Food Musings

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

Isla Mujeres 2016-Breakfast at Ruben’s

March18

Ruben the man is as fascinating and Ruben the cook.

Ruben invited us for breakfast at his restaurant bearing his name, because he knew we were foodies (he was my most loyal follower when we traveled to Tuscany) and wanted our unbiased opinion of his food. When we arrived he immediately sat down with us and indicated that it was his first time back to work after completing radiation treatment (for stomach cancer) in Mexico City. He said that he was supposed to stay in bed for a week or two but that he is happiest when he is working and giving back to others.

He shared his journey with us. He is originally from Mexico City but left Mexico for the US, California specifically, to work for a better life. He fibbed to get his first job in a northern California restaurant and the owner gave him 15 days to learn how to prepare all the items on the menu. From there he worked at a variety of kitchens in California and Nevada. He received no formal or family training. Things went amiss for him in California and he was actually kidnapped until his family cleared out his life savings to free him.

He was encouraged to leave the US and returned to Mexico City, but set off again. A friend accompanied him to the bus station and floated him 500 pesos for a ticket elsewhere. He saw Cancun on one of the destination boards and had enough money to get there. Learning that Isla Mujeres was a smaller and less expensive destination, he arrived on the island. Soon after, he was depositing what was left of his money and the bank teller asked him if he wanted to apply for a credit card. He never dreamed he would be approved but says (as he glanced skywards) that someone was looking out for him. With that money he found a small house that he renovated. He went back to the bank, got a cash advance and bought all the fixings for the restaurant that he soon opened.

When we first visited he had a simple menu that he has greatly expanded since then. He is hoping that we can taste his pasta in the future. He loves everything about food and hospitality and recognizes that we do too.

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Ruben suggested that we compare and contrast his two most popular eggs benedicts-the Classic and the special lobster benedict with poblano sauce. Both were sensational and we couldn’t decide on our preference. The accompanying oj, coffee and breakfast potatoes were excellent too and we were so impressed that a self trained cook could prepare dishes with such depth. We only wish we could have returned for his pasta but there are so many places to sample when we are on the island.

Kath’s quote: “Eating is so intimate. It’s very sensual. When you invite someone to sit at your table and you want to cook for them, you’re inviting a person into your life”. -Maya Angelou

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Love never fails.

Villas San Miguel-Isla Mujeres

March16

From the moment we set our feet onto the dock at Isla Mujeres, we knew that our home for the week was the perfect choice. We were hooking up with friends that we had met the previous year as it was their last day on the island. We would normally have been torn between going straight over to our rendezvous point of Bally Hoo or dropping our luggage of at the villa. Since the Acapulco Suite at Villas San Miquel is literally up the hill from the ferry, we were able to drop our bags and still get back to Bally Hoo in plenty of time. The central location of the villas is one of its primary advantages.

After some lunch and a wonderful visit, we had most of the afternoon still ahead of us. My husband enjoyed a quick nap on the huge, comfortable bed before we crossed the square to pick up some of our essentials at the Supermercado including yoghurt, cheese, lime mayo, ham, eggs, bread and butter as well as cervesa and vino tinto.

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The Acapulco villa’s kitchen was better equipped than any place we have stayed on the island (and this was my 13th visit). With a full size fridge, a microwave, blender, toaster and coffee maker, we could have eaten every single meal at the villa had we desired. But part of the pleasure of our annual sojourn to the island is sampling its varied fare. That night we set off for Abuelo’s, a short walk directly down the street. After supping on shrimp and lobster-stuffed fish, we still had time to walk north beach and stroll Hidalgo.

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The next morning we found a spot to watch the sunrise as it was not visible from our main floor apartment. We did have a fun view of the busy square making us feel like islanders and not tourists. Our bedroom had a view of the pool.

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As we sipped our coffee in our comfy spot, we realized we must be taking someone else’s sunrise perch. Our neighbours were enjoying their last sunrise before they had to catch their ferry for the trek home. We hit it off so well, that we ended up walking them to the ferry dock. I was anxious to spend time in the kitchen of the Acapulco Villa, so we whipped up a huge ham and egg breakfast.

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There was a full set of cutlery as well as 6 place settings of dishes AND stemmed wine glasses. We love our wine and think that it tastes best from a real wine glass. There as a full set of kitchen utensils as well as a wine opener and a couple of good sharp knives. A full set of pots and pans including a fry pan and colander were also in place. Coffee, tea, sweetener and sugar were all provided as well as rolls of paper towel, dish detergent and Kleenex boxes. There were even a number of beer glass insulators that we guessed were left by a former renter.

