I’m an incredibly picky eater.  So picky in fact, I won’t go near anything with cheese that isn’t plain, mild mozzarella melted on pizza or baked pasta.  Never mind that I’m lactose intolerant – this actually serves me well since I can’t stand dairy products in general, except for ice cream and yogurt.  I also dislike anything pickled or mustard-based.  Game meats?  No thanks.  I can’t stand lamb because I think it has a funky aroma.  I once tried elk sausage and almost gagged.  I also don’t like 99.9% of salad dressings – especially if they’re creamy – so unless it’s a vinaigrette, I eat my greens naked.  And let’s not even get started about sauces – I generally have an aversion to anything covered in sauce, especially if they’re creamy (notice a trend?).  Omg and mayo – ugh, I can’t stand the slimy texture/mouth-feel of too much mayo slathered on anything.  It’s just plain wrong to my palate.

So with that in mind, I tend to stay away from upscale/fine-dining/”frou-frou” food, especially places that specify that no substitutions will be made.  If I’m ever invited out to these types of establishments, I make sure to check out the menu thoroughly before committing.  I don’t want to be one of THOSE diners (you know what I’m talking about) that only eats the complimentary bread and won’t go near any of the chef’s creations.  So, unless there are some safe options for me, I politely decline.

Besides my less-than-adventurous tastes, the upscale dining pricetag is simply too high for me to afford on a regular basis.  For a special occasion, absolutely, but it’s not something I gravitate towards when thinking of eating out.

All of that preamble was to set the stage for this dinner I had planned out with one of my good friends.  She’s notoriously busy and it’s difficult to schedule time to get together, so I take any opportunity to fit myself into her schedule.  We had originally wanted to try Model Milk, but they were closed for a private function. I was actually looking forward to trying Model Milk, not only for the food (which I’ve heard is excellent and changes frequently – they’re on the 13th iteration of the menu and their “Pig” dish looks DIVINE [BACON!!!]), but also to see if it would be a venue I’d consider for my wedding. But alas, it was not meant to be that evening. Sad.

She offered up two alternatives – Farm or Ox and Angela. I’ve tried Farm before, so we settled on Ox and Angela, a relatively new restaurant on the Uptown 17th Ave scene (I checked out the menu quickly before giving her a definite answer.  Thankfully, Ox and Angela has a lot of items that are familiar enough for me to enjoy). We also decided to include our significant others, so it became a couple’s night out.

Now, I feel like I need to mention that my friend and her S.O. are the more adventurous eaters.  I might even go as far as calling the male half a Foodie.  Whenever we go out with them, he’s always introducing us to new foods and flavours.  Actually, he introduces them to us, but I politely decline while Mark happily goes along.  We went to Vancouver together a couple of years ago (that’s when I got all of the Granville Island Market photos) and it was basically a gigantic Eatfest where I forgot how hunger feels.  But I digress.

I find the concept of Ox and Angela quite interesting.  It’s split into the “masculine” lounge, the Ox side, and the “feminine” dining room, the Angela side.  Their cuisine is labelled as Spanish although their flavours seem primarily Portuguese.  For the evening, we chose to sit on the Ox side.

We went quite early to beat the dinner rush – at 5:30pm.  By the time Mark and I arrived, our dining companions had already settled in and ordered a few tapas to share.  Luckily, they’re very aware of my picky eating and preferences, so they chose items that I could try (they’re so good to me!).  There were only a few other diners at that time.  The lights were low, and as much as we were on the masculine side, I still found the atmosphere to be quite warm.  I think the dark furniture and minimalist decor contributed to a sleek, modern look.  I peeked into the Angela side quickly and it’s much lighter in there (mostly white walls and definitely a much more feminine vibe).

Now, the tapas. The menu items are simply named by their main ingredient, with a description that follows.

Jamon Serrano, sliced mountain ham, tomato and garlic rubbed bread.  The bread actually looks burnt, but it had a really nice grilled flavour, a little bit bitter, which worked well with the tomato and serrano ham on top (it reminded me a bit of bruschetta).  The bitterness helped to counter the salty richness of the ham.  I think I could’ve eaten all that bread because… well, I’m a Carboholic!

Mushrooms, sauteed wild mushrooms, soft poached egg, manchego, citrus, truffle.  Yum!  I didn’t have it with the poached egg (kind of hard to share that amongst 4 people), but it was tasty nonetheless.  Ok, so there was manchego cheese in there, but I didn’t even notice it (this is really the only way to get me to eat cheese – disguise it so I don’t even know it’s there).  I don’t know my wild mushrooms that well, but I’m guessing there’s mostly lobster mushrooms.  Very earthy and again, I could’ve eaten all of it, but we had more tapas to try.

