Food Musings

A Winnipeg blog about the joy of preparing food for loved ones and the shared joy that travel & dining brings to life.

Lunch at La Cantina de Mona Lisa

October19

The media business is a close community.  Many people that I work with, I have known for almost twenty years.  In some cases, I am now collaborating with a second generation of media representatives.  But it is highly unusual when virtually 100% of persons gathered at a restaurant for lunch are from one business community.   Such was the case though, at La Cantina de Mona Lisa.  Hot 103, QX 104, CJOB, Power 97, CTV TV and Global TV were all represented by the tables in the room.  This all proves the point that not only am I an appreciator of good food but so are the people that I call friends.

When you travel in Italy and it is around the lunch hour, you might walk over to a market and buy a small, fresh loaf of bread.  You would break this open and find yourself at the cheese truck and request a creamy portion of unripened mozarella.  Continuing along to the meat stall you might ask for a wavy, thin slice of poscuitto ham.  Before you were done, a slice of grilled eggplant or red peppers may be to your liking so you would search those out.  In the end, you would have the freshest, sandwich, piled high with the best ingredients.

This is I think, the experience that Joe Grande is trying to recreate for his customers at La Cantina.  My sandwich was full of sliced chicken breast and a sauteed green vegetable that was think spinach but had a name like broccoli.  Help me out here folks-what would it be called?  It was served on a huge wedge of water bread.  I asked for an add on of grilled eggplant and was in heaven.

One of my lunch dates eats gluten free and she remarked that the same sandwich, when made with their gluten free bread-was the best gluten-free sandwich she had ever had at any Winnipeg restaurant.

My second date had five, cute little buns stuffed with a spicy sausage and cheese.  She called them her pac-man sandwiches.  We also ordered a Bocconcini and tomato salad to share.  Each of these ready to serve offerings are the flat price of $5. and an add on like the eggplant is an additional $2.  What a deal!

Joe was willing to let me behind the counter to photograph what was left of their lunch offerings (they make small amounts, so that everything is freshly made each day)-a Calabrese sausage sandwich and a anti-pasto plate.

When Joe let me into the kitchen there was one staff member, thinly slicing proscuitto ham and another making fresh pasta.

 

These are the trays that the pasta dries on.

Buon appetito!

Mona Lisa Ristorante Italiano on Urbanspoon

Kath’s quote: “When you become a good cook, you become a good craftsman, first. You repeat and repeat and repeat until your hands know how to move without thinking about it.”-Jacques Pepin

Viva for Vermicelli Bowls

October18

It must seem as if I go out for lunch an awful lot but the truth is that I do not.  Because I work from home, I’m able to grab some left overs or heat up some soup and so I likely go out for lunch, less often than someone who works downtown.  When I have lunch out though, I make sure that I get somewhere that I have never been before (or not lately at least). 

Such is the case with Viva Vietnamese Restaurant at the corner or Sargent and Spence Street.  I’ve enjoyed dining at Viva for what seems like decades but I have never gotten to go for lunch.  On this day, when I arrived at 11:45 the dining room was already full of business and trades people who obviously know of Viva’s popularity with the lunch crowd.  

 

When my lunch dates arrived, they were craning their necks to see what was in all of the steaming bowls that were being whizzed past our table.  I led the way by ordering a large ($1.50 more) grilled pork vermicelli bowl. 

I was followed by an order of the same with grilled pork and shrimp.

And then a third “deluxe” with pork, shrimp, spring roll, etc. 

Sorry, I must admit that I wasn’t paying very close attention by this point because we always have so much to get caught up on when I am with this particular couple of girlfriends who also happen to be business associates.  So when we are not talking kids, and house renos and winter holidays, we actually talk about projects that we are working on together.  

We started with rice rolls that were so delicious with their dark peanut sauce that we were tempted to request another order.  Luckily, we saved ourselves to dig into the lunch bowls.

Viva’s version is not loaded with vegetables as I have enjoyed it elsewhere, but is delicious none the less.  Lots of protein and soft, fluffy noodles and without a trace (or so it seems) of fat.  The sauce that was served along side,  was a light chili sauce.  I am accustomed to having the dish with a sweetened fish sauce, but I enjoyed this version tremendously.

The gentleman serving us was all alone and very busy.  But between his efficiency and that of the kitchen, the lunch crowd was in and out in no time and well taken care of in between.

Viva Restaurant Vietnamese & Chinese Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Kath’s quote:“There are may of us who cannot but feel dismal about the future of various cultures. Often it is hard not to agree that we are becoming culinary nitwits, dependent upon fast foods and mass kitchens and megavitamins for our basically rotten nourishment.”-M.F.K. Fisher

Lunch at Brooklynn’s Bistro

October17

We had been invited to the opening of Brooklynn’s Bistro last spring and met the inspiration for the restaurant’s moniker.  Brooklyn is a delightful child who obviously lives a life surrounded by the nurture of food.  On that evening we also sampled some of Chef Darryl Crumb’s evening offerings.  They were as exquisite as one might expect from an award winning chef.  But I understand that Brooklyn’s own Grandma and her great Auntie are responsible for the day to day lunch offerings. 

