Thursday, November 29th, 2012 at 11:32 pm

Weekend in Calgary: Sushi Club, Zoolights, Vendome Cafe and Devonian Gardens

I had the pleasure of catching up with my friends Annie and Andres in Calgary over the weekend. It was nice getting to spend some time with them and getting to know their new neighbourhood a bit better!

Downtown Calgary

The view from their apartment

Sushi Club

Living in the walkable Kensington, Annie and Andres have the advantage being surrounded by a wealth of amenities, including restaurants serving easily a dozen different ethnic cuisines. They took me to one of their favourites on Saturday night – Sushi Club.

Sushi Club

Interior (with incredible chalk art!)

Non-descript, but extremely popular (given their reservation roster was completely full for the night), the small restaurant seems to pride itself on fresh product and creative rolls. Knowing my aversion to raw seafood, Annie and Andres were gracious enough to set aside their usual order in favour of several platters of cooked rolls. The server was extremely helpful, pointing out their most popular dishes, as well as her personal favourites. She was also great in explaining exactly how many pieces came with each order.

The odd cod roll was my favourite – a take on fish and chips with battered and fried cod and a pickle  encased in seaweed and sushi rice and drizzled with tartar sauce. The cod was hot and freshly fried, and paired with the tart pickle and salty seaweed really did work as a two-bite taste.

Sushi Club

Odd cod

The crunchy calamari jalapeno roll was similar, though also featured the additional kick of heat from the peppers.

Sushi Club

Calamari jalapeño roll

Annie’s favourite of Hawaiian shrimp katsu rolls were served last, likely because they could almost be mistaken as dessert sushi. Topped with crushed pineapple and a coconut cream, they were the sweetest and lightest roll I had ever tried, and were definitely unique.

Sushi Club

Hawaiian shrimp katsu rolls

Obviously, I didn’t try their sashimi, but Annie and Andres can vouch for the quality of the seafood. And based on our overall experience, I wouldn’t hesitate in returning again if I’m back in the neighbourhood.

Zoolights @ the Calgary Zoo

Annie thought it might be fun to be tourists after dinner and visit Zoolights at the Calgary Zoo. Every holiday season, the Zoo transforms into a winter wonderland after dark, lit up with over 1.5 million lights. Adult admission was $10, though because none of us had ever been, we didn’t really know what to expect.

It turned out to remind me very much of a cross between the Alberta Legislature at Christmastime (with holiday music being piped through the grounds), and a walkable Bright Nights, the festival that used to take place at Hawrelak Park in years past.

Although the temperature during the day was above zero, when night fell, the temperatures quickly did as well. Combined with high humidity, it ended up being a rather chilly night. Thankfully, organizers prepared for this, with various fire pits located throughout the walking trails, and some indoor reprieves from the cold. The cafe was also open, so we took advantage of that and picked up some warm drinks to accompany our walk.

Pit stop

Zoolights @ Calgary Zoo

One of the indoor greenhouses (aka warming places)

Most of the displays were grouped by theme. Although I didn’t have my sweetheart with me, “lovers lane” was a favourite, complete with Cinderella and her Prince Charming.

Zoolights @ Calgary Zoo

Annie and Andres in lovers lane

Candyland was also a whimsical attraction, lined with coloured lollipops and candy canes.

Zoolights @ Calgary Zoo

Of course, there were a number of animal-themed displays as well. Some of them were animated, but all of them made great photo opportunities.

Zoolights @ Calgary Zoo

Swinging monkeys

Zoolights @ Calgary Zoo

Pet giraffes

In addition to the light displays were other activities for kids as well – a carnival area, and even Santa’s Village, where children were able to video conference with Santa.

Zoolights @ Calgary Zoo

Top of the evening to you

In all, we were impressed by how expansive the sights were – it was a great way to spend an evening outdoors. It’s really a win-win – patrons get into the holiday spirit, and the Zoo is able to generate more income in the off season. Check it out if you’re in Calgary over the next few months – Zoolights runs until January 5, 2013.

Vendome Cafe

Hoping to find a brunch spot within walking distance of their Kensington home, Annie did some researching and came up with Vendome Cafe, about five minutes away from their place in the neighbourhood of Sunnyside. I’m always up for trying new brunch spots in Calgary, so Andres, Annie and I walked over on Sunday morning.

