La Quercia Italian surprises served family style

La Quercia
3689 West 4 Avenue, V6R 1P2
604.676.1007

Blink and you might miss this small nook on the corner of Alma and West 4th.  The modern appointed restaurant has you sitting elbow to elbow with strangers and yet you won’t even realize they are there.  The a la carte menu looks delicious but we ordered Alla Famiglia which was five generous and splendid courses.  To my delight they were flexible to food requirements and brought us dishes with pork.  A lovely rabbit pate, a salad with hazel nuts, and a selection of three delicious pastas were fabulous.  Beef carpacio was delicate to bite, and strong on flavour.  The gnocchi was tender and very fresh in a rabbit sauce, which lets be honest tasted like chicken.  By the time the main course came I couldn’t believe there was still more to eat.  After a lovely veal scallopi the meal finished with a selection of three lovely desserts.  The house wine, although I don’t remember the name (do I ever) was delicious.  I was treated for my birthday – what a wonderful treat thanks to my Kili tent mate (and Italian food expert)!  I’m giving it a very good, and I’m looking forward to going again.  The price point on the family style meal is great value for what you get at 45$ per person.  Make a reservation though, I’ve been trying for months to get here.  It has a dedicated following and only a few seatings a night so it books up.  If my first visit was any indication you won’t be disappointed.

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Bowl licking good…

Rouge
1240 8th Avenue S.E. Calgary, Alberta
403.531.2767

 

If you are going to venture out in minus 20 degrees Celsius it is best that it be to a place as inviting as Rouge. A quaint red house on a corner in Inglewood’s is the perfect setting for a romantic dinner, or celebratory dinner with friends. If the best hits menu that we ordered from is any indication, Rouge’s kitchen will not disappoint. The amouse-bouche from the kitchen was yummy spiced pumpkin soup with pecans and chives. A selection of starters all proved to be delicious, with the Rabbit Fois Gras Tourtiere as my favourite. The mains were rich in flavour but well portioned. The details and presentation are excellent, and the service is both amusing and attentive. Our server made excellent and strikingly honest suggestions the most notable of which was to order the sticky toffee pudding, which is among the best desserts I have ever had. It was so good the birthday girl coined it ‘bowl licking good’. One the selections from the enRoute feature which has proven to be helpful, but keep in mind among Calgary’s best restaurants it meets the criteria for a high price point as well. Dinner is likely to be in the 100$ range per person, more depending on courses and beverages.

 

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“Gunga Din is not a, a swatch kind of movie”

Terramia Ristorante
98 Salem St., North End, Boston, MA, 02113
617.523.3112

 

Do you know that feeling when you are at a good restaurant with a close friend enjoying a bottle of fine wine with the vibrance and bustle of the restaurant around you yet the lighting is dim enough you feels like you could be the only people there? You’ll talk about anything and not worry that anyone might be listening, and the food experience is heightened by the ambiance. Terramia Ristorante is one of those places, nestled on a cobblestone street in the heart of Boston’s North End. I’d say the food was a solid 8. Rumor has it that it used to be even better, but that it has a new chef, although it is still quite good. My mushroom soup starter was something special, and the lobster fritters were yummy as well. The second course was a tomato tarte that was too heavy on the onions and too sweet for my palate. My veal was ginormous and very good. They don’t usually serve dessert, but offered us Tiramisu (reminds me of one of Tom Hanks’ jokes in sleepless in Seattle…. “Some woman is gonna want me to do it to her and I’m not gonna know what it is!”), however we had to pass because we were so full. I’m going to give it a Very Good.

 

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Try something Nu…

Nu
1661 Granville Street, Vancouver
604.646.4668

 

Farm to table, casual cuisine is their moto, and I have long been a fan of Nu. Growing up on water, I know that having a view from your dining room also usually comes at a sacrifice to food quality. Think of some of Vancouver’s finest restaurants, West, Bishops, Tojo’s and countless others, none have views. What they have is remarkable food. However, since Nu is casual cuisine it seems to get away with great views, and solid food. And this week’s brunch was just that – solid. They started our meal with a treat from the kitchen which was chocolate chaud, and a small scone. I surprised everyone by loving the chocolate chaud! I ordered the fajita wrap served with scrambled eggs. The scrambled eggs had smoked tofu in them that was delicious. It tasted like smoked cheese and it had such a great texture. The house made salsa was yummy with fresh cilantro, and my friends had equally satisfying experiences. The prices are reasonable, the atmosphere and mood is good, the drinks are great, and the view and location are also in its favour. On Sunday’s they even have a jazz brunch. And while this time it was brunch, I’ve also been for special occasion lunches and dinners and had good experiences – both with the food and my companions. The food is not remarkable, but it is reliably good, so I’m giving it overall a Very Good. Nu is owned by the same folks as “C” and “Raincity Grill”. I’m not a big fan of “C”, but definitely give Raincity Grill a try as well.

