“Oh my ears and whiskers, how late it’s getting!”

Vin Room
2310 4 Street SW, Calgary, T2S 1X2
403.457.5522

 

When Calgary tries to go cosmopolitan I think there is often something lost in translation. And while the Alice in Wonderland meets modern art deco setting of Vin Room is a bit of lost in translation for me, it also serves as a welcome relief to enjoy an intimate wine bar and lounge in Calgary. Even better it appears to have a good appetizer menu as well, although I didn’t indulge the night I was there. The wine and beer selection is excellent and as far as comfortable place to go with a date or a few friends to lounge and chat without the noise and rowdiness of the typical Calgary bar scene, this is a great place. Prices moderate and it is has lots of seating both upstairs and down that is well partitioned to allow for private conversations. The only thing I’d warn against for sure is those crazy low chairs (not a fan) so pick a banquette if you can. Thanks to Valerie for the pick it was perfect for the occasion.

 

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Making me miss Montreal

Bistrot Bistro
1961 West 4th Avenue, Vancouver
604.732.0004

 

At a bistro (or Bistrot) the food is paramount, but not too complex, the atmosphere is modest, and the beverage of choice is wine. And Bistrot Bistro accomplishes that with a bit of a west coast flare. This small restaurant on West 4th is a delicious and comfy place to spend an evening. The wine selection even by the glass is excellent. The menu is well chosen and has great options. I tried the most decadent dish on the menu for sure which was duck confit on macaroni and cheese…it was unreal good. I love duck confit and the flavour of duck throughout the macaroni and cheese was mouth watering. Now granted I could barely eat half of my meal because it was so rich, but it was worth it. My dinner date had the filet mignon and quite enjoyed it. The servers were attentive, but did drive me a bit crazy with how often they approached us, it is a delicate balance for perfect service and in Vancouver there are few places that have it just right. The service staff wear t-shirts keeping things simple and the walls are colorful accented by tea light candles everywhere. There is a selection of international clocks by the front door, and a Montreal Forum seat in the bathroom waiting area. It doesn’t quite meet the standard of some of my favorite Montréal places, but it is very good, and made me miss ‘home’ quite a bit.  Make sure to call ahead for reservations this petite restaurant is clearly a fan favourite and fills up quickly!

 

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Motorbikes, sunburns…and a good rosé to finish

Bin 942
1521 W Broadway, Vancouver
604.734.9421

 

I think anytime it takes an entire week of posts to describe your weekend you must have had a great weekend. I drove by Bin 942 two times and couldn’t see it, so it certainly isn’t an easy find, but it is ‘a find’ once you do. From the street it isn’t very visible, and inside it is small, eclectic, and the seating is comfortable. I have wanted to try one of the Bin tapas wine bars for years now and never had the chance. But given that I was meeting up with an oenophile (eh-no-file) it made sense to finally try one of them out. As in classic Gayle style I have forgotten the names of the wines we drank, and their online menu was no help in this regard because I can’t find the Rosé we drank. But I can say we started with a glass of bubbles, followed by a glass of dry Rosé (first time I realized there are Roses that aren’t sweet and are enjoyable), and then with our final course we had red. Them drinks were gooood, and not remembering their names make me feel a bit like a player that forgets the name of their date. But what I do remember is the fluffy warm cornmeal dusted Navjao fry bread served with the beautifully plated olive humous, the cedar wrapped salmon that melts in your mouth and to finish the robust lamb tapas with a samosa side. Not quite tapas in my opinion, a bit too large and really only sharable for two, whereas the tapas I had in Spain tended to be shareable with more than two, but very good big bites to accompany a fine selection of wines. I cut it a little late on the departure, but I still made my flight!

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A little cheese with that wine…

Divino
113 – 8th Avenue SW, Calgary
403.410.5555

 

Because I’ve been eating in a lot more these days I haven’t been to Divino in a long time…although it used to be one of my go tos in downtown cow town. Recently I visited again, and I will say this. Divino has delicious Tempura Haricot Vert and Onion Soup Gratinee. I love French onion soup! They also have an excellent selection of wine and assortment of cheese. The cheese plates are good, but I actually enjoy Farm’s cheese plate a bit more because each cheese (or meat) is paired with an accompaniment, where as at Divino all the cheeses are only accompanied by fig jam. And while their main courses are solid, I’ve not once found myself in love with one of them. The atmosphere in the restaurant is fitting for its offerings and the menu is on point with no Calgary confusion fusion. For wine bar I’m giving Divino a Very Good…If I were rating it on food only it would likely only be a Very Okay.

