Big Taste 2013 Round Up!

It is Big Taste week in Calgary! Foodies around the city can try out fix price menus at participating restaurants to fill their tummies.  I have to say this year I am not that impressed with some of the menus that restaurants have rolled out.  What I felt was some restaurants trying to put together a menu using the littlest & cheapest ingredients and serve as little food as possible (I laughed when I was reading Anejo’s “gourmet” menu), rather than trying to put together a menu with creative dishes that make their restaurant stand out amongst everyone else.  Really, I know it’s b/c there’s not much competition here in Calgary so people think they can get away with doing the minimal… but wow.  I feel this should be a time to really shine and impress/recruit new diners! However, there were several that I was interested in so I went with K for a few of them.

So rather than doing individual posts on each Big Taste menu that I have tried, I am doing one post on all the restaurants I went to.  Pictures first, then short review to follow.  I know this is going to be a long post but I feel that this is the best way to compare each restaurant’s offerings.

Manuel Latruwe – $15 Lunch

Course 1: Classic French onion soup served in a sourdough bread bowl. Topped with Gruyere cheese

The broth was too light in taste.  It’s definitely lacking flavor and we wonder if it’s b/c they used a vegetable broth rather than a beef one.  All I could taste was the sourness in the sourdough throughout the entire bowl.  The soup was also lukewarm as opposed to hot.

Course 2: Tomato, bocconcini Di Bufala and basil quiche. Served with a side salad

I was very disappointed with that tiny little quiche that was served to me.  The server actually said (after I asked her if this was their regular ‘small’), the Chefs made this special size b/c they were afraid that people would not be able to finish all three courses.  I mean admittedly, I am a glutton, but K isn’t, and she was shocked too.  The balsamic vinaigrette on the salad was good though.

Course 3: Profiteroles with Madagascar vanilla ice cream and dark chocolate sauce

Three profiteroles basking in a rich, dark chocolate sauce.  This was the best course out of the three, but I wish the sauce was actually warm.  The ice cream was still quite frozen in my profiteroles.

Service was limited to order taking and serving you food but it was pleasant.  Also, although reservations were not stated as required, it got so busy and packed that we had to wait for a table.  We did not feel this menu was good value and was overall disappointed.

Manuel Latruwe Belgian Patisserie & Bread Shop on Urbanspoon

1410 Bier Haus

I didn’t get to dine there but I want to make note on a phone call.  K had called them b/c she wanted to know if they were kid friendly.  Yes yes yes I realize it is a pub but instead of getting a simple no, she got laughed at.  I don’t understand why that is funny – it is a legitimate question for those of us with kids that don’t use a babysitter.  I mean they serve brunch! They could totally be a restaurant in the morning and pub at night! Who knows, right? That’s why we called.  But that’s ok… as delicious as their $15 lunch sound – we couldn’t go, and wouldn’t… not after that incident.

Yellow Door Bistro – $25 Lunch

Course 1: Heirloom carrot and Fairwind Farms goats cheese salad
– Golden raison, orange cardamom dressing, toasted almond foam

I loved this.  It was so refreshing and I told our hostess that it tastes like I’m eating a garden, but I loved it.  You can tell they put a lot of thought into selecting the ingredients in this salad and it was as delicious as it was visually appealing.

Course 2 : Grilled hanger steak and frites
– Crispy pomme frites, cafe de paris butter

The steak was cooked sous vide and our server told us that medium rare is what they serve, but it cannot go more rare – only more cooked.  The meat was tender but I didn’t really enjoy the cafe de paris butter over it – I brushed it onto my fries instead.  The fries were twice cooked and they were a tad bland, so I asked for ketchup to eat them with :)

Cute little takeout box!

Course 3: French Macaroons (to go)

I’m not even sure why these are called macaroons b/c they are clearly madeleines.  The little cakes are moist and semi-sweet but more dense than I prefer.  I loved the praline bits but I didn’t feel there was anything bringing the two together.

Service was exceptional – the servers really take care of you and are very attentive.  I am impressed with the food so I will definitely return here for their regular menu.

Yellow Door Bistro @ Hotel Arts on Urbanspoon

Blink Restaurant – $35 Dinner

Starter Bread

Course 1: Twice baked souffle, aged Canadian cheddar, spinach and Parmesan

I had this in the past and thought it was way too cheesy, but Blink must’ve modified their recipe b/c this time it was much easier to eat, and doesn’t feel as heavy.  The souffle itself was very soft and creamy and had great cheddar flavors.

