Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Thomsons (Revamped) - Calgary, AB

I had the pleasure of catching up with some of my best girlfriends last week when I was back in Calgary. As an added bonus, because one of my friends works at the Hyatt, she invited us to come enjoy a meal at Thomsons, the hotel restaurant which has revamped everything from its decor to its entire menu. We stopped by for the soft opening, the night before Thomsons opened to the public (it should be open now).

Upon stepping into Thomsons, the first thing I noticed was how very Calgary it was. Large pictures of cowboys and horses adorned the walls, adding a Western theme to an otherwise comfortable but unremarkable dining space. I hadn't been to Thomsons before the reno so I don't have anything to compare to, but my friend stated that some of the walls had been removed to create a more open atmosphere with an open kitchen.

Because it was a soft opening, we had been warned that the service would be slower than usual, but we also reaped the benefits of having the server be more informative than usual. He encouraged us to ask as many questions about the food and drink menus as we had, and went out of his way to talk about Thomsons new concept. Apparently the theme is local, fresh, in-season ingredients, with the menu changing as much as 30% daily to reflect the best the chef has that day.

We were only able to choose from four appetizers, four mains, and four desserts instead of the whole menu, but that was more than enough for our party. We decided to go with one of each appetizer - steamed mussels, confit duck breast, burrata cheese with tiger tomatos, and slow braised beef cheeks. When the appetizers came out, we were stunned by how large the portions were, especially the mussels and the confit duck breast. Unfortunately, the mussels were our least favourite - the orange zest was really quite strong, and the overall taste was something I'd expect more from a light lunch than a hearty dinner. My confit duck breast was delicious - the duck was juicy and flavorful. To me, however, it was a very heavy dish that I had difficulty finishing as the duck was served with beans and bacon. Brussel sprouts added some freshness but I would recommend splitting this appetizer. For most creative, I'd hand it to the burrata dish - the plating was just so creative, with cheese curd placed inside a larger cheese "bowl" to resemble an egg.
For our mains, we ordered the smoked double pork chop, braised lamb shank, and grilled cornish chicken. Again, the portion sizes were huge, especially the pork chop and lamb leg. The pork chop was full of flavor, perfectly seasoned and complemented by tart apples. My lamb leg was fall-off-the-bone tender, but my favorite part of the dish was actually the sweet potato gnocchi it was served with. I only had a very small taste of the chicken, but my friend seemed to enjoy it. 
Despite the fact we were all stuffed to the brim, we decided to go all out on what Thomson's had to offer and ordered all four desserts on special - berry gateau (cake), pecan pie, white chocolate cheesecake, and the "grown up sundae". The plating was stunning, especially the "grown up sundae" (middle left). The pie and cake were the standouts - the cake was flavorful, soft, and loaded with sweet berries, and who doesn't love pecan pie? Unfortunately the brownie in the sundae was very rich and quite bitter. Although some may enjoy the taste of cocoa alone, I would have preferred a hint of sweetness. Although the cheesecake was good, it wasn't anything special - I wasn't able to pick out any white chocolate flavor.

Overall, I was really impressed by Thomsons tonight. The flavors were spot-on, the plating was beautiful, and the portions were very generous. However, I would prefer to see smaller portion sizes at a lower price, because I was only able to finish about half of my appetizer/entree/dessert meal. Definitely a matter of personal preference however, because I am sure true cowboys will appreciate the sheer amount of food more than a small Asian girl. I would also recommend Thomsons for those who are visiting from out of town and want to experience a true Calgary meal, because I think Thomsons has really made the effort to reflect Calgary in everything from its atmosphere to its menu.
Thomsons Restaurant on Urbanspoon
Disclaimer: Food and beverages were complimentary of Thomsons. I was not asked to write a review, nor expected to, and all opinions (positive and negative) are wholly my own.

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