(Back on my PC until my iPad is fixed!)
Wednesday's meals in Calgary were interesting to say the least!
My mother and I made our first attempt at lunch that day while we were shopping downtown. It was a fiasco of the first order!! We had been told that the culinary students from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology ran a small restaurant in the complex just west of the Bay and so that is where we headed to eat. From the way the space was configured, we were left with a distinct impression that there was a good sized space to sit and enjoy our meal, so we took in the lay out of the cafeteria style meal service and got into our respective lines to place our orders: mom went to the somewhat long sandwich line and I jostled for space in the hot food line up for masaman curry and vegetables.
I received my food quite some time before she did, found a can of carbonated water in the cooler and headed to the cash register. As soon as I paid for my meal I began scoping out the area for a table to sit at while mom continued to wait in line to order a sandwich. As I headed over to that area I suddenly realized the tables and chairs we saw as we were entering the cafeteria actually belong to another restaurant all together. O well, where was the seating area for the SAIT cafeteria? I wandered about the entire place and to my horror, discovered there is no seating space in the place for any of the customers. It is strictly for take out! By the time I figured that out, my mom was in a very long line up to pay for her meal. Noon hour downtown is a nightmare of people and the SAIT cafeteria had exactly one cashier on duty. While mom continued to wait in line I looked for somewhere to sit down to eat. The tables and chairs at the complex food court were two floors above us and at least a block away. I knew mom wouldn't be able to make it all the way there without having to sit down for awhile so I took a look at some sets black chairs closer to the cafeteria that had a small table between each set. By the time I got to them, there were only two chairs left and there was wet, soggy food spilled all over one of them. Sigh...not going to work. My own hot meal was in danger of getting cold, I could see mom at the cash register at last, so in desperation I forced my way onto an all ready crowded, backless, wooden bench located along the outside wall of the cafeteria, right out in the main foot traffic area of the shopping centre and managed to get the rest of those seated to move down sufficiently to also accommodate my mother. At least the wall behind us gave us a bit of a back to rest on, but I wasn't sure how either of us was going to manage to balance our lunches on our laps to eat.
Mom eventually found me and sat down, knowing how upset I was about not finding her a proper table within easy distance, but she was a good sport about it. I peeled back the lid of my masaman curry, white rice, sauteed brussell sprouts and shredded squash stuffed zucchini. The rice looked and tasted as if it had been made the day before and left under a heat lamp until I found it. The brussell sprouts were hard and dry. The squash was dry to the point of being crispy and the zucchini slices were mush. The masaman curry seemed to have missed out completely on the curry and I was left with a thick, floury gravy with some bits and pieces of beef (?) floating in it. As I tried to hide my disappointment, I glanced at mom sitting beside me with her pulled pork sandwich. She had managed to unwrap it finally and was about to take her first bite when she noticed that there was some kind of pickled cabbage on it. She pulled out a small piece of the pickle, popped it into her mouth, pulled her mouth to one side, gagged and then spit out the cabbage into her napkin. The pickle she had been so excited to have on her sandwich was actually a type of kim chee and was so hot she wasn't going to be able to eat it. She tried to balance a napkin on her knee while she pulled out more of the pickle to hide in the napkin. Then she dropped a huge handful of that pickled cabbage onto her new, clean slacks. "Oh NOOO!", she cried. I told her I could use some of my sparkling water on my own napkin to clean off the pickle juice before it stained her pants, popped open the can of water and discovered it was completely flat. What? I checked the "best before" date and noticed it was for February 20, nearly 2 months earlier. Sigh.... Well, it still did a good job of cleaning off mom's slacks. I stared at my now cold, as well as tasteless, meal while mom attempted her first bite of what was left of the filling in her pulled pork sandwich. She bit into the bun and nearly pulled her teeth out. The bun had the texture of a latex glove. She couldn't rip it apart, she couldn't chew it, and I refused to let her swallow what bit of it she got into her mouth. The meal was a complete bomb. I felt terrible because I was the one who insisted we go there based on the recommendation I received. I felt even worse when I realized how far we had backtracked during our morning of shopping just to go to this place and that we would have been better off to have gone up to the food court instead. It was much closer to the last store we had been in. Aaaaargh!!!
