Top Tables June-July 2016

TopTablesSydneysJJ16

Sydneys At The Forks

Neighbourhood: The Forks
Address: 215-1 Forks Market Rd
Phone: 204-942-6075
Entrées: prix fixe $48

At this point in the fine dining landscape it seems the white tablecloth may be going the way of the dodo bird. The opulent dining out fashions of yesteryear have been upended by a new wave of rabblerousing chefs swapping tableside flames for open kitchens, candlelit tables for communal benches, white china for rough-hewn wooden platters.
While Sydneys at the Forks was never among the old guard, it has led Winnipeg’s fine dining scene and guided our palates for more than a decade. Upon opening in 2004, owner/Executive Chef Michael Schafer’s table d’hôte restaurant was heralded as one of the city’s best places to dine; in 2016, after a recent revamp of the menu, format, and interior, we can safely say: Sydneys remains on top.
The trend toward rustic fare has been smoothly incorporated into the menu, with a selection that blends the mix-and-match spirit of small plates with classic table d’hôte elegance.
Until the recent changes, diners were served a 5 course prix fixe. Now, the meal has been pared down to 3 courses, though decisions remain difficult with 3-6 potential apps, entrées, and desserts from which to choose.
Regulars missing those extra two plates now peruse an hors d’oeuvres menu, a collection of flavourful bites that display chef Michael Robin’s  prowess and playfulness, like the earthy coins of duck encased in a crisp fried crust that parade out under the winking name “McDuckettes”. Plump shrimp flavoured with garlic and chile are another sensational way to whet the appetite, languishing under a ribbon of melon and sliced jalapeños. These finger foods are available in the restaurant’s lounge, as well, for those try-before-you-buy types not ready to commit to 3 courses.
Diving into a full meal is easy, especially once presented with a plate of beets caramelized to complex depth by the char of a grill. A bright pesto-like spinach puree and a scattering of feta and candied walnut highlight the veggie’s sweet notes. Alternatively, a silky coral pool of lobster bisque amps up the indulgence. A bite sized croque monsieur topped with golden caviar completes the dish.
While hors d’oeuvres and appies give the kitchen leeway to play with wild flavours, quality ingredients and technical know-how shine in the entrée selection. Perfectly executed steak in a savoury jus is a prime example, as is the seafood ratatouille, a delectable twist on ‘peasant food’. Delicate fresh clams, pike, and lobster meld with spiced chickpeas and carrots in a smooth broth singing with floral notes of white wine.
Midday meals retain complex flavour and curated ingredients, but in applications decidedly down to earth. Comfort food cravings are welcomed, though you may find your burger smeared with foie gras.
The restaurant’s recent renos have seen servers trade starched white for mismatched business casual, while the previously understated walls now pop with bright hues. Local ceramics give a rustic touch to the kitchen’s pristine plating.
While the restaurant has made modern updates, there is perhaps no more classic end to a meal than tapping a spoon through perfectly glassy crème brûlée – a joy that even the most fad-focused diner will appreciate.
Sydneys At The Forks is open for lunch Tue-Fri 11:30 am-2 pm, for dinner Mon-Sat 5 pm-12 am.

Buffalo Stone Cafe

Neighbourhood: Fort Whyte
Address: 1961 McCreary Rd
Phone: 204-989-8370
Entrées: $8-$14

Surrounded by towering trees, grassy fields and a serene lake, the view from Buffalo Stone Café in FortWhyte Alive is easy on the eyes.
A 30-minute drive from downtown Winnipeg leads adventurers to a breakfast and lunch only spot housed in 600-acre nature preserve and recreation centre FortWhyte Alive. Prairie wilderness, trails, nature exhibits and activities like canoeing and kayaking await.
On sunny days, tableside windows score a view of a shimmering lake. Tables decorated with potted plants and bright blooms bring the outdoors in.
The casual counter service makes it easy and quick to fuel up for a day of exploring. Start with self-serve soups, like earthy lentil and beet. Bright carrots swimming in clear broth add vibrance.
Nods to the region are abundant on the veggie and bison heavy menu. Elements of the prairie are reflected in the dishes that chefs Erica Reimer and Kelly Andreas craft with purpose and care. Diversity Food Services, the organization responsible for dishing out nutritious and sustainable food at the University of Winnipeg, now shows its commitment to sourcing local and organic here, with produce grown on FortWhyte Farms.
The menu features all day breakfast favourites like eggs, toast and bacon. Cake lovers will enjoy banana bread French toast. This twist on a breakfast classic hides thickly sliced pieces of banana bread underneath a generous dollop of whipped cream, melting into a drizzle of berry compote.
Lunch time fare is light and nutritious, with a selection of wraps, sammies, and salads. Open-faced pulled pork on focaccia is tangy and crisp, with strands of pork smothered in bbq sauce and topped with tart green apples. The spring salad has greens cloaked in a strawberry  honey poppy seed vinaigrette.
The savoury bison burger is cut with sharp Swiss cheese. Sliced mushrooms, caramelized onion and tomato that cling to melted cheese in between soft buns.
The crispy chicken bbq burger combines lightly seasoned chicken tenders tossed in bbq sauce, and lettuce to make one well-balanced burger. Caramelized onions add sweetness and tie it all together.
Buffalo Stone Café is open Mon-Fri 9 am-4:30 pm, Sat, Sun & holidays 10 am-4:30 pm

