Saturday, January 24, 2015

Happy Birthday!

Usually when it's a birthday in our house that person get to choose which restaurant they want to eat at for dinner. This was no exception for M's birthday a few weeks ago and true to form I am asking a million questions. T: Do you want Thai? What about Viet? I thought about Los Chilitos? M: I don't know babe, we'll figure it out. T: We could go to anything but Indian. How about a pub? Seafood? Steak? (Even I see how annoying I'm being) He comes back a while later and declares that he's got a place in mind. Okay, off we go!

Merchants has been open in Marda Loop for less than 6 months I believe, and seems to be a vast improvement over the old pubs that were there. For example, there used to be a place called Wolfman's (?) where on our first and only visit, at 530pm we see a bar fight. Good sign. If I recall correctly we finished our drink and left back then. This time was much different. Merchants is the newest attempt at the corner/end unit of this strip mall in an increasingly expensive neighbourhood. We go there fairly often to eat or drink because M grew up in that area and he’s got a sweet spot for it. I don’t mind because any time I get to spend with him is okay by me. So even though it’s his birthday, he’s driving and as we approach the subdivision I rack my brain thinking of where we are going to end up. When we pull in here, I’m pretty surprised, I never would have thought of this place. Good for him – one point for M! Where we are parking seems to be the front door but upon approach you see the sign that directs you to the side door. Oh, that seems…strange? For a brand new venue you’d think they have all their doors in order. But, maybe this is a recent occurrence and they’ve found a temporary solution. Regardless, in we go. Through a lovely black curtain. Odd.

This bar is beautiful. I don’t think I’ve ever said that about a place before but this one deserves it. It’s done entirely in warm beige tones, and a huge granite bar in the center. The giant drop chandeliers with old-timey bulbs add to the ambiance. (Shit, I’m an old lady.) At the bar our server comes over quickly and gets us started on some drinks. M, being as smart as his is, has already check the menu so that he knows that there will be something I will drink and eat. Smart, smart man. I have a Keith’s of course and he has a Tool Shed. He’s a tool. LOL. No.

We actually can’t decide on the vibe of this place and so we decide our best game plan is appy’s for now. After reading through everything we both question what the hell a Gnocchi Poutine is. The menu says: Cheese Curds, Ale Gravy, Fried Tomatoes and Crispy Onions. One of these things doesn’t belong comes to mind. Although maybe two to be honest, okay fine – three things. Why the hell are they not using French Fries? Ugh. Don’t fix what ain’t broken! My initial stand point is that a poutine is made with French fries, cheese curds and beef gravy. What the snot is anyone doing putting freaking tomatoes in there?! And on Gnocchi, which sure, is a potato – but it’s not a French fry! But after eating this strange mess of a dish, I’m slightly more okay with their thought process. The gnocchi is soft, like a French fry inside, and the gravy is fine and so are the cheese curds. If I just push the tomatoes and the onions off to the side then I almost have poutine. Except that this happens: M: It tastes like stuffing to me. Like Poutine Stuffing. T: Hm. Really? (eats another bite) Nope, don’t get it. M: Yeah, for sure. This is like Turkey dinner on French-fry-ish-balls. T: I get it in the gravy a little, there must be poultry seasoning in there... or at least sage. But I don’t get the overall Turkey dinner vibe So I give up on the gnocchi. It’s too strange. I move on to the Tuna Tartar. Now this. This is delicious. The BEST tuna tartar I’ve ever had. I am still thinking about it 21 days later. M actually didn’t like it too much, he thought it was way too salty. For me, the soy balanced out the fish perfectly, the bread was lightly toasted, just great. Overall a great dish. I will order this time and again. And it works out because M loved the gnocchi and I loved the tuna. Which we both probably thought would have been vice-versa.

To be totally fair, we left after that. M wasn’t feeling a dinner entre from this locale so we moved on. But when I went to the ladies’ before we left I saw all sorts of event’s we’d come back for. From a prime rib dinner on Thursday nights to a Buck-a-shuck oysters on Tuesdays this place has definitely given us reason to return. Marda Loop is not in our usual routine of places we think of, but it should be, it’s just so far away. I truly hope our next visit is just as enjoyable I can’t wait to try the Lobster Fritters!!

Merchants on Urbanspoon

Viva Las Vegas !! (part one)

Sin City. Lost Wages. What happens here, stays here.

These are all true statements about the city that sees roughly 40 million visitors a year. M and I contribute to that number at least once a year, sometimes two or three times a year! But maybe the most fitting slogan for us should be "Where should we eat?" Each trip there will inevitably begin with us doing up a short list of places that we want to try, have tried before and loved and places that we keep saying we will try but never get around to. Without further ado here is my list of where to eat (and some, where not to eat) in fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada!

