Dinner Debriefing: Café Dario

I’m cheating a little in calling this a dinner debriefing, because we actually went for lunch at Café Dario in Winnipeg.

But I’m not cheating very much, because the lunch menu is built on the entrees from the dinner menu anyway. The main difference is that while dinner is a five-course meal, the lunch menu features an entrée plate accompanied by bread and soup. The menu changes fairly often, and reservations are required for dinner.

We heard about this restaurant from a friend of a friend, but it has received lots of good reviews, and has exceptionally good write-ups at Trip Advisor. The chef is from Colombia, so there are lots of interesting South American influences on the cuisine.

The day we were there, the soup was a butternut squash. It was very tasty, with a little spice, but I’m not sure quite what it was. Ancho chile? We saw lots of things we liked on the menu. Caroline chose the Chicken Breast stuffed with guava pulled pork, which came with a Romesco sauce. She had a glass of wine with it, but I cannot remember which one, and I don’t see the wine list on the website. I think it was a Malbec, because South America.

 

I was torn between the Beef tenderloin grilled and topped with Argentinean chimichurri sauce or the Pepper crusted rack of lamb with a red pepper mango puree. The server mentioned that the beef is one of their top sellers, so I ordered that, and a glass of Dos Equis Amber. I’m all about amber ales lately, especially now that the weather is turning cool. I love the toffee notes and the lack of hops.

 

I cut into my steak before taking this picture, and also moved a beet, which left a pink smear on the plate. In fairness to the kitchen’s beautiful presentation, I airbrushed the lower right corner of this photo to remove the stain.

The steak was wonderfully tender, and both of our dishes were delicious: zesty without being overtly spicy. As you might expect from a restaurant with Colombian roots, the coffee was exceptional.

The service was good, and the bill was remarkably modest. Café Dario is located at the corner of Erin and Wellington, which is not too far from many of the airport hotels. We’ll be back.

Dinner Debriefing: Three dinners and a breakfast in Ottawa.

We flew to Ottawa for Can-Con, a convention about speculative fiction in Canada. That means we spent some time apart. Meals were the centerpiece of our time together.

Friday we returned to a place we knew we liked: Play Food and Wine. We made a reservation this time.

This is a small plate restaurant, much like a tapas bar. The food is superb, starting with the sourdough bread and butter. Although we ordered a variety of dishes, we chose a bottle of Pinot Noir because this wine can be very versatile. There was a fine selection of wines by the glass, if you prefer to match more thoughtfully. Here’s the menu we ordered from. We chose the salmon tartare, the gnocchi, the trout and the hangar steak. If we were disappointed by the gnocchi, it was only because there were so few compared to the accompanying vegetables. The other dishes, we would order again in a heartbeat. The tasty hangar steak is one of their top sellers, by the way. We finished with a selection of cheeses, choosing three of the harder ones. Service was excellent.

Saturday we started with breakfast at Wilf & Ada’s, another repeat visit from last year. We knew to arrive three minutes before they unlocked the door, as this small restaurant fills up minutes after they open. Caroline had the eggs in purgatory, a skillet of eggs poached in a hot sauce. I had the blackstone, a variation on eggs benny with locally sourced bacon and the addition of fresh ripe tomato slices. Food here is locally sourced and they cook nearly everything from scratch. You can tell.

Saturday evening we wanted to see how the renovations in the Novotel’s Albion Rooms turned out. Last year, this was a small alcove of butcher-block tables tucked away behind the lobby bar. The food was good, and they’ve expanded beautifully. As I write this, the website doesn’t yet show the larger, more gracious room. You’ll have to take my word for it that there are paneled walls, sconce lighted art and graceful clusters of curved banquettes as well as tables with chairs. This sample menu is close to the one we ordered from, but not identical. For instance, Caroline’s Mariposa Duck included both breast and confit. My main course was a Lamb Curry that came in a deep dish with sauce and lentils. Caroline’s starter was the Blueberry Lavender Gravlax from the Charcuterie section of the menu, while mine was a Trout Crudo that does not appear on the sample menu at all. It was crispy on the outside, delicate in the middle. Caroline rated her duck dish among the best she’s had. I liked my lamb curry well enough, but wouldn’t choose it again. We had the James Mitchell Cabernet from Lodi, California. No dessert as I wanted to get back to the conference.

