Greece

Santorini – Day four

We had our second breakfast in a row at Svoronos Bakery. This time, I found the staff unpleasant, except for the barista. I could tell from the staff’s tone and vibe that we were not valued customers. I ordered iced lattes, but we got hot lattes instead. Not a big deal, but there was so much sugar in my drink I couldn’t finish it. My spanakopita was a corner piece, and the end piece of the pastry was hard and gummy. L noticed they charged him two more euros than in our previous visit. For this post, let’s listen to Zorba’s Dance.

After breakfast, we walked down the Karavolades Stairs. There were donkeys you could rent for the ride up or down. I noticed the donkeys roam wherever they wanted to, and L was worried I would be trodden on or kicked by the animals. He would periodically shout out, “Watch it! He’s going kick you.” Every time he warned me, I would freeze up. I know L was only looking out for me, but as the stairs are narrow, there isn’t much I could do but stand there in a panic. I could either back up or tentatively walk past the donkey. We took the cable car up and walked around the top of the Thira, past all the restaurants overlooking the cliffs of Fira. L said he wanted us to have dinner at one of the restaurants for our last night. I took pictures of the names and said I would look each one up before we decided on the restaurant. 

My colleague Congenial left Santorini the day before I arrived, and she told me to check out Obelix. I wished I had listened to her. Instead, we went to Yogi’s second location. Our food took a long time to come. A server dropped off some limp pita and dip, then added the charge to our final bill. I should have realized it wasn’t free. Our gyro wasn’t as fresh as Yogi’s location in the Square. Also, I found the owner surly.

L and I took the public bus to the Museum of Prehistoric Thira. Afterwards, we checked Red Beach and stopped at Anhydrous Winery for a tasting.

For our dinner, I vetoed all the Caldera view restaurants because when I cross-checked the Tripadvisor reviews with Google’s user comments, I saw too much discrepancy. Particularly, I wasn’t keen on the frequency of comments about the general rudeness of the staff at these restaurants. Instead, I booked a table at Parea Tavern, which was recommended by our hotel.

Our table had a view, but more importantly, the service was warm and friendly. We shared the Santorini Salad (€10), Fried Cheese (€9), Calamari (16), a glass of wine (7) and a Mythos (4). 

I was interested in the shrimp spaghetti dish, but I didn’t order it because I wanted something lighter. I saw a woman on a date order it, and I couldn’t stop ogling the jumbo-sized grilled shrimp on her dish. She was doing most of the talking, and her date kept nodding or saying one-word responses. I told L that I noticed she never once talked about her meal. Yes, I was eavesdropping. I stopped staring at her shrimp because she started to glance over at me. 

I adored the Santorini salad. The bread was light and crunchy, seasoned with garlic and salt. The feta cheese was soft and cool. Our bowl was piled high with marinated cucumbers, sweet tomatoes, capers, and lettuce.

The fried cheese was excellent. I loved the delicate batter, with its papery crunch. The cheese itself was smooth, stringy and hot. The marinara sauce was zesty and didn’t overwhelm the cheese’s nutty flavour. I would order this again.

The calamari was tasty, but it tasted like it was cooked in older oil. The cool breeze also prematurely cooled the calamari halfway through our meal. Flavour-wise, I think Meraki uses a higher quality squid. Having said that, Parea’s calamari is better than anything I can get back home. Overall, we were happy with our experience, and looking forward to continuing our vacation in Naxos.

Restaurants

Santorini – Day three

I suggested to L that we check out Svoronos Bakery for breakfast. I read Google reviews about the poor service, so I was interested to experience the outcome. I’m always curious about rudeness. Let’s listen to “Full Catastrophe” by Mikis Theodorakis for this post. 

When we entered the bakery, an employee instantly greeted us in English. She was friendly enough and offered to explain any items to us. However, I saw another older employee give us a dirty look. I heard about the evil eye, but this was the first time I experienced it in Greece. I felt like telling her don’t hate the player, hate the game, but I figured the meaning would be lost in translation.

