Fried green beans with arbol chiles, preserved mustard stems, and ginger along with a gochugaru-spiced popcorn (PCG)

New & Notable: The Merchant Kitchen

There are many things that make The Merchant Kitchen cool.

For starters, it features a massive rooster mural (by local artist Pat Lazo) which overlooks a stately open kitchen, the dining room is filled with purposely worn wooden tables featuring red accents in glassware and chairs, while the crisp white bar beckons you to come enjoy some handmade cocktails.

It also features an airy, unisex bathroom where you could find yourself washing hands in the city’s slickest bathtub-style sink beside a member of the opposite sex (ooh la la).

And if that isn’t enough, The Merchant shares a door with downtown’s hippest new hotel, the Alt, and is mere steps from the MTS Centre, pretty much guaranteeing it to become the hottest new dining and drinking spot downtown.

Every detail in The Merchant Kitchen screams cool (PCG)

Every detail in The Merchant Kitchen screams cool (PCG)

With all that being said, it should also thrive because the menu is lively and eclectic, celebrating the sweet, sour and spicy flavours of the hawker carts and street foods of Asia and Latin America.

The restaurant is by the same folks behind the popular, always consistent Pizzeria Gusto in River Heights — including owner Bobby Mottallo and a group of investors who have been in the works on the space for a number of years — and executive chef Eric Lee.

Head chef Eric Lee and sous chef Sam Broesky (PCG)

Executive chef Eric Lee and sous chef Sam Broesky share a laugh in the open kitchen (PCG)

It just officially opened on Friday (May 8), although a couple hundred people did get a preview of their food at the grand opening party for the Alt two weeks ago, where the canapés received enthusiastic thumbs ups — especially the kimchi lettuce wraps which happily feature on the menu (more on that to come).

The drinks list, crafted by Toronto-based Robin Kaufman — one of Canada’s top bartenders — features jaunty takes on standards which you would normally sip when you are on vacation in hot climates.

Tuna tacos (PCG)

Tuna tacos with charred jalapeño salsa and asian coleslaw (PCG)

The Tokyo Drift ($9), which features watermelon, sake, gin and star anise syrup served in a slender highball glass, is accurately described on the menu as “refreshing and complex, but very crushable,” while their dark and stormy ($10) mixes Chinese five-spice with dark rum, ginger beer and lime. Our favourite was the Margarita Picante ($12), which is sweet, spicy and smoky via some jalapeño-infused agave and a touch of Laphroaig scotch.

For food, we had to start with the Kimchi Lettuce Wraps ($16), which my friend and food writer from Calgary Dan Clapson had aptly described as such at the Alt party:

“It’s sort of hard to describe how good this kimchi and prawn salad wrap was tonight so just picture when Rachael Leigh Cook took off her glasses and let her hair down in She’s All That and we all realized she was actually a beautiful young lady! That moment is this salad wrap.”

Shrimp and kimchi lettuce wraps (PCG)

Shrimp and kimchi lettuce wraps (PCG)

While I can’t really beat that description (elevated lettuce wraps will now always make me think of Freddie Prinze, Jr. films), I should elaborate that the kimchi is pungent and just spicy enough as to not overpower the crispy prawns, while altogether one bite brings big flavours while providing multiple textures. And, unlike Rachael Leigh Cook’s career, these wraps will surely have more staying power (sorry, I had to).

The menu is actually quite large and lends itself to sharing, although you could be selfish (or simply be having lunch by yourself at the bar) and enjoy one of several sandwiches, including the king of all sandwiches, that of course being a Bahn Mi ($15), or a Tokyo Dog ($12) whose ingredients, including kewpie mayo and toasted nori is a sure tip of the hat to Vancouver’s Japadog franchise. They also have soupy bowls like ramen ($14) and tortilla soup ($15) and a selection of sexy sounding salads.

Fried green beans with arbol chiles, preserved mustard stems, and ginger along with a gochugaru-spiced popcorn (PCG)

Fried green beans with arbol chiles, preserved mustard stems, and ginger along with a gochugaru-spiced popcorn (PCG)

We were in a sharing mood so we went with the Dry Fried Green Beans ($12) — which were spicy and crunchy and are just begging to be washed down with a cold beer, and the Thai Style Wings ($14) — which came with a tangy salted mango and mint sauce.

We also ate our way through two of the tacos, with the Carnitas ($10 for 3, featuring queso fresco and pickled red onion) being a real standout, while the Tuna ($15 for 3) also gets points for freshness and vibrancy.

The braised pork shoulder in the carnitas tacos is so juicy and flavourful that I was willing to keep my elbows up, like Charles Barkley pulling down a rebound, to guard my wife from getting to the final taco after we each had one. (We were then informed that you can always add an additional taco to the platter so you both get two, which will come in handy next time around).