Sunday we branched out and ate somewhere completely new to us: Sur Lie. With the conference over, we had plenty of time to linger over a dinner of modern French cuisine. There were a lot of interesting choices, and we peppered our server with questions. In keeping with my run on seafood starters, I ordered the salmon crudo, while Caroline went with the rabbit loin. We ended up half trading with each other. I found the salmon rather overpowered by the beet preparation. Caroline loves beets, and thought it was wonderful. We both thought the flaky little rabbit rounds were amazing. Caroline ordered the perfect halibut dish:20171015_175856

I tried it, and it tasted every  bit as good as it looks. I thought about having the scallops, but I wanted to do a wine flight that ended with a red, so I chose the beef tenderloin instead.20171015_175921

I wasn’t disappointed. The duck fat fingerling potatoes were lovely.

As to the wine, Caroline paired the Casa Dea wines from nearby Prince Edward County: Pinot Noir with the rabbit and Chardonnay with the halibut. She much preferred the red, which recently won an award. The Chardonnay was flinty, which I like, but she doesn’t. She was hoping for a bigger, leggier wine. I chose a flight of four 2oz. glasses. Sur Lie offers several different flights, and I went with the Big & Bold one because I liked the idea of starting with Gewurztraminer and finishing with Cabernet Sauvignon. Also, I got to try wines I would hesitate to buy a whole bottle of: a French Cabernet Franc, a Portuguese red blend, and a South African Cabernet Sauvignon. I enjoyed each of them, but I think the variety added to the fun. Our server was very knowledgeable.

We splurged on dessert, both ordering carrot cake even though there were some other tempting options. It’s a good thing we ordered two, there would have been a vicious fork-fight over one, because it was delightful.

Dinner Debriefing: Sous Sol

Sous Sol is tucked away in a basement in Winnipeg’s Osborne Village. There’s barely a sign. I’d say you have to be hip to eat there, but then I’d have to explain how I snuck in.

The menu is small, and changes often, so I don’t know how long that link will work. The ambiance is candlelit. The art is consciously trashy, which pairs well with the dim light. The chinaware is ornate, but mismatched, as if it were bought at yard sales. The food is divine.

Caroline and I joined our friend Donna, our Winnipeg guide to out-of-the-way bistros.

I started with the French cheese selection: a sharp goat cheese, an unpasteurized Trappist and a bleu, with an apricot compote, a tomato coulis and crostini. I let the ladies eat the bleu in exchange for a sample of the Fennel Salad they shared.

Caroline had the pork tenderloin, paired with the mushroom ragout. The pork was perfect. I chose the beef noisette with king oyster mushrooms and Calvados barbecue sauce. I also teamed it with the mushroom ragout. Donna had the crab croquettes with remoulade, poached egg and caviar. Technically, that’s a side dish, but it was as generous as the entrees. She got an order of sweet potato gnocchi for sharing. Everything was excellent.

Donna ordered the wine, the Chateau de Gaudou Malbec Merlot. It was too dark to see the colour, and I draw the line at turning on my smartphone’s flashlight to check it out when other people are trying to enjoy a meal. It tasted rich and dark, and we enjoyed it.

Caroline and Donna shared the last slice of a chocolate cheesecake, but I don’t remember the details.

Would I go back? Yes, definitely. In fact, this was our second visit.

 

 

Dinner Debriefing: Inferno’s on Academy

We were in Winnipeg for the weekend: I was going to KeyCon, a convention with writerly stuff, and Caroline was planning to go plant shopping. We hooked up for dinner each day.

Inferno’s in St. Boniface is one of our favourite Winnipeg restaurants, but with our hotel near the airport, and my convention downtown, there wasn’t time to venture so far. Inferno’s on Academy offers a similar menu, with much less driving, making it possible for us to eat, drop Caroline off back at the hotel, and still get me downtown in time for the opening ceremonies at 7:00.

We went at around 5:00, so there was no need to worry about noise or a busy kitchen. The food was tasty: we had wonderful calamari, and I sipped a Bulldog beer, while Caroline had a glass of house Chardonnay. We made it a seafood theme, Caroline chose mussels and frites, I went with the arctic char with gruyere. Both were good, and Caroline got her frites extra crispy, as she asked.

Highlight of the evening was Caroline’s dessert, a chocolate fantasy that swept her away.

I don’t do ratings, I only say whether I would return. Yes I would. I still prefer the original Inferno’s Bistro location, because I like the ambiance a little more, and find the servers more knowledgeable and a smidge more attentive. But if I was in the neighbourhood, I’d happily go to Inferno’s on Academy again.

 

 

Drive: Portland

No need to travel today, so we took a scenic drive and visited a winery we know.

