Monday, August 16, 2010

Marcello's Market & Deli - 360 Portage Avenue

Marcello's Market & Deli has opened a location in the new Manitoba Hydro building, at the corner of Portage Avenue and Carlton Street.

Although I had privately decided to skip reviewing chain restaurants in this particular blog, I did want to throw down a quick recommendation for Marcello's, as the chain is brand new to Winnipeg as of the opening of this location, and because good restaurants of any stripe on Portage Avenue, right downtown, are a rare breed.

A friend and I enjoyed a quick lunch stop at Marcello's, and quickly vowed to return. The cafeteria-style restaurant boasts a deli which features sandwiches (both ready-made and to-order,) pizza, salads, and some breakfast items. There is also a bakery, every prepackaged beverage on the planet (or so it seemed as I desperately tried to choose between Orangina, Pellegrino, or an Arizona iced tea,) and an expansive buffet.

The buffet is a sight to behold, as it offers multiple options for vegans, vegetarians, meat-lovers, and the perennially picky, from numerous popular international cuisines. You've got pasta, stir fry, shepherd's pie, roast chicken, oven fries, rice, fruit salad, sautéed vegetables, tabouleh, kefta, every soup under the rainbow... You name it, and you can probably find it hot and ready at Marcello's. By my quick survey, there are adequate vegetarian and vegan options for those so inclined. For gluten-free options beyond salad, you'll want to check on that one.

I settled on a salad of lettuce and marinated Mediterranean vegetables, and the butternut squash ravioli with bechamel sauce. The ravioli was tasty, but the bechamel was bland and forgettable. My salad was delicious, and did not need dressing beyond the marinade on the peppers, red onions, olives, and tomatoes.

My lunch companion enjoyed a similar salad, plus some cottage cheese and hard-boiled eggs, and had a small square of the lasagna as well. She raved! The lasagna passed her litmus test, which is no easy feat.

All told, my lunch was $7.50 including my drink, which in my opinion is quite reasonable for a speedy, delicious, healthy downtown lunch. Marcello's prices by the weight of your plate, which is a help to those of us trying to make healthier choices. If you choose to go heavy on the veggies and light on the meat and starches, you're not only eating a more balanced meal, you're also spending less. Not even a dedicated junk food devotee can say no to that shit.

The restaurant is ideally located for the downtown lunch crowd, and the place was busy (but not inconveniently so) when we arrived. I hope the workers in the Manitoba Hydro building and adjacent buildings connected via the skywalk system will provide enough business to keep Marcello's busy during the winter when downtown becomes a windy, frigid ghost town.

Four ketchup-smeared biodegradable potato paper plates out of five.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tasty Québec Eats

In July, I spent five days in lovely Québec City with my family. The culinary pickings in Québec are lush, especially in the neighbourhoods of Vieux-Québec and the Lower Town, where we spent the majority of our time. We stayed close to Rue Saint Louis, which is lined with delightful little restaurants crammed into centuries-old townhouses. I've managed to scrape together a few recommendations, should you find yourself in this part of la belle province in the near future.

L'Entrecôte Saint-Jean, 1080 Rue Saint-Jean: Located on the bustling Rue Saint-Jean, L'Entrecôte was the only restaurant we could find which was still serving food at 10 PM on a Sunday night, and the only one with available tables. Once we had been seated at our table (complete with a white linen tablecloth) in the gorgeous (and oh-so-Parisian!) dining room, I had a sense that they were pushing closing time back for our benefit. I started with a beer, a pint of Belle Guelle Blanc on the recommendation of one of my cousins, and I could not have been more satisfied. I'm no beer connoisseur (beer drinker, yes,) but it was a light, almost fruity beer that was extremely drinkable. I then went with the croque-monsieur for dinner, and I have no regrets with respect to this choice. It was incredible. Every element of the dish was in perfect tune, and an exquisitely flavoured and perfectly satisfying sandwich was the result. Very tasty matchstick fries and a side salad rounded out the plate. A tad on the pricey side, but most of the food in Québec tends towards expensive anyway (by the measure of a Winnipeg girl, mind you,) so be prepared. Our friendly, attentive server was kindly indulgent of our mediocre French, and at the end of the evening, our entire party was satisfied. It was the perfect meal to introduce us to the charms of Québec.

