Jacuzzi is in town! As he arrived in Calgary late at night, I suggested we check out Hayden Block Smoke & Whiskey for their late-night menu. For this post, let’s listen to “Nashville Skyline Rag” by Bob Dylan.
When I checked in, I learned we landed a table on the second floor, where live music plays from 8:30 pm on Friday and Saturday. The venue itself is charming. The cozy vibe is similar to Nashville’s bars but cleaner and more contemporary. The room is fresh and modern, with white panel walls. The stage is lit up with neon lights and a bright background screen. Under the ceilings, strands of tea lights twinkle.
L ordered a Pilsner ($9), and I picked the South Block Tree Shaker Peach Bourbon Ale ($9) for myself and the non-alcoholic Village Blonde beer ($8) for Jacuzzi. I took a sip and could tell it lacked the bite of booze.
For food, I selected a pound of brisket (HH $17) and Pulled Pork (HH $16), Smoked Wings ($17), and Bacon Mac n Cheese ($16). All our food came out at optimal temperature. The wings were meaty, so blisteringly hot my fingers tingled from the heat. The chicken skin had an extra crunch from the layer of salt and spices. Jacuzzi and L raved about the wings and mentioned the seasoning reminded him of his all-time favourite place for wings, Hooters. I asked him when he was last at a Hooters. He recollected it was 15 years ago when he lived in Toronto. Wow, that must have been some memorable wings.
The beef brisket was so tender that the meat fell apart when I forked a piece. L and Jacuzzi raved about the soft texture and the smoky flavour. I appreciated the contrast between the fattier sections and the more rigid surface of the bark. The pulled pork was juicy and paired well with the tangy house BBQ sauce. Of the two types of meat, the clear winner was the brisket.
The macaroni and cheese were a hit. The cheesy sauce was velvety and sticky, similar in texture to the molten orange nacho cheese 7/11 uses for their nachos. I appreciated the spicy heat in the sauce. The mac and cheese tasted even better with bits and pieces from the pulled pork, as the sweetness of the meat cut through the heaviness of the sauce.
Hayden Block is a hidden gem. I would return in a heartbeat to enjoy the music and steaming platters of smoked meats. Hitting the Sauce gives Hayden Block’s second floor two phat thumbs up, and it makes it on my list for best BBQ and live music.
My new job is proving to be appetizing. So delectable that the sleeves on my suit are starting to feel like sausage casings. For this post, let’s listen to “American Pie” by Don McLean.
The Edmonton, Calgary and Victoria offices ordered pies for their employees to celebrate Pi Day. Our social event leader, Miss K, drove to Pie Junkie to pick up our pies in Kensington. I asked her why she didn’t order delivery. She said Pie Junkie turned off the delivery option on Skip the Dishes. I reminded her that a dozen stores located below our floor sold desserts. Miss K responded that she knew we were foodies and wanted to ensure she got something special for us.
Miss K ordered Key Lime ($29) and Toffee Banana Pie ($29). I tried both and thought the toffee was the best of the bunch. The toffee filling was decadently satiny and buttery. I loved the contrast of the whip cream’s fluffiness against the pie crust’s hard crunch. One of the most satisfying things about Pie Junkie is the trademark thick crust, which is substantial enough to stand against the richness of the ingredients. I don’t eat dessert, but this was so good that I went for seconds the next day.
Two days later, our office held their monthly corporate lunch. We ordered chicken tenders from Strip Joint Chicken. I ordered Hotty Honey ($13.50). The batter was mouthwatering – I liked how it was crusty, with a heavy crunchy batter. The sweet fermented pepper honey and jalapenos were similar in flavour to ginger beef but with a heady cheesiness from the shaved parmigiano reggiano.
L would have appreciated the quality of the chicken, which was white breast meat. B ordered the Big Parma, and his chicken tenders looked even better, loaded with noodles, basil and mozzarella. He said it was delicious. M ordered the Chicken Tender Poutine ($12.75), which he enjoyed but mentioned the fries were too salty. I chatted with Video, and she commented her poutine was good but overly salted. I noticed both M and Video didn’t finish their food. I wanted to take pictures of everyone’s dish but thought it was too soon.