Plan A was to visit Multnomah Falls, but the signs were not auspicious. The digital signs on the interstate, that is. They were advising the overflow parking lot and shuttle at 11:00 this morning. Weekend, hot, holiday.

When we dithered over the time required to shuttle both ways with half-hour waits, a helpful park staffer recommended taking the old Columbia River Highway and visiting some of the other, less popular waterfalls. We did. It was lovely.

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We caught up to bumper to bumper traffic at the Multnomah Falls area. Cars were parked all over the shoulder, and police were towing those that infringed on the white line at the side of the road. There were lots of these, as the shoulders are narrow, rocky and steeply sloped. We ate sandwiches in the traffic jam while we waited for the tow-truck to haul one off.

Then up the Columbia River to to cross the toll-bridge at Hood River, to pay a quick but pleasant visit to the Jacob Williams winery. For a change, we came back towards Portland on the Washington side of the river, and crossed back at Bridge of the Gods. Love the name.

Returned for a second dinner at Bistro 23. We perplexed the staff by eating on the patio despite the heat. At least we didn’t have to worry about the pizza getting cold.

Tomorrow, back to Seattle.

Dinner Debriefing: Bistro 23

Our plans to wine and dine in the vibrant restaurant scene of Portland hit a road block. Our hotel is near the airport, and getting downtown takes more time or money than we expected. By train, it’s around forty minutes, and the trains are running slowly now because of the heat. (warping rails?) A taxi will set you back $40 each way. Driving is fraught with one-way streets and scant parking.

We decided to look for a nice place to eat near our hotel. It’s not easy to find good restaurants in the outlying areas, but we’ve managed it before. Hay J’s is hidden in an unassuming strip mall in Liberty Lake. Broken Plate is in a prettier strip mall in Calgary.

We succeeded. Bistro 23 is a fifteen minute walk from our hotel and yes, it’s in a strip mall. I had some qualms about that distance because of the heat, but we were able to walk on the shady side of the street. We navigate using Google Maps on one of  our smart phones, and I’m sure we look like we’re Pokémon hunting. We strolled right past Leatherman’s headquarters; I felt like I should make an offering or something.

Bistro 23 combines bistro cuisine with cafeteria service. You order at the till and prepay. We sat on the patio, and they brought the food to us. Bonus points for heavy three-legged tables that do not wobble. Patio restaurants everywhere, take notice!

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In the foreground, my caprese salad with burrata and two kinds of tomatoes. Nice. Pig in the Woods pizza at the right, thin crust with ham, mushrooms and fresh arugula. Very good. Caroline’s peach salad across the table. Amazing.

The restaurant offers a handful of local craft beers and a modest selection of wines by the glass or bottle. I had a lager, Caroline a Pinot Gris with salad and a Cabernet/Merlot with pizza.

If you want more drinks, you run back inside, which is why Caroline is not in this photo. That sounds inconvenient, but it also means you don’t have to try and catch a server’s eye. They ask you to clear your own table. Since you’ve prepaid, you can just do that and leave when you’re done: I quite liked that. We’ll do a fancy dinner tomorrow somehow, and then we’ll be back at Bistro 23 on Saturday. Affordable.

Dinner Debriefing: Pimiento

The Pimiento Bistro & Bar is a simple fifteen minute drive from our hotel in Federal Way and it gets good write-ups on Trip Advisor. Once a month, they do a tapas night with a fixed series of apps and a matched wine flight. Tonight was that night, but we ordered from the menu.

We shared an excellent calamari. Tender, and accompanied by some breaded jalapeno rings. Caroline thought it was one of the best ever, I rate it neck and neck with Broken Plate from Calgary.

I loved my house salad, but Caroline thought her salad with burrata cheese would have the really runny kind, and it was more like a fresh mozzarella.

Both my lamb and Caroline’s duck were tender, but we didn’t think they were exciting. We figure they were cooked medium, and we’d prefer a little less than that. Perhaps the kitchen was unusually busy with the tapas thing.

It was a nice touch that the waiter spoke about each wine he brought as part of the tapas sequence, but we did get tired of hearing the same spiel delivered to three neighboring tables with each course. We stuck with the Sonoma Merlot.

One thing was fun: Blanca Rodriguez, the executive chef, spends time out front with the diners. I liked that, because some chefs never see past the end of their noses. Blanca’s interacting, thinking about your tastes and helping you find the best choice from her menu.

I might go again, but the seating is not in Pimienta’s favour: you must choose between a hard wooden chair or a flat wooden bench.