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New & Notable: Beet Happening

Apparently the name Beet Happening is misleading, or so I’m led to believe after people started asking me about the place.

Yes, there are beets on the menu, along with food that is vegan and gluten free. And, like its namesake vegetable, it is both humble and fashionable — but it’s not a vegetarian restaurant. In fact, all three delicious dishes I had featured meat.

The food certainly has a holistic, sourced from local land theme — which makes it an interesting juxtaposition to the fare they serve at Health Sciences Centre, located right across the street on Notre Dame.

I joked with owner Justin Ludwar that he is doing the antithesis of hospital food — which he liked — although he was quick to add, “but let’s not offend the hospital cooks.” (He’s an affable fellow).

Chef Virginia Jensen and owner Justin Ludwar (PCG)

Chef Virginia Jensen and owner Justin Ludwar (PCG)

The dishes I had at Beet Happening were quite tasty (and nutritious) , especially the savoury bacon, beet and potato tartlet, whose almond and locally milled flour crust was excellent (crumbly, buttery, yummy).

“We worked quite a bit at that crust,” said Ludwar, who also does a bit of the cooking, but mainly leaves it up to head chef Virginia Jensen.

Justin was quite forthright that he doesn’t like to be referred to as a “chef” — his primary background is as an artist who worked in the social services industry for 10 years — but he does have cooking chops.

Long story short, his kitchen experience began as an assistant chef in Glasgow, Scotland, at an organic deli called Grassroots Cafe. He and his wife had moved to Scotland so she could do her masters, while Ludwar was working with behaviourally challenged kids at a school 40 minutes outside of the city. The commute was a bit much, the deli was close, and their chef was getting a bit burned-out, so Ludwar was hired and was soon creating a primarily raw, vegan menu that became quite popular.

Savoury tart with bacon, beets and bechamel (PCG)

Savoury tart: quiche base filled bacon, potato and scallions (PCG)

He’s been back in Winnipeg for four years now, and has worked in a couple kitchens in the city while also taking business courses. He knew he eventually wanted to open a restaurant and after a while found this space, whose high ceilings and corner location have made for an ideal cafe location.

“I think my fine arts background gave me a bit of vision,” said Justin, when describing first seeing the bones of this space.

He also made the excellent choice of getting his friend and furniture designer Ben Borley to do all the custom wood work, along with local firm Urban Ink to do the graphic design, which features sketches of the menu items. The restaurant also has a show piece of art that was created by Ludwar’s buddy, Toronto-based artist Nicholas Schick, who flew in the 70 panels for the piece in his carry-on bag.

Beet Happening is hip without being anywhere near pretentious; a nice mix of modern Scandinavian style with elements of whimsey, like the chipmunk water vessel that sits in the middle of the restaurant on an island featuring a curved wood screen that divides the space.

The spacious interior is charming (PCG)

The spacious interior is charming, featuring a large piece of art by Nicholas Schick (PCG)

The room also has a take-out counter with a display case where you can spy the range of pizzettes (aka mini-pizzas, some of which are gluten-free) along with other items.

For breakfast, they feature sausage rolls (surely a nod to Scotland) along with other breakfasty rolls, along with breads, scones and yogurt parfaits. The coffee is locally roasted, fair trade organic (of course) from Peter Duluca, while the lunch menu features hearty soups, the aforementioned pizzettes and savoury tarts and an assortment of salads and other healthy items, all of which are changed up daily.

All the food can easily be made quickly to go, which only makes sense given the location across from the hospital. 

They just opened on Wednesday — after some lengthy delays to do with building code, which Ludwar is happy to have behind him — so they do plan to have a more proper grand opening of sorts once all the systems are in place.

Beet Happening is located at 818 Notre Dame Avenue and is open Monday to Friday, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

photo by Jacqueline Young

Table for 1201 brings family style dining to great lengths

Intimate dinners are okay. But dining with 1200 other dinner guest can be much better.

