Fusion · Italian · Japanese · Restaurants

Carino – COVID-19 dine-in edition

Cheese Pull called and wanted to meet for dinner. She asked me to bring L but he declined as he dislikes being the only dude out with a group of chicks. For this post, let’s listen to “Just a Girl” by No Doubt.

Cheese Pull and I wanted to check out Carino, specifically for the gyozagna – a fusion blend of gyoza and lasagna. Carino has moved a couple of doors down the street into spacier, fancier digs. The room is filled with natural light and has a fresh, airy feel to it.

I asked our server for a glass of wine that would pair with the lasagna. He recommended the Barbera ($11). Cheese Pull doesn’t drink. I noticed that kids nowadays don’t consume alcohol, perhaps because they have better coping skills than my generation did.

For my appetizer, I choose Chicken Karaage ($8). Each piece of chicken was bite-sized and juicy, with a light, soft batter. The taste of basil in the mayonnaise was prominent. Cheese Pull commented the batter wasn’t as crunchy as Sukiyaki House‘s karaage.

The Gyozagna ($24) was so good that Cheese Pull let out a low growling sound as she ate. If that isn’t a compliment, I don’t know what is. Each dumpling was so plump, stuffed with a pork filling that burst with its hot juices. The wagyu meat sauce was so rich and heavy it just melded into the lava of melted mozzarella.

I enjoyed everything about this dish. From the delicate dumpling wrapper to the fresh flavour of the tomato sauce to the crunchy bits of caramelized cheese that crusted onto the top corners of the dish. The portion was also very filling.

Cheese Pull packed half her pasta away while I ate my entire serving. I was planning on bringing L half my pasta but it was so decadent I couldn’t stop eating. Cheese Pull said it was his fault for not coming. Our server was surprised I crushed my plate.

 

I was too full for dessert but Cheese Pull ordered the Hassun ($12) – a trio of sweets. Cheese Pull said the lemon flavouring in the shooter glass was subtle with a consistency like apple sauce. Her favourite of the trio was the creme brûlée. I could hear her tap on the sugar until it broke. She described her creme brûlée as a fancy pudding. The tiramisu was deconstructed – with the bottom layer tasting strongly of espresso.

I plan to return and get L to order the gyozagna so I can order the Alberta Beef Tenderloin with Seared Foie Gras Ravioli ($49.99). If you haven’t been, you have to check Carino out. The food is unique and delicious. Hitting the Sauce gives this Japanese Italian fusion gem two fat thumbs up.

Fusion · Restaurants · Vietnamese

Pure Kitchen and Bar

I organized a dinner for L’s 15 colleagues. I worked on the menu with the owner and chef at Pure Kitchen and Bar – Lam Pham. For only $45 a person, he created a spectacular feast for us. For this post, let us listen to “Pure Comedy by Father John Misty.

To start our meal, Pham sent out a complimentary amuse bouche – Roasted Duck Crostini. I loved the combination of the rich, warm chicken pate with the sweet orange jam and watercress salad. This crostini had it all – crunchy, soft, sweet and savoury.

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The Tenderloin Tataki was an appropriate introduction to Pham’s cuisine. The beef was thinly sliced and cool on the tongue. The sauce was lively – a spicy blend of tamarind nuoc cham and chili oil. The ruby red beef was layered with bean sprouts, herbs, crispy shallots and peanuts. Refreshing and light, I liked the contrast of the crunchy sprouts against the tenderness of the beef.

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Each couple shared a Char Siu Sesame Donut. The sous vide pork shoulder was soft and sweet from the sauce. The donut was stuffed with cucumber, cilantro and pickled carrots. I could taste some lingering spice from the sriracha aioli.

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The fruit from the Papaya and Mango Sate Grilled Shrimp Salad had a gentle, mellow sweetness. Our group liked the addition of the crunchy taro chips. Normally I find bean sprouts don’t taste like anything. These bean sprouts must have just been plucked, because the flavour profile was clean and watery.

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L’s favourite dish was the Roasted Duck Spring Rolls with Crepes. The roll itself was piping hot, filled with creamy duck meat and orange jam. I thought the spring rolls would taste more like a traditional Chinese Peking duck crepe, but with the addition of the watercress and sour green apple, it was more lively. L said it was a wrap of awesomeness.

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The Salted Duck Yolk Crusted Shrimp Tempura was the highlight of my meal. The shrimp was large and sweet, encased in a crunchy batter with a creamy sauce of 5 Spice chili, tobiko mayo and nori. Even though I was full, I ate three pieces. Pham’s version reminded me of ebi mayo, but supersized, more decadent and intensely flavoured.

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My second favourite dish was the Claypot Lemongrass Tofu. The tofu was still crunchy, despite the thick pool of lemony, caramelized gravy.

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I’ve tried the Seafood Fried Rice several times before, and as always, the fried rice did not disappoint. I liked the generous ratio of shrimp, crab, egg and tobiko to rice.

