Naysayers may disagree with me, but this city is blessed in many ways. Not least among those blessings are our bakeries, the array of European cured meats, and the wide variety of Asian foods, all of which make entertaining less stressful in this busy season.
Add another new bakery to that wonderful list. The sign outside still says Hartford Bakery (an illogical name as well for its Polish predecessor) but the new cards and the product list read A l'Epi de Ble, which is a type of baguette said to resemble a sheaf of wheat. The one baguette in stock on my visit in no way resembled a sheaf of wheat. For that matter it didn't much resemble most of the baguettes I've had in France -- it was too smooth and too white for that, but it was good.
So was the also not-very-French pumpernickel (left over, possibly, from the previous Polish owners) -- very dark and dense and chewy. Dense and chewy could also describe the two other breads I tried -- one a Quebecois bread with flax seeds and bits of cranberries, the other a health bread of whole wheat with flax and sunflower seeds. The long paper bag that is used to hold the baguette has illustrations of many different kinds of breads, some of which, I hope, will eventually be available.
And, of course, there are delectable French pastries. L'opera -- decadently rich layers of marzipan sponge cake with mocha buttercream and dark chocolate ganache. Then there are logs of walnut sponge cake, cinnamon-flavoured Bavarian cream and Calvados-spiked caramelized apple. Also, lemon curd sandwiched between a crisp cookie crust and a soft meringue.
There's a cunning concoction of a baked apple tucked into a brioche. For that matter, there are egg and butter-rich brioches on their own, as well as flaky, buttery croissants for your morning coffee. Cookies too -- tiny, crisp canestrelli with a hint of aniseed, little round ones with miniscule bits of dried fruit and partially glazed in chocolate. They even have hamantashen with a choice of fillings -- not French, but so good my mother would have approved.
The few savouries include a croque monsieur like they make it in France -- firm white bread slices with ham, cheese and bechamel sauce. The tourtiére isn't our familiar Canadian meat pie, but a small round of flaky pastry containing a smidgen of savoury ground meat -- more a snack than a meal. There are usually quiches (I was too early for them), as well as such other snacks as bacon rolls, mini pizzas and such. They, and any of the pastries, can be sampled with a coffee at one of two little tables. Most pastries range from $1.25 to $4.
The uncommonly pleasant owners are recent emigres -- from warm, sunny Provence, as it happens. They have yet to experience one of our winters, and one can only hope it won't send them scurrying back.
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The city teems with great kubasas (by whatever spelling) but one of the most famous might be Tenderloin Meats' coarse-ground kubasa, which was once voted best in Canada by the Ukrainian Canadian Professional and Business Association. I couldn't pronounce on which is best without a side-by-side testing, which would probably leave me in a smoky stupor (how did those Ukrainian professionals do it?). All I can say is that this one -- dotted by big chunks of meat, appropriately garlicky, not excessively salty -- is quite marvellous.
There's no MSG in any of the cured meats, and no fillers such as milk or flour, which may be one reason they are so good. So are the slightly smoky ham sausage: the delicate hams (three kinds), the glistening, garlicky headcheese, the oniony veal loaf, the all-beef or beef and pork salamis, and the marbled, slightly spicy corned beef. Also, if you don't mind a minimal amount of cooking, there are excellent smokies. Most four-ounce portions cost from $1.45 to $4.42. The staff members are really nice, exhibiting good-natured patience with my annoying way of ordering four ounces of everything I wanted to try. (That's the only way I can do it and survive).
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It's called Vivian's BBQ, and it's also called Juvian's, but by whatever name it's tucked into the rear of the Van Loi Supermarket. And, if I have it straight, Juvian's is the little restaurant on the side where you can have a Filipino meal, and Vivian's is where you buy the Filipino foods for take-out, which was what I'd come for. In any case, plans are to move the entire operation to Notre Dame near Balmoral early in January, where it will be called Juvian's (the exact address isn't as yet known, but the phone number will be the same). Just to add to the confusion, Jovian's has, and will continue to maintain, a branch restaurant in the McPhillips Station Casino.
One standout is the lechon, chunks cut from a whole roasted pig -- incredibly moist and flavourful within, with irresistibly crunchy crackling on the surface. But there are several other dishes worth exploring -- skewers of barbecued pork chunks, glazed in a sweetish tomato sauce, for instance, or the tocino -- little squiggles of scarlet, almost candied pork. There are several savoury stews, many of them slightly tangy from vinegar, and almost all of them aromatic with garlic, most notable among them the pork adobo, in a wonderfully flavourful dark brown sauce. Most single servings cost from $3 to $6.99, and the staff here too are friendly and accommodating.
To see the location of these restaurants as well as others reviewed in the Winnipeg Free Press, please see the map below.