Let's go back, all the way back to our first visit in 2008 when we ate at Wolfgang Puck's Spago in Caesar's Palace. I was a little spoiled having been to his Spago Beverly Hills location a month earlier but I really wanted M to experience it, and it’s still counted as somewhere 'new'. We get done up in our fancy clothes (I was even wearing a skirt and heels!) and head towards the restaurant. I think we were both a little nervous, the trip had gone differently than planned and we weren't dating at that time, so I think the pressure of a fancy expensive dinner was taking its toll. As we are reading the menu waiting for our server we but sort of giggle to ourselves and comment that neither of us enjoy wine and in this setting you almost feel a little silly ordering a pint of beer. But nevertheless we do anyway. I knew that I wasn't going to order any of the fancy cocktails because I was still embarrassed by dumping my blood red Tom Collins all over the white table linens in the Los Angeles restaurant. Luckily the servers had cleaned up my mess when I left the table to tidy myself up so when Mr. Puck himself came by my table there was no evidence of me being a klutz. He jokingly made a comment while shaking my hand that it's too bad I was on my way out so quickly! If only I had room to start all over I would have stayed all night.

Sorry, off topic. When we had decided on what to order we waited patiently for our server. While we waited we noticed a little line at the bottom of the menu that read "tasting menu $99". We asked our server what that included and it sounded fabulous - yes, let's do that! But wait! That's $99 per person! OH SHIT! Find the server! Get him back, don't make that! We must have just been a little naive about fine dining because here we thought that we were getting a great deal, whereas really we were going way over our dinner budget for that night. Luckily Jean-Luc-Marc-Philippe came back quickly and he was able to stop that before it was started in the kitchen. Phew. Ok, I'll be honest here. I don't remember what the heck we ate, this was 7 years ago. But I do remember that it was fabulous and filling and fancy and freaking expensive. But it was so worth it. This is certainly on my list of I will go back restaurants. And the next time will be a little different for us - we like wine now, we don't have dinner budgets anymore and I have no problem being called Mrs. H. ;) Let's fast forward and forget about the timelines (frankly I can't remember which trip was which). And I have to stop using words that begin with F.

My plan is this now, I will go along the strip, from the South end to the North. Stopping in each hotel that I have eaten in and give you a short version of a full write up.

Mandalay Bay, have not eaten there. M has, he ate at a build-your-own upscale burger place that he raves about to this day. One thing about American burgers is that they always ask you how you like it cooked. For me, that's too sketchy, but I don't want to be 'that' girl so I'll say medium well. M will do his rare-med rare. I just can't do it. There's a few places here in Calgary that come to mind, so it's not uncommon. It’s for just me I feel like anything under medium tastes like you're eating raw ground beef off the Styrofoam plate. Yuck. Moving on... there aren't any restaurants here that catch my eye except for the buffet. It's one of the only in Vegas that has a full seafood spread. I actually hate buffets, but one day I will try this one.

Luxor, also have not eaten here, even though we stayed here once. Okay, that’s a lie. There is a food court in the back of the hotel. It was there I devoured two Mc D’s cheeseburgers in my hung over birthday state. They do have a little cafeteria, short order cook style and I'm sure it was just fine. Nothing to write home about. They have an awesome Mexican joint on the second floor, and I say awesome because they have a ton of tequila!! Woohooo! We did notice however that when the steakhouse type restaurant was open there was never anyone in it. That should send alarm bells, it's not going to be on my list of places to try.

Excalibur has Dick's. Yes there is a food court, and a buffet and a medieval times show with horses and half naked men, but Dick's is the selling point for me. Probably because I'm a server and I've always wanted to be able to do this to my guests. The staff here are rude to you. On PURPOSE! Dick's Last Resort is just off the casino floor and decorated like a blind autistic kid did drugs while listening to his Walkman. But this is all part of the charm. Look - this place is not for the faint of heart. Or those looking for good food. Or those wanting decent service. The minute you walk in someone is berating you, and if you have half a brain you realize that it’s an act. The trouble for them is that the patrons they get walking in off the street don’t' understand the concept. They have 3 out of 5 on Yelp and a 62% on Urbanspoon and majority of people are biching because "my waiter was SO RUDE!" and "I will NEVER come back - the way I was treated was disgusting". Oh for fuck's sake. Pardon my anger. We've even had a few times there and no, the food is not amazing. Its finger food mostly, ribs, wings, chicken fingers. If you ask for a fork the server will probably throw it at your head. If you sit at the bar you can chat with the bartender and you'll get to talk to them on a normal level. They aren't always jerks. Added bonus fun is your server will make you a stupid hat that you wear during dinner. Some examples I have seen are "Big as a house, hung like a mouse" and “Even my mom thinks I’m a whore". Ha! Hahaha! Her mom was there with her! Hilarious. If you don’t think that’s funny then go stick your head in the stand and count to 100. I laugh every single time we go. And we go every single time we are in Vegas. It's a great place for some laughs and not taking life so seriously. When the DJ is there and plays a well-known song half the guests get up and start doing the dance to the corresponding song. Great times. I wish we had one of these in Canada.

