Valentine’s Day in Edmonton: Deal or No Deal?

Sharon and I decided to collaborate on this post. Enjoy!

Sharon:

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a holiday where consuming chocolate is the national norm, and for an occasion that is marked with an indulgent feast. And though I realize that Valentine’s Day has been escalating in its commercial nature over the past two decades (and one that that Mack and I embraced wholeheartedly last year), a gander at one too many pre-fixe restaurant menus sent me over the edge this time around.

Of course, restaurants shouldn’t be blamed for feeding a consumer-driven hunger for extravagance, excess, and unbridled expense on February 14. No doubt, some meals, and the ultimate experience of spending time with your sweetheart could be worth every penny. Also, some restaurants do offer embellishments – providing a rose to the lady, employing a musician to set the ambiance, offering a treat at meal’s end – but could it really be worth the heightened price tag? How much more are patrons charged on Valentine’s Day, compared with any other day? With Mack’s penchant for statistics and graphs, we set to find out.

Mack:

Coming up with the data was harder than we thought! Finding the set price of the Valentine’s Day menu was easy, but finding something to compare it to was not. We decided to generate a comparable figure using the closest dishes we could find on the regular menu. Definitely not scientific, but fairly representative.

We started by finding as many restaurants with Valentine’s Day menus as we could, and then narrowed it down to those which also had regular menus online. We ended up with 12 restaurants:

The average Valentine’s Day menu price was $71.08 per person, with prices ranging from $35 per person at The Dish to $160 per person at Red Ox Inn. The average regular menu price was surprisingly similar at $69.65 per person. On average, Valentine’s Day menus featured 4 courses.

So what’s the best deal? By far, Madison’s Grill. Their 6 course Valentine’s Day menu is just $85 per person – the regular menu would cost roughly $116 per person. Of course, we’re not sure about portion sizes, but based on our recent Farmers’ Market Dinner experience, we expect they will not be small. The worst deal? Hardware Grill – you pay $31 more for the Valentine’s Day menu than you would on a regular day.

I wouldn’t cite any of this data in an academic paper, and the numbers don’t take into account ambiance, food quality, freedom of choice and service, but it was fun to generate just the same. I was surprised to discover that the Valentine’s Day menus aren’t that much more expensive after all!

Sharon:

So numbers aside, after scrutinizing more than a dozen pre-fixe menus, I can tell you that considering the menu options only, both Mack and I agree that Hardware Grill wins, hands down. We were salivating as we read through each course (butternut squash-mascarpone tortelloni with truffle butter cream sauce and fresh chanterelles? Porcini crusted sea bass, lobster-truffled potato crêpes, white corn-arugula & gulf prawns? Where do we sign up?).

While I wouldn’t go so far as to recommend any one restaurant (personal choice being that last intangible), based on our experience, Madison’s Grill and The Dish would top our list. If you’re looking for innovative, creative food that celebrates local producers, there would be no better choice than Blair Lebsack’s dining room in the Union Bank Inn. However, if you desire something more casual and comforting, The Dish is a great choice with its consistent kitchen and friendly service.

Mack:

You could, of course, avoid restaurants altogether and cook that special someone a tasty meal at home! Because as Sharon pointed out, Valentine’s Day is about spending time with your sweetheart, not spending lots of money. If you do go the restaurant route, keep in mind that there are more to choose from than the dozen we mentioned here.

We hope you enjoyed this light-hearted look at “Black Sunday” (a la Eater) in Edmonton, and we wish you a very happy Valentine’s Day!

BarCampCalgary2

Just arrived in Calgary. I’m here mainly for BarCampCalgary taking place tomorrow at Mount Royal College from 10:30am until 3:30pm. More details are here, and a list of attendees can be found here. I’m curious to see how things will go tomorrow – I’m sure we’ll learn how to make Edmonton’s first BarCamp in July a success.

barcampcalgary

Sharon decided to come down with me, so we’re making a weekend of it. That means food plans! Tomorrow we’re going to check out JAROblue for dinner and possibly Tubby Dog. On Sunday, we’re going to go for brunch at Nellie’s (one of the locations, not sure which yet). And on the way back, the plan is to stop in Red Deer to see Tom, for food at one of these places.

Should be fun!

