Banh Mi · Cheap Eats · Restaurants · Vietnamese

Thai Thien – Date seven out of 19

I met up with Reeves at Cactus Club. Before I left my house to meet her, I looked up restaurants that would be open after our girls night out. I spotted Thai Thien (formerly Thai Tai Sub) on 811 1 ST SW. I figured it was the perfect opportunity to have banh mi date night #7 out of 19. For this post, let’s listen to “You Were Meant For Me” by Jewel.

Cactus Club has half price wine on Tuesday and Wednesday. We drank some wine and Reeves ordered calamari. I nibbled on some of the hot peppers, but I was saving my appetite for the main course – a banh mi. I read the Google and Yelp reviews of Thai Thien beforehand so I didn’t have the highest expectation. I incorrectly assumed that a place like Thai Thien, one that caters to the downtown work crowd and tourists, wouldn’t have pate in their assorted sub ($4.99). I was happy to find out I was wrong.

I requested a white baguette as I read in the reviews that the brown version is too doughy. I found the interior of the bread soft and light. The cucumber was quartered and each piece was noticeably crisp and fresh. The carrots are pickled and crunchy. The sliced onions gave off a pleasing pungency. I counted two layers of cold cuts. Next time I would request extra meat to balance out the heavy ratio of cucumber. I appreciate the generous layers of pate, mayonnaise and butter, which I think is Thai Thien’s strong suit.

How does this cold cut compare to the other banh mi heavy hitters? Size-wise, the sub is similar to Trung Nguyen and Kim Anh. The flavour of Thai Thien’s pate tasted like Freybe’s pork pate, which gave the sub a westernized twist. I much prefer Xích Lô, Banh Mi Nhu Y, and My Tho BBQ’s pate. Thai Thien gives the least amount of meat but considering the rock bottom prices and the high rent location, I’m fine with paying a little extra to get some more meat. In terms of taste, Saigon Deli, Banh Mi Nhu Y, Xích Lô, Trung Nguyen, and Thi Thi offer a more traditional sub, which I prefer. Price-wise, this sub is an awesome deal, especially considering Thai Thien convenient hours and prime location in the downtown core.

The next week, I tried the Charbroiled Pork Sub ($6.25). Damn, this one is even better than the cold cut. The meat was seared on the outside and juicy on the inside. The ratio of meat to vegetable was perfect. The vegetables were fresh and crunchy. Every single bite contained that delicious balance of savoury, sweet and spicy.

For an inner city sub, you can’t get a better deal. I was stuffed and blissfully happy for only six bucks. Hitting the Sauce gives That Thien two phat thumbs up. Thai Thien is open from Monday to Saturday, from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Chinatown · Chinese · Dim Sum · Restaurants

Silver Dragon – Dim Sum

My friends have their favourite restaurant for dim sum, such as Central Grand, U & Me, Chinese Cultural Centre, Forbidden City, T Pot, and Silver Dragon. I like to frequent all the above but for different reasons. In the past month, I’ve dined at Silver Dragon twice for dim sum. For this post, let’s listen to “Paradise City” by Guns N’ Roses.

There are two things that make Silver Dragon stand out from their competitors. First, the service is professional, organized and attentive.  On each of my visits, the restaurant was well-staffed. You never have to wait long for help. I also like how you don’t even have to ask for things like water, hot sauce, tea refills, or a fork.

This level of service is important to me if I’m hosting a lunch because it makes the whole experience much more pleasant. There’s even a semi private room you can access if you need a quieter space.

Silver Dragon is also the only restaurant I know of that still uses trolley carts. In my past visits, all the food was served steaming hot, despite the fact the food is circulated around the room. The selection of dim sum was also impressive considering I went on a Monday and a Tuesday afternoon.

Pro tip – the servers come around often with food, so don’t order everything at once. If you plan to sit and linger, order strategically. Dim sum doesn’t taste good when it’s cold.

I was able to get all my usual dishes and a couple new ones: Shrimp Dumpling ($7.50); Chicken Feet ($6.95); Bean Curd Meat Roll in Oyster Sauce ($6.95); Pan Fried Pork and Vegetable Dumplings ($6.95); Pan Fried Shrimp and Corn Balls ($7.50); Crispy Spring Rolls ($6.95); Beef in Rice Crepe ($6.95); Spareribs in Black Bean Sauce ($6.95); Pan Fried Parsnip Cake ($6.50); Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf ($7.95); and Baked Egg Tarts ($6.95).

