Ohh La La Tasting

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Is there anything better than dessert for dinner? I didn’t think so. That’s why I jumped at the invite to attend a dessert tasting event hosted by Ohh La La Patisserie, making sure to come on as empty of a stomach as possible. Chef Sebastian invited several local food writers and bloggers to taste-test proposed items for his new menu. All 5 desserts were paired with tea from the host venue, The Tea Factory. It was actually an excellent idea. The cold teas were especially refreshing given the high sugar content of the food we were eating.

We started off with what was probably my least favourite course of the evening, an olive oil cake with white chocolate ganache, mascarpone espuma and coffee pearls. Although I could have eaten the ganache on its own with a spoon, the rest of the components didn’t really strike a chord with me. I liked the idea of topping the cake with an espuma or foam, but the texture was a bit off and the tang of the mascarpone was not as apparent as I would have liked. The coffee pearls were little balls of gel, set by agar agar, a fun idea in theory but they were a little too firm and didn’t really add anything to the dish. Overall, it was an underwhelming first course. Luckily, it meant that things could only get better.

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The second course was Sebastian’s take on apple pie, with layers of crust, caramelized apples, almond financier and finished with a vanilla Bavarian cream. As was the theme of the evening, he used molecular techniques to create a maple sphere, again set with agar agar. I much preferred the little dome of sugary, maple goodness to the aforementioned coffee pearls. Other than the caramelized apples themselves, nothing in the pie was overly sweet, so combining just a sliver of the maple sphere on your fork with all of the other ingredients really brought you back to your childhood eating grandma’s apple pie with vanilla ice cream. In fact I would take the impeccably smooth texture of the vanilla Bavarian cream over regular ice cream any day. The dessert was paired with an apple pie tea, which was probably my favourite drink of the evening. It was the strangest sensation to drink something that tasted and smelled exactly like apple pie, minus the sweetness, but at the same time, what pairs better with apple pie than apple pie?

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The third course paid homage to Sebastian’s Argentinian roots and was filled with tropical flavours. From the outside, it looked like a simply passion fruit mousse draped in glistening strawberry glaze, but the centre held plenty of surprises. Banana cream, lady finger and a hazelnut sable were all enveloped in the silky mousse. My only critique of this one is that I thought the strawberry flavour slightly overwhelmed the subtlety of the passion fruit, although it was the perfect pairing with the banana. I also wonder if the sable would have been more effective if made with macadamia nuts, which are slightly more tropical than hazelnuts (I always think hazelnuts and chocolate so it threw me off a bit). All in all though, I would definitely order one of these at Ohh La La.

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My favourite course was the fourth one, mainly because it was chocolate galore. Chocolate sponge cake, chocolate mousse and chocolate ganache are three things that make me one happy girl. The most interesting element of this dessert however was the caramel tagliatelle, a dessert take on “pasta.” Essentially he used agar agar and a few other chemicals to set salted caramel into a firm but pliable sheet, which he then sliced into “noodles.” Sure they were a bit on the slimy side, but I did not find the texture off-putting and the salt was the perfect foil to all of the other sweet components. Just look at that cross-section of chocolate heaven.

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I could have finished things off with a second helping of the chocolate course but we moved on to a light, Greek yogurt mousse instead. It definitely was not the most photogenic of the bunch but there were some interesting flavours and textures at play. Underneath the mousse sat a Matcha (green tea) dacquoise cake and on top that’s not spinach, it is a Matcha “wrap”, essentially a green tea flavoured jelly skin (there was a purplish blackberry one as well). Similar to the caramel tagliatelle, the wraps had a certain slime factor to them, but it was a unique way to provide texture to the foaminess of the mousse. Maybe if they were sliced in a chiffonade it would be easier to incorporate tiny pieces into each bite, rather than committing to an entire mouthful of Matcha or blackberry gel. Either way, I applaud Chef Sebastian’s creativity and courage to test out different techniques on us as his critics, to see if they would fly with actual customers. The thing with molecular gastronomy is that used effectively, I do believe it can enhance a dish above and beyond its natural state. However, oftentimes it is used without purpose, simply to add a modern technique in an attempt to be inventive and original, without actually enhancing the ingredients themselves. You don’t know until you try. That being said, after all of the feedback, hopefully you will see some of Sebastian’s latest creations in the showcase at Ohh La La Patisserie in the very near future! Just make sure you get there early before I go hoard all of the chocolate ones for myself.