Tropicana, never been, can't say I'm ever going to go.

New York New York. My favourite hotel in Las Vegas. There is so much to see and do and eat in this hotel. Most of the restaurants are right off the casino floor so very easy to find once you're inside. Let's start at the place dearest to my heart. Nine Fine Irishman, an Irish pub of course, and an excellent place for food. We've been more than once but this one time stands out in my mind. Just after dinner time and it's packed. We do get a table upstairs overlooking the bar below. The bar is done in dark woods, muted tones with a large center stage for all the live bands they host. This visit I was famished, so I went all out. The 14 oz rib-eye with potatoes and a side of creamed corn. The funniest part of this trip is that it wasn't the steak or the potatoes that did it for me. It was the corn. If you've ever had the Green Giant Cream Corn then you know what I’m thinking about, what I’m expecting. Now forget everything you've ever imagined creamed corn to be. This dish was in-cred-i-ble. The corn is whole kernels and the cream is cream. It's a little bit sweet and the starch from the corn thickens the cream sauce. From asking the staff I gather that this is the traditional way to eat it, as it would be served in Ireland. I've been fooled all my life thinking that is should be like the little green can. Was I ever blown away. Best meal in a pub that I can think of. I don't even know what M ate that day and really it doesn't matter. M knows the way to my heart is with good food, so if I'm happy then he's happy.
We ate at the Italian restaurant on the opposite side of the floor, Il Fornaio, and it was good. Forgive me for lack of description here but it was quite a while ago, and I don't remember much about it. It gives me the sort of vibe like they are trying very hard to be authentic but it's just not working. If you have a hankering for pasta it's about your only real bet for some in this hotel.
Gallagher's is the properties' steakhouse and although we have not yet been, we do have reservations for our next trip which is coming up in May. I'll be sure to update you then! For now you can just wander by the restaurant and see all the steaks they have on display showcasing their dry-aging process they use.
There is a Mexican joint, an Asian buffet-style restaurant and a cowboy girl-dancing-on-bar honky-tonk kind of place. There is a burger joint, which is one of M's favourite places, and a pizzeria, and a deli and a bagel place. And it’s all decorated like you're walking the streets of NYC. I've not eaten at each place but frankly I would. I'm in love with this hotel: its' theme, the rooms, the food. If you're new to Vegas, or maybe you just haven't stayed there I recommend it whole heartedly. And when you're there please stop in to NFI and try the creamed corn. Pretty please :)

Monte Carlo is the next hotel on this side of the road so let's go in there. This hotel is home to M's favourite place to drink. And my favourite place to... watch him drink? Diablo's is a Mexican cantina right on the corner of the hotel. It gives awesome people watching views while being inside in the air conditioned bar. The reason it's his favourite?
This here: The Diablo's Chupacabra: Casamigo Blanco Tequila, fresh jalapenos, cane sugar, lime, ginger soda with a chili salt rim. While he drinks 1 - 4 of those I will usually have a mojito or 4, but they also have deals on per hour. We've been so many times that we know the regular bartenders, and JP was the one who filled us in on how the specials work. Once an hour they will pick a pretty girl (or maybe ugly girls too, I've just never seen it. I mean, if a tree falls in a forest does it make a noise?) And she will stand up on the bar and give this giant wheel a spin. Whatever it lands on is the next special. Anything from $3 bottles of bud to $5 shots of Jager. I think if you spin the wheel you get that drink for free too. Maybe. I don't remember, I'd probably already had a few drinks before that. Don't judge – this is Vegas.

More to come, my fingers hurt and I need to use the restroom...

Spago on Urbanspoon Dick's Last Resort on Urbanspoon Dick's Last Resort on Urbanspoon Il Fornaio on Urbanspoon Diablo's Cantina on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Road trip to the dinosaurs!

This blog will be a little different than the rest. We went out to Drumheller on Sunday and stopped for a beer and some lunch on the way home. It was such a bad experience that I filled out the pub's 'Concact Us" feedback form online. I didn't intend for it to be so large, but hey - it doubles as a blog entry! So without further ado...

