Photo by Jacqueline Young

Table for 1200 More brings family style dining to great lenghts

Intimate dinners are okay. But dining with 1200 other people at one of the world’s longest dining tables can be so 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 wine.

On Saturday, May 28 (7 -9 p.m.), chefs Ben Kramer (Winnipeg’s eat local maestro) and Mandel Hitzer (Deer+Almond), along with their culinary crews, will be at it again serving up a fancy family style feast called Table for 1200 More.

2014's Table for 1200 (photo by Jacqueline Young)

2014’s Table for 1200 (photo by Jacqueline Young)

Here’s the gist: The event is organized by, and will raise funds for, the fine folks at Storefront MB, whose mandate is to make Winnipeg more awesome through design initiatives.

To put it in their own words, “Table For 1200 More highlights Winnipeg’s emerging design scene by bringing together architecture, design, and the culinary arts to create an evening of entertainment and stimulating conversation in an absolutely unique setting.”

This is the third year of the event.

2014’s took place on the Esplanade Riel with the table running the length of the bridge. Last year, 1201 of us gathered behind the Manitoba Legislature, with the tables forming one giant circle around the fountain making for a spectacular, verdant setting.

Last year's event at the Legislature Grounds (photo by Jacqueline Young)

Last year’s event at the Legislature Grounds (photo by Jacqueline Young)

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 (after being invited) carrying their own tables, chairs and food to a location that is announced an hour beforehand.

Winnipeg’s version is more inclusive — you don’t need to receive an invitation, instead you can purchase your ticket(s) online here, while the food is prepared for you. You also get to decorate your whole table (should you be the designated table captain) with a cash prize of $1,200 (of course) up for grabs for best table design.

Tickets are $95 for adults and $50 for students, while you can still purchase a full table (8 seats, which gives creative licence on its design) for $950. Each table receives two bottles of wine (one red, one white) while more are available for purchase, along with beer and cava.

People mingling before dinner at last year's event (PCG)

People mingling before dinner at last year’s event (PCG)

The secret location is revealed the morning of the event via email, the dress code is once again white, and you are in charge of bringing your own chair (which you can embellish to compliment your table design).

The meal itself has been developed to cater to those who may have dietary restrictions — it is completely nut free and primarily gluten free, being very friendly toward vegans and vegetarians #eatlocal #eathealthy.

For more FAQ, check out the website.

Lede photo of last year’s Table for 1201 at the Manitoba Legislature Grounds by Jacqueline Young

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New & Notable x 3: Clementine, Oh Doughnuts and La Roca

Within the last week three eagerly anticipated places have opened in the city — two of which are riding a wave of previous successes.

Let’s start with Clementine (123 Princess Street), a brand new brunch spot which just opened on Thursday. It’s the second restaurant from Chef Adam Donnelly and Carolina Konrad, the power couple behind Segovia, which has consistently been one of Winnipeg’s best restaurants since it opened back in late 2009. (It’s also going to get the majority of the words here, as I haven’t had a chance to get to the other two yet.)

We went yesterday for lunch, and I’m wagering that Clementine is destined to become the best brunch spot in the city. It’s a place that Winnipeggers can fawn over, brag about, and bring their out of town friends to all the time, much like Vancouverites do with Cafe Medina (which I assure you is high praise).

Interior of Clementine (Cody Chomiak)

Interior of Clementine (Cody Chomiak)

Here’s why:

For starters, the food: Case in point the fried chicken toast (pictured at top) which gives you two pieces of crispy bird perched on house-made sourdough that is so good it will see bakers getting their buns in a knot with envy.

The chicken is brined in a liquid swimming with citrus notes, the meat is spoon tender, and the batter has an audible crunch. Underneath it there is a tangy pimento cheese spread, while on top it’s adorned with slices of pickled squash for acidity and texture, along with a smattering of cilantro and micro greens. At $10 it’s a bargain — get it with a side of fried beets with smoked cashews on curry aioli ($5) and you have yourself a killer meal that costs less than that subpar food court sushi you were thinking about.

Albacore tuna salad $12 (Cody Chomiak)

Albacore tuna salad $12 (Cody Chomiak)

The second item we inhaled all while singing its praises — from the crunch of crispy quinoa, to the sweet snap peas, to the zesty smoked cashew pineapple salsa (which is the bomb), to the crust of the fish — was the albacore tuna salad ($12). It all comes together on an assortment of greens from Selkirk’s Braman’s Greens (who grow the best leaves around; in fact, all the herbs and microgreens at Clementine are from Braman’s — as is the case at a lot of great Winnipeg restaurants) — so you get bite combinations that are herbaceous, peppery, bitter and sweet. Get it with a tamarind lemongrass soda (refreshing, not syrupy, featuring the ideal amount of lemongrass) and you’ve got yourself good summer lunch vibes all round.

