DineOut Reviews: Back in the ‘Toon (Saskatoon Part II)

Would you believe that I went back to Saskatoon not once but twice? But I did mention it each time on my blog. It meant that I got to try a few more places through work dinners and my own explorations to complement that slice of Saskatoon from my first trip. There were new faces in Saskatoon and my reputation preceded me as the new people were not surprised when I surreptitiously pulled out my camera to discreetly take a photo of my food!

Over Greek dinner two weeks ago, an older colleague told me that I reminded him of that Beatles song, “Penny Lane” because of the lyric early on in the song: “there is a barber showing photographs of every head he’s had the pleasure to have known”. I thought that was quite a unique comparison and take it as a compliment!

Jake’s on 21st

Would you be surprised that I looked up places within the vicinity of work (i.e., within a ten minute walk) over the weekend before my second trip? I did and it saved me from having to think on Monday at lunch when it was already a long day by then. With the choice of salads, sandwiches and baked wraps, I went with the last choice and place my order over the phone.

The cafe is cozy and was very busy but a bit hipster (in Saskatoon, huh?) and I didn’t personally like it. I opened the two boxes containing my wrap and side where I chose of course the pita chips. The baked chicken dill wrap purports to have chicken breast, cheddar, tomatoes, green peppers and dill sauce but did you ever see such a wimpy wrap? I almost captured it in the photo but there was also a light brown hair stuck to the inside of the box holding my wrap. Pita chips with dill dip seems to be a signature side of theirs and I enjoyed the portion of course. Otherwise, I thought there was insufficient value for this menu item.

Jake's on 21st on Urbanspoon

Golden Pagoda Burmese Asian Restaurant

As I strolled from my hotel to the Golden Pagoda restaurant to pick up my take out order, I realized that I was going wayyy out of my comfort zone. Like many a downtown core elsewhere, the place had shut down and there was a ghost town and I was a little wary of any of the few people I passed especially those two cyclists who passed me and creepy guy just had to turn around and take a look at me.

Sadly they were out of their pickled green tea leaf salad so I just ordered a combo for 1 with stir-fry asparagus, spicy rice and their main curry.

Well. It was a really decent amount of food for the price and the price confused me by not matching that listed online (they charged me less). The spicy rice was beautiful and indeed spicy. I wish the cashew nuts were crunchier rather than softened all the way through. There were also sweet morsels like raisins and dried fruit. The asparagus stir-fry was a bit of a misnomer, better named “vegetable/only stir-fry with asparagus”. It was not spicy but there was a lot of liquid and it was really salty. Then I was onto the curry–not eating every morsel, mind you–and it looked a bit evil to me. I think it’s the part of me drilled that Cantonese is the best cuisine, which I should discuss another day. The restaurant offers curry with spice level between 2 and 8 and I ordered a 4 which was still manageable. There were two pieces of chicken on the bone and the spices were crazy complex and it was not a creamy curry.

 

Golden Pagoda Burmese Asian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Earls Restaurant

Did you know that Earls started in Alberta? And that old Earls had enormous parrots hanging off the building as outdoor decor. So that means the Saskatoon Earls is not necessarily a new addition with the current boom. I was more struck by the decor in the bar… are those ostrich heads complete with long necks sticking out of the walls in the lounge?! The dining room was eat with edge Baroque touches and big studio lights (not brightly lit) overhead lending an edgy feel.

I got a Toronto colleague so excited because I saw on a Toronto Earls menu about half a year ago a fenugreek curry lamb popsicles appetizer. Either it was season, a test menu item or did not make it to Saskatoon because it was not listed. I can be so easily swayed so a colleague mentioned that she would often get the chicken Brie sandwich and I then read the description and changed my mind from the blackened chicken entree another colleague recommended.

It seemed to be a quesadilla night for three women ordered it and I was the only one with “finger” food. But the chicken Brie sandwich was better than any quesadilla. It had tender chicken, sliced apple, soft melted Brie and fig jam! The focaccia bread was also really good. We all loved the yam fries we all substituted regular fries for and it was aided in no small part with the “spicy mango dip” which was actually a spicy mango curry dip.

