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.

 

 

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.

Can Con 2015

I had to cancel my plans to travel to Spokane for Sasquan this summer for reasons related to health and health insurance. I cautiously set my sights on Hal-Con for the fall. I’ve always wanted to see Halifax, and there would be lots to do: the Cabot Trail, the Maritime Museum, Halifax Harbour, Theodore Tugboat. However, by the time I felt ready to book, Saturday had sold out. This is probably because the costume ball falls on Halloween, an opportunity not to be missed by Cosplayers. For writing geeks like me, though, it meant I would only be able to attend the Friday and Sunday events, amounting to about half the total schedule. It’s likely that I would have missed some major panels and workshops. Maybe next year.

This year, Ottawa’s Can Con also falls at the end of October, so while I was thinking of Halifax, I was resigned to missing Ottawa. I loved Can Con last year. I pitched my novel to Dragon Moon and Bundoran, did a workshop with Jo Walton, and met a bunch of other writers. So I’m going.

We have enough Air Miles to fly to Ottawa from Winnipeg, and enough RBC Rewards to rent a car. The Sheraton has arranged a splendid room discount for convention guests, so it’s all starting to gel. We’ll start by driving out to Prince Edward County to see some wineries and sceneries. There are also cheese producers, and the whole county is a foodie paradise, with many fine chefs and restaurants. If we’re really lucky, there might still be some fall colours.

We’ll take Dingbat, our quirky but lovable Garmin GPS. He gets left and right mixed up sometimes, and there’s always some excuse: the museum expanded and was relocated across the road; the intersection was redesigned; the official address is on one street, but the parking lot entrance is on the side road. The lovable part is that if it wasn’t for Dingbat, Caroline would be navigating, and heated words might be uttered. I can utter all I want at Dingbat- he neither hears nor cares.

Once we’re back in Ottawa, we’ll return the car. The Sheraton is walking distance to Byward Market, the restaurants of  Elgin Street, and many other attractions. And enough coffee shops to get me a different dark roast every day. I’m starting to get excited.

PVR 6.1

Okay then. We cabbed to the Cathedral and walked to our old haunts from there. Got completely lost for a few blocks; everything has changed so much! Then we found Daquiri Dick’s and things started to look more like we remembered. Andale’s is gone. I wasn’t sure I remembered it from last year; I guess not. Tres Huastecas is still there, and so is Cafe de Olla, although it was closed for Christmas. That let us off the hook in one way. We had hoped to change some money in order to eat there, but all the money exchanges were closed. Probably because the banks were.

So we just walked around for a while. Suites Claudia and the Villa Blanca are still there, and so is the manager from the VB that we remember from twenty five years ago. He manages both of those buildings now, and neither of them is a hotel any more. Both have become condos.

Another of our old hotels, the Las Glorias has taken the name of it’s sister property across the road, so it is now known as the Hotel Suites Emperador, and it seems to have expanded. Restaurant row on Basilio Badillo has seen some changes, but Fredy’s Tucan is still going and I see Roberto’s Puerto Nuevo hasn’t closed after all, it has simply moved across the street from where it used to be. We made no attempt to go inland far enough to see if La Hacienda or Los Arbolitos are still around. I could google them, I suppose, but that’s not the same as walking down memory lane.

Snagged another cab to come back to the hotel. We’ll eat here after all. Caroline’s not really in the mood for pasta, but she’ll just have to suck it up. That’s a spaghetti joke, son. Try not to take everything so seriously.

PVR 6.0

Apparently I cannot count. Today is not day 6, tomorrow is. Oh well, I’m not going to go back and renumber everything now. But part of me wants to!

Down for breakfast early again today, as the staff were just getting set up. Most of them probably had a late night last night, but not one of them showed the slightest sign of having over indulged. Coffee rated an eight on my ten point scale, which I just instituted today.

I cringe whenever I see someone open the glass doors to the restaurant by placing their hand on the glass. The staff spend all day wiping off the prints. No wonder they jump to open the door for you! I am very careful now to only touch the handles. There is a young man on the staff, Marco, who we see everyday cleaning the mirrors in the elevators, and polishing the stainless steel doors. He must have the temperament of a saint. I would go berserk on my first day, and they would never get the bloodstains off.

We both thought it would be a nice day to walk on the beach, as it was cool and would likely be quiet all morning. Caroline quickly decided the sand was uncomfortably cold and chickened out. I set off to walk as far towards town as I could manage, and made it to the south end of the designated turtle hatchery zone. I soon found out it was much warmer to walk at the edge of the surf, where the warm water had taken the night chill off the sand.

I waded through one of the little rivers, and that’s where I stopped to photograph these birds, which I assume are egrets.

Waders

There were sandpipers, too, and pelicans, but they didn’t let me get close.

Got caught by a wave on the way back, and thoroughly splashed to the waist. I did see it coming a few seconds in advance, but was not quick enough to escape, or quick-thinking enough to hurl my smartphone to safety on the dry sand. Luckily, the phone was not affected, but I dared not return it to my saltwater soaked pocket.

Back to the hotel to check in with Caroline and get a change of clothes. Napped until the maid came, then bailed out and went to sit with C at the cabana. Over lunch, we decided we would like to get a proper look at the south side at least once during this trip, so unless the weather turns rainy, we are going to take a cab downtown in the afternoon, walk around a little, and go to the Cafe de Olla for supper. I didn’t think they would be open today, but their website doesn’t say they’re closed, so we’ll go see.