Course 2: Diamond Willow top sirloin of beef, potato roesti, savoy cabbage, beet & vodka vinaigrette

The sirloin here was cooked sous vide, and medium rare was also what they served.  The sirloin was very tender and the beet & vodka vinaigrette was a great accompaniment – just like how red meat pairs well with a sweet/sour jus.  However, the combination of the beets and vodka was very strong so it may be a turn off for some.  The potato roesti and the cabbage were ok – they tasted fine but nothing special enough for them to stand out.

Course 3: Valrhona chocolate semifreddo with orange marmalade & hazelnut praline

The semifreddo was still quite frozen so it was very hard to eat, but it had a very mild milk chocolate taste to it.  However, I did not like the orange marmalade pairing as it was too overpowering.  As I love praline I naturally loved the praline bits but I felt that something else needs to bring all the components together.

Course 3: English style sticky toffee with butterscotch sauce

This was K’s dessert and I definitely enjoyed it more than mine.  The butterscotch sauce was to die for and it was perfect with the warm, semi sweet toffee.

I have always liked Blink and was happy with their Big Taste menu.  They are definitely one of the restaurants that present their popular items on the menu to impress their diners.  Service as usual is top notch.

Blink Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

River Cafe – $15 Lunch

Starter Bread

Course 1: Driview Farm Lamb Burger
– Caramelized Onion, Sylvan Star Gouda, Pickled Huckleberries, Arugula
Beef Fat Roasted Poplar Bluff Potato
Fairwinds Farm Goat Yogurt Raita

Look at that beauty.  Yes, it was a small burger but it’s definitely about quality over quantity here.  All of the ingredients were paired perfectly to create one of the best lamb burgers I have ever had, but what brought everything together was definitely the meat itself.  The lamb was juicy, moist and succulent.  The roasted potatoes were quite simple, but was great with the delicious yogurt raita.   I used some of the starter bread to finish the dip b/c it was that good! Like the lamb patty, this goat yogurt did not have any of that gamey taste to it.  Hmmmm I could eat this over and over again.  It’s a shame that it’s not on their regular menu!

Course 2: Cookies to go
– Theo Organic Chocolate & Highwood Crossing Oatmeal
– Organic Quinoa, Cranberry & Lemon

These were some delicious cookies.  They still tasted very “fresh” even though I left them in its paper bag overnight.  The cranberry & lemon one was like a thin shortbread cookie and the oatmeal one had a nice, chewy texture.

I find the prices at River Cafe kind of high on their regular menu, but they definitely serve fantastic food.  Service was ok overall but our server was friendly.  You get a great view of Prince’s Park if you sit by the window.

River Cafe on Urbanspoon

Blink Restaurant – $25 Lunch

Starter Bread

Course 1: Field mushroom soup with thyme croutons & chives

I am almost certain this was drizzled with truffle oil b/c that was the first scent that hit me.   This is one of the best creamy mushroom soups I have ever tasted and I would definitely order this again.  The mushroom flavors are strong so it’s not just all cream.  It doesn’t indicate what type of mushrooms are used in this soup, and I can’t tell b/c it is quite blended.  However, I like it.  My dining companion was also very impressed.

Course 2: Arctic Char from Whitehorse, organic ‘1 year aged’ risotto with sunchoke and balsamic vinegar

The char was cooked perfectly with a perfectly crispy skin.  I often find that char tastes a bit like salmon, but not surprising since the two are sorta related.  The risotto, however, was undercooked which was surprising to me.  I understand risotto is tricky and tedious to cook but I was just surprised that it would happen here.

Course 3: Pavlova with lemon curd & Saskatoon berries

Pavlova is comparable to a meringue and the one is done quite nice – the outside is crisp while the inside is light and soft.  The lemon curd and the berries were both very citrusy but complemented the sweet pavlova quite well.  However, it is missing a key ingredient… the whipped cream.

I liked the food enough at Blink to return for their Big Taste lunch.  While I am still impressed with the food, I was unhappy with their service today.  I can only conclude that our server was sexist b/c he would only look at my male dining companion while speaking to us, and generally, he didn’t really serve me except maybe place the food on front of me first since it’s common to serve the lady first.  Zero eye contact, no smiles, nothing.  Also, my dining companion ordered a coke ($3.25) and it was flat.  He mentioned it to the server and his reply was, it’s usually like that.  Ok…? His attitude was just cold overall and I have to say it ruined my lunch.  I wonder if he got the message by my small tip? Anyhow, if I ever get him as a server again, I would definitely request for someone else – I made sure to remember his name off the receipt.