CAFE 22

Neighbourhood: Corydon
Address: 823 Corydon Ave.
Phone: 204-222-2222
Entrées: $7.5-$18

A combination of pizzeria, hip bistro, and cocktail bar, Café 22 fulfils a variety of culinary yearnings on the vibrant Corydon Ave drag. This revamped resto serves fast-casual fare, while upping the ante on atmosphere.
Stemming from local delivery stalwart Pizza Hotline, Café 22 offers a sit down experience for favourite cheesy pizzas, pillowy breadsticks and hearty salads, along with stone fired pizzas.
Don’t be fooled by the wallet-friendly prices; the sleek décor and chic bar scream date night. Charcoal-coloured brick walls add industrial flair, and a living wall of plants freshens up the otherwise dark room with greenery. While the renos have doubled the square footage, bar side tables are packed so close, it feels like one large party, buzzing with chatter.
This watering hole is a summertime hotspot, with locals flocking post work and pre events to grab a seat and people watch. If you want a table outside, be sure to arrive early (around 5 pm), especially on sun dappled days when patio time is prime.
Start with well-loved “build your own” pizzas and calzones, which allow diners to customize meals and get creative with veggies, meats and finishes.
The calzone is a puffed up wonder with savoury sweet San Marzano sauce, caramelized onions, prosciutto and roasted red peppers swaddled in chewy dough. The meal gets extra saucy with a choice of bbq, ranch or honey glaze. Other finishing options like garlic herb oil add subtle heat without being overbearing.
New stone fired pizzas add considerable punch to the roster. Hand stretched dough baked in a stone oven results in a charred base, crisp edges and chewy center. One standout from the menu of eight pizzas is a hearty pie loaded with Italian sausage, Genoa salami, and fresh basil. A roasted vegetable option shows off a cheesy web of fior de latte mozzarella, tangled with tender artichoke hearts, red peppers and garlic herb oil.
Take out favourites like baked wings are smothered with a choice of sauces and rubs. Veer away from the usual suspects and opt for the smoked applewood rub, packed with piquant paprika flavour, or the mildly sweet roasted garlic and pepper rub. Wild condiments are also at play on a trio of sliders smeared in chili mayo sauce and topped with caramelized onions.
To help balance out the carb and meat-centric menu, bowls of greens range from feta-happy Greek salad to a crisp classic Caesar.
The chicken mista salad is a portion large enough for two, dressed in herb oil, and topped with a healthy serving of grilled chicken.
Cafe 22 is open Sun-Thu 11 am-
12:30 am, Fri & Sat 11 am-2:30 am

mon ami louis

Neighbourhood: St Boniface
Address: 50 Provencher Blvd
Phone: 204-938-2226
Entrées: $16-$26

Winnipeg would be nothing without its rivers. Built around the convergence of the Red and Assiniboine, this place has relied on these waters for trade long before it became a city – and was christened, incidentally, with the Cree word for “Muddy Waters”, a reference to the silt-touched Red River. The significance of these streams makes dining over the river a uniquely Winnipeg experience.
Set to deliver this experience is Mon Ami Louis, found at the midpoint of the Esplanade Riel walking bridge, which after taking a winter hiatus has reopened for its second summer.
Smart, pared down décor rightly defers diners’ attentions to the curved wall of windows overlooking the Red River and its treed banks. Snag a window seat to watch waterfowl and water buses alike skimming over the surface of the water.
Of course, the view is good near the kitchen too, as a semi open design allows diners to peek in on chef Luc Jean working his magic. With an impressive pedigree including years at the helm of acclaimed St Boniface spot Resto Gare and as an instructor at local Red River College’s culinary institute, the chef has ensured status as a dining destination with a strong menu built on the French classics for which St Boniface is known.
Bistro bites like rich French onion soup bubbling under a coat of Gruyere are deeply satisfying. The menu extends, however, with plethora of dishes that explore lesser known culinary regions where French is lingua franca.
Pizza-like tartes flambés recreate a peasant dish from the Alsace region of France, which began as a bread used to test the heat of wood fired ovens before baking. Mon Ami Louis’ versions sport airy, crisp crusts and a bounty of toppings, from the traditional cream sauce and smoked ham to a Mediterranean veggie option loaded with bittersweet artichoke hearts, tomatoes, and goat cheese.
Specialties from our home turf include poutine on housemade fries rendered extra crispy and deeply savoury from a fryer supplied with duck fat. A pot pie swaps chicken for duck, recalling tortière with earthy, rich flavour. Enclosed in flaky puff pastry, the dish is neatly accented with strips of roasted parsnips and polka-dotted with green peas. The final flourish is a generous pool of maple gravy, which starts out savoury on the palate before leading to a heady, sweet finish.
The setting is ideal for long meals, and repeat rounds of wine, while the sunset paints the sky pink. Finish with a little fun and splurge on a “hot chocolate crêpe”, a gooey mess of marshmallow and warm chocolate oozing out of its folds.
Mon Ami Louis is open Sun-Thu 11:30 am-10 pm, Fri-Sat 11:30 am-11 pm.

 

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