 

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“Hung the cat up by it’s tail…but there’s one place in the world…”

A little thinking out loud on the subject of the economy and drinking…While enjoying a glass of wine this past weekend at Lucy Mae Brown the bartender interrupted our conversation when he overhead my friend say “I’m interested in buying a car” because he thought he heard “I’m interested in buying a bar”. This bartender told us he had important business advice to share with us. He told us that there are a lot of bars for sale in Vancouver (of this I’m not sure, but I’ll believe it), and that his point of view is that regardless of the economy people drink and that having a successful bar is more about location and concept so the successful ones will survive and the losing ones will fail regardless of economy. And ultimately his advice to us was to go out and buy a bar while the price is good, but a good one…though logic would serve (based on his argument) that those one’s aren’t suffering. While our discussion was about Ferraris, not Pubs it got me thinking about people’s drinking habits in times of economic downturn, and I’m afraid the numbers don’t really support our local bartender’s story. According to the LA Times those that drink are all still drinking, but more of us are doing it at home. Which while bad for the bar business has its upsdies for example statistics show it actually reduces drunk driving incidents. However, it isn’t as clear cut as that though, because the same article says that hard drinkers cut back, while social drinkers increase their drinking during tough times. Catherine Rampell has a couple interesting blogs related to this subject including “Wine as an Economic Indicator” and “Vices and Economic Slowdown”. Her piece on wine as economic indicator brings up an interesting point which is “the recession is forcing middle-market consumers to move down-market.” Anecdotally I would say for me that as I’m staying in more and drinking out less ‘the spend’ has stayed relatively constant (or reduced), but the quality has improved because I’m not paying the same mark up as I would in a restaurant or bar. Now I know that the Friday night of this story I had less drinks than usual but that was more about the 10 miles we were running in the morning, than the economy…The short of it is I need to do a bit more research to get to the bottom of this pint…if you’ve read anything on the subject let me know.

No formal rating on Lucy Mae, but I’ll give it a Very Ok…and I will note business looked slow for a Friday night.

Adults only…I love events that come with adult ratings

 

In its 17th year Winefest was a big hit. Calgary dolled up in its finest gear. Snakeskin shoes, pleather pants, beadazzled jeans, and big hair to venture out to the Stampede grounds and try some of the world’s finest wines. The highlights for me were the stop at the Springbank Cheese booth and the Rosa Regale 2007. When it comes to me and wine, well I love to drink it, but I’m by no means even remotely knowledgeable. I’ve resolved to try and learn a bit more and get to know more about what I like, so this event is in line with that goal. The Rosa Regale is not the finest wine in the world, but I quite enjoyed it, and am looking forward to buying a bottle. The Ex Nihilo’s “Rolling Stones Satisfaction” was surprisingly good, and according to my notes I also enjoyed Arbosto Bianco 2006 (Fratelli Urciuolo, Italy), and really enjoyed Beaujolais Villages 2006 (Louis Latour, France). But an ounce at a time I was getting kind of drunk, so my notes are actually quite amusing. It made for a fun evening with friends so I will look to go to similar events in the future.


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‘It’s a hard day’s night…been working like a dog…But when I get home to you…’

Max’s Wine Dive
4720 Washington Ave, Houston, Texas
USA

 

If you remember the 80’s and you like kraft mac and cheese but you’ve replaced your juice boxes with fine wines and champagnes then try out Max’s Wine Dive. They shake up your classic comfort food and serve it with a cosmopolitan twist. Kosher hotdogs with venison chili, macaroni and cheese with truffles, and organic southern fried chicken. Steroid free chicken – now there’s something that isn’t in your mama’s fried chicken recipe. I had the grilled cheese with tomatoes, which was served on the yummiest texas toast. A bit too much cheese for me (is that possible?), but all over quite good. The sides are creative, some things come in half orders, but the one thing Max doesn’t seem to care a stitch about is calories, so don’t come here if you’re counting ‘em. Prices are moderate with mains from about $14-$25 and the atmosphere is great, but on a busy night you might need to wait a bit or settle for a seat at the bar. I’m going to give Max’s a Very Good.

 

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