The shrimp dumpling is average in size and tasty. The shrimp mixture offered a good clean crunch and the sticky white wrapper isn’t too dry or moist.

I tried chicken feet for the second time in my life. I nibbled on the skin but couldn’t get myself to suck on the bone. I think I would like chicken feet more if it was fried and crispy like a hot wing.

The bean curd meat roll is packed with meat and shrimp. I liked how the sauce saturates the delicate layers of bean curd. I would get this again.

I enjoyed the pork and vegetable dumplings. The filling inside the dumplings is fat and juicy. The pork mixture is so flavourful, you don’t need to use the accompanying sauce.

I am a fan of the shrimp and corn balls. The balls are sweet from the corn niblets and filled with crispy, shrimpy goodness. I didn’t take a picture because at this point, I was in full on eat mode.

I was surprised I liked the spring rolls so much. I find most dim sum restaurants make an average spring roll. These rolls are extra crunchy, filled with a saucy meat and vegetable mixture. I would order this again.

The beef rice crepe is another winner. Most dim sum restaurants put in cilantro in beef rice crepes, so I was happy to see Silver Dragon omits that herb. The rice crepe is soft and slippery. The hot beef filling is generous and creamy.

I noticed the black bean spareribs came in nice meaty chunks, which made it easier to eat. My pet peeve are spareribs that are more fat than meat.

The parsnip cake is one of the better ones in the city. The texture is soft, fluffy and smooth. I hate it when other restaurants under cook parsnip so the texture is hard and it falls apart.

The sticky rice is different from the norm. Normally when I get sticky rice, I get two portions, filled with Chinese sausage, mushrooms, ground pork, and chicken. Silver Dragon’s version comes in one large lotus leaf, and the meat and rice is more integrated. Also, the chicken is drier and shredded.

The prices at Silver Dragon are a little more than its competitors, but when you factor in how laborious it is to do the cart system and the extra staff on hand, price is moot. I also prefer the spacious, calm environment over how hectic it can get at Forbidden City. Hitting the Sauce gives the dim sum and service two phat thumbs up.

Carribean · Comfort food · Happy Hour · Patio · Restaurants

Simply Irie – No Man’s Dinner

No Man’s Dinner is back in action! Loaf2go, T, Hangryinyyc, Sofresh and I met at Simply Irie for our bi-monthly supper club. Loaftogo and I picked Simply Irie because we wanted to support the owner after her restaurant was hit by five break-in in just two months. Also, the food is soul satisfying. For this post, let’s listen to “Spirits” by The Strumbellas.

I wanted to try the Jerk Wings ($15.95) but I learned from our server that I needed to preorder, as the wings takes 45 minutes to prepare. Instead, I ordered a large Chicken Soup ($12.95) and a large Jerk Shrimp ($29.95). Loaf2go chose the Jerk Tofu Medley ($22.95), and her spouse T picked the Ackee & Saltfish  ($24.95). He was intrigued after I told him this is the only dish Ashdoesfood eats when she dines at Simply Irie. Hangryinyyc and Sofresh shared Doubles ($7.95), a Spicy Beef Patty ($4.95), and a large Oxtail Stew ($29.95).

The chicken soup is a winner. My go-to for chicken pho soup is Pure Kitchen and Bar, but Simply Irie gives Chef Lam some friendly competition. The broth is thick and hearty. I enjoyed the generous chunks of tender chicken and the soft pieces of pumpkin, yam, and potatoes. The dumpling is simple and toothsome – a boiled dough that takes on the full flavour of the broth. The corn on the cob is sweet and crunchy. Loaf2go thought she could taste cloves in the broth. I found this soup nurturing and wholesome.

Dianathefoodie told me to try the jerk shrimp. She has excellent taste. The shrimp is sweet and meaty, so unlike the flavourless frozen shrimp I buy at Safeway and Costco. The texture is soft and succulent, similar to BC spotted prawns. The red, orange, green and yellow bell peppers were firm and juicy, sautéed in a spicy jerk sauce.

Hangryinyyc helped me set up the picture by adding her ginger beer to the background.