I took the sandwich out of mom's now shaking hands, bundled it up with my meal and my can of flat water and dumped the whole mess into the garbage can right beside us. The whole experience was a disaster with a capital "D"!!!!
As we looked around (by this time it was 10 minutes past noon and the store employees on noon break, along with the shoppers, had taken over all the visible seats, tables and chairs on every floor around us. However, by this time we were both ravenous and needed to eat, so I dragged mom back all the way to the food court and grabbed the only available table we could find that still had both chairs around it. I handed mom a wad of cash and told her to find whatever food interested her and I would wait at the table for her to return. I suspect she chose the sugary, gooey, sauce laden dishes of Manchu Wok because it was the closest vendor with food she recognized. By the time she returned the lineups at all the vendors were horribly long, but I noticed a Subway station just around the corner from the main aisle of vendors where only one gentleman was placing an order. No, I certainly did not want another Subway sandwich on this trip, but it had no lineup. I sprinted over there and got my veggie sub and another drink, then headed back to our table, located right beside the top of the escalator that was pouring people almost right on top of us as we sat and ate in total silence. Wow...could I have screwed things up any worse than I did for mom? She is a very forgiving woman, but although we sat for a long time after we finished eating, she then had the worst attack of stress related acid reflux she has had in two years within five minutes of standing up and walking to another store. As posted previously, we did eventually make it back home, but she was worn completely out and feeling very upset that our crappy lunch cost me an extra $21 for the food we had to throw away from the SAIT downtown cafeteria. I really couldn't have cared less. As long as we got some lunch...eventually...that was on the verge of edible at least...I was content. She never did tell dad what had happened and I hope she never does. It would upset him too much and she would have to relive the experience every time he wanted her to tell someone else what happened.
From there, the food of the day took a huge, vast, gigantic, improvement!!!
We met my husband's sister and her husband, who were visiting the city that day, for a MARVELLOUS dinner at the Silver Dragon in Chinatown. The restaurant has been there since the 1960's and has won every culinary award possible in the city. It also contains a TON of great memories from bygone decades when both my sister in law and myself went there regularly with friends when we both lived and worked in Calgary. The food is, if possible, even more spectacular than it was in those days. The large chunks of chopped garlic on the huge, meaty ribs, was fresh and delicious. The chicken with mixed vegetables was tasty and not as bland as it is in most restaurants. The beef in black bean sauce was very tender, the sauce not overpoweringly strong as it sometimes is. The chowmein was filled with vegatables and seafood and the sizzling rice was cooked perfectly with some crunchy bits left and very little broth slopping around in the bottom of the bowls. For dessert I ordered my favourite sponge cake with custard. O my...it came in its own steamer, done very properly....so rare any more...and there were THREE huge pieces! (Yes, I ate all three of them and enjoyed every mouthful!) The rest of the crew shared a huge order of deep fried bananas with that wonderfully chewy sugar coating. The coated bananas were brought steaming hot to the table and the server placed them in a huge bowl of iced water so we could watch the sauce turn to taffy, then she put them back on the plate. (And yes, I scored a tiny piece of banana in taffy as well...blood sugar? WHAT blood sugar???)
A day that began so dismally, gastronomically speaking, turned into an evening of the most wonderful food imaginable.
So, I have learned a good place to avoid next time I am in Calgary looking for lunch in the Bay/Holt Renfrew complex, but also I learned that the Silver Dragon is still open for business and feeding people the best in western Canadian Chinese food.
The day ended happily for my mom as well: for dinner that night the complex chef cooked steaks that had not been on the menu originally and mom's was prepared just the way she likes a steak to be prepared. Thank goodness!!! By the time dinner was over we both felt a lot better about food and life in general!!!