We asked for two iced lattes (€2), spanakopita (€2) and a random pastry for L (€2). The iced latte was so good. The espresso was rich and thick that no sugar or additional flavouring was needed. L told me that he was informed places like Starbucks and McDonald’s aren’t popular in Greece. I can taste why this is true.

The spanakopita was crunchy on the outside and loaded with warm, creamy spinach filling. I could taste a little dill and feta. Our breakfast was only €8, so I figured it was worth the stink-eye from the matron of the bakery.

 For lunch, we checked out Yogi’s. The pork gyro (€3.60) overflowed with fries, tzatziki, tomatoes and onions. Compared to Nick’s, Yogi’s was more filling and cheaper. However, the flavour of the meat at Nick’s was superior, while Yogi’s had the fluffier, fresher pita. 

I wanted to give L a break from all the organizing and planning, so I booked a Santorini Highlights Tour. Usually, these excursions aren’t his style, but I knew he would enjoy turning his mind off and enjoying the ride. 

Our tour guide Will was spectacular. He livened up our experience by making us comfortable and entertained. He even took cheesy photos of each of us at all the landmarks. I felt like a happy teenager. It always impresses me when I meet someone who excels at their profession. I noticed that everyone left him a well-deserved tip.

Will mentioned to us that one restaurant he recommends is Meraki. So I told him we went there the previous night. He asked how I discovered it, as it is a hidden gem. I didn’t want to bother explaining how I live to eat and hate overpaying, so I changed the subject.

After our excursion, L wanted to go back to Meraki. We ordered a Greek salad (€7), calamari (€10.50), fava (€7), eggplant saganaki (€8.00), Alfa beer (€4.00) and white wine (€4.00, half a litre).

The vegetables in the Greek salad were crunchy and fresh. The feta arrived in a thick slab. The cheese was soft enough to break apart with a gentle poke of my fork and generous enough to be eaten with every ripe piece of tomato. 

The calamari arrived hot and crispy. We both thought the squid was over-salted, but we enjoyed it almost as much as the previous night. 

The eggplant was unique because I wasn’t expecting the overpowering flavour of nutmeg. The eggplant was soft and blended with feta cheese and tomato sauce. I think this dish was overcooked in the oven. The sauce was far too dry.

Our tour guide recommended the fava, which is a famous local product. The texture was soft and wet. I can’t describe what I tasted, as the flavour profile was so unique. 

We were stuffed, and I barely even touched my wine. Still, we left giddy and exhausted from the festivities of the day. If you go to Santorini, I highly recommend booking with Will.

Greece

Santorini – Day two

We landed after midnight in Santorini. After we dropped our luggage at our hotel, we decided to head to the Square for a bite to eat. For this post, let’s listen to Giannis Parios Ikariotiko.

L’s favourite Greek snack is a gyro (YEE-row). I, of course, had already cross-checked each note-worthy eatery in Santorini. So when we walked by all the gyro joints, I was familiar with their Google and Tripadvisor reviews. We picked Nick the Grill because there were some tables open for us. Yogi and Lucky’s were within 300 metres of our table, which are rated higher than Nick’s. 

We each ordered a pork gyro (€3.90) and a Mythos beer (€3.00). I figured the nearby nightclub and bars had just closed because we observed a parade of red-faced, dazed people stumble past. One British gentleman bumbled up to the counter and said some incoherent words. The employee rolled her eyes, handed him a menu, and then helped him select a combo meal. 

After five minutes, our food was ready. The pita was fluffy and crispy on the outside. The pork was sliced thin, juicy and tasted of the grill. I would have preferred a bit more tzatziki, but in hindsight, too much sauce would mask the pronounced flavour of the white onions and meat.

 I can see why L loves gyros so much. You get something far more delicious and fresh for less than the price of a Big Mac. I’m also a fan of Mythos. It’s a clean, light and well-balanced beer. 

