Gorg! Fab! Really a beaut. For some reason, Whitehall, the latest edition in Calgary’s foodie nation, makes me want to break out my best British bonhomie. Must be the reference to the road in London. Because this place really blows my hair back.Last night was the official opening of the new Bridgeland restaurant, which has been quietly serving happy customers for a few weeks now. Bumped into CTV’s Bob Sumner, as you do at these things.But Bob couldn’t distract me for long — there was food that needed to be eaten! My fave, the lamb kebobs, are not on the menu, but Chef Neil McCue tells me that they’re coming soon. To tide you over, the lamb bacon (totally delish) can be found on the Caesar salad.I was told the quotes behind the bar included bon mots from Sir Churchill. The wine was too distracting for me to verify this, so I just imagined my favorite Winston quote: “A polo handicap is a passport to the world.” Meanwhile, back to Chef Neil, the force behind Whitehall. Originally from Yorkshire, Canada is lucky to have him — two of his past restaurants in the UK have achieved a Michelin Star rating, so we’re expecting big things in Bridgeland. This isn’t his first rodeo in Calgary though. Formerly at Catch, he also may have trained a YYC celeb chef or two. Congratulations on your new digs, Chef Neil. I’ll be back!
When you book Mara Boaru for your massage, you’re in for a holistically good time. When the physio therapist emigrated from Romania, her creds didn’t impress Canuck authorities — she’d have to upgrade for the official Canadian PT designation, a masters degree. The delay was unfortunate for her, but lucky for her customers — because she got her RMT diploma to tide her over, allowing her to work while studying her first love, all over again.
The result? She is one of the rare physio therapists who is also massage therapist. And vice versa! It means she takes a holistic approach to physio, rather than just treating one part.
Which means she’ll fit in perfectly with the 50+ holistic professionals and teachers at the new Awaken Holistic Health and Wellness, slated to open spring 2016, with a pile of classes, including yoga, fitness and nutrition, health services, and… a float pod room.
They just launched a crowdfunding campaign to raising funds for their wellness centre. Check out the goodies they’re offering to entice your pledge. The 60 minute service of your choice for $70 is a hot deal, and I have a hot tip to go with it: choose a massage. With Mara. Amazing.
Remember Riva’s Eco Store, an eclectic collection of organic, pesticide-free, non-toxic … stuff? A guilt-free general store in the heart of Inglewood. That shop is no longer — Riva has rebranded with retail editing and a new name — a perfect excuse for a party.
… and a sleep spa downstairs, complete with mood lighting, to showcase a Calgary exclusive: the hand-made Hastens Mattress. With the most expensive beds going for more than $60,000, it’s a whole new way to stuff money in your mattress, but you’ll sleep like a royal. As the only store I’ve seen whose manifesto includes a list of mortal enemies, Goldgrass Home, I like your style.
Wordfest is back, and with it, one of my favorite nights of raucous, intellectual battle: Literary Death Match. If you don’t have your tickets yet, get them now: LDM is back in Calgary for the third time tomorrow night. To celebrate the upcoming war of words with ensuing hostile hilarity, I am reposting my interview with host Adrian Todd Zuniga on his “Deadly Style” from his last visit to Cowtown.
“What is going to be healthy and delicious, and also make me happy?”The host of Literary Death Match is starving. Maybe not quite to death, but definitely in that just-got-off-a-plane and made-it-through-customs kind of way. Yet Adrian Todd Zuniga is not the type to order off a menu without some intense Q&A.
I get it. We’ve met at Joey’s Eau Claire, just around the corner from the Westin, the Wordfest hotel of choice, so I can do some grilling of my own. Once Adrian finishes his blackened basa, I want to know — what will he be wearing tonight as 4 authors face off onstage?A cornflower blue suit. Of course.
Literary Death Match is a traveling word circus. With Adrian as its ringmaster, no staid, snooze-inducing readings are allowed on his world stage. The show, which visits dozens of cities a year, is Def Poetry Jam meets American Idol (minus the meanness) meets Double Dare.
The Los Angeles-residing, Missouri-born author and screenwriter created LDM eight years ago. This is his second visit to Calgary. Being a man of style, he abhors being seen in the same outfit twice.
