Being a foodie is not all it’s cracked up to be. Although it means being disproportionately happy with eating good food, the opposite also holds true—I am difficult to please. It pains me to give a bad review to an independent restaurant. It’s hard out there for independent restauranteurs. People like me make it harder.
Friends had mentioned liking Jacqueline Suzanne’s Bistro in Inglewood. March 4 to 14th is The Big Taste (formerly called Dine Out), an 11-day dining event where restaurants create set menus at reasonable prices in order to draw people in. Three courses are $15 or $25 for lunch, $35 for dinner, $85 for a gourmet dinner. It’s an affordable way to try out new restaurants, and an event I look forward to every year, not least because it’s perfectly timed with birthday madness in my life.Jacqueline Suzanne’s Bistro offered a 3-course dinner set menu with a choice from three starters, four mains and dessert for $35. Starters included a chef’s daily soup, butternut squash ravioli with brown butter sage cream sauce and candied yam, seared Grand Marnier scallop salad on mixed greens with mandarin oranges and orange vinaigrette.
The food. I started with the salad, which was not as advertised on The Big Taste website. Instead, it was a portabello mushroom salad with kalamata olives and feta cheese.
When it arrived, I knew immediately that the dish was undergoing an identity-crisis. It didn’t know what it was trying to be. There was alfalfa, olives, diced tomatoes, baby corn, carrot slices and sour portabello mushroom pieces. There was too much going on and the execution felt haphazard. I liked the vinaigrette and the portion was large which is usually a bonus. In this case, I wondered if the size was overcompensating. I know I’m a complete food snob for snubbing the salad for its lack of local produce but where were the Lund carrots or Hotchkiss tomatoes?
The options for the mains were prime rib with yorkshire pudding and burgundy au jus; Greek-style chicken supreme with kalamata olives, red pepper, feta, cream cheese, garlic mash and buttered asparagus; cajun rub basa with pan-seared prawns, herb rice pilaf and vegetable medley; and lastly, 1/2 rack of New Zealand spring lamb with Port reduction, vegetable medley and roasted garlic potato.
(Side note about my sides preference: The cajun basa originally caught my eye until I saw it was on a bed of rice pilaf. Because I am such a heavy rice eater at home, I tend to order my mains with a rice-free side dish unless it’s risotto. I also order based on the sauce. In this case, I made a last-second plate switch after noticing the lamb had a port reduction.)
Turns out I should have gone with my initial instinct. The rack of lamb was perfect temperature-wise (medium). But the sauce was too thin and watery and way too sweet. The lamb sat atop steamed red cabbage and I found the vegetable medley with zucchini, carrots and potatoes to be uninspired.
My tablemates seemed to fare better. The prime rib was juicy and came with a large yorkshire pudding, while the cajun basa was well-spiced and complimented by the rice pilaf. Dang it. Plate-regret strikes!
As was the case with my Wagamama fiasco, I tried to save a disappointing meal by eating cheesecake for dessert. My logic is simple: still hungry, must fill gap. I also ordered a latte. The chocolate cheesecake had a centimetre thick layer of Callebaut chocolate ganache on top which I donated to J, a chocolate fiend. The cheesecake was rich, creamy and delicious. However, the latte was not my “cup of coffee.” I blame deVille’s lattes for ruining the drink for me by being so good.
First glance. There is literally a window seat and table on the storefront facing 9th Avenue. On the last page of our menus is a page of antiques, which I suppose you can buy par or sans meal. The one that caught my eye was the diamond bracelet with 117 stones, appraised at $15,000 value. They also sell antique furniture. Purchasing wares at a restaurant is nothing new. Having pricey antique wares as part of the menu made me think twice about the quality of the food. Are they more focused on selling stuff, or creating an optimal dining experience?
The service. The service was great. Our server was attentive with just the right amount of chattiness. We also chatted with Suzanne, who opened the restaurant with her friend Jacqueline. She helped clear our table and let us know that the restaurant is a labour of love as she does the kitchen prep, cooks, serves and does payroll, like most small business owners.
Ambiance. The restaurant is in a 1912 heritage building with 14-foot original tin ceilings. I hope you like burgundy because that’s the colour of the tablecloths and chairs. Though the look is dated, the fact that it’s different from most modern restaurants makes for an offbeat and cozy setting.
Closing thoughts. To be honest, I was glad to have my meal paid for by a family member. Although my tablemates enjoyed their meals, they are happy souls with easy palates. I am all for supporting local restaurants, but I expected better food from Jacqueline Suzanne’s. I appreciate the experimentation and creativity, but the dishes I had felt quite random and were trying too hard to please everyone. I’ll hesitate in returning for dinner, but apparently they have 8 kinds of eggs Benedict (yes!) for brunch every weekend. Jacqueline Suzanne’s Bistro, you may have found a way to my fickle heart after all.
Jacqueline Suzanne’s Bistro, 1219 9th Ave SE, Calgary, 403-266-1005