The next day, we wandered around Fira and admired the breathtaking views of the blue water and sky. The beauty was almost worth suffering through the crowds of selfie-taking tourists and the annoyance of avoiding the rampant quads speeding through the tightly packed streets. Santorini is stunning, but it is so overcrowded with poorly behaved tourists that I wouldn’t recommend coming here over Athens or Naxos.

For dinner, we dined at Meraki, a restaurant known for authentic and inexpensive seafood. We ordered fried zucchini (€6.50), saganaki (€7), fried squid (€11), and beets (€5). For beverages, L drank Alfa beer (€4.00, 500 ml), and I ordered half a litre of house white wine (€5.00). 

The fried cheese’s exterior was crunchy, and the interior was soft, with a slight chew. The honey was light and sweet, while the nuts added a toastiness to each bite. L enjoyed the saganaki so much that we order this at almost every subsequent dinner. 

The batter on the zucchini was so light it reminded me of tempura. The zucchini tasted like it was just plucked from a garden. The flesh was so sweet and juicy and melted on your tongue. This dish is worth ordering again. 

The calamari was so delicious that L declared it the best he’s ever had. The squid wasn’t heavily battered, which allowed you to enjoy the toothsome texture.

For dessert, we ordered a chocolate biscuit with whipped cream. The dessert was simple and not overly sweet. Our server told us it was homemade and similar to a cookie.

The service was genuinely warm and hospitable. We were treated to raki, their homemade liquor, when we were finished. I thought it was tasty, as the spice reminded me of a cinnamon bun. We enjoyed our food so much that we vowed to come again. Part two of Meraki coming soon…

Greece · Restaurants

Athens – Day one

I met up with L in Athens, Greece. After sampling the food for only 10 days, I can confidently state that the food in Greece surpasses what I’ve consumed as a tourist in Japan, France, and Italy. For this post, let’s listen to “The Children of Piraeus, Never On a Sunday” by Nana Mouskouri

L had already spent time in Athens, so he brought me to his favourite tavern, Old Tavern of Psarras, for a snack and drink before our flight to Santorini. Greece has changed L. He now enjoys tzatziki, olives, dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) and feta. I know why because, in Greece, everything tastes better than what we can get in Canada. 

We picked a spot in the shade and ordered two appetizers and a Mythos beer. I never liked yogurt until I tried it in Greece. The tzatziki (€4.50) has a thick, dense velvety texture and a fresh, light flavour. Our dip was zesty and herby from the dill and cucumber, the perfect foil to the warm, salty pita bread. 

The leaves on the dolmades (€4.50) were so soft and warm that even biting into the grape leaves was a sensual experience. The rice mixture was creamy and bright with infused flavour. L mentioned the food goes well with the hot climate. For dessert, L wanted to visit his go-to bakery, Tzatzos S.A

We walked over to Tzatzos and sat on the patio. L ordered two baklavas (€2) and two more beers (€3).

Holy smokes – the baklava at Tzatzos makes everything else I’ve tried before taste like sawdust. The honey was so light and sweet, more like nectar than the heavy stuff I’m used to in Calgary, Savino Pizzeria being the exception. The pistachios and almonds were toasty with a wood-like spice and the layers of phyllo pastry were light and brittle. 

Oh my Zeus, if I can eat this well as a tourist, imagine what you access as a local! L said in the last five days he was in Athens, he never experienced a bad meal. I know when L travels, he doesn’t research where to eat, so I could only expect even greater things to come.

Restaurants

Laurent Cazottes – Vine Arts

My buddy Chen is in town! I invited him to my newest addiction, a spirit tasting ($30) by Juice Imports at Vine Styles. I told Chen this was a rare event, as there are less than 30 bottles of each cuvée in Alberta. For this post, let’s listen to “We’re Are Going to Be Friends” by The White Stripes.

Erik was showcasing seven different spirits and liqueurs from Laurent Cazottes. Located in Tarn, France, Laurent Cozottes is a small farm with only 10-20 hectares of land. Erik told us that “eau de vie” means fruit distillment. He describes eau de vie as wine-like but with the spirit of fruit. Erik has a way with words.

