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.

 

 

Road Trip Wrap-Up

The last days of our trip were hectic, and I didn’t get a chance to write about them.

In Kelowna for one night, we didn’t have time to do anything fancy about dining out. We walked to Cactus Club Cafe. I don’t usually write up chain restaurants, because we’re more into finding the unusual or at least the individual. However, I will say that after visiting the franchise wasteland that is Federal Way, Washington, the restaurant scene in Kelowna was a breath of fresh air, even in the mass-market vicinity of the airport. The Cactus Club was comfortable and the food was quite good. The ceviche was nice; refreshing and delicate. I made one last attempt to have salmon on this trip, but they had just run out. I had the Ahi Tuna Club instead, and enjoyed it even though I ordered it without bacon. Caroline ordered the fish tacos. They were large, and she could only eat one. For wine we ordered something called Feenie Goes Haywire. It’s an odd blend of white grapes conceived by the company chef, but quite enjoyable.

Tuesday we slept in a bit, and the hotel’s breakfast buffet was packed. We drove to Cora’s, because you can get fresh fruit there, and we were craving.

Went for a walk, packed up and drove to the airport for our afternoon departure to Winnipeg. Car return was a snap. Check-in was fine. Once again, my suitcase weighed exactly fifty pounds. Robert J. Sawyer, this is your fault: I must not buy hardcovers for you to autograph when I have to fly. If I hadn’t ditched some toiletries, I’d have been paying an overweight baggage premium because of Quantum Night.

Security was lined up, and I managed to get myself singled out for an X-ray. They spotted something at my right hip, which was a loonie I had overlooked when emptying my pockets, and something in my left armpit area. I believe that was my stents. They don’t show on a metal scan, because titanium is not a ferrous metal. An X-ray, however, could detect them. Total Recall, anyone?

Airport food. Num. Boarding began early, but went on and on. I suspect some of the last to arrive were delayed by the long lines at security.

Jonathan was waiting for us in Winnipeg, so that was easy. He and Caroline went for pizza after dropping me off at my critique group for the monthly meeting. Yay, no late-night drive or work the next morning!

Drove to Kenora Wednesday, arriving home shortly after noon.

I’m going to sneak in one more book recommendation here. I mentioned Arabella of Mars the other day, and I actually read the whole thing while we were in Portland, which is home to the author, David D. Levine. He, however, was off at WorldCon, signing autographs and receiving much love for his book. I thoroughly enjoyed this Young Adult Spec Fic tale that mashes up Age of Sail, Clockwork, and Martians. You might want to check it out.

I’ll be back to work next week, and then next month we’ll be taking a long weekend to visit Ottawa for Can*Con 2016. I’ll be moderating a panel about exciting new books in different sub-genres, and I should be on the schedule for a reading, too. With the release of Avians less than a year away, I’ll be on the hunt for book reviewers that lean towards YA and SF.

 

Dinner Debriefing: Subterra

We decided to make a side-trip to an old favourite for dinner. Subterra is in Newberg, almost an hour away from our hotel near the Portland airport. We ate there some years ago and liked it.

It’s still good: you get fancy food at very reasonable prices. The restaurant is in a lower level; you could call it a cellar or a basement. You aren’t paying for the view, and it felt naturally cool.

Soup and salad are included, and there were two soups on offer. We hedged our bets by choosing different ones. Caroline thought the chilled tomato basil gazpacho might be acidic, so she ordered the black bean soup, and I took the tomato. It was very refreshing, and not acid at all. We traded soups half-way through; you can dress us up, but you can’t take us anywhere. We both liked the salad.

We were in the mood for seafood, so we ordered the potato-scaled halibut (Caroline) and the scallops (Tim). We’re red wine with turkey people, but for fish we like a big white. We chose the L’Ecole 41 Chardonnay. It’s not the kind of wine I’d usually put in an icer, but there’s a heat wave, so we did. Both dishes were tasty and interesting. My scallops came with a crab-stuffed tomato and risotto. Caroline immediately began reverse engineering the halibut’s thin shell of crispy potato slices. Her pinot infused mashed potatoes were a surprising dark colour, but a delicious change from the usual.

