Browsing: Restaurant Features

Viva

January6

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Many years ago, 21 to be exact, we were told by good friends about a unique ethnic restaurant on Sargent Ave. where they serve a soup with a crispy shrimp pancake floating on top. That was enough incentive for us to make the visit back then and sure enough, the Hu Tieu Nam Vang is still on the menu today. We appreciated the silky broth dotted with fresh cilantro leaves. The shrimp pancake satiated both my love of crunchy food and my passion for potatoes. The pancake was close to a potato pancake or latke. In addition to this treat, there were slices of pork, crab, more shrimp and satisfying rice noodles floating in the broth.

Speaking of noodles-have you ever wondered why Asian cuisine refers to the fine rice noodles by an obviously Italian name? Vermicelli literally means “little worms” but generally refers to the size of the noodle being thinner than spaghetti. Vermicelli in Italy is made from wheat flour whereas in Asia, it is fashioned from rice flour. In Vietnamese cuisine, the noodles are called “bun”.

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Therefore, when we selected a bowl of noodles with pork balls, spring roll pieces, shrimp, crispy pork slices, shredded lettuce, bean sprouts, julienned cucumber and mint, it too was called “bun”-in this case “Bun Thap Cam”or Deluxe Vermicelli. This is my favourite Vietnamese dish which I order whenever I get the opportunity, sometimes as a cool, summer lunch.

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We got somewhat adventurous with our third selection, choosing shrimp (again) sautéed with onions and carrots in coconut juice and fiery spices. The shrimp was perfectly cooked, that is just slightly so that it retained a satisfying crunch when bitten into. The sauce was so divine that had we a basket of bread, we would have torn off pieces to soak it up. Rice also does a great job of absorbing sauces and so we employed the bowl which had been delivered to the table earlier.

We discovered as we settled our bill that the original family whom owned Viva on our first visit in 1993, still owns it today but is has been passed along to the next generation, namely amicable son Phuong Nguyen.

Viva Restaurant Vietnamese & Chinese Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Whilst searching for a “noodles” quotation, I found this one regarding “nincompoops”.  The latter was one of my Dad’s favourite expression when we ( his kids) weren’t behaving….

Kath’s quote: “….it is possible to exaggerate and to be duped by gastronomic nincompoops who write of gourmets with a sense of taste so refined that they can tell whether a fish was caught under or between the bridges, and distinguish by its superior flavor the thigh on which the partridge leans while asleep.”-Angelo Pellegrini

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Live simply, laugh often, love deeply.

Brown’s Social House

December30

Manitoba has long been home to the “social” and so I think that it is befitting that Brown’s Social House has finally arrived. I say “finally” because the venture started in Langley BC (home of my friend and The Keg originator George Tidball) in 2004 and has steadily made its way east. D has visited the concept in Yorkton and Moose Jaw and has had good things to say. A group of my fellow bloggers visited just before Christmas while I was in the middle of a teaching gig, so I had to pass on the invite.  Needless to say, I had been long anticipating my visit and I as not disappointed.

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We hadn’t made note of the exact address before we left home and thought for sure that the Transcona restaurant would be on Nairn or Regent Ave., failing these, we guessed Lagamodiere. So we were surprised to find it tucked away on Plessis Ave. D grew up in Transcona, yet we haven’t made the little trip out there in quite some time, so we were surprised with how much the neighbourhood has changed with new businesses popping up all over the place.

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The location of the restaurant was intentional by Brown’s. They typically gravitate to smaller cities or suburban neighbourhoods rather than “destination” restaurants. They’re strategy is paying off. We did not expect to find the room busy on a frigid evening, the Monday after Christmas with a Jets game being played at the MTS Centre, but the place was almost full when we departed at 6:30. The space is wide open with high ceilings and may have a tendency to get noisy, typically the kind of place that the “grey set” might avoid. Given the showing last evening, this is not the case as there were many couples and groups, sharing pizzas or plates of dry wings and ribs (their early bird special). I predict that the demographics of the crowd grow younger as the evening wears on. This is a brilliant marketing strategy, ensuring that the place is always operating at capacity.

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Many years ago D and I were in Boston and became familiar with the location of the bar that inspired “Cheers”.  If you recall, there was a central bar near the entrance so that bartenders and servers could greet Norm when he walked through the door. This is precisely the atmosphere that Brown’s is going for calling their barkeeps “hostenders”.

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We enjoyed a couple of the bar’s most popular cocktails: a Traditional Mojito and a Bourbon Smash, the latter concocted with Woodford Reserve (which I am told is an exceptional bourbon), raspberry and cranberry juices.