I haven’t worked out once since I started my new job, and I have to get back on it. I don’t want to stop eating all this delicious food. Hitting the Sauce gives her snugger-fitting clothes two phat thumbs down.
I snagged tickets to Juice Import’s second-ever Pinot Fest ($50). Bricks Wine Co. sent an email recommending guests to eat beforehand due to the anticipated massive selection of wines. I invited Sunflower as my guest, as she is my number-one wine buddy. She, in turn, insisted on treating me to brunch a Deane House. Let’s listen to “Take Me To Church” by Hazier for this post.
We sat in the peaceful nook by the windows. The natural light filtering through the windows illuminated the white framed walls in the historic building. We both ordered the specialty mimosas ($13), I tried the house-made apple, and Sunflower chose the cherry flavour.
I was craving seafood, so I ordered the Salt Spring Island Mussels ($24) while Sunflower ordered eggs benny with potato rösti and house preserves ($18).
The mussels were of varying sizes – some were supersized and plump, and others more petite. The thick garam masala sauce made reddish-brown splotches on my white linen napkin. The shoestring fries were tasty and crisp, similar to Mcdonald’s but superior in caramelized potatoey flavour. Delicious, and a different take on the usual moules frites.
The service at Deane House is top-notch, from the welcoming committee at the front of the house to every employee we encountered. It’s a darling spot, and I enjoyed the experience.
When we finished our food, we walked over to Bricks Wine Co. Our group was divided into two sections: bubbles and the red wine section. Like everyone in our group, I wanted to start in the champagne area. I pulled Sunflower to the front of the group because I predicted Juice Import co-owners Erik and Mark would remove the extra guests from the back. As usual, I was correct, and Sunflower and I scored the first part of the tasting in the bubbles section.
The crowd was different from the usual Sunday gang. I recognized only one Juice Import groupie, Coke. I spotted a woman who resembled the profile picture of a Calgary Herald food writer. I also recognized a bearded guy who was dining at the Deane House the same time as Sunflower and me.
In total, we sampled 22 wines. There was so much to try, so out of the necessity of not turning this post into a novel, I’m only going to highlight my favourite bottles. For fizz, we tried three bottles: Adn De Meunier Mignon Champagne ($76.95), Vigne D’Or Tarlant Champagne ($104.95) and Vigne D’Or Tarlant Champagne ($201.95).
Erik described Adn De Meunier Mignon as “tight, fresh and minerally.” I enjoyed the gentle carbonation and thought it was a tad tart. The more I drank, the more I liked this one.
Sunflower and I loved the Migne D’Or Tarlant. She commented on the creamy mouthfeel, and I enjoyed the prominent carbonation. Coke announced if there was ever a time to eat potato chips now, it would now. I walked over to the bowl and scooped some potato chips for Sunflower and me to munch on.
At two hundred buckaroos, I was most curious about the Vigne D’Or Tarlant. Erik informed us the region was the coldest area in the Champagne area. Aged since 2006, we were surprised by the smoky flavour. Erik commented this champagne was “grippingly acidic.”
We moved on to white wines: Franz Weninger Feherburgundi ($29.71), Maloof Thistle Pinot Gris ($42.95), and Field Blend A Sunday in August ($45.96). I liked the Feherburgundi so much that I bought a bottle. The colour was cloudy and it smelled a little of the forest. Erik described this wine as minty, waxy, tart and lemony. Erik suggested pairing this wine with white asparagus or pork sausage.
At this point, I started to feel woozy. I followed the lead of the lady standing beside me. She sipped, smacked her lips, and spat into the wine spit bucket. She made a neat pinging sound, while my first few attempts sounded more like a cough and sputter.
We tried three orange wines: Maloof Rouge De Cris ($44.50), Craven Pinot Gris ($35.96), and Else Pinot Gris ($46.95). The Craven wine was a stunner. The colour shone like a Christmas red stained glass window. Erik described this wine as approachable, meaning the flavours would be familiar to a North American audience. I tasted a hint of smoke. I snagged a bottle for an upcoming dinner party.