On this day I was willing to try whatever Nona had cooked up and it was an amazing concoction of swordfish and tomatoes over a long macaroni noodle.  The slivers of parmesan that were added provided just the right amount of saltiness and the dish was perfection.

My lunch mate decided upon the pizza- a perfectly thin crust baked over a wood fire and lightly topped with capicollo, roasted red peppers, basil leaves and mozarella.  The closest pizza I have tasted to the many we sampled during our time on the west coast of Italy. 

I understand that Nona delights their guests with little tastes from her kitchen-sometimes a savoury appetizer or other anti pasta  On this day though, she was busy getting her larder stocked up so that she could make a trip home to Italy, so we were treated to a amazing dessert instead.  The scoop of heaven did not have a name but I would describe it as tiramisu meets chocolate trifle.  There was no mascarpone cheese but chocolate mousse, lady fingers, a liquer and bites of semi sweet chocolate shards.  Oh my!

Good thing I do not have my office on the third floor of the building where Brooklynn’s is located like my friend who I was joining for lunch, or I would be in big trouble.  I can’t imagine the temptation of just zipping downstairs for a bite of Nona’s fare.

Brooklynn's Bistro on Urbanspoon 

Kath’s quote:  “…smell and taste are in fact but a single composite sense, whose laboratory is the mouth and its chimney the nose….”-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

 

Billabong for Brunch

October14

Brunch may be my favourite time to dine.  Sister #3 and an honourary sister go out every single Sunday for brunch.  I often have a brood to feed back home or a Sunday supper to get started on, so I don’t always get to slow down and savour a day of rest, as I believe we were meant to.  But on a day when D was out of town and Daughter #2 had her brunch date cancel, it seemed the perfect opportunity.  My lovely friend Denise who lives in the area, recommended Billabong for brunch when she read my evening accounting of Billabong fare, and it had long been on my must try list.

Everything worth having is worth the wait-especially Billabong Bistro for brunch.

Daughter #2 ordered the Eggs Bennie which she declared-the best in the city (next to her Auntie K’s).  The Chef took a classic Bennie and made it Billabong’s own by adding tomato and spinach under the perfectly poached eggs and enhanced the back bacon with a slice of proscuitto.  Her only disappointment was the fruit side which she said, had it been more abundant, would have been an appreciatied complement to the richness of the dish.

I was very tempted by the Aussie Foo Young but opted instead for this roasted vegetable frittata.  Zucchini, spinach, mushrooms, peppers and red onions were enough to delight me so the addition of eggplant sent me over the top!  The smoky and carmelized flavours of the vegetables were contrasted by marscapone and podano cheeses.  My mouth is watering even now as I reflect of the lovely tastes from a number of weeks ago.

We sat near a front window with the afternoon light streaming through and watched the passers by on Osborne Street.  The coffee was robust and plentiful and the service polite and attentive.  The perfect way to while away a Sunday afternoon.

Billabong Bar & Bistro on Urbanspoon

Kath’s quote: “Bistro cooking is good, traditional food, earnestly made and honestly displayed. It is earthy, provincial, or bourgeois; as befits that kind of food, it is served in ample portions.”-David Liederman

 

Thanksgiving 2011

October12

The “big” cottage in our family “compound” at Lester Beach is co-owned by my Mom and my oldest brother and his wife.  They graciously organized the space for us all to assemble for dinner.  This is no little feat, as this year there were 37 of us and that did not include three nieces and a nephew who could not attend (the latter travelling Europe).  We also welcomed back international student Priscilla from Beijing and a new attendee-Gabby from Quebec.

This year was so mild that one family entourage hiked the forest before dinner and another bunch headed to the beach for sunset.  The balmy weather also meant that the beverage table could be set up outside and there were a number of tables available on the huge back deck for people who opted to dine el fresco.

Everyone pitches in with a food responsibility.  Some are automatic and don’t have to be assigned like Sister #2’s peppercorn meatballs, Sister #3’s roasted root vegetables and my candied yams.  Someone always gets assigned a green bean casserole with crispy onions and  potatoes mashed with cream cheese. There were also two huge salads (I had mine after my entree),  turkey with two kinds of stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce and roasted ham with mustard sauce.

A fresh fruit platter was served with pumpkin pie and the hit once again this year was the Pumpkin Crunch dessert that I posted after last Thanksgiving dinner.  You can use the search function on the top right of the blog or go to the dessert recipe category.

Fall is beautiful on the prairies but we are acutely reminded of the circle of life when the ferns and rushes die away and an entire tree can be bared by a single gust.  So too, we were reminded how precious life is as we gathered this year, because one of our brothers was not with us.  Tom lived his life bursting with gratitude.  He loved family traditions and so Thanksgiving was one of his favourites.  I thought of him feasting at another banquet table as we gave thanks.

Kath’s quote: “The king and high priest of all the festivals was the autumn Thanksgiving. When the apples were all gathered and the cider was all made, and the yellow pumpkins were rolled in from many a hill in billows of gold, and the corn was husked, and the labors of the season were done, and the warm, late days of Indian Summer came in, dreamy, and calm, and still, with just enough frost to crisp the ground of a morning, but with warm traces of benignant, sunny hours at noon, there came over the community a sort of genial repose of spirit – a sense of something accomplished.”-Harriet Beecher Stowe

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