Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 12.20.55 PM

New & Notable: DT Urban Kitchen+Oyster Bar

If you don’t like sitting at a bar top watching someone shuck oysters, eating excellent seafood, and sipping away on a chill white wine or beer, well this article might not be for you.

Actually, maybe you should read on anyway, because even though shellfish and seafood are the big draw at the brand new DT Urban Kitchen+Oyster Bar (grand opening is this evening), they also have a selection of dishes from the land.

DT UK+OB (not the official shortened version, but sounds snazzy doesn’t it?) is the latest concept from WOW! Hospitality — and it’s a real keeper. Located in the space that formerly housed Lobby on York, then 295 York (which is the address, obviously), the space has been redesigned and made a bit more casual with a pièce de résistance raw bar that will be helmed by executive chef Jesse Friesen (pictured at top).

a sampling of the chilled snow crab, cucumber gazpacho, fish roe, shaved coconut (PCG)

A sampling of the chilled snow crab, cucumber gazpacho, fish roe, shaved coconut (PCG)

Friesen can cook, something I was made immediately aware of last year as one of the judges at the Winnipeg leg of Gold Medal Plates. He took silver (only losing out by 3 percentage points to Norm Pastorin who is competing at the Canadian Culinary Championships right now) with a stellar cured Bay of Fundy scallop dish with chili oil, a fried oyster and whitefish caviar. The dish took you from the middle of the continent and brought you oceanside; it was super clean, highlighting the natural flavour of the shellfish while having it play with elements of spice, sweetness and acidity.

The reason I bring up that dish is it’s indicative of the exclusive raw bar menu that Friesen has created that you can only get by sitting at one of 26 seats (which is sectioned off from the rest of the restaurant and lounge).

Case in point is a dish of chilled snow crab claws ($22, sample size portion pictured above – i.e. we already ate some claws) where crab is merely brushed with butter before being placed on a bed of cucumber gazpacho with some jalapeño, coconut and fish roe.

It’s a very light and bright dish where the crab isn’t fussed with, but rather paired harmoniously with flavours of heat/sour/sweet. The texture of the nearly ice-cold cucumber gazpacho is almost like a gelato while the colour — which is accented by being served on a glass plate that allows under-lighting from the translucent bar (a feature on all the raw bar plates) — is pretty groovy.

Cajun Hot Pot - $25 (PCG)

Cajun Hot Pot – $25 (PCG)

Another standout is the Cajun Hot Pot, which is also made before your eyes at the oyster bar (there are two induction burners on the bar while twin TV screens above the show what the chefs are making below). It’s a peppery medley of lobster, prawns and mussels in a broth of wine, fennel, tarragon and “spicy bayou butter sauce” that you’ll want to put your face right into during these winter months.

For raw selections, there are seasonal oysters from the east and west coast at $3 each, or 3 for $8, while there is also a yellowfin tuna crudo ($18) that utilizes Old Sour for a briny acid component, along with crispy plantains for texture and more thinly sliced jalapeño for kick.

Beef carpaccio (PCG)

Beef carpaccio (PCG)

There’s also a daily tartar feature (m.p.), a prawn cocktail ($22) — the prawns poached until just firm then studded with bits of pickled celery accompanied by a house-preserved horseradish, and a beef carpaccio ($16) that is livened with chili relish and served with cornbread croutons, cilantro, and peppery daikon sprouts.

The very savoury “Big Moe’s oysters Rockafella” lives up to its gluttonous title by featuring smoked gouda, cubes of pork belly, creamed arugula and breadcrumbs that gets cooked in small oven right on the bar.

The raw bar chefs are casually dressed, simply sporting an apron and flannel shirt that WOW! Hospitality president and CEO Doug Stephen joked it would take some time getting used to. He also jested that since chef Friesen took the helm on this project, if it were to flounder Friesen would be on the hook (my words; because you all love a pun).

Albacore tuna tartare on a potato chip (PCG)

Albacore tuna tartare on a potato chip (PCG)

But judging by everyone’s reactions last night to the excellent food and fun raw bar atmosphere, I’d wager that these two dozen or so seats are going to become some of the most coveted ones downtown — especially right after work or before/after any sort of event at the MTS Centre or RBC Convention Centre.

There’s a full menu too that you can find here that services the whole restaurant. It includes a gluten-free section featuring a bar snack I loved — that being Canadian albacore tuna tartare with avocado, spicy mayo, tobiko and cilantro severed on a potato chip. I would eat a hundred of these after a Jets game and wash it all down with a cold beer.

DT Urban Kitchen+Oyster Bar is located at 295 York.
The oyster bar is open Monday to Thursday, 5 p.m. – 11 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to midnight or later. You can reserve seats at the bar by calling 204.896.7275 (which is highly recommended).
The dining room is open 11 a.m. – 11 p.m., Monday to Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11 p.m. to midnight. 

Bartender Alex Weiss mixing it up (PCG)

Blind Tiger is burning bright with great booze and refined food on South Osborne

Blind Tiger, the coffee shop by day, whose hidden door reveals a bistro and cocktail den by night, is easily one of the handsomest rooms in the city.

