GREAT PLACES TO EAT WELL, SPEND LESS
A good meal doesn’t have to cost a small (or large) fortune, especially these days with all the great casual eateries that offer tasty, interesting, fun food at really affordable prices. For our eating challenge, we chose a handful of discriminating palates to take $50 and buy a tasty meal for two in a fave restaurant. This is what they found. (The $50 didn’t include tax and tip)
634A – 17th AVENUE SW
Ellen Kelly and Sharon Schuld
Located in the heart of 17th Avenue SW in Calgary, 5S17 is a Japanese Fusion restaurant that celebrates the five senses of the culinary experience. French/Asian Fusion Cuisine (with a pronounced Japanese influence) in casual, yet intimate surroundings.
Colm McClean and Satoru Kogo make a charismatic duo as owners/operators of this charming little spot on 17th Ave SW. And it is small; with the open kitchen and the long, elevated banquette, it feels like an upscale open-air food stand located in a far more exotic locale. This impression is echoed by the friendly, personalized service and attention to detail, something you experience the minute you walk in the door.
We’ve been in before and knew finding enough good food for two – maybe even a couple of glasses of more-than-decent wine – for under $50 wouldn’t be a problem. The obvious care taken with the ingredients at 5S17 (a paean to the five senses) is almost at odds with the remarkably reasonable prices. From the excellent brioche buns (they had me at brioche, I’m afraid) to the well-crafted sauces and marinades, the overall ethic is obviously qualitative.
After ordering two glasses of Montalto Pinot Grigio ($8/glass), we decided to start with dumplings, always a favourite, and these pan-fried pork wraps didn’t disappoint. Moist and tasty, a great deal at $7.00 for 4 or $13.00 for 8 pieces. Onward to Steak ‘n’ Chips, Saturo-style, with some of the best fries we’ve had anywhere. Must be that classic French training coming out! Slices of house-marinated skirt steak went beautifully with both the Sriracha BBQ and teriyaki sauces; never mind the ketchup, we happily dipped our fries in, too. My dinner-mate, Sharon Schuld (owner of Pudding Yarn just around the corner… lucky girl), wanted to try one of the delicious-sounding sandwiches as well, so “The Smash” was next up. The combination of slow braised brisket (yuzu rubbed and red chili
marinated) and Thai chicken, accompanied by a side of perfectly grilled zucchini sticks, rounded out our early-evening repast perfectly.
When the bill came, we were delighted to see that we hit the $50 mark exactly! Don’t let the seemingly endless refurbishing of 17th Avenue deter you. The avenue needs the facelift and the businesses need us! Be patient and eat on!
The Himalayan Restaurant
3218 – 17th AVENUE SW
Jason and Pam Zaran
After a very active Saturday we found ourselves super hungry and looking to get something special for dinner without breaking the bank. Back in the day we had neighbours from Nepal, and enjoyed the special dishes they would share with us such as Mo:Mos!
So on this night we decided to go to The Himalayan, which we had heard rave reviews about. Though we didn’t have a reservation, we showed up at 9 p.m. to
a packed house and waited for an open table. Upon entering we were greeted warmly and John, our host, was beyond courteous. Before we were seated, he
got us situated at the bar where we quickly ordered some memorable Mo:Mos to satiate our immediate hunger. We barely had time to get comfortable and our
table was ready. We were seated in a cozy corner (perfect for a chilly night outside), which provided both privacy and an adequate view of the restaurant décor.
The Himalayan looked newly refurbished with accents that referenced Nepali culture – such as the welcoming Buddha at the door!
Our host took good care of us by explaining the menu along with sharing both his favourites and the restaurant’s most popular dishes. Immediately afterward
the Mo:Mos appeared. These little pillows of pork dumpling heaven came with a zesty dipping sauce. We crushed these quickly. Yummmmm. Our main dishes’
included The Himalayan Grill with lamb and The Chicken Cauli. There is a choice of spice level from mild to hot, and both my wife and I got our dishes hot.