Caroline ordered a trifle: fresh local blueberries and strawberries, cream and a little layer of delicate cake. I helped her finish it.

The only negative was the coffee. Dreaming of the dark roast I got in Hope, BC, I ordered a large French Press to finish the meal. I found it weak, watery and uninteresting, and I only drank one mouthful.

Bill was very reasonable, in the same range as a nice lunch. The restaurant prides itself on the wait staff and the service lived up to that expectation. The food was sublime. Last time we were here, we said we’d go back. We did, and we’d go back again. That’s my highest praise.

Dinner Debriefing: The Buzz and Aroma Meze

Okay. Frantic rush to catch up on all the restaurants we ate at while we were in Ottawa.

I’m going to dash off a few words about the lobby lounge in the Ottawa Sheraton. I never noticed the name, but it was pretty decent. I had a perfectly good steak sandwich, Caroline remembers a very generous amount of chicken on a Cobb salad. I had lunch there another day, and the seafood club was also good. Points for Diet Coke in a glass bottle. Service varied.

Saturday. The Buzz, on Bank Street,is one of our favourite restaurants here. We ate there twice during our 2014 visit, and twice this year, too. I don’t know how to give you a clearer impression of how much we like the place than that.

We started with Calamari, which was on the pale side, but dusted with interesting spices. We ordered American wines by the glass, because I had a party to go to at my convention. We didn’t order any of the week’s specials, so you can find our starters and entrees on the menu. Caroline had the Lamb Shank, and I chose the Beef Short Ribs on Gnocchi. We were both very happy, and shared a Peach & Blueberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream that was the feature dessert.

On Sunday, we felt like something different, so we went to Aroma Meze on Nepean Street. Meze is the Greek version of tapas. You order lots of little plates, rather than two or three courses. They recommend six. If there are two in your party, you get two of each thing. If there are three of you, you get three, and so on. Unlike the rather random order we’ve sometimes experienced at tapas bars, they came out as follows: the pita and spicy dip; then the two garden dishes: the stuffed portobello mushrooms, the hot casserole of tomatoes and feta. Then the two seafood dishes: the calamari and the shrimp and black cod thing. Then the two meat selections: beef tenderloin with ginger and pulled lamb tacos.

Overall, this was an excellent meal. We ordered a bottle of Columbia Crest H3 Merlot (short for Horse Heaven Hills), which is an old friend from Washington state. It’s lovely and smooth, by the way. The vegetable dishes were good, the seafood dishes were a tad oily, (we shouldn’t have picked two fried things), and the red meat items were divine. It’s not often that Caroline raves about beef, and she said she’d be dreaming of the lamb tacos, which were like sopes. For dessert, we ordered two different desserts, rather than a matched pair. She had the chocolate explosion, I had the vanilla panna cotta. And the best decaf ever. Why does everyone not have a dark roast decaf? I demand that the universe be changed immediately! It was Kimbo, if you want to try it.

Monday for lunch, Caroline felt like returning to The Manx Pub on Elgin. She had eaten there a day or two earlier, while I was at Can-Con. But not on Cat Day, which might have been Karmic. It’s in a cellar, and it looks a little old, but the food was good and they are, “TV free since ’93.” Bravo. Today’s lentil soup was nice, and my pulled pork wrap was a delight. Caroline had the bean and cheese quesadilla, also very good, which came with a tomatillo dipping sauce. Interesting pub fare.

Monday evening, we went back to the Buzz. On Mondays (and Tuesdays, I think) you can bring your own wine and pay $5 corkage. We bought too much wine in Prince Edward County, in the sense that we have airline baggage limits. Our suitcases are feeling pretty heavy. So we took a Black Prince Cabernet Franc Reserve (2013). This is one of the weirdest wines I have ever tasted. We were enthralled at the winery by its date aroma. That’s right, it reminds me of sticky toffee pudding made with dates, or flake style pipe tobacco. It might appeal to Barolo or Zinfandel fans. It went beautifully with our meals.