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Ohh la la Patisserie on Urbanspoon

Food Lovers Urban Market and other Friday Finds

Bonjour! Hola! I hope everyone had a good week. Mine was busy, which means that I neglected blogging if you hadn’t noticed. It also means that I failed to draft something up to post today and am now running around like a chicken with my head cut off to throw something together to share with you that is actually worth your time. Too many things on my plate? Maybe but such is life.

Last night I attended a fun event in Inglewood called the Food Lovers Urban Market. I mentioned it before in my piece about Mealshare, as it was one of the upcoming events in support of the great charity. There were a bunch of local vendors selling food and drinks, as well as beautiful artwork being auctioned off. I figured I would share come of my favourite finds with you now, along with others I have come across on the Interwebs as of late. Pitter patter let’s get atter:

Fiasco has been making dark chocolate sea salt caramel gelato for awhile now but I finally got around to trying it. Apparently I was so excited that I could not even take a stable picture, hence the blur. Holy man why did I deprive myself of that stuff for so long?

Fiasco Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Gelato

– I had no idea that fiddleheads were still around; I thought the season for them had come and gone. Apparently they are though as Fifth Element concocted a delicious pickled fiddlehead and mushroom salad with a truffle vinaigrette. Loved, loved, loved. I know where to buy truffle salt next time I need it, that’s for sure (along with every other truffle-based product known to mankind).

Fifth Element Pickled Fiddlehead and Mushroom Salad

– Cupcakes have had their day in the sun and macarons have received far more attention than one could ever imagine, but no one has dedicated themselves to the humble brownie. Until now. A company called Broune makes flavours from peanut butter, to cherry coconut, to the one I tried last night with pecans and beer! Wicked!

– It’s 2014 and Calgary has its fair share of food trucks but one more doesn’t hurt, right? Taiko Taco takes tacos to the next level, swapping out tortillas for folded Asian steam buns. Try the Szechwan eggplant if you see them around town!

Taiko Taco Szechwan Eggplant

– A few weeks ago I interviewed the guys at Tres Carnales in Edmonton. It was some of the most fun I have had in ages, they were a riot to hang with for the afternoon! Read all about it here.

– Nancy over at Gotta Get Baked recently had her 2nd blogiversary and smashed a cake. It looked like great fun frankly. She is also hilariously funny to read as she tells it how it is and is never afraid to speak her mind to the fullest. I feel as though we are virtually best friends even though we have never met in person. Interesting how blogging can help you establish connections like that. And stay tuned as there just might be some guest posts from you know who in the future!

– Remove the mint from these babies from This Rawsome Vegan Life and I am all over them. ALL over them!

– Not only does the recipe sound scrumptious, I love what Wallflour Girl had to say about her relationship with food in this post. It’s not easy to open yourself up like that.

– Let’s add chocolate to these pb and j bars and call it a day. Peace.

The New Menu at Boxwood

Boxwood Kale-Aid

Ever since I worked there a couple of summers ago, Boxwood has been my go-to spot for good, consistent food in this town. Their chickpea fritter sandwich is something that I crave all of the time and those raspberry caramel brownies? Well they are so good that when I cannot make it down to have one, I simply make my own.