Yes, it will be a chore trying to take in everybody’s name, but if the conversation at your table isn’t to your tastes you’ll have a couple hundred other ones to choose from — not to mention 2,400 helping hands who can pass the salt.

Not that you’ll need the extra seasoning, because on May 23 chefs Ben Kramer and Mandel Hitzer, along with logistics maestro Joe Kalturnyk (and their respective crews from Diversity Food Services, deer+almond and RAW:Gallery) will be at again, this time serving up a family style feast called Table for 1201. (Last year was just 1200).

You don't have to be (Jacqueline Young)

Last year’s event brought out good looking people in spades (Jacqueline Young)

It will literally be the longest dining table that this city has ever seen, while the service itself — at only two hours, from 7 to 9 p.m. — won’t be too lengthy at all.

(If you are wondering what is the world’s longest dining experience, well according to Guinness it happened last year in Loviisa, Finland. The Finn’s table was 1,286.75 metres, while Table of 1201 will reach 365 metres.)

Anyway, here’s the gist. The event will raise funds for the fine folks at Storefront MB, whose mandate is to make Winnipeg more awesome through design initiatives like Cool Gardens and The Winnipeg Design Festival.

The aesthetic concept behind the dinner is modeled around Dîner en Blanc™ — the Paris-originated now-international outdoor dining experience where people show up dressed in white carrying their own tables and chairs to feast on a three-course meal, the location of which is announced an hour beforehand.  

But 1201 has a twist, “because we’re Winnipeg, and we’re a bit different around here” said Ben Kramer.

These differences include being more inclusive — tickets go on sale in May ($90 per person), whereas Dîner en Blanc is invite only — while the individual tables that make up the whole length will be captained and designed by teams in a competition for cash. (They are currently looking for table sponsors right now).

Table for 1201 celebrates architecture and design in Winnipeg (Jacqueline Young)

Table for 1201 celebrates architecture and design in Winnipeg (Jacqueline Young)

People are still to wear white and bring their own chair, but the meal will be served family style, including plenty of vegetarian-friendly fare with an emphasis on Manitoba ingredients.

Kramer promises that this year’s location will be just as epic as last year’s on the Esplanade Riel, while it will only be announced an hour beforehand.

The prep will be done at Diversity’s massive kitchen at the University of Winnipeg, a process you’ll be able to follow in the weeks leading up through Kramer’s twitter and Instagram accounts (@ChefBenKramer), giving you hints as to what you can expect.

For more information, or if you are looking to become a table sponsor, go to this link 

-Top photo by Jacqueline Young

The seafood Okonomiyaki at Dwarf no Cachette (PCG)

New & Notable: Cutesy Dwarf no Cachette brings Tokyo to Winnipeg

If you are looking to immerse yourself in some whimsy, while eating some damn tasty Japanese food, find the dwarf in St. Boniface (which, if my translation is correct, is a pretty decent joke).

Dwarf no Cachette opened up in St. Boniface about seven months ago, and we were pleased as punch to finally get to try it this week to help satiate our cravings for ramen, izakaya and yōshoku- style food.

Izakaya is generally a Japanese watering hole where you’d go to drink while snacking on small plates; yōshoku refers to Western-style dishes that have been adopted and made more Japanese (think fried cutlets, omelettes or burger patties in interesting sauces), while ramen — well, we all know ramen, although the traditional Japanese ramen house concept has yet to take off in Winnipeg as it has in other Canadian cities like Vancouver and Toronto.

Owners Yasuko and Takekuni Akimoto (PCG)

Owners Yasuko and Takekuni Akimoto (PCG)

My first experience of all these foods was in Tokyo, where Dwarf no Cachette’s owners, Yasuko and Takekuni Akimoto are from. Long story short, Yasuko moved to Winnipeg 15 years ago to take linguistics at University of Manitoba, and Takekuni moved here 10 years ago and used to have a sushi shop called Sushi King. They met here through a mutual friend. They both are in their early 30s, and bless their hearts for converting the former home of Step ‘N Out (which was already a pretty unique room) into an adorable little slice of Tokyo.

