CHARCUT Roast House, Calgary

Even before Connie DeSousa appeared on Top Chef Canada, CHARCUT Roast House has created a lot of buzz. An enRoute Canada’s Best New Restaurant for 2010, their charcuterie and alley burgers (served in the back alley at various times announced on Twitter) has kept their name on the lips of people in Calgary and beyond.

I ate there with a friend back in February, coincidentally just 10 days before the names of the Top Chef Canada contestants were released. We ended up getting the same entrée, but different sides.

For an entrée we had the Spring Creek Butcher Steak, with arugula, fried matchstick potatoes, and chimichurri. It was probably one of the best steaks I’ve ever had. The meat was so tender that it practically melted in your mouth.

My friend also ordered the duck fat fried poutine served with cheese curds and truffle gravy. It was delicious and so very rich. So rich in fact that we couldn’t finish it even though I ended up trying to help her eat the dish. We were stuffed silly. I could easily see this dish being a good appetizer for 3 to 4 people. It’s definitely something that you need to share. I was sad that they cut out Connie’s Top Chef Canada’s poutine Quickfire challenge because I wanted to know if she had made this version for the competition or not.

Butcher steak and poutine

Butcher steak and poutine

The other side that we ordered was the slow roasted heirloom beets served with house-made soft goat cheese and arugula. The beets were tender and slightly sweet, but to me the star of this dish was the goat cheese. It was creamy and fluffy, and had a light tang instead of a strong tang that you find in many goat cheeses.

Butcher steak, heirloom beets and goat cheese

Butcher steak, heirloom beets and goat cheese

For dessert my friend had cheesecake in a jar. I think they were preserved saskatoon berries, but my memory is a little hazy. The cheesecake was light and fluffy.

cheesecake

cheesecake

I had the flourless chocolate cake with graham crackers and ice cream. It was dense and chocolately, with a brownie-like texture. I ended up having to bring some of it away with me because of being much too full from all the good food.

flourless chocolate cake

flourless chocolate cake

Our receipt was delivered with a postcard and the cutest little pig paper clip.

The bill and the pig

The bill and the pig

Alley burgers were actually being served later that night but I was too stuffed to even think about eating them. I had a great meal and would definitely come back again.

P.S. Did you know that I’m doing interviews with the Top Chef contestants? You can read all the other past interviews by using this Top Chef Canada list.

CHARCUT Roast House
101, 899 Centre Street SW
Calgary, AB
www.charcut.com

CHARCUT Roast House on Urbanspoon

Beware of sharp objects: my visit to Knifewear

Two things on my food bucket list have been to 1. take a class on proper knife techniques and 2. buy myself a good quality, wickedly sharp knife.

I have been eyeing the sharp and pointy goods at Calgary’s Knifewear ever since I heard about them way back when they first opened inside Bite Grocerteria. They have since moved into their own location and – if the crowd of people I saw in the store was any indication – are successfully growing their business.

Knifewear display case

Knifewear display case

Knifewear, founded by Chef Kevin Kent, specializes in high quality Japanese chef knives. They regularly hold classes on knife sharpening with waterstones, as well as a basic knife cutting class.

I happened to be in Calgary over the Family Day long weekend and took advantage of my visit by signing up for Knifewear’s Cut Like a Chef class. For about two and a half hours, we learned how to slice, dice and not cut our fingers off. Kevin and Rob, another talented knife artiste, tag teamed the class. We covered varied techniques such as dice, julienne and brunoise, as well as some more “exotic” cuts like tourne. Other useful things that we learned included the proper way to use a honing rod, cut up an onion, and slice up a pineapple.

Cut Like a Chef class

Cut Like a Chef class

Taking this class also gives you the chance to try out a selection of their knives. I started out using a Shun knife, and eventually ended up with two more knives on my cutting board. At the end of the class, all the attendees are offered a 10% discount on any knives in the store if they were bought that day.

You can test out knives before you buy them.

You can test out knives before you buy them.

I had good intentions of only buying one knife and of sticking to a pre-set budget. But the knives seduced me, and I couldn’t stop myself. A gift card from some friends helped to defray some of the costs (I have the bestest friends ever!!) but I left the shop much poorer and spent way more than I had originally planned.

The shop, filled with partly people from my class but also with many walk-ins.

The shop, filled with partly people from my class but also with many walk-ins.

There were many, many knives to choose from. Hand forged knives, factory forged knives, long knives, short knives – the choices were overwhelming. I was especially drawn to the Fujiwara knives, which have a finger notch in the blade that makes holding these knives especially comfortable, and the Konosuke knives, which have these gorgeous cherry blossoms polished onto each blade and also felt very comfortable in my hand.

A bunch of the knives I was considering.

A bunch of the knives I was considering.

There were some other knives that I liked as well, and in the end my decision was based on either buying one knife out of the two I mentioned, or buying two knives at a lower price point. In the end I felt that it made more sense for me to buy two different knives than to blow all my money on one knife.

Here are the sexy beasts that I came home with:

My new sharp and pointy toys!

My new sharp and pointy toys!

From left to right: one ceramic honing rod (smooth), one Masakage Kumo Gyuto 180 mm knife, and one Masakage Asai Masami VG10 Petty 120 mm. Both knives are hand forged from VG10 stainless steel and laminated with layered nickel Damascus stainless steel.

