Tag Archives: Restaurant Reviews

Taiyo Japanese Restaurant review

Anyone who visits here and reads my reviews or has dined with me is well aware of my longstanding enjoyment of sushi. I’ve been fortunate enough to sample it in restaurants all over the world and have developed a fair palette for the delicate flavours.

Unfortunate then that I live in a part of Calgary where there are few choices that don’t involve travelling farther than my inherent laziness will permit. When sitting in my office and the craving hits me I generally ignore it. I settle for something else rather than drive to the nearest place that serves acceptable sushi. Yes, there are grocery stores nearby but I have never been that desperate.

Given the above information it’s easy to understand how hearing of a new Japanese restaurant opening very close by would arouse a healthy curiosity on my part. My only hope was that other than a new place to try Taiyo would also prove to be one that offered sushi and that the aforementioned sushi would be good.

Taiyo is located in the Creekside Shopping Centre and as such is really the only Japanese restaurant in the area. Sure you could drive to Crowfoot hoping one of the places there will be having a good day or take your chances with mall food courts or the previously mentioned supermarket offerings, these however are not as good an option now(not an option at all in my view) since this store has opened.

I’d only just heard that a new Japanese place was opening and since I had a desire to eat some sushi and wanted to get a little riding in while the clouds had briefly parted I jumped on my bike and headed over to give Taiyo a try.

It’s not surprising that I had not noticed the signage go up here since this place is at the far North end of this long mall. I only ever find myself there when visiting Rona. If I’d not had my spies inform me of its existence I may well not have found Taiyo for some time. Luckily this was not the case.

Being a storefront location the owners have put “glass etch” window film up and you cannot see into the restaurant. I had expected a basic open space with bare walls and a few tables. I was pleasantly surprised at the nicely thought out and attractive dining room I found when I entered. There is a sushi bar at the far end near the kitchen, couples seating, booths, floor-level style booths and a private dining area for groups. All in all a well made casual dining room.

I was promptly greeted by a smiling pretty young lady and shown a table. The two sushi chefs behind the bar were working at making orders but were nice enough to smile and nod in welcome to me as I was seated. I asked for some sake and a glass of water and they were brought right away.

I took a look at the lunch menu and decided on an 8 piece nigiri combo with two pieces of  the house roll and 6 of nigiri which also came with miso soup and a salad. In addition to this I ordered some separate pieces of unagi and tamago, two of my favourites and some of the items I like to use to gauge the sushi in a new place. I found the prices of the sushi to be on the high side of normal for Calgary while the sake was priced about average. Adding the drink and extra nigiri was going to make this a filling if somewhat expensive lunch since I’d already decided to splurge for the green tea iced cream.

I was very pleased with the service I received and found that the two young ladies who served me were very attentive and friendly. I discovered while talking with one of them that Taiyo is family owned. My servers’ older brother and sister ran the place. The brother was behind the sushi bar and the sister was the other girl doing front of house duty along with the one I spoke to. She informed me that they had only been open a few days, as such I was fairly impressed with things so far.

Having my water filled when near the bottom of the glass is certainly nice but when moments after finishing with a plate or bowl it is removed and this is done with every one of several during my meal I can honestly say the service is far better than is common in Calgary. I also found the staff to be pleasant to speak to without being overly talkative. I hope this level of service is something they maintain as it will set them apart from any competition and will certainly bring guests back.

My soup and salad were on the table just shortly after my sake had arrived. The salad was fresh and I found the dressing to be light and tasty. The miso was the standard version I’ve had many times. It was not too salty and contained a good amount of tofu and greens.

I had not quite finished with my soup and salad when the nigiri platter was brought over. The sushi looked good. The presentation was minimal and clean. I saw that the meshi pieces were smaller than many in town and this is okay in my opinion, I’m not a fan of huge amounts of rice with my sushi. The fish looked to be well cut for the most part and proved to be quite fresh. The pieces weren’t too large to deal with as is becoming popular with the “more is better” crowd(something sushi lovers generally dislike). Upon sampling the nigiri I did find that the meshi was not firm and the portions tended to fall apart when handled. The two pieces of the house roll were firm and well made. I liked the combination used and will try this roll on its own at a later date. While the selection in this combo was nothing exotic the fish was fresh and tasted good, with the salad and soup it was priced again somewhat on the higher end at $14.

The separate pieces of nigiri I’d ordered arrived shortly after the main platter. The unagi looked very nice, it was slightly charred and crispy looking. It turned out to be very good. I hate cold or room temperature unagi and this was just right, warm with a small amount of sauce as opposed to the often dripping versions I’ve had on several occasions. The eel was also the proper texture leading me to believe it was fresh and as with the other portions was a fair size.

The tamago however proved to be somewhat of a disappointment. I really like this type of sushi and as a gauge for how good a sushi chef is in Japan it is perhaps unrivalled with every itamae having his own recipe. The egg on mine was slightly frozen in spots and overall the taste and texture were not as good as I’d have hoped for. I’ll give it another go when I visit again but don’t think I’ll be calling it a favourite.

On the whole I quite liked my visit to Taiyo. The food was fairly good for the most part and while not upscale it surpassed the offerings of the other far NW sushi places, several of which I’ve visited recently. The price may be an issue with some but for fresh fish served by lovely, friendly and attentive staff who go out-of-the-way to provide good service I’m willing to pay it. I’m certainly pleased that I can now satisfy my sushi cravings while expending as little energy and time as possible driving to acquire it.

Taiyo on Urbanspoon

UPDATE:

After visiting a second time I was very pleased to find that the tamago had been reworked using a new recipe and was very good. The owners worked together I’m told to come up with a version that would impress the customers, I’d say they succeeded in doing so. I will now say that this tamago is as good as any in town.

I have to say that if you love Unagi as much as I do you should visit Taiyo. I can state without hesitation that they offer the best version of this nigiri I have had locally. Unagi that is worth eating needs to be warm, crispy on the outside, tender on the inside and not be smothered in sauce, this is just what you’ll get here. I also enjoy it just charred a little and it’s served exactly this way.

This time I induged in some ebi tempura prior to my meal and found that it was quite nice. The coating was good and there was very little oil to speak of on or soaked into the pieces of prawn.