We were treated to Fleurs de Sureau mixed with bubbles (Elderflower Liqueur, $54) for our welcome drink. I found the fragrance unique. Chen enjoyed this refreshing cocktail.

We learned the process the owners of Laurent Cazottes employ is time-consuming and labourious. For example, for the apple eau-de-vie, each fruit is hand quartered, the seeds scooped, destemmed, and made into a delicate cider through a maceration process. Then, a small quantity of the cider is distilled and aged in a glass bulb for years to create a smooth, soft finish with a ton of complexity.

The Pomme Pomme Gueulle (Apple Eau-de-Vie, $108) has a strong scent. Erik said he could smell the essence of the apples. The apple eau-de-vieu is made from 15 varieties of apples from the estate. As I sipped, I felt a warmth in my throat. Erik suggested adding drops of water to change the flavour profile and observe how the oil separates from the water. Erik drinks eau-de-vieu straight up but also recommended serving it with crushed ice and bubbles.

The Reine Claude Dorée (Plum Eau-de-Vie, $89.50) is made from golden green plums. Erik thought this was the most expressive de vie – a powerful floral violet. I enjoyed the full body and rich texture. However, I didn’t finish the entire glass because I felt buzzed. Erik said we could spit out the alcohol, but I whispered to Chen that I don’t drink to just taste but also to feel. Chen snickered and told me to slow down, pointing out that I drank more than him and perhaps I was getting too intoxicated. I responded that he was reminding me of my mother.

The Aetois (Eau-de-Vie Marc de Champagne Jacques Lassaigne, $90) is made from fresh champagne pressed grapes, mixed with water to extract the full flavour from the skin, then fermented for a lengthy period. Erik mentioned the eau-de-vine has a strong chardonnay finish with some fire. Someone else said it was spicy. Mark, Erik’s business partner, said he could taste blueberry. Unfortunately, I didn’t taste what everyone else was describing and began wondering what was wrong with my tastebuds.

The Cedrat (Citrus Liqueur, $63) tasted a little bitter from the pith of the lemons. However, the smell was bright and sunny. Erik told us that the citrus liqueur is aged in barrels and blended with fresh grapefruit. Chen said he could taste the lemon peel. I found the citrus liqueur intense and refreshing.

The Tomates (Tomato Liqueur, $66) is made from 72 varietals of tomatoes from the farm. Chen smelled sundried tomatoes and tased prunes. Erik described this liqueur as having lots of umami with a sweetness to it. He said that everyone’s experience influences what they taste, and what matters most is how the spirit feels and impacts you.

The next tasting was Noix de Pays d’Oc (Walnut Liqueur, $52.50), made with green walnuts, wine and brandy from the farm’s production. I could taste brown sugar. Erik described this liqueur as savoury, rich and supple. Laurent Cazottes uses a solera process for aging and blending this liquor, which produces a higher range of flavours and complexity as all the vintages play together.

We were given a special treat for our last tasting – De Poire Williams, a pear liqueur. I could smell and taste pear. Erik declared that these particular spirits taste alive because of the farming techniques employed. In organic farms, the fruit is far superior, making it a better product. Chen told me he was glad he came; as it was an eye-opening experience.

According to Erik, if stored in a dark place, the eau-de-vie lasts forever. For the lemon and tomato liqueur, you will want to drink it within three weeks, as you will lose some of the freshness. The walnut liqueur can last three months in the fridge.

I learned that Calgarians don’t know how lucky they got it. Typically these liqueurs are only found in the most lavish wine bars in New York. Even if you could get your hands on a bottle at a specialty liquor store, it is twice the amount that sells at Vine Arts.