Blink Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Ox & Angela – $35 Dinner

Almonds – candied almonds, smoked paprika, toasted sesame, sea salt
Olives – selection of Turkish olives wi citrus and chili

These tasted as it looks – it was great to snack on while we were waiting for our food.

Pan Con Tomate – grilled sourdough rubbed with fresh tomato, garlic, extra virgin olive oil
Jamon Serrano – salt cured ham of Spain, ‘Fermin Brand’, extra virgin olive oil

I found the ‘bruschetta’ really smelling like tuna, and I can’t explain why.  The bread was also a bit hard – I would prefer the bread to be warm as well.  I loved the Jamon Serrano though… cured ham/prosciutto/Parma ham are my kind of thing and this one was nice and smooth without being overly salty.  I could eat a whole platter of them!

Fritters – alt cod and potato croquettes, panko breading, lemon aioli

These were delicious and served piping hot – definitely one of my favorites of the bunch! It tasted more like fish than potato and it was perfect with the lemon aioli.  But then again, when do I not like aioli?

Pintxo – Chorizo, Kale, Mushrooms

This was served cold, which was surprising to me.  The chorizo was unfortunately rock hard and crunchy and I’m not sure if that’s how it should be? I didn’t feel this was executed well.

Asparagus – grilled asparagus, manchego, citrus, truffle

After tasting this dish, I have vowed to drizzle truffle oil on all of my roasted/grilled vegetable dish.  I can’t believe how insanely tasty this simple dish was! I loved the small dollop of aioli though I wouldn’t say it was needed.  The manchego cheese was quite light (a good thing) so it doesn’t draw away the simple flavors in this dish, yet it adds on as a nice component.

Chicken – braised Iberian & local chorizo, roasted tomato, shaved garlic, sherry

The meat was very tender and definitely ‘fall off the bone’, and the paprika ketchup was great – it had a smokiness to it and gave it a bit of a kick to the entire dish.  The braising liquid was nice and light and the Asian in me says I wish I had a bowl of white rice at the time so I can pour the liquid allover it and eat it… hmmmmm.

Ensalada – baby gem lettuce, apple, shaved manchego, sherry vinegar, toasted walnuts

My first comment to K as I took a bite of this was… is this salad ever SOUR! The vinaigrette here is so strong that it was more sour than the slice of green apple in there.  I think this should’ve been served first to open up our appetite.

Ribsteak – grilled Brant Lake Wagyu rib steak, roast pepper confit, citrus aioli, arugula oil

Wagyu… do people know that there’s no such thing as 100% wagyu here in Canada? Even ‘domestic wagyu’ (and I use the term very loosely) is a far cry from the Japanese cattle and I find it outrageous that we are being purposely misled.  Anyways, this rib steak was very tender, but nothing that I haven’t had before, and I swear those angus steaks from the Innisfail farm are far better tasting.  Once again we have the citrus aioli which is definitely delicious but I didn’t feel that it was needed in this dish.  The beef itself was flavorful on its own and it was cooked to a medium rare.

Patatas Bravas – baby yellow potatoes, smoked paprika ketchup, aioli

I loved this.  This Spanish dish was not spicy but had a nice kick to it, and it went very well with the aioli.  The potatoes were cooked perfectly and I just love whatever spice they tossed it with.

Churros – served with warm chocolate sauce

These lightly fried pieces of dough were so airy and crispy – definitely went well with the warm chocolate sauce!

Lovely place, superb service and delicious food.  I loved the different tastes of all the foods! However, portions are painfully small.  K and I had to share a Tubby Dog after! I would like to say that I’d come back again, but only maybe after payday or if I’m feeling very rich one day.  I’m glad that we gave this place a try but you would definitely have to spend a lot to fill your tummy.

Ox & Angela on Urbanspoon

downtownfood – $25 Lunch

Course 1: Duck Confit Tacos
Cumin spiced coleslaw, guacamole, yellow chili salsa, queso fresco, and fresh lime

The duck confit was tender but I can’t tell you what it taste like, b/c all I could taste was spicy + jalapeno-like (the cumin I presume).  I found the spices very strong in this dish – even the guacamole had a huge kick to it.   Since I prefer my food to be simple & clean tasting, I felt that the use of spices here a bit too strong for my liking.  It is tasty, but just too much spice overall.