Secondly, it’s the details: Anyone who has dined at Segovia will tell you that they get all the little things right, from breezy yet professional service, to ambiance. Clementine is much the same — and it’s only been open for three days!

Clementine's Brüssels Style Waffle $8 (Cody Chomiak)

Clementine’s Brüssels Style Waffle $8 (Cody Chomiak)

We ended up sitting with a couple of our friends from The Forks and all of us hit the same talking points.

First, it’s a bright space, despite it being a basement setting.There’s only one window which is at street level yet the open kitchen at the opposite end illuminates the room along with white painted exposed brick and bar. The space was designed by Winnipeg-turned-New Yorker designer Fiona Sanipelli (who also did Segovia) and is a mix of industrial chic with North African cafe notes (my workmate also used the term “steampunk chic” which google images appears to verify #imnodesigner).

The layout features two long communal tables, which is a nice touch as it makes it seem less intrusive when you are spying on what a stranger (or maybe soon-to-be friend?) is eating next to you. One communal table is hip-level with taller stools, while the other one is low-lying, with stools that are attached to the table which swing out. The room is lined with banquets that accommodate two and four top tables.

Clementine is located at 123 Princess Street and is open only for breakfast/brunch/lunch, Monday-Friday 7 a.m.-4 p.m., Weekends 8 a.m.-4 p.m. It’s licensed and features wine, beer, a hair of the dog cocktail list along with coffee drinks made with beans and equipment from the same people behind Parlour and Little Sister (in other words, it has good coffee). No reservations, sorry. 

Oh Doughnuts

To use a line I’ve gone with before, Winnipeg’s OD is back (that’s original doughnut, “cruller was the case that they gave me”) as Oh Doughnuts now has a storefront at 326 Broadway. (Before, you could only get their creations at cool coffee shops like Parlour, where they were one hot morning commodity, while they haven’t been on the scene since April 2015).

It just opened yesterday — and Winnipeg’s devout doughnut fans were very excited — so excited that a queue started at 7 a.m. and all the doughnuts were gone by 12:30 p.m. (and they had made a serious amount of doughnuts). I just checked in with owner/doughnut queen Amanda Kinden this morning and she said today they’ll be out by 1:30 p.m. (they’ve been making them in batches, as to keep up with supplying this demand).

The lemon meringue doughnut from Oh Doughnuts has made its return (Oh Doughnuts)

The lemon meringue doughnut from Oh Doughnuts has made its return (Oh Doughnuts)

But why are people so pumped for these doughnuts?

Well, for one they are embarrassingly good — when you eat one you may find yourself hovering over it like an ugly bird protecting it’s eggs — while they also do an amazing variety of flavours and styles. There’s the gorgeous lemon meringue, an Instagram darling which is filled with lemon curd and topped off with toasted meringue; there’s crème brûlée — crispy on top and pillowy in the centre; a croHnut; and even vegan doughnuts like the cherry Amaretto with toasted almonds.

For another, the ingredients are meticulously sourced, which of course makes for a better product. The organic flour is milled by Prairie Flour Mills in Elie (another producer that supplies some of our city’s best) and the organic eggs come from my homie Hermann Grauer — whose Nature’s Farm company is just a peach. Everything about the store is either local, or sustainably sourced, while its take-out containers are either compostable or recyclable. Read more about it here.

Anyway, you can’t order by phone right now as they are only just getting their systems in place, so you best get there early to get the pick of the bunch.

Oh Doughnuts is located at 326 Broadway. Monday-Friday 7 a.m.-2 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m.-4 p.m..

La Roca

The former home of Gio’s has been under transformation for quite some time — getting a whole new facade, and a pretty sweet skull-wearing-headphones symbol — and just last week it opened as La Roca (155 Smith Street), Winnipeg’s newest Mexican restaurant.

Here’s what I can tell you: it is open Tuesday-Saturday, 3 p.m. to late, the menu has classics like tacos al pastor (and 8 other varieties), churros, tres leches cake, three ceviches, and table side guacamole (but not the awkward kind, à la Breaking Bad).

I know one group who has gone and they said the food was quite good, they have a rooftop patio, Taco Tuesday gets you three tacos for $10, and they have DJ’s and live acoustic guitar sets during dinner hours. More to come when we get a chance to visit.