But, onto the exceptional food. Here’s’ a quote from the founder of Brown’s: “We serve fresh, lively, flavourful food in a room that is fun, energetic and designed to be as comfortable as my living room…but without the dog hair”. Fresh, lively, flavourful is spot on. We started by sharing a couple of appetizers:

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1) the Dynamite Roll which we enjoyed but were trying to save our appetites so I took the leftovers to my Mom who loves sushi, but not before I removed the spicy lemongrass dip which would have proved to be a bit much for a 87 year old and

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2) Lime Pepper Grilled Halibut which was really sensational. Many menus shy away from serving halibut now a days because of its dear price.  Browns’ respects the product by surrounding it with a taco that is made with a blend of flour and corn so that it is firm and slightly crunchy but not too gritty. The tomato cumin rice doesn’t typically go with the appetizer portion but was a taste treat in itself. The premise-made salsa, pico de gallo and chunky guacamole placed the dish at a precipice, the liberal use of freshly squeezed lime juice in this (and many other dishes) put it over the top!

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I am glad that we paced ourselves as my favourite dish was yet to come. D and I shared the Hollywood Burger and the Dragon Chicken Bowl. The latter was an intentional contrasts of flavours, colours and textures-the sweetness from teriyaki sauce with the smooth but spicy cayenne yoghurt, the luxurious jasmine coconut rice and crunchy wok vegetables, the gorgeous purple pickled cabbage and the fire-engine red peppers.

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I enjoyed the old-school taste of the burger and was really impressed by the butter glazed brioche that it was served in. The glistening surface of the bun was like biting through satin. Inside was a burger of ground chuck and cheddar cheese placed on top of crunchy iceberg lettuce and tomato, so that it didn’t slide around as you took a bite.

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For me the piece de resistance were the “HCDC” fries-hand cut, double cooked! Made from the very best potato for frying, that is Kennebec potatoes, they are cooked once to bring out the natural sugars and starches and then a second time to ensure that the treat is crispy on the outside but soft and fuzzy on the inside. 529 Wellington also serves this potato variety, so that says something about the quality of Brown’s choice.

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I was perfectly satiated when the Oreo Jar arrived at our table. I don’t typically eat desert but batted D’s spoon away so that I would be sure to get a taste. The cheesecake layer was lighter than most with the introduction of equal parts whipped cream with the cream cheese. The little jarful of yumminess was not too sweet either-my kind of desert.

We felt very well cared for by Chef Michael Joss who came in on his day off to look after us. We found out while chatting with Assistant Manager Meagan that she and General Manager Beau are also chefs. This makes so much sense when a “house” is built around great food, lovingly prepared. We’ll be back, perhaps on another Monday to taste the Charred Pepperoni Pizza on special for $9.

Browns Socialhouse on Urbanspoon

Kath’s quote: “Brown’s is more than a restaurant, it is a place to be welcomed, remembered and indulged, with a standard for service and food that will leave you feeling exceptional and satisfied, every time.” -Scott Morrison, founder

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Live simply, laugh often, love deeply.

 

The Blue Marble

December24

When you are a sole proprietor with no employees, the Christmas season can be a little bit lonely.  I have two friends who are in the same situation and so the three of us get together for dinner each year and invite our spouses.  We’ve been to some of the city’s best restaurants including Sydney’s, and Deseo Bistro.  This year the Blue Marble was suggested and since sharing little plates is our favourite way to dine, D and I were delighted.  Every morsel that we sampled was “out of the world” so I would suggest that the Blue Marble is appropriately named.

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When we arrived, we caught sight of the beautifully custom-built wine cellar. It features over 150 varieties and we decided that for our next party, we’ll set up a table in there.

We had some taxi issues getting out to the Hotel at the Winnipeg International Airport where the restaurant is located, so that when half of us arrived, the first three were already indulging in some gorgeous martinis.  D followed suit but I perused the wine list for a fine merlot.

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We decided that a couple of Antipasto Platters would get us into the swing of things. We speared the assorted meats, cheese, marinated vegetables and olives and placed them upon lightly grilled baquettes.

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One couple decide that we should indulge in some veggies and ordered the Roasted Beets with shaved fennel, peppery arugula, sparkling orange segments and creamy goat cheese. They also selected the unappetizing sounding Stewed Chicken which was a lovely surprise as the chicken was slow cooked with apricots, prunes, raisins, hazelnuts, pine nuts, walnuts, almonds and cinnamon and then nestled upon a bed of basmati rice.

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The Berkshire pork tenderloin had been marinated in ginger and was served with pancetta creamed corn, braised leeks, edamame beans and chantrelle mushrooms.  I detected a birch smokiness to the delectable pork.

