Big Taste 2014 Round Up!

Yes foodies, it’s that time of the year again.  I think this is my third or fourth year participating and well, I’m not going to lie but I feel the menus weren’t as attractive as the previous year.  It was hard choosing places to eat, as it seems some restaurants barely put any thought into compiling their menus.  I was extremely disappointed when Wine-Ohs completely changed their menu two days before the event which… I was quite looking forward to.  Needless to say I had to cross them off my list.  Vero Bistro also took their duck entree out but they did explain that they couldn’t get their supply in time.  And then, I couldn’t participate in any of the one-off ticketed events since they all came with wine pairing! I really wish wine pairing could be made optional…

The following are the meals that I decided to try:

Saltlik – $25 Lunch

Saltlik - Salad

House Salad – Fresh Strawberries, Goat Cheese, Toasted Almonds & Balsamic Vinaigrette

A light tasting salad dressed with a sweet balsamic vinaigrette.  It was a nice and light way to whet your appetite as well as get some veggies into your system.

Saltlik - Steak and Fries

6 oz CAB Prime Sirloin w/ Parsley Butter & Skinny Fries

The steak was tender, but it was cooked less than what we requested (we asked for medium; it came out rare) and the parsley butter was forgotten.  We didn’t realize until our steak was almost done and we saw it on other people’s.  Oh well.  It was seasoned nicely but because it was rare the temperature was also a bit cool.  The giant heap of fries were definitely a good filler but it was definitely too much for one person to eat.

Saltlik - Dessert

Warm Chocolate Ganache Cake w/ Vanilla Bean Ice Cream & Mixed Berry Compote

We weren’t expecting a full size dessert so it was definitely a nice treat.  The cake was like a chocolate molten lava cake but it was on the sweet side, so the vanilla ice cream was a good pairing as it neutralized the sweetness.

Service was excellent.  All the staff was pleasant and checked on us as needed, water glasses were filled without asking and our server automatically split our bills for us.  I’ve been to Saltlik a few times before and always thought they had good food.  The restaurant was packed for lunch this day though I only saw a handful of tables participating in the big taste menu.

Saltlik, a Rare Steakhouse - Calgary on Urbanspoon

Chef’s Table at Kensington Riverside Inn – $65 Gourmet Dinner

CT - Amuse Bouche

Amuse Bouche: apples

I could not remember if the apples were pickled, compressed or… but the general consensus was that it was a bit tart.  I didn’t mind it and thought it was a great way to open up our appetite.

CT - Braised Pork Belly

Braised Pork Belly: figs, preserved lemons, almonds

The menu stated braised pork leg, but it was switched to pork belly this evening.  Not complaining! I love how tender the meat is – it’s lightly seasoned and the not very sweet fig preserve perfectly complemented the meat.  I’ve never cared for couscous but the little fluffly pile on this dish might’ve changed my mind! I also felt that this dish had some Asian flavors to it.

CT - Smoked Potato Soup

Smoked Potato Soup: potato skin crumble

Paired with bacon bits and sour cream, this is like a loaded baked potato in soup form.  The soup was light and not heavy, yet still had a velvety texture and was just spot on with flavors.

CT - Mixed Beet Salad (2)

Mixed Beet Salad: chevre noir, mint, tarragon

I love beets.  Three kinds are served here: raw (the square thin sheets), cooked (the other red ones) and pickled (the gold ones).   Everything was tossed in a light vinaigrette that coated everything evenly and topped with that lovely goat cheese.  I really enjoyed the pickled beets – nothing like the jarred kind!

CT - Arctic Char (2)

Arctic Char: edamame, prawns, ricotta gnocchi, beurre blanc

I’ve never had a piece of char that was cooked more perfectly than this.  The skin was thin and crispy and the fish was smooth, buttery, flaked easily and cooked to just the right state.  The prawns were crunchy (I’d love an entire plate of just this), succulent and the gnocchi were soft and fluffy with no sign of heaviness.

