Sunday, August 1, 2010

It Had A Lot Going For It . . .

too bad it didn’t live up to its promise.

Olive ‘R Twist Bistro and Bar was the top-rated restaurant in Cochrane, Alberta, according to trip-advisor.com and earned 4.5 (out of 5.0) stars on both urbanspoon.com and yelp.com. The head chef used to work at Blue Dog Café, another highly regarded Cochrane restaurant. So it was with great anticipation that we arrived early one afternoon looking for a bistro lunch.

While not large (seating for between sixty and seventy), the room had modern décor dominated by large and colorful modern art. Bob Marley must have been a favorite, since there were two prints depicting his likeness in blue and black.

Chuck’s lunch choice was the six-ounce New York strip sirloin with sweet potato fries. The steak was served on a baguette half that had been grilled (over-grilled) along with the steak and was smothered with grilled onions and mushrooms. The steak was very good with a wonderful crusty surface and came medium rare as ordered. Like many of the steaks Chuck has eaten during the past month, the meat was tender without being soft and mushy and was full of good beef flavor. While the bread was burned around the edges, it tasted superb after it had soaked up the wonderful meat, onion, and mushroom juices. And the sweet potatoes, fried crisp, but grease-free, were a good counterpoint to the flavor of the beef.

I chose the Maple Blueberry Bison Burger with brie and chipotle mayo. Being Canada, the government mandated that I eat this cooked medium well. With this, I had my choice of soup, salad, or sweet potato fries. I chose the soup of the day (and one of my favorites)--cream of mushroom. While the soup was a little thicker than I like, it was chock-full of woodsy mushrooms and had a slight sweet taste from what I am sure was sherry.

Since my bison burger had to be cooked medium well, I was prepared for it to be somewhat dry--and it was. But the longer cooking time and the maple blueberry glaze gave the outer surface a great char. There was a perfect balance between the sweet glaze and the spicy chipotle mayo, and both complemented the brie (one of my favorite cheeses). But, as I did with my hamburger at Canyon Rose Steakhouse (also in Cochrane), I found the texture of the meat to be off-putting. It was like the raw bison meat had been run through a food processor and turned into bison paste. Yuk.

Oh. Remember all of those mushrooms that came piled on Chuck’s steak. They became mine. Some augmented my soup and the rest were piled on the bison burger.

Chuck’s lunch and my mushroom soup probably merit 4.0 Addies, but I was so turned off by the texture of my burger that I can only award Olive ‘R Twist 3.5 Addies.


What Does It Say . . .
when one of our best meals in Alberta was at a chain restaurant?

Joey's Only Seafood Restaurants was started in 1985 by seafood lover Joe Klassen, whose vision was to create a friendly, just-around-the-corner type of seafood restaurant. Franchising began in 1992 and now, with over one hundred franchise locations across North America, Joey's Only has become the largest seafood restaurant chain in Canada.

I’m always in the mood for fish or seafood, and Chuck, having passed on the fish and chips at the Rose & Crown (in Banff), wanted fish and chips. There were two seafood restaurants in Cochrane and the Google reviews of the other mentioned small portions and high prices. So we agreed to temporarily abandon our “no chains” philosophy and off to Joey’s we went.

The restaurant was only a quarter full when we arrived, and we were lucky enough to be seated in one of the high back booths. While the décor could best be described as sparse, the room was clean and bright, and someone with no small measure of artistic ability had decorated the two chalk boards with colorful sketches of fish and sea horses.

Knowing that Chuck would probably end up with a portion of fries ample enough for me to snag a few, I decided to pass on the long list of fish and seafood combination plates which came with fries and slaw. Instead, I chose two appetizers – an order of the calamari (rings of South Pacific squid, which were hand-coated to order in a seasoned batter and lightly dusted with Cajun spice) and an order of the clam strips.

Of the two, the calamari was the winner. This may be a chain, but someone in the kitchen knows when to remove the calamari from the deep fryer before the rings turn to rubber bands. The coating was paper thin and crunchy, and the squid so sweet-tasting that you didn’t want to use either tartar sauce or cocktail sauce – just a light spritz of lemon.

The clam strips came with a thicker and crunchier coating, but were not overcooked and dry.

Chuck started with an amazing bowl of clam chowder that was creamy and briny and had more clam bits that potatoes. And what small amount of celery had been added didn’t overwhelm the rest of the flavors. The addition of a little salt pork or bacon would have made it perfect.

You can order the fish and chips with cod, halibut, or haddock. That day’s lunch special was the two piece cod with fries and slaw and this was his choice.

Everything on his plate was first-rate. The fish was covered with a thin batter, and the fish underneath was sweet, moist, and flakey. The hot and crisp fries were lightly seasoned, and the creamy and crunchy cole slaw was the classic complement. He did pass on the opportunity to complete his meal in the traditional English way by adding an order of Mushy Peas for ninety-nine cents.

I know that I am inclined to be an anti-chain snob, but I have to admit that this was one well-prepared meal at a reasonable price and is worthy of a 4.0 Addie rating.

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