I tried a piece of Loaf2go’s jerk tofu. She said she was impressed that the tofu was properly fried and seasoned. Simply Irie doesn’t skimp on the sides. I’m not normally a coleslaw fan, but this version is fresh, crunchy, and creamy. The rice and beans taste mellow and earthy. I noticed the water served to us was infused with lemon. I appreciate these little details because I think it shows the chef is thinking about the whole experience of eating a meal.

Since L wasn’t at the dinner, I asked Loaf2go to take the pictures for me. She refused and told me she’d rather teach me. She said it was all about angles and showed me that I wasn’t tilting the camera to capture the best shot. I’d rather she just take the damn photo, but I think she comes from the school of “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”

I took a bite of Hangryinyyc’s oxtail and it was even better than I remembered from my last visit. The meat fell off the bone, and each bite offered that perfect gelatinous texture. I found the sauce sweet and buttery. I tried T’s saltfish and it was tasty and unlike anything I’ve tried before. The saltiness of the fish was balanced by the mild flavour of the ackee.

T offered me two of his rum balls as no one else at the table likes the taste of alcohol. Holy moly – this is good stuff! The chocolate rum ball was warm and gooey, similar to chocolate lava cake. The vanilla rum ball was served cold, which I thought made the flavour of the rum and vanilla stand out. Out of the two, the vanilla dessert was my favourite.

On Monday evening, the restaurant was packed with a large party and it was kept bustling with a constant stream of takeout orders. Kudos to the chef who managed to pump out so many dishes, without sacrificing the quality. The temperature and freshness of all the dishes I tried was spot on. For the next No Man’s Dinner, we might check out a Chinese restaurant that offers offal and westernized Chinese food. Hangryyyc said it is just the two ends of the spectrum and none of the dishes in between! I’m game, we just need to find the right spot. If you have any suggestions, shoot me an email.

Chinese · Restaurants · Seafood

Emerald Garden Restaurant

I had to cancel our trip to Vancouver due to L’s work schedule. I was disappointed as my family had planned a feast at Ludwig’s favourite restaurant – Fisherman’s Terrace. My brother Narc sent photos of my father’s 79th birthday dinner – Peking duck carved at the table, fresh lobster in green onion and ginger sauce, duck lettuce wraps, fried stuffed taro, almond chicken, pea tips, fresh whole fish, deep-fried pumpkin, e-fu noodles, beef chow fun, green beans, and a bunch of other dishes I didn’t recognize. As I gazed at the photos, a small moan escaped from my mouth. For a moment, I missed my former life as a glutton. My younger brother Jacuzzi would always say to me whenever we got out of hand that it tastes good to be a pig. I concur.

Since I was missing the action back home, I told L we had to try out Emerald Garden for the more traditional Chinese dishes. I didn’t want ginger beef, salt and pepper squid, or chicken balls. He was game, even though he prefers westernized Chinese food. For this post, let’s listen to “If” by Janet Jackson.

When we arrived at Emerald Garden, we were surprised to see the constant stream of customers dining in, as well as the takeout orders flying out of the kitchen. Based on my friend Fung Ling’s recommendation, I ordered: Fried Stuffed Treasures ($19.95, 煎釀三寶 Eggplant, Green Peppers and Crispy Tofu Stuffed with Shrimp); Beef Tendon Casserole ($17.95, 牛筋腩煲 Beef Shank, Tendon and Tofu); Cod Fillets ($24.99, Fried Cod with Tofu and Chinese Mushrooms); Dried Scallop and Egg White Fried Rice ($14.95 瑤柱蛋白炒飯 Tobiko, Green Onions, Egg Whites and Dried Scallops); and Fried Dumplings ($13.95).

The scallops and fluffy egg whites in the fried rice tasted subtle and fresh, which accentuated the pops of flavour from the tobiko, green onions and crunchy onion garnish. The portion of fried rice is generous. I found Emerald Garden’s seafood fried rice better than Sun’s BBQ version.

I was looking forward to the beef tendon and I wasn’t disappointed. Each piece of tendon was soft and chewy. The beef shank was tender and tasty, marbled with a thin layer of fat. The daikon was juicy and delicate in flavour. I could tell the gravy in the casserole was fattening because the flavour was so rich and smooth.