Where do I start? This was probably one of the worst pub experiences I've ever had. I'll preface this by telling you that I am a server. I've been in this industry for 15 years. I've worked in everything from pubs to fine dining. So yes, I'm biased, but I'm also concerned. How can a restaurant operate like that? We were there about 215 on Sunday afternoon. The parking lot didn't indicate that it would be very busy, so we were surprised to walk in and see it nearly full. We assessed the "empty" tables and decided just to sit at the bar. I say "empty" because even though there weren't any customers the tables were still full of dirty dishes. What a horrible first impression. We get up to the bar and there’s a plate and a glass - not sure if anyone is still sitting there.... but I figure not so I move them out of the way. Oh wow, the bar is sticky… That’s great. At this point I’m finding it concerning.... where is the bartender? Why are there 3 trays of empty glassware sitting in the server station? Alright, maybe it’s the end of the lunch rush and they’re catching up. I get it. So we wait. Awkwardly watching the tv’s that are too high up for comfortable watching positions. And we wait. And we wait some more. I’m pretty sure paint dried. Oh, good, someone comes over who looks less than impressed with seeing us sitting there and asked what we want to drink. Ok, we’re making progress I think to myself. Oh look, she even got us menus. While she handed them to us she pointed out that they are only serving appy’s and pub fare. Hey that worked for me, but I wonder why. I look around and think I might have figured it out…. It’s either the salad guy didn’t show up for work – or because Tough Mudder was in town they are trying to “pair down” the menu to not crash the kitchen. Could have been a solid plan – except that it failed horribly. Our beer was fine, nothing wrong there. But by now we’re done our beers and haven’t seen our server (bartender?). The chaos in this pub is outstanding. I comment more than once to my husband that this place is a disaster. Why did you not have a bartender on????!! Mind Blown. There are systems in place that a restaurant needs to implement to run smoothly. You never should have 5 different servers on the floor and behind the bar – pouring their own drinks, making change for people…. I literally am shaking my head as I write this. I can’t wrap my head around this. Where is the manager?? There are people constantly walking in the doors and there are guests sitting there with no drinks, no menus. One lady was behind the bar and actually yelled – yelled! – At a table behind me “has anyone come over to you? What do you want to drink?” Are you serious? She interrupted my personal ear drum space, and those guests she was yelling at were probably a little embarrassed. 

 So at this point, we think it’s pretty humorous actually. We are watching people sit at empty tables and then get up and leave because no one has come over to them. I watch one guy come up and throw his money on the bar and say “I was tired of waiting for you”. Later, a different, older gentleman comes up and needs to pay and someone takes his money. But not before he gets in a snide “I’ve been waiting forever to pay you”. I look at my husband and shake my head. We FINALLY get our server to come back over and she takes our food order. (Side note: you really need to change the menu description of “nacho cheese” – that gives people the impression you are using packaged or canned cheese dipping sauce like what comes on your nachos at the movies or a ball game. Doesn’t make your food sound very appetizing). So she clarifies that it will be real shredded cheese and rings in our food. Guess what happened next? We got our food. In a timely manner and it was pretty tasty. Maybe a little on the greasy side, but its nachos with cheese and beef – I expect it to be greasy. But, and I just thought of this.. the portion was a little underwhelming. For $16 dollars including the beef this portion should have been at least 50% bigger. But hey, no matter. I have food and beer, I’m happy. So when we are eating we spot someone who looks like a manager type come around the bar, huffing and puffing and looking pretty stressed out. I try to remind myself that maybe the restaurant side was really busy, maybe the lunch rush was crazy because of Tough Mudder. But I can’t. That is no excuse for sure horrible service. You knew months in advance that this Tough Mudder competition was coming to your town and that there will be a huge increase in business. HUGE! You staff everyone you have. You have two bartenders and 5 servers. You have every cook, and busboy working. Unacceptable to have such staffing levels that your guests notice your deficiencies. 

 I went to the washroom, and while there was still toilet paper, the ladies’ was out of paper towels. I like to dry my hands on my jeans, its okay. So I stick my head into the restaurant side… I count 3 tables. So, if the restaurant is managing itself, where is the focus on the bar side? Someone take an extra-long smoke break? Maybe Bartender ran off with the cook? I went to the washroom at 3:40, this is important, trust me. We had finished our nachos around 330, and our beers were empty. When I got up to go my husband said do you want another drink? I didn’t know and said I’ll decide while I’m gone. He then said – what about food, are we staying? That was going to depend on how fast our server came back around to take our order. She sure was attentive to the three guys sitting at the end of the bar, but we were invisible to her. We decided that if she doesn’t come back to ask us about food by 4pm then we are leaving. That’s pretty generous, don’t you agree? 20 minutes for our server to come back over and ask… sure is to me. She lucked out, by coming by before 4 pm, but by now we’ve had enough. We just want to leave. She brought us our bill and wandered away. A new girl had just come on shift, and I’m thinking she might have been the elusive bartender. We got her to break our 20 dollar bill for us, as our server hasn’t been back around to take payment. I was thisclose to just walking out on our bill, but I couldn’t. It’s not her fault that this restaurant is run so poorly. 