“I rotate through suits. It’s very important for me not to wear the same thing in the same city. It would be lame.”Last year Adrian wore a red velvet smoking jacket, which bookended nicely with 2013 competitor Todd Babiak, no slouch in the wardrobe department himself. See my style feature on Todd here.
Besides making sure he didn’t lame out with a suit repeat, Adrian didn’t feel comfortable wearing a bow tie back-to-back with his last appearance in Calgary. Also important to note: “I don’t wear bow ties on dates. I think it’s too much of a statement. I think I’m a more subtle gentleman on that front. But I do wear suit jackets to pretty much everything.”Even while our interview cuts into his pre-show quiet time, he has the rumpled flair of someone out of a Robert Doisneau photograph.
Like “The Kiss” sans a girl to kiss. Which is confirmed when Adrian volunteers, apropos of nothing, “I haven’t kissed a girl in Calgary yet.” Later that night, onstage, he mentions he is single.The downside of his fashion daring can have drawbacks. Like when he told his friends his new suit was the ultimate in Don Draper. They said, ‘You mean the Pete Campbell suit?’
Luckily, the Sterling Cooper doppelganger apparel on stage at the GRAND couldn’t derail the momentum of the 2014 Death Match. In fact, the cornflower shine only added to the intrigue of authors Michael Crummey, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Alison Pick and Matthew Thomas being rated on literary merit, performance and intangibles.
LDM is normally judged by a panel of three, but the only way to compensate for a last-minute cancellation by Mayor Nenshi was to bring in two backups. From left to right at the black table: comedian Chris Gordon, author Carrie Shyder, Olympic hero Mark Tewksbury and author Johanna Skibsrud. I will totally name favorites: even though Mark claimed he wasn’t a literature type, the author of three books was hilarious and enthusiastic. Ginger Jesus, aka Chris Gordon, was a close second, and as he made very clear, sponsored by Hudson’s Bay.
The evening ended in a race to ring the bell, to identify classics from one-star Amazon ratings. Lone stars, as Adrian aptly put it.
Don’t worry, Adrian, I’m not taking it personally. And thanks for this candid with the cows, by the way.
When Kaiken comes to town, they don’t mess around. Like Madonna, the Argentine wine is currently touring Canada. Last night, the vintner laid out a long table of nibbles at Vine Arts in Calgary, to assist with the consumption of mucho vino tinto.But first, Aurelio Montes Jr had some ‘splaining to do. Because, as you may have noticed, his wine’s name doesn’t match his family moniker. Kaiken was inspired by the Caiquenes that soar over Patagonia between Argentina and Chile. Following the flight path of those wild geese, Aurelio’s padre, the Chilean-born Montes Sr, migrated to the Mendoza region himself to make vintages that combine Argentine passion with the Swiss-like work ethic of Chileans. Not that I’m encouraging sweeping stereotypes here.
Kaiken Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon. Soft, easy sipping. “It’s a cooking wine,” said Aurelio. But for him, that’s not a derogatory description. Because it’s for cooking. Like, feeling good about what you’re doing at the stove, hot stuff.
Ultra Malbec. Another easy drinker, although a bit bigger. However, not as many tannins as you might expect from a Malbec.
Terroir Series Malbec. The middle Malbec, not available in Calgary, unforch, is the party Malbec, according to Aurelio. “This one is for your friends who like to drink a lot, but know their wines.”
Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Aurelio advised us to “smell the uncooked meat” with this one. Which, for an Argie who allocates two pounds of meat for every dinner guest over age 15 (who will each arrive armed with their own personal knife), is high praise. I don’t know if I smelled the early stages of asado, but it tasted lovely.
Reserve Malbec. Aurelio suggested pairing with salmon, or pork. “Not a big boy wine,” he said. But I think I’d be happy enlisting it to slosh down my Alberta beef-influenced carnivorous tendencies.
Aurelio’s talk of terroir turned into an impromptu geology lesson when he explained the boulders in his vineyards were left their by ancient rivers, not glaciers. Hint: you can tell because they’re round.
