Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a media preview of this new Exchange District Tour. We assembled in Steven Juba Park across from Carnaval Brazilian Barbeque and I was hoping that it would be our first stop as I have enjoyed tapas in the lounge but had never been upstairs to check out the dining area.
We walked past the huge rotisserie area as we made our way to our table and I stopped for a moment to see the cuts of meat and sausages and pineapple twirling around.
When we are on Isla Mujeres my favourite taco is called “Taco al Pastor” where thinly sliced marinated pieces of pork are cooked on a vertical shishkabob while rotating next to an open flame. The only time I had seen meat cooked in this manner was while I was travelling in the Middle East. With research I discovered that indeed Lebanese immigrants to Mexico brought this technique for cooking lamb and the Mexicans adapted it for pork. As a result, back in the 1960’s this same dish was called Tacos Arabes (Arab Tacos) but for some reason has been renamed. Speculation is that the original use of lamb is the connecting nuance because “pastor” means shepherd. On Isla Mujeres the pork is often layered with rings of pineapple and sliced off the rotating skewer all at once so in my mind I have always associated “Pastor” as having something to do with pineapple-boy, was I off. Can you follow my musings here? Carnaval cooks both pork and pineapple on their rotating skewers and so the taste reminded me of Mexico and the Middle East at the same time.
In addition to the pork and pineapple, I also loved the skirt steak (there are 14 cuts of meat served in total). There are also over a dozen sides on the menu and all the ones that we sampled were from the cold section. Somehow almost every dish was empty by the time it arrived where I was sitting so that I missed out on the Chickpea Salad, the Hearts of Palm Salad and the Kale & Broccoli Salad. What I thought must have been the Panzanella (sometimes called Tuscan bread Salad) made with Bononcini, croutons and tomatoes was also only tomatoes by the end of its rounds. I express this disappointment because if they were anything like the Mixed Field Green Salad or the Arugula, Raisin and Pumpkin Seed Salad that I did get to sample, they would have been very fine indeed. Without further delay I should mention the excellent Brazilian Cab Sav that accompanied our first courses.
When we met up with owner Noel Bernier at our next stop, he explained that the location for Carnaval was obtained three years before it opened. Noel wanted it to be a place where “original gauchos” could bring their style of cooking and eating to Winnipeg. Noel’s fiancé from Brazil works at Carnaval as well as manager Fabio who we also had an opportunity to meet.
While we sipped another excellent wine at Hermanos, this one a full-bodied Stagnari Tannat from Uruguay (the tannat grape was originally imported from France but is now considered the national grape of Uruguay), Noel continued with his story: he puts the most importance on Hermanos because it was only through a labour of love that it reached its current success. In fact, Noel’s mission was to “celebrate the heart of South American food”. He does not want Hermanos to be considered an “ethnic” restaurant per se, but a South American fusion restaurant with a Canadian influence.
Take the dish “Peru Meets Manitoba” for instance. Noel suggests that it was the Peruvians that invented ceviche-the method of “cooking” fish and seafood in a lime marinade instead of over heat. I am crazy about ceviche, eating it almost daily while on Isla Mujeres (hope that you can tolerate my Isla fixation) but had never been to a restaurant that was bold enough to attempt it on a local fish. I thought that pickerel might be too delicate to hold its own against the lime juice but oh no-it is a perfect marriage, made better by the coupling.
I also loved the sausage board where a chorizo style sausage was served with grilled bread and peppers declaring a bold taste statement. Sausages are the perfect way to use every part of the animal. Since Noel indicates that the South American culture is very “farm-focused”, this is not at all surprising. Farmers are the most resourceful people in the world and in my opinion, if I am to be a carnivore, I think that using every possible part of the animal is respectful and ethical.
The tenderized and breaded beef called Milanesa was also a multi-cultural phenomena. Wikipedia indicates:
The milanesa was brought to the Southern Cone of South America by Italian immigrants during the mass emigration called the Italian diaspora between 1860-1920s. Its name probably reflecting an original Milanese preparation cotoletta alla milanese, which is similar to the Austrian Wiener Schnitzel.
Similarly, an empanada comes from the Spanish verb meaning empanar, meaning to wrap or coat in bread. I thought that Hermanos’ version was closer to a samosa which would also be authentic as Wikipedia (isn’t it a handy resource?) states:
Empanadas and the similar calzones are both believed to be derived from the Indian meat-filled pies, samosas.
I tasted both the beef and black bean variety as well as the chicken and sausage and could not decide which I like the best. What I did know with certainty was that the Tannat held its own when swigged after each taste of beef and which is consistent with its Uruguay popularity because beef is consumed more extensively in South America than anywhere else in the world.
Before the entourage departed for Corrientes Argentiene Pizzeria, Noel reminded us that these restaurants were never intended to be “chef-focused” but to be a home for persons from South America who wanted to showcase their talents. Not surprisingly, we were greeted by another handsome South American when we arrived at the comfortable pizzeria. Sylvio, who is a recent arrival to Canada was assisted by Cynthia who explained that the design of Corrientes was to replicate a popular neighbourhood in Buenos Airies (which Noel earlier declared was to him the most fascinating city on earth). She also explained that there are many “Corriente” streets in various Argentiene communities. The beautiful building which is home to the this third café is one of the oldest in the city having been built in 1882.
I had sampled their excellent pizza on previous visits and had learned about the influx of Italians to Argentina after World War II. A delicious hazelnut and chocolate dessert, called Gianduia was served. I, who can typically resist desserts, lapped up every dollop and then sat back to savour an Argentiene Malbec-once again: stellar.
I hadn’t expected to be so impressed with the Exchange tour from both the perspective of the historical significance and what I learned and tasted in the way of food. But more than anything, it was Noel Bernier’s passion for Winnipeg’s exchange district and the food that he loves that impressed me most.
Kath’s quote: “The best fertilizer is the footprint of the farmer.” anonymous
Love-that is all.