I also sampled the house special roll called the “Sunshine Roll”(since Taiyo translates to Sunshine it’s fitting) at the suggestion of the sushi chef and was pleased with this creation. I would say that the pieces were a little thick for easy eating but none the less this is a very nice offering that I will be ordering again.

As on my first visit the staff were exceptional and I recieved very good service from both the front of house staff and the sushi chefs at the bar.

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Mimo Restaurant review

Being a seafood lover I’m always happy to locate a restaurant that serves more than the basic North American versions. I’d never had Portuguese food and while the seafood in Macau that we’ve eaten may be influenced by it I wanted to try the real thing.

Mimo is located just off of International Avenue(17th Ave) in the cities’ SE and is surrounded by stores serving food from many parts of the world. They are family run and have been around for quite some time, two facts that are not lost on the foodie looking for a good meal. Being one of only a very few Portuguese places in town we felt they needed to be tried.

We visited Mimo as the June instalment of our monthly UrbanSpoon foodie runs. I’m still amazed and very pleased with our selections thus far. We’ve not chosen a place that disappointed and this is something considering that we tend towards more interesting ethnic fare and smaller stores

Having read a little about this place I was unsure what to expect as far as the store itself, the food has gotten nothing but great reviews but the location has been described in less than glowing terms . I’d heard that Mimo was a bit of a hole and one had to navigate through a bar then down a hallway into a dark windowless dining room. I’d also read of renovations, and thus could only go and see for myself.Flaming Sausage

It turns out that the renos were done and the space was nicely lit with the dining room moved right to the front and there are windows. Although not a large space it wasn’t cramped. I will however give less than high marks for the hard and unpadded chairs, but then I’m getting old and we were there for over 3 hours.

Looking over the menu it’s hard to make a decision as everything was either great sounding or looked so interesting as to almost call out to the foodie in me. In the end the fact we were in a group and Portuguese is yet another food culture that believes in large share plates we decided to go with that.

The staff were very friendly and being a family run store that has been around for awhile they are very comfortable with their customers. Our servers were chatty and fun to talk with as they explained the food to us and while unwilling to divulge any of the secrets we continually tried to pry out of them we were happy with the service they provided.

Given that fact that we were the smallest group in the dining room(by far) the kitchen and the front of house kept up quite well. We may not have recieved the same attention as we might have if the place was less crazy but we were certainly not left to our own devices for any length of time and the food came out in fairly quickly.

First up was a selection of appetizers. We decided on the Home-made sausage, a delicious Portuguese chorizo that is cooked over a flame on its plate in front of you. The second was snails in wine sauce and finally grilled squid.

All of these were terrific choices with the squid being tender and the sausage tasting very nice. The snails were basic but as with the other apps and mains it was the sauce that made the dish. We had to ask for a second plate of bread to soak up all that remained on the plates.

The mains were something that involved more discussion than we would have thought. You see as foodies we tend to want to sample as much of the menu as possible and this tends to lead to difficulty walking to our cars at the end of the meal (usually with take-home bags). KC Foore’s other half was the voice of caution on this night and we all decided to listen. So, instead of the Paella for 3 and extra main that we had originally wanted to order we opted for a single and just the 3 mains.

What we ended up with was easily enough for the 6 of us. The Discover Portugal is a huge, heaping platter of seafood and veggies that contained lobster, crab, clams, mussels, shrimp, squid and vegetables smothered in yet another tasty sauce with just a bit of heat(which can be turned up on request). The paella was also the selection of seafood but over Portuguese rice. Our third selection was the bacalhau (poached cod). This is a dried salt cod that has been reconstituted while cooked. It’s served with boiled potatoes and olive oil with vinegar as a condiment. This is a most interesting dish which was unlike any fish meal I’d had prior.

The Discover Portugal and Paella are seafood lovers dreams and we all enjoyed making a mess while devouring them with our hands. I only have one sour note regarding the seafood and that is that it was over-cooked. This did not impact my enjoyment to a large degree but was noticeable. As with the appies the sauces were wonderful and both they and the rice in the paella disappeared quickly.

After savaging this ginormous pile of food most of us were really in no condition to eat any more, this however did not stop the more intrepid in the group. So while some enjoyed a glass of port or spiced coffee myself , KC Foore and Twisted Chinaman ordered some dessert to complete the Mimo experience.

I have a deep-seated weakness for rice pudding that was formed during a childhood being fed by my Ukrainian Grandmother who was a masterful cook, so after seeing this as a selection on the menu I had little choice but to order it. The pudding was creamy and nicely spiced but the rice was a little on the chewy side and I felt it could have been cooked longer. This aside It was a pleasant finish to my meal and not likely to be consistently undercooked.

Aside from a few minor issues this was a very good meal and one that I’m not going to miss the chance to repeat in the future. Anyone with a thing for seafood should give Mimo a visit, but I’d suggest caution when confronted by the selection and only order a couple of dishes to start, you can always order more.

MIMO Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Kinjo Sushi & Grill review

I really have to give Peter Kinjo the credit he’s due. This is a guy who came to Canada from Japan with little money and only minor skills. Now he’s owned a number of restaurants in Calgary and is truly the poster boy for what you can do if you try hard enough and believe in what you are doing.

The first time I met Peter is actually not a moment I even remember but since I’ve eaten at the first Edo Japan in South Centre from when I was quite young I’m sure I’ve met him. Peter’s the guy who started this popular and successful chain of shops and it’s a great thing to have on his life’s resume’.  He’s owned several restaurants since coming to Calgary and he should be proud of what he’s accomplished.

Peter’s latest venture is a sushi place he’s named Kinjo Sushi & Grill and it’s as far as I am aware the only restaurant he currently owns. Located on Macleod trail in one of Calgary’s busiest dining areas Kinjo occupies a building which was once a fast food place that went away. This space is now renovated and houses a large oval moat filled with small plastic boats packed bow to stern and carrying plates of food. These boats constantly circle the food prep area where they are replenished and a bar style dining counter surrounds the moat from where customers seated there can pick any of the plates they want. At the end of the meal you pay based on the colour and number of the chosen plates.