With the rising cost of groceries, I’m eating out less and entertaining more at home. That’s why I love coming to Erik’s Sunday wine tastings. I can taste incredible wines for an insanely low price and pick out new fun drinks to hopefully impress my guests. After consulting with Erik, I bought the walnut liqueur for an upcoming dinner party and a bottle of Cocchi Rosa to liven up some Italian bubbles I purchased for my forthcoming Stampede party. I also concocted a fruiter, sweeter alternative for the lightweights.

I hear Erik is hosting a traditional wine tasting in two weeks. I’m heartbroken, as I can’t make it on that Sunday. If you are lucky enough to snap a seat, send me a note and tell me what I missed out on.

Beer · Fast Food · Restaurants

Marda Loop Brewery and Flirty Bird

On Friday evening, I tried to get a table at Paper Lantern so L and I could go on banh mi date #12. Unfortunately, I waited too long to make a reservation, and the speakeasy was booked. L suggested we grab a drink and then a chicken sandwich in Marda Loop. In light of rising gas prices, let’s listen to “Gasoline” by Britney Spears.

Our first stop was at Marda Loop Brewery. The patio is more spacious than the brewery itself. I appreciated how the deck was covered overhead and heated.  We picked a Jenkins Grapefruit Ale (HH $5, Regular $7.25) and Casablanca Blond (HH $5, Regular $7) for drinks. L enjoyed his ale and said it was similar to a radler but not as sweet. I thought the ale was crisp with a strong grapefruit-forward flavour.

We shared an order of Street Car Fries (HH $5, Regular $8.50). The only place I know who makes fries this good is Bitter Sisters. The potatoes are hand-cut and fried to a crunchy golden state of perfection. Each order comes with two homemade sauces. We picked garlic aioli and spicy cajun aioli. Both sauces were yummy. The cajun dip reminded me of a creamy McDonald’s bbq sauce. 

We were enjoying ourselves so much that we stayed for another pint. I pondered out loud if I should order a glass of wine. L said not to do it. He asked me why do I always order wine at a pub because I just end up complaining about how bad it is. I disagreed with him and pointed out I enjoy the wine at Dandy Brewery.

I did want a glass of wine, but I didn’t want L to say I told you so if it was only drinkable. I chose a Peach Wheat ($7.25), and L tried the SoCal Raspberry Citrus Wheat Ale ($7.50), which reminded me a little of KoolAid. 

By the time we made it to Flirty Bird, I wasn’t starving, so we just ordered a chicken sandwich. We both ordered the Mild Flirt Sando ($14). If Flirty Bird considers this only mildly spicy, I won’t be trying any of the higher spice levels. L mentioned there were three more levels above what we tried. 

I read somewhere the buns are from Glamorgan Bakery. The bun was soft and buttery, making it easier to squish against the massive slab of boneless chicken breast. Some chicken sandwiches are all about the batter or the sauce. Flirty Bird is all about the meat. The chicken itself was freshly fried and steaming hot. I prefer dark meat, but I noticed the breast wasn’t dry. The batter was thin and light. 

The sando is messy to eat. I used all five napkins as the creamy sauce, hot sauce, and coleslaw dribbled all over my hands. When I tried to compare Flirty Bird to Alumni Sandwiches, L said it irks him that there is always a need to say one restaurant is better than another in the foodie community. He said there is no need to compare, and why not just agree Alumni and Flirty Bird both make good chicken sandwiches? I wish L was this passionate about Vietnamese subs. I’m tempted to start a mission to try all the hot chicken sandwiches in the city, but I have to finish what I started with our 19 banh mi date goal before taking on any more challenges.

Happy Hour · Vegetarian

Vegan Street in Inglewood

After our wine tasting at Brick’s Wine Company, Sunflower and I wanted to grab a drink and bite to eat. As Sunflower is a vegetarian, I suggested Vegan Street. It turns out she’s already visited, and she’s a fan of the margaritas and food. Let’s listen to “Girlfriend” by Avril Lavigne for this post.

As I was lugging six bottles of wine, I walked slower than usual. Sunflower offered to take my bag partway, but I told her I could use the exercise as I neglect weights in my daily workout routine. She’s seven years younger than me, so she doesn’t know about the trials we older broads face.