There was a lone wolf white, that started sweet but ended serious, apparently the ultimate escort to conger eel. However, after five reds, my tastebuds were committed to el rojo.Señor Montes handed out my favorite type of loot bags. And, just like any other rock star on tour, his Sharpie was ready to roll. Great grapes, Aurelio — muchas gracias!
Spruce Meadows may be a show jumping facility of international acclaim, regularly hosting the world’s best equestrians — but it took Hermes to get me there. I was glad it did, because not only did I get to salivate over my fantasy saddle, but I met a local rider who is making his mark on the world’s show jumping stage.My first stop was a white tent in the plaza near the West Grandstand. Inside, Hermes saddle maker Nicolas Cornebois had come all the way from Paris to demonstrate his craftsmanship on the item that every horse-mad girl with a weakness for luxury brands covets. Aka: moi.
The press release calls him a Master Saddle Maker, but Monsieur Cornebois demurred, telling me it wouldn’t fly with his colleagues back in France. Talented and humble.Meanwhile, salesmen swooped in with equestrian-themed scarves to swooning shoppers.The mercurial Cheval Fusion from this year’s Spring/Summer collection caught my eye.But the Hermes pop-up shop devoted most of its space to items for the horse enthusiasts attending the Masters CSIO 5. If your pony’s been hinting they’d like a tack upgrade, this was the place to take that carrot to the next level.
While many of us associate Hermes with high fashion for humans, the brand is still very connected to its roots as a 19th Century saddle and harness maker. Although I can’t help but give a thrifty heads-up: my secret source at the orange H tells me the $60 glycerin soap isn’t that different from what is available at the dollar store.However, Hermes isn’t above a little collab in the horse department. The historic brand recently worked with Freejump to develop these quick release stirrups…… which I saw in action a short time later …… in the Hermes branded warm-up ring.Romain Duguet, a Swiss riding superstar, is no stranger to Hermes. Not only is he sponsored by the company, he won the Grand Prix Hermes in Paris in April.The custom-built jumps mark the first time Hermes has partnered with Spruce Meadows. Obviously making Romain and Otello du Soleil feel right at home.Then came Ben. Perhaps in preparation for this moment, but more likely because the photogenic Ben Asselin is an amazing rider, Hermes’ most recent recruit is a hometown hero — who also happens to have the ultimate hometown advantage. Not only is 21-year old Ben from Calgary, he is the son of Canadian Olympic riders Jonathan Asselin and Nancy Southern… whose family owns Spruce Meadows.Ben’s horse, Plume de la Roque, makes Hermes gear look good. From quilted saddle pad to branded ear bonnet.Ben and Plume enter the International Ring at the Spruce Meadows Masters.Even though Plume sailed over this fence in the sizzling heat of Friday’s competition, Ben didn’t make the top twelve in the overall standings. (Romain placed 11th).However, the Hermes sponsorship makes Ben a winner in my books. Meanwhile, newsflash: Hermes also makes polo saddles. What do you think, Simon? Should I try one?
It’s here! After months of anticipation, Calgarians will no longer have to stalk West Elm online. The fourth Canadian bricks-and-mortar location has sprung up just off the 17th Ave shopping district — part of the recent revival of Mount Royal Village. Maybe this means the nearby bizarre public toilet that costs a quarter and is used by no one will soon be flushed from the hood. As usual, I digress.The urban-loft-warehouse style space opened in the Blue Besos preferred manner: with a party! Catering was provided by the delectable Nicole Gourmet. If you were lucky, your glass was topped up by the marvelous Marlene McCarthy, who is also marvelous on the Calgary polo field, the site of many other fantastic parties.Back to the shopping. The Brooklyn-based West Elm is a sister store to the Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn empire, so it is essentially all kinds of hip for your home. On the local front, it’s partnering with Calgary artists and craftspeople for unique in-store items. Welcome to the neighborhood, West Elm!