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New & Notable: Saperavi brings the flavours of Georgia (the country) to Winnipeg

Some people may know the “the most interesting man in the world” to be the bearded Dos Equis guy, but I’m telling you that Saperavi restaurant owner Landis Henry could give him a run for his money.

He is a scientist with a PhD in biochemistry (King’s College London, class of ’78). He was born in Jamaica but grew up in London, England. He originally moved to Canada to work with the National Research Council as an industrial technology advisor in biotechnology, from whence he was moved to Global Affairs Canada and was posted abroad from 2004-2012 where he was Canada’s representative in a program that redirected former Soviet weapons scientists.

In Henry’s words, “Canada, the United States and the European Union felt — I should say correctly felt — that rogue states were coming to Ukraine and other former Soviet states to take and hire nuclear scientists, and scientists in biological warfare, to develop their own programs.”

Saperavi and Il Molino owner Landis Henry and chef Zena Nozadze (PCG)

Saperavi and Il Molino owner Landis Henry and chef Zena Nozadze (PCG)

“So Canada, the U.S. and the E.U. knew they had to address this potential threat, so that weapons of mass destruction, or their delivery systems, could not get into the hands of terrorists and rogue states. So from 2004-2012 I was Canada’s representative [at this post]; I was the executive deputy director for Canada at the centre in Ukraine for eight years.”

Henry would go on to tell me that at the end of the Cold War Ukraine had the third biggest nuclear arsenal in the world; I tell you this man of the world is full of fascinating tidbits.

Prior to this role in Ukraine, Henry and his family were in Denmark for ten years (where his son Christer, who runs Saperavi was born), while before that, upon completing his postdoctorate in London, he lived in Switzerland (he also did an MBA in 1988).

A selection of Phkhali -- Georgian vegetable spreads made with walnuts along with cheese-stuffed mushrooms (PCG)

A selection of phkhali — Georgian vegetable spreads made with walnuts along with cheese-stuffed mushrooms (PCG)

After the former Soviet scientist redirection program ended in 2012 — which would see Henry constantly travelling around former Soviet Republics like Georgia, Azerbaijan, Moldova etc… Henry moved with his family to Winnipeg, where he bought a multiuse building at 709 Corydon Avenue (it has apartments above, and two commercial spaces on the ground and basement floor).

So what do you do when you are a worldly fellow who now owns property on Winnipeg’s famed Corydon strip?

You open restaurants of course, restaurants where you can bring some of your favourite flavours from Europe to Winnipeg, that being the food of Georgia — that picturesque, mountainous, wine producing country that is sandwiched between Europe and Asia on the Black Sea — at Saperavi, and Danish smørrebrød — those fancy open-faced sandwiches that are becoming all the rage these days in the culinary world — at Il Molino.

Shrimp and Avocado sandwich ($10) from Il Molino (PCG)

Shrimp and Avocado sandwich ($10) from Il Molino (PCG)

As a primer, Il Molino sits in the basement of the building and is open for breakfast and lunch (for breakfast they also serve authentic Belgian waffles from Wafflicious). It opened in the summer of 2015.

Saperavi sits on the main floor of the building and is open 4:30 p.m – 11 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday, Sundays until 9:30 p.m. It just opened on April 15 and has been busy with a clientele of Ukrainian and Russian immigrants — two groups that actually know of Georgian cuisine.

Both restaurants share a 50+ seat patio, along with a fine selection of European import beers (more on that later).

Anyway, after getting Landis’ history, my first question was (of course), “why Georgian cuisine?”

“When I was there — which was constantly — I felt the cuisine was different [than anything I had tried] and that everyone who came from the West really liked it. So I thought what we should do here is reproduce it, just like you would get in Georgia.”

“But of course, there were obstacles,” said Henry.

The main barrier was getting a chef. According to Henry — and a quick Google search on my part — there are possibly only three Georgian restaurants in Canada, all of which seem to be in the Toronto area.

Here in Winnipeg Henry could only find three Georgian families, none of which had a chef for hire.

Khachapuri - Imeruli ($12) Georgian flat bread baked with cheese (PCG)

Khachapuri – Imeruli ($12) Georgian flat bread baked with cheese (PCG)

So Henry looked back to the country he is so fond of and acquired the services of Zena Nozadze (after jumping through a great deal of hoops with Canadian immigration services), Saperavi’s Georgian chef.

Nozadze makes all the food of her homeland from scratch, including all the light, airy breads that are excellent for both sopping up sauces — of which there are several, and for lathering with phkhali, the savoury, super garlicky vegetable spreads that are composed of walnut, onion and either beet, leek, eggplant or spinach ($3.50 each).