CT - Baked Alaska

Baked Alaska: chocolate, passion fruit, banana, berries, meringue

I was expecting that huge ball of meringue light up in fire but this is the restaurant’s take on it.  I was so excited seeing Duncan’s meringue chips scattered on the plate… I just love that stuff.  I also like how the entire dessert wasn’t too sweet and had great banana flavors.  I almost wanted to say, oh I wish this was a bigger piece but no, it was actually the perfect size to end such a lovely meal.

This was a fabulous dinner and I’m so glad we got to partake in it.  Service here is extremely friendly and nothing short of professional – we had the same server that served my table for my Birthday meal.  Portions were perfectly sized so we were all comfortably full at the end!

Chef's Table at Kensington Riverside Inn on Urbanspoon

Anejo – $15 Lunch

Anejo - Drinks

Virgin Margarita: Mango and Passion Fruit – $3.50 each

I wasn’t planning to order any drinks, but when our server told us that any of their margaritas can be made virgin, I thought there was no harm in trying one.  I got the mango while K got the passion fruit.  I liked the sweetness of mine.

Anejo - Salsa and Guacamole

Para la Mesa Fire Roasted Salsa
roasted tomato, jalapeño, crisp onion, roasted garlic, and añejo salt

Para la Mesa Guacamole
avocado, fresh tomato, chopped onion, garlic, cilantro, peppers, lime, and añejo salt

Since there were two of us, our server suggested us ordering one of each of the starters.  I’ve had the guacamole here before and I thought it was well done.  Fresh, creamy and seasoned just perfectly.  The salsa was also very creamy and fresh with a bit of kick to it.

Anejo - Housemade Sauces
House made pico de gallo, mild salsa sauce and a very spicy creamy sauce.

Anejo - Tacos

Tacos: Beef Short Rib and Crispy Snapper
filled with pickled cabbage, sliced onions, avocado mousse, jalapeño, and cilantro

I’ve never tried the tacos here and thought big taste was the perfect opportunity to.  I enjoyed these a lot – particularly the crispy snapper! I want a bunch of them in a sandwich.  I do wish the tacos were bigger in size (especially being $5 for one at regular price) as they were not very filling.

Anejo - Gelato

Fiasco Gelato: Matcha Honey and Salted Hazelnut

Who can say no to gelato (ice cream)? Anejo has a lot of flavors available but I went with my most favorite matcha, while K decided to try the salted hazelnut.  Both were excellent with very prominent flavors!

Anejo - Tres Leches

Tres Leches – $10

We decided to try the version here and I do have to say it was a bit disappointing.  I am comparing it to the one I love at Pio Peruvian and I just felt it wasn’t executed as well.  The cake wasn’t moist even though it was soaked with sweet milk.  The raspberry lime gelato was also way too tart for the not very sweet cake.  I just didn’t feel they were a good pairing.

Service was exceptional.  Our server Micki checked on us often and made sure we had everything we need.  I will admit that while our meal was tasty, we were not full and had to share a hot dog from Fat City Franks across the street afterwards.  Or we were just being gluttons, I don’t know :)

AÑEJO Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Bank and Baron Pub – $15 Lunch

BB - Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkin Soup

The soup of the day was pumpkin.  I like the puree consistency of this rather than a smooth, very blended soup.  It was lightly sweet and I think I tasted garlic as the main seasoning?

BB - Chicken Club

Fried Chicken Club
Mountain view chicken thigh, maple bacon, avocado, spinach, tomato, Applewood smoked cheddar, Parmesan ranch aioli on a Vienna roll

I wanted to try this when I first saw it on their actual menu, so when I found out that it was on the big taste menu for less than the regular price, I thought it was pretty much a no brainer! I really enjoyed this.  I love the fact that the fried chicken was not heavily breaded and all the ingredients put together gave great flavors! This was also a huge sandwich and I am happy and surprised at the value of this big taste lunch.  I would definitely come back and eat this.