This style of dining is one I’ve seen in many places around the world.  From Tokyo to Hong Kong or Miami to London this is a fairly common way to eat sushi. It is however on the bottom end of the dining scale and is actually more akin to a McDonalds then to an actual sushi-ya. The food is therefore in most cases equivalent in quality to a fast food place as well, designed more for high turn-over than for producing good sushi.

We’ve visited on a few occasions and at each of these times we’ve left very disappointed in the quality of the food we’d eaten there. Some of what we tried was even to the point of smelling bad and much of the rest showing obvious signs that it was past the point where it should be served to customers. I’ve always wondered how fast turn-over places cannot have fresh looking food when it’s constantly being replenished. The only thing I can come up with is that the ingredients are lower quality to begin with and that little care taken in the preparation adds to the problem.

Whether it was a roll, maki or nigiri from the boats or something ordered from the kitchen the quality of the food has always been lacking on our visits to Kinjo. Small poorly made rolls that contain old tasting fish should never end up in front of a customer and no amount of sake or free pocky sticks can change that fact. The food prep staff need to try harder to put out quality and if something is no longer fresh it should not be served. I’m not a fan of throwing out food but old and stale fish is a health hazard.

I do like the effort that Peter puts into trying to provide a fun and happy environment for his customers, and while it doesn’t always thrill some people to have a knife-wielding guy dressed in a kimono interrupt their meal, I think that most understand what’s behind it. Again, I for one appreciate these hijinks for what they are and see no reason for anyone to complain about them.

I like Peter and admire his successes but would give him the advice that he needs to improve both the quality of the ingredients as well as the end product if he is going to have another winning enterprise on his hands. Those who don’t know what good quality sushi should taste like are bound to find out at some point. And when these people do discover better food they won’t be back.  I’ve already seen reviews from former customers who have decided that the food is not up to par and no longer want to dine at Kinjo. If this trend is to be avoided things have to change. The only way to do this is to provide quality food to the customer. Other places in town have sourced and seem to be able to serve fresher looking/tasting fish so there’s no reason Kinjo cannot do the same. As for the staff they can just put somewhat more effort into what they do.

As for me, I’ve given Kinjo as many chances as I can and with such poor quality and apparent lack of concern on the part of the staff I’m not likely to visit again. Sorry Peter.

Kinjo Sushi & Grill on Urbanspoon

Boogies Burgers review

I’ve known of Boogie’s burgers for most of my life and it’s one of those places that I keep thinking I’d like to visit and never seem to get. I finally did get the chance to try the food here when I wanted to take the convertible out for a run and enjoy the nice weather.

Boogie’s has been around for a long time, since the late sixties as a matter of fact. This burger place was started by Gus Peiters, the same man who also gave Calgary one of its most beloved institutions, Peter’s Drive-in. This may be one of the reasons I never went for such a long time, it may have been in my mind that it would be the same food and so why not just go to Peter’s instead. I’m not sure if that’s the reason or not but at least I can now say I’ve been to both.

Located on Edmonton Trail and only a short drive south of Peter’s Drive-in We found that Boogie’s was quite busy for a mid-week and earlier than normal dinner. we looked over the menu while waiting in line and found that the offerings were much more varied than I’d expected, with a large number of burgers to choose from. Many of these burgers were quite unique with toppings ranging from the ordinary to the somewhat less so such as fried egg and even a hotdog.

We ended up ordering a Sam’s burger for Nancy and a Fay’s burger for myself. I’ve since discovered that these two burgers are named for the couple who ran Boogie’s for much of its existance. The Sam’s is a single patty with all the usual toppings in addition to a fried egg, cheese and Boogie’s house made red sauce. The Fay’s burger is also a single with fried mushrooms and onions, bacon and a mushroom sauce as well as the expected additions. We also ordered some of the yam chips, a small plate of onion rings and to drink a raspberry shake and a coke for me.

After ordering the fellow at the counter told me he’d have the food brought outside to one of the tables if we wanted to eat there. We liked the idea of dining in the sunshine and I told him that yes that would be great. I am quite surprised that they’d bring us our food considering how busy they were and this is a plus for boogie’s in my book. We paid and proceeded out into the sunshine to sit at one of the uniquely pinkish picnic tables provided.

Our drinks arrived soon after we’d sat down and the shake was quite good, not the cheap flavorless variety I’d come to expect from most places and similar to what you’d get at Peter’s.

Sam's Burger

We were finished the drinks long before our food arrived and while I generally don’t like to wait so long for something as simple as a burger it was nice out and since I’d read that every burger was handmade fresh as the orders come in I was okay with it.

When the burgers and sides arrived I was quite pleased with what I saw. The burgers were large and looked great, just what I’d hoped I’d see when I heard they made them to order. Both were well made and put together with care despite how busy the kitchen must have been, I do hate thrown together food and whether good or not will not be happy with any place that allows this.

Fay's Burger

The burgers came on amazingly fresh buns that were not the over-puffy or heavy ones I’m used to. They also seemed to be thinner than what I’d have expected and thus did not over-power the burger as so many do. I decided that it would have been good if I’d ordered a double patty, I didn’t do so as I was unsure of the size and didn’t want to end up with a huge monster that I’d have a hard time eating. These were not the huge thick slab of meat I thought I might find and were in fact much thinner than I’d have hoped for, rather like the fast food patties one finds at MacDonald’s but much larger in diameter. I found this to be disappointing.

Both of us liked our burgers but given that each was covered with a different sauce that was not in short supply we were surprised that neither of them had a great deal of flavor. My Fay’s burger was actually rather bland tasting, I could not discern the flavour of the mushrooms or the onions and the sauce could have been missing for all the impact it had. Nancy had similar feelings about her Sam’s burger. Between the thin patties and the lack of flavour we were actually disappointed in our first visit to Boogie’s.

Basic Rings

The onion rings were the basic version that I’d had on countless occasions and while a little bit on the oily side were quite enjoyable. I’d hoped that I’d find that Boogie’s made their own rings as I’ve not had hand-made onion rings in so long I cannot remember. This, if it had been done and they were good would have made Boogie’s a favorite of mine even if the burgers were not to my liking.

Yam Chips

The yam chips were also good and despite some being a tad chewy they were for the most part crisp, light and tasty. Unlike the rings these were perfect and one would be hard presses to notice any oil on them at all. As a substitute for regular run of the mill fries these were a nice change and I’m glad they are offered.

