In the last couple weeks I’ve judged 37 food trucks during ManyFest, 10 poutines at the Poutine Cup, and accompanied several travel writers on either full-day, or full-night eating escapades.
Needless to say I feel like I’ve become a bloated sausage of a man, but a man nonetheless with five major highlights that you’ll want to put on your culinary map.
So without further ado, put these dishes on your Winnipeg dining agendas:
Deer+Almond’s smoked goldeye & gnocchi
If you were to tie me to a chair, then push me down a flight of stairs backwards, I probably wouldn’t be too upset if I landed in a bowl of this masterpiece. Everything about this dish works. On the luscious side you have the firm, flaky goldeye, the creamy clam broth poured table side (into gorgeous bowls from mud+stone), and the verdant, herbaceous tarragon gnocchi. On the bright side you get to the confit fennel, some lemon curd, and what would seem like an ungodly amount of white fish caviar along with fresh dill.
Every bite of this indulgent dish has layers of flavour. You’ll find yourself licking the bowl while realizing the dish itself never comes across heavy. Chef Mandel Hitzer and his crew have some really complex, fun and flavourful dishes on the menu right now — including a nduja chicken that will surely go down as one of my dishes of the year — so there is no time like the present to hit up Deer+Almond.
Sabai Thai Eatery’s Chiang Mai noodles
Late in the summer Sabai Thai Eatery (1113 Corydon Avenue, 204.888.6508, no website) became my takeout-food-of-choice place because their papaya salad is just so damn summery, their spring rolls are tasty, and it is so close to my house. Then I discovered their Chiang Mai noodles (Khao Saway), which has had me kicking myself for never making it up north when I lived in Thailand for a couple months.
With a creamy, coconut yellow curry, a roasted chilli jam that is equally sweet, pungent and spicy (which I swear you could put on almost anything) along with crispy noodles and shredded vegetables for texture, this has become one of my favourite Thai dishes in town.
Salmon Lox at Sherbrook Street Deli
It’s taken me a while to finally go to Sherbook Street Delicatessen and order something other than the smoked meat, smoked goldeye salad, or the pickled tongue. In fact, it took an affable British writer I was entertaining to get me to branch out when she ordered the lox last week — and boy, I’m glad she did.
For starters the bagels at Sherbrook Street Deli, which chef Jon Hochman has been making fresh daily, are ridiculously good — so good in fact that this British writer, who had just come from Montreal where she visited several celebrated bagel institutions, exclaimed that these ones were so much better. They are slightly chewy, in no way heavy or doughy, topped with a well seasoned crunch of sesame and poppy seeds while they also have a light sweetness from being boiled in honey water. The lox, also brined in-house, is succulent and not overtly salty, and is supported by cream cheese, thinly sliced red onion, tomato and a good smattering of fat capers. We were told that it has become a staff favourite, which I can now understand (although their brisket is still killer).
Korean fried chicken at The Merchant Kitchen (pictured at top. Photo by Dan Clapson)
On my initial couple visits to The Merchant Kitchen I had neglected to try the Korean fried chicken, primarily due to the fact that it is a massive order (a whole bird for $44) and there was generally just two of us. Having now eaten through almost the whole menu this has turned out to be a glaring omission, because this is the best fried chicken in the city, and easily one of the best ones I’ve ever had.
The brined bird is super tender, with even the white meat being moist beyond belief. I’ve always tended to avoid the breast meat when it comes to fried chicken, but I’ve now had this dish three times in the past month and every time I’ve done a breast first (don’t laugh you pervs) and it has been spot on. The crust is well-seasoned and has a satisfying crunch, while the sweet soy or spicy gochujang inspired sauces that accompany it are both great dancing partners — although this chicken can totally break it down on its own.
Fruit cake from Dessert Sinsations
I never knew that I was a fan of fruit cake until I tried several at Dessert Sinsations this past week. Chef Barbara O’Hara’s recipe dates back over 80 years, and, as was confirmed to me from Karen Burns-Booth, a British heritage baking specialist, this version is an absolute beauty.
We had three versions, one straight out of the oven which we topped off with old cheddar (“because cake without cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze,” as the saying goes), along with two other versions that had aged for a year. All three were excellent; the fresh out of the oven version having a fabulous crust along with richly caramelized fruits, while the aged versions each had their own nuances, from nuttiness to being still so moist despite spending a year in a cooler.
I suppose my only “real” fruit cake experience comes in the Christmas pudding variety which my childhood neighbour from the Isle of Wight used to deliver around the holidays. Which is to say I am no expert. But after listening to chef O’Hara discuss the process with Karen, which includes the drying, candying and soaking of the various (and massive) quantities of fruit, the hand-dredging of the fruit to make sure it disperses throughout the cake and doesn’t fall to the bottom, the painstakingly-slow baking process, the brushing of liquor… I was sold.
This is artisanal food that is made months before it is to be eaten — you can’t go order a slice at the restaurant, so technically this is not so much an “eat this now,” but rather an “order this now,” item. Chef O’Hara and her crew started making these fruit cake a month ago to have them all ready for the holidays in December. Over the years they’ve built up a dedicated client base who have to get these fruit cakes, so if you want to reserve one for your holiday table call Dessert Sinsations today.