Friday, October 29, 2010

JAROBlue - I should have asked what that meant...

While it’s been few and far between, a few of my “business” meetings have taken place in the evening over appetizers and wine instead of coffee and croissants.  Last night, we ventured out to JAROBlue on 17th Ave for a night of laughter, wine, appy’s and of course just a smidge of business. 
We got there about 6:15 and it was empty.  In fact, we were the only two in the lounge for about 30 minutes of so.  It didn’t actually matter since we were so enamoured with our conversation, and by about 7:30 the place was packed.  It was a great vibe, with even better service.  If it wouldn’t have been a Thursday night, I’m certain I could have found trouble at the bottom of the wine bottle easily.
We ordered the chef’s platter – and we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into as it says, “Let our chef choose items from our menu and his pantry to showcase the diversity of JAROblue’s creativity.”  And creative they were! 

We started off with a bowl full olives – various in size and flavors – which by the end, I’ve probably never consumed quite so many olives.  Next was deepfried cod over neat little strip chips.  The cod had an amazing sriracha mint dipping sauce that neither of us could get enough of.  In fact, I believe my guest almost licked out the dipping bowl (or would have, if I wasn’t watching her).  After a small rest, came the most amazing ravioli, packed with goat cheese.  Paired with a dynamite Malbec, this really came to life.  Finally, the main course consisted of a walnut, blue cheese salad, duck confit, lamb chops (that literally melted in my mouth), and a roasted pear for “dessert”. 

All of this for a reasonable $35.00 per person.  We tried and sampled so many items – it was truly a delightful way to experience an amazing tapas restaurant.

The interior design of the place is quite sophisticated and it was easy to get comfortable.  Basically it was a lounge, with shorter tables and velvet couches.  Dark and dim, the candelabras set an impressive mood.  And a shout-out to the music director (or the iPod playlist creator) – indie/Canadian music such as Metric (acoustic versions) really allowed for good conversation and added to the overall sensation of the enjoying the food.

As the night got later, the restaurant turned over quickly, and maintained full capacity. A hopping over 40 crowd for the most part, allowed for a mature and intimate setting.  And definitely a great place to relax, drink a glass of wine, and enjoy the company. 

Vendome Cafe - Panini's and Breakfast Galore!

Just outside of Kensington Square (where parking is free) and smack dab in the middle of Sunnyside (2nd Ave and 9th St to be exact) is upscale Teatro’s little sister, Vendome Café.   I am surrounded by amazing scents, the sounds of crackling eggs hitting the grill, charming English accents, multi-language conversations, country-chic décor (including church benches) and of course Luis Vuitton galore (in other words, housewives and students living on a  “budget”).  While the prices are not upscale ($18.95 is the highest I can see on the menu) and a muffin and coffee only cost me $5.35, clearly this is still a well-kept secret.  The fact that they don’t have a Facebook page…well, I guess they are just too good for social media.
Thankfully – there is plenty of space upon my arrival to grab a table, which happened to be just before the lunch crowd.  They have one table with an electrical plug, but I take the table that I can actually spread out at.  A click on the web access and sure enough they have a wireless connection.  The password is given out without cost (other than a coffee and a muffin) and works without issue.  When technology works the way it is supposed to, I find myself giddy immediately.  I can work and play at the same time!
A table of two women across from me order a ridiculous amount of food (an omelette, an egg, toast, a breakfast Panini, and apparently for dessert, French toast).  Giggling, she says loud enough for everyone around to hear, “I couldn’t decide what to order!” 10 minutes later and they have devoured the entire meal from start to finish.  Perhaps jealously, I scoff and think of what it will be like when they are in their 30’s and their metabolism shuts down. Ugh. I digress.
Later, my tummy is rumbling again and my guest has arrived so we order lunch.  It’s around the 12:00 PM time frame, and it’s slowly filling up.  I order the special (a pulled pork and bacon Panini with coleslaw…something I must try when I’m in a new Calgary restaurant as pulled pork is a delicatessen here) and Laila orders the Chicken Club (who coincidentally is still talking about it days later).  My Pulled Pork Panini wasn’t as good as I was hoping for, nor was the side of cauliflower soup.  I thought cauliflower would be as good as broccoli cheese soup (in general), but it was missing the key ingredient of cheese.  Not that it was advertised as such, I just skipped over that detail when ordering.  I don’t want to say I was disappointed, but I had higher expectations. This is probably because I was drooling over the French toast that kept being ordered and I should have gone with my instincts and ordered what I wanted (regardless of how many calories…I’d say I could run it off, but I haven’t run since Thanksgiving so that’s really just a joke and probably why I went for the “healthier” choice.)
The only thing that truly bugged me about the restaurant were two customers. Laila and I sat at a table for four but it was just two of us.  I sat on one side of the table diagonally across from her.  The restaurant was definitely filling u, when, two women asked if they could sit at our table because, “There is nowhere else to sit.”  I probably wouldn’t have been so angry, but the bar at the window was not full – and really…who does that?  What if we were meeting on something, and needed more space, what if we weren’t even together, just happened to be chatting?  I just would never ask someone to move when they clearly have the space but alas this rant is over.  It actually soured my day there BUT I know this is by no means the restaurant’s fault. 
Therefore, I’m going back Monday.  To try the French toast.  And probably blog about my second experience.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Okay - it's not a hidden gem, BUT...

