinegar in. If you do come across this vinegar, please let me know where I can find it.
12. Chiang Mai Noodles (Khao Soi) – Jackie’s Thai, Calgary, AB
Jackie’s Thai, a stall in the food court of Eau Claire Market, is truly a hidden gem. I would never have known about them if it were not for a recent Chowhound post. Jackie’s Thai serves up authentic Thai fare. I’ve tried quite a few of the dishes on their menu. Though all the dishes I tried were tasty, without a doubt the standout dish for me was the Chiang Mai Noodles.. I loved the rich and creamy coconut curry broth with the fragrant lemongrass. The flavours in the broth were so complex yet well-balanced. The chicken meat was tender and the noodles perfectly al dente. This was easily the best Thai dish I’ve had in Calgary to date. Since their menu changes frequently, these Chiang Mai Noodles are unfortunately not always available. I wish they would put it on their regular menu as I’d be there at least once a week for these noodles.
13. Chicken Coq Au Vin – SAIT Culinary Campus, Calgary, AB
When the SAIT Culinary Campus opened in the downtown core last September, it had quickly become my go-to lunch destination when I’m in need of a quick and inexpensive lunch. Over the past few months, I’ve tried a number of the grab-and-go hot entrees, as the menu changes daily. All the food and pastries are prepared by the Professional Chef students. One of the most memorable lunches that I’ve had from the SAIT Culinary Campus was the Chicken Coq Au Vin. I couldn’t believe how good it tasted. I know the presentation looks more like a TV dinner, but the flavours were totally of fine dining calibre. The Chicken Coq Au Vin was served on a bed of roasted potatoes along with some roasted beets & carrots as well as some steamed vegetables. The vegetables were cooked to a perfect al dente. If all the components were placed on a fancy white plate instead of the take-out container, this entrée could totally pass for one from a fancy restaurant as the flavours were just spot on. I loved the sauce in the Chicken Coq Au Vin so much that I was tempted to lick every drop of it.
14. Raspberry White Chocolate Pistachio Scone – SAIT Culinary Campus, Calgary, AB
I’ll admit that I’ve got fairly high standards when it comes to baked goods and it usually takes a lot to impress me. I’ve tried quite a few of the pastries and baked goods from the Boulangerie/Patisserie counter at the SAIT Culinary Campus downtown. Though all the items are prepared by aspiring Professional Chef students, I would say most of their baked goods is on par with the gourmet bakeries around town. The one item which totally impressed me was the Raspberry White Chocolate Pistachio Scone. The texture of this scone was spot on. It was flaky, soft, and not too sweet. What really gave it the wow factor was the layer of pistachio paste in between. This was easily one of the most memorable scones I’ve ever had. It was definitely better than the scones I’ve tried from other bakeries around town. I was so impressed that I went back right away to get a bunch more of these scones.
15. Oxtail Ravioli – Il Sogno, Calgary, AB
This house made Oxtail Ravioli, which was served with carrots, thyme, and snap peas, was easily one of the most memorable pasta dishes that I’ve had in 2012. The pasta was really light and delicate while the oxtail filling was really flavourful. It was a really well-composed dish. The sweetness of the carrots and snap peas was nicely balanced by the savoury oxtail ravioli. Of all the items I’ve tried at Il Sogno, this was definitely the standout dish.
2437 4th Street SW
2515 90 Ave SW
CHARCUT Roast House
#101, 899 Centre Street SW
308 17th Ave SW
Kensington Riverside Inn
1126 Memorial Drive NW
1131 Kensington Rd NW
#105, 550 11 Ave SW
Pio Peruvian Rotisserie Chicken
2929 Sunridge Way NE
Ogam Korean Restaurant (Closed)
Dragon City Mall
Unit 167, 328 Centre St SE
Eau Claire Market Food Court
#181, 200 Barclay Parade SW
SAIT Culinary Campus
#226, 230 – 8th Ave SW
24 4 Street NE