Our final tasting with Erik was Peter Wetzer Rose ($35). Almost all the 120 bottles that Juice Import received were sold to Bridgette Bar. He only had two bottles left to sell to us. I took a sip and was so impressed by the smooth, sweet flavour that I snuck away from the group and bought a bottle. Coke saw me and grabbed the remaining bottle.
Everyone was loud and merry when we switched to Mark’s section of red wines. I overheard my new friend Kat ask another woman if she was Elizabeth Chorney-Booth, the Calgary Herald food restaurant and CBC radio columnist. She confirmed she was, and Kat squealed in delight. Kat declared she was a fan girl of Chorney-Booth. Others chimed in with questions about restaurants, John Gilchrist and her writing style.
The first three pinots that we tried were the Claire Naudin La Plante ($40.95), Lighting Rock Elysia Pinot Noir ($54.95), and Lighting Rock Canyon View Pinot Noir ($54.95). Sunflower and I enjoyed La Plante. I managed to score one of the last two bottles.
Our table was boisterous, and everyone made side conversations throughout the tasting. I felt bad for Mark, who was valiantly trying to quiet us down and proceed with our wine tasting. I’ve been to more than six Juice Import Sunday tastings, but this was the first time the tasters spoke more than the presenters. We talked so much that a Bricks employee, who was pouring our wine, joked about hurrying up and chugging our fifty-dollar wines because we were running out of time and the next group was coming in.
Mark described how at one winery, he helped harvest the grapes. Sunflower asked about the hygienic practice of crushing grapes. Someone asked, did one have to shave their legs or clip their nails before commencing grape crushing? Mark tried to bring our rowdy laughter down and described the physical work that went into grape-crushing. Sunflower exclaimed that it sounded like a great workout. Coke heckled Sunflower and called her Miss Lululemon. You know, he’s on to something. She’s so fit, it’s intimidating. Hereon, I will refer to my friend as Lululemon.
Franz Weninger Pinot Noir ($38.95), Marnes Blanches Pinot Noir ($54.95) and Hermit Ram Zealand Pinot Noir ($41.95) was the last trio of wines. Lululemon and I enjoyed the Franz Weninger Pinot Noir. I also bought one of the only two bottles of Marnes Blanches Pinot Noir. I thought this French beauty had a beautiful scent. Mark described thee wine as aromatic, with black tea notes. He recommended pairing this wine with goat cheese and strawberries. Coke suggested a strawberry shortcake.
Elizabeth said she found the Hermit Ram wine spicy. Everyone at the table nodded in unison. Mark described the scent as tomato leaves. Lululemon and I sniffed and agreed it smelled like fresh garden tomatoes.
Many of the wines we tried are exclusive to the Bricks Store, and all the wines we tried were biodynamic and natural. I’m glad I got the opportunity to attend a power tasting as the Pinot-Fest was a rare wine rager. Thanks Mark, Eric and Erin for hosting the twice sold out event.
On my first day of work, my boss MRP took me out for lunch. He suggested ramen at Goro + Gun, conveniently located minutes from our office. For this post, let’s listen to “Feel So Good” by Mase.
MRP ordered the Tonkatsu Ramen ($18) and the Steamed Buns ($10). I asked our server if she favoured the Tuna Poke ($16) over the Veggie Roll ($13), as I was unsure what to order. MRP encouraged me to get both, which solved my dilemma.
MRP said he always orders the buns whenever he comes to Goro + Gun. These little buns overflow with deliciousness. The warm bun was soft and squishy, soaking up the juicy braised pork filling. My tastebuds danced from the sweet, sour and savoury notes of the BBQ mayonnaise and chilled pickled root vegetables. The steamed buns are worth ordering again.
The flavour combination of Goro + Gun’s poke is better than fast food joints, such as Banzai and Po-ke. What I loved about this dish was the delicate sheet of paper-like rice cracker that tasted like a freshly fried shrimp chip. Along with chunks of ahi tuna, the poke came with crunchy fried onion bits, pea shoots, cucumber, creamy cubes of avocado and chewy pieces of seaweed. The sauce was zingy and bright. I would order this again.