Despite my love affair for Boxwood, admittedly it has had it’s ups and downs. As with most places, I rarely rely on sites like Urbanspoon and Yelp for fair and unbiased opinions when deciding on restaurant options, but Boxwood has gotten a particularly bad wrap with online “critics” and it can be hard to ignore such scathing reviews. I mean, those of us who like it, we like it a LOT but that is in stark contrast to some people who have pledged never to return in their lives. Anyways, long story short, they decided to completely overhaul their menu, make it more straightforward what dishes are “appetizers” vs. “entrees” and most importantly in my books, they basically quadrupled the number of vegetarian options available. Needless to say, when I was invited to come in and check it out, I was a pretty happy camper.

Let’s start with the drinks. Or in this case, just one drink in particular, their new “Kale-Aid.” A mix of kale, celery, cucumber, apple, lemon and ginger, it’s good for you without tasting gross, if you know what I mean. Seriously though, sometimes those crazy vegetable juices can be more like drinking sewage water than something that is fit for human consumption. You don’t have to worry about that here. Mix it with some gin and you have one heck of a cocktail too!

Boxwood hummusBoxwood Polpettes

With a good cocktail inherently comes good appetizers. My favourite bite of the night had to be the new black bean and shiitake mushroom polpettes, with lemon arugula pesto and lebneh, a thick, strained yogurt. As a vegetarian, I cannot say that I have ever found myself missing meat but these little balls of goodness were outrageously meaty for something made of beans, rice (I think?) and mushrooms. I could have had about 20 of them. We also went with the classic, red lentil hummus, a signature dish available at both Boxwood and the River Cafe, its sister restaurant. What’s new is that they topped it with a roasted pepperonata, essentially a melange of red bell peppers and seasonings. It could have used just a pinch more salt this time around but otherwise, there is clearly a reason why it is a staple menu item, especially when it is served with homemade quinoa crackers. And don’t even get me started on what a labour of love those babies are.

Boxwood Mole Boxwood chicken sandwich

The hardest part about going to Boxwood was resisting the urge to order a chickpea fritter sandwich, which thankfully is still on the menu. They used to only offer their sandwiches at lunch time but lucky for you, they are now available for dinner as well. If you aren’t a veg-head, the rotisserie chicken sandwich is always a popular option. The condiments change slightly with the seasons but right now they are doing it with a piri piri aioli, cucumber and greens. I skipped the sandwiches and tried their new vegetarian entree, roasted carrots with chickpea mole instead. It was like a mole mixed with butter chicken, minus the chicken. So really what I mean is that there was no lack of delicious sauce to sop up with the homemade naan bread they along side.

Boxwood brownie

And then there was dessert. My dining partner had never tried Boxwood’s brownie before so that was her ending of choice. As for me, I did not complain when it came to sharing a few bites. Served warm with Fiasco vanilla gelato, berry compote and candied almonds, it has that brownie sundae feel that you cannot help but love.

They had me before, so there was no need to convince this girl that Boxwood is a restaurant worth visiting. However, their new menu definitely solidified it as one of my favourite places to eat in all of Calgary. If you don’t believe me, I guess you better go check it out for yourself.
Boxwood Cafe on Urbanspoon

Vin Room West

Who doesn’t love wining and dining? I have to admit, I am no expert when it comes to wine but I know what I like. It says something when you can tell your server or sommelier exactly what you want and they bring it to you; especially when you are a control freak like I am. Fortunately at Vin Room West, they did just that and I have found a new favourite wine in Zinck Gewürztraminer. It is exactly what you would expect from a restaurant whose wine list is comparable to a Harry Potter novel. Well maybe not that long but with more than 100 wines to choose from, picking your drink of choice is no easy task. Thankfully they have got people to help you with that. No one wants to have an anxiety attack trying to choose their wine!

