Thursday, February 7th, 2013 at 11:50 pm
Date Night: NaanOLicious and Ice on Whyte
I found a great excuse for Mack and I to finally try NaanOLicious on Friday, New Asian Village’s casual establishment that opened in the fall. It is billed as offering Indian fusion dishes in a funky, hip atmosphere, fitting for its Whyte Avenue location – at the very least, it is a different addition to the spectrum of Indian eateries that already exist. I was planning to follow-up the meal with a walk to Ice On Whyte, so NaanOLicious’ proximity was perfect for that warm winter night.
We took the bus over to Old Strathcona (I checked first to see if the streetcar happened to be running in conjunction with the festival, but I think it was just a special feature of last year’s festivities). Taking our chances without a reservation, we found the restaurant about three-quarters full at the dinner hour. We were greeted promptly and led to a table, and from that vantage point, were able to marvel at the seductive interior. I don’t know what led me to expect a more bare-bones décor scheme (maybe it was the “naan bar” connotation of functionality over form), but with stone accents, rouge carpets, and Bollywood dance videos displayed on the screens and piped through the speakers, it felt like a plush lounge. That said, the room is anchored not by a traditional bar, but a long, open kitchen. It was great to see the chefs at work, and especially to listen to the reassuring sound of naan dough being moulded by capable hands.
I wished the menu was as congruous as the interior, however. While it featured brightly-coloured pages, fun word puns and some photographs, not much thought seemed to be given to the organization and flow. Appetizers were scattered throughout the menu, and it wasn’t clear from the description whether certain dishes were meant to be shared or acted as individual entrees. As a result, we took more time with the menu than we usually do (the servers came to take our order three times before we were ready to do so), but we weren’t the only ones –the pair next to us were similarly confused by the layout and dish descriptions. NaanOLicious, at the end of the day, presents fusion flavours – Indian-spiced pizzas, pastas, and other fun interpretations using familiar spice profiles.
Mack ended up with a coconut shrimp shooter ($3) to start, a fun two-bite treat served in a shot glass full of mango chutney. Mack enjoyed it, but I’m not sure it was worth the price, though it is unusual to see such small single-serving items on menus in the city.
Mack with his shrimp shooter
We split two dishes, one being the clear winner. We’ve found butter chicken wraps at Origin India and at Remedy, but NaanOLicious was the first to present us with a panaani ($15) – butter chicken, cucumbers, tomatoes grilled between fresh naan. The naan was perfectly crispy, the heat level just right in the creamy sauce with the vegetables lending additional texture and pop. The panaani was served with potatoes and a salad.
Butter chicken panaani
The server had asked us about the preferred heat level of our entrees, and we requested medium spicy for both. So it was surprising that the Deccan meatloaf ($16) was so much spicier than the panaani. I would have preferred a creamier sauce, and a firmer texture for the meatloaf – it crumbled when cut. The dish was accompanied by a generous serving of vegetables and potatoes.
Service was disappointing. The ratio of servers to chefs was easily 2:1, but they tended to disappear for long periods of time. The food (understandable given said ratio) also took quite a bit of time. We also anticipated that the shrimp shooter would arrive first, but instead, all three dishes were delivered one after the other.
Without question, we would return to NaanOLicious, especially knowing that a craving for their butter chicken panaani is bound to crop up in the future. But we’d likely call ahead for takeout instead.
After dinner, we walked over to End of Steel Park to take in the 10th edition of Ice on Whyte. I made sure to bring a 2-for-1 coupon with me, which cut down the admission cost for us from $10 to $5. Though it’s great that the funds collected likely contribute to the sustainability of the festival, we wondered if the fee (in the face of free winter festivals like Deep Freeze and Silver Skate) heightens expectations for other patrons, as it did for us.
Hands off my honey!
The temperature extremes that week, swinging thirty odd degrees, did not treat the ice sculptures well. Most were visibly damaged (one ice mammoth was missing a tusk, while an ice gymnast had lost a leg), but lit up after dark, the sculptures were still a sight to behold.
Love the sense of motion
To help commemorate its 10th anniversary, carvers recreated one sculpture from each of the past festivals (though not necessarily on the same scale). It was neat to see some of the familiar sights again!
The dinosaur remained intact
Of course, the ice slide was ever popular. It just seems to grow every year, with six slides built into the main attraction (and even more smaller slides in the children’s area).
Unfortunately, we had missed the programming (which ended an hour before the gates closed), though we did hear the tail end of the karaoke taking place inside the tent. Though we’re sure more must go on during the day, it was such a stark contrast to the variety of activities offered at Deep Freeze.
We’ve been to Ice on Whyte every year for a while now, and though the sculptures are consistently stunning, we’ve found there isn’t much more than that to see or do. And not every festival has to grow or be all things to all people, but for us, it won’t be something we continue to return to, year after year.
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