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Seared pork belly was the crown upon the Cavena Risotto where hull-less oats substituted for traditional rice, stirred up with porcini mushrooms and blueberries, then topped with shaved parmesan and pea shoots.

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When I read that black truffle olive oil and bacon dust adorned the Oxtail Ravioli I just had to order it.  The morel mushrooms and shaved parmesan were the icing on the proverbial cake.

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The last time D and I ate beef tartar we were dining at Le Frog in Nice, France.  The Blue Marble’s version was a deserving equal, likely because it was made by mincing Canadian Prime Beef with northern pike caviar, avocado, horseradish puree and smoked black pepper.  With the accompaniment of truffle potato chips, I will never dream of beef tartar on the French Rivera again.

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Absolutely satiated, D and I passed up desert but the Chocolate Crème Brule served with macaroons and berries certainly looked appetizing.

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The delectable menu is designed around sustainable, locally produced items including the fresh herbs growing right in the dining room under the watchful eye of Chef Anthony. The chef’s resume includes experience at the now-defunct Le Beaujolais, Pine Ridge Hollow and the iconic Dubrovnik Restaurant. He also worked at Gluttons Bistro, the St. Charles Country Club and The Manitoba Club.

The next morning I received this email: “So that was a pretty fantastic evening… delightful laughs, near tears, introspective sharing, light gossip, good food, great friends – when can we all get together again? No reason why the ‘six pack’ can’t make it a twice yearly event.”

Kath’s quote: “Truffles are only really good after Christmas…..So let us allow ignorant fops, beardless gourmands, and inexperienced palates the perry triumph of eating the first truffles.”-Grimod de La Reynière

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Live simply, laugh often, love deeply.

Tallest Poppy

December8

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J1, J2 and the Wee One were recently at the Tallest Poppy as I was writing about it for the Canstar Community Newspapers. You may have already read about the amazing food, but if not, read below.  In the mean time as more and more community restaurants open up especially in places like Wolseley, I wanted to share my thoughts about restaurants whom are inviting to children. If a restaurant claims to be accessible to all residents of a particular area and since children are often what binds a neighbourhood together, this makes good sense both from a business perspective and a social one.

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High chairs and booster seats are very much appreciated by family members. More than anything though, some kind of acknowledgement from the server is essential-after all the server will be interacting with every other person at the table. In addition, some kind of interchange as other staff members assist at a table is very appreciated. These go along way to put the parents or grandparents at ease. A little portion of food brought right to the table (with permission from the adults) will make everyone’s dining experience more pleasurable. The Keg Steakhouse +Bar brings out a little plate with a packet of crackers and a couple of orange and strawberry slices-a fabulous gesture. Accommodation of a toddlers’ appetite by dropping off a side plate, for the adults to share with the child, is also a nice touch. When a child is older with more discerning tastes or dare I say is “picky” some flexibility from the kitchen is greatly valued. When Danielle and Alex were at 7 1/4 she once told me that they would whip up anything that a child desired as long as they had the ingredients already stocked in the kitchen. They would also let kids use the chalk at the blackboard. These are little things that go a very long way.

But to our time at The Tallest Poppy. Our server actually did not acknowledge the Wee One but every other staff member did and for this reason (and the food of course) we know that we will return and be there often. I got a real chuckle over Talia’s comment at our table: “I’m not kid crazy but yours is a keeper!”

I have long been a fan of Talia Syrie and have followed her around Winnipeg from Tallest Poppies’ first location on Main St. to her stint at Neechi Commons and now to Tallest Poppies’s newest home at Sherbrooke and Westminster in the Sherbrooke Inn.  Talia and her business partner Steve utilize fresh, whole ingredients and whips them up in a simple, wholesome fashion delivering robust flavours.

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The revamped space at the Sherbrooke Inn is spacious, comfortable and funky and totally in keeping with the laid-back vibe of West Broadway and Wolseley.

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Her chosen staff members exude the spirit of the neighbourhood too, but in an efficient and bustling manner which means that your coffee cup is always full and hot meals are delivered without delay.

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We selected three breakfasts and when the plates were delivered, we spun them in a circle so that we could all savour the kitchen’s offerings.  First tastes were of Chilaquiles where a nest of crispy corn tortillas baked in salsa, cradled eggs and feta cheese.  The flavour was great but the hard edges of the tortillas were uncomfortable to the morning palette.

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I panicked when we found out that the Double Stuffed Breakfast Potato was not available that morning and ordered the Chicken Fried Steak & Eggs.  For some reason it didn’t click that I was ordering beef for breakfast.  The perfectly cooked over-easy eggs, delectable hash browns and toast made from fergasa bread kept me content without the steak.