My Last Supper

They do great work, but I am never happy when I have to go see a doctor or dentist. I’ve never really had a bad experience or anything, I just prefer to avoid medical clinics. Maybe I don’t like the idea that there’s something wrong with me. Anyway, tomorrow I am going to get my wisdom teeth out. I’m hoping to recover very quickly, but I know I’ll most likely be without solid food for a few days.

So Sharon came over tonight to help with my “last” supper:

"the kitchen sink" scrambleBanana Muffins

She calls it “the kitchen sink scramble,” because we basically put all the leftovers from the fridge in a skillet with some egg and cooked it. For dessert (okay okay, and as an appetizer) we had banana muffins. Yum!

I think what I’m most worried about is caffeine withdrawal. I probably won’t be allowed to drink Coke Zero or coffee or tea or anything like that. Withdrawal shakes and headaches, here I come!

FoodFeed and other Twitter dependents

foodfeed As Twitter is used by more and more people, the ecosystem around it continues to grow. There are lots of client applications of course, and increasingly, there are lots of services which leverage and in fact depend on Twitter. I came across another one today, called FoodFeed:

foodfeed is a service that helps you share your eating habits with everyone, from anywhere. Just be sure Mom doesn’t get your feed.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Follow the @having account on Twitter.
  2. You get a website generated for your username – mine is http://mastermaq.foodfeed.us
  3. Post updates by prefixing what you’re eating with @having, or by sending the service a direct message (on Twitter, that would be “d having” followed by whatever you’re eating).

I kind of like the concept, so I’ll use it for a little while. It creates a network within the larger Twitter network. Wondering who likes Coke? You can search for people who do.

FoodFeed is also interesting because it cannot survive without Twitter. Like most of these services, it contains Google ads, but I can’t imagine the creator makes much from that. What would happen to FoodFeed if Twitter started charging for API access? What if Twitter goes down? FoodFeed is only useful as long as Twitter continues to exist and enable access.

Some services, like my favorite Remember the Milk, use Twitter as just another method of interaction. RTM doesn’t depend on Twitter at all. FoodFeed on the other hand does depend on Twitter, and I think that makes it both easier to use and less useful at the same time.

Dessert Party

As my Twitter followers all know, Sharon and I hosted a dessert party on Sunday. When Sharon pitched the idea to me (she had been thinking about it for a long time) I thought it sounded kind of neat. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but I figured it would be fun anyway. What I didn’t realize, of course, is how much work it would require!

Dessert Party Invitation

Sharon has this book that gives you tips on how to host parties like this. I’m guessing it was written a long time ago, before Facebook came along, because it of course says you should send invites. And so we did! I bugged her a lot about sending paper invites to our friends, all of whom have Facebook and email, but in the end I actually really liked the invitations. I think they looked great!

Over the last couple weeks we did some “practice runs” of the desserts that we wanted to serve. For instance, we made the chocolate cake and the white chocolate tartlets. Turns out that was a good idea, because we were able to learn from and fix the couple of mistakes we made the first time around.

We got started at around 1pm on Saturday, and weren’t really finished until 1pm the next day when the party started! Okay it didn’t take 24 hours obviously, but it certainly felt like all we did was bake. Though the worst part was definitely having to re-wash dishes repeatedly!

CupcakesCookies
White Chocolate TartsPanna cotta

Our final menu consisted of: Chocolate Cake, White Chocolate Tartlets, Panna Cotta with Strawberries, Cupcakes, and Cookies with Strawberry Jam. We also served coffee, tea, and wine.

Sharon had made the panna cotta in the past, so I was pretty sure it would turn out well. It was delicious as expected! My favorite was probably the cookies, but that might be because they were the hardest to make. Piping dough is not for the faint of heart! I learned you need to warm it up a bit to make it easier on yourself. My least favorite were the tartlets, though they tasted good and everything. They were sort of difficult to make as well, thanks to the phyllo pasty.

I think everyone enjoyed the desserts – there wasn’t too much left over when all was said and done. I was glad to have some extra panna cotta and chocolate cake to eat though 🙂

I don’t think I’d jump at the chance to host another dessert party, but it was a fun experience nonetheless. I’m getting better in the kitchen too!

My photos of the dessert party are here.

UPDATE: Sharon’s much more detailed post is now up!