Carnitas tacos (PCG)

Carnitas tacos (PCG)

There are also share plates for groups like the Korean Fried Chicken (10 pieces, brined and served with garlic chili sauce and soy syrup for $44) which I will surely be back for soon — perhaps even this week for lunch if some people want to join me.

The Merchant Kitchen is located at 311 Portage Ave (although the door is technically on Donald St., right beside the entrance to the Alt Hotel).

It is open from lunch to late night.


Food truck feasting at The Forks for the summer

The Forks has now joined Broadway as the spot in Winnipeg for street eats.

A fleet of 10 trucks will be rotating through five primetime spots, making curbside dining the latest thing you can find at The Forks.

This comes on the heels of a recent announcement that zesty new food kiosks will soon be found within The Forks Market, a move which will hopefully make Manitoba’s most visited tourist attraction also the city’s casual culinary centre.

Al fresco fry fans at The Forks (PCG)

Al fresco fries fans at The Forks (PCG)

“We really wanted to bring The Forks up a few notches to make it a real unique food destination — and food trucks are part of that wave of interesting food options,” said Chelsea Thomson, manager, marketing and communications for The Forks.

“So as we are refreshing The Forks Market, and bringing in new tenants there, we also want to increase our options outside.”

The ten trucks that will form this include Iggy’s Family Doener, Healthy Eats, Burgers R Us, Little Bones Wings, The Poutine King, Habanero Sombrero Taqueria, The Bannock Factory, Smokin’ Haut, Fired-Up Mobile Wood Fired Pizza and Hot Rod’s, along with the added bonus of Pop Cart, whose multiple gourmet popsicles utilizing flavour combinations of fresh herbs and hand squeezed juices — which are said to be the bomb — will be making regular appearances on the Riverwalk.

The Germain style doener from Iggy's Family Doener (PCG)

The Germain style döner from Iggy’s Family Döner (PCG)

A couple of us from the office brought our appetites to The Forks today, and here are the two standouts:

First and foremost was Iggy’s Family Döner which kind of rocked my world. Iggy (Igor Georgijevic) himself is from Munich and despite being at Bayern fan (PCG is Dortmund all the way! #BVB) seems like a really cool dude. His wife Candace, who is from Manitoba, brought this fellow here three years ago (they are based out of Steinbach) and as of last year they’ve been serving up German-style döner like you’d get after the bar in Deutschland.

Iggy dicing off another delicious döner (PCG)

Iggy dicing off chicken for another delicious döner (PCG)

The crispy-yet-moist chicken cut from the spit was banging, while the accoutrement of a tangy yogurt sauce and cabbage salad, all served inside a toasted flatbread pocket, is now vying with Tot Wheels’ Korean Barbecue number, the carnitas tacos from Habanero Sombrero and the pies from Red Ember and Fired-Up as my favourite meals on wheels in Winnipeg.

Also of note today was the killer El Mexicano poutine from The Poutine King.

The El Mexicano from The poutine king is fit for royalty (PCG)

The El Mexicano from The Poutine King is fit for royalty (PCG)

Just look at this bad boy, nothing too fancy, but right on the money and served fast too (all the trucks had pronounced lineups today and The Poutine King is certainly the fastest). El Mexicano features heaps of taco beef, sour cream, hot sauce, diced tomatoes and green onion — what you’d imagine Tex-Mex fries to feature — but boy I tell you it is one well-executed little ditty. Their fries — not too thick, not too thin, crispy on the outside while still fluffy in the middle — are certainly worthy of their namesake crown too.

With this daily rotation of 10 trucks your tastebuds could be eating around the world, all while in a setting with ample green space for picnicking.

And, based on today’s crowds, it’s a sure bet that The Forks will prove a savoury setting for this fleet of food trucks.

*note: I cannot justify the absurd amount of alliterations in this article, it just sort of happened.


Delicious Winnipeg spots where you can go eat your feelings

Last night’s loss — and indeed all the losses this past week — were tough to take. (Especially all those goals from Kesler, that bum).

While we can be happy to have made the playoffs, being the first team out is no fun, although huge props to all the fans at the MTS centre for the classy Go Jets Go send off.

But despite our never give in attitude, you must admit that there still is a bit of a void today, one that I’m going to recommend you fill with food.

Yes, it’s certainly not the most productive thing to do, but later you can go work out your caloric intact (and your out-of-the-playoff aggression) at the gym.

So without further ado, here’s some of the city’s best places to go eat your feelings:

Turn that frown upside down with one of the best cupcakes you've ever had from Cake-ology (PCG)

Turn that frown upside down with one of the best cupcakes you’ve ever had from Cake-ology (PCG)

Let’s start with some sugar shall we? Our office’s proximity to Cake-ology (85 Arthur Street) has always been a blessing in times you need to indulge. There are a couple ladies in our office who had been assuring me for months that Cake-ology is the spot for anything to do with cakes — especially cupcakes, with a weekly stop there part of their office ritual.