All in all I liked Boogie’s and while some of what we had disappointed me I would like to return and sample some of the other unique burgers to find out if what we experienced was the norm for this place. I may not go out of my way to visit but would say that they do offer good food that is made well. Next time I’ll have a double though.

Boogie's Burgers on Urbanspoon

I’ve known of Boogies burgers for most of my life and it’s one of those places that I keep thinking I’d like to visit and never seem to get. I finally did get the chance to try the food here when I wanted to take the convertible out for a run and enjoy the nice weather.

Boogies has been around for a long time, since the late sixties as a matter of fact. This burger place was started by Gus Peiters, the same man who also gave Calgary one of it’s most beloved institutions, Peter’s Drive-in. This may be one of the reasons I never went for such a long time, it may have been in my mind that it would be the same food and so why not just go to Peter’s instead. I’m not sure if that’s the reason or not but at least I can now say I’ve been to both.

https://chowtown.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/p1010608.jpg?w=300Located on Edmonton Trail and only a short drive south of Peter’s Drive-in We found that Boogie’s was quite busy for a mid-week and earlier than normal dinner. we looked over the menu while waiting in line and found that the offerings were much more varied than I’d expected, with a large number of burgers to choose from. Many of these burgers were quite unique with toppings ranging from the ordinary to the somewhat less so such as fried egg and even a hotdog.

We ended up ordering a Sam’s burger for Nancy and a Fay’s burger for myself. I’ve since discovered that these two burgers are named for the couple who ran Boogies for much of its existence. The Sam’s is a single patty with all the usual toppings in addition to a fried egg, cheese and Boogie’s house made red sauce. The Fay’s burger is also a single with fried mushrooms and onions, bacon and a mushroom sauce as well as the expected additions. We also ordered some of the yam chips, a small plate of onion rings and to drink a raspberry shake and a coke for me.

After ordering the fellow at the counter told me he’d have the food brought outside to one of the tables if we wanted to eat there. We liked the idea of dining in the sunshine and I told him that yes that would be great. I am quite surprised that they’d bring us our food considering how busy they were and this is a plus for boogie’s in my book. We paid and proceeded out into the sunshine to sit at one of the uniquely pinkish picnic tables provided.

Our drinks arrived soon after we’d sat down and the shake was quite good, not the cheap flavourless variety I’d come to expect from most places and similar to what you’d get at Peter’s.

https://chowtown.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/p1010604.jpg?w=300

Sam’s Burger

We were finished the drinks long before our food arrived and while I generally don’t like to wait so long for something as simple as a burger it was nice out and since I’d read that every burger was handmade fresh as the orders come in I was okay with it.

When the burgers and sides arrived I was quite pleased with what I saw. The burgers were large and looked great, just what I’d hoped I’d see when I heard they made them to order. Both were well made and put together with care despite how busy the kitchen must have been, I do hate thrown together food and whether good or not will not be happy with any place that allows this.

https://chowtown.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/p1010605.jpg?w=300

Fay’s Burger

The burgers came on amazingly fresh buns that were not the over-puffy or heavy ones I’m used to. They also seemed to be thinner than what I’d have expected and thus did not over-power the burger as so many do. I decided that it would have been good if I’d ordered a double patty, I didn’t do so as I was unsure of the size and didn’t want to end up with a huge monster that I’d have a hard time eating. These were not the huge thick slab of meat I thought I might find and were in fact much thinner than I’d have hoped for, rather like the fast food patties one finds at MacDonald’s but much larger in diameter. I found this to be disappointing.

Both of us liked our burgers but given that each was covered with a different sauce that was not in short supply we were surprised that neither of them had a great deal of flavour. My Fay’s burger was actually rather bland tasting, I could not discern the flavour of the mushrooms or the onions and the sauce could have been missing for all the impact it had. Nancy had similar feelings about her Sam’s burger. Between the thin patties and the lack of flavour we were actually somewhat disappointed in our first visit to Boogies.

https://chowtown.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/p1010606.jpg?w=300

Basic Rings

The onion rings were the basic version that I’d had on countless occasions and while a little bit on the oily side were quite enjoyable. I’d hoped that I’d find that Boogie’s made their own rings as I’ve not had handmade onion rings in so long I cannot remember. This, if it had been done and they were good would have made Boogie’s a favourite of mine even if the burgers were not to my liking.

https://chowtown.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/p1010607.jpg?w=300

Yam Chips

The yam chips were also good and despite some being a tad chewy they were for the most part crisp, light and tasty. Unlike the rings these were perfect and one would be hard presses to notice any oil on them at all. As a substitute for regular run of the mill fries these were a nice change and I’m glad they are offered.

All in all I liked Boogie’s and while some of what we had disappointed me I would like to return and sample some of the other unique burgers to find out if what we experienced was the norm for this place. I may not go out of my way to visit but would say that they do offer good food that is made well. Next time I’ll have a double though.

Kefi Greek House and Ouzo Bar review

There are a very few types of food that because of past experiences which were less than pleasing I’ve avoided eating. This is not necessarily a conscious decision but rather a little something in my head that when someone suggests dining at places which serve the foods in question makes me simply suggest alternatives.

One of these has been Greek food. While the flavours and ingredients in this cuisine appeal to me I’ve not eaten it for more than a decade. Again, this is not me saying I don’t like Greek food but just a higher desire to eat other types of food. One that kicks in and is strong enough that it’s controlled me for so long.  My memories of the experiences that caused this are even fuzzy and I cannot actually remember where they took place.

As a result of this “mental damage” I was reluctant to vote for Greek as the type of food to eat for the second outing with the group from UrbanSpoon. I actually caught myself this time though and began thinking as to why I wouldn’t enjoy it. Since I wasn’t able to come up with anything concrete I cast my vote for Kefi Greek House in order to force the issue with myself.

We arrived somewhat early and upon entering were immediately greeted by 3 different staff members including the hostess. The table we were given for the group was great with a view of the small raised dance floor that I’d read we could expect the staff to use throughout the evening and was set apart from the rest of the dining room allowing for some privacy for our group.

