Hello, I’m Simon LeBonAppetit, writing to you from sunny and scrumptious Saskatoon, Saskatchewan!
I have been graciously invited to contribute to this blog from time to time, so, without further delay…
I, along with my lovely female companion Toots Tourtière, recently relocated to the prairie province where I spent my formative years. Having spent the last couple of years in a small BC centre almost entirely devoid of exciting food options (save for a Bavarian barn, a Salvadoran spot, and three-times-a-week Thai food in a hotel lobby), we came to this city excited with the prospects of ‘big city’ dining choices, not to mention the plethora of fresh authentic ingredients that awaited us.
And Saskatoon has not disappointed! This was the city where I experienced many culinary things for the first time – Vietnamese food and sushi, for example. Lien Thanh, a favourite of mine back in the late ’80s, still satisfies with wonderful Vietnamese and Thai soups (almost every Vietnamese restaurant in Saskatoon also features many Thai items on the menu). So delicious, it’s become a part of our Saturday farmers-market-bicycle-ride-thrift-store-flea-market routine.
A recent visit from a BC friend meant a trip to another Saskatoon food institution: Amigo’s Cantina. With fresh fantastic Mexican food and live music every day (and waaaaay more seating than back in the ’80s when I frequented the joint), it’s always worth a visit. I tried the Lila Mole fajitas – strips of beef, onions and peppers were tossed with a sweet tangy sauce (that reminded me of tamarind), rolled in a flour tortilla.
Another dining discovery has been the Sunday brunch at historic (Delta) Bessborough Hotel. Built in the late ’20s by the CNR and designed to mimic a Bavarian Castle, it’s just the sort of place you’d expect to find some gourmet vittles – and OH!, what a brunch! Once you’ve arrived on the second floor (to the Garden Court Café), you are led past tables full of fresh fruit and pastries (made on the premises), cheeses, gravlox, smoked salmon and salads, large chafing dishes full of eggs, sausages, bacon, chicken and pasta dishes, a self-serve waffle station, 20 feet or so of desserts, a manned carving station serving up at least two different roast beasts… after running this gastronomic gauntlet, trust me, you want to start eating! Service is great, everything is made fresh – the only thing this place is lacking is some sort of I’m-stuffed-please-wheel-me-home shuttle service.
Toots and I are very fond of Asian food, and were delighted to discover a couple of interesting options right in our own neighbourhood. The first is Yip Hong’s Dim Sum Restaurant. The dim sum is varied and delicious, and we really really like their take on a Cantonese dish featuring plump shrimp, green peas and an egg-y sauce on rice. On our last visit, we had their hot & sour soup – easily the best I’ve eaten anywhere, the perfect balance of sweet and sour and hot, and you really can taste all the individual flavours of mushrooms and bamboo and pork and shrimp. We followed that up with one of the menu’s excellent hotpots – this one featuring tofu, BBQ pork, chicken, cuttlefish, shrimp, and dark tasty mushrooms.
The service can be a little haphazard – they are usually so busy it’s no wonder the staff are all a bit frazzled – and we are occasionally told we ‘won’t like’ certain menu items we inquire about, but we always come away from Yip Hong’s full and happy.
The other neighbourhood find is Rock Sugar Karoake Tea House. Early reports and scuttlebutt were mixed and confusing – the locals seemed to be having a hard time wrapping their heads around a karaoke bar that was also a fully-functioning restaurant – but a work colleague ate there with a few buddies and RAVED about the food, so we figured it was time to give it a try.
The decor is sparse and the dining area seems a bit ill-conceived – the bulk of the business happens in the back of the place, in four tiny sound-proof rooms (rented by the hour), where you can channel your inner Lady Gaga. But, as is often the case with restaurants, looks can be deceiving. First off, they serve a yummy coconut bubble tea with lychee jellies (bubble tea finally seems to be catching on in this city). Next came some decent satay skewers of lamb, chicken and shrimp (not as good as the satay at Edmonton’s Tropika, but still pretty tasty). The main courses were the real highlight of the night – first came the Beef n’ Leek Stirfry, thin, tender slices of beef with slivers of leek and onion and, surprise, riddled with cumin seed! Very, very tasty. Next came the Thai-foon Calamari, with absolutely perfectly cooked calamari rings and tentacles, juicy bell pepper chunks and a sweet spicy glaze. Overall, the food at Rock Sugar was modern, fresh and fantastic.
Just the other day we found ourselves checking out another well-kept Saskatoon secret – Las Palapas Resort Grill. Not strictly Mexican food, with Caribbean and South American flavours as well (“Nuevo Tropical Cuisine”, as they like to call it), we’ll definitely be adding this place to our dining-out ‘rotation’. We lucked out and got a spot on the patio on a busy Friday night, and tucked into some simple fresh guacamole with crisp tortilla chips, a margarita (Toots), and a Sol (yours truly).
Next up, main course – Toots: Enchiladas Mariscos, (real) crab-and-shrimp-stuffed corn tortillas with a zingy tomato sauce and crema fresca, and a nice side salad with a chili lime dressing.
Me: Enchiladas Con Mole, shredded chicken in flour tortillas with a deep flavoured, spicy mole sauce, grilled veggie skewer, Caribbean bean salad (with hominy corn, beans, and a lime-malt vinagrette), and the most perfect sweet potato tamale (light and airy, almost like a sweet potato chiffon).
Finally, no trip to Saskatoon should be complete without a visit to these two places: Earth Bound Bakery And Deli and Saskatoon Sous Chef. The former crafts simply the most perfect, wonderful bread I’ve had anywhere, using locally-sourced, organic ingredients. Sandwiches never tasted better than when they are made with Earth Bound’s Pain Au Levain loaf – a perfect crisp, chewy crust with a soft, moist inside. Other favourites include their Walnut-Currant bread, Apple-Flax-Beer bread, and the playfully-named Fruity Fruit Fruit Nutty Nut Nut. They’ve also got homemade soups, pain au chocolat, and killer Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies.
Sous Chef is a unique Saskatoon business – part deli, part pre-cooked meals, all delicious. Owned and operated by the same people responsible for the legendary Taj Mahal restaurant, they serve up gourmet meals and side dishes if you are running short on time to make dinner, tasty sandwiches and salads for a quick downtown lunch, and are a fantastic source for ingredients you can’t find anywhere else in the city. Yorkshire pudding sliders, a week long fiddlehead-inspired menu, smoked northern Saskatoon trout sandwiches – I always look forward to stopping in and seeing what they’ve come up with. And it’s so much fun to talk food and whatnot with people who are obviously passionate and inspired by what they do and what they create. Pop in and say “hey” to Brad and Kevin, and for gawd sakes, try the goat cheese brownie. IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE!!!! 😛
S leB and TT