We made it just in time for happy hour. Every day from 3:00-5:00 p.m., Vegan Street offers five-dollar draft beer and tacos and six-dollar margaritas, house wine, and tall beer cans.

Sunflower recommended the Charred Pineapple ($6). Oh man, these vegans don’t mess around with their cocktails. This margarita was even better than Anjeo. My drink was sweet but not sugary. I could taste the roasted pineapple and fresh citrus. I would order this again. This is easily the best margarita in the city.

I ordered two tacos. The No-Fish taco ($5) consisted of beer-battered palm hearts. The smooth, buttery texture and taste mimicked white fish so well that I couldn’t tell it wasn’t fish. I also enjoyed the burst of flavour from the ripe mango and sweet corn garnish. This taco is a winner.

The Korean Fried Chickin was huge, piled high with sweet deep-fried soy curls. This taco was messy to eat – the spicy aioli and kimchi would drip down and plop onto my plate. Of the two, I preferred the palm heart taco because I could still taste the soy in the chickin. The litmus test for vegetarian food is if it even better than what it seeks to imitate.

Sunflower tried three tacos – the No Fish, Asada Portobello, and the Pulled Porque. Of the three, her favourite was the Asada Portobello taco. I’ll have to come back and try this one. I noticed the tacos were all generously stuffed. What makes these tacos stand out are the creative ingredients, such as the grilled pineapple salsa, watermelon radish, and lime crema. When vegetables taste this good, you don’t miss the meat.

Thanks, Sunflower, for treating me to this delicious vegetarian experience. I’m keen to come back again and check out their other dishes. Hitting the Sauce gives Vegan Street to phat thumbs up.

Restaurants

Meinklang Wine Tasting – Bricks Wine Company

Sunflower brought over a beautiful wine from Meinklang for me to try. The next day, I saw Juice Imports was hosting a Meinklang tasting ($20) at Bricks Wine Company. I took this as a sign and snapped up two tickets. For this post, let’s listen to “Hang Me Up To Dry” by Cold War Kids.

A thoughtful employee from Bricks Wine Company called me before the tasting to remind me of a marathon in Inglewood, which shut down several main streets. She suggested a roundabout way to access the wine store. I promptly informed Books, Sunflower’s fiancé, who was dropping us off. I offered to book an Uber back, but Sunflower mentioned that with Covid, Books prefers her not to take public transportation or Uber. He kindly came and got us after the event.

Once we arrived, we sipped on a flute of Prosa, a sparkling rosé. I adore this wine – it’s juicy, bright, yet subtle. I ended up buying two bottles. We sat in a beautiful tasting room, similar in vibe to Vine Arts, where I attended Juice Import’s past wine tastings. I think both venues would be ideal for hosting a team-building event.

We learned that Meinklang is located in Burgenland, Austria, bordering Hungry. Ponds and a lake surround the certified biodynamic family farm. Erik informed us the nearby water takes in the heat and slowly releases it, which helps prevent fluctuation in temperature. He added that it is hard not to like these gentle, charming wines. I agreed, already swooning from the Prosa.

Surprisingly, I was a big fan of the entry-level wines – the Burgenland Weib and Gruner Veltliner. The Burgenland has a unique fragrance. Sunflower thought the wine was scented like lilacs, and she wanted her whole house to smell like it. When asked what he would pair with this wine, Erik, the co-owner of Juice Imports, suggested dill potato salad, smoked trout or mushroom morels. I liked this wine so much that I purchased three bottles.

The Gruner Veltliner was bright and clean. Erik noted there was so much flavour in this light wine, despite being only 11% in alcohol content. He described notes of green apple skins, with texture and freshness to it. Erik mentioned that 60% of the flavour in wine stems from yeast and bacteria rather than the grapes themselves.