So much so that you forget that Bistro 7 1/4, formerly one of Winnipeg’s most-popular restaurants, was once was located in this same space.

Owner Jack Moslehi, whose Winnipeg entrepreneurial background includes the former nightclubs Republic and Opera Ultralounge — which has now been turned into 441 Main (of which he is a partner in) — along with mainstay Fame, took over the space in 2015 and spent five months with a team of carpenters completely reforming it into a speakeasy setting.

Moslehi also has had ventures in Jaco, Costa Rica, Vancouver, BC, and other worldly places. He’s a soft spoken fellow, and not to sound cheesy, but you get the impression when you see him interact with his staff that they like working for him. He also, as is apparent at Blind Tiger, has a keen eye for design.

Cocktails from left: the Mata Hari, the Kentucky Unicorn, the Lady Elaine (PCG)

Cocktails from left: the Mata Hari, the Kentucky Unicorn, the Lady Elaine (PCG)

Their first project was to unify the two restaurant spaces — the old layout had two separate rooms, with an open kitchen on one side and the bar on the other, which are pretty much the only two elements that survived the transition. Then they immediately started taking all the plaster off the walls and procuring antiques from stores in Winnipeg and barns from outside the city.

Some of the particularly cool pieces include the guts from a piano that adorn one wall, whose hammers have been made into a separate piece above the bar, along with a little lounge space that has a bookshelf above it made from old wooden ladders.

The front coffee counter (which starts serving espressos at 7 a.m. until 3 p.m.; closed on Sundays), opened in October, while the back, speakeasy side (serving Tuesday to Saturday, from 5 p.m.- 2 a.m.; Sundays until midnight) opened in November.

But this is a food and drink blog — not a design one — so let’s start with the drink program.

The Mata Hari (PCG)

The Mata Hari (PCG)

“The cocktails are ridiculous; I’m going to be so bold as to say that they are some of the best in the city,” said Moslehi.

After sipping through some of the creations from barman Alex Weiss (pictured at top of article), I’m inclined to agree.

For starters there is the Mata Hari (a drink from NYC) made with Hennessy, chai-infused Cinzano, pomegranate juice, lemon juice and a bit of sugar garnished with dried roses. It’s a fine balance between tart and sweet, with warm spice notes from the chai vermouth. Then there is the super refreshing Lady Elaine — an Alex original — that features rye whisky, earl grey tea concentrate, grapefruit juice, lemon juice, and cardamon bitters that gets garnished with mint. This drink is just begging for a hot summer’s day, although sipping away at it at the end of January nearly takes you there.

The onglet de boeuf - a hanging steak with bordelaise sauce on a parsnip puree (PCG)

The onglet de boeuf – hanger steak with bordelaise sauce on a parsnip puree (PCG)

I also enjoyed the Kentucky Unicorn which is like a really smooth old fashioned without that extra boozy bite. It has Bulleit Bourbon, Cynar (a bitter liqueur made from artichoke and a host of herbs and plants), peach syrup and Peychaud’s Bitters, and is garnished with a lemon peel.

The French food is of a high calibre too, particularly the sauce making.

A real gem is the hanger steak ($21) which comes served beautifully rare with a bordelaise sauce that will have you licking the plate. The cut I had was very tender and well-seasoned, while the sauce’s richness (it’s made with bone marrow and demi-glace) had a solid amount of acidity from the wine to round out the flavour. It’s served on a buttery parsnip puree along with some sautéed vegetables.

Poulet a la Dubrovnok-Chicken breast, shrimp mousse, wild rice, dill beurre blanc (PCG)

Poulet a la Dubrovnik – Chicken breast, shrimp mousse, roasted potaoes, dill beurre blanc (PCG)

The same can be said of the stuffed chicken breast ($23), a dish I would not normally gravitate toward as I’m more of a thigh kinda guy, but which won me over. As you can see above it comes glisteningly moist through and through, stuffed with a shrimp mousse and accompanied by a dill beurre blanc that is quite bright on the palate.

For an appetizer there was a real ginger-rama of a dish featuring pan seared prawns served atop a carrot and ginger puree with ginger stewed tomato and a handful of pickled kale. Again, there are nice bright acid notes to the dish that are really harmonious with all the other elements.

The pickled kale in particular is excellent, and something that would work well on a variety of rich dishes. The cook of the shrimp was good, the stewed tomatoes carried an element of sweetness, and everywhere you went on the plate were assertive bites of ginger. There was also a great deal of textures going on; altogether a well-executed dish.

pan seared prawns, tomato ginger, pickled kale, and carrot and ginger purée (PCG)

pan seared prawns, tomato ginger, pickled kale, and carrot and ginger purée (PCG)

The menu is nice and tight by design — which is a smart play for a young restaurant, while Moslehi said that some items will soon be replaced by others. They are also now looking at extending the speakeasy/restaurant hours to include a lunch service, which surely the neighbourhood would appreciate.