 

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At Ouisie’s Table I was welcomed home.

Ouisie’s Table
3939 San Felipe Drive Houston, Texas
713.528.2264

 

Sitting on Lucy’s porch last weekend I was reminded of the spirit of my great grandmother, Nana, who owned and operated a tea house in a small lakeside community in the mid 1900’s. And in reading more about Elouise Adams Jones, the proprietress & Executive Chef, I understood why. Her establishment is clearly a labour of love and each room and menu item is thoughtfully arranged and prepared. While I love my life and work, Ouisie’s (pronounced We’ – zee’s) made me dream of a life of afternoon lunches in sundresses and heels with my girlfriends. And sitting there with two of the most beautiful women I know it didn’t take too much imagination. We started with The Original Taster Plate that included amazing egg salad, pimento cheese, and saltine crackers. My main course was Sautéed Belly of the Salmon & Deviled Eggs. I haven’t seen devilled eggs on a menu before, but they were great, and what is more the salmon belly was amazing. I’d eat at Ouisie’s Table again and again, so it gets a Great. And if I lived in Houston I host showers and birthdays here.

Special thanks and congratulations to V.A.J. and S.O.J.B. 

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Who’s in the house?

Parkerhouse
131 Sixth Avenue SW Calgary
403.237.9585

 

Almost nothing on the menu for a vegetarian to eat, and no fish that doesn’t include shell fish making the menu not very flexible, but I loved the ambiance, service, and world famous parkerhouse rolls here. Without question they removed the lobster from the dish that I wanted, and the result was a yummy ‘mac and cheese’. Not quite as advertised as it was penne not macaroni, and spinach instead of broccoli. Given the limitations of the menu for those of us with dietary restrictions it gets a very okay, but on atmosphere and service I would give it a very good. The owner of this restaurant is Ron Salverda who has brought us other greats including Murrieta’s and Tribune Restaurant & Bar.

 

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Dancing Elephants, Short Lines, and Treacherous road conditions…

Vij’s
1480 W 11th Ave, Vancouver
604.736.6664

 

For the first time ever I walked into Vij’s last week and did not wait* even a moment before they sat us at our table. As one of the elite restaurants in town, reviewed by the New York Times, and acclaimed by foodies around the globe, Vij’s was a must stop for me and my friend with the discerning palate on our winter culinary adventures in Vancouver. When you walk into Vij’s you are met with the warmth of candle light that casts shadows of elephants around the room and the rich aroma of curry. The restaurant bustles with service staff that meticulously ensure tables are set, cleared, and guests are attended to. The man himself, Vikram Vij, is present in the dining room, caring for his guests and supporting his staff. In each my visits here he has stopped by to ask how our meal is or share a story. We ordered two different house cocktails, although worth trying, I would not order either again and stick instead to well selected beer or wine. On the suggestion of our server we started with the Portobello mushroom appetizer, which is an absolute must try on the menu. I didn’t try the lamb popsicles, which was our second server selection, but I did taste the sauce and understand why it such a fan favourite. The lamb was varying degrees of cooked from medium rare to well done, and probably would have been better served in review were it all medium rare. The meal was accompanied with a limitless supply of yummy naan and rice, but just be careful not to get too stuffed with carbs while mopping up the delicious sauces. In the New York Times article linked above Sara Dickerman says that Vij’s food is “not fusion exactly”, but I respectfully disagree, as I think this is one of the few restaurants on earth that executes fusion cuisine flawlessly. While the food shares the spice and colours of Indian food, its preparation, ingredients, and presentation are far from traditional. My main course, the marinated sablefish is an excellent fusion of Indian spice, modern presentation, and local ingredients. I finished my meal by tasting the house rice pudding served cold and topped with edible gold leaf, it is good, but not nearly as remarkable as the dinner itself. I was fortunate enough to be treated to dinner on this occasion and I ordered with reckless abandon from cocktails to dessert, but in the handful of Vancouver’s elite restaurants this is likely the most reasonably priced. We had an excellent evening experience at Vij’s which continues to sit at the top of my must try restaurants in Vancouver list.

 

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*Note: You can’t make reservations at Vij’s so don’t go on an evening when you’re in a rush, and prepare yourself for a long wait.  This night the weather conditions in Vancouver were treacherous, which is likely why we were saved the wait, however on past occasions I’ve waited an hour and half before being seated.  The dinner is worth it though, and while you wait in their lounge you will enjoy complimentary warm appetizers from the kitchen.  And if you are in a rush, stop by Vij’s more casual sister restaurant, Rangoli, right next door.

Contact the New York Times Crossword Department…we have found a four letter word for heaven!

