Chop puts on a pretty face but lacks substance

I’m just not made for contemporary chain restaurants. I try to like them I really do. But after many bad experiences I’ve come to expect that a visit to a sleek corporate eatery will leave me feeling disappointed and rueful about spending good money on smarmy service and mediocre cuisine. I hope I will be forgiven for saying I was not shocked when Chop located in Chinook Centre failed to impress me.

Oh sure the interior’s glamorous (if you can get past the fact that you just fought for a parking spot at the mall to get inside) and features a lovely dining room adorned with white faux taxidermy and stunning light fixtures not to mention the well-designed second floor lounge (which is where we happen to be eating on this particular night).

Upon arriving we are greeted by four hostesses. While these girls are lovely and sweet I can’t help but suspect they’re perched at the front door more for my male counterpart’s benefit than for mine. We take the elevator to the second floor lounge (the dining room is fully booked) and are seated at a booth overlooking the parking lot. Our server quickly approaches and introduces herself mentioning that the menu features great steak bite appetizers. We take note of this.

While waiting for our friend to arrive we listen to the pre-requisite house music and notice that the female servers are all wearing the obligatory chain uniform of black mini-dresses or mini-skirts. As our friend joins us we order drinks. I get the Friday night special — a mojito with grapefruit sorbet (2oz. $7.50). My boyfriend orders the Pimm’s Classic for a reasonable $6.50.

The mojito is a lacklustre attempt at the Cuban classic with dollop of grapefruit-y ice on top and three barely muddled mint leaves (typically one would add 10 to 12). As they are out of Pimm’s my boyfriend instead orders a dissatisfying Caesar. On the plus side the wine list is decent enough with good bottle options for under $40.

Before we’ve even had a sip of our drinks our server returns and is once again pimping those damned steak bites. Unswayed by her sales pitch we opt instead for the ahi tuna pillars ($13). The plate that arrives features two bites of sushi-style ahi tuna wrapped in sesame noodles and ginger butter phyllo pastry. The pastry and noodles are heavy and flavourless but the accompanying mango salsa and wasabi aioli are tasty. The fish itself is good but it’s too bad that we need to rely on dips for flavour.

The up-sell is on once again as we order our mains. As we recite our order our server finds it necessary to ask each one of us if we want soup or salad with our dinner. I can understand a quick once around the table but asking us all separately is a bit much. She’s wearing on my nerves. I feel like a bank machine not a guest.

For her main my friend tries the miso sablefish ($33). She loves it. The sake-marinated filet is full of melt-in-your-mouth flavour and features a great side of fresh seasonal vegetables and a nutty wild rice pilaf. The great thing about Chop’s fish selections is that most feature the Ocean Wise logo which denotes eco-friendly fishing practices.

My boyfriend gets the Chop burger ($13). Topped with aged white cheddar double-smoked bacon and a chipotle aioli the burger arrives in a nice soft bun with fresh-made fries. The patty is juicy and packed with flavour.

Being in a spot named Chop I take it upon myself to order the steak deciding on the baseball sirloin with scalloped potatoes ($25.50). What I get is not a baseball steak. The mystery cut is lukewarm at best. I send it back and watch my friends eat.

Alerted to the problem the manager approaches and promises a new steak post-haste. By the time my friends finish their meals the new steak arrives. It’s much better and the cut is correct but I’m not thrilled — frankly I think The Keg does a much better job. The manager comps me a glass of red wine for the delay. I wish he would switch out our server instead.

What I do like about my entrée is the fresh vegetables on the side. They’re fantastically vibrant with patty pan squash and garden carrots. The scalloped potatoes are good too a tad dry but not bad.

Just as I start to feel a bit better about things our server approaches again with dessert menus. I haven’t even finished my entrée and she’s asking if anyone would like dessert coffee or tea? Somebody better get some extra training ASAP. This is the worst service I’ve had in a long time. I guess our table wasn’t turning over fast enough huh sweetheart?

Needless to say we skip dessert. What does need to be said is: skip Chop. This chain is not worth your money or your time. I can think of dozens of Calgary restaurants where you will get better food respectful service and an intimate experience for the same price or less.

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