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I heard a lot about the Pan Seared Master Chicken. I liked the master stock jus and the mushrooms.

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The Gai Lan was excellent. I don’t know where Lam buys his produce from, because I can’t get gai lan this fresh. The greens were sweet and perfectly cooked – tender but there was still a bite to it. The ginger scallion jus, garlic chips and sate oil elevated the greens and then some.

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By this time, I was too full to enjoy the Wok Tossed Shaken Beef. I did ravish the watercress salad. So good, I would request to order the watercress as a side in the future.

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For dessert, we ate Crispy Banana & Yam Spring Rolls. The soft filling was warm and sweet. Our server told us to swirl the spring roll around the coconut taro sauce. Yummy, though I was too full to finish my dessert.

Pham knocked it out of the park. The food exceeded L’s expectations, and we have eaten at Pure several times before. This feast reminded me of the Chinese banquets and weekly multi-course dinners my mother use to organize. I’ve been trying to eat smaller portions, but surrounded by so much tantalizing food, my inner fat kid came out and I would not stop eating. I could see from across the table that the other shared platters were still piled high with food, but the plates near me shone clean. In 2019, Pure was voted by Avenue Magazine as best Vietnamese restaurant in Calgary. I can see why. Hitting the Sauce gives Pure Contemporary Vietnamese two fat thumbs up.

Pure Contemporary Vietnamese Kitchen + Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Fusion · Italian · Japanese · Restaurants

Carino Riserva – L’s birthday dinner

For L’s birthday dinner, he picked Carino Riserva. In past visits, I noticed that you must have a reservation or you won’t get into the restaurant. Despite being popular with locals and Japanese guests, I don’t think Carino gets the accolades in magazines and social media that it deserves.

I think that new restaurants get covered by food writers for one or two articles, but then it seems to be back to the same rotation of restaurants that show up in the ‘best restaurants’ category in Avenue Calgary.  I’m not knocking the restaurants, writers or the magazine. I’m just saying I don’t want to read about the same restaurants year after year. I have a good memory and the articles on the same restaurants gets redundant. Edit- I stand corrected. Avenue Magazine rated Carino best fusion restaurant. My bad! My memory isn’t as good as I thought.

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Last night, L and I had the best meal of 2018. For this post, let’s listen to one of L’s favourite bands – Thee Michelle Gun Elephant, GT400.

 

We sat by the window. I would recommend requesting this table if you have out-of-town guests. We enjoyed people watching and recognizing familiar faces walking the trendy streets of Mission.

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I appreciated our server’s food and wine recommendations. She also prevented us from ordering too much food. If you like your wine, but don’t want to pay a fortune, this is the place for you. I’ve never tried a wine I didn’t like at Carino. The owner Toshi was Teatro’s head sommelier for years. Wines by the glass range from $9-12.  I ordered a flute of prosecco ($9.00) and L stuck with Sapporo ($7.50).

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A feature appetizer was the pork gyoza ($7.50) with basil dipping sauce. The dumplings were plump with juicy meat. The wrapping was beautifully pinched and grilled to a crisp.

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Look at the fresh basil in the filling! L thought the gyoza showed the best of Italian and Japanese cuisine. Freaking fantastic. I would order this again.

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We shared a second appetizer – Steamed Clams and Mussel Hot Pot ($18) with Italian sausage and fries. The flame burning underneath the black cauldron added a mystique to the ambience of our table. The sausage was sweet and I could taste fennel. The broth was so tasty, we kept drinking it. I would buy this broth if I could- it was like a seafood bisque.

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The absolute star of the show was the Alberta Beef Tenderloin with Wagyu Meat Sauce and Aglio Et Olio ($35). I can’t believe pasta with so few ingredients can taste that good. The noodles were served piping hot and al dente. The flavour of the oil was incredible – it must speak to the quality of the olive oil and the chef’s cooking technique. I want to compare Carino’s version to Cotto Italian Comfort Food, the next time the latter restaurant has aglio et olio on their weekly pasta feature.

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L declared Carino’s steak the best he’s had in his life. The steak was charred on the outside and cooked to a medium rare in the middle. The beef was tender and juicy. The mix of arugula and bitter greens acted like a palate cleanser in between bites of steak. We both ate as slowly as we could to enjoy every morsel. I ordered a glass of Liberta ($11) to go with my steak.

This entire meal with three alcoholic drinks cost only $92 dollars! Just goes to show you don’t need to spend a fortune to have a fantastic meal in Calgary. In fact, the best meal we had all year. I’ve already booked Carino Riserva for my birthday dinner with L and Beep Beep.

Carino makes it on Hitting the Sauce’s Phat Picks – which is a list of my own favourite restaurants in the city. I’ll take my own advice and try to keep the list fresh by trying new restaurants. I’m the biggest culprit for revisiting the same old restaurant instead of trying something new. Next on my list – Big Catch’s new restaurant, OMO Teppan & Kitchen, Raj Palace, Han Maru, and Namsam Korean Cuisine.

Carino Riserva Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato