Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Simply the best beer I have tasted in years - Isaacs On The Quay

The Ipswich waterfront area is still developing (and I'm not sure it will be finished in my lifetime!) but I felt today, having arrived in the UK this week from Canada, I should make my first visit to explore it. I discovered Isaacs On The Quay and enjoyed the best tasting beer I have experienced in many years!

Isaacs is based in one of the heritage buildings on the edge of the marina, where parts of the building can be dated back as early as the 15th century to the late 18th century. It is a vast rabbit warren of bars and rooms, with several of the door frames so old and low they tried to knock me unconscious. I sat in the Merchant Bar, the main area (although once the weather warms up the outside is home to a vast patio area, with its own bar and BBQ area).

The menu is a mix of classic English pub food (scampi and chips, cod and chips, fish cakes etc) and some interesting variations (spicy mexican bean wrap) one of which I decided to try - the mushroom tart. It was a blend of wild mushrooms in a thyme cream sauce (a large fist full of mushrooms - an extremely generous portion) in a filo tart, with buttered new potatoes and rocket salad. Cost was £8.25. Now the beer!

Isaacs is also home to the Briarbank Brewing Company. My hostess suggested I try one of their beers. I obviously still had my Canadian deer-in-the-headlights look about me so she poured me three samples to try. What customer service! The best two were Briar Bitter and Spice The Main Brace. I opted for the Briar Bitter - a traditional English bitter, light copper in colour and blended with a mix of worcestershire hops. It was wonderful - the food, although first class, was a side show to this excellent pint of beer.

A great experience, the focus is on customer service, great beer, well cooked food - and no sports television in sight!

Isaacs On The Quay on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Chew - It's New and Fabulous!

Chew is a relatively new establishment, situated in the old pizza location in the small strip mall off Corydon and Waterloo. It is small - maximum seating is about 26 but tastefully decorated and not pretentious. Perfect for an informal dinner. My beautiful wife (BW) and I went for our first visit last Friday for dinner.

Reservations are strongly recommended - when I telephoned a week in advance only one slot was available for the Friday and nothing for the Saturday. During our visit several couples arrived hoping to 'walk-in' but were sadly disappointed. Chew looks to turnaround each table within two hours - not unreasonable.

Now the food! Fabulous is the best word to start with. We started with black truffle and mushroom pierogi served with creme fraiche and scallion. The portion size was very large - six large pierogis! But so beautifully cooked and presented - the truffle and the creme fraiche added an amazing dimension. My BW enjoyed crispy pork belly with beet cubes, citrus fig mostarda and pea shoots. The only criticism here again would be the size of the portion - about what one would expect for a main course!
The Pork Belly

The Pierogi

We both moved onto grilled bison petite tender, with bone marrow butter, russian blue chips and a superb parsnip puree. It was cooked to perfection. The bison was priced very reasonably at $25, but all side dishes cost extra. We were offered truffle fries at $7 (our servers' recommendation), pork french fries $6, jody's potatoes $6(there is a theme here about starch!) and braised cabbage $6. We selected the truffle fries and the cabbage. We were a party of 5 people and the cabbage was sufficient for 5 people! The fries served 4 - they were delicious. So, two main courses and two sides came to $63, which keeps the price point of Chew compatible with our other favourite local Fusion Grill.
The Bison (with the fries and cabbage)

I risked desert, although my BW was full and content at this stage. An excellent chocolate pudding - so decadent. My tasty Espresso was served decaffeinated - a welcome touch as it was now 9:30 pm.
The amazing chocolate pudding

Finally a word about the service. Our reservation was for 7:30 pm, and although we arrived at 7:29 pm we were not seated until 7:40 pm (they had not prepared our table for 5 and had to merge two tables together and then lay the table). Our order was taken at 8 pm, but just for the first course - it arrives within ten minutes! Then, after we had completed our first course the server asked us which main course (if any) we wanted. An interesting twist on the usual format for ordering everything 'up front'. The main course came within 15 minutes of ordering. All very efficient, unobtrusive and friendly.

As we prepared to leave our server presented us with hand wrapped home made pear and cinnamon muffins. My BW, being gluten intolerant, had to decline. Within a few minutes the server returned and presented her with a hand wrapped gift of sponge toffee - a nice touch.

A delightful evening, excellent food, great wine selection, intimate surroundings and efficient service. All this a 10 minute walk from my house! Who could ask for more? 

Chew on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 19, 2013

Mona Lisa Restorante - A wonderful luncheon patio experience

Mona Lisa Restorante is at 1697 Corydon Avenue, Winnipeg - a perfect location for my beautiful wife (BW) and I as it is only a 10 minute walk from our home (so no need to drive!). On a ridiculously hot 30°C day recently we walked up to the restaurant to have a look at the renovations that have been going on and also to enjoy a luncheon on their new spacious patio. It was first class!

This was our first lunchtime visit to Mona Lisa, all our previous visits have been in the evening where we have become great fans of the mezzo/mezzo - Italian flavours married with the traditional Japanese art of sushi. We took our place at the table under a very generous sized umbrella on the tastefully furnished spacious patio at 12 o'clock. Although the lunchtime menu looked very tempting we asked if the mezzo-mezzo was going to be available, but our waitress explained that the chef who specializes in it only works in the evenings. But, in an act of superb customer service, she went off to the kitchen to see if anybody else would be able to prepare the sushi. She came back sometime later to say the manager would do his best. We were delighted, and it's that kind of customer service that will bring us back again.

So we did a bit of a mix-and-match, as Mona Lisa has a superb lunchtime menu where salads, soups, Paninis, and Frittatas are all sold for just $5 each. There is a choice of 3 different sizes of pizza as well. Mona Lisa has also become a gluten-free establishment offering gluten-free pizzas and pasta, with my BW as gluten intolerant this is another reason to head back there!

We ordered the Misto Italiano, a generous size portion of Italian meats, olives and cheese. The meat was fresh, generous slices, and a great mixture of mild to medium heat. We also ordered the Bocconcini and Tomato Salad, an interesting variation on the traditional caprese salad, with larger pieces of tomato. It was superb. Our mezo/mezo comprised of 2 different types. The first was the il paisano roll which included thin slices of mortadella and calabrese salami, gorgonzola and roasted pine nuts. Our second roll was the tre colori roll which had more bocconcini cheese, red onion, prosciutto, tomato, basil, lemon and formagini. The mezo/mezo lacked the finesse in completion, but considering it had been by a non-expert, it was more than satisfactory.
Bocconcini e Pomodoro


Misto Italiano

It was a lot of food for lunchtime! As a result we sat contentedly under our umbrella for nearly 2 hours. We were never rushed by the staff, which as a result seemed to leave some questions over the speed of service if we had been in a hurry. We arrived at 12 o'clock, but our breadbasket did not arrive to 12:45 PM, a very long wait for some food as we had been sipping a half a litre of white wine in the heat over that period! We also found with the heat, the delay in the food arriving (it was 1 o'clock before we were served) and the saltiness and richness of the food our half litre of Soave Pasquale had to be replaced with another half a litre!

Apart from the occasional minor earthquake and ground shaking when a bus or large truck roared by us I can think of few better patio locations to enjoy lunch in Winnipeg on a hot sunny day than Mona Lisa.

Mona Lisa Ristorante Italiano on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Tourtiere - the perfect luncheon at Prairie Ink Restaurant

For my beautiful wife (BW) and I a perfect luncheon contains modest sized portions (at an equally modest price!), original quality menu items, a good glass of wine, speed of service and of course gluten-free options (for the BW). Finding somewhere to meet these standards, particularly the 'original quality menu items' is always a challenge. We went to Prairie Ink for luncheon on Tuesday and were not disappointed. It ticked all the boxes!

Prairie Ink is a bistro style restaurant housed within the independent bookstore McNally Robinson, based at 1120 Grant Avenue Winnipeg. Opened in 1996 Prairie Ink has become established as a very popular venue for everything from breakfasts, brunches, lunch, tea and dinner.