 

Earls Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Grandma’s Lee Bakery

Great minds start to think alike when you’ve been spending endless hours together. A colleague and I made a run over to Grandma Lee’s that was pleasantly busy during the noon hour and we both got chili which comes with a fresh made (pre-buttered) bun. The third colleague in our meeting room got inspired and got chili from the Tim Hortons downstairs and another colleague in the meeting room next door, unbeknownst to me until later, also got chili from Tim Hortons. Perhaps it was just that kind of day.

When I tasted the chili I thought it was remarkably mild, in that it was so smooth. I ate it quickly and on the last bite, I realized that there was not a sprinkle of spice in the chili. It was not spicy at all. It was more like a beef stew with kidney beans!

I tried my first puffed rice square and it was really sweet!

 

Grandma Lee's Bakery & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Taverna Italian Restaurant

After work, we went to an Italian restaurant that some colleagues had noticed from being in the area a few times. There is an old-school look to the signage outside the restaurant and when we step in, I was surprised by the size and decor. It was spacious but laid out very unimaginative. You might think it could have been an office space in the past with the white tile ceiling and mirror along the top half of the entire length of walls to make the space seem larger. The immediate comment we had was that it felt “stuffy”. That might be a polite way of saying it smelled. Like an old Chinese restaurant, I offered. Like grease and food. And when we settled into a booth, we definitely figured out it smelled like a grandparent’s house, emanating from the booth upholstery.

We tried to order wine and several wines were not available. Some colleagues dined there before and they ran out of a tasty veal dish. A colleague tried to order ravioli but they were just out. “At 5:30?!” we queried. From the lunch rush, apparently. We got out orders in and although we said we were in a rush, the food was long in arriving.

I was pleased with the bread (which didn’t seem to be fresh baked but was nicely warmed) served with balsamic-olive oil that’s jazzed up with herbs and garlic. I thought that was really tasty. When the entrees finally arrived, there was a large disparity between the quantity of my spaghetti ala vongole (lots) and the fettuccine Alfredo. Granted, there were at least 15 clams in their shell in my dish but it still looked odd. The plates are relics from the ’70s reminding me of old diner flatware. A colleague ordered a pricey veal entree and it did not look worth it plated flat and unimaginatively on the ancient flatware.

There was more of the same inventory shortage when we tried to order dessert. They were out of tiramisu and pannacotta, the most likely most popular two desserts. We could read between the lines when the well-trained server would say they are “fresh out” of something. It was generous, I thought, of my colleagues to attribute service snaffoos with the city not coping with the boom. I am more likely to attribute it to the small town mentality that has not yet caught up with the influx of people.

Taverna Italian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Crave Cupcakes

A partner stuck his head into the meeting room that is the office for use from away offices and announced there were cupcakes in the kitchen! I let a few minutes lapse before taking myself and my camera and was greeted by a sea of cupcakes! Several round tables in the kitchen were covered with cases each holding a half dozen of cupcakes in one of two flavours: blue icing on chocolate cake and white icing on vanilla cake! I only took a picture of one table of cupcakes!

The blue icing topping chocolate cake was most novel looking and that is what I grabbed. The cupcakes came from Crave Cupcakes that started in Calgary and the blue icing is their signature. It was merely a vanilla buttercream but the clue threw me off from tasting the vanilla flavour and it simply tasted like pure sugar.

 

Crave Cupcakes on Urbanspoon

The Hub at Holiday Inn

My colleague has stayed at the beautiful, new Holiday Inn several times and recommended The Hub and I don’t take her recommendations only lightly. I’m not sure if I will return to the Holiday Inn so I took the opportunity on the last evening of the week to check out the hotel restaurant, The Hub.

On Tuesday, I had breakfast where a hot or cold buffet breakfast is offered for a reasonably price ($9/$12). It is a modest buffet but does the job with an omelette station, an egg bake and eggs Benedict for the “fancier” egg creations.

I was back on Thursday for dinner and got to see their menu for the first time since it is not listed online. The appetizers looked innovative with a mac ‘n’ cheese waffle sandwich and fish & chips sliders. The entrees looked delicious, too, and I wanted to order a salmon entree. The two choices of dessert both involved waffles.