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We enjoyed a lovely time reading around the pool before heading out for north beach to meet old friends. En route “home” we stopped at our favourite market stall, for fresh produce-bananas, cilantro, limes and mangos. That evening we hosted 14 adults and five kids for dinner. The afternoon prep was a breeze since the open kitchen was so spacious. We had more than enough space when everyone arrived. We put our dinner out on the granite peninsula and we had enough seats for everyone. The kids sat on the floor around the coffee table and some of the adults preferred to sit at the dining table. When we enquired the next morning, none of our neighbours heard our hilarity as the temperature was comfortable enough to keep the doors and windows closed.

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There are shutters between the spacious living room and bedroom so we closed them up while company was over to hide our disarray. Once we were alone, we re-opened the shutters to let the breeze flow from front to the back of the villa, we never needed the AC. We also never turned on the flat screen tv that was provided.

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The bathroom was so spacious that there was room for a rattan shelving unit where we were able to put away all of our toiletries. The water pressure was terrific and hot water plentiful (which isn’t always the case on the island). There were lots of extra hooks in the bathroom to hang wet bathing suits. Beach towels as well as bath towels were in good supply. There was even a full sized hairdryer provided in the bathroom. The bedroom had a large armoire where we could hang and place our clothes as well as night tables and reading lamps. There was a large bench which we used to place our cases when we unpacked and then a big empty closet in the hall where we could store them when empty.

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In the open concept living space there were plenty of outlets to plug in our devices and wi fi was easy to access and worked as well, if not better, than other areas of the island. The living furniture was perfectly comfortable and we made note of the fact that with a full size futon and a love seat futon, another couple and one or two kids would be quite comfortable in the space. Right outside the sliding glass door was a table and chairs for poolside dining as well as plenty of lounge chairs and umbrellas for comfort around the pretty pool. The water was crystal clear and refreshingly cool after a hot walk from the beach.

The pre-trip arrangements that we made with the owner of the villas was streamlined and thorough and we didn’t have a single problem during our stay. He also graciously accommodated a change of our check out day. The price was more than we usually spend on Isla but worth every single penny. In fact, when you calculate the number of cabs that we hire to and from where we typically stay on the airport strip, it would likely turn out to cost less than our usual budget accommodation.

The staff are lovely and accommodating people who make you feel right at home. The villas are absolutely spotless and exceptionally well maintained.

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All of the villas surround an enclosed area where the pool is located. Big wooden gates to the malecon can be locked from the inside at the end of the day so that the space is private and secure. Surprisingly, even though a couple of the units are street side, there was no unpleasant traffic noise. The solid construction of the villas ensures this, in addition to keeping tropical insects at bay.

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Approximately midway of our stay at Villas San Miquel, we moved from the street side Acapulco to the upstairs sea view unit dubbed Xalapa. Although this unit had a smaller footprint the space was very well planned out. The trade off for the smaller space was the breathtaking view. I could stare at those turquoise waters forever! Even though the kitchen, bathroom and living space were more compact, we still had enough storage to place all of our stuff out of sight. People were not able to drop in on us, as there is no access to Xalapa from the street, but this ensures greater privacy for a couple or small family. One of the units was occupied by a woman on her own and she felt absolutely safe and secure in doing so.

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What Xalapa does have that Acapulco did not, was a private terrace overlooking the malecon and the sea. This provided us with the additional luxury of drinking coffee while waiting for the sunrise and a spot to gaze at the cruise ships on the horizon of the ocean over a late night glass of wine. On a rainy day, we were still able to sit outside and watch the storm go through.

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There was not a walled bedroom in Xalapa but the enormous bed was positioned in an alcove producing a “loft-style” floor plan. The number of furniture items was less (minus the dining table and chairs and the love-seat futon was switched out to a single one).

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Vibrant hand-carved chairs and a number of pottery and glass artifacts adorned both units adding a decorative touch that you would not normally enjoy in rental unit. There was even a fresh flower arrangement to greet us upon check in of both units. The owner of Villas San Miquel thought of absolutely everything!

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We just returned last evening and this morning on Facebook, I see that the complex is scheduled to more than double in size. Stay tuned for more Villa San Miguel Announcements.

Kath’s quote: “After all,” Anne had said to Marilla once, “I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea    

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Love never fails.

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Gausthouse Gutenberg

March6

We had visited Gausthouse Gutenberg once before when I was pregnant with our first child. She is now thirty years and I can’t quite believe that I had never been back. On this Sunday afternoon we did not know in advance that only a buffet lunch would be available but we were delighted as it provided us the opportunity to sample a number of authentic German recipes. German Master Chef Kurt Werner was in charge of the kitchen back when I first visited. Since then his apprentice Jereme Labelle has been passed the torch and the latter now owns the restaurant as well.

One this day we settled in and then made one trip up to the buffet table to ladle out a savoury curried mushroom suppen (soup) as our starter, clearly demonstrating that Chef Jereme’s repertoire stretches beyond German fare.