The highlight of the night was the fish casserole. The pot arrived bubbling and sizzling, filled with battered fish fillets, fried tofu puffs, Chinese mushrooms and tofu skin. The cod tasted fresh and the texture of the fillet was thick and fluffy. I would order this again, though next time, I want to try the fish steamed or pan fried.

The shrimp stuffed eggplant, peppers and tofu came with a special sauce. We found the shrimp filling a little dry. However, I enjoyed the silky texture of the eggplant and the soft innards of the fried tofu.

The dumplings are deep fried and chewy. The wrapper on the dumplings was thick, puffy and gummy. Proportionally, the wrapping was about double the filling. For the dipping sauce, I added soy sauce, chili oil and vinegar.

The portions are generous and the prices are affordable. Our feast cost $100 and there was more than enough food for four people. I noticed later on in the evening and the next day, I didn’t feel dehydrated, which I think indicates Emerald Palace isn’t heavy handed when it comes to the salt and seasoning of the dishes.

I noticed the clientele at Emerald Palace are split into three camps. I saw customers who spoke fluent Cantonese order the more traditional dishes for a banquet style dinner. There is also an obviously loyal clientele of English-speaking customers who ordered the more westernized dishes, like salt and pepper squid and hot and sour soup. Then there’s me – someone who has the Chinese vocabulary of a two-year old.

Part of the charm of Emerald Garden is watching how all the customers interact with the staff. There was a young teenage employee who spoke fluent Cantonese and English. He was clearly working hard answering the phone, taking orders, bringing dishes out, serving drinks, and packing up food. An older man got up to leave and as he passed the reception area, he bellowed to the kid, “Bye Brian!” Another table of two women questioned what vegetable was in a certain dish. There was some confusion and back and forth with the customers and the server. The customer said, “Hey, I don’t mean to be a bitch. I’m just curious, so don’t worry about it.” The server confirmed with the chef and it turned out the vegetable was indeed zucchini. A Chinese speaking customer looked like another regular. He seemed right at home, cutting directly through the staff only section to his table. No one even blinked an eye.

The atmosphere reminds me of the past Chinese banquets I’ve attended. The background noise consists of a blended murmur of a screaming baby, laughter, and the happy clink of dishes. L wants to return to Emerald Garden try the westernized dishes, like the sizzling beef and sweet and sour pork. I’m fine with that as long as I can order the chef’s specials and signature dishes. I have my eye on the deep-fried egg yolk bitter melon and shredded chicken with jellyfish. Hitting the Sauce gives Emerald Garden two fat thumbs up.

Mexican · Patio · Restaurants · Seafood

Fonda Fora

On Thursday, Bottlenick, L and I checked out Fonda Fora, a new contemporary Mexican restaurant inside The Westley Hotel. L and I were uncharacteristically late because I confused the Westley Hotel with the Westin Hotel. To celebrate the beginning of Stampede, let’s listen to Johnny Cash “Heart of Gold.”

For our first bottle, Bottlenick selected a rosé – Chateau Gassier Sables (Provence France, $45). I thought this was a nice rosé – light and dry.

We ordered the Salsa Tasting ($9), Guacamole & Tostadas ($15), Empanadas ($8), Tiradito de Huachinango ($17), Pescado Zarandeado ($37) and extra tortillas ($4).

Get the salsa tasting! Not only was it fun to try all the different salsas, but you can use the condiments with your other food. My favourite was the orange variation – it was rich and velvety like cream. I also liked the salsa with chili peppers and oil.

The guacamole was cold, creamy and delicious. The tostadas were enjoyable to eat because each chip was so thick and crunchy, and it tasted like it was freshly made.

The empanada was yummy. The crispy shell was filled with corn, chili peppers, tomatoes and onion, topped with some cool, smooth white cheese. The sauce was so delectable, we would use the tortillas to mop up the leftovers.

L and Bottlenick both noticed the red snapper had a strong fishy flavour to it, but in a good way. The onions tasted like fennel to me. This dish reminded me of a mix between sashimi and ceviche. I enjoyed the heat and spice in the orange sauce.