BB - Kale Salad

Side of Kale Salad
Okanagan apple, pumpkin seed, citrus honey vinaigrette

The healthiest side you can possibly choose, and it is simply tossed in a delicious light dressing.  This was so light and tasty that I already feel healthier just looking at my picture, lol.

BB - Espresso Martini

Espresso Martini

BB - Shirley Temple
Shirley Temple

I wasn’t aware that the espresso martini was alcoholic (yes, as if the word martini didn’t give it away… however, I thought espresso was coffee and it was actually espresso vodka) so the staff was very accommodating and substituted this for me when I told them that I am unable to consume alcohol.  I really wasn’t expecting alcohol in a $15 menu!

Service was good, but a bit slow. It seems like there isn’t enough staff.  The restaurant itself is huge and beautifully decorated and it’s more like an upscale pub.  Our server told us that this is their fourth week in business so they’re still working out some kinks, but was happy that we enjoyed our food and was apologetic with the wait and the martini thing, which really it was my fault since I didn’t think to ask beforehand.  This is the first big taste restaurant that I haven’t previously visited and I’m pleasantly surprised.

Bank and Baron Pub on Urbanspoon

Vero Bistro – $35 Dinner

VB - Tuna Nicoise Salad

Tuna Nicoise Salad

A very tasty and light salad in the most delicious vinaigrette, but I was quite shocked at the literally two-bite portion.  Mind you I walked from downtown to Kensington so I was quite hungry, but my friends all thought they could’ve used more food on their plate.

VB - Steak and Frites

Steak and Frites

I’ve had the steak here before and loved it, and this dish did not disappoint.  It was cooked to medium (as requested) and the meat was tender, seasoned well and the chimichurri was nice and light.  The lemon aioli was interesting – K said she tasted lemongrass in it as well and I just didn’t think it paired well with the fries, so I asked the server for ketchup.  Apparently the restaurant doesn’t have or make ketchup, which… I do have to say it’s interesting.

VB - Mango Cheesecake

Mango Cheesecake

I’ve also had this well and enjoyed it very well again tonight.  It’s not very sweet, and it’s light and creamy.  I like the fresh fruit bits on the top.

The server was excellent and the food was definitely delicious.  However, I was not happy with the portion sizes.  I think after spending $35 for a three course meal, I should be moderately full.  However, my three friends and I had to share two bowls of ramen at Menyatai afterwards because we needed something else to fill our tummies.  Coupled with the fact that when my brother saw my pictures he commented that his salad and fries were nearly twice the size when he went on the first Friday of big taste… I really have to question what happened there. 

Vero Bistro Moderne on Urbanspoon

Vintage Chophouse – $25 Lunch

VC - Ahi Tuna Tacos

Ahi Tuna Tacos
flour tortilla, cabbage, carrot, avocado, chipotle aioli

These were really good.  I love the grilled taste of the perfectly cooked ahi tuna and the aioli was just enough without being overpowering.  I also like that they’re not too messy to eat! I am sad that this is not on the regular menu, but since the quality of the ahi tuna used and the way it is prepared is pretty spectacular, I wouldn’t mind coming back to try it on a burger.

VC - Steak and Frites

Brant Lake Wagyu Steak Frites
6oz Petit Tender, mushrooms, onions, red wine demi-glace, Cognac butter

This was cooked perfectly to a medium which was what I asked for.  I like that the texture was still quite tender although I thought the demi glace might’ve been a tad too overpowering.  The shoestring fries remind me of hickory sticks – personally I like my fries to be the regular size.

VC - Truffles (2)

Housemade Chocolate Truffles

These were so good.  I had them at my desk at work and wish I stole RW’s box as well.  I suppose he would’ve gave them to me if I asked? Soft and chewy, yet not overly sweet, these were just simply delectable.

Service was excellent and we definitely enjoyed our meal.  I have been here for dinner before and just couldn’t pass up on the great value of the big taste menu!

