Dinner Debriefing: Bistro 23

Our plans to wine and dine in the vibrant restaurant scene of Portland hit a road block. Our hotel is near the airport, and getting downtown takes more time or money than we expected. By train, it’s around forty minutes, and the trains are running slowly now because of the heat. (warping rails?) A taxi will set you back $40 each way. Driving is fraught with one-way streets and scant parking.

We decided to look for a nice place to eat near our hotel. It’s not easy to find good restaurants in the outlying areas, but we’ve managed it before. Hay J’s is hidden in an unassuming strip mall in Liberty Lake. Broken Plate is in a prettier strip mall in Calgary.

We succeeded. Bistro 23 is a fifteen minute walk from our hotel and yes, it’s in a strip mall. I had some qualms about that distance because of the heat, but we were able to walk on the shady side of the street. We navigate using Google Maps on one of  our smart phones, and I’m sure we look like we’re Pokémon hunting. We strolled right past Leatherman’s headquarters; I felt like I should make an offering or something.

Bistro 23 combines bistro cuisine with cafeteria service. You order at the till and prepay. We sat on the patio, and they brought the food to us. Bonus points for heavy three-legged tables that do not wobble. Patio restaurants everywhere, take notice!

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In the foreground, my caprese salad with burrata and two kinds of tomatoes. Nice. Pig in the Woods pizza at the right, thin crust with ham, mushrooms and fresh arugula. Very good. Caroline’s peach salad across the table. Amazing.

The restaurant offers a handful of local craft beers and a modest selection of wines by the glass or bottle. I had a lager, Caroline a Pinot Gris with salad and a Cabernet/Merlot with pizza.

If you want more drinks, you run back inside, which is why Caroline is not in this photo. That sounds inconvenient, but it also means you don’t have to try and catch a server’s eye. They ask you to clear your own table. Since you’ve prepaid, you can just do that and leave when you’re done: I quite liked that. We’ll do a fancy dinner tomorrow somehow, and then we’ll be back at Bistro 23 on Saturday. Affordable.

Dinner Debriefing: Pimiento

The Pimiento Bistro & Bar is a simple fifteen minute drive from our hotel in Federal Way and it gets good write-ups on Trip Advisor. Once a month, they do a tapas night with a fixed series of apps and a matched wine flight. Tonight was that night, but we ordered from the menu.

We shared an excellent calamari. Tender, and accompanied by some breaded jalapeno rings. Caroline thought it was one of the best ever, I rate it neck and neck with Broken Plate from Calgary.

I loved my house salad, but Caroline thought her salad with burrata cheese would have the really runny kind, and it was more like a fresh mozzarella.

Both my lamb and Caroline’s duck were tender, but we didn’t think they were exciting. We figure they were cooked medium, and we’d prefer a little less than that. Perhaps the kitchen was unusually busy with the tapas thing.

It was a nice touch that the waiter spoke about each wine he brought as part of the tapas sequence, but we did get tired of hearing the same spiel delivered to three neighboring tables with each course. We stuck with the Sonoma Merlot.

One thing was fun: Blanca Rodriguez, the executive chef, spends time out front with the diners. I liked that, because some chefs never see past the end of their noses. Blanca’s interacting, thinking about your tastes and helping you find the best choice from her menu.

I might go again, but the seating is not in Pimienta’s favour: you must choose between a hard wooden chair or a flat wooden bench.

Dinner Debriefing: Los Bigotes de Villa

Meaning Pancho Villa’s moustache, I think. We knew we’d get some good Mexican food in Washington. Couldn’t find a website for this place, but it’s all over Trip Advisor and Yelp. Modest little strip-mall location in Federal Way, almost a hole-in-the-wall. Authentic Mexican food. I had a burrito the size of my foot. (13E) No wine, but a good selection of Mexican beer. Excellent, and cheap.

Dinner Debriefings: PZA & Chianti in Calgary

It was too busy to write these up as I squeezed dinner into my WWC convention schedule, but here goes.

On Friday, we walked to PZA on the Macleod Trail and ate on the patio. The food was quite good, but I ordered the wrong thing. I’m pretty sensitive to salt, and the pepperoni and mushroom was too salty for me. The staff were very good about switching us over to a ham and pineapple, but our replacement order hit the kitchen at a peak period, and it took a long time. The manager was very apologetic, and both pizzas were free. I might go back; the replacement pizza was good, the service was fine, and the patio was very comfortable.

On Saturday, we did pasta at Chianti on the Macleod Trail. It was another lovely evening, so we ate on the patio there, too. The bread and salad were very nice, but the service rather spoiled the meal. Wine didn’t arrive with our salads, and when we were only halfway through our salads, the pasta came. At that moment, the waiter told us the wine we had ordered was out of stock, so we finished our salads while our spaghetti alla carbonara and fettuccine supremo sat. Then we sat while our waiter took another tables order. Then the wine came and we ate warm pasta that was starting to stick together. The food was tasty, and we both approved, but presentation was plain. It took a long time to get the bill; we thought our waiter had forgotten us. We probably wouldn’t go back. On a quieter night, with a more experienced waiter, you might have a much nicer experience.

