Cross-posted from Calgary is Awesome.
Anh and Laura at Safari Grill
My friend Anh *loves* Safari Grill so much that she sometimes goes there multiple times a week. Since I like to pretend that anything in the SE is "far", I had never heard of the place, let alone been there, but made a mental note to go someday...
As Anh continued to gush about Safari Grill on Twitter, along came a dissenter.
"Tiffin is WAY better than Safari Grill!" Mason declared. Anh couldn't fathom how any place could be better than Safari Grill, so she organized an eat-off, and invited some of her foodie friends (including me) to play. We managed to hit both places in one night as they are conveniently located kitty-corner from each other on 28th Street, just off of Memorial Drive.
Anh had obviously organized eat-offs before; prior to going to the restaurants, she combed through both menus to find equivalent items that we would taste. Then, she made scoresheets where we rated the items based on presentation, value and taste. Instructions included "Does the food bring up any emotions or feelings?" I don't know about the food, but the scoresheets definitely brought up the feeling of stress as I generally don't like giving number rankings to restaurants, especially while the owners of the restaurants are watching! (We pretended to be "tasting foods for a party".)
Despite the added bit of stress, overall it was a fun night of food and laughs with Anh, Gwendolyn, Gabe, Anh's fellow Safari Grill fan Laura and her husband Ryan. Mason was notably absent.
Round 1: Masala Mogo
Masala Mogo is fried cassava topped with a tomato-based sauce. Essentially, giant fries. At both restaurants, they were close in price, with Tiffin offering them at $6.95 and Safari Grill at $6.99. Tiffin's presentation was sorely lacking, with Gwendolyn saying that they looked like bones. On the other hand, the use of a bit of green and a lemon wedge won points on Safari Grill's side, and it was also steaming hot. Taste-wise, Tiffin's Masala Mogo just tasted like giant fries with ketchup, but for some reason I could not. stop. eating them. The sauce on the Safari Grill Masala Mogo was more complex, with some spicy notes, and the mogo was crisper too. Winner: Safari Grill
Round 2: Spicy Beef Ribs
The Spicy Beef Ribs were the highlight of the meal at Tiffin for me. Unlike everything else we tasted at Tiffin, the beef ribs tasted interesting! They were savoury, tart and spicy all at the same time - despite ordering them "medium hot", these were certainly pushing my spice threshold. On the other hand, Safari Grill's spicy beef ribs were too sour, and the sauce had a bit of a pasty, chalky texture to it. Gwendolyn and Gabe also noted that the ribs were sliced thinner at Safari Grill, so were not as thick and juicy as Tiffin's. Tiffin's ribs were $13.95, while Safari Grill's cost $11.99. While the winner for Gwendolyn, Gabe and I was Tiffin, Anh, Laura and Ryan preferred Safari Grill. Winner: Draw
Rounds 3-5: Vegetarian Curry, Butter Chicken and Roti
Originally we had wanted to try Okra Curry from both restaurants, but Tiffin did not have Okra Curry that day so we just went for whatever vegetarian curry they had instead. In Tiffin's case it was Black-Eyed Pea Curry (part of a combo with Butter Chicken, 2 Roti and Rice for $11.95) and at Safari Grill we had Muttor Alu (Potato & Pea Curry, $9.99). While the use of black-eyed peas at Tiffin's was unique, the curry itself wasn't very interesting and tasted pretty generic. The Muttor Alu was a drier curry, and I loved the texture of the peas (not the mushy, overcooked stuff) contrasted with the starchy potato. I also liked how Safari Grill served its curries on a little burner, to keep things hot. Winner: Safari Grill
The Butter Chicken at Tiffin tasted very buttery, but strangely enough the sauce wasn't thick and creamy to match. Safari Grill's Butter Chicken ($15.99) had a sauce that was thick and rich; flavour-wise, it wasn't as buttery as Tiffin's, but this was actually a good thing, as it allowed you to taste the different spices. The only quibble I had was that it needed more chicken! Winner: Safari Grill
It's difficult to rate Roti, as it is not supposed to have that much flavour on its own so that it can complement all the other dishes, and I'm assuming it is something that's difficult to screw up. At both places, the roti was nice and soft - Safari Grill's had a more pronounced "dough" flavour and was thicker than the roti at Tiffin. At Tiffin you can get a dozen roti for $5.50 while Safari Grill is a little stingier, selling them at 3 for $1.99. Winner: Draw
Free Round: Extras
Both restaurants served up an assortment of condiments for us to enjoy with our meal, including green chili sauce, yogurt sauce and tamarind sauce. Tiffin also had some yummy ginger carrots, and some pickled limes which I did not dare try. Gabe liked Tiffin's green chili sauce, which packed quite a bit of heat, but I thought it tasted too "grassy". I preferred the tangy and refreshing yogurt sauce. The sauces at Safari Grill were good all around, but none of them really stood out for me.
Although Anh is the one who goes to Safari Grill all the time, it was Laura who the owner seemed to recognize. Laura said that the owner is always trying to get her to try new things, and this time was no different - he prepared us a dish of samaki (whole deep fried tilapia) with a side of ugali (maize flour cooked to a thick, doughy consistency) and spinach curry on the house! After our meal we were also treated to two decadent molten chocolate cakes - one with a side of mango kulfi, the other with coconut kulfi. I preferred the mango kulfi - while it did not have a lot of mango flavour, it was filled with coconut, giving it a great chewy texture.
Despite serving similar cuisines, I actually don't think that it was fair to compare Tiffin and Safari Grill. Tiffin is meant to be more of a quick, takeout-oriented place, while Safari Grill is a nicer (questionable animal print decor and flashy Bollywood videos on two TV screens aside) sit-down restaurant. I definitely prefer Safari Grill - its dishes are more interesting and complex and there is a wider selection of food. But if they want to be taken seriously, they need to get rid of the non-African/Indian items on their menu (Philly Cheese Steak? Seriously?) and those zebra print tablecloths.
Tiffin Curry & Roti House
188 28 St SE
Calgary AB T2A 6J9
Open Mon-Thu 11 AM-9 PM; Fri 11 AM-11 PM; Sat Noon-10 PM. Closed Sundays and Holidays.
100-255 28 St SE
Calgary AB T2A 5K4
Open Tues-Thu 11:30 AM-10 PM; Fri 11:30 AM-11 PM; Sat 1-11 PM; Sun 2-10 PM. Closed Mondays.