The lamb grill was a beautifully prepared large sizzling hot plate with six big morsels of perfectly cooked lamb served with grilled peppers, carrots, onions
and tomatoes. The meal also came with Bhat (saffron rice), Dal (lentil soup), a Nepali salad and some out-of-this-world good flat bread to share. It was lots of
food and very tasty. Pam’s chicken and cauliflower stew came in a thick sauce with tomatoes, onions and spices with the Bhat and Nepali salad. She was a
big fan of this dish and pretty much licked the bowl.
There were so many flavours in both the dishes and, although hot, they were not over the top. We were both very full and satisfied! What a great meal for
such a reasonable price. We will go back.
2703 – 17th AVENUE SW
Allan Shewchuk and Patricia Blocksom
For years we avoided eating anywhere called a “pub.” They normally are dark, smell like stale beer and have sticky tabletops when you sit down. They also inevitably have terrible, greasy food, which comes pre-made from some national food service company. There is no wine list, just bag-in-a-box red or white. Many such places try to hide their food shortcomings by cleverly calling themselves “Gastropubs” but we discovered that mostly this is just a way to dupe unsuspecting diners who end up getting the same old slop.
Then there’s Newcastle Pub. Upon entering, the first thing you notice is how clean and bright it is. In summer, a sliding glass garage door puts you in a patio mood, even if you’re inside. There are TVs, but muted, as it is decidedly not a sports bar. Service is friendly and brisk and patrons are from all walks. But most of all you will notice that everyone in the joint is eating and the food looks plentiful and delicious.
These positives are because manager Jason Stuart, who will offer a hearty handshake on your second visit like you are an old friend, has been in the food
business a long time, both behind a stove and out in front. So, lots of thought goes into the menu as well as fresh, tasty ingredients that are very un-pubby
although there are still classics, and all at great prices.
As for the pub classics, everyday at lunch and dinner there are great specials for only $10.95 so dining under $50 is a no brainer. Best of all, Thursday is half price wine day and a bottle of Dona Paula Los Cardos Malbec is only $19 and juicy steak sandwiches are $10.95 after 4 p.m., so you can live it up for only $40.90.
You won’t feel like you are eating pub food when you dig into Ahi Tuna Buddha Bowl overflowing with seared tuna, quinoa, carrot, cucumber, avocado, pea
shoots and roasted peanuts, which is a full meal for only $19. Similarly, the Newcastle makes superb pizza and the Mediterranean thin crust at only $15 is
loaded with pesto, grilled artichokes, tomatoes, Kalamata olives, feta and fresh basil and is a big meal. With a 5 ounce glass of the Malbec at $8 and a pint of
domestic draught at $7.25 a duo can feast for exactly $49.25.
The Newcastle changed our mind about pubs – let it change yours too – without killing your budget.
2206 – 4th STREET SW
Geoff Last and Max Brisson
Tucked away behind an unassuming doorway in the Mission area is a small gem of a restaurant called Carino Riserva. The theme here is a fusion of Italian seamlessly melded with Japanese ingredients and techniques, not an easy thing to achieve. When fusion dining was all the rage many of them fell flat, essentially neither fish nor fowl, and diners quickly moved on to safer and more familiar territory. This is not the case here; the chef/owner has a deft touch, bringing together the best of both worlds. For example, beef carpaccio, an Italian standard, is presented here as himachi carpaccio, a combination of yellow tail tuna, cherry tomatoes, feta, yuzu vinaigrette and soy sauce. There’s campanelle, a trumpet- shaped pasta with a meat ragu that incorporates wagyu beef in place of the traditional ground chuck. Rack of lamb – at a very reasonable $28 – is served with frites and a spicy teriyaki sauce.
