Choosing the best restaurants of the year isn't always easy. Some years are crowded with good ones, making selections difficult; other years the pickings are few, which makes the choices even more difficult. And some years are just a nightmare, like the time the chef of my top choice disappeared at almost the last minute, and a check-up visit revealed cooking standards that had dropped at prices that hadn't.
This has been one of the better years, with more good restaurants than I have space to list. And as peripatetic as Scott Bagshaw has been, he is now co-owner of DESEO BISTRO, and chefs tend not to disappear from their own restaurants. Although his cooking was impressive at his previous posts, in this kitchen he has risen to new heights, with such creations as the plumpest, freshest of mussels in a slightly nippy cider sauce; sweet, juicy scallops perched on celeriac purée; and the tour de force of partly boned chicken stuffed with bits of lobster and strewn with fragrant slices of genuine truffles.
The eclectic menu changes often but has included chicken meat balls in a peppery soffrito, crisply fried chunks of sweetbreads, a Spanish-accented mac and cheese with manchego cheese and chorizo crumbs, and a meltingly tender steak in a glorious truffle sauce. For dessert, the killer brioche bread pudding in a rummy caramel sauce. 696 Osborne St., 204-452-2561.
DEER + ALMOND'S menu is composed mostly of small plates, which may vary from day to day.
Some I tried on my first visit were gone by the second, but there was evidence of Chef Mandel Hitzer's deft hand with seafood in white prawns in a citrusy tomato sauce, and two terrific du jours of steelhead trout bedded on a potato and celeriac hash, and sablefish with a beet and potato latke.
Crisp pork belly with a dab of plum sauce and chunks of pickled pineapple was also tops, and I loved my bloody caesar, which was adorned by a skewer with enough tidbits to almost double as an amuse bouche. 85 Princess St., 204-504-8562.
IN FERNO'S cadet branch brings French-accented food to River Heights in a quieter, roomier space than the original.
Starters include a comforting onion soup gratinée, really crabby crab cakes, sake-seasoned shrimp and duck confit spring rolls.
Best entrées sampled were pork chop glazed in a sour cherry reduction and veal medallions with a lemon and asparagus risotto.
I'd recommend the tender, flavourful strip loin on a garlic baguette for lunch, and, at either meal, the lemon hazelnut torte or the blueberry Bavarian cream. 414 Academy Rd., 204-475-7400.
ARKADASH'S elegant renditions of Middle Eastern dishes include a stunning b'stilla of phyllo stuffed with subtly seasoned ground chicken, almonds and scrambled eggs.
I also liked the sautéed shrimp with smoked paprika and the Turkish bread topped by chili-spiced ground lamb.
Top entrées were Moroccan lamb stew with dried plums and undertones of honey, and the citrusy Turkish grilled chicken.
Two superb desserts -- the fleurette d'orange parfait topped by lime granita and the warm toffee-like fig pudding -- are absolute musts. 268 Portage Ave, 204-504-2155.
CORRIENTES' Argentine pizzas are good, but they aren't why it makes this list.
What I loved more were an empanada stuffed with beef, onions, raisins, olives and hard-boiled egg and a Cuban grilled sandwich of roast pork layered with ham, spicy mayo, provolone and pickles.
And even more, the Picado, which comprises six little appetizers, tops among them, that day, smoked chicken salad, a citrusy ceviche of pickerel and little strips of eggplant enfolding a purée of sun-dried tomatoes and feta.
Finish with the Gianduia -- dense, velvety chocolate studded with hazelnuts. 137 Bannatyne Ave., 204-219-5398.
SIMON'S CUISINE is Argentine also, a wee gem with only five tables, but an extensive menu of delicious and very moderately priced food -- empanadas, sfijas pastries filled with mint-flavoured ground beef, grilled marinated chicken and a stew of beef, chorizo, beans and squash.
Also the Milanese -- an enormous slice of breaded, fried beef topped, in its ultimate variation, by ham, mozzarella, tomato sauce, and two fried eggs (the menu recommends sharing).
The cannelonis are great and the torta mil hojas of wafer-thin pastry in walnut-studded caramel sauce is just wonderful. 513 St. Mary's Rd., 204-231-2756.
FAMOUS DAVE'S is proof that good food doesn't have to be fancy.
I loved the meaty St. Louis ribs, the lemon-peppered roast chicken, the dry-rubbed brisket, the chopped (not pulled) pork, and the chicken wings. Even the cornbread muffins were good, and the velvety bread pudding in a pecan praline sauce was delectable. Unit 70-11 Reenders Dr., 204-504-7200.
As ever, Asia delivers some of the best eating in town. HUANGPU RIVER standouts were Sizzling Eggplant stuffed with pork; Chicken in a Copper Pan -- baked in foil with garlic cloves and ginger; plump shrimp with candied walnuts; and spicy green beans with crumbs of pork. 1875 Pembina Hwy., 204-261-4407.
The venerable KUM KOON offers one of the city's best deals in live lobsters. They also do terrific jellyfish with either pork hocks or chicken, delicate pea tips stir fried with squiggles of pork and a casserole of bean curd with assorted meats and Chinese mushrooms. 257 King St., 204-943-4655.
THAI BOCHI'S Cambodian dishes are a local first, among them lime-scented fish cakes with a sweet chili sauce; explosively flavourful grilled chicken, or similarly prepared pork chops, and sour beef stew with tamarind and undertones of galanga, lime and lemon grass. 870 Logan Ave., 204-832-7192.
The Korean barbecues of AAA Angus beef live up to HIROBA'S lovely decor, and include a cool squash soup, delicately dressed salad, and little saucers of crisp nori, shredded potatoes, kimchi, pickled radish and zucchini. Sashimi are limited to tuna and salmon, but both were dewy fresh and generous, and I loved the mango fry, a lovely concoction of mango, shrimp, smoked salmon and fish eggs. 2615 Pembina Hwy., 204-415-7734.
To see the location of this restaurant as well as others reviewed in the Winnipeg Free Press, please see the map below or click here.
Restaurants marked with a red flag were rated between 0.5 to 2.5 stars; yellow flags mark those rated between 2.5 to 4 stars; and green flags mark those rated rated 4.5 to 5 stars. Locations marked with a yellow dot were not assigned a star rating.