Restaurant Review: Vivo

So, I finally made it out to Vivo this weekend. I have wanted to go for awhile, as I absolutely love Italian food. The restaurant is in an unassuming strip mall in Lessard, make sure you’re looking for it or youmight just miss it. The décor is typical of new restaurants, although a bit too dark for my liking. The concept at Vivo is family-style dining, meaning all the plates are meant to be shared. I would not recommend going here as a couple (unless you eat a lot in one sitting) as the sizes/prices are better suited to a group of four or more. We went as a group of four and we don’t need a lot of food to fill us so we found the half orders of all of the plates to be enough.

 The service was impeccable. Our server was very knowledgeable of the menu, ingredients and preparation and offered suggestions on sizes, dishes and wine. Be warned, that all groups of six or more will be automatically charged a 20 per cent gratuity.

The wine selection was fairly good, especially if you can afford to drink off of the reserve list. They don’t have many wines by the glass, however I did have a nice cabernet sauvignon from a boutique vineyard in Napa.

 To start we had the night’s special. It was in-house smoked duck salami with fresh BC pears, fresh baked fig and olive bread and an arugula pesto. It was all very good.  

 Next we ordered the caprese salad which was beautifully dressed with five kinds of tomatoes, and some half sun dried, the creamiest, most flavourful bufala mozzarella I’ve ever had and basil pesto. I’m not normally the biggest fan of caprese salad, as I usually find it a bit bland, but this was incredible. I would definitely recommend ordering it. We also ordered the beef carpaccio to accompany the salad (and although I did not have any I was told it was good).

 For our secondi dishes we ordered the risotto de mare, which was a creamy, tasty risotto dish with prawns, blue tipped mussels, clams, halibut and scallops. I really like this dish, but then again, I love shell fish! We also ordered the gnocchi dish with toasted walnuts. I was disappointed with this order.

                                                                                                                                The gnocchi was too mushy and the flavour very bland (and just generally not tasty). Wish we had just ordered a larger dish of the risotto.

 By the time we had finished all of this we decided we were to full to order a meat dish and thought we would just have some dessert. Again we were disappointed. They only desserts they had were fruity gelato, tiramisu and one more thing that I can’t remember. We were hoping for some sort of torte or chocolate. So we left without dessert.

 All in all, I don’t think that I will be going back to Vivo. While the service was fantastic, the prices are a bit steep for the quality of the food (also, the majority of their ingredients are not local). If you are in the mood for Italian I think that your money would be better spent at Corso 32.

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Travel Tuesday: Banff, Alberta

Better late than never, as promised, here is a Travel Tuesday post on my trip to Banff, Alberta. I love Banff. Growing up in Alberta I spent many summer and winter vacations in the mountains—Banff, Jasper, the Kootenays. The Rocky Mountains are beautiful. Massive, snowy and exhilarating. The town of Banff, is a quaint, picture perfect little resort town nestled in this mass expanse of seemingly never ending mountains. Some of the notable mountain peaks surrounding Banff are Mount Rundle, Sulphur Mountain, Mount Norquay, and Cascade Mountain.

Banff is one of Canada’s most popular tourist destinations, known for its mountainous surroundings and hot springs. It is a destination for outdoor sports and features extensive hiking, biking, scrambling and skiing areas such as Sunshine Village, Ski Norquay and Lake Louise Mountain Resort, all within the national park.

Did you know, Banff was founded in 1883, by three Canadian Pacific railway workers, who discovered the natural hot springs now known as the Cave and Basin. This natural attraction soon resulted in the Federal Government setting aside this and surrounding land as a Federal Reserve named the Rocky Mountain Parks. The town on Banff was soon to follow, named after Banffshire in Scotland, the birthplace of two Canadian Pacific Railway Directors. Quickly recognizing the tourism potential of Banff, Canadian Pacific built the Banff Springs Hotel. While the hotel was originally planned to service guests as a stopover while traveling across the country, it soon became a destination on its own and still is today.

There are plenty of great places to stay and eat while in Banff and at multiple different price points. We stayed at the Banff Caribou Lodge and Spa. It was my first time staying here, but I was quite satisfied. The rooms were all recently redone, the hotel had a pool and spa area, onsite restaurant (The Keg) and a mini fridge in the room to keep our beer and wine cold for an après ski drink! It’s also about 5 mins away from the main strip (Banff Ave), which I prefer because it keeps the noise levels down. All in all, I would definitely stay here again.