For my main I selected the Tourtiere, the traditional French-Canadian spiced meat pie. It was made with puff pastry - all baking at Prairie Ink is made in-house by resident bakers. The pastry was superb, the Toutiere size a perfect one portion. It was served with a side house salad (spring mix, julienned carrots, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, house apple poppy seed dressing) - $11.

My BW choose the Prairie Ink Grilled Cheese, a wonderful variation on the classic dish, containing Brie, Cheddar, Goat Cheese, avocado puree, tomato, a shave of red onion, bacon and of course gluten-free bread - $10. To accompany our meal we were served a very pleasant Chilean Sauvignon Blanc (Errazuriz), $7 for a 6oz glass.

What more can I say? An un-rushed atmosphere, time to linger over coffee, superb quality food, a pleasant glass of wine, and a cost of less than $50. We will definitely return for further lunches.

Prairie Ink Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Tre Visi - Great Food (just ignore the decor and indifferent service)

When my beautiful wife (BW) and I dine out we are looking for three aspects to successfully combine to give us the perfect experience - the three are the decor, the service and the food/drink. We dined last evening at Tre Visi 173 McDermot Avenue Winnipeg where only one of those three worked, yet we still (rarely when then happens) had an enjoyable experience.

Tre Visi promotes itself as having the warmth, taste and atmosphere of an Italian home, in a trendy, casual style of a New York Bistro, whilst serving classic Italian, Mediterranean cuisine. Based in the old Exchange District of Winnipeg, it is certainly in a New York style environment. However, once inside Tre Visi it is like stepping back into a 1970s North American basement version of a Mediterranean bar - old dark wood, strange stucco walls and just a little tired and sad. That said, the tables were a generous size with excellent white linen cloths and napkins. In the bathroom there was no coat hook - where am I supposed to hang my jacket? Overall the first area - the decor - did not work.

What about the service? After being shown to our tables we were left alone for a while and not offered a cocktail or drink. Our server returned and explained the 'specials' and then left us again for twenty minutes. After that shaky start our first course came promptly - our server delivered it full of enthusiasm! Fun. Our main course however was delivered by another server (the manager of the dining room), who put the plates in front of us and left without a word or a smile - very surly. My main course was on a plate with a large one inch rim. The rim was covered all around with slimy finger and thumb prints - it clearly had not been wiped down in the kitchen. It was disgusting to look at and it was challenging to stop my eyes being drawn to it whilst eating.

After our main course we were not offered desert and the server continued to think we were leaving quickly to go the Theatre (despite asking us and being told we were not). We were asked if we wanted coffee, which we accepted. But when our bills came the coffee had been missed off the bill and we had to send the bill back. So, our second area of service, suffered from a combination of lack of attention to detail and indifferent staff.

Now, the food. It was wonderful. My BW and I shared the Mitili Profumati ($14) - PEI mussels in garlic butter and white wine. Stunning. For the main course my BW selected the Capelli Gabriele ($19), Bow pasta with shrimp and scallops in a saffron cream with roasted red peppers. This is one of the six pasta dishes Tre Visi serves as a Gluten Free option, one of the main reasons we dined there because my BW is Gluten intolerant. But we had to pay a $3.50 surcharge for the Gluten Free pasta. Why? A whole bag of this GF pasta only costs $3.50 at the supermarket (and the corn pasta served to my BW was from a packet, not made fresh). A bread basket was brought to the table - as we continue to find with restaurants promoting their GF credentials Tre Visi did not have the imagination to offer my BW some GF bread.

I thoroughly enjoyed my Vitello Boscaiola, veal with mushrooms and Marsala wine. It was served with perfectly cooked carrots, zucchini, potatoes. The veal was the ideal one eighth of an inch thick and just melted in my mouth. The sauce was beautiful.
My veal - and even the greasy thumb prints show on the photograph!

The meal ended on a funny note. My espresso came on two saucers stacked on top of each other, with a paper doily between. So pretentious, so 1970s, so unnecessary. Its saving grace came in its taste - one of the best espressos I have tasted outside Italy.

The food was so good (as was the wine we selected - Santa Cristina Toscana 2010 - if you ignored being charged $31 for a $11 retail bottle of wine) it was easy to overlook the sadness of the decor, the mediocre service and poor attention to detail. A rare feat. Finally, our bill, before tax and service was only $82.50 - really good value.

Tre Visi on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Wines Under $15 - Montepulciano D'Abruzzo

Armed with my Vinturi aerator I am on a mission to find enjoyable quality wines for under $15. My first recommendation is Citra Montepulciano D'Abruzzo.

I must confess to being very hesitant at first. The Citra Montepulciano comes in a one litre bottle and sells for only $8.95 (before tax). I have never found a truly enjoyable wine for that price. I was wrong! We tested the 2011.

It has an intense red colour, very dark in fact. You can detect some red fruits in the aroma and taste, in addition to some spices (although I could not narrow down the precise ones). It was full bodied and smooth. It is a perfect accompaniment to pasta, cheese and pizza.

The Montepulciano grape is grown in south eastern Italy's Abruzzi region, along the Adriatic coast. It carries the Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) which certifies it meets the standards required and is one of the most widely exported DOC wines in Italy. As a wine it should be consumed whilst relatively young.

Straight from the bottle the wine was best described as 'rough'. However, we poured it through the aerator and the smoothness came through immediately. Later I found that if I left the aerated wine in the wine glass for 15 minutes before consuming it the smoothness increased even further, as did the red fruit flavours.

As an everyday 'house wine' Citra Montepulciano D'Abruzzo will be hard to beat for value for money and flavour.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Kawaii Crepe - A very filling lunch

Kawaii Crepe is located at #201 99 Osborne Street Winnipeg. My BW and I decided to try luncheon there on a Saturday, having heard they offer an excellent Gluten-Free crepe. We arrived just after 1 pm and found the place very busy, but with a constant flow of people coming and going. Although it looked full I was able to secure a table for two immediately as someone was leaving - the staff came within a minute to wipe down the table top. Very efficient.

Kawaii Crepe styles itself as "An original Japanese creperie". They hand craft customized crepes (both sweet and savoury). A bright white decor, with a very colourful mural along one wall, is supplemented by bright red vinyl benches and white tables. The tables seat two people comfortably, but can be moved to form a larger configuration for bigger groups.

The system is very easy - the list of sweet and savoury crepes is wall mounted, one makes a selection and then moves to the cash desk to place the order. You pay, and receive your receipt with a unique number, which is then called out when your order is ready. Most orders seem to take about 10 minutes.

We choose the Gluten Free crepes (both crepes cost $7.50 each, plus $1 for the Gluten-Free option). My BW selected the 'Uptown', seasoned chicken, avocado and house made citrus chipotle mayo. I chose the 'Big Feast', slow-braised pulled pork with a mustard vinaigrette coleslaw and housemade BBQ sauce. I am delighted that Kawaii Crepe take the concept of Gluten-Free extremely seriously - they clean down the plate before cooking, to ensure no cross contamination. The downside of course is a longer wait for one's crepe. We waited 20 minutes.

However, it was worth the wait! The crepes come in a plastic mount, so the initial tricky part of the first bites can be managed more easily. I tore off the higher edges and ate them until I was able to take a mouthful of the contents. The nature of the rolled crepe meant that the real core of the crepe is where the intensity of the flavours were found. It was a little messy (the crepe was packed with food) but the mustard vinaigrette and BBQ sauce left an intensity in my mouth - I continued to enjoy the flavour for over an hour after the meal (in a pleasant way)!

I should also mention the lemonade - one serving was sufficient for the two of us. The acidity and flavour proved a perfect accompanient to the intensity of the crepe fillings.

A wonderful experience, 40 minutes from start to finish, bright, colourful, happy, busy, $19.95 before tax, and very filling food (we could not face our dinner until 7:30 pm!). A real bright spot in the Osborne Village.

Kawaii Crepe on Urbanspoon