It’s already a lively spot at night and it can — and only should — get busier as this is one slick room with excellent cocktails and a food program that is really starting to impress.

Next time you have friends in town and they want to go to a truly cool space, open their eyes to the Blind Tiger.

Blind Tiger is located at 725 Osborne St. For reservations call 204.691.9939 or use their online reservation system.


New & Notable: a first look at Máquè

Chef Scott Bagshaw’s Máquè feels like an extension of his second Winnipeg restaurant Enoteca, which is a very good thing when you consider that Enoteca is one of the ten best new restaurants in Canada.

Like Enoteca, Máquè it is a tidy and comfortable space with an open kitchen and seating for around 30 people (five or so four-tops, a couple tables for two, a counter for three looking out the front window and two seats at the open kitchen counter). There’s a nice little wine list with food-appropriate reds and whites, some cava, three beers from Anchor Steam and one whisky.

The name? Well Google will tell you — as will the charming illustrations of sparrows on the wall by local designer Jen Goertzen — that it is the mandarin to english translation of sparrow (麻雀). It apparently relates back to Mahjong, aka “the game of sparrows.” (Thanks Internet!)

Anyway, Bagshaw now has three really, really great restaurants in Winnipeg (the original being South Osborne’s Deseo — whose crunch salad and mac & cheese remain my favourite versions in the city) that I’m telling you would be hits anywhere.

Beef tartar with crispy sunchoke chips, a quail egg and tamari (PCG)

Beef tartar with crispy sunchoke chips, a quail egg and tamari (Lauren Harvey)

Now that we’ve gotten all that out of the way let’s talk food, because at Máquè all the dishes we tried were deeply delicious and artfully plated, and all at a pretty reasonable price tag of $12 to $18. The dishes, as the name should indicate, feature an abundance of Chinese flavours (along with influences from all over Asia) with the sauces having strong savoury and umami elements with smatterings of spice.

For starters, the dish I am still craving badly three days later featured duck confit and Chinese sausage tossed with egg noodles in a magical sauce of chili and fermented beans all topped off with mustard greens and “crispy things” (pictured at top, $19). The flat noodles were perfectly toothy, each individual strand of duck was rich, sweet and juicy, while throughout the dish there was no shortage of varying textures.

And that sauce, oh man, it had everything going for it; its aroma when it hit the table was enough to make you call dibs while the combination of slight heat and pungent flavours from the bean paste made you wish it would never end. I could equally see eating this dish solo while sitting at the Máquè countertop sipping a Charles and Charles dry rose (which is on the wine list) or having it at a Singapore hawker stand after a few too many Tigers.

Brussels, truffled sausage, nuoc cham, Perigueux, garlic chips (Lauren Harvey)

Brussels, truffled sausage, nuoc cham, Perigueux, garlic chips (Lauren Harvey)

Enoteca’s beef tartare made my list of favourite dishes from last year and the Máquè version ($17) — with its umami elements from tamari sauce and briny capers, along with an added texture from sunchoke chips — is equally as good.

The second dish we had of Brussels sprouts ($16) was pretty cheeky featuring truffled sausage that had been transformed to a crumble that had the exact look and texture of simulated bacon bits (remember those from your caesar salad?) but a flavour that was anything but. The sprouts were cooked perfectly, with a nice char and a centre that was cooked through yet still firm, while there was an aioli with the beefy, porty flavour of a Perigueux sauce and a lime slice to add your own brightness.

The meal opened with an ode to David Chang’s Momofuku restaurants with baos (two for $6) featuring sliced Nagano pork belly (that had a really tasty bark on the top layer) along with some slices of barely pickled cucumbers and a sśam sauce. They were great, as was the play on beef and broccoli that featured a large cut of braised beef brisket ($19) that also had a crispy bark and a rich, spoon-tender centre. It was topped with some al dente broccolini and a smoked oyster sauce that was super savoury.

Nagano pork belly, brussel kimchi, beer, hazelnuts, soy gastrique (Lauren Harvey)

Nagano pork belly, brussel kimchi, beer, hazelnuts, soy gastrique (Lauren Harvey)

Finally, there was a good slab of succulent pork belly that was seemingly encrusted in a soy gastrique and topped off with a Brussels sprout kimchi. It reminded me of the best way to cook bacon (which of course is to baste in a combination of maple syrup and Korean hot sauce then bake in an oven at 400 degrees until crisp) but with way more meatiness, along with the complex addition of the bitter and lightly fermented flavours from the sprouts. The hazelnuts too were a welcome addition, while the sweetness of the gastrique was kept in check by the saltiness of the other elements.

The clincher is the fact that these high calibre dishes all came out during a soft opening, a time when many other restaurants flounder while trying to find their footing. The service staff too is great, composed of pros from several of the city’s best restaurants who regular Winnipeg diners will recognize.

Make your reservations today as foodies will surely soon flock to this bird.

Máquè is located at 909 Dorchester Avenue, and is now open Tuesday-Sun, from 5 p.m. to 12 a.m. For reservations please call 204.284.3385.