The food highlights for me were The Maple Leaf Grill & Lounge and Wild Bill’s Legendary Saloon, both on Banff Ave. We ate at the Maple Leaf on the Saturday night of our trip. It was St. Patrick’s Day and I had been hoping to go to the Irish Pub but it was just packed and we were both really hungry, after a full day on the hill. The Maple Leaf has a great atmosphere. It’s got stereotypical Canadian decor (think stuffed beavers and geese and wood) but the overall vibe is cozy and romantic. We sat in big cushiony chairs tucked in the corner of the room, with a wool Hudson’s Bay Company blanket covering the bottom half of the window for both privacy and warmth. To eat we had the Pan Fried Gnocchi and AAA Beef Tenderloin (both very good), followed by the Chocolate Soufflé for dessert (fantastic).

We ate at Wild Bill’s for our first lunch in town, after our drive in from Edmonton. I believe this place is a bar at night and a restaurant during the day. It has a very good central location, located on the second floor of the building so you have a nice view from the window as well. The service left something to be desired, however, the food was awesome. We had the Bison Burger and the Ranch-Style Turkey, which is a sandwich with turkey, lots of gravy and a little bit of sour cream….it was so, so good. You definitely get your bang-for-your-buck pub food here.

The main reason we went to Banff was to go snowboarding. We chose to go to Lake Louise to board because you can buy lift tickets from Costco and they are much cheaper. The hill is great. It has 4200 skiable acres, making it one of the largest ski areas in North America. There are tons of lifts and over 139 marked runs, plus the back bowls. So, as long as you avoid the main area, off of the first lift, you can generally board without people getting in your way. We couldn’t have asked for better weather when we went. It was probably about zero degrees and it snowed all day long. The only time I was ever cold was on the chair lift. The hill had tons of powder. At one point, at the top of the mountain it was a total white out. You couldn’t tell what was sky and what was mountain. It was actually a little freaky since I couldn’t tell where the run was, I was terrified of going off of a cliff! A great day though. I hadn’t been snowboarding in two years, just been too busy, I’m very glad I made it out this year though. This was a great weekend.

Hunger Games, Swan Lake and Mad Men…My weekend recap

How was everyone’s weekend? There was tons to do in Edmonton this weekend, lots of places I wish I could have been, but you can’t be everywhere at once. My weekend was great! Like I mentioned on Friday, I had a full schedule of things to do and nothing disappointed. Here’s a recap of what I did:

Friday

Went to see The Hunger Games (do not read this blurb on the movie if you have not seen it yet and do not want spoilers!!!). LOVED it. I am so happy they kept the movie true to the book. The book was better, but that is always the case. Hunger Games is a tough book to adapt into a movie because a lot of the book goes on in Katniss’ head. You can’t have the same sort of emotional connection and inner struggle that you get from a book (in my opinion at least).  Jennifer Lawrence played Katniss perfectly. It is so refreshing to see a strong female lead in a book/movie. I’m so over, wimpy, helpless women (ahem, Twilight) who need a man in their lives to keep them strong. I like Katniss, and the fact that people rely on her to take care of them. Master of Ceremonies, Caesar Flickerman, brilliantly portrayed by Stanley Tucci, was one of my favourite characters in the movie, a much needed comic relief.

In a perfect world this movie would have been filmed to an “R” rating, I mean, the plot revolves around a group of kids trying to kill each other in an arena for the amusement of the masses. However, since its primary demographic is pre-teen and teenage girls (as evidenced by the squeals of delight coming from them during the movie) they obviously had to keep the rating to PG-13. For many parts of the film they used shaky-cam captures, which effectively keeps the exposure to violence to a PG-13 level while simultaneously allows for the killing and violent mood. At times the shaky-cam makes me a bit dizzy, but I do see the point of using it in this film. Overall, I think they did they book good. Having read the book I had a deeper understanding of the film and the characters (especially the Peeta-Katniss love story which I would have had a hard time buying into had I not read the books) but reading the book is not imperative to enjoying the movie. I’m pretty sure I’ll be going to see it again soon; I can’t believe we have to wait a year and a half for the next one.

Saturday

Went out to dinner at The Bothy. This is my second time there and I was not disappointed. The Bothy is a wine and whisky bar located on the south side of Edmonton (although they’ll be opening up a 124th St location as well soon). I tried a new red wine, Laya from Spain, it was quite nice. To eat we had the Cajun Shrimp and Scallop appetizer which had a nice kick to it. For my entrée I had the Turkey Club, which had a fried egg on it. It was fantastic. I honestly think that everything tastes better with some egg yolk on it, it’s just a fact of life.

After dinner we went to Alberta Ballet’s production of Swan Lake. I love classical ballets; I’m not really into modern dance or the like, so this production was right up my alley. The female lead, the Swan Queen/Black Swan was wonderful. Her pirouette sequence was fantastic and spot on. The sets were also incredible. My only qualm with the ballet was that it was too long. Personally, two intermissions is one too many and while I am a huge fan of dance, a three hour ballet is just too much for me. Overall, a brilliant production. The leads were poignant, striking and technically prepared. The story beautifully told. Another success for Alberta Ballet and Kirk Peterson.

