Winnipeg is such a food-centric community that its Chefs are given celebrity status. Case in point: I have been following the career of Chef Michael Schafer since he medalled in the Gold Plates competition and re-opened a beautiful restaurant at The Forks, that being Sydney’s. Since then he has birthed Rudy’s, a downtown urban bistro and Sous Sol a funky basement restaurant that is as comfortable as being invited to a friend’s family room.
I was delighted when I recently received an invitation to a “concierge” evening at Sydney’s. When I rsvp to manager Carlos, he said “Food Musings, ah yes, Michael Schafer has been a fan of your blog for years”. Michael confirmed this when I finally got to meet him in real life, walking from the executive bus he had hired to escort us from Sydney’s to Sous Sol.
Michael has appointed another Chef Michael, namely Michael Robins to head up the kitchen at Sydney’s. I had met Chef Robins when I was writing a story about Sous Sol. He is another talented grad of the Red River College’s Culinary program. Winnipeg is blessed with so much gastronomic talent from the college. But, I am getting a head of myself.
As bloggers, Instagrammers, Free Press writers and concierges from a number of key Winnipeg Hotels assembled, we sipped on a fine sparkling white wine and the food started arriving.
Poached shrimp in a sweet chili and mango sauce and vegetable wonton with sesame dressing were both tasty but we (accompanied by Sister #3), were most impressed by the smoked gold eye crepe with caper aioli and pickled mustard seed. The seeds popped in our mouths like caviar. We agreed that it was the little things like those mustard seeds that elevates cuisine from “delicious” to “sensational”.
I snuck away to peruse the recent décor updates to the dining room. The goal was to relax the ambience a bit to make Sydney’s more appropriate for a variety of dining experiences. I think that the revamp is right on the money and have been encouraging friends to give the dining room a try for their Friday night dinner dates.
Once we had been escorted to our tables in the dining room more appetizers were set in front of an enthusiastic bunch. We loved the Manitoba trapist cheese selections and the Chef’s ode to McNuggets with clever duck sausage morsels to dip into honey mustard.
My personal favourite was the Beef Tartare with mini grilled cheese triangles for scooping up the silky meat. This was all served before we made personal selections from our customized menus.
Sister #3 chose the Charred Beets as her starter and she swapped tastes with me and my Mango Peanut Salad. Both wonderful.
The Tomato Bisque was also deemed delicious (must have been the bacon)!
A cleansing sorbet arrived and then we were ready for our entrees. Artic Char with lentils, greens, almonds and salmoriglio (a southern Italian condiment) was chosen by our table neighbours and they were happy to let us feast with our eyes.
Sister #3 loved her choice of Duck Breast with pickled butternut squash, golden curry and baby potatoes.
I am crazy about truffles and ordered the New York steak for just that reason. I was delighted with the squash and garlic mashed potatoes. The New York was perfection-pan fried in what I suspected was a nub of butter, just like my Dad always prepared steaks when I was growing up. He managed what became Maple Leaf Foods in Brandon and he knew his beef, so this is the ultimate compliment in my mind.
Thinking that I would love to go home and get into my stretchy pants, we were escorted by Schafer to his pet project-Sous Sol. He described how he distressed the space and furniture himself prior to opening. I love the cozy lower level space and would have been satisfied with a night cap, but Chef Michael Robins had been busy putting out some more satisfying nibbles.
Including the most divine lemon tarts I have ever tasted AND the piece de resistance of
mini crème brulees!
The evening from start to conclusion was a culinary treat and I am enthusiastic to return to both spots very soon (especially because D had plans that evening and was disappointed that he couldn’t join me).
Kath’s quote: “If you are a chef, no matter how good a chef you are, it’s not good cooking for yourself; the joy is in cooking for others – it’s the same with music”. -will.i.am
Sydney’s heart shaped crostini!
Love never fails.