We were contemplating the appetizer menu when our fellow diners began to show up. Our waiter was quick to be on the spot when everyone had finished with introductions and proved to have a great deal of knowledge about the offerings on the menu as well as Greek “stuff” in general. This was a nice thing for us due to the fact that as Foodies we all had an annoying habit of asking questions about everything.

We decided to sample all of the available dips as a group and ordered 1 each of Tzatziki, Humous, Taramasalata and Kopanisti with vast amounts of the fresh/hot pita to eat it all with. This was not quite enough and we also sampled some Saganaki cheese and Kalamari to round out the pre-meal festivities.

We’d all tried versions of Tzatziki and Humous before and for my part I loved the ones here. The other dips were a different story and while the kopanisti being a simple combination of feta cheese, spices and peppers seemed far from exotic it was unique enough for Nancy to change her mind about disliking anything with feta. The star of the show among the dips was the taramasalata, a tasty mixture of  cured fish roe mixed with bread crumbs, mashed potato, lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil and spices that was enjoyed by all.

Of the two remaining appies the one we truly enjoyed the most was the saginaki or pan seared kafalotyri cheese and we ordered two. The staff at Kefibring the still sizzling cheese to your table on a cast iron griddle and then proceed to douse it with metaxa brandy and flambé it to shouts of Opa! before placing it on the table. This little bit of theatre is itself enough to add enjoyment to the meal without all of the rest we experienced here.

Kefi offers the traditional Greek family dining experience of picking a number of meat and veggie dishes and then sharing them amongst all as well as more North American style “Dinners” which include a meat accompanied by various sides on one plate. Our group was evenly divided into the two camps and so half ordered separate dinners and the rest including myself opted for the communal plates.

What my group chose was the house special spit roasted lamb or Souvla, a rack of grilled pork ribs and Bifteki which is ground beef stuffed with cheese. On the side we ordered lemon roasted potatoes and Greek rice. The others picked the Halibut, Mousaka and Kleftico(roasted lamb) dinners.

The souvla was nice but I didn’t find it had as much “Greek” flavour to it as I’d hoped for but this is my own feeling and as I’d not had this before I cannot say if it was under spiced or not. It was tender and juicy and there was more than enough to go around. The ribs were very tasty and full of flavour. I enjoyed these perhaps the most of the meat dishes we sampled. They were not the fall-off-the- bone variety that I truly love but were by no means dry or over-cooked and will no doubt prominently figure into my next visit to Kefi. I found the Bifteki to be good as well but cannot say it was a dish with “wow” factor. The meat and cheese went nicely together and it was cooked perfectly in my view. The more lame 😉  members of the group reported that they enjoyed their dinners as well and on the whole I’d say that nothing disappointed on this night.

On several occasions during our meal staff members would step onto the dance floor and begin traditional dancing to the pleasant sounds of  Greek music accompanied by the claps of our fellow diners and culminating in the smashing of plates and the calls of Opa! by all. Our waiter explained that this was not scheduled but that when one of the staff felt Kefi they would begin and then be joined by others who felt moved to participate.

Kefi is a Greek word whose exact meaning has been difficult to pin down. Described by Greeks variously as meaning the spirit of joy, passion, enthusiasm, high spirits, or frenzy.  The Greek custom of dancing and of course smashing plates is said to be an expression of kefi, when the soul and body are overwhelmed with an exuberance that must find an outlet. The only literal translation I’ve found is simply “fun”.

During our meal I was happy to enjoy some Greek beer and also sample the house ouzo which was served over ice with a small amount of water just as many other spirits are in order to open the flavour. I had more than one… hey, it adds to the Kefi.

To finish this meal we all decided on some dessert but were mildly disappointed to find that while Kefi offers a selection of hand-made Greek desserts this being the Easter week-end meant that the Ya-yas or Greek Grandmothers whose talents are relied upon for these were busy cooking for their own families. The result was that we could choose from either local deserts or one of only two Greek varieties, these being Baklava or vanilla cake. We all chose the vanilla cake as it was something none had tried before. This was a good choice, the cake was fresh, light and flavourful without being overly sweet.

Dining at Kefi Greek House has undone the damage of my past Greek experiences and made me add this wonderful cuisine to my ever expanding list of favourites. This was a fun and entertaining evening that combined with good food and great staff has also secured this place as one of those I feel I must return to.

The following reviews are from our dining companions at Kefi and offer their views of the second UrbanSpoon Calgary foodie night.

From K C Foore:

Visiting KEFI was like a mini vacation in Greece with warm hospitality, abundant food, great music, spirited dancing, traditional seasonings, meal preparation and presentation.

Our group of foodies stayed there for nearly 3 hours and enjoyed every minute of it. The dishes were thoroughly explained including some bonus information on history and geography.  I always appreciate it when the wait staff are truly enthusiastic about the food that they are serving and are happy to engage in a conversation about it.

Meals are available in a traditional western style –full meal on one plate – serving or traditional family style, which is ordering the meat(s) and then the side dishes to be shared by many. Our table chose both styles with some ordering an individual plate and others joining in on a group meal. Both ways were fabulous.

Our appetizers consisted mainly of an assortment of dips, kalamari and saganaki, a kafalotyri cheese portion flambéed with brandy at our table. Not only was it entertaining to watch our wait staff risk their facial hair to serve this, the dish was delicious served with toasty hot and fresh pita bread triangles.

The kalamari was a favorite – perfectly seasoned and done to a tender consistency and served with fresh Tzatziki. The Greeks certainly can cook them squids right! I could have happily made that my entire meal – but I was with friends and thought it best to share as planned.

Seeing the whole spit roasted lamb displayed behind glass at the front entrance reminded me of scenes from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”. Depending on your ethnic background or exposure to whole animals on spits, this kind of thing has the potential to either whet your appetite or traumatize you and completely kill it. I’m thinking KEFI with it’s very authentic and traditional way would attract those more accustomed to such a sight, so it would result in a net gain.

I could tell that all of the dips were freshly prepared that day, some perhaps just after we ordered them – not scooped out of a bucket in the cold room.. Kudos to KEFI – it makes a big, pleasant difference.

The meats were all properly cooked and very lightly seasoned. Greek Sea Salt was available at the table for those who wanted it. It was tender but not fall off the bone tender; it’s not supposed to be that way.