Sunday

Sunday was the two hour season five premier of Mad Men. As you all know, I was very excited for this, a year and a half wait, come on! I thought the episode was great (especially the fashion). You can tell that the times are changing. The civil rights movements are picking up, the era of free spirits is in full swing. It’s a changing generation, one that it seems is a bit unsettling to Don, as his new wife is fully immersed in it. The party scene was my favourite, riddled with awkwardness and misjudgement. Sterling was just as entertaining as ever, spoiling the surprise, envying Don’s life and hating his wife. Megan, Don’s new wife is sure to become one of my new favourite characters. That sultry French love song that ends with a discreet version of a lap dance, her hair, her dress. Love, love and love. I can’t wait to see more of her in the upcoming episodes. No Betty and her pretty, sourpuss face this week, but I’m sure she’ll be back in full force soon enough. Definitely looking forward to the rest of this season!

Restaurant review: Corso 32

Good morning everyone. Like I mentioned on Friday, I had dinner reservations at Corso 32 on Saturday. This was my second time there, and let me just say, it did not disappoint. I’ll tell you a bit about the place and my experience there, but honestly, just go try it for yourself. If you love food, you will not be disappointed. Unless you don’t appreciate real food with real ingredients. In that case just stop reading now.

Chef Daniel Costa named his restaurant after patriarch Mario Costa’s street address back in Italy, before he moved to Canada. There are also only 32 seats in the restaurant. So the adage “reservations are suggested” is more appropriately, “you must make a reservation,” like way in advance if you want a weekend seating. We had a reservation for four people at 7:30 p.m. and it took about two months to get it. So worth the wait though.

Costa is committed to using as fresh and local ingredients as possible, cooked in a traditional Italian way. That is why the menu frequently changes, to align with what is in season and available. The whole restaurant is simple and minimalist, from the décor to the tables to the one page menu. But, simple doesn’t mean plain. Corso 32 makes all pastas by hand, cures all meats in house and promotes late night dining,” it’s easy to see why Edmonton foodies are in love.

We started out with the arancini (which are crispy rice balls), recently changed to radicchio & taleggio ($11). Like the first time I tried them several months ago they were fantastic. Crisp and salty on the outside, creamy and cheesy on the inside.

 Next we had my favourite item on the menu. Last time I was here I said I would never share this dish again. Unfortunately I did, and that’s my only regret of the night. I could eat four of these to myself. The grilled cheese, boschetto al tartufo, charred onion, sunny up egg, umbria truffle ($14). To call this a grilled cheese is a gross understatement. The creamy, flavourful cheese, the onion, the egg yolk. I’m practically drooling right now just thinking about it. If Costa ever takes this off the menu I’ll be heartbroken. It’s just that good.

 Next, everyone had their own entrée. The men ordered the fried short rib, Okanagan pear & arugula salad ($23). I didn’t try it but I heard it was pretty good. Not great, but good.

There was also the pappardelle, house made wild boar and fennel sausage ($19). There is something to be said about homemade pasta. It just doesn’t get any better. The pappardelle noodles were cooked perfect, the dish, spicy and satisfying.

I had the Black Truffle Fonduta Ravioli, Brussel leaves,and  butter. I don’t remember the price as this was just added to the menu and isn’t online yet, but I’m sure it was around the $20 – $25 mark. I’m pretty sure I would win the award for best meal of the night. I picked good. This ravioli was unlike any I have tried before. I inhaled this dish. First one done. The pasta melted in your mouth it was so light. Had it been any thinner and it wouldn’t have been able to stay whole. I’m not a huge pasta person and I could order this over and over again. I highly recommend it.

Finally, never one to turn down dessert we split the chocolate torta, with salty hazelnuts ($9) and the vanilla panna cotta, vin cotto, pistachios, & honey grappa ($10). This was the second time I had the torte. If you love chocolate you will be in heaven. Warning though, this dish is extremely rich. We couldn’t even finish it between three women. And that’s saying something! The panna cotta was wonderful. Creamy and light and completely satisfying.

To drink we all split two bottles of the Medici Concerto Lambrusco, Emilia Romagna IT ($45). I tried this wine for the first time here and it is one of my favourites now. It is a sparkling red that you drink chilled like a prosecco. It was the perfect accompaniment to our meal.

If you can’t tell by now, I highly recommend this restaurant. It’s definitely my favourite, and one I will return to many, many times in the future.

Food: 5 of 5 *** Service: 4 of 5 *** Ambience: 3.5 of 5