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529 Revisited

December5

When you are able to reacquaint with good friends that you have not had the occasion to visit with in a while, it really doesn’t matter where you go or what you eat, does it?  The company was the most important thing and yet here we were tucked into a cozy corner table in the back dining room at 529 Wellington.  Because I have been acquainted with the WOW! Hospitality folks for many years, it was like coming home with lots of embraces and hugs.  I even was able to meet a twitter follower IRL (in real life).  She recognized me from my thumbnail photo and I was so glad that she introduced herself.

The room is warm and beautifully appointed and you can easily imagine the grand dinners that must have been common place in the restored mansion.  Our waiter was impeccable and did his best not to intrude upon our intimate conversations.  We all chose beef specials as they were relayed by our server:

Calf Liver on Mashed Potatoes

 the calf’s liver with onions on mashed potatoes,

a Caesar salad topped with grilled tenderloin and enormous shards of Parmesan cheese

and an open-faced rib eye steak sandwich with sauteed mushrooms.  The flavours of the steak were rich and deep and even though the beef was extremely well trimmed, my taste buds found a nugget of fat the was silky smooth and absolutely sublime.  My lunch reminded me of the way in which my Dad would enjoy his steak-nothing fussy or complicated: just the finest cut with lots of age and a little bit of seasoning.  I have never seen the kitchen of 529 so I do not know how their steaks are prepared but I imagined that it would have been seared in a hot pan or over a hot flame to seal in the juices and then carefully watched until the perfect doneness was achieved.  I tasted salty butter on the accompanying mushrooms and if I am not mistaken on the steak as well.  Unadorned and divine. And don’t worry about me, I did get my quota of veggies later in the day.

I may try the beef carpaccio next time, remembering back to when Doug Stephen, one of the owners of the restaurant first opened a bistro in the basement of the Travellers Building, named Cibo’s. I remember their carpaccio from our first wedding anniversary dinner.  Fine dining and fine beef have always been a part of our lives. 

The menu states that less than 1% of all Canadian beef available is graded Canada Prime and that all the beef at 529 is as such.  No wonder our lunch was so very good.

529 Wellington on Urbanspoon

Kath’s quote: “The quality of food is in inverse proportion to the altitude of the dining room, with airplanes the extreme example.”-Bryan Miller

Love-that is all.

Diversity Catering Satisfies

November29

Last weekend I had the opportunity to go to Winnipeg’s first Blog Conference.  I have been to similar events in Washington DC and Toronto and was really impressed by the job that New Media Manitoba did for the event.  At similar events, I am always thrilled to rub shoulders with blog royalty and in addition to Catherine Connors creator of Her Bad Mother and Editor in Chief of Disney’s Babble, there were many” socialites” in the room.  Some I have met before and others only in cyber-space.  Meeting people in real life brings our on-line friendship alive.  This is often my favourite part of an event like this.

But because I of my food fascination, I wondered how the organizers would ” love us up” with culinary offerings.  They did not fail to impress.  Friday evening was a mixer at the News Cafe where there were a bevvy of little bites delivered round.  I especially enjoyed the seared scallops and mini grilled cheese sandwiches ( a wedge of panini with a goat cheese blend).  The casual opportunity to mingle with the conference participants was a nice way to kick start the weekend.

We awoke on Saturday morning to blowing snow but the breakfast provided by Diversity Catering, made getting out of bed worth it.  Pots and pots of steaming hot coffee, Balkan-style yogurt with a hearty granola to top it and a beautiful array of fresh fruit slices.  This is the breakfast that I select every morning when vacationing in Mexico and I was able to transport myself away from the blustery start of a Winnipeg winter for just a little while.  The bonus was the crispy edged cinnamon buns and the chocolate chip studded banana bread!

Mediteranean Chicken

When lunch was being set out, the aromas told us that we were in for a savoury treat.  Chicken was roasted Mediterranean style and served with parslied and buttered, wide egg noodles and an amazing salad.  Buffet service is no easy fete at an event like this.  Just keeping the food hot can be a challenge but Diversity Foods obviously knows what they are doing where feeding large groups is concerened and every noodle tasted as if it had just been tossed in butter before our eyes.  There was some controversy as to whether our dessert was a trifle or a shmoo torte: it was rich and creamy and I didn’t really care what it was dubbed.

The afternoon was equally edifying and by the time we departed from U of W’s beautifully restored Convocation Hall, the sun was shining on the glistening snow.

Kath’s quote: “If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.”-Hippocrates

Love-that is all.

Sonya’s

November26

As soon as Steve Vodrazka, the owner of the Sonya’son Henderson Hwy. in Elmwood spoke, my sister and I recognized the accent.  He was from the same country that our Dad had immigrated from many years before-Czechoslovakia.  The posters of the picturesque Eastern European country confirmed that part of him must still yearn for his homeland.

Wall at Sonya's

Steve took care of every single table himself as well as the till and yet he was very patient when we had a hard time deciding what to order.  He asked if we wanted to try his minestrone which was his soup of the day.  He added that it was free “unless we didn’t finish it all and then it was $2”, so priced as his way of ensuring that food was not wasted.

Hearty Bowl at Soya's

As we ordered the perogies, he wondered if we wanted them boiled or fried.  We assumed that this meant pan-fried and indicated our preference.  When they arrived and we saw that they had been deep fried, we were originally disappointed as deep frying can sometimes toughen the delicate dough.  There were no worries with these: the dumplings had only been kissed by the oil and they were soft and absolutely as delicious as our own family recipe.  The sautéed bacon and chopped onions certainly enhanced the flavour.  The bacon itself was not overly salty but had a rich and smoky taste.