From the Knifewear website:

“Asai Masami, born in 1948, works in Takefu Village, Echizen in Fukui Prefecture. His blades are known for a refined and long lived edge. In 1980, Echizen was the first production centre for forged blades to be awarded the nationally recognized Traditional Craft Product accolade. Blades have been hand forged here since Muromachi period (1392-1573).”

“[The Kumo knife] series is named Kumo (cloud) because the blades look like clouds on a really cool day. The Damascus steel is manipulated by hand to give this great dreamy look. The rosewood and pakka wood octagon handle give the blades a nice light feel and forward balance. Katsushige Anryu san is a 70 year old blacksmith with 52 years experience who works in Takefu Village.”

My knives will get their first sharpening for free. I haven’t cut myself yet, but I have to admit that I have thought about stocking up on bandages. I’ll let you know if I nick any major arteries.

Knifewear
1316-9 Ave SE, Calgary
www.knifewear.com

 

South St. Burger Co., Balzac (Calgary)

During my visit to CrossIron Mills I also stopped for a meal at South St. Burger Co. Owned by the same company that owns New York Fries, this location is the first to appear outside of Ontario.

South St. Burger Co.

South St. Burger Co.

I wasn’t terribly hungry, so I a small burger with monterey pepper jack cheese and onion rings. The beef patties at this location are made with Spring Creek Ranch beef. There are four cheese to choose from – cheddar, swiss, the jack I had, and goat cheese. You could also get free toppings for your burger – everything from guacamole and mango chutney to cucumbers and jalapeno peppers.

South St. Burger Co. burger and onion rings

South St. Burger Co. burger and onion rings

Their onion rings are made with fresh cut red onions, and you can also order New York Fries’ fries and poutine if you so desire. The red onions gave the rings a pleasant bite and I would happily eat these again. My small burger was tiny; their normal burger has 1/3 lb of beef and in contrast my burger looked like an oversized slider. The taste was good and the meat was cooked nicely, although I would have liked a greater ratio of patty to bun. I think the onion rings made a greater impression on me though.

Is it worth going all the way to this mall just to have these burgers? Probably not. But if you’re stuck in there, the South St. Burger Co. is a good option where you can to rest your feet and fill your stomach.

South St. Burger Co.
CrossIron Mills Mall, Balzac – just outside of Calgary next to Highway 2
www.southstburger.com

Buttercream Bake Shoppe, Balzac (Calgary)

Just outside of Calgary sits a small town called Balzac. And in this town, right on the highway leading to and from Calgary, is a relatively new giant shopping mall called CrossIron Mills. I met up with a friend there, and I also went because I wanted to walk around (was hoping to find a lot of good outlet stores, but came away relatively disappointed because this place is mostly just a regular shopping mall).

Inside the mall, in the middle of a hallway, is an outlet of Calgary’s Buttercream Bake Shoppe. There were plenty of mouth-watering displays of cupcakes and cookies.

Buttercream Bake Shoppe

Buttercream Bake Shoppe

I didn’t want a whole cupcake, so my friend and I opted for two mini cupcakes. One was a vanilla cupcake with a passion fruit frosting, and the other was a chocolate cupcake with vanilla frosting. The cupcake itself was just ok – the cake was moist but not as flavourful as I’d like. I think I prefer the cake from Crave. The frosting on the passion fruit frosting was very fruity, and both it and the vanilla frosting were almost too sweet. (I think this is why I don’t eat cupcakes very often. They’re just too darned sweet for me!) The texture of the frosting was excellent though. Creamy, but not so rich that you feel like you’re sticking a piece of fat in your mouth. I think I like their frosting better than Crave’s.

mini cupcake

mini cupcake

Buttercream Bake Shoppe
CrossIron Mills Mall, Balzac – just outside of Calgary next to Highway 2
Two other locations in Calgary
www.buttercreambakeshoppe.com

Mucho Burrito, Edmonton

Mucho Burrito is a somewhat new and expanding franchise chain in Alberta. In the past year it seems like there have been Mucho Burrito locations popping up all over Edmonton. The food is relatively basic – burritos are the main feature – and you get to layer on whatever you’d like, kind of like ordering a sub at Subway.

My regular choice is generally a carnitas burrito (pork) on a whole wheat tortilla. A small will fill you up. A medium will do if you’re starving. The large size will practically feed 4 people. I ordered a combo which means a drink and a choice of either tortilla chips and salsa, a cookie, or some cinnamon thing that I’ve never bothered to try. The tortilla chips are crispy and not greasy; always a winner in my books. Warning – the hot salsa is “burn your mouth” type of heat. You may want to start off with mild or medium if this is your first visit.

carnitas combo

carnitas combo

For fillings, you get rice, your meat (unless you ordered the vegetarian burrito), guacamole (extra charge), salsa, and your choice of veggies, black beans or brown beans. Then the whole thing is rolled and briefly grilled on a press. Pardon the bite marks and dry hands in the photo.

carnitas cross-section

carnitas cross-section

Oh, and if you really want to torture yourself, there are handy bottles of Tabasco sauce over by the straws and napkins for your use.

Mucho Burrito
Various locations in Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan; new franchise purchased for Vancouver, B.C.
www.muchoburrito.com