Only a handful of restaurants still remain from our first visits to PV. Pizza Joe’s morphed into an art gallery years ago, Puerto Nuevo came, prospered and went. Cafe Adobe burst onto the scene in a flurry of great reviews but faded away again just as fast. Same with the Argentine place. Last year, we noticed that Tres Huastecas is still going, as were Andale’s and a few others we used to eat at. The Choco-Banana lady turned into a kiosk. Let me rephrase that. The Choco-Banana lady turned her business into a kiosk. Sometimes writing is more fun if you don’t stop to think too hard about the grammar!

More after supper.

Three Dinners in Winnipeg

Still haven’t been on a real road trip, but I spent the weekend in Winnipeg at KeyCon, a convention for fans and creators of Speculative Fiction. If you want to read about how that went for me, head on over to Timothy Gwyn Writes. This blog is about travel, food and wine. Not necessarily in that order.

Friday night, we ate at Deseo Bistro. I just reviewed it here a few weeks ago, so you could just scroll down if you want to know more about this fine restaurant. We picked it for the first night because we know we can trust both the food and the service.

Saturday night, after an exhausting day of stair-climbing at the Radisson (Keycon sprawls over three floors, not counting the hospitality suites) we joined our friend Donna for a dinner at the Deer and Almond in the Exchange District. It’s another tapas style restaurant, with very wide-ranging cuisine influences. I cannot remember everything we tried, but my personal favourite was the scallop dish with an Asian salad. We all enjoyed the mushrooms with Gruyere, and the Salmon tartare was inspired. It would have been impossible to match wine with everything, so we just went with the Argentino Malbec and enjoyed it.

Sunday night is tricky in Winnipeg; a lot of places close. Our first choice was Bonfire Bistro – it was well located (on Corydon) for us to hit on the way out of the city, but it was not open. After texting Donna for a recommendation, we rolled down Corydon almost to Confusion Corner and parked at Mano á Mano. Caroline wanted funky pizza, and in our tired and somewhat cranky state, we almost walked out because the menu reads like pretty standard classic Italian, and that’s not what we were in the mood for. However, with nowhere else to go, we stayed and looked more closely at the menu, and were very glad we did.

I had the Ensalata Misto, a salad of mixed greens with apple and goat cheese, and it was wonderful. We chose two pizzas – they have a wood-fired oven there – and they were both more interesting than the menu might have suggested. The ‘White Pie’ was a primarily mushroom pizza with fennel pesto, and we loved it. The Ham and Pineapple was not to be confused with any kind of chain pizza. It featured Prosciutto for one thing, fresh pineapple that had been marinated in honey something-or-other for another, and hot peppers that were not for the faint of heart. The crust, by the way, was thin, but not insanely thin. We both liked it.

I should also mention that our server was knowledgeable, helpful and patient, as well as efficient. Lastly, someone there has a good eye for visuals. We ate in the lounge, because there was construction noise from a deck-building project affecting the dining room and the management had chosen to close off that area. Oh yeah, the chairs were comfortable. The colour scheme was predominately grey, but the use of texture on the walls was both attractive and easy on the eyes. The salad was beautifully presented, too. You can only do so much with what pizza looks like on a plate.

When I’m doing Trip Advisor reviews, I have a very difficult standard for giving five points: I have to wish we could do the whole meal over again without changing a thing. Think about that for a minute. If I order the wrong thing, even if the chef sweat blood over it, the restaurant loses a point. That’s not entirely fair, but it speaks to how well the menu and the staff out front communicate with me. I give Mano a Mano my full endorsement. We liked it so much, we took another identical salad (dressing on the side) to enjoy at home.

Mini-trip: Winnipeg

We have no big road trips planned, but needed to do a little shopping and have a dinner out. The weather forecast was for snow and rain mixed, so running to Winnipeg and back on the same day seemed like a poor idea. With that in mind, we booked a room at the Hilton and made a mini-vacation of it. We lucked out – the snow never amounted to much. A cold and windy night made me dread my customary hour’s walk in the morning, which I usually do outdoors. Chickened out and took advantage of the hotel’s gym, which is available to guests twenty four hours a day. The pool was closed for maintenance.

As a foodie and travel blogger, I am often asked     I am sometimes asked    somebody asked me once: where do you eat in Winnipeg?

My new answer is Deseo Bistro. I was first taken there by a foodie friend, and have been trying to get back ever since. Struck out when I was in the Peg for the Central Canada Literary Festival – this small restaurant gets pretty busy on a Saturday night. This time around, we were able to get a reservation by taking a table at 5:30, but if we had planned this trip a little further ahead, I’m sure we could have managed a more fashionable hour.

What makes this place cool is their menu format. You can graze your way through a handful of ‘Small Bites’, sharing with your friends, or you can order a salad and an entree from the ‘Big Bites’ side and go your own way. On our first visit, the ladies went tapas style, and I ordered courses.

This time around, we just did a selection of the small bites. My favourite was the mushroom brioche with black garlic and chevre. Caroline really liked the sablefish on golden beet kimchi, and we both enjoyed the duck confit on fettucine with poached egg. That last was a nightly special, by the way, so don’t count on it. I approve of the use of specials to keep the menu from getting stale with regulars. They also have a pretty good wine list, with a good variety of wines available by the glass, including a Gewurtztraminer, which is a fun wine to have with spicy dishes, especially Asian inspired ones.

Gave this place four points on Trip Advisor, and I’ll be back.