On Sunday, we returned to Broken Plate and had another terrific dinner there.

Dinner Debriefing: Broken Plate

A twelve minute walk from the Delta Calgary South is a Greek restaurant called Broken Plate which gets good write-ups on Trip Advisor. (I used to be a contributor to TA until I changed my email address and lost my account.) Anyway, it sounded about right to us, so off we went. Thunderstorms threatened, so we let Marsha, the concierge, loan us two umbrellas. This made me feel so very British. I used them to push the pedestrian crosswalk buttons. Call me Steed. We never had to deploy them; we arrived at the restaurant just as the first drops fell. We were sitting comfortably at our table when the skies opened.

Shared a calamari to start, divine. I felt like Avgolemono, which was different from the one at home (meaning Dino’s in Kenora) This was a lighter-bodied soup with chunks of chicken as well as the expected rice. I liked it. Both of us wavered on what to eat, torn between two or more dishes. For me, it was the Zeus Chicken, the Lamb Sword or the Greek Ribs. Caroline dithered between the Lamb Shanks and the Pickerel. In the end, she chose the Pickerel, which came with a Orange Saffron sauce and a side of Risotto. I decided on the ribs, and showed off my manners (well, one manner) by eating them with a knife and fork. Both meals were delicious, and Caroline especially enjoyed the risotto. We quickly decided to return on Sunday, which is the next evening when we know we’ll have time to walk to and from a restaurant together.

Broken Plate takes pride in an extensive list of wines by the glass. Caroline had some Seven Peaks Chardonnay and I went with an Octavia Merlot. Both are Californian- we gravitate towards West Coast wines.

Caroline treated herself to a lemon tart with raspberries for dessert while I finished with a coffee and espresso. Which I combined, a bad habit I picked up from a barista at my local Starbucks. The tart was amazing, and large enough that we brought nearly half back to our hotel. The weather had cleared by then, and although another cell loomed over downtown, causing arriving aircraft to swing wide to avoid turbulence, we stayed dry.

Good dinner.

Dinner Debriefing: Maxwell’s

On the way to dinner, we were cheerfully jaywalking at a quiet corner with no traffic when I noticed the girl on the other side of the street change her mind and stand still. Too late to stop, I asked her. “Is there a cop car right behind me?” She nodded, but nothing happened.

We strolled down Elgin Street, refreshing our memories of where we ate last year and browsing menus from the sidewalk. We picked Maxwell’s, for it’s location close to our hotel, and half price on bottles of wine on Thursdays. We ordered a California red called The Show. We didn’t finish it, but we drank more than half. Win!

House salad to start. Large and fresh, with good ingredients, but either the house dressing was weak, or the leaves were wet when it went on. Not a lot of flavour. We shared a Max Combo pizza: pepperoni, mushroom, red onion and green pepper. It was good, with a nice thin crust. If we were at home, we would have put it on a hot stone to keep it crisp while we ate. When we asked about pepper flakes, we got not only the typical shaker, but also a bottle of oil infused with pepper flakes, and I enjoyed that.

Secret memo to self: take one of those to my next food fight. It would be like a Molotov cocktail of pepper spray. Bwahaha.

With the half-price wine, our bill was very reasonable. I was happy about that, because now that we’re in Ottawa, this is my half of the vacation, and I’ll be picking up the tab.

Dinner Debriefing: Agrarian

We found a parking spot on the street just steps away from Agrarian. It was a wet and windy night, so that was fortunate.

The wine list isn’t long, but does feature some local wines as well as a few international ones. After ruling out wines that we already tried on this trip, we chose a bottle of Cabernet Franc from Grange of Prince Edward Vineyards and Estate Winery. There was also a Gamay from the same winery, but our server seemed to think the Franc would go better with the duck.

Our dinner started well. Caroline was still in the mood for greens, and began with the house salad. I was feeling the cold, and ordered the soup, which was a corn chowder today. It was very nice, and I was offered bread and butter with it, slices from a nice fresh baguette.

I was tempted by the tuna dish, but it sounded like something more suited to a summer day, so we both chose the duck confit with plums. Both of us found it uncomfortably salty. I ate most of mine before deciding to stop, which put our server in an awkward position. She offered to get me something else, but I didn’t want to eat another whole meal. Dessert would have meant violating my sugar guidelines as well as my salt ones. There was a cheese tray, but it was a mild cheddar, a water buffalo cheese and a blue. I’ve never acquired a taste for blue cheese, and my first exposure to water buffalo cheese this afternoon didn’t leave me craving more. At this point, I realized I was probably coming across as the customer from hell, and we decided to retreat before we made life any more miserable for the folks there.

They were kind enough to reduce the bill on my dinner, and we were able to take the leftover wine home with us. (In Ontario, a restaurant must have a special clause on their liquor licence to allow this.)

All in all, Agrarian didn’t really work out all that well for us tonight. Your mileage may vary- I’ve grown accustomed to a low-sodium diet, and if you don’t mind the occasional dish that has some salt, you might like the duck just fine, or you could order something else.