 Your reviews online are atrocious. Do you ever read them? Take into consideration how your guests feel? I didn’t think so. You certainly aren’t winning any new business, and I’ll never darken your doorway again. Maybe this is the wakeup call that you need. There’s a Boston Pizza in the same parking lot as you and I was still thirsty. We gladly left your establishment and went immediately next door. We sat at the bar and were served instantly, by a smiling young gentleman who you could call a bartender. They had a buffet set out for any restaurant/bar guests as they had the forethought to do a set menu only. I saw the manager on the floor helping everyone out. They were busy and everyone was having a great time – the customers and the staff. Imagine that. Feel free to contact me, although I highly doubt that you will.
So in closing, no we will not go back ;)

O'Shea's (Drumheller) Eatery & Ale House on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 10, 2014

We need somewhere new

Over the past six months or so we have started a little tradition in our house. Thursdays are now Date Night. The premise is simple: we take turns cooking dinner at home, something new that we haven't made before, then we watch the 99c rental movie on iTunes. Sometime we cheat by watching a more expensive movie (because ninety-nine cent movies are just as bad as you imagine them to be). There are times when Date Night gets a little help though. An anniversary, or say, a promotion at work. This was one of those occasions.

If you live in Calgary, or have visited in your partying hayday, you'll probably know about The Back Alley.  An institution here, if you will, for rock music and mullets.  Bikers and teased blond hair.  But anyone who went always had a good time.   It was the alternative to the dance clubs downtown, but it was off the beaten path, and it had made a name for itself.   It rhymes with black but starts with "cr".   Time for a change the owners decided.  It was shut down and entirely renovated, new name, new atmosphere.  Let's check it out!

Marquee Beer Market & Stage is the destination this one Thursday night as my manager at work got the boot.  I, working directly under him, therefore got the good news that I'll be taking over his role.  Sounds like a good time to go celebrate and have a drink and some eats!    When The Back Alley closed they threw a raging party called "Drink The Alley Dry".  I did not attend, but I can only imagine the debauchery that occurred.  The new Marquee opened in to the current craft beer craze that this city is going through.  (If you aren't in Calgary, I only hope that your city is going through the same phase.  I hate it.  Why does every new bar opening have to be 'craft' ?! Ugh.  Over it.)

Take the dog for a walk, get the fur babies fed, and off we go.  It's getting late-ish, and we pull in the parking lot at 7:30.  We figure that's prime dinner time, verging on the start of the late night crowd so we imagined it would be busy.  Good lord were we surprised when we see that there are no other cars in the parking lot.  None.  Off to the right, near the other businesses, were maybe 6 more cars.   But no one in front of the restaurant itself.  Sweet! VIP parking, I'll take it.   Then a thought crosses our minds.

T: Is it open?
M: I don't know, I didn't think to check.
T: Uhhh....where is everyone?

Inside, looks great actually.  Dark browns, bright reds, a huge space where the bar is the focal point.  Alright, I'm ok with this, so far looks good even if it's short on guests.  We notice though that there is only one other table in the whole restaurant.  This concerns me.  Dinner time on a Thursday night should be pretty busy.  I'll bet any of the other restaurants south on MacLeod Trail are probably full, or close to.  So whats wrong with this place?  We sit at the bar, cuz that's how we do.  When the bartender comes over, she's a little strange.  Twitchy a bit, and doesn't seem to be focused on us.  She doesn't mention any of the specials but takes our drink order and is off to fix us up.  When she returns with the drinks we pin point why she's a bit distracting to us.  How can I word this politely....? Umm.... I can't.   She's got a glass eye.  An obvious one. Turns out though she was just covering for the bartender and isn't serving us.  When he arrives he goes over the food specials and what the happy hour menu is offering.  This usually makes us chuckle because as we are thinking about what to drink M will usually figure out the cost of the happy hour special versus the regular price.   In this case, it pays off.  The happy hour pricing is actually more expensive than the regular price.  It's sort of a bar trick, because most people assume it's a deal and just go for it.  But if you look at the drink menu and do some basic math it's pretty clear.

Happy Hour deal is 5 dollars for a 14oz pint, but it's 8.50 for a 20oz pint divided by 62 multiplied by the number of dogs in the park equals the train that left from Boston.  Or something.

When our appetizer comes it looks pretty tasty.  We ordered the spinach & artichoke dip, and for me these are always a crap shoot.  I've had great ones (Cactus Club, I'm lookin' at you) and I've had terrible ones.   This one is near the bottom of the pile.   It's served with housemade chips, which could be a nice twist, but it doesn't work.  The chips are way too thin, and for a dip like this you need something more solid - pita's or na'an.  The dip itself is just ok.  It's too artichoke-y, not cheesy enough.  M doesn't mind it, but I end up just eating the plain potato chips.  Meh, I have beer to drink, I'll be fine until dinner arrives.