All of the dishes were good to great in flavor, quantity and quality. The only complaints I have are very minor. I found the souvla a little strong on the lamb flavor for my personal preference and the greek style rice, while very flavorful was slightly overdone.

The vanilla almond cake was a pleasant, unique and not too sweet finish to the night of food and festivities. It had a biscuity texture, complemented by a slightly sweet cream filling and topping.

I loved the atmosphere, the staff and the food. It really is an enjoyable, multi faceted night out that’s not just about the food.  It’s the whole Greek experience. OPA!

We’ll certainly be back – maybe even with the same friends.=

From Twisted ChinaMan Eats:

Well, I have to say from the first time I tasted it, Greek food has had a special place in my heart…and like all matters of the heart, it’s easily broken. So that is why I’m happy to say Kefi has renewed my love of Greek food with great vigour!

With a team consisting of V York, KC Foore (and spouse) and CTCH (and spouse), we paid a visit this evening. We were greeted by the manager, who made us extremely welcome (and was not unnerved when it was revealed we were from Urbanspoon), and the server assigned to our table was knowledgeable (and even told me the story of the kleftico, which was extremely fascinating…and true!), didn’t sound forced in the delivery, and was generally very sweet (as in nice!)

Anyway, onto the food. The six of us decided on the dips (the classic tzatziki and humous, taramasalata (fish roe) and kopanisti (spiced feta)), with a pair of saganaki with everyone’s favourite calamari — with plenty of pita to go around. The dips were extremely well made, fresh tasting and savoury — I personally enjoyed the taramasalata, which I didn’t think too much of when the order was placed. But was it ever delicious! The calamari was good with the tzatziki, and the saganaki was fun and delicious.

A few different entrees were ordered between the six of us, with the kleftico piquing my fancy…I’ll leave the others to review the other dishes, but the kleftico with the rich thieving heritage (the waitress explained the parchment bag as a symbol of the dish’s heritage during the Ottoman Empire) was flavourful, the lamb was tender and was fully loaded with lots of vegetables. The manager had advised us during his visit that they did not salt their food, but really…salt wasn’t even necessary. The rice was tender, and went well with the stew.

Dessert wrapped up the meal, and besides baklava there was a vanllia and almond cake that was on offer, which ws too tempting to resist, and what a temptation to relent on…the cake wasn’t too sweet, and the vanilla and almond combination was delicious when paired with a warm beverage like a tea or a Greek coffee.

The decor was very Mediterranean, and was a bit dark for a little bit before the lights were turned up as the evening went on…the atmosphere was amazing, and as one of us alluded it truly felt like we were at a Greek village dinner party and not in the middle of South Calgary off Macleod Trail! The servers were dancing, the music was pumping…overall a great time. And with drinks for about $60 a person (plus tip) it was a great night out, and I have a feeling that I might be back again…

From V York:

Upon entering this restaurant, I noticed how the whiteness of the interior stood out, just like how I experienced it in Greece. It was remarkable. I felt quite welcomed as the courtesy of the staff immediately was into effect.

I arrived to meet fellow Urbanspooners Twisted Chinaman Eats, KC Foore and Cowtown Chowhound with spouses. It was a great to see fellow foodies having a night out. After introductions, we started with the extensive menu for appetizers. We ended up ordering pita with different types of dips, calamari, and saganaki. As I have tried many Greek places in my course of travel, I have not seen saganaki prepared as delightful and expressive as Kefi. They made it exciting with flames adding the final touches to the dish. It was also very nicely done, the Kefalotiri cheese was tasteful and texture was moist with the hint of lemon standing out. Next, the calamari was served in a good sized portion and had flavours that I am still tasting. The calamari tasted fresh and was easy to eat. The dips with pita bread all were prepared with nice consistency and each of the flavours stood out individually. (refer to Twisted Chinaman Eats review for the names and details regarding the dips). So, appetizers took this experience to a new level.

Moving to the main dishes, three of us decided on separate dinners, while the other half decided on a family-style dining. I was one that ordered a separate dinner and took on a different take with an order of Kefi Halibut platter. Upon delivering of the dish, I quickly noticed how generous the portion was. The three components ( Halibut, Swiss Chard, and Rice) made it look complete. The halibut was top quality and tasted awesome, so tender the pieces flaked off as it should, and the simplicity of the recipe made it an enjoyable eating moment. Nothing too overpowering. The Swiss chard gave the dish a healthy approach and the rice had plenty of palatable components that made the whole main dish something for me to remember for a while.

The other dishes at the table all looked very well made and had their own Greek touch which you will read from other reviews of Twisted Chinaman Eats, K C Foore, and Cowtown Chowhound.

Almost forgot to mention the Greek coffee. It was very authentic and reminded me of the coffees I had in Greece. The coffee had the right strength and body and made it great to take in.

The meal completed with dessert and we were given a choice of Greek Vanilla Cake or Baklava. Vanilla cake was the winner at our table. It came nicely presented and tasted fabulous. The cake portion had a nice texture and was not too heavy to eat. The cream was not sweet but complimented the cake very well. Overall, a nice ending.

So, to finalize the Greek night out at Kefi, 5 stars and lots of kudos to the staff for all the courtesy, entertainment (oh yeah – forgot to mention there was plate breaking with authentic Greek music and dancing throughout the evening), tremendous knowledge, and professionalism in presenting the complete Greek spirit – KEFI.

Kefi Greekhouse & Ouzo Bar on Urbanspoon

Everest Kitchen review

Trying new foods is one of life’s pleasures, A place that makes it good and with pride completes this equation.

All of us who consider ourselves to be foodies and many of the rest of those dining out regularly have a list of restaurants that they keep in their mind as ones always to return to. These places can often be what may be referred to as “Hidden Gems” and although they do well the clientele are often locals from the neighbourhood or people for whom the food being served is what they might eat in their country of birth, of course there are also those who have like us had the good fortune to find these places in one way or another.

No matter the reason, these stores generally do a good business and of course they deserve to. We’ve been to a number of this type of place and the feeling of welcome and community they provide in addition to great food makes returning a given. Sometimes however one comes across a place that has the friendly, warm, welcoming staff and ownership as well as the great food but due to location or perhaps being in a neighbourhood where the food they serve is too far outside of the norm they don’t have the traffic they truly deserve. We recently came across a place in this situation and cannot for the life of us understand why, other than location they aren’t busy every night of the week.