Tojo’s
1133 West Broadway, Vancouver
604.872.8050

 

And the word is…Tojo. To kick-off holiday dinners in Vancouver one of my closest foodie companions and I ventured out in a blizzard to Tojo’s. Dining at Tojo’s is an experience, and if you can, and the evening suits it, make a reservation for the bar so as to watch the master at work. While you can order your meal al la carte the ideal way to order at Tojo’s is – Omakase. Omakase is Japanese for “entrust” and is a meal where the chef creates a custom menu of both hot and cold Japanese dishes. They will ask if you have any dietary restrictions for which the servers will likely make funny sarcastic jokes throughout the meal (this has happened to me on more than one occasion), but they will definitely accommodate you and make a wonderful meal that meets your needs and exceeds your expectations. For those of you who have been dawdling around only ordering sushi rolls in Japanese restaurants, venturing sometimes into sashimi territory thinking that is adventurous, Omakase is a perfect way to break the cycle and enjoy other types of Japanese food, as only one of the courses is sushi. There are three set Omakase options varying in price from $60-110$ per person and in courses from four to five.

For 80$ each we enjoyed five scrumptious courses, and I will humbly only note the remarkable as best I can. The second course for me was a house smoked salmon, with a peanut sauce, served over mixed greens. I am quite particular about smoked salmon, there have only ever been three that I have loved, the first is candied and sold in Granville Island (of which I can only have petite nibbles because it is so rich), the second caught and smoked in the Queen Charlotte Islands I enjoyed many times, and the third, here, was spectacular. The most delightful course, was the third – seared white snapper served on a bed of mushrooms topped with broiled roe was a frenzy of flavour and texture that tantalized my palate. As I have a particular love of mushrooms and the chefs who prepare them well I will take a moment to note that of the fourth course I can’t remember anything except the sweet flavour and firm texture of the mushrooms. If you enjoy mushrooms you will be enchanted by the magic Tojo works with mushrooms throughout the courses. The fifth course, the sushi course was very good, and each piece was uniquely, thoughtfully, and elegantly prepared. The most interesting sushi to don our table was a scallop wrapped in thin egg paper instead of the traditional seaweed. To me the most delicious was then spicy tuna, and lastly the most beautiful was a masterpiece of colour that was wrapped in bbq salmon skin. In reflecting back on the meal it was best to have entrusted the chef, because he took me on a journey I would not have chosen for myself, but one that I am grateful for having explored.

If you love Japanese food you must try Tojo’s, you can save it for a special occasion and be sure to take with you friends and family who will appreciate the experience. Reservations recommended!

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Calgary comes of age? # 3, supreme gracious mango god?

Mango Shiva
218 – 8th Avenue SW, Calgary
403.589.4888

 

Funky lighting from chandeliers to candles burning unattended in the bathroom hallways give this restaurant and lounge an enticing ambiance. I’m not quite sure about the name, Mango Shiva, I think Shiva means supreme god in Hinduism, and in Sanskrit it can mean gracious, so is this place Mango Supreme god or a Gracious Mango…not sure ?! This is one of the many restaurants in Calgary that boast Naan Bread – with thanks to Kanchan I will note that this is a glaring redundancy as Naan means bread. But other than this minor violation of language this restaurant is very good. And some of their food items actually fall into the “great” category including the delicate and perfectly spiced pakoras with tamarind chutney and the tandoori roasted chicken with butter sauce. The later of which are recommended on behalf of my dinner companions. Mango Shiva is modern Indian cuisine, well executed, in the heart of downtown Calgary. Pricier than the average Indian restaurant (T.I.C.This is Calgary), mains are 16-24$.

 

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Calgary comes of age? First down…and thinking enRoute might have something here…

Mercato
2224 – 4th Street S.W.
Calgary
403.263.5535

 

The first stop on the enRoute mission is Mercato. “Exciting, imaginative expression of Italian classics…”. Mercato is a restaurant with a mix of an Italian grocery store. It has a striking open kitchen and a mix of classic tables and long bar height tables. The restaurant has a loud buzz and is comfortably lit. The menu is just the right length, appropriately themed, and has an interesting assortment of side dishes. We ordered an antipasto platter as an appetizer, main courses, and a side dish. Too much food, but great to try it all. The side dish was Funghi, which was “great!”. The gnocchi was homemade, soft and supple, avoiding the common gnocchi plague of being over worked and therefore tough. The ricotta on my Fettuccini was divine and the pasta was al dente. Masculan Pinot Nero felt like a big hug from an Italian mother as it mingled with the dinner. However, crack open the check book because this is what those in the know call a “negative per diem day”, and the rest of you who are sane call a $$$ meal. Mains are reasonably priced in the $16 range for pastas (more for meat/seafood), but it’s the extras that add to the price, but also the experience. Mercato gets a Very Good (borderline Great).

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