Course 2: Braised Wagyu Beef Papardelle
Red wine braised oxtails, tomatoes, shallots, chipotle and cumin with peppery arugula and Parmesan

This was another spicy dish.  The meat was quite tender but if you haven’t told me it was “wagyu”, I wouldn’t have guessed it (already have a blurb about wagyu up there somewhere).  The pasta definitely taste like it was made in house and personally I found it to be a tad undercooked.  The sauce was quite spicy and the chipotle was very strong here.  Not a bad thing if you like chipotle.

Course 3: Housemade to Order Apple Fritters

Best course out of the three.  These came out piping hot and was very light and crispy.  I can’t believe we only got one piece each.  I’m pretty sure on the Big Taste menu it said donutS (I guess it changed to fritters today).

The dishes here are definitely creative and you can tell a lot of thought was put into it.  However, my dining companion and I are both quite surprised at the small portions.  We left hungry and I had to get something else to eat after.  Also, just like the last time I was here for the website relaunch party, my friends and I all thought some of the items were unnecessarily spicy and I encountered that again today.  I actually told the hostess about the spice and she’s like yeah, our chef loves using spice.  He loves his chipotle! Well… I’m glad he’s passionate about using spices but not everyone does and apparently their cuisine is supposed to be Asian influenced – but Asian cuisine generally isn’t about heavy spices!

downtownfood on Urbanspoon

Bonterra Trattoria – $25 Dinner

Starter Bread

Course 1: Prosciutto di Anatra
– House made duck prosciutto, braised duck pate, blood orange, hazelnut, arugula salad

Each item tasted quite nice on its own, but I can’t help but feel that something is lacking to bring them all together.  I really liked the prosciutto, but the slices were so tiny that it was hard to really taste the actual flavors.  The pate was rather mild in duck flavor, and the arugula didn’t have any dressing to it.

Course 2: Salmerino alla Griglia
– Grilled Arctic Char, confit potato, fennel puree, lemon zabaglione, char caviar

This was a really nice piece of fish.  The char was cooked perfectly and eating it with the char caviar just added an extra flavor boost.  I wonder where you can buy char caviar? The potatoes were nice and soft (not overdone) and the fennel puree was ultra creamy.  I didn’t really taste the lemon zabaglione though.  The whole entire dish was just savory.

Course 3: Crostala al Formaggio
– Ricotta & Mascarpone tart, chocolate almond crust, orange marmalade

This was the first time I’ve ever had a dessert like this and it was a pleasant surprise.  The combination of ricotta and mascarpone was creamy but not rich or strong, so it was very enjoyable to eat with all the other chocolate components.  At first I thought this should’ve been warm but I totally take that back (I have a natural preference for warm desserts).  I didn’t feel the blood orange segments were needed but acted as a palate cleanser between bites.

We were one of the very first tables tonight and finished our meal in less than an hour.  I’ve been here before and quite enjoyed the food although I’ve always thought portions here were on the small side, but K mentioned that it’s probably b/c you need to order all four courses (appetizer, a pasta dish, a meat dish and dessert) to enjoy the entire experience, therefore portions need to be kept small.  One of these days I may try doing that! Service today was ok – our server just comes by to take our order and drop off our food – otherwise zero interaction.  This was definitely a good, quality meal and we left modesty full.

Bonterra Trattoria on Urbanspoon

That’s it for this year’s Big Taste! If it was up to me, I’d be dining out every day for the 10 days but I don’t think my stomach would like that very much :) Please feel free to share which places you’ve been to – I’d love to read others’ experiences especially to the restaurants that I didn’t get to visit.

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10 thoughts on “Big Taste 2013 Round Up!

  1. I agree with your first paragraph. I am disappointed in some of the venues that choose to participate in Big Taste but don’t use it as an opportunity to showcase the very best of their establishments in hopes of winning over new customers. Looks like you hit up some great spots though!

    • There are actually a few more places that I wanted to try but just didn’t have the time… or the belly space. Your lunch Manuel Latruwe seems to be more filling than mine!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed my post! I don’t think anyone should be expected to leave a restaurant hungry if they feel that they have spent a reasonable amount of money! $25 or $35 + tax + tip is not a small amount.

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