Vintage Chophouse & Tavern on Urbanspoon

The Belvedere – $25 Lunch

Belvedere - Starter Bread

Starter Bread

Finally, one restaurant to offer starter bread with our meals! Yes, it is a filler, but the in-house baked bread here is pretty good so I don’t mind filling up on carbs.

Belvedere - Foie Gras Creme Brulee (1)

Belvedere - Foie Gras Creme Brulee (2)

Luke warm foie gras creme brulee with crystallized maple sugar & mache salad in raspberry vinaigrette

I was really looking forward to this and it didn’t disappoint.   The creme brulee had lovely but not overpowering flavors of foie gras and it was smooth and creamy.  Since it is quite rich and savory the sugar crust as really needed to give it a contrast.  The salad was very simple yet dressed with a delicious raspberry dressing.

Belvedere - Beef Tenderloin Tournedos

Grilled AAA Alberta beef tenderloin tournedos with Canadian double smoked bacon in shallot Marchand Vin sauce, garnished with rosti potato & seasonal vegetable

Although I requested mine to be cooked to medium, the meat was still somewhat tender although I would’ve love to see more sauce on it.  The rosti was actually soft even though it looks crispy on the outside.  Vegetables were cooked to tender, although the selection of vegetables varied from table to table.  Some plates had tomatoes, some did not.  Some had more vegetables on their plates, ours did not.

Belvedere - Chocolate Mousse

Rich chocolate mousse in spring roll skin purse on Grand Marnier vanilla sauce & fresh seasonal fruits

This is such a fun plate to look at! I appreciate that the mousse wasn’t too sweet although the fruits were slightly tart.  However, eating them with the sweet vanilla sauce helped take away some of the tartness.

Food was overall pretty good (as expected) but service could’ve been a lot better.  There were some issues that I didn’t think should happen at a fine dining restaurant like Belvedere.  Our server seems inexperienced and he was quite inconsistent from table to table, and service was more slow than we liked.  Although the dining room was full, the restaurant is not exactly huge by any means so I’m surprised at the slow pace the food came out at.  Our overall experience was definitely dampened from little kinks here and there.  However, I cannot deny that their big taste menu is of great value.

Belvedere on Urbanspoon

Rush Ocean Prime – $65 Gourmet Dinner

Rush - Dungeness Crab Claws

Dungeness Crab Claws

Meaty crab claws that has been lightly marinated and served with a seafood cocktail sauce.  I like how fresh the crab meat was and the texture was just right – cooked to the right doneness.

Rush - Mediterranean Salad

Mediterranean Salad

This was a very tasty salad.  An assortment of greens in a light, tangy vinaigrette and then topped with crumbled cheese – I wouldn’t mind eating this every day!

Rush - Lobster Pot Pie

Lobster Pot Pie

Chunks of succulent lobster and vegetables in a savoury filling, topped with a mini piece of pie crust, rather than it covering the entire ramekin.  I find that with some lobster bisques, it tends to be very salty so I was a tad worried with the filling here.  This one was perfectly seasoned though I would love a much bigger portion.  I guess it means I have to come back and get the entree size!

Rush - Wagyu Striploin

Wagyu Striploin
scalloped potatoes, olive oil green beans

The steak was about 4 oz in size, and although it was smaller than I expected, the meat itself was just… hmmmmmm.  I loved all the marbling in between and it was just so tender! I had the scalloped potatoes on a previous visit and without guessing how much cream is in there to create such a scrumptious portion of potatoes… let’s just say I enjoyed it.  A lot.  To the point where I could’ve and should’ve ordered an extra side of it.