Does Starbucks really offer 87,000 drink combinations?

starbucks I’ve written in the past about Starbucks and how it claims to offer 87,000 different drink combinations. I haven’t ever questioned that number though, and in retrospect I really should have. Fortunately, the Wall Street Journal’s Numbers Guy did question it:

Over the following weeks, I placed several phone calls and sent several emails, but didn’t get an explanation for the calculation. Nor could the company tell me who did the math. “It’s something a statistician put together, based on our menu board,” Starbucks spokeswoman Lisa Passe told me. “If you take all of our core beverages, multiply them by the modifiers and the customization options, you get more than 87,000 combinations.” She said a spreadsheet contained the relevant calculation, but added, “it’s not something we’ve ever circulated.”

Turns out he never did get a straight answer. The math isn’t simple. You’d have to know all of the various syrups, sizes, milk options, cream options, etc. You’d have to know all of the drinks and bean types, and you’d have to keep up with menu changes. I’m not surprised that no one seems to know the true answer. It would be nice if Starbucks could justify their marketing somehow, though.

I guess at the end of the day it doesn’t matter much. Even if it’s closer to 8700 than 87,000 the simple fact remains, there’s no shortage of choice at Starbucks.

Read: The Numbers Guy

Food Glorious Food! In Calgary!

I stole the first part of the title from my sister – she uses it for pictures of food she makes and I like the way it sounds. I love food! So much so that Sharon and I went down to Calgary this past weekend for Dine Out week. It was also a good excuse for a short break away from everything.

Montreal Smoked Meat Omelette

Sharon is a great writer, and she summarized our trip very well on her blog – Part 1 and Part 2. Instead of repeating what she’s already written, I’ll just share a few highlights:

  • We ate at the following restaurants: blink and Galaxie Diner. Both were awesome! The photo above is the Montreal Smoked Meat Omelette from Galaxie. It’s a great little diner, with Coke memorabilia everywhere!
  • We stayed at the Westin Calgary, which is a really nice hotel. It even has a Starbucks in the lobby. We were upgraded to the business tower, which included free Internet!
  • We checked out the new glass floor at the Calgary Tower – it was mostly underwhelming (apparently that’s not a real word?).
  • We also checked out the Calgary Farmer’s Market, which was pretty cool! Lots of stuff to see, including Phil & Sebastian, where we tried coffee made using the Clover.
  • I got to use my iPod touch with open wireless to find directions using the Maps application!
  • It snowed like crazy on Saturday night in Calgary. I was hoping we’d escape the snow, but I guess we weren’t so lucky. I did get a few good pictures though.
  • We walked through Chinook Centre, but I only bought two shirts from Old Navy (not a big shopper, what can I say).
  • We stopped in Red Deer on the way back to see Tom & Bry. We had dinner at BP’s, and our waitress was pretty terrible. Either really new, or really dumb.
  • We didn’t go to Starbucks once, though we did drink lots of coffee. Crazy isn’t it?!
  • My photos of the trip are here.

It was fun! Dine Out Calgary will happen again next year, from March 9th to March 16th. Edmonton has one too.

burgoo – food for comfort

Last night after the conference, Megan and I met up with Kelsey for some dinner and drinks. I think the girls were hoping for sushi, but I put the kibosh on those plans! Not such a fan of the raw fish. So we asked Kelsey what kinds of restaurants were nearby, and she suggested burgoo bistro.

Mac and Cheese - $8

As you can tell from the picture above, I had to use the flash. That’s because like most little bistros, burgoo is really dark, with a single candle on each table providing most of the light. It was also quite small, with maybe a dozen tables and a tiny bar. We only had to wait about ten minutes for a table, however.

They more than make up for their lack of physical size with the menu! Even their harvest takeout menu is really impressive. Burgoo offers a wide range of dishes, from Mac and Cheese (which is what I had, for $8) to Ratatouille and Laksah and Pacific Chowder. Megan had a really hard time deciding what to order, eventually deciding on the Kentucky Burgoo for $14 (slow cooked meats with lima beans, corn, tomatoes, cabbage and okra served over garlic mashed potatoes).

We had White Sangria to drink. The $16 pitcher was impressively gigantic, though it did include quite a bit of ice. Kelsey enjoyed the oversized spoon they gave us for stirring!

When the waitress brought my Mac and Cheese out I was both surprised and a little worried. Surprised because I really liked the presentation – tiny white pot on a wooden plate – and worried because it didn’t look very big. It turned out to be quite filling though, so my worry was thankfully unnecessary!