Bacon Covered Perogies at Sonya's

Next up was a boneless pork loin chop in a crispy coating which reminded us of the bread crumb mixture that my Grandma used to cover her fried chicken with.  The meat inside was moist and succulent.  Also on the plate was a tangy cole slaw and boiled potato cubes.

Sonya's Pork Cutlet

I opted instead for the little plate of French fries that I indulged in (for the sake of research….).  Oh my goodness!  I imagined the order going into the kitchen at which time the cook took a potato, sliced and cooked it.  That is how fresh tasting the fries were.  They were lightly fried, exactly the way I love them (contrary to the other members of my family) resulting in a soft and wobbly fry.  This may not be everyone’s description of choice, but it certainly is mine.  What do you know, a French fry that still tastes like a potato!

Sonya's Fries

Recently, I saw in the Winnipeg Free Press that the Burger Club had declared that Sonya’s served Winnipeg’s best burger.  I wish I had known this previous to our lunch date as now I bet there will not be a seat to be had in the snug little place.

Warning: Sonya’s only takes cash and I don’t want you to be disappointed.

Sonya's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Kath’s quote: “Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.”-Doug Larson

Love-that is all.

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Chef Mary Jane Feeke of Benjamin’s

November20

The first time that I met Chef Mary Jane was a couple of years ago when I was fortunate to be invited to an Olympic Culinary Team Dinner.  At that meeting she was up to her eye balls in plates and trays in the vast kitchen.  I assessed in moments that MJ was a “behind the scenes” style of chef who ensures that every detail was taken care of.  So too, when D and I arrived at Benjamin’s in Selkirk last evening, she was at the door to greet us and ensure that we knew that the path through the courtyard might have some slippery spots.

Inside, and down a flight of stairs, I was instantly in love with their new space.  110 year old stone and brick walls of Selkirk’s former bank have been exposed and brought back to luster.  Every nook of the wide open area has a special charm but we were particularly enthralled with a glass room where Mary Jane envisages Chef’s Tables and Dinner Clubs.  The space is still “a work in progress” and we had been invited for a special preview.

We started with nibbles of a mushroom tart kissed with the sweetness of birch syrup; a soft turnover of brie that was accompanied by Manitoba apples but not just any local apples, they were her own Grandpa’s apples and a Saskatoon topped chicken brioche.

Other small plates were served over the course of the evening including a barley risotto

and a Lefsa (potato pancake) that was wrapped around smoked salmon, cream cheese, and asparagus and placed upon pumpkin puree.  This struck a special cord for D and I as Lefsa is a Scandinavian dish that his Mom prepares every year for Christmas dinner.  D’s family enjoys them buttered and rolled with sugar instead of bread, but now that Chef Feeke has demonstrated other options, we are excited to experiment.

Thin slices of succulent roast pork came next with a red and green pepper couscous and stuffed white baby turnips.

We got to participate in the making of our salads with a demonstration in molecular gastronome.  We observed that when a thick dressing concocted of pureed rhubarb and cherries was plunged into an agar solution, a ball of dressing was formed.  We also dropped a balsamic reduction by eye-droppers into a cold canola oil which produced tiny little balls of dressing.  When both these items were placed on top of mixed greens the tastes were a surprizing delight.

Our final tastes of the evening were a variety of cheeses, petite fours

and luscious cupcakes contributed by another guest-Constance Popp.

The conversation while courses were served was absolutely enlightening but I will save that chapter for another day.

Benjamins gourmet foods on Urbanspoon

Kath’s quote: “Anybody can make you enjoy the first bite of a dish, but only a real chef can make you enjoy the last.”-Francois Minot

Love-that is all.

Santa Anna Pizzeria

November15

As I drove south on St. Mary’s Rd., I saw a number of restaurants that are either new (or new to me) and it occurred to me that we really do stay put in either our residential or workplace neighbourhoods.  I have been to Santa Anna Pizzeria & Bistro previously, but not because I was familiar with it, but as a result of being invited to lunch by a friend.

On this day, I arrived at about half past noon on a Tuesday and the place was hopping, with not an empty seat in the place.  As I surveyed the room, I saw mostly women and only one gentleman.  There was a large group of women in fact, and another assembling in the foyer.

I am ga-ga over seafood pizza, especially in countries where the seafood is freshly caught like Mexico and Italy.  The “Pacific” is topped with shrimp and fresh garlic which works very well together and then celery and sun-dried tomato are added.  The celery provides a fresh crispness and works hard to bring out the delicate flavour of the shrimp but the sun-dried tomatoes were a wee bit overpowering.  Next time I order it (and I will be), I will request that they go easy on the tomatoes.  I know that this will be easily accommodated because there is a list at the bottom of their pizza page with an abundance of fresh and somewhat exotic ingredients, to customize your personal pizza tastes.

The second choice was the “Tropicana” which was a unique twist on a ham and pineapple pizza with the inclusion of pulled pork, bacon, red onion, pineapple and hickory barbeque sauce.  I pulled off the jalapeños but I am sure many palates would enjoy the heat.

The pastas look stellar, even though I have not yet had a chance to sample them.  The black-walled dining room makes you forget that you are in a suburban strip mall.  The kitchen is open to the reception area which means that you can watch the fresh ingredients being assembled and can see the flames of the wood burning oven in the corner.  Service was very cordial and accommodating, in spite of how busy the restaurant was.

Santa Ana Pizzeria and Bistro on Urbanspoon

Kath’s quote: “Salt is the policeman of taste: it keeps the various flavors of a dish in order and restrains the stronger from tyrannizing over the weaker.”
Margaret Visser

Love-that is all.

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