So okay, admittedly Starbucks isn’t something someone should be blogging about – the multi-billion dollar company does not need a lot of help or press in terms of clientele…I mean it’s pretty obvious they do okay.  However, the Starbucks on Sunridge Way  next to Sunridge Mall in Calgary, is pretty sweet!
First, they are connected to Chapters, which pretty much means I’m in heaven all day long.  And the fact that I have to purchase the book before I buy it prevents me from getting up and roaming (which I thought I might have fun procrastinating with), but if I want more information on something, I can quickly get up and browse for a book that may help me in my research.
Additional pros: free parking, I don’t have to tip, the background music is really pretty great (digging the indie rock), I get a table with a plug to myself to sprawl out on, interesting people are walking in and out constantly and the food and drinks are actually cheaper than many of the “luxury” coffee shops I’ve been frequenting. 
Today, I managed to scarf down (way before the opportunity for a picture came to mind) a spinach, feta and egg wrap.  For a completely processed delight – my tastebuds love it (but a fair warning…it’s friggin, burn your mouth instantly, hot!)  And my regular venti, non-fat, peppermint, awake tea latte always puts a smile on my face with goodness (for those that haven’t tried, don’t knock it till you do!  And even then, I don’t want to hear it…<g>).
The cons – I’m annoyed by the frappucino blender.  I mean, it’s not summer – why are you ordering a frappucino? The loud lady to my left wants us all to hear her complain.  Actually I shutter as she continues to talk as I have met her (not exactly her, but a close replica of her) in every organization I have ever worked in.  You know the one that says, “I hate my job, they are all incompetent, I have to work twice as hard as everyone else, no one cares what I have to say.”  You don’t say…I’d pretty much tune you out too if I had to hear you speak like that all day…and then I remember my iPod is in my purse and all is good again with the world!
Till next time…

Friday, October 15, 2010

deVille - in Art Central (not Fashion Central as there are two!)

So deVille, a "luxury" (whatever that means, perhaps the intention to keep rift-raft like me out) coffee-shop is located on the second floor of Art Central, 100-7th Ave.  Art Central (if you haven't been) is full of awesome shops, and of course, feeds my shop-aholic addiction like no other.  But we're talking about deVille.

deVille is a trendy loft and even has exposed brick to show for it.  The windows provide an abundant amount of light, but on this dreary day, I wish the curtains were closed (it's snowing after a beautiful summer day just yesterday...Calgary is crazy! Yesterday I was wearing shorts, today I'm wearing a toque!)  And...back to deVille.

My favorite drink here is the Nutella Latte.  I don't even skimp on the milk and make it non-fat - therefore, it's a rich, perfectly peanutty/chocolately goodness all mixed into one.  And the latte art isn't so bad either (although, let's get a bit more creative here people - this is a LUXURY coffee shop afterall and the "leaf" gets a bit tired after you've seen it hundreds of times before!)

I originally came to meet a potential referral at about 10:00 AM this morning.  The noise level was quite high and I felt like I was shouting a bit...and I had to fake pretend I heard everything - however, the vibe inside was hopping, full of energy.  It was definitely a place where business relationships could be formed.

After the meeting was over, I hopped over to the bar where I could get a bit more space and not feel like I was taking a table from someone else (a lesson I learned yesterday).  As lunch time approached, and my tummy started to sound rumbly, I was in the mood for soup.  Today's special was Potato, Leek and Bacon and came with high accolades from the server (who by the way was very hungover and couldn't stop talking about clients, to her whoever would listen.) 

She was right, the soup was great - but look at this picture! I haven't taken a single bite out of the bowl yet.  If you're going to use bowls that big AND charge 6 bucks, at least fill it up (or invest in smaller white bowls...I'm sure they are out there...this just looks disappointing!)  However, the creaminess was delightful, the bacon absolutely scrumptious and my pallet was very pleased.

For a total of $16.00 I received a 10 oz Nutella Latte, a 10 oz Tea and Soup.  I guess because it's "luxury" they are allowed to skimp out on the portion size - but they certainly don't on taste (which is really all I can ask for). 

As for my workspace - it's actually really great.  To get on to WI-FI is no problem (they have a network access key you can actually remember) and I'm certainly not the only one who is working away here.  However, parking is metered so you're looking at $9.25 for 2 hours (highway robbery if you ask me...but really is no fault of the coffee-shop.)

The service - I'm sitting at the bar, and not one has asked if I needed anything else, or how my day is.  But it doesn't seem like that kind of a place.  I suppose it's a toss-up - do I want full service, or self-service? 