For our second bottle of wine, we picked the De Monde Cabernet Franc Fruiuli Grave Italy ($54). Oh baby, this wine reminds me of the cabernet franc I pick up at Tinhorn Creek and Burrowing Owl in BC. One major plus Fonda Fora offers is the wine list. I enjoyed the two bottles we tried and each was around the fifty-dollar range. The wines went well with the food and each bottle was something different than I could find at my local liquor store. My father recently sent me an article on restaurants and the markup on wines. I’ve got no issue paying for wine, as a restaurant has to make money, otherwise they would go out of business. By all means, markup the wines! But offer me something I can’t find at the Real Canadian Liquorstore. Fonda Fora does this in spades.

I was impressed with the mussels tostada. My gosh – the texture of each mussel was sublime – soft and fat – with a cool silkiness on the tongue. The white sauce was decadent. Bottlenick commented on the smoky flavour from the vinaigrette. L thought the pumpkin salsa was incredible. I would return just to each this dish again, because it was that good.

Our last dish was a whole grilled fish. The fish was moist and flaked apart easily. I liked that I could taste the natural, light juices of the fish. It’s easy to hide freshness when fish is battered or covered in heavy sauce. We also received a pretty bowl of herbs to eat with the fish. The fresh tortillas were thick and smelled like corn. I read Fonda Fora uses heirloom corn imported from small farmers in Mexico.

I shouldn’t have, but since I was feeling celebratory, I got carried away and ordered a pint of Cabin Morning Sun Saison (6%, $8.50). This beer was delicious – spicy and bubbly, but it wasn’t worth the hangover I received the next day. I can’t rock and roll like I used to. Those days are numbered. Post COVID, I’m going to be a moderate eater and drinker of delicious things.

I’ll return to Fonda Fora. The food is creative, fresh and different from the norm. Hitting the Sauce gives Fonda Fora two fat thumbs up.

Banh Mi · Restaurants · Vietnamese

Pure Kitchen Bar – Date three & four of 19

For date three of the 19 L owes me, I wanted a banh mi from Pure Kitchen Bar. Pure’s banh mi is pricier than other places, but each sub comes with fries, salad or soup.  When L learned of the price difference, he argued this date should count as two because each sub was double the cost. I sensed immediately that he was full of piss and vinegar and ready to parley.  I only fight when I know I’ll win, so I agreed with him and enjoyed the look of disappointment on his face. In light of Stampede, let’s listen to “Jolene” by Dolly Parton.

I ordered the Grilled Lemongrass Sub ($16) with fries and the Grilled Beef Sate Sub ($16) with a salad. When we returned home, I noticed the beef sub was squished. I tried to fluff it up for the picture but it was beyond repair.

Pure is heavy-handed with the sriracha aioli and sauces, which makes for a very drippy sub. Even before I unwrapped the beef sub, I could see the sate oil leaking out onto the wrapper. Despite the abundance of sauces, the bread was still crispy. The vegetables are different from the norm. The cilantro and cucumber is minced up, similar to a salsa. L doesn’t normally like cucumber but he didn’t mind Pure’s version because the skin was removed. I was pleased to see the carrots and daikon were pickled.

Both subs were so awesome, we didn’t like one more than the other. I did find the beef sate spicier and sweeter than the chicken. The creamy cheese in the chicken sub was more noticeable than in the beef sub. I could tell the meats were grilled. L raved about the charred flavour from the slices of chicken and beef.

L is a fan of the parmesan garlic fries. The seasoning is lemony with a hint of sugar. He said the sweetness in the seasoning reminds him of Wow Chicken’s bulgogi fries, but better because Pure’s version is more subtle. L noted that even the ketchup was different and tastes like a homemade sweet chili sauce.

I enjoyed the salad – an Asian-style slaw with shredded lettuce, daikon and carrots. I found the salad light and refreshing, a nice contrast to the richness of the sauces in the subs.

To date, this is L’s favourite Vietnamese sub because of the smoky flavour of the meats and the creative flavour profile of the toppings and sauce. I can’t compare Pure Kitchen Bar to the other banh mi shops because Pure’s subs are a different beast. Pure puts in a lot of thought and care into every ingredient. I will say that once you factor in the salad or fries, Pure’s subs are close to the price of Kim Anh, Thi Thi, and Trung Nguyen. Quantity wise, Pure’s sub and side combo are more filling than any other banh mi spot, except To Me.