Owner/chef Toshi Karino has a solid background in wine, having spent six years as Teatro’s wine director, and as you’d expect there are some great options in that regard. There’s also a nice selection of sakes and craft beers and the restaurant does allow corkage for $25 a bottle (free corkage on Tuesdays). Ramen is all the rage right now and for good reason; it’s delicious, comforting, filling and reasonably priced. Carino does lunch from Thursday to Saturday and the focus on those days is ramen, four versions to be precise. There’s the “classico” for $10 that includes BBQ pork, green onion, seaweed, bamboo shoots and toasted seaweed, and my favourite, tonkotu gyokai umami shoyu ($14.50) that includes fork-tender BBQ pork, umami paste, bonito flakes, boiled egg and toasted seaweed. In a more fusion-y vein there’s the Genovese ($14) with BBQ pork, cherry tomatoes, radicchio, arugula, bean sprouts, corn, boiled egg and parmesan. If you are craving a meatier lunch you could opt for the bucatini with wagyu beef sauce, a sweet deal at $15. With 32 seats it’s a cozy little spot and well worth discovering if you haven’t already. My old pal Max and I got away with two bowls of ramen, a couple of beers and a tip for just under $50.
1214 – 9th AVENUE SE
Michelle Barby and Ellinor Stenroos
When asked to do the Two Can Eat for $50 or less, the first place that came to mind was a great new restaurant in my neighbourhood, Inglewood, Gorilla Whale. I had been several times before and quickly looked up the menu to make sure I could make the $50 budget work. No problem! I invited my good friend Ellinor Stenroos to join me. She just finished sober October, so this would be a fitting occasion to indulge in great food and drink.
When you walk in, the first things that you notice are the Japanese concert tour posters, including Prince, Bowie and Diana Ross, on the walls. A turntable, albums and black and white photos of famous musicians in the restrooms round out the rock and roll theme. Then there is the fabulous music. I might be showing my age, but I could have listened to Bowie, Nirvana, and Lou Reed all night long. To balance these cheeky pop music references (Ellinor’s words, she’s a designer), the rest of the space is minimalist with earth tones and natural wood touches. This Japanese-ish restaurant lounge is energetic, fun and owner Dean and manager Tilly are gracious hosts. Well-known restaurant dude, Brendan Bankowski, put this place together and is the other owner.
Gorilla Whale’s menu ranges from snacks and yakitori (sticks) to ramen, burgers, and even a whole suckling pig. On previous visits, I had tried the soft shell crab in a ginger garlic chili sauce, edamame with wild pecans and kefir butter (edamame taken to another level), and several of the sticks, all of which were delicious. There is also a wonderful “dranks” menu including cocktails by Nathan Head of Proof. Some of the dranks feature typical Japanese ingredients like shiso, sake and green tea. My favourites are the Paper Crane and Cold Tea. Dranks also includes wine, sake, beer and cider offerings. Local tap choices from Inglewood
and Ramsay breweries like Ol’ Beautiful and Dandy, are all $5 or $6.
After consulting with our attentive server, Cody, Ellinor and I decided to spend the bulk of our budget on food. We ordered a BC Growers Broken Ladder cider and a Kettle Sour #11 from Lacombe to drink. We could also have had a glass of sparkling wine and been well within the budget. To eat we chose the Karaage burger and a couple of the yakitori sticks. Karaage is a Japanese technique of lightly coating meat, usually chicken, in flour or potato starch and cooking it in a light oil. The result was a delicious tender chicken burger on an excellent brioche bun, which wasn’t too buttery or sweet. The spicy kewpie, a Japanese mayo, complemented the bacon and American cheese perfectly. It was served with greens. We had to have the Halloumi yakitori because it is literally grilled cheese. What’s not to like? We rounded out our meal with the lamb sirloin stick with basil mint gel. The lamb was juicy, flavourful and perfectly cooked. The yakitori are grilled over binchotan charcoal and served two per order with house tare and fresh egg yolk dipping sauce. These three dishes were more than satisfying for two people.
Gorilla Whale does not take reservations but they have seating at the bar, and a “cocktail zone“ where you can have a drink while you wait. Not wanting to leave, we moved on from our assignment and ordered cocktails. As we were enjoying the relaxing fun atmosphere, a table beside us received the suckling pig and all its accompaniments. Definitely on the list for a future visit!