After seeing so many cupcakes come through our office’s doors — and thus, doing some serious sampling myself, I certainly agree because these pillowy, not too sweet and always fresh wonders are about as good as it gets — and I’m not even that into sweets.

For starters, their cupcakes are so moist, while the ratio of cake to icing — icing I might add that is nearly as good as Pavelec’s final run-in of shutouts to clinch the playoff birth (especially their excellent buttercream) — is spot on.

I was even shown a clever way to eat them today (as demonstrated by my co-worker Laura in the heading photo) whereby you turn your Cake-ology cupcake into a cupcake sandwich; a manoeuvre so clever that to execute it is better than scoring a shorthanded goal (which the Jets were so great at right up to the playoffs).

I tell you these cupcakes are so good that you’ll forget Monday’s overtime loss.

Feelings officially half-eaten at Sherbrook Street Delicatessen (PCG)

Feelings officially half-eaten at Sherbrook Street Delicatessen (PCG)

Next, for full on gluttony, BDI (766 Jubilee Avenue) has always been the place to be, with a higher count of ice cream concoctions than we saw for body checks in game one, which we all know was a lot. The standout for volume alone in this ridiculously creamy repertoire is the Sleeping Beauty, with a lineup of two ice cream sundaes topped with cherries and ungodly mounds of whip cream with a cherry on top, all stationed in half a pineapple as a vessel.

You’ll feel like Garth from Wayne’s World, when he was presented with that blue cocktail, when you are served the Sleeping Beauty. Its title is surely a foreshadowing of the food coma it will put you in if you finish. But at least, in said food coma, you’ll be visited by lovely, sugary dreams where Corey Perry’s deft stick handling will fade like unimportant childhood memories.

If sweets aren’t your thing, then nothing says emotional eating like comfort food, which Winnipeg has in abundance. For something new to the scene, I highly recommend the smoked brisket stacked high on City Rye Bread at Sherbrook Street Delicatessen (102 Sherbrook Street) along with all their other Jewish-style comfort food.

The Marion Street Eateries' Mac n' Cheese (Joel Ross)

The Marion Street Eateries’ Mac n’ Cheese (Joel Ross)

Mac n’ cheese will always be a winner, especially when you are feeling a bit like a loser. Our two favourites in the city come courtesy of Marion Street Eatery (393 Marion Street), whose Bothwell aged cheddar sauce with broccoli, bacon and a crunchy pretzel topping is sure to please, while the version at Deseo Bistro (696 Osborne Street) which features smoked paprika, manchego, chorizo and hand-rolled pasta is almost better than Teemu’s rookie year — who, while we’re at it, we should forget was ever a Duck.

We love you Teemu.

But speaking of ducks, a lot of the local media was making it a thing to serve roast during the series, but I must say they were off the mark as there is no point trying to do your own when you could have just headed to either Sun Fortune or Evergreen Restaurant.

Evergreen (331 Pembina Hwy) is a no frills spot that has been specializing in Chinese barbecue for over 30 years. Many a Winnipeger holds their Peking duck as the best in the city and I’m inclined to agree. But I’m also quite partial to Sun Fortune (2077 Pembina Hwy) which for me is one of the best and most authentic Chinese spots in the city.

Barbecued duck from Evergreen Restaurant (Evergreen Restaurant)

Barbecued duck from Evergreen Restaurant (Evergreen Restaurant)

Their duck skin is so crispy and it makes for such a nice bite when you wrap it up in the thin pancakes with scallions and hoisin sauce, which is how the duck is first served. The second serving, featuring lettuce wraps with the tender meat stir-fried in soy, is also quite good. Plus, the large round tables and the bustling atmosphere at Sun Fortune is great for a group (make a reservation) where everyone can share their favourite moment from the season, all while tipping back Tsingtao beer and taking solace in the fact that we may have just lost to the 2015 Stanley Cup Champions.

As a bonus, if you don’t want anyone to see your tears, you can hide them quite well over a steamy bowl of South East Asian soup from Laos Thai (763 Selkirk Ave). I like to opt for the souk gai, a traditional tangy clear Laotian soup that you can order so spicy that it will open your ducts more than the neutral zone during Monday night’s action at the MTS Centre. In fact, all their soups will keep you wanting to come back for more, be it the tom yam, or their untraditional take on Chinese wonton, which my wife is absolutely obsessed with.

Plus the great thing about Laos Thai is the co-owner Somkid Boonthajit is a really nice guy, so if he sees you looking down from the Jets loss he’ll be sure to cheer you up with some excellent Laotian hospitality.

What’s your choice when it comes to eating your feelings?