Monday, 25 July 2011

The Keg

Have you ever wondered who the guy was who first ate a lobster?  (And yes, we know it was a guy.  Only men, dared and double-dog-dared by other men, will consume things that a starving coyote wouldn’t touch.)

Think about it.

You have an entire ocean of tender, easily caught fish to choose from, but instead you watch a gray, spiny insect (with eye-stalks and everything) crawl out onto the beach.  And what is the first thought that comes to your mind after you finish recoiling in horror?
“Hmm.  I wonder what that tastes like with butter.”

Whoever he was (drunk on meade or ale or whatever it was they were drinking back then), let us give him thanks.  And let us also thank the person who finally suggested cooking the critters before eating them.  Without those pioneers, our anniversary dinner at The Keg the other day would have been a lot less surf and a lot more turf.

Calgary goes through food fads, most of them familiar to anyone who lives in a large-ish city.  These fads usually begin in funkier locales like Seattle or New York and then make their way through the rest of North America.  We’ve been through a bagel knoshery phase and a Krispy Kream (i.e. glazed orgasms) phase. We endured an explosion of martini bars, we’re finally at the tail-end of a cupcake craze, and there are still plenty of places where squishing your ice cream together with a few gummy bears on a marble countertop warrants doubling the price.  These trends are all marked by turning a relatively ordinary culinary object into an overrated, overpriced, and ultimately, overexposed fad.  And we all know who first started this nonsense.  Yes, Starbucks, I’m looking at you.

So, now that Calgary is in full-swing “enjoying” a steakhouse (sorry, chophouse) fad, I’m happy to have a reasonable alternative to $50 steaks.  (I’ve met whole cows that weren’t worth that much.)  I’m even happier when I just so happen to eat there the one time of year when just about every meal comes with lobster.

The Keg is technically a “chain restaurant” but it has only a handful of locations outside of Canada.  There are three locations in Calgary, the downtown restaurant having been around for about 30 years, and two in Banff that I have been to.  It’s a bit odd that there is more than one Keg in a small townsite like Banff.  They are literally close enough that you could order an appetizer at one location and simultaneously order an entrée at the other; you can eat your appetizer, pay your bill, and walk over to the other restaurant before your main course even hits the table.

Anyway, I know what you are thinking: franchised steakhouses are infamous for cuts of meat that are barely thicker than the floormats of your car and even less tender.  They can be flavourful (if you make generous use of the A-1 sauce at your table and the two next to it), but biting into a live chipmunk produces less squeaking than the sound of your teeth grinding into the gristle of a Sizzler special.

This is not so with The Keg.

Usually, when we eat there, I order the blue cheese encrusted filet.  Steaks don’t come any tenderer and only The Keg’s “Baseball Sirloin” comes any thicker.  The quarter-inch layer of blue cheese yumminess (Yes, I said yumminess.  You try coming up with an appetizing synonym for “encrusted”.)  is a nice alternative to ruining your meal with steak sauce.

I say usually, because as I mentioned before, The Keg was taking advantage of lobster season and was offering a whole menu of crustacean-laden (ooh, nice turn of phrase!) specials.  Alison had a sirloin topped with prawns, scallops, and lobster (naturally).  I’ve had it before, and it’s very good, if a bit light on the lobster.

I ordered what can best be described as the dinner theatre production of Alien Autopsy.  Somehow I thought if I had a steak and a half-lobster, I would get the best half.  You know, the tail half.  But no, what arrived on my plate was the 3D equivalent of a diagram right out of a marine biology textbook.  With CSI-like precision, the kitchen had managed to perfectly saw the lobster in half length-wise, giving me Sebastian’s entire right side to dissect (sorry, Ariel).

It was good, but I don’t think I’d order it again.  It was a lot of effort for relatively little lobster meat.  (I enjoy playing with my food, but when I imagine wrestling while covered in melted butter, believe me, a lobster is not who I picture as my opponent.)  Also, the steak was okay but not their finest cut.

Fortunately, a slightly disappointing entrée was book-ended by two excellent courses: escargot with mushroom caps for the appetizer and key-lime pie for dessert.  Alison and I revert to kindergarteners whenever we have The Keg’s escargot, carefully counting how many the other has eaten and jealously guarding the pools of garlic butter left behind to sop up with bread.

                “Was that your third escargot?”

                “No, that was only my second.”

                “Are you sure?  I’ve only got one left!”

                “Yes, I’m sure.  What?  Do you need me to take a urine test to prove it?”

                “Well, I did bring a cup with me…”

The conversation for the rest of the meal was more mature.  Alison later asked:

                “Are we sure about this?”

The meal was nearly done, so she couldn’t be referring to our choice of restaurant.  Ah, but it was our anniversary as well…

                “After 19 years, isn’t it kind of late to back out now?”  I asked.

                “No, it isn’t too late.” (ouch) “But that’s not what I’m talking about.  Are
                  we sure about the drums?”

Oh yeah, the drums.

Our oldest son isn’t so much a person in our house as he is a sound.  We won’t see him for hours but we can hear his presence.  He has decided to teach himself the guitar, and in all fairness, he is getting pretty good.  But the same guitar riffs played over and over (I know, that’s what practice is all about) get old sometimes.  I heard somewhere that, while growing up in Nijmegen, even little Eddie Van Halen’s parents would send him into the Black Forest to practice, just so they could have a few moments of peace.  I’m also pretty sure that’s where he first met Valerie Bertinelli.

So, there are ways to reduce the sonic assault of an electric guitar.  Headphones work well in place of a guitar amp (thank you, iRig and iPhone!), and when things get really bad, we can also banish Will to my soundproofed studio.  (Sadly, there is no Black Forest in Calgary.)

But our second son, Duncan, isn’t interested in guitar.  Nor piano.  Nor anything that can fit easily into my studio.  Duncan wants to play the drums.  An instrument that can only be played loud.  (The one time I sympathized with the Grinch in the Dr. Suess tale was when all those bloody Whoville brats started playing their obnoxious, eardrum shattering instruments.  “The noise! The noise!  The NOISE!” he cried.  I can totally understand why he tied them all to his sleigh and pushed it off the mountain.  What?  He didn’t do that?  Well, he should have.)

But, before we invest in buying a complete set only to watch them turn into a very expensive battlefield for his action figures, we are renting a drum kit for two months to see if Duncan is serious about it.  I have visions of our 9-year-old pounding furiously on the toms while hollering “Woman! Woman!” like a certain Muppet he often resembles.

So, no, we’re not sure about the drums.

Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, we shared a slice (actually, it was more like a “slab”) of key lime pie for dessert.  This was not your typical Jello-and-Cool Whip concoction.  This was the heavy, rich variety with a consistency that approached baked cheesecake.  We didn’t really have room for it, but for key lime pie, we were going to make the effort.  It hurt so-o-o-o good.  Even better, because we let slip it was our anniversary, the pie was on the house.

Groaning, we left the restaurant, and I thought back to my anatomy lesson during dinner.  Having no ears, I bet lobsters don’t even care if their sons take up the drums.

Lucky bastards.

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