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J1 has been intrigued by the inclusion of chicken and waffles popping up on menus of late.  He indicated that he had always been tempted to sample the unusual combination but had resisted until that morning.  The moist, tender southern fried chicken perfectly paired with the Belgian waffles.  We agreed that the fruity syrup completed the dish; regular syrup would have just added sweetness.  The berry syrup contributed a bit of acidity as well as sweetness, which was exactly what the combination required.  My taste was reminiscent of a little bistro in the Gramercy neighbourhood of Manhattan dubbed The Redhead.  Next to my Grandma’s, the best fried chicken I have ever tasted.

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I look forward to returning for lunch and dinner when the chicken is featured in another couple of dishes.  I anticipate cosy evenings spent in their lounge.  Since all three of our brood live within walking distance of the restaurant, this is sure to occur very, very soon.

The Tallest Poppy on Urbanspoon

Kath’s quote: “The age of your children is a key factor in how quickly you are served in a restaurant. We once had a waiter in Canada who said, ‘Could I get you your check?’ and we answered, ‘How about the menu first?'”-Erma Bombeck

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Love-that is all.

Christmas at Earl’s

December5

I asked J1 to be my date to this invited evening at Earl’s on Main.  Earl’s does a tremendous job of keeping in touch with Bloggers (we are now calling ourselves “Curators”) and the local media.  In fact, Earl’s does many things very well.  I am surprised over and over again by the lengths that they go to in order to get a dish exactly right.

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Case in point: The Royale with Cheese Burger created by Chef David Wong is described as containing smoked cheddar, dry cured bacon, portobello mushrooms and house ketchup.  When in fact local Earl’s Chef Matt Frost has shared with me that first they griddle a shredded cheese blend with a daily house-baked brioche to make a cheesy bun to which they add mushroom ketchup, tomato aioli, tomato relish (all made from scratch in house), mild yellow banana peppers, lettuce on onion.  Topped with said bacon and house made applewood smoked cheddar slices. The patty is ground chuck and Certified Angus Beef.

Even the smallest bite produces a veritable explosion of complex flavours and textures.  I suppose that this is what occurs when a chef of Dave Wong’s stature goes about making a burger. Some background on David: he works full time in Earl’s Test Kitchen. He is an award winning chef from Vancouver, most recently as Executive Chef of the Fairmont Pacific Rim and the award winning restaurant ORU. Dave has too many awards and medals to even list but Earl’s would say (and I would agree) that his Gold medal win as part of Culinary Team Canada in Basil, Switzerland and representing Canada at the  Bocuse d’Or held in Lyon, France – are two of the most prestigious culinary awards in the world.

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That evening we tasted the burger in a slider presentation as well as a Crispy Tuna Sushi Cones assembled from tempura crunch, Japanese mayonnaise, pickled ginger and tobiko (flying fish eggs).  The satiny tuna contributed to an over-the-top taste.

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Matt confided with us that he eats an order of Tuna Tostados every day for lunch. Chili rubbed albacore tuna, cilantro aioli, avocado and jicama slaw are all perched upon crisp corn tortillas. No wonder Matt!

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Although the appetizers were sensational, my boy needed some additional sustenance and Matt recommended the Kung Pao Noodle Bowl where vegetables, garlic ginger soy, roasted peanuts, mama Wong’s (I am assuming Dave’s Mom’s recipe) hot sauce are tossed together in a wok.  I was too full to have more than a nibble but J1 gave it accolades.

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We had worked up a thirst with all the delectable ingestion and there were Holiday libations for us to try. I expected a warm and savoury drink when the Cabin Fever arrived at the table but J1 explained to me that it would likely be a take on a Moscow Mule because the blue tin cup that it was served in is a traditional presentation for a Moscow Mule.  In addition to the standard ginger beer and bitters that makes a mule a mule, Crown Royal and port had been included.  The icing sugar frosted pine cone contributed both beauty and flavour.

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We didn’t catch all ingredients of the Clover Club cocktail but detected raspberry juice, Smirnoff and egg whites.

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The extra artistry of the drink was a seasonal touch.

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Before we waddled out into the winter night, we indulged in one last treat: hot Gingerbread with salted caramel sauce.  Ohh my.  I am not a sweet lover but this desert is not to be missed.  The cakey bread was full of deep, earthy tastes and when coupled with

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the salted caramel sauce (we were sent home with a sample of the sauce) was the perfect crescendo to a enjoyable evening.

Earls Kitchen + Bar on Urbanspoon

Kath’s quote: “Had I but a penny in the world, thou shouldst have it for gingerbread.”-William Shakespeare

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Love-that is all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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