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.