Upon entry, we found a well-worn, charming cafe, anchored by a wooden counter and towering chalkboard menus. But the quaint surroundings couldn’t make up for the experience as a whole.

We joined the queue (a typical sight for Calgary brunch spots), but were confused by the fact that half the patrons did not have coats on – was this line for ordering or for tables? We had to ask the counter attendant (there was no staff responsible for managing the line), who explained that guests were expected to snag their own table, then line up to order at the counter. When asked why not all people in the line seemed to follow this system, she responded that “They must not have been here before.” A posted sign reading “Please seat yourselves and order at the counter” would have alleviated all of the confusion. It was almost as if they convinced themselves that they were a cafe, when in fact, they were a full-service restaurant. The endemic theme of Vendome expecting patrons to learn the system without guidance continued with the restrooms – they were simply a cluster of unmarked doors.

We put in our order at the counter at 10:30, and no joke, our food did not arrive until 11:30. Most of the parties around us didn’t seem to mind the similar wait, chatting over their morning coffee, but had we known such a delay would be imminent, we would have chosen a different establishment. We did spy a couple who had clearly been here before – as they wisely ordered from the pastry case for a pre-brunch appetizer probably knowing their main meal would take some time.

The food was actually quite well prepared, though nothing would have made up for the lack of service and wait at that point. My open faced sausage and egg sandwich ($9.95) was tasty – the perfectly fried sunny side up eggs dressing up the focaccia, lettuce, tomato and breakfast sausage nicely. Annie and Andres both ordered the blue crab eggs benedict ($14.95), which had quite a kick for a breakfast dish, and again, featured perfectly poached eggs.

Vendome Cafe

Open faced sandwich

Vendome Cafe

Blue crab eggs benedict

The complete indifference to service was something I’ve never before experienced in a city ripe with some great brunch establishments. Given this wealth of fabulous brunch restaurants in Calgary (with Blue Star Diner being at the top of my current list of favourites), I’d be hard pressed to ever return to Vendome without good reason.

Devonian Gardens

Anytime I’ve been in Calgary over the past six months, I’ve tried to keep on top of when the Devonian Gardens was to re-open. It’s been under renovation for the last two years, and given it is such a green oasis in an urban setting, I was keen to see what the refurbished gardens would look like.

Devonian Gardens

I was finally able to check it out this weekend. The koi were still around, delighting children and adults alike.

Devonian Gardens

Koi

But the big change was how open it now was – instead of doors closing off the gardens from the connected mall, the food court just flows right into the gardens. Given the number of visitors that Sunday afternoon, perhaps this integration is helping to remind people that it does exist.

Devonian Gardens

Water feature

The garden is lined with seating, and we were sure on most weekdays would be packed with lunchgoers seeking to enjoy a bit of green on their break.

Devonian Gardens

Love the living wall

Thanks again to Annie and Andres for having me – I’m looking forward to my next visit already!

  • Yeng

    Hi, I have been reading your blog for a while now. I try to remember to refer to your blog whenever I am up in Edmonton and looking for a new venue to try.

    If you are in Calgary and looking for other brunch venues, there’s a place called Wake Bistro in Kensington. It is a small place but the food is good. The other venue is in Inglewood called Fine Diner, address 1420 9 Ave SE, Calgary, AB T2G 0T4

    Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year 2013!

  • http://www.onlyhereforthefood.ca/ Sharon

    Thanks for reading, Yeng! I’ve actually been to Wake Bistro (and loved it – http://www.onlyhereforthefood.ca/2011/04/07/can-you-say-breakfast-poutine-wake-bistro/), but I have never heard of Fine Diner. I’ll be sure to check it out the next time I’m in Calgary. Happy holidays to you too!

  • abel

    I am regular visitor of your blog and enjoyed to read them.Most of the location i have visited about you write here and thanks for such a beautiful blog which serves traveler like me.

  • Annie

    :( I am sad to announce that Andres and I walked by WAKE a few days ago…they are GONE! And will be replaced by a poutine place!

    - Annie

  • Megan

    Thanks for the nice read and love your photos from Zoolights! Found out there’s a promotion going on to get 2for1 entry to Zoolights! Just have to buy a Fiasco Gelato pack at Co-op and bring your receipt to the zoo. Plus $2 from the purchase also gets donated back to the zoo! Just wanted to share that with some of your readers! Enjoy!