Rush - Mini Butter Cake

Mini Rush Butter Cake with Crème Anglaise

I really didn’t know what butter cake was (I don’t think I’ve had it before) and really liked this, although it was on the sweet side.  The texture is kind of gooey, sticky and you get a nice contrast of texture from the crusty top.  Again, I thought the portion could be bigger given that it is dessert, and hey, if I didn’t like it so much I wouldn’t want more of it right? :)

The food was definitely delicious although I thought portion sizes was on the small side, so these are definitely tasting sizes.  I was somewhat full but definitely could’ve ate more (yes, I told hubby and RW that I was going to get a burger after, but I walked off the idea).  I didn’t have lunch and those two guys filled up on some wine so… they were more satisfied than I am.  I’ve been to Rush many times before the revamp and I was here just weeks ago as I’ve always liked the food here! Service was pretty good, like usual, and I look forward to coming back again.

Rush Ocean Prime on Urbanspoon

LeVilla – $35 Dinner

LV - Starter Bread

Starter Bread

Warm, freshly baked bread with butter for spread.

LV - Saffron Seafood Chowder

Saffron Seafood Chowder

Cannot comment as I didn’t choose this for my starter, but everyone around the table gave it a thumbs up.

Or

LV - House Nicoise Salad

House Nicoise Salad
Soft Poached Egg, Green Beans, Boiled Potato & Black Olives

Everyone picked the soup except for me because I want more greens in my system! An assortment of greens lightly dressed in a vinegary dressing, topped with a medium poached egg.  I always thought nicoise salad always came with seared tuna, but I’m ok with this meatless salad too!

LV - Applewood Smoked Cheddar Stuffed Meatballs

Applewood Smoked Cheddar Stuffed Meatballs – $13

My brother wanted to try one of their starters, and between this and the crab cakes this won.  Tender bites of meatballs with gooey cheese in the middle… I think I have to put cheese in my meatballs from now on.  The fire roasted tomato sauce was a bit tangy yet welcoming on the palate.

LV - Steak Neptune

Steak Neptune
Charbroiled Beef Tenderloin topped with Seared Scallop, Prawn & Bearnaise Sauce with Potato Latkes & Grilled Asparagus

We all picked this as our main, and the general consensus was that it was good.  My brother kept commenting how good and tender his steak was! All of our steaks were cooked to what we asked for, and the accompaniments were done just right.  I especially liked the sauteed kale underneath the steak although the potato latke became really soft since it absorbed all the sauce/juice from the meat and Bearnaise.

LV - Kid's Mac and Cheese

Kid’s Mac and Cheese – $8

This was a simple dish of elbow macaroni and a blend of cheeses and my toddler definitely liked it.  LeVilla doesn’t have a kid’s menu, but when I tweeted them to ask what pasta options they have they told me they can make something for my toddler by request! Yes, my toddler is too young to enjoy steak at his age so when we go out to eat as a family, I must always do my research and make sure there is something suitable for him to eat.

LV - Cappuccino

Cappuccino – $4

When I saw that LeVilla serves Caffe Umbria, I knew I had to get a coffee even if it’s decaf.  Ever since trying it at Charcut for the very first time I just couldn’t get it out of my head.  Yes, I realize that I can make my own but until they start making them for Tassimo (I don’t own an actual coffee brewer), I’ll have to just keep ordering it when I go out! The richness and the bold taste is not like any other coffee, although with decaf that taste is definitely weaker but when drinking it at 7:30pm… I can’t afford to not sleep!

LV - Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee

Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee

Although a generous portion, this was on the sweet side and I was sad to not see those little black dots from vanilla beans in the custard.  The sugary crust was just the right thickness and my toddler ate about a third of this before telling me he’s had enough.  What? I thought kids love sweets – I was worried he was going to eat the whole thing and not leave anything for mommy! :p

Service was decent with a few minor kinks though they did not affect our overall experience.  I’ve been to LeVilla in the South before and have frequented Tilted Grill (previous location) a few times and I was pretty sad to see them go.  I am happy to see a familiar name to take over the place though!

LeVilla Chophouse on 4th on Urbanspoon

So that’s it for this year’s big taste – can’t wait to see next year’s participants and menus!

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