I ordered mac ‘n’ cheese waffle and housemade potato chips which apparently also came with a creamy tomato soup that I used as a dip. The handmade chips were mostly crips and it was all so filling I could not fathom having dessert that consisted of more waffles!

The Hub at Holiday Inn on Urbanspoon

Nisen Sushi

I did one of those annoying customer things and called at lunch time and asked, “Do you have any specials?” I was easy to please and had an idea of what I wanted: sushi! Omigosh I couldn’t handle any more greasy and heavy food. They had a 12-piece maki special and I got to select my rolls and my choice of salmon roll and California roll were acceptable. The sushi was fresh and good, what else can I say?

Nisen on Urbanspoon

Red Pepper Restaurant

So this place has a pretty decent rating but I suppose I could be fishing from a shallow barrel limited in time to restaurants in the nearest vicinity to my hotel. I read the Urbanspoon reviews and I probably should have ordered what people tended to order and thus the restaurant would tend to make well. But I never feel like basil chicken so I went for some comfort food, once which they couldn’t really mess up and the other a risky one.

First, I experienced some sticker shock. Oh right, in small towns (cities) Chinese food is expensive. Yet my soup and “main” was cheaper than a two-course meal elsewhere. The hot & sour soup was almost passable. A little sour and barely spicy. Big pieces of mustard green weren’t really tasty and it was missing good Chinese ingredients like Chinese mushroom, wood ear, and bamboo shoots. Instead it was filled with safe ingredients like shredded carrots and egg. The risky dish was the mapo tofu which they didn’t understand when I ordered so I had to call it “tofu with minced pork”. The big disappointment was their use of fried tofu instead of fresh (but then I was worried about fresh tofu going sour and tasting that throughout). There was no spicy to it and the dish was topped with flavourless chives! Oh, Saskatoon. I should have gotten some trout from the hotel restaurant but I will be getting something else for dessert….

 

Red Pepper Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sheraton Cavalier Saskatoon

While I got to try a Saskatchewan steel head trout in my first week, a local offering, I very nearly forgot to try a dessert make with local berries, the Saskatoon berry! I got to roll the experience with my first time ordering room service and at 6 p.m. ordered a Saskatoon berry crisp to be delivered at 9 p.m.! Thank goodness for ordering dessert because dinner was so unsatisfying and I also needed something (9 p.m. and dessert) to work towards.

Saskatoon berries are not sweet. Even though the berries were sweetened for the dessert, it was still tart. They resembled blueberries and I greatly wished the crumb would have been less chewy and more crisp. A piece of pound cake topped the Saskatoon berry gelato which was a lovely cool and creamy complement to the warm berry crisp.

The Cupcake Conspiracy

From before knowing that I would land in Saskatoon, I heard of The Cupcake Conspiracy and while it is not too far from the office, I hadn’t managed to go because I would just work pretty much straight through lunch, munching on a sandwich grabbed from Tim Hortons or similar. And while the shop was still open after I got off work, I was worried about being disappointed in lack of flavours so I did not venture there. Yet, because of my fabuloso research skills, I did make a handy list of which cupcake(s) I wanted to try and they have such cute names: Corporate Monkey (chocolate cake + banana cream), Prohibitionist (vanilla cake + rum cream), American Cousin (chocolate cake + mexican vanilla cream), Bermuda Triangle (vanilla cake + lemon cream), Little Green Men (chocolate cake + mint cream), Grassy Knoll (chocolate cake + Bailey’s cream) and Guerilla (coffee cake+ coffee cream)!

So, on my way to the airport, I swung by the cupcake shop and they were out of mini cupcakes. Darn!! I ordered a Bermuda Triangle (lemon), of course, but got impulsive and ordered the High Risk which is not on the above list. My main criteria after the second cupcake being chocolate cake, was for a high contrast colour but it turns out the taste was not high contrast as if the second cupcake was mint or run or Bailey’s. I found both vanilla and chocolate cake to be a bit like boxed cake consistency but you know for me it’s the icing that takes the, um, cake. I found both icing were weak on the promised flavour of lemon and orange but the buttercream itself was good and not overly sweet.

The Cupcake Conspiracy on Urbanspoon

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