The restaurant in question is called Everest Kitchen and being the only Nepali restaurant in the Calgary area we thought for sure they’d attract the foodie crowd for the same initial reason we wanted to visit, they’re cuisine is unique. However it seems that where they are is a major hindrance to their business and unlike stores such as Jonas or Imaan who have a base of expats returning over and over to have food that reminds them of home the Nepalese community in Calgary is virtually nonexistent.

They are located in a tiny strip mall just one block south of eastbound Beddington Trail on Beddington Bvld NE and having moved to the current location only a year or so ago seems to have made it difficult to attract the people who should definitely be visiting on a regular basis. As I said above it may be that coupled with the move to an out of the way location they are also in a neighbourhood where the local populace is happy to just eat pizza and westernised Chinese food rather than venture outside their culinary comfort zone.

According to the owner much of their customers are in fact those who frequented the previous location on 17th ave. It lets us know just how good they are when some customers will drive across town to continue to enjoy the food, and when this group includes well-known food critic, John Gilchrist, it speaks volumes about the place. But this is not enough to keep them going forever. While repeats are great and word of mouth should bring new customers enmasse when the food is as good as they serve there they are not close to the vast majority of the people who should be their core clientele and it seems they suffer as a result.

This really is a shame not only because losing such a store would diminish the dining scene in town but also because a small business that provides a good service and high quality deserves to do well.

We’d driven by Everest Kitchen a number of times and on every one of those occasions I’d comment on how we needed to visit and try the food. This desire to check them out was reinforced by the fact that we’d tried Nepali food before and found that we’d really enjoyed the flavours and unique dishes. After several months we finally decided we’d waited long enough.

Entering the store we were greeted warmly by both he hostess and a man we discovered later was the owner. This is a clean and well kept restaurant that although small and not highly decorated is inviting and pleasant.

After being seated we looked over the menu and our server gave us some ideas as to what we should try from the selection of items we were considering. In the end we decided to order some meat momos to begin with and three other items.

Momos are a Nepali version of a dumpling and are the street food of choice in Kathmandu. They are similar to their Asian counterparts but have a unique flavour and these ones are served with a delicious sauce. The ones we ordered were made with lamb and I found them quite tasty if just a little dangerous when not eaten with care, something evidenced by the mess I made when eating the first one. I was more careful after this explosive experience and apologised to the server…nuf said.

We ordered three mains from the menu. The Chef’s special cauliflower, a veggie dish with an incredible creamy light tomato sauce with cashew nut that had we ordered some of the fresh flat bread we’d have not left any behind. The second dish was the chicken chatpat which was in a very nice hot & sour sauce that was not at all what we’d expected having thought it might be similar to a Chinese version. Finally we had the Everest special biryani.  While similar in some ways to those one might find  from other countries this Nepali biryani was flavoured much differently, the tastes and textures of the different meats combined with cashews and raisins was wonderful and even more so when the sauce that came separately was mixed in.

Each of the dishes we had was unique and we loved the different combinations of spices. All were served in attractive metal bowls reminiscent of those one may find at some Indian restaurants. You know the ones, they don’t look big but for some reason when you’ve all had a good amount from them there is strangely still some food left in inside.

Nepali cusine has a number of different influences that in the food at Everest Kitchen was sometimes subtle and on other occasions more obvious, such as in the offering of samosas and use of basmati rice. These can include Indian, Asian, and Arabic tastes, but they are combined in ways that make them very different from those more well known flavours.

We very much enjoyed the food served at Everest Kitchen and found that the quality was very high and the freshness of the ingredients was apparent to me from the first bite. The price was reasonable and we were quite satisfied upon finishing our meal.

The staff was excellent and we were never left wanting anything whether it be a top up of water or an empty serving bowl cleared away. we also very much enjoyed speaking with the owner who told us about Nepalese food and described for us the different spices(many of which are visible in a long row of jars near the front of the store).

Everest Kitchen is without a doubt the type of restaurant that should do well and having enjoyed the experience of dining there we are sure to return and hope that you give them a try, they are just what Calgary needs.

Everest Kitchen on Urbanspoon

UPDATE:

We recently returned to Everest Kitchen as part of our monthly foodie nights with folks from UrbanSpoon. We found that the owner had indeed brought in some Yak meat as he’d mentioned on our last visit and we just had to try it.

Two of us ordered the Yak steak and we both agreed that having not tried it before we would have the server tell the cook to prepare it the way he would like it. This as it turned out may have been a mistake as the cook seems to prefer his meat very well-done and we received just his type of steak.

While the Yak was somewhat disappointing(although this is likely our fault) the rest of the food and the service was just as good as the previous time we’d visited.

Another thing we noticed was that the place was busier than it had been on our first visit, while both were on week-end nights we had been the only diners the first time round. I’m glad to see the word is spreading about Everest Kitchen and hope they are around for some time. RR

Imaan East African Restaurant review

Just as 1+1=2 the simple fact is that Ethnic food + Ethnic customers = one damn good dinner.

For me it’s an undeniable truth that when dining at any ethnic food location in a place where cuisine of this type is considered to be exotic and the place is full of diners of the same background as the food you’re going to get the real thing and it’s probably going to be very good.

This has been proven to me yet again after dining at Imaan East African Restaurant recently.

Imaan is a small family run store located along 17th Ave. SW. It can be found in one of the nondescript strip malls that one will see in every part of the city. I’ve come to believe that these little centres are fertile ground for finding some of the most authentic and tasty meals of many different regional types, a belief that was reinforced by this meal.

We found ourselves at Imaan as a result of my having a desire to take part in something I have done in the past and enjoyed very much- joining a group of foodies at a place none had been and trying a new type of food. This is an activity that I used to engage in with friends and acquaintances years ago and have wanted to do again, so I posted a message on UrbanSpoon to gage interest in just such an event. While the response was good, in the end there were just 4 of us due to the typical problems associated with coordinating many lives. So it was just myself and Nancy with fellow Spoonie K C Foore and her significant other who ventured into this little restaurant to sample the flavours of East Africa.