My wife and I spent a couple weeks in Tokyo, where my cousin Neal and his wife Yoshie first introduced us to izakaya in Kichijoji. Ramen was of course everywhere, and from that trip forward we’ve been hooked. We’ve also lived in Vancouver for six years where real Japanese cuisine (not just sushi) was a once-a week-thing where the rooms filled with young Japanese students brought you right back to Japan. This is pretty much what is going on at Dwarf.

The hand-crafted menu is pretty much adorable (PCG)

The hand-crafted menu is pretty much adorable (PCG)

“We wanted to open a spot for the international students and to bring some kawaii to Winnipeg,” said Yasuko, the incredibly charming owner who not only has developed the recipes but also designs many of the cutesy items that are also on sale inside the restaurant (the second floor has a full-on kawaii gift shop).

Kawaii refers to elements of cuteness in Japanese culture (think Hello Kitty and cartoonish things with big eyes), and Dwarf no Cachette has that in spades. The whole room is decorated with gnomes, mushrooms, knick-knacks, folksy paintings, and just about the most adorable scrapbook style menus you’ve ever seen, which Yasuko of course made. (There was also a “Sweet Lolita” party going on upstairs, a concept that I’ll leave it up to Wikipedia to explain. Just let it be known that this made our experience even more authentic).

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The spicy miso ramen at Dwarf no Cachette is the best version I’ve had in Winnipeg (PCG)

Now let’s get to the food, which is great. To start, their spicy miso ramen is the best one I’ve had in Winnipeg: the broth, made from a rich, salty pork and chicken stock was right up there to the high standards you’d get in Vancouver’s West End, while the noodles were toothy and the egg yolks barely set. It was spicy but not overpowering, and I’ll be coming back time and time again for lunch alone just for this dish.

The takoyaki ($8.50) and okonomiyaki ($11.50), which are both classic Japanese street food dishes that are on most izakaya menus, were spot on.

The takoyaki (small balls made of wheat flour filled with diced octopus topped with a sweet/salty sauce, almost like teriyaki, along with Japanese mayo and bonito), was as you wanted, with a slightly crunchy exterior and gooey centre punctuated by tender pieces of tentacle. The okonomiyaki (a savoury pancake, which is pictured at the top of the article), hit all the right points with tender shrimp, diced onion and cabbage throughout, while the pancake had a nice crispy bottom for texture.

The takoyaki at Dwarf no Cachette (PCG)

The takoyaki at Dwarf no Cachette (PCG)

My two dining companions and I (including my wife and our friend who we used to work with in the food industry in Vancouver — who also happened to cook at Step ‘N Out 10 years ago, the change in setting he said was quite surreal) also hit two items off the March specials board, the best of which was a fried udon dish with a flavourful silky sauce.

We also finished off the meal with the gigantic Choco Banana Oreo parfait ($6.95), which we had to order after seeing three of them being delivered to the large table of students beside us.

In fact, we had a lot of plate envy toward what a lot of the young regulars were ordering, from the crunch fries, to the curry rice, to the burgers which looked awesome. This not only gave us an excuse to go back soon, but was also reassuring in how a very unique concept for Winnipeg is demonstrating staying power through a young customer base.

The choco banana oreo parfait (PCG)

The choco banana oreo parfait (PCG)

I’d asked Yasuko about this and she said she’s also pleasantly surprised how many regulars she has from the surrounding St. Boniface neighbourhoods (whom she gets to practice her french with), along with the international students and expats.

Service was a touch slow, but we attributed that to there being the large group upstairs (the previously mentioned Sweet Lolita club) and a full dining room when we arrived. But when there is so much going on — including the obvious game of finding the dwarfs — we weren’t too fussed.

Dwarf no Cachette is licensed and is open six days a week (not Tuesdays) for lunch and dinner.