The veggie roll was hefty, as the filling and the amount of rice were generous. The dominant flavour came from the grilled king oyster, which was meaty and satiny. The crunchy cucumber, pickled vegetables and creamy avocado brightened the flavour profile. The sushi rice was a tad sour, but it wasn’t a dealbreaker.
The next day, everyone in our office went ice skating and snacked on churros and hot chocolate. When the office social committee organizer, Miss K, discovered I’m obsessed with banhi mis, she said we could order Vietnamese subs for our next event. I looked at her like she hung the moon and stars, because she can. Hitting the Sauce gives her office two phat thumbs up.
Last Sunday, Sunflower and I attended a natural wine tasting ($25) at Bricks Wine Store. Juice Import co-owner Erik Mercier showcased wines from Dormilona, a woman-led winery in Margaret River, Western Australia. For this post, let’s listen to “French Disko” by Stereolab.
An interesting fact about winemaking in Australia and the wine owner / maker Josephine Perry. The seasons in the Southern Hemisphere are the opposite of the Northern Hemisphere. Josephine hops back and forth between Western Australia and the Northern Hemisphere and doubles the wine she can make. Furthermore, the harvest times in Australia is from January-February and March-April in New Zealand, which allows her to add a third harvest.
Josephine’s intense work ethic results in a dawn-to-dusk schedule. Being so busy means she rests when she can and is known for falling asleep at the dining table. This drowsy habit turned into her moniker, wine label and the name of her winery. Dormilona translates to “lazy bones,” and a sleepy skeleton is the motif.
The first wine we tried was a 2022 Crum Pet ($44.95). Erik described this sparkling wine as friendly and clean, with tangy lemon zest. Erik noted this wine is bottled while still fermenting, resulting in a naturally sparkling wine.
The 2020 Chardonnay ($53.96) had a strong scent with a pleasant aftertaste. Erik mentioned the grapes come from an impeccable biodynamic farm called Burnside Farm, and the method of dry farming results in highly concentrated grapes. He likes the soft texture and gentleness of the 2021 chardonnay. I found this wine a little buttery.
The grapes from the 2021 Clayface Chardonnay ($75.95) come from the same vineyard as the previous wine we tried, except only the very best fruit is used for this vintage. Sunflower tasted kumquat, while Erik described clementine. I say potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto. Erik mentioned this is Josephine’s top chardonnay cuvée, with only 45 cases produced and each bottle hand numbered.
The next wine, a 2022 Clayface Chenin Blanc ($75.95), is even rarer, and Juice Import’s first-ever allocation of Josephine’s top chenin blanc, with only 25 cases produced. There are only six bottles of the 2022 Clayface Chenin Blanc in Calgary and six in Edmonton. Erik sniffed, sipped and sighed that this was a crazy good flavour.
My favourite wine is the 2022 Yokel Rosé ($35.59). I’m not usually a rosé fan, but this was just sumptuous. Erik thought there was plenty of structure, complexity and nuance. The grenache grapes are farmed from the hottest commercial region in Australia. I bought three bottles of the rosé.
The 2022 Yokel Grenache ($38.95) is Erik’s favourite in the lineup. He tasted cherry pie, cherry danish and fresh cherries. Sunflower tasted blood orange. Sunflower and I both bought a bottle of the grenache.
The last wine we sampled was the 2021 Cabernet Sauvignon ($68.95). Erik called this an “intense, luxurious, but not heavy.” I bought a bottle for my sister Me Shell, who’s visiting me in July. I know her taste, and she would love this style of wine.
Erik should consider becoming a full-time wine lecturer. I don’t know if there is a university for natural wines, but he should look into it. His passion is so evident you can hear it in his voice and see it in his eyes. I’m looking forward to the next Juice Import event, a raging, sold-out Pinotfest.