When we first arrived I was very happy to see that all the other diners seemed to be of African descent and were happily eating and talking to the staff in a language other than English. As I’ve said before this goes a long way to adding credibility to a restaurant in my personal view.

When our dining companions arrived we’d already had time to speak with some of the other diners about the food, they were very friendly and quite happy to describe the items on the menu and make recommendations as to what we should try. Having read the review of Imaan posted on Foodosophy I had an idea that the Firdhis combo plate would be a good place to begin as it showcased many of the items listed separately on the menu. When K C arrived the fellow at the next table even brought his platter over to show all of us what it looked like and point out the different components. In the end we ordered two of these.

Prior to the arrival of our dining companions we’d ordered a few of the appies that were on the menu. We’d noticed something called “Soomaali Style Sambosa” and wondered if it would resemble Indian samosa so we ordered some. In addition to the sambosa we also tried the Bajiya which is a bean and pepper fritter.

Before the appetisers arrived the server brought bowls of a light green soup to the table. This very tasty dish appeared to contain beans and finely chopped vegetables in what may have been a goat broth. The flavour was mild and pleasant with only slight hints of any spices. This was a great beginning to the meal and was liked by all of us, it certainly made me more anxious to try the rest of the food as I liked it a great deal.

The sambosa did indeed resemble a somosa and the influence of Indian culture on countries such as Kenya was obvious in the flavour as well which had hints of curry along with the African spices. These were tasty if not a spicy as expected, and we liked them. The Bajiya fritters were more of a spit decision. I liked them but Nancy and our companions were somewhat less enthusiastic. The bajiya had a doughy consistency but were not crisp on the outside and as pointed out by K C Foore they seemed to cry out for some sort of dip, which of course was just our take on things and I’m sure if a dip were normal it would have been offered.

The Firdhis plate is a combination of Suqaar (a stew of beef and chicken), roasted chicken and goat on a bed of spiced rice with a spaghetini like pasta in a nice tomato based sauce. This came accompanied by two small cups of hot pepper sauce which I’m guessing would normally be covering the food but were separate for our benefit as we were newbies to this type of meal. I did expect more heat in the food but again I’m betting that we could have requested it be at the level regulars would have. Joining the platters was a light salad with a mild dressing, I should have asked if this dressing was homemade but never did so. I’ll try to discover more about this and other items next time I visit.

I found the food had a good flavour on the whole but again was surprised at the lack of heat in the dishes we sampled, when I visit again I’ll ask for the food to be prepared like the cook would make it for himself and see what the outcome is.

I would call this meal very good value given the quantity of food we received and given how much we enjoyed it the value is even greater. While many ethnic foods which have become trendy have the tendency to be overpriced or end up being westernised to the point of un-recognizability, simple honest meals like the one we had at Imaan remind us what good food should be and let us experience what otherwise would be missed.

Imaan is one of those places that I tend to evangelise due to my belief that everyone should try new and different foods. I’ll try to restrain myself despite the fact the food is worth it and I think you need to go at least once for the experience of not just the food but the sense of community these places provide if you are willing to break the ice.

As mentioned above we were not alone on this foray into East African dining, Cookbook author, foodie and fellow UrbanSpoon prime K C Foore joined us with her other half. Below is her account of this evening. We at ChowTown are very glad to post this review by our first guest author and hope to have more in the future.

From K C Foore:

Dinner at Imaan was like a little visit to East Africa, Somalia in particular. No passport required. Our fellow travelers on this foodie expedition were our new friends from ChowTown.

The décor is plain and simple. Tables. Chairs. Posters on the wall depicting various types of African cuisines. A display case with a limited supply of ready-made items to take away. That’s about it.

I got a real sense of community and family. Some people seem to be here mostly for a visit, the food is a bonus. A few friendly fellow diners were more than happy to show us what they had ordered and provide a bit of a lesson on the ingredients and pronunciations.  Awesome.

Before we ordered anything, bowls of a green soup with a lime wedge on the side were placed in front of us. It must be standard fare with any meal. It was actually rather flavorful and probably a concoction of whatever was currently in the kitchen. It appeared to me to be a blended mixture of beans, green lentils, brocolli, peppers, chicken/goat broth and garlic. There wasn’t any hot spicy kick to it at all.

We ordered the Bajiya (Bean Fritters & Pepper) and Beef Sambosa appetizers. Yes, I spelled Sambosa correctly. The sambosas were like samosas in the fact that they were triangle shaped pastry packets…and there seemed to be a bit of a curry influence to the spices, including anise. Again, not spicy hot.

The Bajiya were a bit of a disappointment to me. While interestingly orange in color, they were rubbery in texture and a bit bland. I really felt they needed to be dipped in a sauce or something. However, no sauce came with them. This cuisine being rather new to me, I’m not sure whether that was an oversight or intentional. In any event, one was more than enough for me.

One of our friendly fellow diners showed off his Firdis Sampler Combo containing rice, chicken, Suqaar (braised beef), spaghetti and goat meat with a few onions and peppers thrown in. It looked and smelled wonderful. That was enough to encourage all of us to order that. The double plates are actually platters and are suitable for 2 people to share.

These platters came with little side salads, which were fresh and had a very nice, light and creamy dressing on them.

The food was all very tasty, and again not spicy (except for the pepper sauce that was served on the side) and that surprised me. Perhaps because we didn’t appear to be regulars, our dishes were kicked down a notch heat wise. I’ll ask next time.

I was puzzled by the inclusion of spaghetti with almost every dish. How did spaghetti get to be a staple in the Somali diet? I’ll have to do some research on that. The sauce on the spaghetti was tomato based, but very different than an Italian style sauce. It was quite enjoyable.

Another puzzle was the lack of a knife amongst our given cutlery. How were we to cut the saucy, bone-in chicken breast apart? Maybe we were supposed to eat it with our hands? By the time we got to the chicken, our friendly and informative fellow diners were gone so I could not ask.

The goat pieces, while tasty were very tough and a bit gristley.  The beef and chicken were both tender and tasty. The large portion of rice was also very flavorful and may have been the best part of the meal for me.

We’ll be back to try it again.



Imaan East African Restaurant on Urbanspoon