Monday, March 11, 2013

Embarcadero Wine & Oyster Bar - Calgary, AB

My second weekend off of my rural rotation and this time I was headed down to Calgary to visit my cousins, get in some more snowboarding for the year (with the new GoPro I got for Christmas!), and Calgary’s annual “The Big Taste” event (recommended by friend and fellow blogger, Shannon). My cousin-in-law, Howie, is a self-proclaimed foodie and was as excited as I was for The Big Taste event. Since it was his city, I asked him to choose a couple of restaurants that we could all check out while I was in town for the last weekend of The Big Taste; we both mutually settled on Emcarcadero Wine & Oyster Bar and Charcut Roast House (which I will be trying on Sunday).

It was a busy weekend for Embarcadero – being the last weekend of The Big Taste – and the only reservation we could get on such short notice was at 9:00PM. Incidentally, this worked out quite nicely as both of my cousins were working until 8:00PM that night. After struggling to find parking in and around 17th Ave., we finally made it to Embarcadero at 9:15PM. Unfortunately, there was already a table of six waiting ahead of us and we were promptly, though politely, informed that there was a bottleneck for the 9PM reservations and we would be seated within the next 10-15 minutes. True to their word, after a large party of six left, we were promptly seated. The evening actually started out pleasantly with a knowledgeable and friendly server and a great looking Big Taste menu. However, things quickly went south after we were seated at around 9:40PM: a diner at the table next to us was very particular about the temperature at the restaurant and continually complained about how warm it was (it wasn’t). The server actually ended up turning on the AC several times for the entire restaurant and my cousin and I spent the entire meal freezing to death. Not only that, but our food got cold quite a bit faster than it was supposed to at the chilly temperature (which the diner continued to complain about throughout the night)! While it is good to be accommodating to customers during a meal, Embarcadero should realize that there is usually more than just one diner dining in a restaurant. The temperature of the entire restaurant, especially on a chilly day in Calgary, actually ruined my experience at Embarcadero quite a bit.

Fanny Bay Oysters and Mignonette
After perusing the set menu of Big Taste ($35/person), we decided to order different combinations from The Big Taste Menu and the oyster special of the night – the Fanny Bay from Baynes Sound, BC ($1.25/each). We were told that the Cold smoked Albacore tuna dish was no longer available for the night, a big disappointment for me considering that was my appetizer of choice after perusing the menu. As we were left with no choice, the four of us ended up with the Beef Tenderloin Medallions & Jumbo Prawn appetizer which was topped with snow crab, béarnaise sauce, and white truffle oil drizzle. The service at Embarcadero that night was quite slow and it was quite a while before either our oysters (which are traditionally served raw) or our appetizers came out. It was almost 10:30PM – almost an hour after we were seated – before our platter of oysters was served. The Fanny Oysters was served with a mignonette side of chopped and diced red onions, garlic, and horse radish. The Fanny Oysters were disappointingly small, but had a great, fresh seawater taste. The mignonette side ended up being the star of the dish, surprisingly! The mignonette was infused with garlic flavour with a hint of red onion which complimented – without overpowering – the oysters. My cousin, who is not a fan of raw food (even in sushi!) and who had never tried raw oyster before, found the oysters as well as the mignonette delicious enough to try two.

Beef Tenderloin Medallions and Jumbo Prawn
The appetizer quickly followed the oyster dish. I was a little disappointed that the beef medallions came out medium rare as opposed to just rare. However, tenderloin was melt-in-your-mouth delicious and acted perfectly as a vehicle to the  snow crab, béarnaise sauce, and white truffle oil. Both the tenderloin and snow crab were cooked to perfection and the béarnaise sauce and white truffle oil added great accents to the dish – very  “truffle-y” in flavour which I enjoyed immensely – without overpowering the beef and crab flavour. My cousin, Nam, said it was “the best steak” he had ever tasted. The jumbo prawn, while cooked well, was outshined by its beef counterpart.

Lobster-stuffed Fillet of Sole & Steamed PEI Mussels and
Thai Coconut Milk Curry Sauce
It was quite a while before our mains came out and I was famished by this point. The only good thing about the wait was that it left ample time for dinner conversation with my dear cousins. It was almost half an hour before our mains came out. As they served the first three mains, our server informed us that the chef had “dropped” my cousin Ni’s duck and was currently remaking the entire dish. As such, she would have to wait an extra five minutes (it ended up being 20 minutes) while the rest of us ate. As I had ordered the duck dish for the past three meals, I decided on the Fillet of Sole which was stuffed with lobster, topped with crab and served with steamed PEI mussels in a Thai coconut milk curry sauce, jasmine rice, and winter vegetables. The portions, especially of the sole and lobster, were quite generous. Both the sole and the accompanying lobster was cooked very well. However, I found the sole and lobster to be a bit under seasoned. The Thai coconut curry sauce, though interesting at first, did not pack enough punch or flavour to seep through to the sole and lobster. In addition, the sauce was only layered on top and I quickly ran out of sauce to eat with the rest of the sole, my rice, and my vegetables. The PEI mussels were well cooked, but nothing special. All-in-all, though the elements were well prepared, together it was a mediocre dish that was not unified or at all memorable.

Seared Duck Breast
After a long wait, my cousin Ni finally got her Seared Duck Breast which was served with a black cherry port wine reduction, roasted baby potato and winter vegetables. The duck was cooked very well, with the inside being rare and the surrounding skin and fat seared to a delightful crunch. The port wine reduction could clearly be tasted throughout the duck and added a nice, deep red wine flavour without being overpowering. The black cherries also added a nice acidity to the dish and balanced out the wine reduction and fattiness of the duck. My cousin Nam stated that the potatoes and “winter vegetables” – which was actually just broccoli – was quite average in taste, however.

Caramelized Banana Crepe
The two desserts offered on The Big Taste Menu were the Caramelized Banana Crepe and the Crème Brulee. As I am not usually a fan of Crème Brulee (I almost always find it too rich and heavy), I opted for the Caramelized Banana Crepe which was served with French vanilla ice cream and chocolate drizzle while my cousin Nam went for the Crème Brulee. The Banana Crepe was well-prepared but nothing special in my opinion. The Crème Brulee, on the other hand, was well-torched at the top – the caramelized top had a delightful “burnt” sugar taste (without tasting bitter or smoky) and a light, whip-creamy taste throughout. I definitely enjoyed this Crème Brulee much more than most other Crème Brulees.

Embarcadero Oyster & Wine Bar offered excellent portions for the three-course meal, especially at a price of only $35. With fresh oyster specials at $1.25/oyster, it is a great place for oyster-lovers. However, the food overall was only average to above average in comparison to other restaurants in Calgary and Edmonton and the service was quite slow – it was almost 12PM before we finished our entire meal. In addition, my dining experience was significantly and negatively impacted by the chilly temperature of the restaurant (and the diner next door!). Overall, there were more negatives than positives at Embarcadero Wine & Oyster Bar for me, and it is unlikely I will return to Embarcadero, unless it was for something like The Big Taste Menu, and possibly their oysters, but not much else.

Creme Brulee
Top Pick of the Night: Fanny Oyster Mignonette and Beef Tenderloin Medallions

3/5 Erics'

The Embarcadero Wine & Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

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