Before our wine-tasting event at Bricks Wine Co, Sunflower generously treated me to brunch. She initially suggested Deane House, but I remembered Lina’s Italian Market opened a new location in Inglewood, which I wanted to check out. For this post, let’s listen to “We Can’t Stop” by Miley Cyrus.
We wandered over to the kitchen side of the store and learned there is a cafeteria-like area where you can pick what you want to eat and a cafe section. Sunflower commented on the pretty green wallpaper and the cozy and quaint-looking booths. I’d typically order a coffee at an Italian cafe, but I was jonesing to celebrate and opted for a glass of white wine ($13) instead. Sunflower ordered a Bellini ($15). We shared the Deluxe Mushroom Calzone ($16) and the Potato Apple Smoked Caciocavallo Frico ($18).
Our server picked a lovely white wine for me – it wasn’t the rough table wine that some markets serve. I would order the wine again, however, it was Sunflower’s bellini that kicked some serious ass. The flavour was so freaking delicious, floral and refreshing. This drink was so superb; it made Milestone / Cactus Club bellini taste like a 7/11 slushy.
Evenly browned throughout and freshly baked, the calzone’s crust was light and thin. The filling consisted of bocconcini and what looked like Beech mushrooms. The ragu was bold and intensely tomatoey, with a hint of rosemary.
Sunflower’s dish was so good! The potato pancake was lacey and delicate, with a toasty crunch. Sunflower thought the smoked cheese tasted similar to bacon. I loved the onions’ deep flavour and the creaminess of the orange-yellow yolk.
Lina’s has warm vibes. The staff are friendly and happy to chat about their products. Someone stopped by our table to offer us a sample of Italian beer you can only buy at Lina’s. Our server showed us the white peach puree they use and sell in the store.
After we ate, Sunflower and I marvelled at the imported goods and selection of cheeses. She bought some dried mushrooms, and I picked up some bread, fresh basil, dill and mint leaves. We also bought four bottles of the white peach puree to make bellinis at home. Lina’s is a welcome addition to Inglewood and will be a frequent stop for me.
I accepted a position in a cool, entirely new (to me) industry! To mark this happy event, L and I went out to celebrate. I wanted to go somewhere fun and boisterous to unleash my glee with gay abandon. I immediately thought of OMO Teppan & Kitchen. For this post, let’s listen to “Worth It” by Fifth Harmony.
OMO specializes in teppanyaki, a cooking style involving a chef who cooks your food on the grill, along with some entertaining displays of fire and knife skills. In Calgary, there are three teppanyaki restaurants, Japanese Village, OMO Teppan and Kitchen and Tobe Teppanyaki Lounge. Japanese Village is the oldest, with a reputation for curt servers and being rushed to finish your meal. Tobe is the newest, located in Deerfoot City. OMO has been around for about five years and has over a thousand glowing Google reviews raving about the fun entertainment.
As we walked in, the most delicious smells wrapped around us. I was surprised that at 5:30 pm, the restaurant was already full of families. Robots zoomed in the background, bringing chefs meats and vegetables. Periodically, a recording of a birthday song would pop up in the background noise. While we sat and waited for our table, we watched a chef delight small kids with tricks and shouts of “party, party!”.
Our server Ari asked our table if we were celebrating a special occasion. I mentioned I accepted a new job. Another person was celebrating a birthday. The other four were a family, and even though they didn’t say so, it looked like they were meeting the daughter’s boyfriend for the first time.
We ordered a Sake Bomb ($9), Asahi ($9), Wagyu Gyoza 5 pcs ($10), Japanese Wagyu Sushi (2 pcs, $25), Brant Lake Wagyu Sushi (2 pcs, $12), New York Steak 6oz ($40) and Rib Eye 10 oz ($58). All the teppanyaki meals include a shrimp appetizer, soup, salad, grilled vegetables, rice and ice cream.
The Wagyu gyoza is worth ordering again. Be careful, as these dumplings are messy. Hot juices would squirt onto the table when I bit into the plump gyoza. The beef tasted rich and intensely flavoured. L noted the liberal amount of spicy chili oil in the meat filling.