Café Bistro L'Omelette, 66 Rue Saint-Louis: We ended up having both breakfast and dinner at this restaurant, and my recommendation goes to the breakfast. Dinner was fine, but nothing to write home about. I had croque-monsieur and poutine, and I've definitely had better of both elsewhere. Breakfast, on the other hand, was fantastic. I had the Québec breakfast platter, which consisted of eggs, bacon, toast, breakfast potatoes, fèves au lard (baked beans,) and tourtière, a classic of French-Canadiana. L'Omelette's tourtière is a thing of beauty - tender pieces of slow-cooked stewing beef in a rich, dark gravy, baked in a tender, flavourful pastry crust. My portion was reasonable, but I am not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that I could happily have eaten the entire pie. L'Omelette definitely wins on portion size, family-friendliness, tourist-friendliness, location, and budget eats. If you're taking the kids to Québec, you will want to visit this restaurant more than once. Staff are extremely tolerant of English speakers, especially if you make even the clumsiest effort of attempting some French.

Bistrot Pape Georges, 88 Rue du Cul-de-Sac:

A cozy bistro in the heart of Quartier Petit-Champlain, this gem specializes in wine, cheese, and local beer. We stopped here for lunch on their patio, and I'm very glad we did. I had two glasses of fruity, refreshing sangria, and a baguette with goat cheese (see above - the menu said goat cheese but I wondered if it was perhaps goat brie, because it had the flavour of goat cheese but the creamy texture and appearance of brie,) apples, carmelised pearl onions, and the fattest, tastiest green olive I think I've ever eaten. It was served with taco chips and a light dip similar to a good tzatziki sauce. The staff was fun and engaging, and we ended up chatting with several other tables of hungry travellers. The location and atmosphere are unbeatable. If you like wine, beer, or cheese, and you don't hate freedom and rainbows and puppies, you must stop here.

That was my all too brief trip to Québec. I cannot recommend it enough, and I badly want to go back. There are so many restaurants, bistros, cafés, pubs, bars, and pâtisseries left to explore! So much eating and drinking to do, and so little time.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

St. Norbert Farmers' Market - 3514 Pembina Hwy, St. Norbert

First, apologies for the radio silence. I have been trying to eat out a little less in anticipation of my upcoming summer holidays, which include a trip to Québec City and a drive home through Ontario, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota.

In lieu of a review, here's a picture of some of the tasty offerings which can be found this summer at St. Norbert Farmers' Market, just south of Winnipeg. Delicious! Make the trip if you can. It's mad busy but a lot of fun. Great people and great food.

Slightly off-point, but I feel compelled to mention also that I was there today and sampled a few of Bon Vivant's fabulous and locally-made sauces, and ended up taking home a bottle of Caribbean. I'm tragically without a barbecue, but I can't wait to use it on some baked chicken wings or something. Pick one of their sauces up; they're all wonderful! If you can't make it out to St. Norbert to sample yourself silly, their website provides a list of retailers in Winnipeg & environs which carry their sauces.

I'll post again once I've eaten my way through Québec City.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Elephant and Castle Pub - 350 St. Mary Avenue

Thursday, June 17th - Drinks & Appetizers

I've become a regular at the Elephant & Castle over the last several years, and sometimes I wonder why. It's such a mixed bag, every damn time. First, the pros:

  • Friendly service. They recognize regulars and have a couple of very attentive servers.

  • Some of the lunch and dinner entrées are really good. The traditional pub items and the Jameson's Chicken are particularly enjoyable. Great comfort food on a cool day.

  • Good selection of beer.

Now, the cons:

  • Service at lunch is sloooooow. If you only have an hour for lunch, avoid it altogether. This is aggravating to find in a downtown eatery surrounded by office buildings. Almost everyone who comes in between 12 and 2 on a weekday has an hour for lunch. Know your customers and get your shit together.

  • The drinks are horrendously overpriced. Don't bother with the seasonal featured cocktails - some of them are quite nice, but they are way too expensive. $8 for a martini? Fuck you, this is Winnipeg.

  • Some of the appetizers are a rip-off. An appetizer order of spring rolls, for instance, consists of a few average spring rolls cut in half, with a totally unremarkable dipping sauce that is, I gather, supposed to be sweet chili. For $6.50.

It's frustrating. The place has a lot going for it - great location, cozy atmosphere, some really tasty food. But every time I go, I just end up pissed off because I spent too much money and I don't feel like it was worth it.

This particular evening, I had two featured cocktails, two lime margaritas on the rocks, and shared an appetizer sampler of spring rolls, fish bites, and bruschetta with my companion, E. My bill, taxes and tip included, was $50.64. I was hungry when I got home, so I made toast. I crunched that toast with annoyance, dear readers.

All in all, the Elephant and Castle is woefully inconsistent. If they could iron out a few of the kinks, I wouldn't even mind the high prices. Alas.

Two sticky beer coasters out of five.

Spicy Noodle House - 102-99 Osborne Street

Wednesday, June 16th - Dinner

After spending Happy Hour sunning ourselves in the park (read: being eaten alive by mosquitoes the instant the sun went behind some clouds) my roommate C and her sister A and I decided it was a perfect night to order Chinese and veg out in front of the TV with season 1 of The Riches.

