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Top Tables August-September 2016

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Colosseo Ristorante

Neighbourhood: Corydon
Address: 670 Corydon Ave
Phone: 204-284-4977
Entrées: $19-$28

Nothing holds a candle to the basic comfort of a red sauce joint: those classic paragons of Italian cooking which actively encourage eating your weight in veal parmigiana. Of these precious old-school gems that remain in Winnipeg, Colosseo Ristorante reigns supreme.
A staple of Corydon Avenue’s Little Italy since 1973, Colosseo still has its flags flying proudly. A replica of the Fontana di Trevi guards over the door, which opens to reveal wall sconces flickering over bas-relief Roman emperors and murals of the Italian countryside. There remains something unbeatably romantic about hearing the words “house red” and the crooning of Frank Sinatra while swirling a fork through spaghetti.
What graces the plate is, of course, the main attraction. Meaty packages of eggplant rollotini, smothered in pomodoro, hold delicate clouds of ricotta. Pizzas arrive with pomp on silver pedestals, thin crusts giving way to a gooey mess of cheese.
Tender tubes of canneloni and pillowy gnocchi made in house give the feeling that Nonna is working behind the swinging kitchen doors. Other pastas sing with fresh seafood, like a tangle of linguine with mussels, baby clams, shrimp and squid, tossed in tomato sauce that tastes long-simmered but finishes with bright acidity.
A trip to Colosseo is a reminder of what Italian food has been showing us for decades: a full stomach and an empty glass of vino? That’s amore.
Colosseo is open Mon-Thu 11 am-12 am, Fri 11 am-1 am, Sat 12 pm-1 am, Sun 12 pm-12 am.

Da Da Asian Cuisine

Neighbourhood: Corydon
Address: 590 Corydon Ave
Phone: 204-505-7935
Entrées: $10-$15

While the popularity of Korean food has been slowly building for years, few places in Winnipeg serve exclusively Korean specialties. One such spot is Da Da Asian Cuisine, where a compelling argument is made for this cuisine becoming the next big thing.
Less than 30 seats are tucked into the renovated Corydon Avenue house. Décor is sparse but modern, one wall dominated by a line drawing mural.
Those who want to get hot under the collar are in the right place. Tongue-scalding dduk bok ee, a dish of plump rice and fish cakes sliced into noodle-like strips and bathed in a rich red sauce, is a whirl of spicy, funky flavours. A mound of crispy pork belly slices gets added bite from crisp, vinegary cabbage and delicate curls of shaved scallion, tossed in a mouth searing chile paste.
Chefs around the world are continuing a love affair with fermented cabbage condiment kimchi, and here the housemade version delivers with extra tangy vinegar zip, accompanied by sweet bean sprouts and chile-laced potatoes as complementary banchan, side dishes served with each meal.
Beef bulgogi, the poster child of Korean barbecue, is grilled in the kitchen rather than on the tabletop—just as well, as the meltingly thin strips of beef are perfectly seasoned and cooked to tender.
Prices reflect a cuisine that is still underground in its popularity, with the menu boasting some impressive bargains. If the chatter of returning customers is any indication, Korean food is about to go viral.
Da Da is open Mon-Fri 11 am-9:15 pm, Sat & Sun 12 pm-9:15 pm.

DUCKY’S FISH & CHIPS

Neighbourhood: West End
Address: 884 Notre Dame Ave
Phone: 204-772-5600
Entrées: $10-$17

Though far from any body of water, Ducky’s has the feel of seaside dining. This English style fish and chip shop has perfected the art of fish frying.
Blending cozy and kitsch, this 45-seat nook sports trophy fish mounted on wooden plaques and an open kitchen that gives diners a front row seat to cooks dunking fish into hot oil.
Much like the food, the menu is simple. A choice of fish comes with a side of chips, tangy coleslaw and a soft dinner roll. Forget about greasy batter laden pieces of flesh—here, enormous portions of halibut, haddock and cod hide beneath a crunchy exterior that gives way to flaky, tender meat. Firm, slightly sweet halibut is ideal for a generous slather of housemade tartar sauce, while mild and delicate cod falls away at even the merest nudge of a fork.
The menu moves beyond the titular fish and chips with seafood offerings like jumbo shrimp cloaked in batter and buttery scallops on a heaping bed of fries. A Ducky’s meal may be an indulgence, but there’s no need to stop before sampling a decadent and gooey deep fried Mars bar served over a chocolate fudge sundae.
While the fish at this establishment doesn’t come with a walk along a pier or swaddled in the daily paper, bottles of malt vinegar and ketchup are poised at each table for a liberal dousing. Sometimes unfussy, uncomplicated food can be the most transportive meal of all.
Ducky’s is open Mon-Sat 11 am-8 pm.