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When it was time to return for our main course we had the choice of crispy schnitzel, a savoury pork roast, delectable meatballs, excellent handmade Bavarian bratwurst, perogies with fried bacon and spätzle, which is a homemade German egg noodle. All were delicious but unfortunately none were terribly hot. It was apparent that a couple of the items had been placed in the stainless steel inserts way earlier than our arrival. I would definitely recommend that you not wait until 1:30 in the afternoon to dine as we did.

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German food is not typically considered “light fare” but I intentionally left room to visit the desert table. Apple strudel is one of my favourites and fruit platz (German coffee cake) is another, so it was very difficult to choose. The lovely thing about a buffet is that you do not have to decide on one and leave the other, so I am pleased to say that I got to sample both!

Gasthaus Gutenberger Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Kath’s quote: “….there are more different sausages in Germany than there are breakfast foods in America, and if there is a bad one among them then I have never heard of it. The run in size from little fellow so small and pale and fragile that it seems a crime to eat them to vast and formidable pieces that look like shells for heavy artillery. And they run in flavor from the most delicate to the most raucous, and in texture from that of feathers caught in a cobweb to that of linoleum, and in shape from straight cylinders to lovely kinks and curlycues.”-H.L. Mencken

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Love never fails.

 

Capital Grill

March3

The high cost of living elsewhere in Canada is proving fortuitous for the Winnipeg culinary scene as Chefs and restaurateurs who have ventured to Toronto and Vancouver return home. Such was the case with Greg and Chef Wayne Martin

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Dining with a good friend at the Capital Grill meant that we could share plates when we were both undecided as to what to order for the appetizing menu of “renewed classics”. The linguine caught the attention of both of us. Neither of us are vegetarians but the promise of roasted cauliflower, tomatoes, capers, preserved lemon and crisp shaved fennel was so tempting. In the end we opted to go healthy with a Beet Salad adding both goat cheese and chicken breast but also treat ourselves with short rib poutine.

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Beet salads are popping up on many Winnipeg menus these days. The pickled variety of beets took up permanent residency on our kitchen table as I grew up, to the extent that I simply ceased to see them after a while. What a pity, as the deep tones of beets by any description are now one of my favourite veggies, particularly when accompanied by blackberries, balsamic dressing, wild arugla and walnuts!

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Regular readers will know that I have a soft spot for made from scratch French fries. When they were enhanced with parmesan and truffle oil, I absolutely could not resist. The Capital Grill’s version of poutine comes topped with pulled short rib meat and short rib au jus. We couldn’t detect the latter and was not overly impressed with the former. So we simply pushed the meat aside and tucked into the divine fries. Later that day I threw the short rib meat into a pasta sauce and received accolades from my husband.

The restaurant is fresh, uncluttered and light filled. We sat next to a west window and basked in the sunlight. Service is pleasant and prompt and we were impressed that the owner took a minute to come over and introduce himself to our table.

Capital Grill and Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Kath’s quote: “The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent, not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.”-Tom Robbins

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Love never fails.

 

Sweetheart Dinner at The Keg Steakhouse & Bar

February29

When you have been married for 31 years celebrating with my sweetheart doesn’t have to occur on February 14th. D and I toast our lasting love every day (well maybe most days….).

When we were sat down at our dining room 4 person table at the St. James Keg the day after Valentine’s Day, D slid into the booth beside me. We adapted this custom after traveling to Paris where lovers sit side by side everywhere you go. Sitting shoulder to shoulder invites the sharing of food and intimate conversation and says to the persons around “this is a private dinner, please”.

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D had a hankering for French onion soup likely the longest lasting item on The Keg’s menu. No wonder it has stuck around all of these years as the carmelly broth is rich with a douse of sherry and the gooey cheese is sinfully abundant. I was concerned about not having enough room for my supper so I stuck to the hot bread that had been delivered to the table. I have simple tastes and I love the taste of fresh bread and red wine together.

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Soon after completing his soup, D’s entrée of two shrimp skewers arrived. Even though this dinner is no longer n the Keg menu, you can order it if you wish. Each wooden skewer holds five enormous shrimp so it is an abundant dinner. I thought that the shrimp were a little bit undercooked as the flesh wasn’t quite opaque but D was not concerned and ate every single bite.

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I ordered the decadent pistachio crusted salmon which arrived perfectly prepared so that the filet was thoroughly cooked but was still juicy and moist. The garlic mashed potatoes that the filet was nestled upon were not piping hot but still satisfying and tasty. The roasted Brussel sprouts and bacon were a great accompaniment. Unfortunately we had no room for dessert (we never seem to at The Keg) and were content to finish up our wine and make it an early evening.

The Keg Steakhouse & Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Kath’s quote: “I have an idea that this is what enduring love really means. Your memories of a girl at seventeen become as real and vivid as the middle-aged woman sitting in front of you. It is a happy sort of double vision, this seeing and remembering. To be seen this way is to be known.”  ― William Landay   

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Love never fails.

 

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