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.