Behind Calgary’s National on Tenth is the cleanest, most Louboutin-friendly back alley you’ll ever see. It’s also where you’ll find the new back door to the Bourbon Room. “Barchitect” Stephen Phipps built the in-the-know entree (but no secret knock required) for those who don’t want to mingle with the masses lining up for the National, on the other side of the building. In the world of Cocktail Lounge v. Beerhall, segregation is a good thing. Inside, an intimate bar tended by bearded and plaided bartenders awaits your sophisticated swilling presence.The rest of the room, which seats only 52, is too sexy to show without a blur…… which is how it might look anyhow, after a few of these. The Bees Knees, crafted from gin, lemon and lavender honey is my new favorite cocktail, speaking as someone who is not on the bitters bandwagon.Besides the vintage martini glasses, the anachronistic vibe continues, with the Wild Rose Soul Club spinning their 45s under Soul Train.Delicious nibbles from their new menu round out a boozy night. Try to resist the Crispy Pork Belly. Mmmm. I’ll be back to the new back alley entrance, Bourbon Room!
But the real hole in one (or three) was scored by the refreshments. Grey Goose La Poire, Cherry Noire or L’Orange, mixed with citrus and fresh grown herbs. Very healthy. Communications expert Joshua Smith appreciated the extra nutritional value in the garnishes, since hors d’oeuvres trays were a rare sighting…… so is a horse with a fascinator. And yet.Between drinks I bumped into Lee Pettigrew of Metropolitan Grill fame and Brad McMeekin, CEO & President, Skyline Construction.Hashtagging and helium were encouraged.Apologies for not taking photos of the indoor pool (complete with synchronized swimmers) or the 8-car garage… I was too dazzled by the sunset. And the fresh rosemary in my cocktail. Thanks Grey Goose!
It might have felt like winter last night in Calgary, with a snowstorm reminding us just exactly how far north we live, but inside Earls Tin Palace, it felt like spring. The restaurant is spiffing up their menu for the green season, starting with craft cocktails. The Paloma, which involved tequila, grapefruit and a whole lot of deliciousness, was my favorite. If you happen to be a quiet talker, you won’t be after one of these.The room was crammed with paparazzi, including Reid Fiest, Global National’s Alberta Correspondent and Buzz Bishop, midday host on XL103. In the background I managed to catch Tim Tamashiro with his eyes closed (sorry about that Tim!) but it made me wonder what brilliance is taking place in the blink of an eye. A new riff for his upcoming jazz album to be recorded in Vancouver? Another dazzling story for Tonic, his show on CBC Radio 2? I will tune in to find out.
The Tin Palace on 4th Street SW is the hippest Earls in Calgary, the beautiful outcome of a horrible experience: the Floods of 2013. It makes some of the other locations seem shabby in comparison. Earls, I understand you’re busy with your 7000 employees and 63 restaurants — with two more opening up in the US this fall — but when can you start a similar ambience upgrade in the burbs of Cowtown? I was going to vote for Westhills to be first, but I have now learned that they are a privately owned franchise. So I will just offer this direct missive to them: hint, hint.
Back to the matter at hand — the tasting of the spring menu. Head Chef Keith Kozlowski, who likes to keep his thermometer ready for instant action, had his kitchen crew so fine-tuned that he was available for a photo op. Do you tell a chef to say cheese?
We started with the Fattoush Salad, which tasted like spring on a plate. Chef Keith told me he ate it every day for a week when they first started making it — and he still isn’t tired of it. The Fattoush will now be my salad go-to. The accompanying Famille Perrin La Vielle Firme Rose wasn’t bad either.
We were told these were half portions, but they were plenty satisfying. Pictured with the most amazing Pinot ever (Belle Glos Meiomi) are plates of Moroccan Salmon. Delicious, fresh, with an unexpected tang.
The waiters at Earls normally offer the stir service, but foodie Lisa Nguyen of the Lemon Lime Lisa blog knew how to muscle her mix of Bibimbap, especially under the encouraging eye of journalist David Gray, who always has his eye out for a good story. After all, he’s the host of The Eyeopener on CBC.
Such a wonderful time was had by all that everyone even put their phones away — except for Goodwill Carlos of Kool 101.5. But he’s a proud new baby daddy, so we understand. Great to see you everyone! And thank you Earls for the spring fling, it was delicious!