Workability - 4 out of 5
Service - 2.5 out of 5
Food - 3.5 out of 5 (but mostly just due to portion size!)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Diner Deluxe - Feeling a little Fri-ta-ta-ee!

Today’s office space was courteous of “Diner Deluxe” located at 804 Edmonton Trail NE in Calgary, Alberta.  50’s inspired décor, this little ditty is a breakfast/brunch/lunch/dinner gem and has been nominated (and won) best breakfast in Avenue Magazine at least twice (if not more, I just haven’t followed Avenue Magazine for that long!)
In the interest of full disclosure, I love Diner Deluxe.  I’ve been here dozens of times (if not hundreds…okay no…the “s” on hundreds is not needed, but close!)  Basically, if I have a choice for breakfast, I come to Diner Deluxe…but I’ve never tried to work at Diner Deluxe so I figured I would try it and see what kind of experience I have.
The thing about Diner Deluxe is, when you walk through the door you are instantly transported to a time when things were much simpler.  Honestly, every time I go into even the washroom I smile.  It reminds me of my Grandma’s decorating style (except my grandma doesn’t leave little notes to remind me where “stuff” goes or how “stuff” works.)  The unmatchingness (I realize that’s not a word) in the diner which include the cups, spoons, dishes, the pictures, the tables, the chairs all sparkle with charm.

The problem with Diner Deluxe, I never know if I’m supposed to wait to be seated or just walk in.  Part of me thinks I’m just supposed to walk in because it’s that comfortable feeling, but they do have servers sooo…I wait and typically stand there awkwardly till someone slows their roll and greets me…if only there was a sign! (Actually half the time I have to put my name on a list to get in, because on weekends the line-up is out the door…thus my confusion!)
Today, I was able to land a prime location, staring at the kitchen and had a good view of the people in the restaurant.  I walked in around 10:00 AM and it was 75% full.  My spot allowed me to spread out like a typical work bench (my post-card campaign is starting and I have a number of volunteer initiatives due next week for Making Changes Association) and with my organized chaos approach to business, I had to be able to move quickly between items as I require breaks from each project often – typically due to boredom or needi
ng a break to rejuvenate the creative juices.
Anyway, the coffee at Diner Deluxe is an amazing roast and I always drink way too much. For this morning’s breakfast (and let’s face it, lunch and quite possibly dinner) I order the Smoked Chicken, Asparagus, Fresh Tomato & Gouda Frittata.  And as always – I was not disappointed (although if I could just eat their toast and jam and I’d be a happy camper….their jam is my favorite condiment…not only does it’s deliciousness find its way onto my toast, it also goes on my eggs, hashbrowns and if I knew it wasn’t weird, I’d probably lick the little silver cup it comes in to show my absolute and genuine love of this jam…okay I digress.) 
The chicken is perfectly prepared, although there was almost too much chicken, and the cheese needed to have a bit of a kick to it.  Maybe a bit of asiago? Parmesan?  No wait - Blue Cheese!  The cheese was missing a richness (then again, I’m a bit of a cheese addict, and I like strong tasting cheese).  The asparagus was perfectly steamed, not too crisp and definitely not too soggy.  The tomato (which I usually pick out) was also tasty.
The hasbrowns today weren’t quite as good (with the yams slightly undercooked) but, that’s rare for Diner Deluxe. 
As for the service – she was a bit off today.  My favorite is the one with the wicked tattoos and the crazy earrings made out of her own flesh.  She always compliments me and has always made my day.  It’s like she knows the perfect thing to say.  Today’s server just seemed like she needed a hug.  And I’m way too shy to just offer one up.   Don’t get me wrong – she made sure I had everything I needed and made sure my IV coffee drip was always full.  She was just off.  There was, however, a busboy (not sure if that’s still what they call that position) who was very chatty and asked about my lap top.  He seemed really sweet…almost to the point where I was going to give him my lap top and buy myself a new one!  But again – that would be weird I think.
As for getting my work done – it was harder than I was expecting.  A.) I love listening into people’s conversations (yup, I’m THAT girl) so I found myself drifting off.  B.) I was conscious of the fact that I was taking up another potential diner’s spot (I had two to just one of me) C.) No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the access key to work on my wireless (admittedly, I had enough to do to keep me busy without getting the wireless to work, but it was still a drag!) and D.) I felt patrons that were waiting were boring holes into the back of my head wishing me to leave.  I did spend $25.00 so I know I earned my spot, but THEY don’t know that…
Recap: $25.00 included breakfast, coffee and grapefruit juice (which is not freshly squeezed) and of course a 20% tip.  I’ll be back without doubt – and maybe try to work there again…perhaps next time at the bar where no one really likes to sit anyway!
For the love of food: 4 out of 5 stars (today…typically 5 out of 5)
For the love of working in a traveling office: 2.5 out of 5 (but I’ll see what it’s like in a different spot next time!)