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Having started off with fabulous wine, the food had a lot to live up to. Both my mom and I opted for some of the lunch specials. She had an open-faced steak sandwich with roasted mushrooms and a salad with tarragon vinaigrette. I on the other hand went for the classic soup/salad lunch combo. The soup was a lusciously smooth butternut squash and caramelized onion, with hints of spice underlying the subtle sweetness. The Korean grilled romaine was like a punch in the face in comparison; and I do mean that in a good way. Don’t let the light drizzle of vibrant red roasted pepper vinaigrette fool you, it is more than enough to spice up the charred romaine. It almost reminded me of a lighter take on kimchi, both in terms of texture and flavour. The wilted edges of the warm romaine were comparable to the fermented cabbage, but without the funk. Nutty sesame oil worked to add depth to the warm heat of the salad. They said it used to be on the menu full-time and frankly, I am not sure why they took it off.

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We had other plans for dessert although the dark chocolate hazelnut tart did catch my eye. They also have gluten free versions of many of their menu items, both sweet and savoury, if that is a concern (including the aforementioned tart). There are not many places where I can say I enjoyed the wine as much as the food. Whether you are going for the wine or the food, Vin Room West is well versed in both.

Vin Room West on Urbanspoon

Briggs Kitchen and Bar

It’s probably not a good thing that it has been so long between going to Briggs Kitchen and Bar and writing about it that I almost forgot that I went there. Who am I kidding? I can remember restaurants that I visited 3 years ago. I definitely did not forget about it, let’s just say that it has not been the first thing on my mind lately. Let’s fix that and talk about Briggs Kitchen and Bar for a bit.

The first thing you notice when you walk in the door is that the place is packed and it is loud. That’s a good sign though, right? What restaurant nowadays isn’t, other than the empty spaces that no one wants to go to (which means that you probably don’t want to test your luck either). As far as I could tell, everyone wanted to be at Briggs the night we were there. Unfortunately Briggs does not take reservations though, so you either want to get there early, or call ahead to put your name on the wait list.

Briggs Kitchen and Bar Poutine Briggs Kitchen and Bar Ratatouille and Chips

Once you get a table, get straight to checking out the cocktail menu. I recommend the strawberry Pisco Sour, mainly because it reminded me of sour strawberries candies, but without any trace of gross, artificial flavour. If you like fruity cocktails, you will like it, let’s just say that. On the other hand, if sweet isn’t for you, there are plenty of other options to choose from, all of which are only $8. I cannot think of too many places where a handcrafted cocktail is only $8.

Now that we have satisfied our alcoholic tendencies (that coming from the general disliker of all things with alcohol in it), let’s move onto the food. My only complaint is that they did not have any vegetarian entrees, although there were still plenty of small plates and sides to choose from to make a meatless meal. To start we tried the “ratatouille and chips”, a fun take on the French classic, essentially in salsa format with homemade potato chips. I went for beets and mixed greens with pomegranate vinaigrette as my main. Beets, balsamic, feta and pumpkin seeds is not a new combination but it was different in that it was served warm as opposed to chilled. Heck I eat beets raw though so they would have to be pretty awful for me not to like them.

Briggs Kitchen and Bar Broccolini Briggs Kitchen and Bar Beets Briggs Kitchen and Bar Shaved Prime Rib Sandwich

Some of your other options include mashed potatoes (the kind with more butter in them than potatoes aka the good kind) and broccolini with mascarpone and smoked cheddar. If you want meat, which you probably do, they have lots to choose from. Smoked brisket, pot pie, shaved prime rib and classic Canadian poutine are just a few of your choices. You can even go for a 48 ounce Tomahawk ribeye steak – but maybe do yourself a favour and share it, ok? It’s literally a Fred Flintstone sized slab of meat.

Still have room for dessert after all of that? You have three to choose from; chocolate pot, lemon pie or mille-feuille. I cannot speak from experience as we skipped dessert but anything chocolate always calls my name. Hold on, why didn’t I order that again? I guess it’s a good excuse to make a trip back to Briggs Kitchen and Bar!

Briggs Kitchen and Bar on Urbanspoon