When the bartender told us that the Steak Sandwich was the dinner feature I was all in.  Love me a steak sandwich.  More than a beef dip even.  Come to think of it, I might retire my beef dip quest and start a search for the best steak sandwich.   For tonights purposes I'm going to put this one in the middle of the pack.  Cooked perfectly, good toast portion.  That's always a big deal for me - the ratio of the bread to the meat, the flavour of the bread, buttered or not, etc.  The fries were good, not great, but I can live with that.  Overall the meal was good but not memorable.  Thinking back on this actually, I don't' remember what M had for dinner.  I usually write some notes in my phone when were are at the pub but I think I was distracted by our surroundings and didn't put anything down for him.  I asked him if he happened to remember and he doesn't.  I'm not saying anything bad about it necessarily, but if its not a memorable meal then what are the chances we'd go back?

By the end of our meal we had seen that other table leave, and two walk in.  4 tables the whole time we were there (and one of those was just 2 dudes having a quick beer at the bar).   By 9pm we are done our meal and we are the last people there.  The bartender actually did last call for the kitchen and we overheard a server expressing how surprised she is to be off work at 9pm as they were flipping chairs on to tables.  This is a universally known sign for get the F out, we're closing/closed.  Hint taken.

Reflecting on this as I write, I can say that yes, we'll go back.   We really had no issues with the food or the service and I think they need another chance.   But because they have this restaurant side, then the Stage side for concerts and bands, I think Marquee is confused.  Based on our one visit (and the online reviews I've seen- eek!) I can't see this place lasting very long.  It needs to chose if it wants to be a concert venue or a restaurant.  Until then they're only going to serve 4 tables on weeknights.   Not sure how you can afford to stay open on that.  Only time will tell.

Some cold beer, some good food always makes for a successful date night.  It's nothing if not an adventure!  Love you babe.

Marquee Beer Market and Stage on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 9, 2014

It's about time I get back to it.

"I logged in here today, and saw that my last post was over a year ago, June 13th.  It's time to back into this, I've missed writing and updating you all!  It's been a crazy year, we got married, we bought our first house, and I started a new job and we went to England and France!!!   Bear with me over the next few entries and I'll get you all caught up! I'll try to work backwards here, from one of our latest pub trips to our summer adventures as newlyweds.  I'm looking forward to doing a whole blog, or two even, dedicated to our Las Vegas travels and then a Europe version.

Here we go again!

It's another late spring evening, just like any other, we were on the hunt for dinner.   Preferably somewhere new, as M has mentioned to me that it's been a while since I wrote a blog.  Fine by me, anywhere new is a crap shoot, and usually entertaining, if nothing else.   The Horny Toad Saloon is no exception.  Probably, my first issue with this place is its name.   I actually have no idea if toads are regularly horny, or this is a euphemism for something else, but I do know it's a new name - this location has changed owners a bunch of times.  At the corner of Elbow Dr and 77th Ave - roughly behind Chinook Mall, it sits on a tiny square of land in the middle of a parking lot.  That gives you a good impression already hey?  I know.

When we get there M says something to the effect of  "if it's packed, we're leaving".  He can only assume it will be as it's wing night at 6pm.   I secretly hoped that would be the case, but no, it was empty.   3 other tables and 3 bored looking servers.   Funny though, because there were a couple of dirty tables.   Time to lean, time to clean, right ladies?  (Sorry, that's my inner server coming out).    Once we chose our seats, in big comfy looking leather chairs our server comes over.  She's quick to appear with menus and get our drink order, just as I am quick to get the hell out of these uncomfortable chairs.  What a bad idea I said to M, sorry to make him move.   But there has been years of random ass on these seats and the lumps are proof.   There's a booth across the way, looks good.  We relocate ourselves and apologize for moving when she comes back with some beers.  So far, so good, just an uncomfortable table, no big deal.  Oh, but wait.  There's ants.   Lots of ants, crawling up the back of the booth opposite us.    They're probably enjoying the find - the booth has a yellow substance running all the way from the top to the floor.  M is optimistic that its just spilled beer.  I am less so, and worried that its a bodily fluid.   Remember when I said the servers were all standing around and the place was messy...

Speaking of beer, Bud and Bud Light schooners are the drink of the day, no food specials.  I'm usually not one to order Bud for any reason, but when its the most beer for the least amount of money you can convince me.    An appetizer of Toad Chips with dill dip starts us off as we aren't starving.  For a basket of chips with dip, they are exactly what you expect.   The dip was pretty good actually, in hindsight I should have saved some for my fries.  

