80th & Ivy, one of the newest restaurants to grace the Calgary food scene opened recently and I have had two opportunities to check it out so far.
I will admit that when I heard it was the owners of Classic Jacks & 1410 I was immediately turned off. The above combination is like being admitted into a circus – a constant exercise in bad service, mediocre food and more douche bags in one (or two) spaces, then you ever thought possible. And for the love of god, stop asking my name and shaking my hand. It’s awkward (especially when you give that limp handshake), unnecessary and insulting when it’s clear the server or bartender has neither any desire nor intention to remember it.
Anyways back to the point. On my first visit – I was convinced by a friend to go and check it out for a casual bite to eat mid-week. It had been open for a couple of weeks, so I thought why not. We started with the seared tuna and watermelon salad. The tuna was fantastic, perfectly seasoned and seared. It was however, by no means a salad. There were maybe 4 or 5 pea shoots to speak of, which does not a salad make. There were no blood oranges, only navel (which is unfortunate because it was one of the reasons that I chose that salad), and grilling the watermelon made the texture like old, overripe watermelon that has been sitting out in the sun at a picnic too long. In saying that, had the tuna been served as an appetizer with the pea shoots, the vinaigrette and some fresh shaved watermelon – I would eat it again in a second. For our main course, we split the sharing board entrée (which I no longer see on the menu). It was $60.00 for a healthy piece ribeye, half of a rotisserie chicken and the rotisserie meat of the day, which was porchetta; along with two sides – for which we chose the brussel sprouts with lardons and maple drizzle as well as the charred broccolini with Kalamata feta. For the price (even though Calgary in general is SO over-priced for dining out), it was a steal of a deal. The meat portions were generous for two people and the vegetable helpings on the side were definitely enough for four. The meat, I have to say was perfectly cooked. The chicken was some of the best I’ve had in years and definitely in Calgary as of late. The porchetta makes Boxwood (who apparently does this really well) look amateur at best and the ribeye literally melted in your mouth. Regardless of anything else, whoever was in that kitchen definitely knew his/her meat! The brussel sprouts were nicely cooked, but had WAY too much maple syrup. It was so overpowering, I could have been eating waffles and wouldn’t have known the difference. The broccolini was great, as I find it has a ton of natural flavour. The feta didn’t need to be there, it did nothing to the dish other than made it seem a bit more dry than it was as there was no moisture, olive oil drizzle or fresh lemon or anything to speak of. Our server was fine, not good, not bad. She was attentive enough for the most part, but really knew nothing about the food or wine that she was serving.
The second time I went was for a brief afternoon bite with a friend. It was late afternoon, so the lunch rush was long over. We sat outside with the other 4 tables (there was no one in the restaurant). My friend was already there when I arrived, so when I sat down the server came right over to offer me a drink. That was the last time that we would see her again, without having to ask her to come over. We sat and chatted, while waiting for our server to come back to take our food order. With only 5 tables in the entire place and all in one spot, this should have taken a minute or two (especially when we had the menus closed and at the edge of the table). About 15 minutes goes by before we see her and ask her if we can order. We ordered the Ivy salad and prawn rolls to share. The salad, I don’t really know what to say – it should NOT be on that menu. The rest of the food at least seems as if some effort and creativity went into it. This salad is something I would whip up at home with all the crap that’s leftover in my fridge and it would probably still be better. Honestly the cobb salad that Classic Jacks serves is much better, and that’s saying something. The lettuce was browning and wilted and we spent quite a bit of time picking those pieces out. There was three measly pieces of roasted red pepper and 5 or 6 huge chunks of heirloom tomatoes, that looked like the tomatoes were just ripped in half and thrown in the bowl. They were also flavorless, which is not a common trait of true heirlooms. There was a good portion of pulled chicken, almost no bacon at all and very little dressing. Needles to say the entire salad was a fail, it had no flavour – nothing had been seasoned at all including the dressing. When we finally saw our server we called her over (again), our brown pieces of lettuce were sitting on a plate and we asked her if we could have an extra side of dressing, salt and pepper – that should clue even the worst server that something is wrong. But, nope – she was as oblivious as could be. The prawns were decent, the price and the size of the dish were great and worth it for that reason alone, but the prawns themselves were uninspiring and boring like prawns usually are. The grilled pineapple coulis was a well-balanced, flavorful sauce and would have been a great addition to the dish except there was a heaping pile of fried greens (as garnish), that soaked all the sauce up before we could dip the prawns in it. Too bad, I might have enjoyed them more.
Besides the food at this particular visit, the service was atrocious. With five tables at the busiest moment, our server was hurried, unorganized and inattentive. We basically had to politely flag her down (which I hate doing) and ask her for everything we needed; including getting up and going inside to get our bill after we sat there for 20 minutes waiting for it. Walking inside was the icing on the cake. Both owners, three (what looked like) managers, a bartender, another server and two other people were mindlessly floating around the front of the restaurant while our server clearly could not handle her tables. So either all these people were too pre-occupied to notice she was crashing, the server felt like she couldn’t ask for help, and/or they all simply didn’t care. I’ve worked in the industry so I get that between the hours of 2 and 5 PM, you clean, get organized, taste wines, try food, have staff meetings, manager meetings, etc… BUT, if you’re going to be open to the public then you need to have staff designated to your customers at that time – plain and simple.
As far as the atmosphere, I sat on the patio both times so I can’t say much about it but the design of the room and the open concept dining should create some pretty decent ambiance. The design and decor were simple, inviting, fairly modern with a little vintage twist. And, the bathrooms which a lot of establishments forget about were really quite nice.
The one last thing that I will say is about their payment structure. I fully understand not accepting debit in a bar, i.e. Classic Jacks & 1410. But this is a restaurant, and apparently trying to be a nice one. Not accepting debit, where let’s be honest it’s not fining dining but the prices aren’t too casual either, is just tacky and cheap. I hadn’t noticed the first time because I paid cash, but sure enough there is an ATM that charges $3.00 right smack at the front entrance. That’s just bad business and in very poor taste.
All in all, I would try eating there again to give them a fair shake because I think the food could be worth it. Unfortunately the service and the ATM, which both scream Classic Jacks don’t warrant the effort.