It may not be the fanciest restaurant in the world, but I really liked burgoo. It would take you quite a while to get bored with the menu, and with the reasonable prices you wouldn’t break the bank trying everything either. Give it a shot if you’re in the area!

Northern Voice 2008 – Free lunch!

Make your own wrapLast year Megan and Sharon went out in the rain to get us McDonald’s. I don’t remember what I did for lunch at Northern Voice in the years before that – I may have skipped lunch. This year, for the first time ever, lunch was provided!

And not just today, but yesterday at MooseCamp too. I think providing lunch was a really good idea. Food makes people happy. And the fact that no one has to leave means the conversations can continue. It’s hard to remember what Northern Voice was like in previous years without lunch, because this is what it should be like!

Here’s what was on the menu:

Friday: The DIY Sandwich Bar (Salads, assorted rolls, veggie fixins, deli meats, three cheeses, Nanaimo bars, brownies & dessert squares.)

Saturday: Mexican Buffet (bean dip with tortilla chips, corn & black bean salad, flour tortillas, chicken, veggies, monterey jack and cheddar cheeses, sour cream, salsa and guacamole, chocolate brownies.)

My wrap was soooo messy, but it was also really yummy.

Good call on the food, Northern Voice organizers.

MCD vs. SBUX

Post Image I love McDonald’s. Have ever since I was a kid. If I have to choose between McDonald’s and another fast food joint, I’ll choose McDonald’s almost every time. I don’t go there because the food is healthy, and I don’t go there because the environment is relaxing and enjoyable. I go there because the food is inexpensive, convenient, and consistent. I love the double cheeseburger, and it never lets me down. Oh and the fries, you simply can’t go wrong with McDonald’s fries!

I also love Starbucks. Not since I was a kid mind you, but I can still remember the first time my parents took me there. I had a Caramel Macchiato, and fell in love with both the drink and the place. These days I have a grande drip coffee every morning, though I still enjoy the Macchiato and other “signature” beverages from time to time (probably more often than I should). Like McDonald’s, Starbucks is convenient and consistent, but it also offers a wonderful experience.

McDonald’s is the largest restaurant chain in the world, with well over 30,000 locations scattered across the globe. In his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree, New York Times columnist Thomas L. Freidman noted that “no two countries that both had a McDonald’s had fought a war against each other, since each got its McDonald’s.” (there are two exceptions to this). To me this says two things. First, the rise of McDonald’s is fairly recent. Second, it’s everywhere, and it seems impossible for another chain to become as pervasive.

Starbucks likes to tackle problems that seem impossible, such as selling $4 lattes and running two successful stores across the street from one another. As Taylor Clark notes in his book Starbucked, the only company that has a realistic shot at surpassing the presence of McDonald’s is Starbucks. Currently there are over 15,000 locations worldwide, more than half of which are owned entirely by the company (McDonald’s outlets on the other hand are franchised). That’s not bad considering that McDonald’s had a 30-year head start!

Why am I writing about these two companies? Well each is fascinating on its own, but put them together in a global battle for food and beverage supremacy, and you’ve got something that’s especially interesting! And that is what appears to be happening:

McDonald’s Corp’s plan to expand the beverage lineup at its U.S. restaurants with cappuccinos, lattes and other drinks is expected to add $1 billion to annual sales…

McDonald’s has even added a “barista” position in its restaurants and dedicated a section of counter space to the automated espresso machines so customers can see the drinks being made, spokeswoman Danya Proud said.

It was last year that Starbucks decided they would start offering food in addition to coffee. None of the outlets I regularly visit offer breakfast, despite the company making a big push back in July (perhaps that was mostly in the US).

So are the two on a collision course? I don’t think so. I pretty much agree with this Time piece. Even though the clientele at Starbucks is diversifying, it’s hard to envision one company stealing customers from the other, at least not in great numbers. Besides, you’d think the two would cancel out – McDonald’s gains a few new coffee customers, Starbucks gains a few new food customers. Check out this Economist article for more.

For me at least, there is very little overlap between the two (as I tried to point out in the first two paragraphs above). I don’t visit McDonald’s at the expense of Starbucks, nor do I visit Starbucks at the expense of McDonald’s. And even if their respective menus started looking more alike, I can’t imagine that it would change anything for me.

That said, it’s an interesting battle that will be fun to watch over the next few years!