Should we take bets on what I ordered? :)  A classic beef dip.  Part of my ongoing quest to find the best one leads me to order one here.  It's usually a safe bet, pretty hard to mess up and I hardly ever have to modify it.   Okay, okay...that's not entirely true.  I always add mozzarella cheese to it, so that counts as modifying.  But also, so does taking off crap like Horseradish Mayo or saying no onions.  Hey, I said 'hardly', not never.   M orders the Hot N Spicy Burger, a huge concoction of Frank's Red Hot, jalapenos and Sriracha aioli.    When dinner arrives we are both kind of surprised by how good it looks.  The place has a bit of a sketchy vibe so you never know what to expect.   We are impressed and dig right in.  M's consensus is that its a pretty tasty burger, the Sriracha aioli makes it great.  He could do without the Frank's but that's a personal choice and still works with the burger overall.    My beef dip is just what I was after.  Tons of thick cut slices of beef and melt-y cheesy goodness. Yup, that's a good beef dip.  I don't think it was memorable enough to be named my favourite, but its gets my seal of approval.  The fries on the other hand...they were a solid lukewarm when they arrived and rather soggy.  I'm not going to say anything because, really, it's just a side dish.  I'm probably not going to eat much of them anyway.   But if they were fresh I would have gotten more of that dill dip.  That was tasty business.   As we wind down both of us comment on how the server hasn't came around to check on us (a pet peeve of mine) and we figure she probably just wants us to eat and leave.  We are happy to oblige her. We had noticed the posters all around advertising karaoke starts at 9pm on Thursdays.  It's about 815 when we are paying the bill and noticed them start setting up and testing the microphones.  Yup, let's just get outta here.
Plates cleared, bill paid and a good few mouthfuls of Bud remains in the glass.  Sure our food was tasty but that doesn't make up for lack of cleanliness and uninterested servers.  Maybe if the kitchen team served the tables too it would be a destination we'd return to.  Clearly they are the only ones who care.   Maybe they'll change owners in the future and we'll give it another shot.   There's other places to visit until that happens.

The Horny Toad Saloon on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Tilted What? Where?

If you're from Calgary you might remember Bob the Fish.  Or you may have lived here all your life and never even heard of the place.  Don't worry, you're not alone.  And besides, this isn't a blog about Bob the Fish, its about Tilted Kilt, the American chain that bought the building and renovated extensively .

I can't put my finger on what the company is going for... Hooters with plaid skirts and better food?  The girls who work there are pretty.  Pretty Stupid.   And I suppose I am using the term "work" loosely.  So its a lot of pretty girls standing around chatting while you get more and more frustrated about the lack of service.  Good start right??

We run in from the rain and at first, I'm very impressed by the renos.  It literally is a whole new place inside. (For those unaware, Bob the Fish would be in the bottom rung of our Dive Bar list... it was that ghetto).  We hover near the host stand, assuming someone would be up to seat us.  A few minutes later, we are thisclose to seating ourselves, when finally someone comes over "have you guys been helped?"   Oh, yes, we have a table, we just prefer to stand in the doorway people watching until our food arrives.   For god sake.   There were only a handful of tables left, most of them by the door (one oddly behind the host stand all alone) and she asked us if we had a preference.  I asked to have one over yonder and if she could clean it off.  She said yes, off she went.   Okay.  Oh.  Wait.  What?  What's happening?   She's cleaning a different table.  It's ALREADY clean.   She actually walked around in circles, made the effort to get a cloth, and then cleaned a clean table. Holy shit.    I can't even type this without laughing to myself.

Moving on.  We sat at the one she had made such an effort for, with no fuss.  Let's just get a beer and relax.
...many many minutes later...

M: 5 minutes and we're leaving.
T: Ya.  I felt that way 5 minutes ago.

Oh finally... I think our countdown was at 25 seconds and we had someone come over.  Again with the same question as the hostess asked.   What is wrong with this place??  I understand that I'm a bit sensitive, because I'm in the industry, but this is ridiculous.   Fortunately she's very quick with the beers and has some helpful answers about our menu questions.    Our beers are fast, cold, and on special.  Good deal.  We settled on Mozzarella Sticks and a pound of the " famous " grilled wings tossed in the special Tilted Kilt sauce.   Our food arrived in a timely fashion (which clearly I'm surprised by) and it was mediocre at best. The mozzarella sticks were of the frozen variety.  Now bear with me.  I wasn't expecting homemade mozza sticks, but the least you can do, is when they are cooking, separate them!   When you deep fry frozen food it clumps together unless you do some preventative shuffling.  Of my ten sticks, probably 6 of them were cooked together like conjoined twins.  And, they were tiny.  Gosh, so disappointed.  But because it's deep fried cheese I ate them anyway.  M's wings are just alright.  Not the best, not the worst.  Just average, but the special sauce was supposed to be the star.  It was 't, and if anything it was confusing.  Sort of like BBQ sauce, sort of sweet.  He can't put his finger on it.  I attempt to identify the mystery sauce and also come up short.  Who the hell knows?