We ordered off the regular menu again. We split a goat cheese salad, and asked them to hold the bacon. I’m allergic to one (artificial) smoke flavouring, and while I don’t actually encounter it often, it tenses me up to eat smoky foods. Mine was great. Caroline, who likes her dressing applied with a light hand, actually got the plate with more, so we could have traded if we had figured it out. She wanted the duck confit and it was just right.(not at all salty, Agrarian). I went with the six ounce filet mignon in a bourbon sauce. Num. We both chose the polenta sticks for the side, and they were splendid- crispy with parmesan. Caroline revisited the peach & blueberry cobbler, and I had coffee. Regular, not decaf, and very nice.

Dinner Debriefing: Maxwell’s

On the way to dinner, we were cheerfully jaywalking at a quiet corner with no traffic when I noticed the girl on the other side of the street change her mind and stand still. Too late to stop, I asked her. “Is there a cop car right behind me?” She nodded, but nothing happened.

We strolled down Elgin Street, refreshing our memories of where we ate last year and browsing menus from the sidewalk. We picked Maxwell’s, for it’s location close to our hotel, and half price on bottles of wine on Thursdays. We ordered a California red called The Show. We didn’t finish it, but we drank more than half. Win!

House salad to start. Large and fresh, with good ingredients, but either the house dressing was weak, or the leaves were wet when it went on. Not a lot of flavour. We shared a Max Combo pizza: pepperoni, mushroom, red onion and green pepper. It was good, with a nice thin crust. If we were at home, we would have put it on a hot stone to keep it crisp while we ate. When we asked about pepper flakes, we got not only the typical shaker, but also a bottle of oil infused with pepper flakes, and I enjoyed that.

Secret memo to self: take one of those to my next food fight. It would be like a Molotov cocktail of pepper spray. Bwahaha.

With the half-price wine, our bill was very reasonable. I was happy about that, because now that we’re in Ottawa, this is my half of the vacation, and I’ll be picking up the tab.

Dinner Debriefing: Agrarian

We found a parking spot on the street just steps away from Agrarian. It was a wet and windy night, so that was fortunate.

The wine list isn’t long, but does feature some local wines as well as a few international ones. After ruling out wines that we already tried on this trip, we chose a bottle of Cabernet Franc from Grange of Prince Edward Vineyards and Estate Winery. There was also a Gamay from the same winery, but our server seemed to think the Franc would go better with the duck.

Our dinner started well. Caroline was still in the mood for greens, and began with the house salad. I was feeling the cold, and ordered the soup, which was a corn chowder today. It was very nice, and I was offered bread and butter with it, slices from a nice fresh baguette.

I was tempted by the tuna dish, but it sounded like something more suited to a summer day, so we both chose the duck confit with plums. Both of us found it uncomfortably salty. I ate most of mine before deciding to stop, which put our server in an awkward position. She offered to get me something else, but I didn’t want to eat another whole meal. Dessert would have meant violating my sugar guidelines as well as my salt ones. There was a cheese tray, but it was a mild cheddar, a water buffalo cheese and a blue. I’ve never acquired a taste for blue cheese, and my first exposure to water buffalo cheese this afternoon didn’t leave me craving more. At this point, I realized I was probably coming across as the customer from hell, and we decided to retreat before we made life any more miserable for the folks there.

They were kind enough to reduce the bill on my dinner, and we were able to take the leftover wine home with us. (In Ontario, a restaurant must have a special clause on their liquor licence to allow this.)

All in all, Agrarian didn’t really work out all that well for us tonight. Your mileage may vary- I’ve grown accustomed to a low-sodium diet, and if you don’t mind the occasional dish that has some salt, you might like the duck just fine, or you could order something else.