“Georgia is referred to as the crossroads of Europe and Asia…. Its cuisine has been influenced extensively by the surrounding countries like Turkey to the south, and Russia to the north… most of which were powerful states,” said Henry.

“But similar to Switzerland — because it is mountainous and easily defendable — it was able to remain independent, keeping it’s unique characteristics. You do not see the same dishes [in Georgia] that are available in other countries. For instance, in a cosmopolitan country like Turkey you can still get fish and chips.”

“In Georgia, you only see its national dishes, and we all loved that,” continued Henry.

A selection of Shashlik - skewered marinated meats grilled on a spit (PCG)

A selection of Shashlik – skewered marinated meats grilled on a spit (PCG)

The flavour combinations and dishes I had during an extensive lunch with Henry and chef Nozadze where quite unlike anything I’ve tried before.

The main ingredients found throughout the menu are coriander — which is used in pronounced fashion in dishes like the minced pork and beef kebabi ($10) where it gives the meat a floral, citrusy element like sumac does on a Persian kabob — onion, garlic (big time #datenight), cumin, walnuts, pomegranate and vegetables in many forms (stewed, puréed and roasted) with the main flavour profile being savoury and herbaceous.

There were many standout dishes: for starters there is the shashlik (marinated meat skewers veal/chicken/pork, $13/$17/$22) whose delicious pork shoulder version is marinated in spices and Georgian wine before being roasted on a spit so the fat is rendered and crispy. The same can be said of the chicken thighs which are served whole (bone-in), featuring meat that glistens with juices below a crisp skin. Get them with the tomato sauce ($3.5), which is somewhat like a gazpacho, whose acidity rounds out the herbaceous, charbroiled meats.

Another excellent chicken dish is the shkmeruli (“chicken cooked in milk with garlic and Georgian spices,” $15) which features braise-tender drumsticks swimming in a white sauce (almost like a béchamel) that is cooked and served in a clay ramekin. Get it with that delightful, airy bread, so you can sop up the rest of that sauce.

Khachapuri - Adjaruli ($14) Georgian flat bread baked with cheese and topped with an egg (PCG)

Khachapuri – Adjaruli ($14) Georgian flat bread baked with cheese and topped with an egg (PCG)

On bread, I also have to point you to the khachapuri-Imeruli ($12), a flatbread stuffed with salty feta (Henry and Nozadze tell me in Georgia this would be stuffed with Imeretian cheese, a ripe cow’s cheese named after the region) that pairs well with a cold beer, and the khachapuri-adjaruli, that same bread made into the shape of a boat filled with feta and mozzarella, topped off with a barely set egg which you dip the crust into.

Finally, the khinkali ($14 for 5 pieces, or $20 for 10) are a must. These hand-pinched beef/pork dumplings (also available in salmon and mushroom) explode when you bite into them — much like xiaolongbao (Chinese soup dumplings), delivering a delectable coriander-spiked broth. The style, so I’m told, is to pick them up from the pinched top then bite into them while sucking out the broth. You then leave the top of the dumpling on your plate to show off how many you have eaten.

Apparently most of Georgia’s food is interactive like this. You get to tear at bread and dunk stuff, you utilize the phkhali condiments on various things so you are always getting bites of vegetables while also adding textures and flavours. It’s also all meant to be shared family style: “In Georgia, you don’t normally order your own plate, you order for the table,” said Henry, so bring a crew of at least three when you go.

Khinkali dumplings (PCG)

Khinkali dumplings (PCG)

Georgia also is a proud wine-producing country, being perhaps the oldest wine-producing region in the world (the restaurant’s namesake comes from its most-popular grape variety, which is used to make a dry red called Saperavi) and this restaurant is the only place in Winnipeg — and indeed most of Canada — where you can try Georgian varieties like Tibilisi, Tbilvino, and Saperavi (reds), along with Tbilvino, a dry white.

Saperavi, and Il Molino, also have great beer selections, serving primarily premium European imports. The two taps at Saperavi pour Erdinger Weissbeir ($6.50 served in the sexiest 11 oz glass around), along with the much-celebrated Delirium Tremens ($7.50), a fruity, strong Belgian ale (8.5%).

Both beers, along with the wine selection, will be perfect for their sunny, 55-seat patio this summer, where you’ll soon find our office siping away while keeping a steady base of cheesy salty breads, vegetable spreads, soup-filled dumplings, heavily seasoned skewered meats, and a refreshing Georgian salad.

I’m getting excited just thinking about it.

Saperavi and Il Molino are located at 709 Corydon Avenue. Il Molino does catering as well, while reservations for dinner at Saperavi can be made at 204.416.3996.