The usual rigamarole of choosing a reasonable number of entrées ensued. We wrung our hands, gnashed our teeth, etc. and eventually agreed on the following: honey garlic chicken, moo shi pork with hoisin sauce & moo shi pancakes, dry breaded veal, honey spicy chicken, chicken chow mein, chicken fried rice, and spring rolls.

Spicy Noodle House is on the steep side for Chinese delivery, but the quality is there, and you know how it is - you start by going "We'll each choose one entrée, and then we'll add one more to make sure we have enough!" and before you know it, things have snowballed and your order is eighty-four thousand items long. "Whatever," you say to yourself or perhaps to your significant other/roommate/cat, "at least there will be leftovers!" Oh, the choices I have justified by rationalising that there will be leftovers.

Everything I've had from Spicy Noodle House has been delicious (and I've heard that dining in the restaurant is a treat) but I think my favourites so far are the moo shi pork and the honey spicy chicken. They're featured players in my food dreams. (Aside: other people have food dreams, right? Yes? No?)

The best part about the moo shi pork are the thin, delicate pancakes, all the tasty sprouts and meat, and the rich hoisin. So everything, basically. The honey spicy chicken is exactly what it sounds like - breaded chicken pieces served with a sweet, sticky sauce with a bit of gentle heat. Delicious!

The bill for the three of us, including taxes, tip & delivery charge, was about $80.00. Pricey pricey. But... leftovers. Right?

Four and a half moo shi pancakes out of five.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

East India Company Pub & Eatery - 349 York Avenue

Monday, June 14th - Lunch

I have to cop to my bias right off the top - I love East India Company, and have since I was 17 and a friend kindly introduced me to this wonderful Winnipeg mainstay. If you're unfamiliar with Indian food and you're curious, East India Company's buffet is the ideal newbie experience for you. It's a virtually risk-free way to acquaint yourself with some Indian classics which, unless you are dead inside or something, will soon become beloved favourites.

My work friends and I eat there more regularly than is best for our chequing accounts, but of the restaurants within lunching distance of our workplace, it's our favourite. My friend J has Celiac disease, which severely limits her options when it comes to dining out, and East India Company is one of the few restaurants in the neighbourhood which provides reliably gluten-free dishes.

Lucky for us, East India Company also provides food and service of the highest quality, and an atmosphere so welcoming that you feel as though you've been invited into the home of a friend. Go to the restaurant more than once and the Mehras, the lovely family who have owned and operated East India Company for over 30 years, will remember you and treat you like a close friend.

On this particular Monday afternoon, the three of us arrived in the midst of the lunch rush and were seated immediately. We ordered our drinks, and L and I elected to split a cheese naan. East India Company offers a selection of naan bread to go with your meal - plain, garlic, or cheese. I recommend all three, but the cheese is my favourite. The naan is made to order and comes to your table piping hot and so tender and flavourful that I am salivating as I type this. Hand to God.

All three of us predictably selected the lunch buffet. The lunch buffet's offerings are fewer than the dinner buffet, but all the essentials are present.

I loaded my plate down with basmati rice (fragrant and cooked to steaming perfection!) then added one of my favourite dishes at East India Company, the chana masala. Chana masala is chickpeas cooked in a sauce of onions, chiles, and classic Indian spices like turmeric and coriander. The chana masala at East India Company has a nice dark sauce, and is saucier in general than the chana masala offered by other restaurants.

Moving down the line, I added a couple pakora (crispy spinach and onion fritters) and samosas. These samosas aren't just dough pockets crammed with curried potatoes and peas, like some places offer. East India Company's samosas are small, and rich on the cumin and cilantro. The filling is cooked just right - no mushy potatoes and peas all over the place.

On to the entrées: I piled my plate high with aloo gobhi (potatoes and cauliflower flavoured with turmeric and curry) and murg bahar (or murg bakhani; better known in North America as butter chicken.) Their aloo gobhi is fabulous, and I don't think I even need to touch on the butter chicken. It's legendary. Best in Winnipeg, without question. End of story.

The thing I love best about East India Company is that each of their dishes is a little bit different every time I go, but they are always fantastic. It's like your mom or your grandma's best stew recipe. It's not identical every time, but it's always hers, and it's always so good. It proves that the food at East India Company is made by thinking, feeling people who put their heart into what they create. That is an approach to food that I can always get behind.

My bill came to $25.39 including taxes & tip. Like I said - not a budget lunch by a long shot. But if you're going to splurge, splurge here. It's worthwhile.

Five cardamom seeds out of five.