Pro tip – if you call to place your order, you get 10% off your bill. Four banh mi dates down and 15 more to go! Next up? I’m leaning to Paper Lantern.

Beer · French · Restaurants

The Dandy Brewing Company – Hot diggity dog

I wish more pubs were like Dandy Brewing Company. This brewery is light years ahead of other establishments in terms of food, beer and wine. Good thing I don’t live nearby because this place would be a frequent spot for me. For this post, let’s listen to “Blow at High Dough” by The Tragically Hip.

We sat inside because it was so hot. While the breeze was constant, we were still feeling the heat. To cool down, L tried the Bright and Happy Days Lager (5.7%, 14 oz, $6.50). This lager reminded him of Banded Peak’s Plainsbreaker, but with more complexity. I thought the lager tasted fresh, and I noticed a sweet aftertaste.

I was jonesing for wine, so I ordered a glass of Chateau Teyssier Pezat Bordeaux Blanc 2018 (5 oz, $10). I found this wine a little tart, refreshing, and well-priced.

L second beer was the Bunbury Pineapple Wheat Ale (4.5 %, 14 oz, $7). He found this ale ideal for such a scorching day because it light and crushable.

Despite the heat, I ordered a glass of the Stephane Aviron Cote de Brouilly 2015 (5 oz, $10). Our server wanted to chill the wine first because the heat made all the bottles of red wine too warm to serve. While I waited, he recommended I try the Wild Sour Ale 7% ($2.50, 5 oz) because the flavour profile was similar to a sauvignon. The sour certainly smelled similar to a white wine. I enjoyed this beer so much that I brought home a four-pack.

Since we were getting snackish, we decided to try the hot dogs ($8.50). L picked the beef hot dog with daikon slaw and crispy shallots while I opted for the chili cheese dog. I was shocked to see the amount of care that goes into each hot dog. Hats off to the female chef in the kitchen – she nailed this dish in terms of temperature and execution.

This hot dog is a fatty, juicy flavour bomb. The daikon garnish was piled high. L loved the crunch of the shallots and freshness of the daikon salad. My god – these hot dogs are a work of art. A masterpiece of deliciousness.

I demolished my chili dog – a steaming, saucy mess of melted cheddar cheese and spicy chili. If you like Von Der Fel’s famous house-made buns, you’ll love Dandy’s version. The potato bun is prepared daily. Soft and fluffy, the bread is the perfect vessel to sop up the chili sauce and sausage drippings. This hot dog is so good that if I came down with gout the next day, it would be worth it.

For dessert, I tried the red wine. I found it yummy and jammy. I would order this again. After tasting these two wines, I wonder why other pubs can’t follow Dandy’s lead and provide customers with interesting wines at this price point.

If you haven’t been to Dandy Brewing Company before, you are missing out. In every single of my past visits, the food, beverages and service has proven to be consistently excellent. Dandy makes it one my list of best breweries in Calgary.

Banh Mi · Cheap Eats · Restaurants · Vietnamese

To Me Sub – Date one of 19

L and I made a deal. He thinks the chandelier in our powder room is gaudy. I see no reason to replace it but his constant complaining finally got to me. I negotiated 19 banh mi dates in exchange for a replacement. Initially I wanted 20 dates, but L kept trying to get the number down. I told him that he wanted the chandelier switched out more than I wanted the subs, and if he was a smart man, which I know he is, he would pay my price. For this post, let’s listen to “Price Tag” by Jessie J and B.o.B.

I should have placed conditions in our contract because it turned out our banh mi dates include “fusion” subs. I didn’t realize L wanted a say in where we ate. I just assumed I would be picking each venue. For banh mi date #1, L wanted to try To Me Sub – a popular drive-in spot on Macleod Trail.

I’ve read that To Me gets so busy with customers, drivers block the traffic on Macleod Trail. Pro tip – if you don’t want to get honked, pull around and wait in line via the parking lot so you aren’t disrupting the traffic flow.

We were lucky. There was only one car ahead of us, so we waited less than five minutes. I ordered Shrimp Salad Rolls ($5), Mango Bubble Tea ($5), Satay Beef Sub ($6), and a Coconut Chicken Sub ($6).