Next up was Tag, one of the winery’s “big” wines. Tag is a one-off, meaning Meinklang doesn’t make this wine every year. Erik described this wine as intense but with a softness. This wine woke up my tastebuds with its lip-smacking flavour. Sunflower was a fan – she could taste passionfruit and pineapple, and thought the wine had a bite to it, like a cider.

One of my favourite bottles was Morgen. The fragrance reminded me of roses. The bubbles were tiny, and the flavour was fun to drink. Erik called this a breakfast wine, and said it reminded him of sour cherry. He mentioned this wine is similar to pinot noir in that it is challenging to grow these thin-skinned grapes. I bought a bottle for Sunflower and me to enjoy at a future time.

The next bottle we tasted was Nacht, a rare wine that even Erik hadn’t had the chance to try. The wine smelled like olive oil to me. When Sunflower took a sip, she exclaimed how good it was, similar to mushrooms but in a funky way. Erik described this wine as smelling like cherry blossoms or dank flowers.

I noticed Sunflower appreciated the more unique, expensive bottles. While I enjoyed the experience of the fancier bottles, I preferred the easy pleasantry of the entry-level wines because I could shut my mind off. When I drink, I like to feel the wine rather than think about what I’m tasting. I guess that’s the beauty of a wine tasting, you don’t have to commit to sharing a whole bottle.

The second last wine we tried was the Burgenland Rot. Sunflower said it smelled like her grandmother’s house. Damn girl, we sure had different experiences growing up. Erik informed us this was his number one selling red wine. He described the Burgenland Rot as a soft, gentle, picnic wine. I enjoyed this red wine, but preferred the white wines. For me, it’s a harder challenge to find good white wine at a reasonable price than red wine.

For our last tasting, Erik surprised us with an orange wine from 2018, made with 100% pinot gris grapes. I admired the soft, peachy colour. Sunflower is into orange wines and noted that this older vintage tasted quite different from a newer vintage she recently tried from Meinklang.

There was one interesting fact Erik told us that really got my attention. Fifty percent of Meinklang wines go to Whole Foods for their house wine. The next time I’m in Seattle, I’m picking up some Whole Foods house white wine.

Meinklang wines are now my go-to, not only because the wines are freaking fantastic but also because this winery offers such incredible value. The wines we tried ranged from $26 to $55, with my favourite ones being the entry-level wines. I think it’s a win-win to support producers doing beautiful things for the environment and sustainability that also charge the same price as wineries that produce less delicious unethical wines.

Thank you, Erik, for hosting such a fun tasting, and Sunflower, for being my new wine partner in crime. I look forward to future Juice Import tastings.

Restaurants

Briggs Kitchen + Bar

I attended my first work event! Our office treated us to a three-course lunch at Briggs Kitchen + Bar. I was excited as the Executive sent me the menu beforehand so that I could do my research. Let’s listen to “Taking Care of Business” by Bachman Turner Overdrive for this post. 

The hostess had to separate us into two tables due to the large size of our group. I was lucky to snag a seat in front of 47, who regaled me with interesting stories of what it was like at her past firm. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any exciting first-hand experiences, so I just told her the stories the media reported about my old workplace. From what I read, consuming alcohol at work and expensing things with people with whom you’ve never met are big no-nos.

I chose the lobster poutine for my appetizer, Kuterra Salmon for my main, and the dark chocolate semifreddo for dessert. My lobster poutine was so decadent that even I couldn’t finish the whole portion. The thin-cut Kennebec fries were saturated in lobster cream and soft white cheese curds. I loved the generous pieces of sweet, juicy lobster. Forty-seven noted the rich flavour of the browned butter. I tried a couple of bites of her green salad, dressed in a crisp, tart vinaigrette. Her salad was good, but nothing beats lobster poutine.

I was even more impressed with my salmon. The restaurant itself was busy, and our group consisted of 19 guests. Despite the backlog of orders, my salmon came out perfectly cooked. The fish was tender and soft, with a delicious fatty favour. The milky green Thai curry gently infused the fish and firm pieces of bok choy with the flavour of coconut milk, lime and fish sauce. I enjoyed the salmon even more than the poutine. Unfortunately, I had to get back to work, so I asked for my dessert to go. I didn’t try it and ended up giving it away, as I was already almost dizzy from the high-calorie meal.