The Brandt Lake wagyu nigiri was leaner and had a cleaner flavour profile than Japanese wagyu. Of the two, I prefer Japanese wagyu for its tender, silky texture and deeper flavour. Next time, I would opt for OMO’s number one-selling sushi, the Flying Dragon Roll ($23).
When Chef Kenny arrived at our table, I knew we were in for a treat. First, his sharp eyes cooly assessed our table, taking everything in. Next, he carefully stretched out his muscular, tattooed arms and kindly greeted everyone, customers and staff. Then, he started the show.
Chef Kenny exhibited impressive juggling skills with sharp objects and fire. He fired broccoli pieces into our mouths, flinging each piece with his spatula like a missile. Birthday Boy and his spouse caught it. What a power couple. Even though Chef Kenny had a great aim, both L and I missed; somehow, the broccoli bounced off my mouth. I told L we needed to practice our food-catching skills at home.
Watching Chef Kenny cook the rest of our food was a delight. Birthday Boy was so excited when Chef Kenny generously squirted his beef with a sauce he shouted in encouragement, “Yeahhhh! Yeahhhh!” Wow, he sure likes his sauce! The Father ordered fried rice, and it was neat to see Chef Kenny crack an egg and then toss it back and forth through the air like a hacky sack.
Chef Kenny nailed our food. The vegetables were hot and crunchy from the grill and well seasoned with fresh pepper. L doesn’t like mushrooms, and he even ate them. Part of the magical flavour of the food is the amount of garlic butter Chef Kenny used. He caught my expression when he put a huge chunk of butter on my steak; he reassured me and joked, “Don’t worry – it’s good cholesterol.”
My ribeye was rich and buttery in texture, a perfect medium rare. The New York is less moist and rich than ribeye, but it has a beefier flavour and more of a chew to it. I enjoyed the “magic sauce” side, which tasted like a yummy blend of sesame oil, soy, mustard and mayonnaise. I would get the ribeye and NY steak again, though I might try the filet mignon on my next visit.
Birthday Boy at our table got cake and a song. Ari asked me if I wanted a cake and apologetically informed me that they didn’t have a song to sing for a new job. Instead, Ari offered to take our picture to remember the night.
Throughout the evening, I observed all the staff working as a team to ensure customers were happy and entertained, particularly the children. We also had a genuinely good time and enjoyed the food. Hitting the Sauce gives OMO, Chef Kenny and Ari two phat thumbs up.
On Valentine’s Day, I wanted Vietnamese food to reel in Banh Mi Date #13. L was game. He just requested to avoid any place that would be chaotic. For this post, let’s listen to “Real Love Baby” by Father John Misty.
I picked Pho 99 based on MJ Leung’s review on Calgary Food – Food YYC. The restaurant was previously Ricky’s, so it has an old-school family chain vibe. It was quiet and peaceful on a Tuesday at 11:30 am, just as L desired. By noon, it was busier, with customers dining in and placing orders to go.
We requested two Saigon beers ($7.50), Deep-Fried Pork Spring Rolls ($8.25), Self-Wrap Rolls ($19.25), and a Grilled Lemongrass and Sate Beef Submarine ($9.95). After we ordered, I spotted the number four at our table, which is bad luck in Chinese culture. Whoops. Good thing I’m not superstitious.
The water and rice wrappers for our platter came out before our appetizer. I noticed the water was only lukewarm, so when our wrap and roll platter arrived 15 minutes later, I asked if we could get the water replaced with hot water. If the water isn’t warm enough, I find the wrapper gummy and challenging to wrap.
The pork spring rolls were hot, crunchy, and slender, resembling Romeo Y Julieta mini cigars. I could see minced carrots and noodles in the creamy filling. The nuoc cham (dipping sauce) wasn’t overly sweet, and the smell and taste of fish sauce were subtle.
You can pick various combinations for the wrap and roll platter. We chose the special prawns, lemongrass chicken, and sate beef. Our plate contained a heaping pile of glistening vegetables: romaine lettuce, basil, carrots, onions, and cucumbers. The vermicelli was laced with crushed peanuts and cooked green onions. The noodles were noticeably springy, with a jiggly mouthfeel. If you like Cuty’s wrap and roll combo, you’ll love Pho 99’s version.