My biggest beef with Tilted Kilt is the washrooms.  It's downstairs, and beautiful, but my issue is the staircase.  It is very narrow, and very steep.  The kind of scary that makes us high-heel wearing folk a little worried.  Especially if you're out on the town and have had a martini or 4.  With all of the other renovations they did, they maybe could have moved the washrooms to the main level.  Now, I'm in no position to give construction advice, but I wonder how easy that could have been.  What will happen when a girl falls down the stairs?

We go to 17th Ave pretty often, and we have many more places to try before coming back to Tilted Kilt.  Sorry. Your cold, cheap beers just aren't enough to keep us coming back.

Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery on Urbanspoon

Dive Bar Date Night

There aren't many things I love more than my dog and my husband.   See that?  Husband?  Yup, we tied the knot two weeks ago today, on the beach in Santa Monica, California!  So he gets upgraded from "bf" to "hubby" going forward :)
Focus, Tammy.

Okay, so we know I also love beer and deep fried food.  And you know who always has lots of that?  Dive bars.  The hole-in-the-wall, run down, neighbourhood strip mall type of place.   I am so excited when we check out a new place that M found, over in his old stompin' grounds.

Bally's Bar and Grill.  It is everything you expect from a dive bar, including the neon beer signs and the questionable entrance way.  Perfect for our Date Night :)

The area isn't bad, it's right on 14th street just north of the Bankview area, but the clientele is a bit less than desirable.  Works for us though, we're there for draft beer and deep fried cheese.  The other guests of the bar are just for our entertainment!  We like to count the mullets, make fun of cut off t-shirts and guess the age of the raggedy bartender.  Good fun I tell ya, but right now I need to take it all in.   The Flames are on TV and the nightly event is Karaoke at 9pm.  Sounds like a pretty fun night out!  A horrible lay out though I have to admit.  A lot of seats at the bar, a bunch of pool tables, and an upstairs level that has some arcade games and the karaoke set-up.  So we're left with a small group of tables a little squished together, but it will do.  Saturday night food specials (which are rare) is "most appy's 7 bucks".   Wicked deal!  I, presumably, get the Potato Skins, and M goes outside the box a bit with the "Chips with Apricot Aioli".    Ooohh fancy.

My skins are perfect... just what you expect when you order deep fried potato and cheese :D  Yummy.  And M's chips are awesome.   He cleaned the plate, devoured them.   He really loved them.  Or maybe he was just very hungry?   Nope, I've confirmed he loved them.   He actually keeps talking about them, even though we ate there three months ago!

Because we were doing a bit of a pub crawl, we had to move on from Bally's before the hockey game ended and before the karaoke began (shucks) so no clue how great the late night crowd is... I'd be willing to bet it's a bit questionable.  If you happen to be in the area and need a cold one, stop in.  You won't regret it.

However, heading down 14th street to Mugs Pub & Grill, you'd probably regret it.  Keep in mind this is Dive Bar Date Night so we are fully prepared for hilarity.  From the outside it looks just right, but inside you begin to question your decision.  The U-shaped bar in the middle holds some of the
sketchier people we've come across and the giant mirrors on the walls give the illusion of it being a much bigger place.  But also, they are deceiving because you don't notice that its a mirror until you run face first into it.  Damnit.

We were looking for a quiet-ish place to have some wings and a pint, and at 930pm on a Saturday night we were one of three tables in the bar.  No worries about too noisy here.    Our server takes a while to come over, and is seemingly quite nonchalant about her job.  Doesn't exactly know the answers to our questions (about parking in the lot out front/towing issues) and takes her sweet time bringing us our beers.  To her credit (?) she claimed she was new, but in this city, servers are a dime a dozen.  And I don't think Mugs is a decent enough place to keep staff long term.

Oh  I love beer in Honeycomb Mugs.   Not.   I don't know why, or what it is, I just hate them.  It's not 1989 anymore people, buy new glassware!   So our wings come, they're cheap and small, just right for this kind of dive bar.  But they're just gross really.   M has been adventurous tonight and also ordered a French Onion Soup.  Brave, I tell ya.   Surprisingly, he really likes it.   I don't think it's the best he's ever had, but he ate it all.  Couldn't have been horrible then!  We decide we can't handle the trashy atmosphere anymore and need to get out of here.  We settle up as fast as we can, but keep in mind our server is slow as all get out, so just paying the bill is a bit painful.

Overall, Date Night is a great success!   We found a new dive bar that isn't worth it, and one that totally is!  It won't be our last adventure to the Dive Bar theme, there's a hundred more in this city!  Can't wait to discover the next best one.  Right now Bally's is in the lead, cheap bear and apricot aioli!  Stop, you're making me hungry!!

Ballys Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Mugs Pub on Urbanspoon