This lunch was my first visit to Briggs since 2017. I’m happy to report I enjoyed the set menu, attentive service, and fun company. Big thanks to the Executive for organizing the event and the ELT for taking us all out to welcome new and longtime employees.

Restaurants

Gut Oggau Wine Tasting – Vine Arts

Lately, one of my favourite things to do is to learn about wines from Erik, one of the owners of Juice Imports. On Sunday, he hosted a wine tasting ($30) to try all the Gut Oggau wines in stock and some unique gems from their cellar. Let’s listen to “Strawberry Wine” by Deana Carter for this post.

Our class started with a glass of sparkling organic cider from the Okanagan. The cider was fresh and bright. I bought a bottle for my neighbour, who recently became my dog’s godmother.

Located south of Vienna, Erik informed us Gut Oggau was one of the first wineries he ever signed. He fell in love with the uniqueness and personality of the wines. He considers the husband and wife team – Stephanie and Eduard – some of the most thoughtful winemakers dedicated to the land and their employees. For example, the owners pay their six full-time workers year-round rather than seasonally, so the employees can experience how the wines sleep in the winter and wake in the spring. As a result, the prices of their wines reflect this philosophy.

Erik mentioned that Theodora (2020, $50) was the winery’s entry-level wine. Yikes, I would never want to host a dinner party for Stephanie and Eduard. The cloudy yellow hue reminded me of chicken stock. My friend Bubbles said she could taste citrus.

We learned two interesting facts. First, Gut Oggau produces its wines without any sulphur, and second, sulphur doesn’t cause headaches. People get headaches from wine due to the alcohol or a reaction to the tannins. I wanted to pipe up and add that people also get headaches from excess drinking, but I read the room and decided to keep my thoughts private.

Photo Credit: @miss_minds

Next up was the Timotheus (2018, $79). Erik said in all of Alberta, and there are only 24 bottles of Timotheus. The vines are planted in complex soil, such as slate, sand, gravel and limestone. The texture and flavour sent shivers down my spine as the liquid tingled on my tongue. Erik described this wine as having intense character, with umami notes of white truffle.

The Mechthild ($158) we tried was sold out, which was fine with me as this wine was beyond my budget. Erik noted that the vines produced a low yield but produced the cleanest and highest quality grapes using a crazy, archaic process called a tree press. The person sitting in front of me described the colour as sunshine gold, with a gorgeous glow. I was jealous that I didn’t come up with that description myself.

My favourite wine was Winifred ($48). At first, I didn’t realize this wine was a rose. The texture was silky, with an aftertaste of fresh strawberries. My friend Bubbles said the gentle tartness reminded her of crab apples. I enjoyed this wine so much that I bought it for my next girls’ night with Kournikova, Quebecoise, and Betty.

The last wine we tried was the Athanasius (2020, $51). We learned this was the most planted grape in the winery. The vines are 38 to 40 years old. Erik described this wine as fresh and intense, aged in old Austrian oak. We marvelled at the dark, ruby red colour and the high viscosity. Erik mentioned the flesh of the grapes is red, which is rare as most red wines are made with white-coloured fruit.
I could tell these wines spoke to Erik, who said each wine tasted alive, soft and supple. This wine tasting was dirt-cheap, particularly for these wines. Erik himself rarely gets to try these bottles, so it was a luxurious treat for everyone. I enjoyed every wine I tried, though I got the impression from Erik’s physical and verbal reaction from drinking each wine that I didn’t fully grasp the greatness of these wines. Though I was out of my element, I was fine with it. I’m more comfortable with pearls being cast upon me than being a pig at a trough. I’ve recently signed up at Grand Cru Wine Society in the hopes of learning more about wine and food pairings.