The mango bubble tea was about the size of a large slurpee. The frozen mango puree was sweet and syrupy. To Me sells one of the cheapest bubble teas in town.

The salad rolls are worth ordering again. Each salad roll contained three pieces of shrimp, crunchy julienned lettuce and vermicelli. The wrapper itself was soft and it tasted better than the salad rolls I make at home. I liked the dipping sauce – smooth, tangy and a touch sweet.

Size wise, these subs were as big as My Tho BBQ. When we got home, the bread was warm and soft from the heat of the filling. L appreciated the generous amount of cilantro in his sub. The beef was tender, sliced thin and piled high. The flavours in the beef sate were more subtle than Thi Thi or Trung Nguyen. L wished the vegetables were pickled, but for the price and portion, he’s not complaining. The portion was so large, L and I could only eat half our subs.

The chicken in my sub reminded me of a Thai yellow curry. The heat was mild and the flavours were subdued. I thought I could taste some cheese in the sauce. The vegetables were fresh and crunchy. The ingredients in the subs are so approachable that even people who typically shy away from traditional Vietnamese food would enjoy the food at To Me.

One down and 18 more to go! For our next banh mi adventure, L wants me to retry his favourite spots – Bake Chef and Thi Thi. I want to check out; Ami Tea; Bambu; Bánh Mì Phương Mai; Banh Mi SUB Asian Fusion; Five Spice; La Cay (temporarily closed); Lily Submarines; Lotus Deli; Nan’s Noodle House; Paper Lantern; Pho Chu; Pho Dau Bao; Pure Modern Asian Kitchen; Secret Cafe Vietnamese Sub; and Thai Thien Sub. If you know of any spots that I haven’t tried or listed, send me a note.

Italian · Pizza · Restaurants

Savino Pizzeria

Lovegastrogirl takes her pizza so seriously, she coordinates her pie with a matching outfit. Lately, she’s been posting nonstop about Savino Pizzeria. When I finished my work for the day, I decided I wanted to try this pizzeria.

I ran upstairs to tell L that we had to pick up a pizza for dinner. He asked me where the restaurant was located. I said it was in an alley somewhere in Glenbrook. He looked startled and I could tell he had more questions but as he was in the middle of work, he didn’t have time. I blurted out the place was legit and Lovegastrogirl eats there every week. He nodded and pointed to his credit card. For this post, let’s listen to “She Drives Me Crazy” by Fine Young Cannibals.

Savino Pizzeria is located in Glenbrook, in a food truck parked in a backyard. Their food is inspired by the pizzas in Naples, Italy. Three things you need to know. Each pizza is a personal size, so order at least one per person. The pizza is the opposite of what many North Americans have come to love in Greek-style pizza. Savino is all about using top quality ingredients and producing the freshest pizza you can find in Calgary.

The first time I tried Neapolitan pizza was in Cannes, France. I was twenty years old, with my girlfriend and a young New Zealand couple. When we only ordered a large pizza and a bottle of wine to share, the waiter made a face, and then took away our tablecloth and linens (mine was on my lap) and tossed us some paper napkins. Our friends were so pissed that to show their displeasure, they upturned the empty wine bottle and wedged it in the middle of the table. Luckily, there was no such snobbery or unnecessary confrontation at Savino, just delicious, fire-baked pizza.

I ordered Lovegastrogirl’s favourite pizzas – the Prosciutto and Arugula ($17) and the Quatro Formaggi with Prosciutto ($21). Pro tip – these pies arrive uncut – so you need a pair of scissors to do the deed yourself.

The first thing I noticed about the prosciutto and arugula pizza was the bright flavour of the tomato sauce. The grape tomatoes tasted so sweet, I thought this had to come from a garden. The arugula was plentiful and so fresh, I wondered where Savino buys their produce.

The quatro formaggi with prosciutto is a cheese lover’s dream. The blend of bocconcini, Parmigiano Reggiano, manchego, and gorgonzola was of pure decadence. The sweetness of the honey accentuated the richness of the cheeses. The homemade chili oil is worth its weight in gold. The oil is spicy enough to make you sputter, but it also had a flavourful kick to it. I use a lot of different chili oils and I’m telling you that Savino’s is the best I’ve tried.