Fritters, salt cod and potato croquettes, panko breading, lemon aioli.  Who can resist anything that’s fried to crispy perfection?  Luckily they weren’t completely drenched in the lemon aioli so I only got a little bit on the bottom of my fritter.  I found it a little too salty for my tastes, but it was a nice combo of cod and potato.

Scallops, seared west coast scallops, crushed peas, mint, cherry tomato, crispy serrano ham.  Perfectly cooked scallops, crispy on the outside and moist on the inside.  The peas weren’t really that crushed though – how misleading, lol – but the combination worked really well.  The serrano ham was a bit overpowering (too salty) for the scallop, but when combined with the micro greens and the peas, it balanced out nicely.

Clams, chorizo, smoked paprika, tomato, white wine, parsley, grilled bread.  So, I admit I don’t like clams – I think they taste too much like the ocean (it’s a valid reason, okay?).  But… I thought I would give it a try anyway, since the tomato-based white wine broth smelled SO DELICIOUS.  And you know what?  I actually liked it.  The clams didn’t taste of ocean at all – they were nicely done and the flavours worked so well together.  I wish we could’ve gotten a whole basket of bread to sop up that tomato white wine broth.

We got a couple of “PLATES” (aka mains) to share as well.

Steak, grilled 6oz. flat iron, piquillo pepper confit, grilled lemon.  The steak was perfectly medium rare and very tender.  I actually thought the piquillo pepper confit was just plain roasted red pepper, but what do I know (sophisticated palate? I don’t think so).  The sweetness of the peppers worked well with the bitterness of the grilled lemon sprinkled on top.

Trout, steelhead trout, white anchovy, tomato, caper, citrus.  I admit, I only really tried the trout part and not the rest.  But the trout was perfect.  Seared nicely on the outside and cooked just right.  I can’t comment on the rest of it since it scared me a little.  I tried the clams so that was enough adventurousness  for me.

Our server suggested getting the potatoes on the side – patatas bravas, smoked paprika ketchup, aioli.  They were pretty awesome, I have to admit.  I also ate the ones that weren’t near the aioli, heh.  They were ever-so-slightly too salty for me, but the combination of the paprika and ketchup worked really well.  Very earthy potatoes.

And of course, dessert.

So when I saw that they had churros on the menu, I knew I had to try them.  They were served with a warm chocolate sauce.  I have to say, these were the best churros I’ve had so far.  They came to the table still hot, crispy on the outside and so decadently soft and pillowy on the inside.  YUM!  Covered in the cinnamon sugar and dipped in the warm chocolate, OMG it was fried pastry sugary chocolately goodness.  I’m not ashamed to admit that after the churros were polished off, I took a spoon to the rest of the chocolate sauce and polished that off as well.

All in all, a really great meal.  The portions weren’t very large at all, which I expected, but it was a good amount of food (I suppose we did order a lot of items, though).  The service was also very good – our server was knowledgeable about the items and was attentive but not overbearing.  Our plates were cleared in a decent amount of time and the water was always refreshed quickly.

As great as the meal was, it was not very nice on the wallet at all.  Would I ever come back?  Sure.  But it wouldn’t be a place I’d put on my “regular” roster of restaurants.  If someone invited us out and chose this place, I wouldn’t immediately accept or decline; I’d probably have to assess my financial situation first.  As boring and “grown-up” as that sounds, it’s not a lifestyle I can sustain.  Is it fun once in a blue moon?  Absolutely!  Life is too short, but I still have bills to pay.  I think it’s awesome that our dining companions are adventurous foodies who introduce us to new and exciting places, but it’s a fine balance for me, and for Mark and I as a couple.  As great as the food was, the best part was the company.  We always have a great time with our foodie friends.

I definitely recommend this place for those looking for something different.  I enjoy Spanish food in general and tapas are great for trying different things on a menu, so the concept worked well for me. I don’t know if I’ll ever be back to Ox and Angela. If I don’t ever go back, it’s okay with me – at least I had the chance to try it once.  And maybe I’ll just go back for the churros… a double order for sure!

Ox and Angela
528 17 Avenue SW
Calgary, AB
Phone: (403) 457-1432
http://www.oxandangela.com

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