The shrimp was large and toothsome. The chicken was well-marinaded and generously proportioned. Of the three proteins, the clear winner was the sate beef. Oh my goodness – the wok hei flavour in the meat was so overwhelmingly delicious. The sauce wasn’t too sweet, and the meat was perfectly tender. I would get the beef wrap and roll platter again.
Historically, L and I disagree about who makes the best banh mi in Calgary. It seems fitting that we finally agreed on February 14, 2023, that Pho 99 makes our favourite beef sate sub. Lightly toasted, the bread is soft enough that your teeth sink in without scraping the skin on the roof of your mouth. L liked there wasn’t an abundance of mayonnaise or sweet sauces. Instead, the beauty of this sub was how damn good the beef taste – generously layered, charred and smoky from the wok.
Size-wise, Pho 99’s sub is bigger than Kim Anh and Trung Nguyen. The bread is softer than Soc Trang but on par with the freshness of MyMy Sub. By far, the texture and flavour of Pho 99’s beef is superior to Saigon Deli and To Me Sub . However, I prefer Banh Mi Nhu Y yellow mayonnaise, which adds a velvety texture. Thi Thi still wins in the vegetable department, serving up the best pickled carrots, onions, chilies and cucumber ribbons.
I mentioned to our server how much I enjoyed the beef sate wrap and banh mi. He stated that Pho 99 is known for its stir fry and that William from Vietnam Daily gave them a high rating. Based on the wok hei of the beef, I’m sure the stir fry is excellent. L and I are looking forward to returning and trying other beef dishes. Hitting the Sauce gives Pho 99 two phat thumbs up, and makes it on my list of Best Restaurants in YYC.
I discovered a new gem in my neighbourhood. Erina is a Balkan bakery specializing in eastern European treats, such as Burek ($6), Albanian Bread ($4.50), and my absolute favourite – Pitalka ($1.50). For this post, let’s listen to “Other Side of Town” by Sam Doores and Alynda Segarra.
Burek is a baked phyllo pastry with either spinach, potato, meat or cheese. I’ve tried the meat and cheese version. Of the two, I prefer the latter, as it reminds me of a grilled cheese sandwich. The thin tissues of the dough are chewy, while the crisp nut-brown exterior crackles when you bite into the pastry. L mentioned the cheese burek evoked memories of the breakfast pastries we ate in Greece. I prefer the end pieces because I enjoy the delightfully fragile crunchiness.
The size of a small plate, one single pitalka is large enough for two large sandwiches or four mini snacks. I love the sensation of cutting into the bread and seeing the voluminous air bubbles inside. The texture is soft yet chewy, as there’s a resistance when you try to tear a piece off. The smell reminds me of pizza crust baked in an authentic Italian fire oven. Bread like this is a wondrous miracle.
To date, I’ve tried Erina’s sourdough, baguette and Albanian bread. Of the three, I prefer the Albanian loaf, as the tissue is soft yet toothsome. The sourdough and baguette are good, but I like bread with a supple and yielding texture. On my next visit, I plan to try the potato bread.
Erina also sells desserts, ćevapi (minced sausage), bread sticks, cheese bread, and Nutella buns. You can buy the burek and ćevapi frozen to bake at home. Check them out, and you won’t be disappointed. Hitting the Sauce gives Erina two phat thumbs up.
Bex.oxo is becoming a regular at Juice Import’s events! We recently attended the Milan Nestarec wine tasting ($25) at Bricks Wine Co, another sold-out event. For this post, let’s listen to “Fly Me to the Moon” by The Macarons Project.
I noticed that our fervent host, Juicee Import co-owner Erik Mercier, has a formula for each class. He likes to begin by delving into the background of each winemaker’s ethos, the sustainability of their farms, and winemaking philosophy. In the case of Milan Nestarec, a winemaker in the Czech Republic, he also spun an intriguing history lesson.