Savino’s crust is thin, and the toppings are light, but I can tell the ingredients are of the best quality. L is a fan of the crust – it was chewy and airy. He was sure the dough was made with 00 flour. I liked the taste of the char on the blistered crust.

Of the two pizzas, our favourite was the four cheese pizza with prosciutto. I have what you call a hearty appetite. Hours later I was hungry again, so we did a dirty and ordered a snack from Popeyes. I need to start keeping salads in my fridge and not make bad late night eating choices.

If you go in knowing what Neapolitan pizza all is about, you’ll love this place. I certainly enjoyed it and look forward to ordering the pizzas again, as well as a bottle of that fabulous chili oil. Hitting the Sauce gives Savino Pizzeria two phat thumbs up.

Japanese · Restaurants · Sushi

Takumi Sushi

I can’t believe it rained all weekend. I felt like I was back in Vancouver. L sensed I was getting squirrelly. He told me to pick a place for lunch and mentioned that a long drive wasn’t an issue for him. I was about to suggest something on my to-eat list when he wondered if I felt like sushi. I said yeah, I could do sushi but Sukiyaki House wasn’t open. L wanted to try Takumi Sushi to compare it to Nami Sushi. We used to eat at Nami Sushi but noticed that in the last two visits, there was inconsistency with the quality. We found out recently that the owner of Takumi sold Nami two years ago. For this post, let’s listen to “The Rain” by Missy Elliott.

I ordered the Lunch Special ($13.50), which allows you to pick three rolls from a select list. I chose the Salmon Maki, Dynamite Roll, and Salmon, Tuna, and Ebi sushi. I also ordered Hokkigai (Surf Clam, $2.05); Tako Nigiri (Octopus, $2.55); Hotate (Raw Scallop $2.85); Salmon Nigiri ($2.05); Spicy Salmon Roll ($6.95) and a Chopped Scallop Roll ($7.25). Takumi gives 10% off all pick up orders.

I’m a fan of Takumi’s nigiri sushi. The ratio of rice to fish was spot on. The surf clam was tender and chewy. The shape of the clam over the rice reminded me of a top hat, covering both sides of the rice ball. I would order this again.

The scallops were big in size and smooth in texture. The scallop tasted fresh, with no fishy aftertaste. I enjoyed the pop of tobiko, which was sprinkled on the top of the scallop. The rice itself was firm and sticky, fragrant with the scent of vinegar.

The salmon sushi tasted creamy and cool. There was nothing wrong with the salmon sushi and I felt like we got what we paid for.

There are two types of nigiri that I wouldn’t recommend – the tuna and ebi sushi. The ebi sushi from the lunch special was razor thin and fishy tasting. I noticed the ebi sushi was crammed in the box, so that the shrimp was wedged in-between the rolls and tuna sushi. As a result, the rice underneath the shrimp fell apart when I tried to lift it up. The tuna sushi didn’t have any flavour. L said next time, he would go for a fattier cut. I agree – spend a little more and get something tastier.

The maki rolls are better than your average sushi restaurant in Calgary. I noticed that the filling to rice was about 4:1. A pet peeve of mine are Japanese restaurants that give you a disproportionate amount of sushi rice. In the salmon maki roll, you can see how much bigger the proportion of salmon is to the rice.

In the spicy salmon roll, the bits of tempura were still crunchy. If you are a spice wimp, don’t worry. The heat in this roll was incredibly mild, and I detected a little sweetness in the sauce. I would order this roll again.

The chopped scallop roll was banger. Again, there was a generous amount of silky smooth chopped scallops to rice. The richness of the Kewpie mayo added to the luxurious pop of the bright orange tobiko. I liked that there was very little cucumber to scallop, so that the flavour and texture focused on the creamy scallops.

All the rolls were tried were great except for the dynamite roll, which was still fine. The shrimp tempura was crispy and tasted fresh, but proportion of avocado to the tempura shrimp was off. In a dynamite roll, the shrimp should be the dominant flavour, not the avocado. This is the only roll I wouldn’t order again. I would pass on the lunch special, though it’s cheap. I personally would rather spend a couple more bucks and get the sushi that I would enjoy.

Takumi is a solid spot for fresh, inexpensive sushi. Lunch for two of was just over $40. I can’t think of any place that competes with Takumi in this price range. Hitting the Sauce gives Takumi two phat thumbs up.