Gus & Tony’s

Neighbourhood: St. James
Address: 1-2015 Portage Ave
Phone: 204-414-5508
Entrées: $6-$18

It’s easy to feel at home at Gus & Tony’s. At any time of day, the restaurant is buzzing with diners who chat with staff as if at a family function, and while Aegean-blue walls inject some whimsy and wanderlust, the chili-smothered burgers speak to home sweet home.
This spot is equal parts authentic Mediterranean cuisine and ‘Peg diner classics. Liberally stuffed gyros from the Greek side of the menu are filled with juicy shreds of beef or lamb and are best paired with horiatiki, a lettuce-less Greek salad studded with feta and dusted with oregano. Flaky spanakopita spills sharp feta and creamy spinach from between layers of phyllo pastry.
For dinner, opt for platters generously served with fluffy rice, a succulent chicken souvlaki skewer and potatoes blasted with lemon.
Diner favourites include scratch-made brawny burgers and pumped up hot dogs from Winnipeg Old Country Sausage. Those looking to bridge the gap between elegant entrées and messy magic order the full rack of ribs, which arrives on a golden pile of fries, smothered in tangy barbeque sauce and topped, of course, with a light dusting of oregano.
Gus & Tony’s is open Mon-Fri 10:30 a.m–9 pm, Sat & Sun 9 am–9 pm.

Pho Hoang

Neighbourhood: West End
Address: 5-794 Sargent Ave
Phone: 204-415-6893
Entrées: $8.95-$17.95

It’s clear upon entering Pho Hoang that this buzzing West End eatery is all about the broth.
The savoury scent that hangs in the air is courtesy of a beef bone and oxtail stock that has been simmering for 24 to 48 hours. The result, a clear broth of intense depth and meaty flavour, makes the basis for the menu at this noodle house.
Though the origin of pho has been debated, most sources point to Vietnam’s French colonial influence, which brought the art culinaire predilection for meaty broths in contact with the rice noodles of Vietnamese street vendors. Today, the soup is Vietnam’s national dish, served with slices of beef, rice noodles and a bounty of fresh herbs.
At Pho Hoang, bowls are big enough to share, delivered with a heaping side plate of bean sprouts, lime, Thai basil and bird’s eye chiles ready to be added to the mix. Along with 12 variations on pho, the starring broth is the basis for egg noodle soups swimming with smoky barbeque pork or tender seafood.
Though soups may be the main attraction, the rest of the menu holds offerings equally enjoyable. Fresh, crunchy lotus root salad is a mix of the iron-rich root, shredded daikon and carrots, dressed in a pungent fish sauce vinaigrette.
The French connection can be spotted at dessert as well; a bàhn flan (or crème caramel) is eggy and extra sweet, with a buttery smooth texture.
Pho Hoang is open Sun-Mon 11 am-9 pm, Fri-Sat 11 am-10 pm.

Siam Thai

Neighbourhood: St. Vital
Address: 587 St Anne’s Rd
Phone: 204-254-7765
Entrées: $12-$26

Those of us who travel with our tastebuds are always searching for those dishes that come direct from the homeland—what the chef would serve to family and friends, or cook at home. We scour the city for hole-in-the-wall spots; we peer inconspicuously at other tables, to see what those in the know are ordering. Every so often, the dishes we have been searching for are right there on the menu before us.
Of course, Siam Thai carries all the usual suspects, and stellar versions at that. Servers shuttle plates piled with pad thai, fried rice, and coconut milk curries to eager customers.
But the page of chef’s specials at the back of the menu is where the kitchen gets to stretch its wings. “Drunken noodles”, a Thai dish borrowed loosely from Chinese cuisine (with a name of mysterious origin), is a bed of wide, flat rice noodles scattered with slices of bell pepper, beef and flecks of chile. The effect is a slow build, with earthy notes giving way to lingering burn.
Bird’s eye, or Thai chiles, are ubiquitous in Thai cooking, imparting a fiery burst of spice that keeps lips tingling. Here they are cooked into a chile jam, and tossed with a stir fry, the scarlet sauce imparting a fruity sweetness and complex spice.
Authentic tastes appear also on the lengthy dessert selection, like the nutty, custard-like pie made from yellow soy beans, accented with a swirl of warm coconut milk.
Siam Thai is open Mon-Thu 11:30 am-9 pm, Fri 11:30 am-10 pm, Sat 4 pm-10 pm, and Sun 12 pm-9 pm.

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