Milan Nestarec hails from Moravia, the Czech Republic’s most southern wine region. In the post-communism era in Moravia, the government restricted winemakers to only selling wine and grapes in bulk to the state-run cooperative winery. As one can only expect when the focus is on quantity, there was no incentive to produce top-quality wines. Instead, chemical farming became the norm, and thousands of years of the country’s winemaking tradition and history were almost lost.
That’s where 30-year-old Milan comes into play. When he was growing up, wine was something to consume after dinner rather than with the meal because the quality of wine was so poor. Milan didn’t want the wine culture to die, so he began producing some of the most compelling wines in the Czech Republic. He’s succeeded. Internationally, he has reached fame in New York, London, and Tokyo. Erik noted that sommeliers regularly battle for his limited-production wines.
I’m always amazed at natural wines’ vivid colours, which shine through the glass like liquid gemstones. Our first tasting was Danger 380 ($47.75), a sparkling wine. Erik retold the story of when Milan first made sparkling wine, a total of 5,000 bottles. Unfortunately, too much sugar resulted in each bottle exploding in his basement. The experience delayed his second trial for five years. Now, his sparkling wine is the sought-after in his line-up. I found Danger 380 light and refreshing, reminiscent of grapefruit, but also with a unique flavour. Aptly named, this wine is dangerous. Bex.oxo called this the perfect jubilation bubbly. I agreed and bought two bottles for the upcoming celebrations.
The second tasting, 2020 Forks and Knives White ($44.95) offered a ton of flavour. I found this wine pleasant, with a tang that tickled the back of my throat. Milan uses only the aromatic grape varieties in the Forks and Knives White: Grüner Veltliner, Welschriesling, and Neuburger. Erik commented on the wine’s beautiful acidity and earthy, broth-like quality.
Bex.oxo and I enjoyed the aromatic notes in the rosé – 2021 Ruz ($36.95). The colour was similar to strawberry juice. This wine, and the following two bottles, contain a litre, making it a mini-magnum. I knew my friends Kournikova and Fougui would love this wine, so I bought two bottles. I asked Erik what food would pair with the Ruz. A Juice Imports regular, Coke, piped up and said it would pair with Tuesday. Everyone laughed but me, as I have a friend named Tuesday, and for a second, I thought he knew her too. Erik recommended pairing salmon poke or watermelon and feta salad.
The flavour of the 2021 Okr ($40.95) stood out. And what an interesting fragrance! I smelled lycee. Bex.oxo didn’t take to this wine, so she gave me her glass to finish. Erik described this wine as wild, with savoury notes like curry leaves. I bought a bottle for Sunflower as she’s into orange wines and funky flavours.
We tried a red wine next, a 2021 Nach ($36.95). Erik informed us that Nach is the Czech word for “purple,” representing this youthful wine’s colour. Erik described Nach as bright, juicy and fresh. Milan wanted to create something low-key and easy to drink to share with his neighbours. I could taste pepper. Bex.oxo gave me her glass to drink, so I double-fisted my tasting again.
Bex.oxo and I enjoyed the 2020 Forks and Knives Red ($45.95). Erik exclaimed there is tons of structure in the wine. When he sipped, he envisioned jazz music and tall white candles burning. I wanted to buy a bottle, but at this point, I had already surpassed my budget, so I had to tap out.
The last bottle, ATYP #1 ($51.95), is made from a blend of all Milan’s varieties: red and white co-fermentation of Blaufränkisch, Portugieser, Sankt Laurent, Muscat, Grüner Veltliner, as well as others. ATYP #1 is a hard-to-find wine, as only 166 cases were produced.
The fragrance was so pretty, Bex.oxo whispered she wanted to make a candle out of the scent and burn it all night. I thought this was a wild, silky wine. When I asked Erik to describe the flavour and aroma, he laughed and said it smelled like grapes or jam. He could taste dark fruit, such as Saskatoon berries, but with a light body.
Something terrible happened to me after the tasting. The next day when I sipped on a glass of wine, I almost spat it out. Compared to what I tasted the day before, my usual house wine tasted like vinegar. Financially, I miss the days when I could enjoy a glass of Apothic.